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Islamic World News ( 18 Feb 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Teenage Boy Beheaded By ISIL for Listening To Pop Music and Shot Two Others for Missing Friday Prayers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mosul, the Isil stronghold where a teenage boy was beheaded for listening to poop music Photo: AP

 

Christian Couple Sentenced To Death for Sending 'Blasphemous' Texts to an Islamic Cleric in Pakistan

150 Allegedly 'Burned Alive By Turkish Military' During Crackdown on PKK

U.S. Strikes ISIS Camp in Libya, Killing More Than 30

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Arab World

Teenage Boy Beheaded By ISIL for Listening To Pop Music and Shot Two Others for Missing Friday Prayers

Ten Saudi Major Generals Decry Riyadh's Syria Deployment Plan

Infighting Intensifies between Rival Terrorist Groups North of Syria

Syria: Army Finds More Proof of Turkey's Aid to Terrorists in Aleppo

Aleppo bishop says ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels are killing civilians

Dissident Leader: Saudi, Turkish Ground Assault on Syria to Start Regional War

Syrian rebels say reinforcements get free passage via Turkey

Syria: Army Only Several Kilometers from Idlib City

SDF, YPG Take Several Villages Back from ISIL in Hasaka Province

Syrian Army Advancing in Lattakia, Captures More Territories

Syrian Army, Allies Few Kilometres Away From Encircling ISIL Terrorists East of Aleppo

Gulf Arab states race to release youth potential in age of cheap oil

MSF admits withholding Syria hospital coordinates from Damascus & Moscow

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Pakistan

Christian Couple Sentenced To Death for Sending 'Blasphemous' Texts to An Islamic Cleric In Pakistan

Pakistan, With 324 Executions in 2015, Ranks Third Worldwide

Nawaz Sharif, Narendra Modi likely to meet in Washington next month

Pathankot terror attack: Pakistan police lodge FIR against unidentified persons

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Mideast

150 Allegedly 'Burned Alive By Turkish Military' During Crackdown on PKK

Turkey Strikes Syrian Kurdish YPG with Missiles

Turkish minister says US making conflicting statements over Syrian Kurdish YPG

Turkish school kids told to attend March to celebrate Erdoğan’s birthday

Turkey briefs UN Security Council ambassadors over Ankara attack

Prominent figures oppose Turkey’s entering war in Syria

Turkish authorities seize car loaded with explosives in Diyarbakır

Commander: Terrorists behind Borders Grounded by IRGC

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South Asia

Drone Strike Kills Six Taliban in Paktika’s Gomal District

Three Killed In Afghan Army Raid on Clinic Run By Swedish Aid Group

NDS prevents suicide bombing in Laghman

Google begins its translation services in Pashto language

Afghan Schools to Gain Local-Language Learning Materials through International Partnership

NDS busted bomb making factory in Ghazni

Minister of agriculture survives bomb blast in southern Afghanistan

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Africa

U.S. Strikes ISIS Camp in Libya, Killing More Than 30

Seven Dead in South Sudan UN Base Attack: Ban

Nigeria: Troops Discover 'Boko Haram Market', Rescue 195 Captives

Africa: Impact of Brain Drain On Africa Is Massive - Namwandi

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North America

Obama Refuses to Hit the Islamic State’s Libyan Capital

A religious leader questioning a person's faith is 'disgraceful', Trump reacts to Pope's statement

US has not yet assigned blame for Turkey attack, White House says

FBI searches home of San Bernardino shooter's brother

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India

Indian Government To Ask Twitter to Block Accounts with Hafiz Saeed Links

NIA Evidence So Far Points To 4, Not 6, Pathankot Attackers

Hizb Ul Terrorist Held, Hideout Busted In Kashmir

Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan: India’s oldest living classical vocalist dies at 107

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Southeast Asia

Moderate Malaysia: Man Seeks Court’s Help to Renounce Islam

S. Korean firms seeking greater presence in Muslim food market

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Europe

Polish magazine's 'Islamic rape of Europe' cover sparks outrage

Russian Fighter Jet Sale to Iran Would Violate Arms Ban, Says US

Belgian police find video of nuclear official at home of jihad terror suspect

British Brimstone missiles in Syria are yet to kill any terrorists, MoD reveals

Russia says any incursion into Syria would be illegal

Merkel calls Turkish leaders, extends condolences over deadly Ankara attackCompiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau

URL: http://newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/teenage-boy-beheaded-by-isil-for-listening-to-pop-music-and-shot-two-others-for-missing-friday-prayers/d/106403

 

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Teenage Boy Beheaded By ISIL for Listening To Pop Music and Shot Two Others for Missing Friday Prayers

18 Feb 2016

Isis has beheaded a teenage boy for listening to pop music and shot two others for missing Friday prayers, it has been reported.

The executions by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took place in the jihadists’ Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.

According to IRA News, an independent news agency, the boy was arrested in central Mosul.

“Ayham Hussein was captured by the jihadists while listening to Pop music at the grocery store of his father in the Nabi Younis marketplace in western Mosul. He was referred to the Sharia Court, which issued a decision to execute him,” a spokesman for the Nineveh media centre said.

The beheading took place in public and his body was then handed over to his family.

In a second incident, the Independent reported, two young men were shot outside a mosque on Sunday.

One local activist, Abdulah al-Malla, said the executions took place after a member of the Sharia court warned that a similar punishment would be meted out to anybody else who failed to attend prayers.

The killings were the latest examples of the brutal Isil regime in Mosul.

In August 2014 Isil was reported to have summarily executed up to 670 prisoners.

The killings at Badoush prison were widely condemned with Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, accusing Isil of carrying out ethnic cleansing.

telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/12164246/Teenage-boy-beheaded-by-Isil-for-listening-to-pop-music.html

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Christian Couple Sentenced To Death for Sending 'Blasphemous' Texts to An Islamic Cleric In Pakistan

By SARA MALM FOR MAILONLINE

18 February 2016

A disabled Christian man and his wife sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy have claimed they were tortured into confessing.

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, from Gojra, east Pakistan, were found guilty of sending a text message which 'blasphemed' against the Prophet Mohammed to their local imam in 2013.

Mr Emmanuel, who is paralysed from the waist down, claims the only reason he confessed to the crime was because he could not stand watching his wife be tortured by police.

Death penalty: Disabled Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were found guilty of sending a blasphemous text message to their local imam, but Mr Emmanuel claims he only confessed under torture

'There is no man who can stand to see his wife being tortured by police, so to save my wife, I confessed,' Mr Emmanuel said in an appeal for bail lodged this week.

The couple were arrested in July 2013 after their local imam, Maulvi Mohammed Hussain, claimed Mr Emmanuel had used his wife's phone to sent him a text insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

The couple, who have four children, denies ever sending the text, saying the phone had been stolen from them months before the message was supposed to have been sent.

“There was no evidence that the text messages came from a phone owned by the couple,' Farukh Saif, an official of World Vision in Progress giving legal aid to the couple, told Christians in Pakistan.

In the first place they had lost the phone some months before July 2013 and secondly there was no SIM card in their names.

The only evidence police produced was a bill for a SIM card from a shop owner which is unheard of.'

The couple denies ever sending the text, saying the phone had been stolen from them months before the message was supposed to have been sent

The couple denies ever sending the text, saying the phone had been stolen from them months before the message was supposed to have been sent

Mr Emmanuel and Ms Kausar were initially sentenced to death for blasphemy, but as with nearly all such convictions, it is most likely they will spend the rest of their lives in jail.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously in the country.

Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence.

They have lodged an appeal at Lahore High Court on the grounds of Mr Emmanuel's deteriorating condition, claiming lack of treatment in jail has left him with bedsores and life-threatening ill health.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam is taken very seriously in the country.

Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence.

Last month, the head of a powerful religious body in the country said he is willing to review Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws,  to decide if they are Islamic.

Pakistan's religious and political elites almost universally keep clear of debating blasphemy laws in a country where criticism of Islam is a highly sensitive subject. Even rumours of blasphemy have sparked rampaging mobs and deadly riots.

But Muhammad Khan Sherani, chairman of a body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam, told Reuters he was willing to reopen the debate and see whether sentences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.

"The government of Pakistan should officially, at the government level, refer the law on committing blasphemy to the Council of Islamic Ideology. There is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy on this issue," Sherani said in an interview at his office close to Pakistan's parliament.

"Then the council can seriously consider things and give its recommendation of whether it needs to stay the same or if it needs to be hardened or if it needs to be softened," Sherani,  said.

dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3452587/Christian-couple-sentenced-death-sending-blasphemous-texts-Islamic-cleric-Pakistan-say-tortured-confessing-crime.html#ixzz40cNY36oh

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150 Allegedly 'Burned Alive By Turkish Military' During Crackdown on PKK

19 Feb, 2016

A member of the Turkish parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party has accused the military of atrocities in Turkey's southeast, claiming they have ‘burned alive’ more than 150 people trapped in basements.

"In the Cizre district of Sırnak, around 150 people have been burned alive in different buildings by Turkish military forces. Some corpses were found without heads. Some were burned completely, so that autopsy is not possible," Feleknas Uca told Sputnik, adding that “most” of those killed were Kurds.

While Uca’s statements have not been confirmed by RT on the ground, or independently verified by a third party, the MP warned that more people could face a similar fate as more than 200 people remain trapped inside buildings across the region.

"The situation in Diyarbakir is terrible. Its district Sur is seeing its 79th day of curfew. Two hundred people were trapped in basements and Turkey’s special forces won’t rescue them," Uca said.

Turkish security forces have been trying to clear southeastern towns and cities of PKK members since last July, when a two-year cease-fire collapsed. Dozens of civilians continue to be trapped in basements in the Cizre district of Turkey’s Sirnak province. Despite an official announcement that the military op was concluded last week, the curfew remains in place.

The reports of the massacre first surfaced earlier this week when the ANHA news agency, reported the discovery of 115 bodies.

The corpses were so badly burned that relatives were only able to identify 10 out of the 115 bodies found in the Sur and Cudi neighborhoods of Şırnak’s Cizre district. According to the report, DNA samples were taken from the victims to identify the bodies.

The Todayszaman newspaper reports that as of last Thursday the Cizre State Hospital morgue had no space for bodies being brought in and they had been sent to other morgues in the region.

Also, last Thursday, Interior Minister Efkan Ala confirmed that targeting of the PKK in Cizre had been completed. On Sunday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) announced the discovery of 31 bodies during searches in six buildings in Cizre. The army also said the military operations in Cizre, which started on December 14, had killed 659 PKK members.

Yet despite the completion of the operation, wounded people are reported to be still trapped inside basements. Kurdish Netherlands-based ANF News is reporting that DIHA correspondent is trapped with some 30 people underground, with women and children among the wounded awaiting medical treatment. Some are in critical condition.

Last month the Turkish Human Rights Foundation said more than 160 civilians had been killed since Ankara's launched its crackdown on the PKK in August. Among those killed are 29 women, 32 children, and 24 people over the age of 60.

https://www.rt.com/news/332951-kurds-burned-alive-turkey/

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U.S. Strikes ISIS Camp in Libya, Killing More Than 30

FEB. 19, 2016

WASHINGTON — American warplanes struck an Islamic State camp in Libya early Friday, targeting a senior Tunisian operative linked to two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year.

The airstrikes, on a camp outside Sabratha, about 50 miles west of Tripoli, killed at least 30 Islamic State recruits at the site, many of whom were believed to be from Tunisia, according to a Western official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. Intelligence officials were trying to determine whether the operative, Noureddine Chouchane, had been killed in the strike, the official said.

The mayor of Sabratha put the death toll at 41, and said that six others had been injured. He said the airstrikes occurred around 3:30 a.m.

The airstrikes come as the Obama administration and its allies are considering increased military action against a growing threat in Libya by the Islamic State. In November, the Americans killed Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi who led the Islamic State’s arm in Libya, in an airstrike on the town of Darnah, in eastern Libya.

The Western official said that the airstrikes early Friday were focused on Mr. Chouchane, and did not represent the start of major new American war in a Muslim country. They were carried out by Air Force F-15E jets.

Mr. Chouchane was suspected of being a major Islamic State operative who helped organize an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 22 people in March and another in June that killed 38 people at a beach in the coastal resort in Sousse. Mr. Chouchane was one of five fugitives for whom the Tunisian Interior Ministry issued arrest warrants after the museum attack.

Jamal Naji Zubia, the head of the foreign news media office in Tripoli, said the airstrikes targeted a farmhouse that had been seized by Islamic State militants. Most of those killed were Tunisian, he said, although one man, who died from his wounds at a hospital, was Jordanian.

Fighters had been arriving at the house for some time, Mr. Zubia said, although the exact affiliation of the group was a mystery to neighbors. “They came individually to the house from different places,” he said. Some officials in the area said they believed the Tunisians had gathered at the house to hear a speech by a Muslim religious leader, he said.

The mayor of Sabratha, Hussain al-Dawadi, said the airstrikes had occurred in Qasr al-Allagh, a farming district about five miles outside the town. The bodies of 41 people were brought to the town, along with six seriously wounded people, he said.

After Islamic State fighters made a show of force in the center of Sabratha in December, Mr. Dawadi invited journalists from Tripoli to visit, denying that the group had a significant foothold in the town.

“A number of them living in a secluded area like this is, of course, suspicious,” he said on Friday. “It must have been a sleeper cell, not a training camp.”

Tunisian and Libyan officials have in recent months warned that jihadists operating around Sabratha represented an even greater threat than the Islamic State’s Libyan stronghold in Surt, about 220 miles southeast of Tripoli, because Sabratha is a strategic point on routes for smuggling men and matériel among Algeria, Libya and Tunisia.

Sabratha has been the base and training camp of the militant group Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, since its leader, Seifallah bin Hussein, fled Tunisia in 2013.

