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Islamic World News ( 24 Feb 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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'Are You Hindu Or Muslim?’ TOI Photojournalist Recounts the Horror; How Things Have Been Spiralling Out Of Control In Northeast Delhi







• United Muslim Action Committee Urge Telangana CM to Stay NPR Work

• 9 Dead In Delhi Clashes, 70 in Hospital With Bullet Wounds

• Pakistan's Asia Bibi Asks France for Political Asylum

• U.S. Halts Offensive Military Operations in Afghanistan As Part Of Taliban Deal

• Indonesia Targets ‘Virus’ Of Religious Radicalization

• Coronavirus Spreads through Middle East, Death Toll Rises, Hotel Row in Kuwait

• Emmanuel Macron’s War on Islamism Is Europe’s Future

• UN Security Council Calls for ‘Two-State’ Solution To Be Respected In Mideast

• Advocacy Groups Renew Calls for Bloomberg to Renounce NYPD's Muslim Surveillance

 

India

• 'Are You Hindu Or Muslim?’ TOI Photojournalist Recounts the Horror; How Things Have Been Spiralling Out Of Control In Northeast Delhi

• United Muslim Action Committee Urge Telangana CM to Stay NPR Work

• 9 Dead In Delhi Clashes, 70 in Hospital With Bullet Wounds

• 50% Posts of School Teachers Vacant In Muslim Segment Ferozepur Jhirka

• Internet restrictions to continue in Jammu and Kashmir till March 4

• ‘India, US are united in fight on Islamic terror’

• NIA raids 25 TN & K’taka sites over IS-inspired cells

• Waqf board to build mosque, hospital on allotted 5-acre plot

• Kashmir's Islamic State Seeks To Cash In On Delhi Communal Violence Through New Online Call To Arms

• Stop looking at each other through prism of religion: Actor-filmmaker Sanjay Khan

• A year after Balakot: Pakistan’s options have reduced, India has more room for manoeuvre

• Will Oppose Proposed 5 Per Cent Muslim Reservation in Maharashtra: Devendra Fadnavis

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Pakistan

• Pakistan's Asia Bibi Asks France for Political Asylum

• Pakistan human rights minister may raise Jammu and Kashmir in UN speech today

• ‘Saibane Pakistan’ Launched In Inter-Faith Moot At IIU

• Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Get a Longer Range and Greater Precision

• Fazl wants to unite opposition parties against govt

• PPP calls for JIT to look into judges’ surveillance reports

• KP Assembly committees dissolved to induct members from tribal districts

• Activities at Pakistan-Iran border remain suspended

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South Asia

• U.S. Halts Offensive Military Operations in Afghanistan As Part Of Taliban Deal

• Taliban, Afghan Forces Clash on First Day Of Violence Reduction Period

• Ghani meets Noor and Karzai amid controversies surrounding election results, peace process

• GPS system to be used to control, counter corruption and misuse of Kabul Police vehicles

• U.S. wants Ghani to delay his second-term inauguration amid looming election crisis

• Gen. Tadin Khan strongly reacts to repeated violations by Taliban amid violence reduction agreement

• Australian special forces probed for alleged Afghan war crimes

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Southeast Asia

• Indonesia Targets ‘Virus’ Of Religious Radicalization

• Lawyer now wants to withdraw suit to declare vernacular schools unconstitutional

• Bersih 2.0 chief fears institutional reforms stunted if Pakatan govt collapses

• Saloma Link bridges old and new Kuala Lumpur, a big hit with city folks

• Malaysia’s king accepts Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation

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Arab World

• Coronavirus Spreads through Middle East, Death Toll Rises, Hotel Row in Kuwait

• Second case of coronavirus detected in Bahrain

• Saudi arrests former SBA director general amid crackdown on journalists: Report

• Turkish shelling kills 9 regime personnel in northwest Syria: monitor

• Pompeo orders Iraq's PM-designate to protect US troops despite calls for their expulsion

• Lebanese activists and critics of Hezbollah face attacks, arrest and threats

• Several Turkish forces killed in Syrian-Russian strikes in Idlib: SOHR

• Israeli airstrike near Damascus kills six: Monitor

• Turkish shelling kills nine Syrian forces in Idlib: Monitor

• Iraqi legislators schedule confidence vote for new government

• US forces detain tribal fighters leader affiliated to Hashd al-Sha’abi in western Iraq