Tunisian officials have frequently expressed alarm about Sabratha’s emergence as a base for Ansar al-Shariah, which recruited thousands of followers in the years after the Tunisian revolution of 2011. Numerous volunteers have gone on to fight in Syria and Iraq; last year, one report put the number of Tunisian fighters in Syria at 7,000. At the end of 2014, some of those fighters publicly vowed to bring jihad to Tunisia, where a fragile democracy has been one of the few hopeful legacies of the Arab Spring.

Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia has not declared allegiance to the Islamic State, but Tunisians from both networks share close ties. The Islamic State in Libya absorbed many Ansar al-Shariah fighters in Surt, its stronghold since 2014. Surt is part of a 150-mile strip of coastline where the Islamic State has imposed a draconian form of rule including beheadings, stoning and amputation.

Mr. Bin Hussein, also known as Abu Iyadh, was a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He has maintained his loyalty to the core Qaeda headquarters in Pakistan and, as a fierce rivalry between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State for leadership of the global jihadist movement, he has sought to be a bridge between the two.

Mr. Bin Hussein was released from prison after the 2011 democratic uprising toppled the country’s longtime dictator.

Accused of orchestrating the assassinations of two left-wing politicians, and a violent protest against the United States Embassy in Tunis, he escaped to Libya in 2013, from where he has been training and recruiting fighters. He was reported killed last June in an American airstrike on Ajdabiya.

In recent months, American and British Special Operations teams have increased clandestine reconnaissance missions in Libya to identify the militant leaders and to map out their networks for possible strikes.

This week, President Obama said at a news conference, “With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after Al Qaeda wherever they appeared.”

“We will continue to take actions where we’ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind,” Mr. Obama also said, adding, “As we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.”

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, Declan Walsh from Cairo and Carlotta Gall from Pristina, Kosovo. Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya.

nytimes.com/2016/02/20/world/middleeast/us-airstrike-isis-libya.html?emc=edit_na_20160219&nlid=71783194&ref=headline&_r=0

 

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Arab World

Teenage Boy Beheaded By ISIL for Listening To Pop Music and Shot Two Others for Missing Friday Prayers

18 Feb 2016

Isis has beheaded a teenage boy for listening to pop music and shot two others for missing Friday prayers, it has been reported.

The executions by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took place in the jihadists’ Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.

According to IRA News, an independent news agency, the boy was arrested in central Mosul.

“Ayham Hussein was captured by the jihadists while listening to Pop music at the grocery store of his father in the Nabi Younis marketplace in western Mosul. He was referred to the Sharia Court, which issued a decision to execute him,” a spokesman for the Nineveh media centre said.

The beheading took place in public and his body was then handed over to his family.

In a second incident, the Independent reported, two young men were shot outside a mosque on Sunday.

One local activist, Abdulah al-Malla, said the executions took place after a member of the Sharia court warned that a similar punishment would be meted out to anybody else who failed to attend prayers.

The killings were the latest examples of the brutal Isil regime in Mosul.

In August 2014 Isil was reported to have summarily executed up to 670 prisoners.

The killings at Badoush prison were widely condemned with Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, accusing Isil of carrying out ethnic cleansing.

telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/12164246/Teenage-boy-beheaded-by-Isil-for-listening-to-pop-music.html

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Ten Saudi Major Generals Decry Riyadh's Syria Deployment Plan

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The military top brass in Saudi Arabia wrote a letter to the crown prince and interior minister, Mohammed bin Nayef, to warn him against dispatching troops to Syria, saying the plan entails dire repercussions for the Kingdom.

Ten Saudi Major Generals and marshals have signed the letter which foresees definite defeat and failure for Riyadh if the Arab monarchy sends forces to Syria following its failure in the nearly-one-year-long war on Yemen, the NTHNEWS news website reported on Thursday.

According to the report, the text of the letter has been released in different Yemeni media and gone viral on the social media.

The idea of Riyadh’s possible ground invasion of Syria was first raised on February 4 by Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi Defense Ministry.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are both part of an effort to create an alleged “Islam Army,” ostensibly aimed at combating terrorism in the region and consisting of 34 Sunni Islam nations.

Almost the entire range of extremist and terrorist groups are supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, with their key commanders and leaders being Saudi nationals. ISIL, Al-Nusra and other extremist groups pursue the same line of ideology exercised and promoted by Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism. Hundreds of Saudi clerics are among the ranks of ISIL and Al-Nusra to mentor the militants.

Wahhabism is now the only source of the textbooks taught at schools in the self-declared capital of the ISIL terrorist group, Raqqa, in Northeastern Syria resembling the texts and lessons taught to schoolgoers in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabi ideology, an extremist version of Sunni Islam that is promoted almost only in Saudi Arabia, sees all other faiths - from other interpretations of Sunni Islam to Shiism, Christianity and Judaism - as blasphemy, meaning that their followers should be decapitated as nonbelievers.

Early in February, the Saudi Defense Ministry said it stood ready to deploy ground troops to Syria to allegedly aid the US-led anti-ISIL, also known as Daesh, coalition.

Riyadh has been a member of the US-led coalition that has been launching airstrikes against Daesh in Syria since September 2014, without the permission of Damascus or the United Nations. In December 2015, Saudi Arabia started its own Muslim 34-nation coalition to allegedly fight Islamic extremism.

Daesh or ISIL/ISIS is a Wahhabi group mentored by Saudi Arabia and has been blacklisted as a terrorist group everywhere in the world, including the United States and Russia, but Saudi Arabia.

Damascus, Tehran and Moscow have issued stern warnings to Riyadh, stressing that the Saudi intruders, who in fact intend to rescue the terrorists that are sustaining heavy defeats these days, will be crushed in Syria.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned that any ground operation in Syria without Damascus' approval is an "act of aggression", warning that the Saudi aggressors "would go back home in coffins".

In Tehran, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said Saudi Arabia doesn't have the guts to send its armed forces to Syria.

"They claim they will send troops (to Syria) but I don’t think they will dare do so. They have a classic army and history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces," Jafari said.

"This will be like a coup de grâce for them. Apparently, they see no other way but this, and if this is the case, then their fate is sealed," he added.

Jafari, said this is just cheap talks, but Iran welcomes the Saudi decision if they decide to walk on this path.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941129000604

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Infighting Intensifies between Rival Terrorist Groups North of Syria

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The ISIL and other terrorist groups operating in the Northern province of Aleppo engaged in fierce clashes with each other, leaving several terrorists dead and wounded, provincial sources said.

"The ISIL terrorists stormed the Eastern gates of Marea, where they were confronted by a large group of militants from Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and al-Shamiyah Front," the sources said.

"The ISIL's offensive was ultimately repelled by the militant rival groups, which ended in the killing and wounding of many combatants from both sides," the sources added.

Syria has been in a state of war since 2011, with the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fighting against several extremist and terrorist factions, such as ISIL, which is outlawed in almost every world country.

On Thursday, the Syrian air force launched airstrikes against the ISIL in Aleppo province, killing 70 its members.

"70 militants were killed, over 60 were injured as a result of airstrikes of the Syrian Air Force against Daesh (ISIL) command posts in the regions of Jeb Ghabsha, al-Bab…in Aleppo province," a military source said.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941130000221

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Syria: Army Finds More Proof of Turkey's Aid to Terrorists in Aleppo

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army and popular forces freed two strategic villages of Masqan and Ahras in the countryside of Aleppo city from terrorists' control and found abundant proofs of Turkey's drug assistance to the militants.

Field sources in Masqan village said that the Syrian army's surprise attacks on terrorists' positions in the region made the militants flee the battlefield and facilitated the freedom of Masqan and Ahras villages.

They added that the terrorist groups had turned a school in Masqan into their medical center in which a large number of Turkey-made medical packages and drugs were found, a proof of Ankara's logistic support for the militants.

The Turkish Army, worried about the imminent collapse of terrorist-held lands in Northern Syria, has sent more military equipment and troops to one of the Turkish border cities near Syria following the recent victories of the Syrian army and Kurdish fighters against the militants in the provinces of Aleppo and Lattakia, Turkish media disclosed on Wednesday.

The city of Kilis in the Southern part of Turkey near the border with Syria and the Gaziantep-Aleppo highway has been the destination of a growing number of Turkish army troops and their modern arms and military equipment, the Turkish language news agency, Duqan reported.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941129000458

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Aleppo bishop says ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels are killing civilians

February 18, 2016

The idea that these “rebels” are “moderate” is a fiction propagated by the Obama Administration in order to justify its arming and financing them.

“Aleppo bishop says ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels are killing civilians,” Catholic Culture, February 18, 2016 (thanks to Lookmann):

A bishop in Syria’s largest city has lamented the killing of civilians by “moderate” Syrian rebels and said that Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, are liberating parts of the city.

Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, the apostolic vicar for Aleppo’s Latin-rite Catholics, said that there has been “continuous bombardment of civilians” by “groups that are called the ‘moderate opposition’” but “do not differ from the other jihadists (Islamic State and al-Nusra) other than by name,” according to Vatican Radio.

In some parts of the city, the Assad government’s “regular army is advancing with the help of the Russians, and in the liberated areas the operation of water and electricity is beginning again, the schools reopen.”

jihadwatch.org/2016/02/aleppo-bishop-says-moderate-syrian-rebels-are-killing-civilians

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Dissident Leader: Saudi, Turkish Ground Assault on Syria to Start Regional War

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Secretary-General of the Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change Mahmoud Marei warned that a ground intrusion in Syria by Saudi Arabia and Turkey will ignite a regional war.

Speaking to FNA in Damascus on Thursday, Marei elaborated on a recent meeting among leaders of the dissident groups and UN Special envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura.

"The participants in the meeting stressed that the internal opposition forces are opposed to all forms of terrorism, and that political solutions cannot be reached through partnership of the terrorist groups," he said.

"The internal opposition groups also underscored that any Saudi and Turkish ground intervention in Syria will lead the Geneva 3 negotiations into failure and will ignite a major war in the region," Marei said.

The idea of Riyadh’s possible ground invasion of Syria was first raised on February 4 by Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi Defense Ministry.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are both part of an effort to create an alleged “Islam Army,” ostensibly aimed at combating terrorism in the region and consisting of 34 Sunni Islam nations.

Almost the entire range of extremist and terrorist groups are supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, with their key commanders and leaders being Saudi nationals. ISIL, Al-Nusra and other extremist groups pursue the same line of ideology exercised and promoted by Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism. Hundreds of Saudi clerics are among the ranks of ISIL and Al-Nusra to mentor the militants.

Wahhabism is now the only source of the textbooks taught at schools in the self-declared capital of the ISIL terrorist group, Raqqa, in Northeastern Syria resembling the texts and lessons taught to schoolgoers in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabi ideology, an extremist version of Sunni Islam that is promoted almost only in Saudi Arabia, sees all other faiths - from other interpretations of Sunni Islam to Shiism, Christianity and Judaism - as blasphemy, meaning that their followers should be decapitated as nonbelievers.

Early in February, the Saudi Defense Ministry said it stood ready to deploy ground troops to Syria to allegedly aid the US-led anti-ISIL, also known as Daesh, coalition.

Riyadh has been a member of the US-led coalition that has been launching airstrikes against Daesh in Syria since September 2014, without the permission of Damascus or the United Nations. In December 2015, Saudi Arabia started its own Muslim 34-nation coalition to allegedly fight Islamic extremism.

Daesh or ISIL/ISIS is a Wahhabi group mentored by Saudi Arabia and has been blacklisted as a terrorist group everywhere in the world, including the United States and Russia, but Saudi Arabia.

Damascus, Tehran and Moscow have issued stern warnings to Riyadh, stressing that the Saudi intruders, who in fact intend to rescue the terrorists that are sustaining heavy defeats these days, will be crushed in Syria.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned that any ground operation in Syria without Damascus' approval is an "act of aggression", warning that the Saudi aggressors "would go back home in coffins".

In Tehran, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said Saudi Arabia doesn't have the guts to send its armed forces to Syria.

"They claim they will send troops (to Syria) but I don’t think they will dare do so. They have a classic army and history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces," Jafari said.

"This will be like a coup de grâce for them. Apparently, they see no other way but this, and if this is the case, then their fate is sealed," he added.

Jafari, said this is just cheap talks, but Iran welcomes the Saudi decision if they decide to walk on this path.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941129000661

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Syrian rebels say reinforcements get free passage via Turkey

February 19, 2016

At least 2,000 Syrian rebel fighters have re-entered the country from Turkey over the last week to reinforce insurgents fending off an assault by Syrian Kurdish militias, rebel sources said on Thursday.

The rebel fighters, with weapons and vehicles, have been covertly escorted across the border by Turkish forces over several nights before heading into the embattled rebel stronghold of Azaz, the sources said.

"We have been allowed to move everything from light weapons to heavy equipment mortars and missiles and our tanks," Abu Issa, a commander in the Levant Front, the rebel group that runs the border crossing of Bab al-Salam, told Reuters, giving his alias and talking on condition of anonymity.

"There is tight security on the four-hour drive from one border crossing to the other," he added, saying rebels being transported excluded the hardline Jabhat al-Nusra Front fighters and other jihadist groups.

A Turkish security source confirmed fighters had crossed the border but put the numbers at 400-500 and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence across the war torn-country, also said hundreds had crossed.

On Sunday, the Syrian government had said Turkish forces were among 100 gunmen who had entered Syria accompanied by 12 pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns in an ongoing supply operation to insurgents. The route across Turkey has become the only path for rebels to their north Aleppo enclave after recent Syrian army advances closed the main route into rebel territory.

Another rebel source said the Turkish military have stepped up delivery of munitions and heavy military hardware in the last two days to bolster rebels facing the major offensive launched by the Syrian army and its allies.

The Syrian army wants to seal it off altogether and reassert full control of Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war.

Inside Aleppo city, heavy clashes continued between Arab insurgent groups and Syrian Kurdish fighters in Kurdish-held neighborhoods of Sheikh Maqsoud, the Syrian Observatory said. The assault has helped the Syrian army come within 25 miles of the Turkish border for the first time in over two years.

Russian bombing has transformed the almost five-year-old civil war in recent weeks, turning the momentum decisively in favor of Moscow's ally President Bashar al-Assad. But the rapid advance of US-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, taking advantage of Russian air strikes to seize territory near the Turkish border, has infuriated Ankara and threatened to drive a wedge between NATO allies.

Turkey sees the militia as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade fight for autonomy in Turkey's mainly Kurdish Southeast. Determined to prevent the YPG from gaining a foothold on its border, Turkey has shelled its positions in response to what it says is fire coming across the border.

Turkey has also stepped up deliveries of military hardware to the rebels, another rebel source said. "We are getting fresh supplies of everything from missiles to mortars to armored vehicles. Almost everything is now being delivered to us," said the rebel source.

Turkish army vehicles were offloading the munitions and equipment onto Syrian rebel armored vehicles and trucks, said the rebel, who was present during a handover of weapons. New supplies of ground-to-ground missiles with a range of 20 kilometers (12 miles) had been provided to bolster the response to the Russian-backed attack, two rebel commanders said.

Facing one of the biggest defeats of the five-year-long war, rebels have been complaining that foreign states such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey have let them down by not providing them with more powerful weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles. The rebels and the Turkish government accuse the Kurdish militias of a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Arab-inhabited villages in a bid to carve a fiefdom in Syria's north.

The YPG has exploited the Russian-backed offensive, seizing ground from other opposition groups. After taking a string of towns, in what the rebels say is an advance coordinated with Russia, the YPG is now seeking to take Marea, the last town before Azaz.

todayszaman.com/diplomacy_syrian-rebels-say-reinforcements-get-free-passage-via-turkey_412634.html

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Syria: Army Only Several Kilometers from Idlib City

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army and popular forces have made remarkable advance in Idlib province in the last few weeks after winning back different strategic regions and are now only several kilometers away from the provincial capital, field sources said Thursday.

Field sources told al-Mayadeen news channel that the Syrian army and its allies are now deployed in areas near Idlib city in the Northern parts of the country.

The remarkable advances were made after the Syrian air force pounded the gathering centers of the terrorist groups in the town of Khan Sheikhoun and the regions near Mardikh town on the outskirts of Idlib city.

On Wednesday, the Syrian Air Force and artillery units carried out several assaults against the militant groups' gathering centers in the Southern territories of Idlib province, inflicting major losses on the terrorists.

The Syrian fighter jets bombed the militants' sites near the town of Tamanna, Maarat al-Nu'aman, Khan Sheikhoun, and the villages of Kafr Sajneh, al-Rakaya and al-Hamediyeh in the Southern part of Idlib province, which left tens of terrorists dead or injured and destroyed their military grid in large scale.

In the meantime, the Syrian artillery opened fire at the militants' concentration centers near the city of Jisr al-Shughour and the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which ended in destruction of the terrorists' military vehicles.

Earlier reports said that the Syrian army's commandoes in a special operation in two villages in Hama and Idlib province prevailed over the defense lines of the militant groups and killed at least six high ranking militants during the operations.

The Syrian commandoes broke through the terrorist groups' defense lines in the villages of Lahaya and al-Tamanna in Idlib and Hama respectively, killing six high ranking militants and destroying some of the militants' military positions and their military grid.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941129000693

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SDF, YPG Take Several Villages Back from ISIL in Hasaka Province

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG) in a striking attack in Northeastern Syria on Thursday forced the ISIL terrorist group to retreat from vast regions in the Eastern parts of Hasaka Province.

The SDF and YPG won back the Assyrian-populated village of Al-Kharitah, also known as Gesaya, and four nearby villages around al-Hawl in Hasaka Province in a surprise attack as their other units have been striking hard at the ISIL, Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and other terrorist groups in the Northern parts of Aleppo province in Northwestern Syria in conjunction with the Damascus army, National Defense Forces and Hezbollah. 

The YPG Kurds have recently bonded with the Damascus government. The Syrian army sent several arms cargoes to the YPG troops in the Northeastern province of Hasaka and trained the first group of Kurdish volunteer forces in the provincial capital city of Hasaka last week.

The SDF that is comprised of mainly Kurdish fighters as well as a few hundred Syrian Arab dissident forces have received trainings from the US and have been provided with scanty US-coalition air support in their battles in Raqqa province in Northeastern Syria; but in Northern and Northwestern battlefronts, they have been operating alongside the YPG and received the Russian air backup in their Aleppo wars that started with the conquest of Tishrin Dam on the Euphrates early in February.

Assisted by the Syrian army - that has along with popular forces and Hezbollah conquered almost all militant-held regions in Eastern, Southern, Western and Northwestern Aleppo province - and Russian air support, the Kurdish forces fighting against the terrorists in North-Northeast Aleppo province have been making striking advances against the Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and ISIL terrorists in February.

Earlier this week, YPG and SDF fighters prevailed over the terrorists in the highly strategic city of Tal Rifat in Northern Aleppo and captured the city.

The YPG, who enjoyed the Russian air backup, prevailed the terrorists' positions from the Western direction and shook hand with the Kurdish units of the SDF who entered the town from the North.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941129000979

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Syrian Army Advancing in Lattakia, Captures More Territories

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army troops and the National Defense Forces (NDF) continued to push the militant groups back from more villages and heights North of Lattakia province near the border with Turkey.

The Syrian army, the NDF, Fouj al-Mughawayr al-Bahr (Syrian Marines), the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and Liwa Suqour al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade) imposed full control over the village of Beit Binjarou after a tough battle with the terrorists of al-Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and Harakat Ahrar al-Sham.

Following the capture of Beit Binjarou, the army soldiers and their allies stormed the militants' positions near Jabal al-Qawama and seized back the mountain.

On Thursday, the Syrian army and popular forces broke the defense lines of the terrorists in Kinsibba in the Northern parts of Lattakia province and captured the strategic town.

The pro-government forces won back Kinsibba after intense clashes in the outskirts of the town that was the al-Nusra Front's last major stronghold on Jabal Akrad in Lattakia province.

The army and popular forces' heavy attacks broke one of the most important defense lines of the terrorist groups in Kinsibba and pushed them back to Badama town in Idlib province.

Before capturing the town, the Syrian forces took control of Jabal Kinsibba and cut the militants' major route into Kinsibba in heavy clashes.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941130000196

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Syrian Army, Allies Few Kilometers Away From Encircling ISIL Terrorists East of Aleppo

February 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army troops and popular forces have continued to advance against the ISIL militants and have only seven kilometers to completely encircle government forces around the terrorist groups East of Aleppo province, military sources said.

"The Syrian pro-government forces have been successful in the recent days, and have deployed forces within 7 km of closing the small gap that is under ISIL control between the al-Bab Plateau and the al-Safira Plains," the sources said.

"For the last 5 weeks, the Syrian soldiers and their allies have been steadily advancing West towards the Sheikh Najjar Industrial District in order to link their positions in the al-Bab Plateau," the sources added.

"Once that gap is finally closed, the government forces will have all of the remaining ISIL fighters that are entrenched inside the al-Safira Plains surrounded and there will be no outlet to retreat," the sources went on to say.

In relevant developments in the Northern battlefield on the country on Thursday, the Syrian air force and Artillery units pounded several gatherings of the terrorists and their positions in the city of Aleppo and in the Northern parts of Aleppo province.

The army’s fighter jets destroyed the positions and vehicles of the terrorist groups in the city of Hraytan and in the town of Hayyan in several combat sorties.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941130000246

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Gulf Arab states race to release youth potential in age of cheap oil

Reuters | Feb 19, 2016

DUBAI: Like the prototype drone of Emirati student Talib Alhinai, the ambitions of young people across the Gulf Arab states need to soar if they - and their economies - are to prosper in the age of cheap oil.

The 23-year-old now researching for his PhD is just the kind of innovator that the region requires, along with youngsters who want the risky life of an entrepreneur rather than a safe but unproductive job working for the state.

Wearing a crisp white Arabian robe and headdress, Alhinai cranes his glasses upward as his drone climbs above an outdoor amphitheatre in downtown Dubai, and explains how it can swoop down and squirt 3D printed sealant onto damaged oil pipelines.

Petrodollars won Gulf Arab states decades of prosperity, when loyalty and stability could be bought by giving graduates with subpar education cushy government posts.

No more. The collapse in oil prices is forcing governments to make good on old promises to turn their growing youth populations into a workforce that can compete globally.

Showing off the prototype he built with classmates at Imperial College London, winning a state-sponsored "Drones for Good" competition at the amphitheatre, Alhinai said Gulf Arab youngsters were eager to make livelihoods from their ideas, not handouts.

"There's a realisation, an awakening, among my generation that the age of oil can't last forever and that we need to pick up the pace to give back to our societies, especially through innovation and technology, to shred this stereotype about us being idle," said Alhinai.

Over half of Gulf Arab nationals are employed in public sector jobs; in Kuwait the figure is nearly 80 percent.

But now the International Monetary Fund predicts economic growth in six oil-exporting states of the Gulf Cooperation Council will slip to 2.8 percent in 2016 from 3.25 in 2014, and private sector growth has likewise fallen.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have both launched initiatives this year to outsource services from the state to the private sector, rein in spending and invest in education and vocational training.

Reckoning

Nowhere is the problem so acute as in top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, which is running a $100 billion budget deficit and has used up $90 billion of its foreign assets in the past 18 months. At that rate they would be gone in just a few years.

Underlining the problem, the Standard & Poor's agency downgraded the credit ratings of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman this week in its second mass cut of large oil producers in almost a year.

Vast energy reserves and tiny populations in Qatar and Kuwait mean they have more time to get their nationals into more productive work, but Saudi Arabia can no longer buy off its 20 million citizens with public sector welfare.

State-owned oil giant Aramco, the largest Saudi company and a paragon of efficiency in the kingdom's often hidebound economy, is trying to encourage innovation by giving entrepreneurs training and loans.

One such beneficiary is 28-year-old Loai Labani, who owns tech company Innosoft based in Dhahran Techno Valley in the country's east. He said risk-taking was still foreign to Saudi job culture and few of his peers understood why he would strive for his own success rather than take a plum official post.

"My family and my friends were trying to tell me you shouldn't focus on this, just get a government job and the security that comes with it," Labani said.

"Of my 20 employees, half are Saudi and I need 10 more, but it's a struggle to get the quality developers, web-designers and programmers. We have to do 2-300 interviews to hire just one Saudi, because not just the knowledge but the personality for private enterprise is so hard to find."

According to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, promoting those skills will be one of the greatest challenges for Gulf countries and will entail a rethinking of the "social contract" under which state generosity won stability in a turbulent region.

"There is a clear tension between countries' wish to encourage economic creativity and risk-taking on the one hand and their desire to maintain relative social and political quiescence on the other," wrote author Carolyn Barnett.

Igniting the imagination

The UAE leads its neighbours in trying to diversify away from oil. In June last year, the IMF said the country could keep spending at current rates for 30-40 years - but then the oil price promptly halved.

This month the UAE staged its largest ever government restructuring, merging ministries to reduce costs and creating state bodies to advance science, human capital and youth.

"Education is the essential prerequisite to creating a generation that's productive," said Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a senior member of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi, the largest of the emirates.

"We want it so that when a student graduates - whether in engineering, humanities or anything else - they can open doors," he told reporters at his desert palace before dog and camel races that he sponsors. "We want the education standards to be strong, not weak like they are now, which can't be denied."

At the reception, tables groaned under lobster and gazelle meat for his guests, and costumed desert knights on horseback held aloft banners of the ruling sheikhs' faces - trappings of largesse and reverence familiar to the Gulf.

But at Dubai's Museum of the Future, a glimpse of what may await Gulf Arabs was on show. Emirati boys in robes and groups of young women dressed from head to toe in black roamed the exhibition's purple-lit chambers, gazing at concept inventions: goggles that detect others' moods, earpieces that translate and brain implants that can transmit thoughts.

The Museum, set to open fully in 2018, aims to work with research companies and universities to turn such gizmos into "Made in the UAE" reality, and also to inspire.

"Some of the technology highlighted here is not set to be realised until 2030," said museum director Saif Al Aleeli. "We present it here to ignite the imagination of our young people, so they can get an idea of the world that they will live in and hopefully create themselves."

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/-Gulf-Arab-states-race-to-release-youth-potential-in-age-of-cheap-oil/articleshow/51053844.cms

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MSF admits withholding Syria hospital coordinates from Damascus & Moscow

19 Feb, 2016

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) does not provide GPS coordinates of health facilities it supports in Syria to either Damascus or Moscow over fears of “deliberate” attacks, the medical charity said, blaming a recent strike on “probably” Syrian or Russian forces.

“We gave to the Russian ambassadors in Paris [and] in Geneva coordinates for three hospitals located in very intense conflict zones, but not for all of them, and it was a decision taken together with the medical staff of the health facilities that we support,” said MSF operations director Isabelle Defourny.

At least 25 people were killed, including nine medical personnel and 16 patients, when airstrikes destroyed a hospital supported by MSF. Ten others were wounded when four missiles reportedly struck the hospital initially at around 9:00am local time Monday, according to accounts provided by medical staff on site. Forty minutes later, after rescuers arrived, the hospital was allegedly bombed again.

According to MSF, the coordinates had not been shared with the authorities or relevant Russian representatives because of safety concerns that were voiced by doctors operating in Syria.

“The staff of the hospital [and] the director of the hospital didn't know if they would be better protected if they give the GPS or not,” Defourny said.

The operations director also noted, citing a deadly US airstrike in October on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that even offering GPS location would not serve as a safety guarantee. But now, after the latest strikes, the charity seeks to remedy the situation and expects its affiliated medical staffers to share their coordinates with the Syrian government officials.

The NGO seeks an independent investigation into the strikes, but has already accused the Russian air force and the Syrian Army of “probably” hitting the Maaret al-Numan hospital, yet at the same time acknowledging that it has no evidence into their assertion.