• Syrian army continues anti-terror operation in Idlib, liberates more villages

• Family of Egyptian militant ‘not aware of his fate’

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Europe

• Emmanuel Macron’s War on Islamism Is Europe’s Future

• UK venue owners must plan for militant attacks: Government

• Germany's Schäuble denounces far-right AfD for not stamping out extremism

• UK takes action to ban two right-wing terrorist groups

• Germany: Memorial for Turkish victims of racist attack

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Mideast

• UN Security Council Calls for ‘Two-State’ Solution To Be Respected In Mideast

• Coronavirus death toll rises to 14 in Iran: Official

• Iran rejects MP’s claim of 50 coronavirus deaths: Deputy Health Minister

• About 50 dead from coronavirus in Qom, Health Minister to blame: Iran MP on ILNA

• Iran will be ‘held accountable’ for any actions against US in Iraq: State Dept.

• Islamic Jihad announces renewed rocket fire from Gaza at Israel

• Another round of rockets fired towards Israel from Gaza

• Eleven countries close air and land borders with Iran over coronavirus fears

• Iran: Countries imposing medical bans not qualified to be HRC members

• Gaza-Israel hostilities flare through 2nd day with rocket attacks, air raids

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North America

• Advocacy Groups Renew Calls for Bloomberg to Renounce NYPD's Muslim Surveillance

• US: Bernie Sanders To Skip Pro-Israel Lobby Conference

• Our Ties with Pakistan Very Good: Donald Trump

• Donald Trump Promises United Front against Terrorism

• Persecuted Muslims Find an Unlikely Ally in Donald Trump’s Envoy

• US State Department calls Saudi Arabia ‘important strategic partner’

• US' Pompeo talks to Iraq premier-designate on new gov't

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Africa

• Libya Political Rivals Announce Suspension of Geneva Talks

• Ethiopia: 29 injured in ‘bomb attack’ at rally in support of PM Abiy

• UN says Libya’s warring sides propose ceasefire proposal in Geneva

• Boko Haram Terrorists Burn Police Barracks, Churches, Army General's House In Adamawa

• Turkey training Kenya police to fight crime, terrorism

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/-are-you-hindu-or-muslim?’-toi-photojournalist-recounts-the-horror;-how-things-have-been-spiralling-out-of-control-in-northeast-delhi/d/121151

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'Are You Hindu Or Muslim?’ TOI Photojournalist Recounts the Horror; How Things Have Been Spiralling Out Of Control In Northeast Delhi

Feb 24, 2020

NEW DELHI: This story is all about how things have been spiralling out of control in northeast Delhi and how misguided youths have decided to take the law in their hands by unleashing violence based on religious identity.

My horrifying experience began when I reached Maujpur Metro Station around 12.15pm. I was taken by surprise when a Hindu Sena member suddenly approached me offering to put tilak on my forehead saying it would make my work “easier”. He could see me with cameras, which identified me as a photojournalist. However, he was insistent. “You are also a Hindu, bhaiya. What is the harm?”

Around 15 minutes later, stone-pelting began between two groups in the area. Amidst slogans of “Modi, Modi”, I spotted black smoke billowing in the sky. As I rushed towards the building on fire, a few men near a Shiv Mandir stopped me. When I told them I was going to take photographs, they told me not to go there. “Bhai, aap bhi to Hindu ho? Kyun jaa rahe ho? Aaj Hindu jaag gaya hai. (Brother, you are also a Hindu. Why are you going there? Hindus have woken up today,” said one of them.

I stepped aside and after a short while navigated along the barricades to reach the spot. As soon as I started taking photos, a few men wielding bamboo sticks and rods surrounded me. They tried to snatch my camera, but my reporter colleague, Sakshi Chand, stepped in front of me and dared them to touch me. The men decided to slink away.

A short while later I realised they were following me. A youth accosted me and asked, “Bhai, tu zyada uchhal raha hai. Tu Hindu hai ya Musalman? (Brother, you are acting very smart. Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?)” They threatened to take off my pants to confirm my religion. I then folded my hands and said I was just a lowly photographer. They then gave me a few threats, but let me go.

Desperate to leave the area, I started looking for my office vehicle, but it was nowhere to be found. I then walked a few hundred metres towards Jafrabad when I spotted an autorickshaw. The driver agreed to take me to ITO.