“We say a probability because we don’t have more facts than the accounts from our staff,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, MSF’s international president.

The Pentagon has also failed to provide any additional intelligence to back the claims of Russia and Damascus involvement in the deadly attack, with Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson Colonel Steven Warren admitting it was all “unclear.”

"Unclear to us whether it was the Russian aircraft, Syrian aircraft or a Russian missile or a Syrian missile, that part at this point is a little bit unclear to us,” Warren said on Wednesday.

“It is important to note that there were no coalition strikes in that area and in fact there have been no coalition strikes in Aleppo this year,” he added, contradicting the information shared by the Russian defense ministry last week.

While the Syrian ambassador said Damascus has “intelligence information” that showed US warplanes had struck the hospital, the Russian presidential spokesman met allegations that the Russian Air Force delivered the strike with a flat denial, urging detractors to provide proof of the “empty” and “unfounded” accusations.

“We vehemently reject such allegations, particularly because those making those statements have always proven to be unable to deliver any proof of their unfounded accusations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

MSF says that attacks against civilian infrastructure and hospitals became “routine”, saying that 101 shelling attacks have hit some 70 MSF-supported facilities over the last 13 months in Syria. At the same time, the MSF noted that it never received official permission from Damascus to carry out work in Syria and operates mainly in areas held by anti-government forces.

The NGO president also noted the dire situation on the Turkish border, where Ankara continues its cross-border shelling of the Syrian Kurds gaining more ground.

“100,000 people are caught in northern Syria, near Azaz. They’re trying to escape the escalating air strikes and ground combat,” Liu said. “They are trapped between the Turkish border and a frontline.”

https://www.rt.com/news/332950-msf-hospitals-coordinates-syria/

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Pakistan

Christian Couple Sentenced To Death for Sending 'Blasphemous' Texts to An Islamic Cleric In Pakistan

By SARA MALM FOR MAILONLINE

18 February 2016

A disabled Christian man and his wife sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy have claimed they were tortured into confessing.

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, from Gojra, east Pakistan, were found guilty of sending a text message which 'blasphemed' against the Prophet Mohammed to their local imam in 2013.

Mr Emmanuel, who is paralysed from the waist down, claims the only reason he confessed to the crime was because he could not stand watching his wife be tortured by police.

Death penalty: Disabled Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were found guilty of sending a blasphemous text message to their local imam, but Mr Emmanuel claims he only confessed under torture

'There is no man who can stand to see his wife being tortured by police, so to save my wife, I confessed,' Mr Emmanuel said in an appeal for bail lodged this week.

The couple were arrested in July 2013 after their local imam, Maulvi Mohammed Hussain, claimed Mr Emmanuel had used his wife's phone to sent him a text insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

The couple, who have four children, denies ever sending the text, saying the phone had been stolen from them months before the message was supposed to have been sent.

“There was no evidence that the text messages came from a phone owned by the couple,' Farukh Saif, an official of World Vision in Progress giving legal aid to the couple, told Christians in Pakistan.

In the first place they had lost the phone some months before July 2013 and secondly there was no SIM card in their names.

The only evidence police produced was a bill for a SIM card from a shop owner which is unheard of.'

The couple denies ever sending the text, saying the phone had been stolen from them months before the message was supposed to have been sent

The couple denies ever sending the text, saying the phone had been stolen from them months before the message was supposed to have been sent

Mr Emmanuel and Ms Kausar were initially sentenced to death for blasphemy, but as with nearly all such convictions, it is most likely they will spend the rest of their lives in jail.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously in the country.

Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence.

They have lodged an appeal at Lahore High Court on the grounds of Mr Emmanuel's deteriorating condition, claiming lack of treatment in jail has left him with bedsores and life-threatening ill health.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam is taken very seriously in the country.

Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence.

Last month, the head of a powerful religious body in the country said he is willing to review Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws,  to decide if they are Islamic.

Pakistan's religious and political elites almost universally keep clear of debating blasphemy laws in a country where criticism of Islam is a highly sensitive subject. Even rumours of blasphemy have sparked rampaging mobs and deadly riots.

But Muhammad Khan Sherani, chairman of a body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam, told Reuters he was willing to reopen the debate and see whether sentences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.

"The government of Pakistan should officially, at the government level, refer the law on committing blasphemy to the Council of Islamic Ideology. There is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy on this issue," Sherani said in an interview at his office close to Pakistan's parliament.

"Then the council can seriously consider things and give its recommendation of whether it needs to stay the same or if it needs to be hardened or if it needs to be softened," Sherani,  said.

dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3452587/Christian-couple-sentenced-death-sending-blasphemous-texts-Islamic-cleric-Pakistan-say-tortured-confessing-crime.html#ixzz40cNY36oh

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Pakistan, with 324 executions in 2015, ranks third worldwide

Reuters | Feb 19, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan hanged 324 people last year to rank third worldwide in terms of executions, but the vast majority of those put to death had no links to militant groups or attacks, rights groups said in a report seen by Reuters.

Pakistan lifted a moratorium on executions in late 2014 as a measure to deter militancy, after a Taliban gunmen attacked a school and killed 134 students and 19 adults.

Of the 351 executions that followed, only 39, or about 1 in 10, involved people linked to a known militant group or guilty of crimes linked to militancy, Reprieve, an international human rights group, and Justice Project Pakistan said in a report.

Pakistan now ranks after China and Iran, carrying out 324 hangings in 2015 alone, the report showed.

Juveniles, mentally ill prisoners, and prisoners who had been tortured or had not received fair trials were among those executed, the report found in an analysis of media reports and data from courts, prisons and legal teams.

"The numbers show that the Pakistan government's claims do not match reality," said Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve.

"Those going to the gallows are too often the poor and vulnerable," she said in a statement. "It is hard to see how hanging people like this will make Pakistan safer."

A spokesman from Pakistan's interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

The government initially said the unofficial moratorium was only being lifted in cases connected to militancy, but it was later broadened to cover all cases, the report said.

The hangings have drawn condemnation from international partners but have been broadly popular at home.

Government officials told Reuters last year that the policy had been helping to deter militant attacks.

Militant, insurgent and sectarian attacks have fallen since 2014, though it is unclear whether the decline is linked to the change in execution policy, as it has also coincided with a military crackdown on militant strongholds.

Last year, attacks in Pakistan by militant, insurgent and sectarian groups were down 48 percent from 2014, an independent think-tank, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, says.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pakistan-with-324-executions-in-2015-ranks-third-worldwide/articleshow/51053425.cms

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Nawaz Sharif, Narendra Modi likely to meet in Washington next month

IANS | Feb 19, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Shairf is likely to meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Washington next month on the sidelines of a nuclear summit hosted by US President Barack Obama, a media report said on Friday.

Sharif and Modi have both accepted President Obama's invitation to attend a nuclear summit he is hosting in Washington on March 31 and April 1, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

"The chances are strong, very strong," said a senior official.

"But you know the history of India-Pakistan talks, you cannot be certain about an event until it has happened," the official added.

It will be the first time that both Indian and Pakistani premiers will be attending the nuclear security summit, which President Obama initiated in 2010.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Nawaz-Sharif-Narendra-Modi-likely-to-meet-in-Washington-next-month/articleshow/51050553.cms

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Pathankot terror attack: Pakistan police lodge FIR against unidentified persons

PTI | Feb 19, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities have lodged an FIR into the Pathankot terror attack case, officials said on Friday, after weeks of probe into the assault that led to the postponement of India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks.

The FIR was registered at counter-terrorism department (CTD) centre at Gujranwala in Punjab province on Thursday.

According to a CTD official, the FIR was needed to start police and judicial proceedings on the basis of evidence collected in connection with the attack for which India has blamed Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group.

India has identified Maulana Masood Azhar as the mastermind of the attack. It has also blamed his brother Rauf and five others for carrying out the attack that killed all six terrorists and seven Indian soldiers.

The FIR number 06/2016 was lodged under sections 302, 324 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code, and sections 7 and 21-I of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Nobody has been named in the report lodged on the basis of informations provided by India's National Security Adviser Ajit Doval that four attackers probably crossed from Pakistan into India and attacked the airbase on January 2.

The attack led to the postponement of a scheduled meeting between foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India in January in Islamabad. Since then, no date has been fixed for talks.

The FIR also shows the telephone numbers contacted by the militants during the attack. A police official said that after the registration of the FIR, any accused can be presented before the court for start of a formal trial.

According to intelligence officials, about a dozen suspects were arrested in Pakistan following the attack.

The FIR has reportedly been registered on the recommendations of a six-member special team probing the attack.

Last month, CTD police Gujranwala had presented three JeM militants before an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) for possessing jihadi literature.

The suspects were arrested by CTD from a seminary run by JeM in Mundeyki, where the headquarters of the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-u-Dawah is located.

Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif had formed the six-member investigation team headed by additional inspector general of Punjab's CTD Rai Tahir to probe India's assertion that JeM was behind the attack.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Pathankot-terror-attack-Pakistan-police-lodge-FIR-against-unidentified-persons/articleshow/51051899.cms

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Mideast

150 Allegedly 'Burned Alive By Turkish Military' During Crackdown on PKK

19 Feb, 2016

A member of the Turkish parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party has accused the military of atrocities in Turkey's southeast, claiming they have ‘burned alive’ more than 150 people trapped in basements.

"In the Cizre district of Sırnak, around 150 people have been burned alive in different buildings by Turkish military forces. Some corpses were found without heads. Some were burned completely, so that autopsy is not possible," Feleknas Uca told Sputnik, adding that “most” of those killed were Kurds.

While Uca’s statements have not been confirmed by RT on the ground, or independently verified by a third party, the MP warned that more people could face a similar fate as more than 200 people remain trapped inside buildings across the region.

"The situation in Diyarbakir is terrible. Its district Sur is seeing its 79th day of curfew. Two hundred people were trapped in basements and Turkey’s special forces won’t rescue them," Uca said.

Turkish security forces have been trying to clear southeastern towns and cities of PKK members since last July, when a two-year cease-fire collapsed. Dozens of civilians continue to be trapped in basements in the Cizre district of Turkey’s Sirnak province. Despite an official announcement that the military op was concluded last week, the curfew remains in place.

The reports of the massacre first surfaced earlier this week when the ANHA news agency, reported the discovery of 115 bodies.

The corpses were so badly burned that relatives were only able to identify 10 out of the 115 bodies found in the Sur and Cudi neighborhoods of Şırnak’s Cizre district. According to the report, DNA samples were taken from the victims to identify the bodies.

The Todayszaman newspaper reports that as of last Thursday the Cizre State Hospital morgue had no space for bodies being brought in and they had been sent to other morgues in the region.

Also, last Thursday, Interior Minister Efkan Ala confirmed that targeting of the PKK in Cizre had been completed. On Sunday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) announced the discovery of 31 bodies during searches in six buildings in Cizre. The army also said the military operations in Cizre, which started on December 14, had killed 659 PKK members.

Yet despite the completion of the operation, wounded people are reported to be still trapped inside basements. Kurdish Netherlands-based ANF News is reporting that DIHA correspondent is trapped with some 30 people underground, with women and children among the wounded awaiting medical treatment. Some are in critical condition.

Last month the Turkish Human Rights Foundation said more than 160 civilians had been killed since Ankara's launched its crackdown on the PKK in August. Among those killed are 29 women, 32 children, and 24 people over the age of 60.

https://www.rt.com/news/332951-kurds-burned-alive-turkey/

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Turkey strikes Syrian Kurdish YPG with missiles

February 19, 2016

Turkey has struck positions of Syrian Kurdish militia the People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria with short to medium-range missiles, the Turkish media has reported.

Turkish authorities hold the YPG, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), responsible for a bomb attack in Ankara on Wednesday that killed 28 people and wounded 61.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Thursday said the suspect behind the attack was a Syrian national, Salih Neccar, who is believed to be linked to the YPG. The militia denies any responsibility for the attack and any links to the suspect.

The Turkish military used Stinger and I-Hawk missile systems near the Syrian border in a rural area of the Kırıkhan district of the southern province of Hatay, the media reported.

Local sources said the military fired five missiles at YPG positions in western Syria late on Thursday. Firing missiles marks a sharp escalation, after Turkey had shelled YPG targets over the past five days.

The Turkish military again struck YPG positions early on Friday, local media reported.

todayszaman.com/latest-news_turkey-strikes-syrian-kurdish-ypg-with-missiles_412731.html

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Turkish minister says US making conflicting statements over Syrian Kurdish YPG

February 19, 2016

Turkey's foreign minister accused the United States on Friday of making conflicting statements about the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia, in a sign of deepening divisions between the NATO allies over policy in Syria.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said US Secretary of State John Kerry had told him the Kurdish insurgents could not be trusted, in what Çavuşoğlu said was a departure from Washington's official position.

Washington's support of the YPG in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria has enraged Ankara, which fears advances by the Kurdish militia in northern Syria would stoke separatism among its own Kurdish minority. Turkey says the YPG was responsible for a car bombing in Ankara that killed 28 people this week.

"Resorting to terrorist groups like the YPG in the fight against Daesh in Syria is above all a sign of weakness," Çavuşoğlu said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamist group. "Everyone must stop this mistake. In particular our ally the United States must stop this mistake immediately."

He was speaking at a news conference in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and his comments were carried live on Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber.

"My friend Kerry said the YPG cannot be trusted," Çavuşoğlu said. "When you look at some statements coming from America, conflicting and confused statements are still coming.... We were glad to hear from John Kerry yesterday that his views on the YPG have partly changed."

The United States has said it does not consider the YPG a terrorist group. A spokesman for the State Department said on Thursday Washington was not in a position to either confirm or deny Turkey's charge the YPG was behind the Ankara bombing attack.

He also called on Turkey to stop its recent shelling of the YPG. The YPG's political arm has denied the group was behind the bombing and said Turkey was using the attack to justify an escalation in fighting in northern Syria.

A car laden with explosives detonated next to military buses as they waited at traffic lights near Turkey armed forces' headquarters in the administrative heart of Ankara late on Wednesday.

So far, authorities have detained 17 people in connection with the bombing and there was evidenced they were linked to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), state-run Anadolu Agency reported, citing sources from the Ankara prosecutor's office.

Separately, security force members caught two people in a car loaded with 500 kg of explosives on Thursday evening in the Dicle district of the city of Diyarbakır in the mainly Kurdish southeast, security sources said.

todayszaman.com/latest-news_turkish-minister-says-us-making-conflicting-statements-over-syrian-kurdish-ypg_412730.html

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Turkish school kids told to attend march to celebrate Erdoğan’s birthday

February 18, 2016

More than 2,000 schoolchildren in the Turkish capital of Ankara will take part in a march to be held as part of celebrations for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's birthday, an official document shows.

According to a copy of an official notification circulated in social media, which appears to have been sent by Ankara's Etimesgut district national education directorate to schools in the district on Feb. 16., a march that goes from the Beştepe Gendarmerie Command building to the presidential palace will be held on Feb. 26 with a total of 2,023 disabled and non-disabled students in attendance, “for the celebration of Mr. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's birthday.”

According to the document, the march has been organized by the directorate, the Aşmak için Eşitlik (Equality to Overcome) Campaign and the Turkiye Beyazay Derneği (Turkey Whitemoon Association) and will be held under the heading of Turkey's goals for 2023, a year which will be the centennial of the Turkish Republic.

The notification asks the school administrations to fill in the attached forms so that school managers, teachers and students who will attend the march will be granted leave.

There has been no statement confirming plans for official birthday celebrations for Erdoğan.

The president and former prime minister, who has been widely criticized for what critics deem authoritarian tendencies, will turn 62 on Feb. 26.

todayszaman.com/national_turkish-school-kids-told-to-attend-march-to-celebrate-erdogans-birthday_412695.html

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Turkey briefs UN Security Council ambassadors over Ankara attack

February 18, 2016

Ambassadors from five countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council were summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Thursday, following an attack on Wednesday in Turkey's capital, Ankara, that killed 28 people.

A car laden with explosives was detonated in the administrative heart of the capital next to military buses as they waited at traffic lights near the Turkish General Staff's headquarters, Parliament and government buildings late on Wednesday.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Associated Press that the ambassadors of Britain, China, France, Russia and the US were invited to the ministry separately and were being briefed on the attack.

The ambassadors of Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the head of the European Union delegation, were also invited on Thursday, the ministry official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Turkey's leaders say a Syrian national who was a member of a Syrian Kurdish militia group carried out the suicide car bombing on Wednesday evening in collaboration with Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

Turkey labels both groups as terrorist organizations and is pressuring allies to stop backing the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG).

The meeting with ambassadors came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu vowed to launch a diplomatic push to steer Turkey's allies closer to its position on the YPG.

The US and other Western countries see the YPG as an indispensable force in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Syria.

The group recently expanded territory in northern Syria, driving a wedge between Turkey and its NATO ally, the US. Kurdish gains stoke Turkey's fear about a possible Kurdish statelet along its border with Syria.

The YPG has exploited the advance of the Russian-backed Syrian army and seized ground from other rebel groups, moving closer to its long-sought goal of uniting cantons -- administrative units -- with uninterrupted control of the Turkey-Syria border.

The Turkish military began shelling YPG positions around Azaz after the militia came closer to capture the town before regime forces, threatening to cut the last supply line of moderate rebels, backed by both Turkey and the West.

Turkey has been trying to persuade its allies that the YPG is affiliated with the terrorist PKK, but its relentless diplomatic efforts yielded no tangible result, with the US and the EU remaining indifferent to calls from Ankara to cut ties with the Kurdish militia.

Erdoğan said on Thursday during his visit to military headquarters that Turkey will step up diplomatic efforts to prove the link between the YPG and the PKK, renewing his call on allies to reconsider their relationship with the Syrian Kurdish group.

Speaking earlier in the day, Davutoğlu said the YPG is behind the bomb attack and Turkey will retaliate.

Both the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing, the YPG, denied any responsibility for the attack.

todayszaman.com/diplomacy_turkey-briefs-un-security-council-ambassadors-over-ankara-attack_412660.html

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Prominent figures oppose Turkey’s entering war in Syria

February 18, 2016

A total of 202 prominent figures in Turkey, including journalists, academics, politicians and activists, who have gathered under the banner of the Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative (AFTI), have voiced their objection to the possibility of Turkey going to war in Syria.

In a statement on Thursday, AFTI said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government declared all international powers which are involved in Syria -- including Russia, Iran, the United States and the European Union -- enemies, along with Syria's regime under President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Among the 202 members of AFTI are Professor of International Relations Baskın Oran, Professor of Sociology Ferhat Kentel, veteran journalist Hasan Cemal, former leader of the now-defunct Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) Nesrin Nas, and artists Nur Sürer and Oya Baydar.

Underlining the AK Party government's contradictions in its Syria policy, the AFTI statement said, “While asking NATO to take action against Russia, whose jet was shot down by Turkey, the government wants to be part of the Shanghai [Cooperation Organization (SCO)] and declares Saudi Arabia and Qatar allies.”

The statement claimed that despite no international powers forcing Turkey to enter the war in Syria, the AK Party government is dragging the Turkish Republic into a trap there.

“There are allegations of occupying the Syrian Republic with 150,000 Saudi Arabian-Qatari land forces and Saudi jets deployed to the İncirlik airbase in Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkey is shelling Syrian Kurds because it is unable to use its jets in Syria's airspace due to a possible Russian jet encounter,” the statement said.

The statement also underlined that the Turkish people will not let the AK Party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan drag Turkey into war, a possibility which Erdoğan also tried in March 2003.

Parliament rejected a motion on March 1, 2003 to allow US troops to use Turkey to open a northern front in the country's war in Iraq.

“We will not let the children of ordinary Turks die in Syria for the sake of the ambitions of politicians, while their sons are somehow exempted from doing their compulsory military service,” AFTI said.

todayszaman.com/national_security-measures-stepped-up-at-i-stanbul-airport-after-ankara-attack_412664.html

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Turkish authorities seize car loaded with explosives in Diyarbakır

February 19, 2016

A car loaded with 500 kilograms of explosives was captured and two people were detained in connection with the incident in the Dicle district of Diyarbakır on Friday, the area's governor's office said.

According to a statement on the governor's office website, at a checkpoint on a road in Dicle a car slowed down close to the checkpoint area, and two men who got out of the car opened fire on the patrol officers present. After the officers responded by firing back the assailants abandoned the car and ran into a nearby forest.

Two more cars suspected of assisting the bomb-laden car were later captured by the security forces and the drivers were detained.

In addition to the 500 kilograms of explosives, several types of ammunition were also found in the car, which according to the statement was left by members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

todayszaman.com/latest-news_turkish-authorities-seize-car-loaded-with-explosives-in-diyarbakir_412758.html

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Commander: Terrorists Behind Borders Grounded by IRGC

FEB. 19, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Force Brigadier General Mohmmad Pakpour said the IRGC forces have stretched military operations in Northwestern Iran, as a result of which some of the cornered terrorists have been forced to commit suicide.

Speaking to FNA on Thursday, General Pakpour said, “There was a time when the terrorists used to cross the Iranian border from the South-East, attack Iranian targets and escape. Now, however, we have managed to ground and corner them, forcing them to fight us from behind the borderlines.”

“The terrorists are no longer able to cross the Iranian borders. They no longer control large swathes of land. That’s why they cannot attack Iranian targets like before,” he added.

Earlier this week Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi announced plans by the IRGC to hold massive missile drills in the final days of the current month.

"The IRGC missile wargames have been communicated to be staged in the first half of (the Iranian month of) Esfand (February 11-March 5)," Firouzabadi said on Monday.

"Testing and evaluating precision-striking capabilities and power, increasing the Armed Forces' preparedness, and strengthening the missile deterrence power are among the main goals of the drills," he added.

Iranian Armed Forces recently test-fired different types of newly-developed missiles and torpedoes and tested a large number of home-made weapons, tools and equipment, including submarines, military ships, artillery, choppers, aircrafts, UAVs and air defense and electronic systems, during massive military drills.

Defense analysts and military observers say that Iran's wargames and its advancements in weapons production have proved as a deterrent factor.

The officials have always underscored that the country's defense program cannot be affected by the nuclear deal clinched between Iran and the world powers on July 14 and the UN Security Council resolutions.

On October 11, Iran successfully test-fired the country's new precision-guided long-range ballistic missile that can be controlled until the moment of impact. Emad carries a conventional warhead.

"This missile (Emad) which has been fully designed and made by Iranian Defense Ministry's scientists and experts is the country' first long-range missile with navigation and strike controlling capability; it is capable of hitting and destroying the targets with high-precision," Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan told reporters after the successful test of Emad missile.

The Iranian Defense Minister reiterated that the manufacture and successful testing of Emad missile is a technological and operational jump in a strategic field, and said, "We don’t ask for anyone's permission for boosting our defense and missile power; we resolutely continue our defense programs, specially in the missile field, and Emad missile is a conspicuous example."

General Dehqan felicitated Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Armed Forces and nation on the successful testing, and appreciated the scientists and experts of the Aerospace Industries Organization of the Defense Ministry.

The Iranian Defense Minister reiterated that the mass production and delivery of Emad missile to the country's Armed Forces will considerably increase their power and tactical capabilities.

IRGC Lieutenant Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami announced in December that the IRGC operational units had been supplied with Emad missile.

"Emad missile systems were delivered to the IRGC operational units," Salami told FNA.

He also said the missile will likely be used in the upcoming wargames.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941129000436

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South Asia

Drone strike kills six Taliban in Paktika’s Gomal District

By Khaama Press - Thu Feb 18 2016

A drone strike has killed six Taliban militants in Gomal District of Paktika province, an official said on Thursday.

Spokesperson for the governor of Paktika province told Khaama Press that militants killed in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) attack in Raghi area on Wednesday morning were fighting under the command of Asmatullah, the shadow governor of Taliban for Gomal District.

Nabiullah Peerkhil further said that the dead bodies of the insurgents were shifted by other Taliban members from the area.

Local officials also confirmed the air strike saying that it was conducted on a hideout of Taliban early in the morning and that a number of weapons were also destroyed in the attack.

Taliban have not yet commented on the report.

khaama.com/drone-strike-kills-six-taliban-in-paktikas-gomal-district-4590

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Three killed in Afghan army raid on clinic run by Swedish aid group

Reuters | Feb 18, 2016

GHAZNI (Afghanistan): Two patients and a caretaker were killed during an overnight raid by Afghan forces on a health clinic in the central province of Wardak, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, the aid group which runs the facility, said on Thursday.

The aid group said the information it had received indicated the Afghan National Army had conducted the raid on the clinic in the Tangi Saidan area of Wardak late on Wednesday night and it called for those responsible to be held accountable.

"This attack constitutes a gross violation of humanitarian principles and the Geneva Convention that all actors of a conflict have to respect," Jorgen Holmstrom, country director of SCA, said in a statement. "Medical facilities and medical staff are to provide treatment to anyone in need and patients are to be granted safety according to humanitarian law," he said.

Provincial government spokesman Hemat, who like many Afghans goes by one name only, said a special forces unit conducted an operation in the Tangi Saidan area of Wardak and killed four insurgents.

He said he was unaware of a raid on a hospital, but a provincial official and some local residents said the facility had been hit.

"There was a raid at the hospital by Afghan special forces where wounded Taliban fighters are usually treated," said Hasan Rasouli, a member of the provincial council in Wardak. He said four insurgents were killed and another was captured.

A spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry said he had no information on any operation in the area. An interior ministry spokesman said an operation against Taliban members had been conducted in Wardak but had not targeted a hospital.

In a statement, the Taliban said the attack was carried out by US-led troops but a spokesman at the headquarters of NATO's Resolute Support mission in Kabul said there was no indication of any operations by international forces in the area.

"At this time we have no operational reporting of any coalition or US activity in the vicinity of any hospitals in Wardak," said Resolute Support public affairs director, US army Colonel Michael Lawhorn.

The incident comes less than five months after 42 people were killed in a US air strike on a hospital in the northern city of Kunduz run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres.

A report from the United Nations this week said that 11,000 civilians were killed or wounded last year, with around 17 percent of casualties caused by forces on the government side.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/Three-killed-in-Afghan-army-raid-on-clinic-run-by-Swedish-aid-group/articleshow/51043968.cms

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NDS prevents suicide bombing in Laghman

By Khaama Press - Thu Feb 18 2016

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) – Afghanistan’s intelligence agency has prevented a suicide bombing in the capital of eastern Laghman province.

A statement released by NDS on Thursday states that Atta Mohammad S/O Agha Mohammad planned to explode his suicide vest in a busy part of Mehtarlam city but luckily he was arrested with the assistance of locals before he could reach to his target.

In a footage released by NDS, the suspect says he was recruited by Ashabuddin aka Nawlak who took him to Alishang District where he received training from Qari Janat Gul.

Atta Mohammad further says that after spending some days in Alishang, he was then told by Qari Janat Gul to carry out suicide attack on a commander of local police.

“I was told that I would go to paradise with doing this,” Atta Mohammad adds.

khaama.com/nds-prevents-suicide-attack-in-laghman-4591

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Google begins its translation services in Pashto language

By Zabihullah Moosakhail - Thu Feb 18 2016

Google has announced the addition of 13 more languages to its online translation services including Pashto, one of the two formal languages of Afghanistan which is also spoken by a large portion of population in Pakistan.

The company now provides online translation services in 103 languages free of charge.

By the company’s estimate, the service now covers 99 percent of the online population.