I later realised that the name embossed on the auto could land us in trouble with the mob around. As fate would have it, we were soon stopped by four men. They caught hold of our collars to drag us out of the auto. I pleaded with them to let us go, saying I was a press member and the auto driver was innocent.

When the driver dropped me off, I realised he was shaken to the core. “I have never been questioned about my religion in this grotesque manner in my life,” he said before parting ways.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/are-you-hindu-or-muslim-toi-photojournalist-recounts-maujpur-horror/articleshow/74291844.cms

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United Muslim Action Committee Urge Telangana CM to Stay NPR Work

24 FEBRUARY 2020

Hyderabad, Feb 24 (IANS) The United Muslim Action Committee, an umbrella grouping of Muslim organisations headed by All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), on Monday urged the Telangana government to stay work on National Population Register (NPR).

Speakers at the protest meeting organised by the UMAC against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) and the NPR said Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao should stay NPR work like his Kerala counterpart.

AIMIM President Asaduddin Owaisi said they would meet the Chief Minister once again to urge him to stop the NPR.

The Hyderabad MP said while they welcome the Chief Minister''s decision to pass a resolution against CAA in the Assembly, this alone would not be a solution.

Owaisi said his party would raise the issue in the Assembly and demand a stay on the NPR as such a step alone could stop work on the NRC.

On Telangana Home Minister Mehmood Ali''s reported statement that NPR is only for data collection, Owaisi said the minister should know that same data would be used to identify doubtful citizens. The MP said Mehmood Ali should not forget that he is not the minister of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) alone but the minister for entire Telangana.

The AIMIM chief said the protest against CAA, NPR and NRC should continue but it should be peaceful.

Owaisi alleged the hatred had increased to such an extent that a woman working in a government department in Uttar Pradesh for 20 years was called a Pakistani and terrorist by the head of the department.

He said Shabana Bee of Bareilly had applied for passport to go for Haj and wanted a certificate from the department but the head of the department told her to show the proof of citizenship. "When the woman asked who are you to demand the proof, he called her a Pakistani and terrorist. It''s time to wake up. This is dangerous time and if we don''t wake up there could be several examples like that Shabana Bee," he said.

Large number of protestors participated in the meeting held at Eidgah Bilali at Masab Tank in the heart of the city. Leaders of various groups opposing CAA, NPR and NRC addressed the meeting.

https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/muslim-groups-urge-telangana-cm-to-stay-npr-work/1743256

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9 Dead In Delhi Clashes, 70 In Hospital With Bullet Wounds

February 25, 2020

New Delhi: Stone-throwing between rival groups, arson and vandalism on Tuesday marked unrelenting violence over citizenship law protests for more than 24 hours in a part of Delhi, in which nine - including a policeman - have been killed and over 100 injured. At least 70 of the injured who have been taken to hospital have gunshot wounds. Shops were burnt and people armed with sticks and rods were on streets in Bhajanpura, Chand Bagh and Karawal Nagar in northeast Delhi, which saw clashes between protesters for and against the controversial citizenship law spiral into unprecedented violence in the capital yesterday. The Union Home Ministry ruled out calling the army, saying adequate central forces and police are on the ground, said government sources. Home Minister Amit Shah has appealed for peace and said rumours should be stopped, sources said after his meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The violence began on Monday, hours before United States President Donald Trump arrived in the capital.

Here are the top 10 updates we know of the violence in northeast Delhi:

Rival mobs from different communities armed with sticks were ranged against each other in parts of Bhajanpura. Negligible police presence made the situation worse. Inadequate police presence or policemen refusing to act was also visible at Chand Bagh nearby, where stone-throwing damaged many shops. Smoke was seen rising from buildings set on fire late last night. A tyre market in Gokulpuri was set on fire and buildings vandalised by people armed with sticks and rods.

The Union Home ministry has asked for no provocative statements to be made and said that Delhi's borders with Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are being monitored to ensure no anti-social elements take advantage of the situation.

Fresh violence has been reported from northeast Delhi areas such as Karawal Nagar, Maujpur, Bhajanpura, Vijay Park and Yamuna Vihar. While stones were thrown in neighborhoods such as Maujpur, the fire department has been getting more SOS calls, many of them unattended after three firefighters were been injured yesterday. A group of people set a fire engine ablaze and threw stones at another. In Maujpur, a group of people travelling in an e-rickshaw were thrashed and looted of their valuables this morning. In Gokulpuri area, a mob set a tyre market on fire last night.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he had raised the subject of police action with the Home Minister and had asked if the police could be empowered to act.

"The police personnel could not do anything because they were not getting orders from their seniors. I will raise this with Amit Shah-ji. They can't decide whether there should be tear-gassing or lathi-charging without orders from above," Mr Kejriwal had told reporters before his meeting.

An armed battalion of Delhi Police, comprising around 1,000 personnel, is being deployed in violence-hit areas of Delhi while inter-state borders are being closely monitored, officials said. An additional 35 companies of paramilitary forces too have been deployed.

Among the 100 injured are 48 police personnel, many of whom have been hospitalised. Mr Kejriwal, who expressed sorrow at the death of the Delhi Police officer, called the violence "very distressing" yesterday and urged  Home Minister Amit Shah - under whose control Delhi Police rolls up - to "restore law and order and ensure peace and harmony is maintained". Political analyst Yogendra Yadav also took to Twitter to raise alarm over the clashes.

Government sources said the violence in the national capital appears to have been "orchestrated" by some for publicity as it comes at a time when Donald Trump is visiting the country.

The Delhi government has ordered all private and government schools to be closed in the northeast Delhi district today in the wake of the violence.Delhi Metro has closed the Jaffrabad, Maujpur-Babarpur, Gokulpuri, Johri Enclave and Shiv Vihar stations.

Large gatherings have been banned in northeast Delhi under Section 144. They have also been imposed outside Delhi Police Headquarters after calls for protest marches by the JNU Students Union.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/delhi-violence-over-caa-northeast-delhi-tense-day-after-5-killed-in-caa-clashes-amid-donald-trump-vi-2185146

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Pakistan's Asia Bibi Asks France For Political Asylum

February 25, 2020

Paris: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after a 2010 conviction of blasphemy, said Monday that she was seeking political asylum from the French government.

"My great desire is to live in France," Bibi said in an interview with RTL radio, her first trip to France since fleeing with her family to Canada in 2018.

Her visit comes a few weeks after the publication of her book "Enfin Libre!" (Finally Free) in French last month, with an English version due in September.

"France is the country from where I received my new life... Anne-Isabelle is an angel for me," she said, referring to the French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet, who waged a long campaign for her release and later co-wrote Bibi's book.

On Tuesday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is to bestow an honorary citizenship certificate granted to Bibi by the city in 2014, when she was still behind bars.

She said she did not have any meeting scheduled with President Emmanuel Macron, but "obviously I would like the president to hear my request."

In her book, Bibi recounts the nightmare conditions she was subjected to in prison until her release in 2018, amid an international outcry over her treatment.

The acquittal sparked fierce rioting in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where Christians are often the target of persecution.

She later fled with her family to Canada, where she has been living in an undisclosed location under police protection.

"Obviously I am enormously grateful to Canada," Bibi said, adding that she now wanted to work "hand in hand" with Tollet to urge Pakistan authorities to free others imprisoned over the country's anti-blasphemy laws.

"Exile forever"

The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when Muslim field labourers who were working alongside her refused to share water because she was Christian.

An argument broke out and a Muslim woman later went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of committing blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.

But despite her dramatic acquittal by Pakistan's chief justice, activists warned that freedom for Bibi would likely mean a life under threat by hardliners who have long called for her death.

Last May, she was spirited away to Canada, where Tollet was the only reporter to have met with Bibi since her arrival.

In her book, Bibi tells of the humiliating and horrendous conditions in prison, and the daily torments suffered by the country's Christian minority.

She also recounts the difficulty of adjusting to her new life, and the pain of having to leave without seeing her father or other members of her family.

"Pakistan is my country. I love my country but I am in exile forever," she wrote.

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/pakistans-asia-bibi-asks-france-for-political-asylum-2185121

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U.S. halts offensive military operations in Afghanistan as part of Taliban deal

By Susannah George

Feb. 22, 2020

KABUL — The United States has ceased offensive military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban in accordance with an agreement to reduce violence ahead of a possible peace deal, the top U.S. military commander here announced Saturday.

Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller told reporters in Kabul that “our operations are defensive at this point. We stopped our offensive operations as part of our obligations, but we remain committed to defend our forces.”