Other twelve languages added are Amharic, Corsican, Frisian, Kyrgyz, Hawaiian, Kurdish (Kurmanji), Luxembourgish, Samoan, Scots Gaelic, Shona, Sindhi, and Xhosa.

Google says this helps bring “a combined 120 million new people to the billions who can already communicate with Translate all over the world.”

Google Translate first launched in April 2006, using rule-based machine translation between English and Arabic.

Translation between English and Russian followed in December 2006, and the addition of new languages ramped up in 2007.

Google Translate has thus passed the 100 languages mark in just under 10 years.

khaama.com/google-begins-its-translation-services-in-pashto-language-4594

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Afghan Schools to Gain Local-Language Learning Materials through International Partnership

By Zabihullah Moosakhail - Thu Feb 18 2016

Ireland-based charity The Rosetta Foundation, and the Afghanistan-based Darakht-e -Danesh (DD) Library have partnered to expand the learning materials available in languages spoken in Afghanistan for Afghan schools.

The partnership mobilises the Foundation’s community of 11,000 volunteer translators around the world through its Translation Commons (Trommons) platform, and will make materials accessible in Pashto and Dari through the DD Library’s www.darakhtdanesh.org platform in Afghanistan.

”Billions of people around the globe continue to be disenfranchised because they lack access to information in their language,” said Hans Fenstermacher, Chairman of The Rosetta Foundation’s Executive Committee.

“Our volunteers are helping close that gap every day. Through their work in this partnership, more schoolchildren in Afghanistan will be able to learn and become full-fledged members of society.”

“We are convinced that the fastest road to peace in Afghanistan is through the development of human capital in the country,” said Jamshid Hashimi, the DD Library’s Development Manager, from Kabul.

“Our library of localised learning resources aims to meet that goal and working with an international platform like Trommons connects us with a large pool of translation talent, helping grow our collection. We are thrilled to be working together in the shared objective of reducing the divide to accessing knowledge.”

The DD Library currently has over 100 resources in need of translation into Dari and over 200 for Pashto, as well as plans to expand to other Afghan languages such as Uzbeki and Turkmeni.

The Darakht-e-Danesh Library invites linguists and book publishers to join this collaborative project and help expand learning opportunities for all Afghan children and their teachers.

khaama.com/afghan-schools-to-gain-local-language-learning-materials-through-international-partnership-4589

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NDS busted bomb making factory in Ghazni

By Khaama Press - Thu Feb 18 2016

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) – Afghanistan’s intelligence agency has busted a bomb making factory in central Ghazni province of Afghanistan.

The agency writes in a statement released on Thursday that a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), motorcycle-bomb and seven keg-bombs ‘Oil kegs filled with explosives’ and eight missiles.

According to the press release, terrorists planned to carry out several attacks with these materials in Ghazni but NDS personnel foiled their plans.

NDS statements usually do not contain exact date of the achievements but they come after recent activities.

khaama.com/nds-busted-bomb-making-factory-in-ghazni-4583

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Minister of agriculture survives bomb blast in southern Afghanistan

By Khaama Press - Thu Feb 18 2016

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock has survived a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan.

Asadullah Zamir was on his way from Kandahar to Helmand when a bomb went off on his convoy this afternoon.

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock says the blast did not have casualties but it damaged a vehicle.

Zamir has been on a visit in southern Afghanistan assessing opportunities for strengthening the agriculture sector.

He met local authorities and farmers of Urozgan and Kandahar provinces in past two days, listened to their suggestions and shared with them his plans for improvement.

Zamir has told media that southern Afghanistan is a good substrate for agriculture and livestock and that the ministry plans dozens projects in these areas.

khaama.com/minister-of-agriculture-survives-bomb-blast-in-southern-afghanistan-4592

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Africa

U.S. Strikes ISIS Camp in Libya, Killing More Than 30

FEB. 19, 2016

WASHINGTON — American warplanes struck an Islamic State camp in Libya early Friday, targeting a senior Tunisian operative linked to two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year.

The airstrikes, on a camp outside Sabratha, about 50 miles west of Tripoli, killed at least 30 Islamic State recruits at the site, many of whom were believed to be from Tunisia, according to a Western official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. Intelligence officials were trying to determine whether the operative, Noureddine Chouchane, had been killed in the strike, the official said.

The mayor of Sabratha put the death toll at 41, and said that six others had been injured. He said the airstrikes occurred around 3:30 a.m.

The airstrikes come as the Obama administration and its allies are considering increased military action against a growing threat in Libya by the Islamic State. In November, the Americans killed Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi who led the Islamic State’s arm in Libya, in an airstrike on the town of Darnah, in eastern Libya.

The Western official said that the airstrikes early Friday were focused on Mr. Chouchane, and did not represent the start of major new American war in a Muslim country. They were carried out by Air Force F-15E jets.

Mr. Chouchane was suspected of being a major Islamic State operative who helped organize an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 22 people in March and another in June that killed 38 people at a beach in the coastal resort in Sousse. Mr. Chouchane was one of five fugitives for whom the Tunisian Interior Ministry issued arrest warrants after the museum attack.

Jamal Naji Zubia, the head of the foreign news media office in Tripoli, said the airstrikes targeted a farmhouse that had been seized by Islamic State militants. Most of those killed were Tunisian, he said, although one man, who died from his wounds at a hospital, was Jordanian.

Fighters had been arriving at the house for some time, Mr. Zubia said, although the exact affiliation of the group was a mystery to neighbors. “They came individually to the house from different places,” he said. Some officials in the area said they believed the Tunisians had gathered at the house to hear a speech by a Muslim religious leader, he said.

The mayor of Sabratha, Hussain al-Dawadi, said the airstrikes had occurred in Qasr al-Allagh, a farming district about five miles outside the town. The bodies of 41 people were brought to the town, along with six seriously wounded people, he said.

After Islamic State fighters made a show of force in the center of Sabratha in December, Mr. Dawadi invited journalists from Tripoli to visit, denying that the group had a significant foothold in the town.

“A number of them living in a secluded area like this is, of course, suspicious,” he said on Friday. “It must have been a sleeper cell, not a training camp.”

Tunisian and Libyan officials have in recent months warned that jihadists operating around Sabratha represented an even greater threat than the Islamic State’s Libyan stronghold in Surt, about 220 miles southeast of Tripoli, because Sabratha is a strategic point on routes for smuggling men and matériel among Algeria, Libya and Tunisia.

Sabratha has been the base and training camp of the militant group Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, since its leader, Seifallah bin Hussein, fled Tunisia in 2013.

Tunisian officials have frequently expressed alarm about Sabratha’s emergence as a base for Ansar al-Shariah, which recruited thousands of followers in the years after the Tunisian revolution of 2011. Numerous volunteers have gone on to fight in Syria and Iraq; last year, one report put the number of Tunisian fighters in Syria at 7,000. At the end of 2014, some of those fighters publicly vowed to bring jihad to Tunisia, where a fragile democracy has been one of the few hopeful legacies of the Arab Spring.

Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia has not declared allegiance to the Islamic State, but Tunisians from both networks share close ties. The Islamic State in Libya absorbed many Ansar al-Shariah fighters in Surt, its stronghold since 2014. Surt is part of a 150-mile strip of coastline where the Islamic State has imposed a draconian form of rule including beheadings, stoning and amputation.

Mr. Bin Hussein, also known as Abu Iyadh, was a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He has maintained his loyalty to the core Qaeda headquarters in Pakistan and, as a fierce rivalry between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State for leadership of the global jihadist movement, he has sought to be a bridge between the two.

Mr. Bin Hussein was released from prison after the 2011 democratic uprising toppled the country’s longtime dictator.

Accused of orchestrating the assassinations of two left-wing politicians, and a violent protest against the United States Embassy in Tunis, he escaped to Libya in 2013, from where he has been training and recruiting fighters. He was reported killed last June in an American airstrike on Ajdabiya.

In recent months, American and British Special Operations teams have increased clandestine reconnaissance missions in Libya to identify the militant leaders and to map out their networks for possible strikes.

This week, President Obama said at a news conference, “With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after Al Qaeda wherever they appeared.”

“We will continue to take actions where we’ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind,” Mr. Obama also said, adding, “As we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.”

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, Declan Walsh from Cairo and Carlotta Gall from Pristina, Kosovo. Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya.

nytimes.com/2016/02/20/world/middleeast/us-airstrike-isis-libya.html?emc=edit_na_20160219&nlid=71783194&ref=headline&_r=0

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Seven dead in south Sudan UN base attack: Ban

AFP | Feb 19, 2016

UNITED STATES: An outbreak of fighting at a UN peacekeeping base sheltering civilians in South Sudan has killed at least seven people and injured 40, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.

The seven displaced persons were living in the base in the northeast town of Malakal where violence between the ethnic Dinka and Shilluk communities broke out overnight and continued into the day, he said.

Ban condemned the fighting and expressed concerns about the rise of ethnic violence in the more than two-year conflict.

He warned "all parties against stoking ethnic disputes and calls on them to refrain from any actions or statements that could further escalate the situation," according to a statement from his spokesman.

The UN chief reminded all sides that attacks on UN peacekeeping bases can constitute a war crime and urged them to implement a peace deal signed in August.

Fighting has continued in South Sudan despite the peace accord. Thousands have died and more than 2.3 million have been driven from their homes.

Nearly 200,000 civilians have sought shelter in the UN mission's eight compounds in South Sudan since the conflict began.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/Seven-dead-in-south-Sudan-UN-base-attack-Ban/articleshow/51047614.cms

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Nigeria: Troops Discover 'Boko Haram Market', Rescue 195 Captives

February 19th, 2016

The Nigerian troops on Wednesday destroyed patent medicine outlet and major market operated by Boko Haram insurgents and rescued 195 captives at various locations of Borno State.

A statement by the spokesman of Nigerian Army, Sani Usman, said "quite a number" of insurgents were killed and a lot of items were recovered during the raid.

"The Nigerian troops of 7 Division Garrison comprising 112 Battalion and Armed Forces Special Forces yesterday carried out a joint clearance patrol on suspected Boko Haram terrorists locations at Kwaptara, Mijigete, Garin Boka, Mosole, Ngubdori, Ma'asa, Dukje and Gulumba in Dikwa and Bama Local Government Areas of Borno State.

"The troops discovered Boko Haram terrorists camp, patent medicine outfit and major market at Gulumba.

"Quite a number of Boko Haram terrorists were killed and several items were recovered. This includes two logistic trucks, 180 motorcycles, 750 bicycles and various perishable and non-perishable items such as a 100 KVA Mikano generator and grinding machine.Boko Haram Market

"In addition, they also rescued 195 persons held hostage, recovered 300 cows, 200 sheep and 130 goats rustled by the insurgents.

"The troops also recovered military items such as camouflage uniforms as well as rifle magazines and grenades.

"The unprecedented feat was achieved through the renewed cooperation and support of the public who provide timely information to the troops.

"Consequently, we would like to thank all those good citizens who provide the timely information and enjoin all to see the fight against Boko Haram terrorists as a collective responsibility to enable us clear the remnants of the insurgents in the north east and other parts of the country," Mr. Usman, a colonel, said.

allafrica.com/stories/201602190041.html

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Africa: Impact of Brain Drain On Africa Is Massive - Namwandi

February 19th, 2016

Windhoek — The founder of the privately owned International University of Management (IUM), Dr David Namwandi, says one of the key challenges confronting tertiary institutions in Africa is the negative effect of brain drain caused by Africans seeking greener pastures abroad.

Namwandi, who was speaking during IUM's academic opening yesterday, said the migration of highly educated individuals from their countries of birth to countries where they anticipate better opportunities and attractive working conditions continues to adversely affect the African continent.

Reuters reports that Sub-Saharan African countries that invest in training doctors have lost about N$30 billion as expert clinicians leave their home countries to seek opportunities abroad.

A study by Canadian scientists found that South Africa and Zimbabwe suffer the worst economic losses due to doctors emigrating, while Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States benefit the most from recruiting doctors trained abroad.

Experts say the migration, or "brain drain", of trained health workers from poorer countries to richer ones exacerbates the problem of already weak health systems in low-income countries battling epidemics of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.

allafrica.com/stories/201602181355.html

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North America

Obama refuses to hit the Islamic State’s Libyan capital

February 18, 2016

This is the kind of action — and there are so very many of them — that makes people suspicious of Obama regarding Islam, even as the mainstream media continues to dismiss all such suspicions as “racism” and “bigotry.” Even if he is not a Muslim, he seems determined to advance the global Islamic agenda at every opportunity.

Obama at Islamic Society of Baltimore, Allah

“Exclusive: Obama Refuses to Hit ISIS’s Libyan Capital,” by Nancy A. Youssef, The Daily Beast, February 18, 2016 (thanks to John):

The terror group is gaining ground in Libya. But the Obama administration has said no to a Pentagon plan to go after ISIS there.

Despite the growing threat from the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Libya, the Obama administration has turned down a U.S. military plan for an assault on ISIS’s regional hub there, three defense officials told The Daily Beast.

In recent weeks, the U.S. military—led by its Africa and Special Operations Commands—have pushed for more airstrikes and the deployment of elite troops, particularly in the city of Sirte. The hometown of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the city is now under ISIS control and serving as a regional epicenter for the terror group.

The airstrikes would target ISIS resources while a small band of Special Operations Forces would train Libyans to eventually be members of a national army, the officials said.

Weeks ago, defense officials told The New York Times that they were crafting military plans for such strikes, but needed more time to develop intelligence so that they could launch a sustained air campaign on ISIS in Sirte.

But those plans have since been put on the back burner.

“There is little to no appetite for that in this administration,” one defense official explained….

jihadwatch.org/2016/02/obama-refuses-to-hit-the-islamic-states-libyan-capital

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A religious leader questioning a person's faith is 'disgraceful', Trump reacts to Pope's statement

February 19th, 2016

CHAPIN: Donald Trump responded forcefully Thursday to comments from Pope Francis that anyone who wants to build a border wall isn't a Christian, saying a religious leader questioning a person's faith is “disgraceful.”