The week-long reduction in violence is a precondition to a U.S.-Taliban peace deal that both parties have said they plan to sign at the end of the month.

U.S. and Afghan officials have cautioned that the deal is fragile, as there are many armed groups in Afghanistan who don’t see peace as being in their interest. But U.S. officials said monitoring mechanisms in place will be able to identify whether attacks are the work of “spoilers.”

Just hours after the agreement went into effect, local security forces reported a number of clashes between government and Taliban forces. But Miller and senior Afghan officials said the violence does not necessarily constitute a breach of the agreement.

Afghanistan claims the Islamic State was ‘obliterated.’ But fighters could regroup.

Standing beside the Afghan acting minister of interior and acting minister of defense, Miller described the reduction in violence as a “trial period” during which U.S. and Afghan government forces reserve the right to defend themselves if attacked.

“This is a conditional effort. It’s a trial period,” he said. “We are all looking at this to see that all sides are able to meet their obligations.”

If it holds, the United States and the Taliban have said they will sign a peace deal in the coming days.

But even during the first hours after the agreement went into effect, local security forces reported a number of clashes between government and Taliban forces.

In central Afghanistan, the spokesman for Paktia province’s governor said Taliban attacks on government outposts lasted for over an hour after the violence reduction went into effect. In the north, a security official in Balkh province reported coordinated Taliban attacks on government outposts. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Acting defense minister Asadullah Khalid said overall violence has dropped since the agreement went into effect. He said the attacks that have occurred “are not serious, [except] for one attack in Balkh.”

He said Afghan forces have the right to defend themselves. “We are working to find out its cause,” he added, referring to the Balkh attack. “Maybe the message was not sent to them [The Taliban] on time or whatever the cause may be, it will become clear.”

The Taliban appeared to defend the handful of clashes that occurred after the violence reduction began.

“Taliban have not announced a cease-fire with the U.S., but reduction in violence during the said period,” Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement released to journalists Saturday.

“Every attack or fire of Taliban should not be considered as violation, as this is not a cease-fire,” Mujahid insisted.

Monitoring of the situation in Afghanistan over the next week will be carried out by joint U.S.-

Afghan teams.

The peace deal U.S. and Taliban negotiators have committed to sign should the reduced violence hold will begin the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops. In exchange, the Taliban has pledged to begin intra-Afghan talks and to not harbor terrorists with the intent to attack the West.

All of these very sensitive security agreements are going into effect against the backdrop of a deepening political crisis in Afghanistan. Following disputed election results, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s main rival has threatened to forcefully replace governors in the country’s north as part of his efforts to form his own government.

The United Nations issued a statement expressing “concern” over the developments. “Resorting to force or any other unlawful means at the very time that efforts are ongoing to realize a reduction in violence... jeopardizes the populations hope for peace.

Political divisions have the potential to upset the cohesion of armed groups allied with the Afghan government that are not part of the formal military structure. Political disunity, should it persist, could undermine Ghani’s efforts to form a strong, inclusive negotiating team to enter into ­intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban.

Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul and Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-halts-offensive-military-operations-in-afghanistan-as-part-of-taliban-deal/2020/02/22/fea2214e-555d-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html

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Indonesia targets ‘virus’ of religious radicalization

February 24, 2020

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government has decided not to repatriate hundreds of citizens who joined Daesh in a bid to counter the rise of radicalization in its society.

President Joko Widodo said on Feb. 12 that the government was prioritizing the security of its 260 million population by reducing their exposure to terrorist attacks from those who had fought for Daesh.

Indonesia has experienced a number of attacks by people linked to militant groups that support Daesh. Recent attacks include a suicide bombing at a police headquarters in November and an attack on the then-chief security minister, Wiranto — a retired general who like many Indonesians uses one name — who was stabbed in the abdomen last October by a man affiliated to a Daesh-supporting network.

Chief Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud MD said that there were 689 people in camps in Syria — most of them women and children — who said they come from Indonesia, based on data provided by the CIA, the the Red Cross and other agencies.

The government will consider on a case-by-case basis whether to repatriate children aged 10 or younger, and based on whether they have parents or are orphaned.

Mahfud said that the government was concerned that if foreign terrorist fighters were repatriated they could become a dangerous new “virus” for the country.

Indonesians who had been repatriated from Syria have to take part in a government-sponsored deradicalization program for a month.

In addition, the national counterterrorism agency BNPT has rolled out deradicalization programs for terror convicts incarcerated in more than 100 correctional facilities. It continues to monitor at least 600 former jail inmates who have served their terms and are undertaking empowerment programs to prevent them from rejoining fellow militants.

Vice President Ma’ruf Amin has been tasked with the responsibility of coordinating efforts to take on radicalization. His credentials as a senior Muslim cleric are expected to carry weight in countering the spread of hardline Islamic teachings.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, septuagenarian Amin, who is chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, although in an inactive capacity, acknowledged his background as a religious figure was the reason why President Widodo assigned him to the task.

“We want to instill a sense of religious moderation and develop a nationalist commitment,” he said.

He added that the government did not want former Daesh members who claimed to be Indonesians bringing “a plague” to the country, becoming “a new source of radicalism” if they were repatriated.

The government uses the term “radical terrorism” to avoid confusion with other types of radicalism.

Amin said that prevention and law enforcement were required to combat terrorism. While Indonesia has gained international recognition for its counterterrorism efforts, there remains much to do to curb the spread of radical terrorism, he said.

“If radicalism turns into action, it could become terrorism, so we begin from their way of thinking and we realign their intolerant thoughts, which are the source of radicalism. We deradicalize those who have been exposed,” Amin said.

There are five provinces where the spread of radicalism and terrorism have been particularly being targeted: Aceh, Riau, Central Sulawesi, West Kalimantan and East Java.

Amin said that the government was on a quest to prevent the spread of religious radicalism in Indonesia.

“The cause of terrorism and radicalism could be triggered by religious teachings, the economic situation, injustice, therefore it takes a comprehensive approach from upstream to downstream,” Amin said.

A coordinated approach involves various government agencies and institutions, and begins with early childhood education through to college.

“We want to instill religious moderation, a sense of nationalism and patriotism and introduce Pancasila into early childhood education,” Amin said, referring to the country’s foundation principles.

According to the Global Threat Landscape report issued in January by Singapore’s International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), deradicalization programs targeting women and children are necessary given the growing number of women involved in terrorist activities. The programs need to be different to those provided for male militants.

The report found that family networks which include wives would continue to play a part in militant activities in Indonesia this year. Family units are likely to be involved in future attacks as some pro-Daesh families have indoctrinated their children with its ideology.

Previous attacks have seen women and children involved in attacks such as the suicide bombing in Surabaya targeting churches and a police headquarters in 2018.

Asked if the BNPT efforts have been enough to counter radicalization in Indonesia, Amin said that the program was on track, but in the future the government aimed to have a more focused target supported by cooperation with government agencies.

 “We expect the results would be much better than what has been achieved so far,” he said.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1632741/world

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Coronavirus spreads through Middle East, death toll rises, hotel row in Kuwait

24 February 2020

The coronavirus exploded across the Middle East on Monday as four countries reported infections for the first time, deaths in Iran rose sharply, and arguments erupted in a Kuwait hotel over quarantine.

Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman all reported their first cases on Monday.

Iran was the first country in the region to report deaths, and the rate of reported infections have prompted questions over the government’s transparency. One member of parliament claimed that over 50 people have died in Qom alone, which was denied by the Health Ministry.

At a Kuwait hotel, an argument broke out between health officials and people who were to be quarantined.

The first case reported in the region was in the UAE on January 29 and the virus has since been reported in seven countries. Most of them emanated from Iran, prompting neighboring countries to shut their borders and airliners to suspend flights.

Coronavirus in Iran

Iran is the only country in the Middle East where people have died of coronavirus and has the highest death toll outside of China.

On Monday, the government reported a death toll of 12. Tehran first reported deaths on February 19, when it announced two people had died in Qom, a day after the Iranian interior minister allegedly urged the country’s health minister to refrain from announcing any coronavirus cases prior to the parliamentary elections February 21.

Yesterday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed Iran’s “enemies” for stoking fears of coronavirus to affect election turnouts, which were low in the country.

Protests in Iran broke out over the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and demonstrators clashed with security forces in the northern city of Talash.

Ali Arouzi

@aliarouzi

Due to #CoronavirusOutbreak in #Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan & Pakistan close borders with Iran. Jordan, Iraq, Armenia & Kuwait restrict access. Georgia closes flights.