The Republican front-runner for president, who has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border from Texas to California and expel 11 million people who are in the country illegally, accused the Mexican government of using Francis as a “pawn” and said the leader of the Roman Catholic Church “only heard one side of the story.”

The pope made his comments en route home from Mexico, hours after he prayed at the Mexico-U.S. border for migrants who died trying to reach the United States.

When asked about Trump's promise to build a wall, Francis said: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Not having heard Trump's border plans independently, Francis said he'd “give him the benefit of the doubt.” But he added: “I'd just say that this man is not Christian if he said it this way.”

Trump said the Pope should wish that he is elected to the White House: “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS's ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.”

Trump went on to say that, "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith.”

The back-and-forth came as Republicans face South Carolina's high-stakes primary on Saturday. Polls indicate that Trump has a large lead in South Carolina and other states. The Democratic race remains close, with Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders facing off in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

Another win for Trump, or Sanders, after their New Hampshire victories would indicate that they are contenders who can't be dismissed.Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has secured the coveted endorsement of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as he tries to win over mainstream Republicans.

Addressing the pope's comments, Rubio on Thursday said Vatican City has a right to control its borders and so does the United States. Rubio previously favored a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, but now says border security is the priority.

Rubio, a Catholic, added that he has tremendous respect and admiration for the Pope and that there's no nation on earth that's more compassion on immigration than we are.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is trying to rally the Republican Party's most conservative wing. More than 300 pastors and other religious leaders in South Carolina on Thursday endorsed him for president. Cruz's win in the Iowa caucuses was fueled by a similar coalition of evangelical support.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich continue to battle for a spot at the table, while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson struggles for relevancy.

Among the Democrats, the fight for the support of women and the black and Latino votes continued. Sanders met with civil rights leaders in Washington, vowing to help black Americans escape poverty and protect voting rights.

Also Thursday, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs distanced the senator from comments by rapper Killer Mike, who told a rally this week that “a uterus doesn't qualify you to be president of the United States,” a reference to Clinton.

Briggs said "Sanders doesn't believe that gender should be the reason we vote for or against anyone.”

Clinton is still adding to her wide lead in the delegates who will decide the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, according to a survey by The Associated Press of the party's 712 superdelegates, the party insiders who can support the candidate of their choice, regardless of whom the voters back in the primaries.

Clinton has added 87 to her count, while Sanders added just 11. That gives the former secretary of state a total of 481 delegates, while the Vermont senator has 55. It takes 2,382 delegates to win the nomination.

dawn.com/news/1240583/a-religious-leader-questioning-a-persons-faith-is-disgraceful-trump-reacts-to-popes-statement

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US has not yet assigned blame for Turkey attack, White House says

February 18, 2016

The United States has not yet identified who was behind a car bomb attack in Turkey that killed 28 people, but it has been careful to press Syrian Kurds fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants not to target Turkey, the White House said on Thursday.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told a news briefing the United States would be talking directly to Ankara about the Wednesday attack, which Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu blamed on a member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), an armed faction of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has been listed as a terrorist group by Turkey.

"We as a government have not settled upon assignment of responsibility," said Rhodes, who strongly condemned the incident.

"We've made clear to the Turks that in all of our engagements with the YPG and other Kurdish elements that we make very clear to them the importance of our alliance with Turkey and the importance of them not engaging in efforts that would undermine what should be our focus, which is the shared threat of ISIL," said Rhodes.

Also on Thursday, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington was not in a position to either confirm or deny Turkey's charge the YPG was behind the attack. He also called on Turkey to stop shelling the YPG.

The YPG militia, regarded by Ankara as a hostile insurgent force deeply linked to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), has taken advantage in recent weeks of a major Syrian army offensive around the northern city of Aleppo, backed by Russian air strikes, to seize ground from Syrian rebels near the Turkish border.

That has alarmed Turkey, which fears the advances will stoke Kurdish separatist ambitions at home. It has been bombarding YPG positions in an effort to stop them taking the town of Azaz, the last stronghold of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels north of Aleppo before the Turkish frontier.

todayszaman.com/diplomacy_us-has-not-yet-assigned-blame-for-turkey-attack-white-house-says_412712.html

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FBI searches home of San Bernardino shooter's brother

February 19th, 2016

CORONA: FBI agents on Thursday searched the California home belonging to a family member of the husband-and-wife killers who massacred 14 people in the San Bernardino terror attack, but the relative was not arrested and has not been named a suspect.

Syed Rizwan Farook's brother, Syed Raheel Farook, is a decorated military veteran. The search warrant is sealed, and FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller would not disclose any information other than to confirm a search was conducted at a home in the city of Corona in an ongoing investigation.

To serve a search warrant, authorities must have probable cause a crime was committed and items connected to the crime are likely to be found at the location.

Messages left for attorneys representing the Farook family were not immediately returned.

Stacy Mozer, who lives around the corner from the home, said he watched as agents carried away armloads of boxes filled with manila envelopes, a computer tower and stacks of paper. At least a dozen agents were present.

He described Raheel Farook and wife Tatiana as ideal neighbors. The couple drove another neighbor to doctor's appointments last year when she had cancer surgery, treated her to meals out and fetched her prescriptions for her, even paying for them, he said.

The couple frequently strolled with their 1-year-old daughter around the community of town homes and took her to the pool.

“I would find it very hard to believe that they would be involved in any way,” he said. “I do know that if you have a family member, you don't have control of their lives, and I don't think they had control of their brother's life.”

Mozer said the family's home was searched twice after the December shooting, and authorities broke down the door on an earlier occasion.

Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire Dec 2 at a meeting of his San Bernardino County co-workers. They died hours later in a shootout with police. The 14 people killed marked the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since Sep 11, 2001.

Farook's family has said it had no inkling about the plot.

Raheel Farook was a United States navy information system technician from 2003 to 2007, military records show. He was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and received the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, among other awards.

dawn.com/news/1240594/fbi-searches-home-of-san-bernardino-shooters-brother

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India

Indian Government to Ask Twitter to Block Accounts with Hafiz Saeed Links

February 19, 2016

Security agencies will approach Twitter India to block all accounts having links with Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed and Jamaat-ud-Dawa which are often found to be spreading venom against India.

There are accounts which have links with the LeT’s front outfit, JuD, as well as terror mastermind Saeed and it has become necessary to shut them as quickly as possible, officials said.

thehindu.com/news/national/govt-to-ask-twitter-to-block-accounts-with-hafiz-saeed-links/article8254377.ece?w=alauto

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NIA evidence so far points to 4, not 6, Pathankot attackers

Bharti Jain | TNN | Feb 19, 2016

NEW DELHI: The confusion over the number of terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase on January 2 seems to be clearing up with evidence gathered by NIA pointing to only four fidayeen.

However, forensic experts are yet to certify charred remains picked up from the encounter site as those of suspected terrorists No. 5 and 6. The evidence of two additional terrorists, suspected to be holed up in the ground floor of airmen's billet No.149, is seen as rather flimsy on four grounds. The design of the airmen's billet left little scope for a grenade to be lobbed from anywhere but the main door, which was too risky an option given the presence of NSG commandos outside.

Then, the version that steel almirahs and cots were stacked up against the door to block the entrance is punctured by the fact that the almirahs were firmly fixed to the wall and could not have been moved. Further, it had been claimed that the "two additional terrorists" were not carrying AK-47s, as is normal for fidayeens, and chose to confront the Black Cats with just a pistol. The non-recovery of the pistol or even its mangled metal remains has left investigators foxed.

Finally, going by the count of discarded food packets recovered from the place where the terrorists hid for six hours after the infiltration, they are unlikely to have sufficed for six able-bodied men.

Given that the ground floor, which was badly burnt in the counter-operation, was built just like the second floor, the partitions are understood to have run right up to the ceiling and the room had no windows.

According to National Security Guard (NSG) director general R C Tayal, when NSG personnel tried to break open the door on the ground floor of the billet, a grenade was indeed lobbed at his men, injuring one. "We had sanitised the billet earlier but when our personnel found the door locked from inside the next morning, we became suspicious that there were fidayeen holed up inside. When we tried to enter, they lobbed a grenade. That is when we bombed the billet, which resulted in a broken door and smashed walls," he said.

When asked about the almirahs, Tayal conceded that possibly cots and other furniture was placed against the door. "We sent in a robot to break open the door but it ran into an obstruction," Tayal said.

Forensic experts are yet to certify charred remains picked up from the encounter site as those of suspected terrorists No. 5 and 6. in the stike.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/NIA-evidence-so-far-points-to-4-not-6-Pathankot-attackers/articleshow/51049008.cms

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Hizbul terrorist held, hideout busted in Kashmir

PTI | Feb 19, 2016

SRINAGAR: A Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist was arrested and a militant hideout busted in two separate operations by the security forces in Kashmir valley, police said here on Friday.

Abid Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Kanihama village in Shopian, was arrested from nearby Habdipora area in a joint operation of Army and police, police said.

In a separate operation, troops of CRPF conducted a search operation in an orchard in Lar area of Ganderbal district following information about an ammunition dump of militants there, police said.

Four electric detonators, two IED remote controls, one Kalashnikov magazine and 30 bullets along with a wireless set were recovered from there, they added.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Hizbul-terrorist-held-hideout-busted-in-Kashmir/articleshow/51056331.cms

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Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan: India’s oldest living classical vocalist dies at 107

February 19th, 2016

NEW DELHI: India’s oldest living classical vocalist Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan, regarded as a reservoir of musical knowledge and insights, passed away in Kolkata on Thursday.

Khan Sahib was born in 1910, in the family of the famous musician, Ustad Behram Khan, who had earlier left his native Gwalior and settled in Kasba Salon, near Rae Bareli.

Recipient of numerous awards for his sensational repertoire and range of singing styles, Ustad Rashid Khan was one of the senior faculty members at the ITC music institute in Kolkata. He took his last class hours before his death, apparently from heart failure. He performed in Delhi last year where he received a standing ovation for what was to be his last concert in the Indian capital.

As a child he was under the training of his ‘Bade Baba’, Ustad Bade Yusuf Khan. This early rigorous training was followed up with further tutelage from his elders who had imbibed the Gwalior gayaki.

With sheer merit and extraordinary skill, he further developed this gayaki according to his own artistic sensitivity, retaining the native style of Gwalior. Apart from Khayal, Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan sang Dhrupad Dhamar and Thumri with equal ease and panache.

An earlier version of this story had a factual error, which has been corrected.

images.dawn.com/news/1174855/indias-oldest-living-classical-vocalist-dies-at-106?preview

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Southeast Asia

Moderate Malaysia: Man seeks court’s help to renounce Islam

February 18, 2016

He wants to leave Islam in order to marry his Hindu girlfriend. That’s his business, and only his business — or at least it should be that way. Because of the strictures of Islamic law, however, he is entangled in legal difficulty, because Islamic law forbids Muslims to leave Islam, and even in “moderate” Indonesia, that makes conversion to another faith nigh impossible, or wrapped in miles of red tape.

“Man seeks court’s help to renounce Islam to marry Hindu girlfriend,” by V. Anbalagan, The Malaysian Insider, February 18, 2016 (thanks to David):

A food caterer is seeking help from the Federal Court to compel the National Registration Department to remove Islam as his religion and his Muslim name from his identity card, so that he can get married to a non-Muslim.

Mohd Shariff Abdullah (Mahendran), 35, has filed three legal questions to obtain leave from the apex court to have merit of the case heard.

Lawyer Robin Lim, however, said the legal questions cannot be revealed until the court makes a ruling whether to allow Shariff’s leave application.

Shariff’s case is similar to that of Lina Joy’s which went before the Federal Court in 2007.

Lina, a Malay-Muslim, wanted to embrace Christianity to marry her boyfriend, but NRD insisted she produce a conversion (out) certificate from the Shariah court, which she did not possess.

Her lawyers had argued that the department need only consider the baptism certificate from the church to facilitate the change in name and religion.

In a majority verdict, the Federal Court rejected her appeal and ruled that “a person who wanted to renounce his/her religion must do so according to existing laws or practices of the particular religion”.

Lawyer S. Nithiyawathi, who appeared with Lim, said Shariff was still a bachelor and could not marry a Hindu woman until his religious status was resolved.

On October 30 last year, the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal, as well as that of his step-brothers, Mohd Jefrey Mohd Baser, 32, Mohd Jass, 28, Mohd Naser, 22 and their mother, Jamilah Jan Vasanthegokelam, 56.

A three-man bench, chaired by Datuk Mohd Zawawi Salleh, ruled that evidence on record revealed that NRD’s decision to retain the religon and Muslim names was correct in law.

“It cannot be categorised as unreasonable, perverse and illegal for us to interfere,” Zawawi said of the unanimous ruling.

Lim said with the exception of Shariff, all others have decided against appealing the Court of Appeal ruling.

In 2013, the mother and the siblings filed a judicial review in the High Court and named NRD and the Home Ministry as respondents.

Jamilah wanted to be identified only as Vasanthegokelam, Shariff as Mahendran, Jefrey as Saiprasad Pillai, Jass as Jagath Kishore Pillai and Naser as Yuthesh Pillai.

Facts revealed that Shariff was born to father, S. Ghanasan, and Vasanthegokelam who were Hindus.

The mother in 1982 remarried a Muslim, Mohd Baser a/l Kalakan, and they have three children, Mohd Jefrey, Mohd Jass and Mohd Naser.

The appellate court was told that the mother went to NRD in 1983 to change her name from Vasanthegokelam to Jamilah Jan.

She returned to the department in 1985 to replace her identity card, using the same name.

In early 2013, she came to the department to remove her name and the word “Islam” in the identity card, but was refused unless she produced a conversion certificate from the religious authorities.

The court was also told there was evidence that Jamilah and the children converted to Islam and practised the faith after she had married Baser.

Lim, however, said there were no records of their conversion to Islam.

He said Jamilah did not produce any conversion certificate to the department in order to be classified as Muslim in her identity card.

Lim said Shariff was converted to Islam and given a Muslim name when an application for his identity card was made.

jihadwatch.org/2016/02/moderate-malaysia-man-seeks-courts-help-to-renounce-islam

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S. Korean firms seeking greater presence in Muslim food market

2016/02/19

SEJONG, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korean food companies are setting their sights on the growing Muslim food and beverage markets that promise to generate future growth for the industry, the government said Friday.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said 41 local companies will participate in the upcoming Gulfood 2016 fair in Dubai to showcase their products.

The five-day exhibition, slated to start on Sunday, is the world's second-largest after Cologne's Anuga food fair and usually draws some 90,000 buyers and 4,800 food producers from around the world.

The ministry said the Muslim market, which includes many Middle East and Southeast Asian countries, has a population of 1.6 billion. The market has good growth potential because South Korean companies have for the most part been slow to tap its potential, it added.

"Local companies will set up booths within the Korea pavilion and show off such products as citrus tea, sweet persimmons, pears, various mushrooms, ginseng products and snacks," it said. "They plan to operate free tasting stands and hold cooking performances to attract interest."

Companies will focus on showcasing the high quality of local food products to win customers with state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation to provide assistance in helping local companies arrange talks with potential buyers, the ministry said.

The latest push to expand their presence in the Muslim food market comes as more and more food companies are winning halal food processing certificates, allowing them to sell to Muslims.

The term halal refers to food and beverages that are prepared in accordance with Islamic Sharia law, and can be consumed by Muslims.

english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2016/02/19/0200000000AEN20160219002500320.html

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Europe

Polish magazine's 'Islamic rape of Europe' cover sparks outrage

19 February 2016

A Polish magazine has published a highly inflammatory front cover showing a white woman being assaulted by three pairs of dark-skinned male hands under the headline “The Islamic rape of Europe”.

The cover of this week’s edition of wSieci (the Network), a mass-market politically conservative magazine, triggered outraged responses on social media. Some Twitter users compared the image to Nazi propaganda.

The magazine cover depicts a blonde woman draped in a European Union flag. Male hands are grabbing at her hair and arms and apparently about to tear off the flag. The magazine blurb promises “a report about what the media and Brussels elite are hiding from the citizens of the European Union”.

Inside, the article refers to the rape and sexual assault of hundreds of women in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Most of those arrested in connection with the attacks were recent migrants from north Africa.

“The people of old Europe after the events of New Year’s Eve in Cologne painfully realised the problems arising from the massive influx of immigrants,” wrote the report’s author, Aleksandra Rybińska.

“The first signs that things were going wrong, however, were there a lot earlier. They were still ignored or were minimised in significance in the name of tolerance and political correctness.”

This week’s edition of the magazine also carries articles headlined “Does Europe Want to Commit Suicide?” and “The Hell of Europe”.

Tensions rise in Germany over handling of mass sexual assaults in Cologne

More than 1,000 complaints were filed in Cologne, almost half of which were of a sexual nature, in the aftermath of New Year’s Eve. The attacks were a key factor in an anti-migrant backlash in Germany, which has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees in recent months.

Accounts of the Cologne attacks encouraged women in other European cities to come forward with similar accounts of sexual attacks.

The Polish government has resisted EU efforts to persuade it to increase the number of migrants it is prepared to accept. In November, the prime minister, Beata Szydło, rejected an EU quota of 4,500 refugees, citing last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, carried out by Islamic extremists. “After Paris, the situation has changed,” she said.

theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/18/polish-magazines-islamic-of-europe-cover-sparks-outrage

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Russian fighter jet sale to Iran would violate arms ban, says US

February 19th, 2016

WASHINGTON:The Obama administration said Thursday that a proposed Russian sale of fighter jets to Iran would violate a United Nations arms embargo on Tehran, setting up another standoff related to last year's nuclear negotiations.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said transferring the Sukhoi-30 jets, comparable to American F-15E fighter bombers, requires the UN Security Council's approval.

"The United States will raise the matter with Russia," Toner said, adding that all six countries that negotiated July's landmark nuclear agreement with Iran 'should be fully aware of these restrictions.” The deal kept the arms ban on Iran in place for up to another five years.

Iran's defense minister said last week that the Islamic Republic would purchase an unspecified number of the Russian planes. General Hossein Dehghan provided no timeline for delivery, but said Iran would be involved in producing the aircraft.

The dispute is the latest linked to the nuclear negotiations that ended in a deal setting long-term limits on Iran's uranium and plutonium programs in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in future sanctions relief.

The US and its negotiating partners - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - reached an understanding with Iran to phase out UN bans on Iranian weapons deals and ballistic missiles work after periods of good behavior.Both embargoes are still in effect, though US officials say Iran has conducted at least two ballistic missile tests since last summer.

In response, Washington imposed new sanctions on Iran just hours after five American citizens left Iran as part of a prisoner exchange last month.

As with the ballistic missiles, US officials say the Russian plane sale wouldn't constitute a nuclear deal breach. But it would amount to another in a long string of Iranian transgressions of UN Security Council resolutions.

Toner said the Sukhoi qualifies as 'combat aircraft' under the UN register of conventional arms. "Sales of these to Iran require the Security Council's approval “in advance on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Iran regained access to tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets overseas when it satisfied its obligations under the nuclear deal last month.Iran's rivals in the Middle East are worried by the windfall.

Shia Iran is battling the Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries in proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and Israel is threatened by Tehran's support for militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Dehghan said Iran would seriously focus on its air force and fighters, a fleet that still heavily depends on domestically modified versions of long-outdated warplanes, including former Soviet MiGs and American F14A Tomcats from the 1970s.

The US also is concerned by Russia's delivery of advanced S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran. That deal was frozen in 2010, but Russian President Vladimir Putin approved its transfer last April.

Unlike the fighter jets, however, the S-300 is defensive and not covered by any UN prohibition.

dawn.com/news/1240575/russian-fighter-jet-sale-to-iran-would-violate-arms-ban-says-us

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Belgian police find video of nuclear official at home of jihad terror suspect

February 18, 2016

“A person close to the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the footage indicated that a terrorist network involved in the coordinated attacks on Nov. 13 that left 130 dead may also have intended to obtain radioactive material for terrorist purposes.” And they’re still trying. But note that there is no indication in this New York Times story (aside from the name of one of the Paris plotters, Mohamed Bakkali) until the very last paragraph about exactly what kind of terrorism is involved here. This article is just another example of the ongoing mainstream media efforts to obfuscate and downplay the jihad terror threat. If World War II had been reported this way, we would have been getting stories during the Battle of the Bulge about how groups of armed German men, one named Hans, were attempting to break through to Antwerp. Then in the last paragraph it would tell us they were linked to Nazism.

“Belgian Police Find Video of Nuclear Official at Home of Terrorism Suspect,” by Milan Schreuer and Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, February 18, 2016:

PARIS — The police in Belgium have retrieved 10 hours of video footage of a Belgian nuclear official from the home of a suspect in the November Paris attacks, Thierry Werts, a spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor, said on Thursday.

A person close to the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the footage indicated that a terrorist network involved in the coordinated attacks on Nov. 13 that left 130 dead may also have intended to obtain radioactive material for terrorist purposes.

The purpose of the footage is not clear, but one theory is that it could have been used to plan an abduction of the official and to obtain radioactive material by force, possibly for use in a dirty bomb.

The Belgian news media, citing sources close to the investigation, said that the videotape had been retrieved from the home of Mohamed Bakkali, who was arrested after the attacks and who is in detention on charges of participation in terrorist acts….

The high-ranking nuclear official who was filmed worked at the research site in Mol, where large quantities of radioactive waste from nuclear energy plants and hospitals are stored, he said. The authorities did not identify the official….

“If they find a way to spread such material among the population, they could do a lot of damage,” he said of the terrorist network, which was linked to the Islamic State. “Anything is possible; it is only up to them to come up with such evil ideas.”

jihadwatch.org/2016/02/belgian-police-find-video-of-nuclear-official-at-home-of-jihad-terror-suspect

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British Brimstone missiles in Syria are yet to kill any terrorists, MoD reveals

19 Feb, 2016

Britain’s sophisticated air-to-surface Brimstone missiles have not killed any terrorists in Syria so far, although at least nine missiles have been fired. A single missile using radar homing and laser guidance technology costs £100,000.

The Huffington Post UK made a freedom of information (FOI) request to the British Defense Ministry and discovered the much-touted Brimstone missiles with promised standalone precision have not claimed any terrorist scalps yet.

After British MPs voted in favor of the Royal Air Force joining the Syria campaign in December, the expensive missiles were held back for at least the first month of operations.

Brimstone’s first recorded deployment took place on January 10, the Independent reports. It was aimed against terrorist supply trucks in Raqqa. By the end of January, Brimstone missiles had been used in nine raids.

“We are playing a crucial role in a campaign that will take time and patience. Using the right weapon for each scenario, RAF jets have struck Daesh [Arabic acronym for Islamic State] almost 600 times,” a British MoD spokeswoman said, adding that the RAF is driving Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) out of Sinjar and Ramadi in Iraq and has “severely weakened” key terrorist infrastructure in Syria.

According to MoD information, between December 2, 2015 and January 29, 2016, RAF airstrikes in Syria have managed to deplete IS manpower by just seven combatants. Two jihadists were killed with Paveway IV laser-guided bombs (US$20,000 each) and five were killed by US-made Hellfire missiles ($70,000 apiece) fired from Reaper UAVs.

The British MoD insists that killing terrorists is not a primary goal of the RAF in Syria. Instead, the aim is to target jihadist infrastructure, such as oil fields under terrorist control, to disrupt and degrade Islamic State’s military infrastructure, logistics’ routes and revenues.

Yet razing stationary oil extraction infrastructure does not require expensive precision weapons - an old-fashioned drop bomb would do the job.

Brimstone missiles have an 11-kilometer range and are armed with a low-powered yet “highly focused” explosive warhead. They can engage targets moving as fast as 110 km/h. That means that in theory no terrorist pickup truck with a machine-gun mounted on it can escape. However, the target’s worth is practically guaranteed to be many times lower than the price of the weapon.

Ahead of the RAF joining the campaign in Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Brimstone as a tool to “cut off the 'head of the snake’” in the terrorists’ self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. MP Sir Gerland Howarth said Brimstone missiles represented a “key difference between us and other coalition partners,” hinting that neither the US nor France have such missiles to deal with jihadists. Conservative minister David Jones simply described the weapons as “unique.”

The combat effectiveness of the new weapon and the cost of participation in the Syrian campaign urgently needs objective evaluation, according to the Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, Alex Salmond. As the party's international affairs spokesman in Westminster, he said the Huffington Post’s findings “contrast dramatically” with David Cameron's previous argument.

“It is now the common practice of this prime minister to mislead the country into military engagement and then to only devote a passing interest towards these crucial issues as his case crumbles before our eyes,” Salmon said, stressing that he has “no doubt” that Libya is going to be the “new crucial theater of engagement” once again.

The only operators of the Brimstone weapon are the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, which is not only playing a role in the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition, but has also announced the creation of an anti-terrorist coalition of its own.

The Royal Air Force in Syria can only deploy Brimstone missiles from older Tornado jets, which carry both Brimstone missiles and Paveway bombs. The newer Typhoons jets drop Paveway bombs and have not been modernized to fire Brimstone missiles. British Reaper UAVs brought from Washington use American-made Hellfire missiles and bombs.

https://www.rt.com/news/332970-brimstone-missiles-syria-jihadists/

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Russia says any incursion into Syria would be illegal

February 18, 2016

Any incursion into Syrian territory by a foreign power would be illegal, Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday, in a statement clearly designed to be heard in Turkey.

Turkey, opposed to the government in neighbouring Syria and worried about advances by Kurdish militants in Syrian territory, this week had to deny a media report that it had already sent troops over the border.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also told Reuters this week that his country, Saudi Arabia and some European powers wanted ground troops in Syria, though no serious plan had been debated.

Asked about the implications of any ground incursion into Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters: "We view Syria's territory as the territory of a sovereign state. Any incursion into the territory of a sovereign state is illegal."

Russia's relations with Turkey hit a low in November when Turkish warplanes downed a Russian bomber near the Syrian-Turkish border, a move described by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "dastardly stab in the back".

Russian warplanes entered Syria's increasingly complex, five-year-old conflict at the end of September, backing the forces of their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and bombing rebel positions.

Russia's Maria Zakharova rejected accusations by Turkey, the Unites States and their allies that Russia had attacked hospitals and other civilian targets in Syria.

"The tasks faced by Russia's aerospace forces are to lessen the terrorist threat, in particular to the Russian Federation," she said. "We act at the request of the Syrian leadership, of official Damascus, which the United Nations continues to recognise as legitimate."

The United States, leading an alliance launching air attacks on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Syria, has so far ruled out sending its own ground troops there, apart from small numbers of special forces.

todayszaman.com/diplomacy_russia-says-any-incursion-into-syria-would-be-illegal_412710.html

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Merkel calls Turkish leaders, extends condolences over deadly Ankara attack

February 18, 2016

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken with Turkey's leaders to offer her condolences after a bombing on Wednesday that targeted military personnel in Ankara and killed 28 people.

Merkel's office said she spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Wednesday evening and with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday morning.

It continued by saying that Merkel strongly condemned the attack and assured both leaders that "Germany stands in solidarity at Turkey's side in the fight against terrorism."

Merkel has been working closely with Turkey lately in an effort to reduce the flow of migrants to Europe.

Davutoğlu canceled a planned trip to Brussels to meet with leaders from several European Union nations following the bombing.

todayszaman.com/diplomacy_merkel-calls-turkish-leaders-extends-condolences-over-deadly-ankara-attack_412652.html

 

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