People are panicking, goods are skyrocketing, currency is plummeting & supplies are hard to come by.

99

11:31 PM - Feb 23, 2020

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The reported numbers were challenged by Qom MP Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani on Monday, who suggested that the government had been deliberately hiding the number – and that at least 50 had died in the city of Qom alone.

On the same day, the Health Ministry upped its number of infections to 61, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

Eight other countries reported cases originating from people coming from Iran: Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Canada. Cases have been reported but not confirmed in Turkey and Azerbaijan, according to Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy.

Michael Tanchum

@michaeltanchum

IRAQ's 1st confirmed #COVID19 came from IRAN:

IRAN #COVID19 Crosses Borders to NOW 7 Countries:

4 Kuwait

2 UAE

1 Iraq

1 Bahrain

1 Lebanon

3 Afghanistan

1 Canada

Kuwait did *NOT* Quarantine Evacuees

--- Reported but not confirmed

2 Azerbaijan

1 Turkey

8

4:05 PM - Feb 24, 2020

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See Michael Tanchum's other Tweets

The region reacts

Turkey, Pakistan, and Armenia have all shut their borders with Iran, and Afghanistan said it is suspending travel to Iran. The UAE banned its citizens from traveling to Iran and Thailand.

Iraq, which reported its first case on Monday in an elderly Iranian national in Najaf, said earlier it will set up quarantine centers along its border with Iran and it extended its entry ban on Iranian travelers. Iraq has a poor healthcare system, and many hospitals are under-equipped; there are less than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.

Similarly, Pakistan began quarantining at least 200 returning Shia pilgrims returning from Iran as fears grew over the virus’s spread. Pakistan also shares a border with China, and has little ability to deal with the outbreak of infectious diseases, according to RAND’s Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index.

On Monday, Iraq also shut its border crossing with Kuwait after the latter reported its first case. Kuwait suspended flights to Iran on Saturday.

In Kuwait, the diagnosed person was a Saudi Arabian citizen, and Saudi Arabia said it will coordinate with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health to treat the infected person.

In Lebanon, the diagnosed woman denied she was carrying the disease after returning from Qom, saying it was only a cough, and blamed the Lebanese government for lying about her case.

Jordan, which has not reported any cases, said on Sunday it would bar entry to Chinese, Iranian, and South Korean citizens and other foreigners traveling from those countries.

First found in UAE

The UAE was the first Middle Eastern country to report a case of coronavirus on January 29. A family of four arriving from the virus’s epicenter Wuhan, China, were diagnosed by Emirati doctors. Since then, around 10 other cases have been reported in the UAE, including an Iranian couple.

CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi Dr. Rakesh Suri told Al Arabiya English that the UAE is one of the safest places to be protected from a disease like coronavirus.

“The government and academic health care organizations, like Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, are in very close communication,” Suri said. “As the situation evolves globally, we are staying on top of it but I want to reiterate the message that is one of the safest places anywhere to live and to be a patient right here in Abu Dhabi.”

Egypt announced its first case – the first in Africa – on February 14. The country’s health ministry said the patient was a foreigner and that they had been quarantined. Egyptian authorities had previously evacuated 301 nationals from Wuhan and quarantined them for the requisite 14 days. Egypt also suspended all flights on its national carrier to China.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Coronavirus-spreads-through-Middle-East-death-toll-rises-airport-row-in-Kuwait.html

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Emmanuel Macron’s War on Islamism Is Europe’s Future

BY LORENZO VIDINO

FEBRUARY 24, 2020

“We must never accept that the laws of religion can be superior to those of the Republic.”

With these words, delivered in a landmark speech in the eastern city of Mulhouse on Feb. 18, French President Emmanuel Macron launched his government’s strategy against political Islam. “Islamist separatism is incompatible with freedom and equality,” he stated, “incompatible with the indivisibility of the Republic and the necessary unity of the nation.”

The Mulhouse speech, and its harsh language, came as no surprise to anybody who has followed the French debate on Islamism over the last few years. Terms such as “Islamist separatism,” “communitarianism,” and “Islamist supremacism”—which in previous years constituted the vocabulary almost exclusively of the National Front (now National Rally, Marine Le Pen’s far-right party)—have become ubiquitous.

The term “fréro-salafiste” has also become mainstream. It covers the two Islamist trends critics accuse of promoting separatism in the country: the Muslim Brotherhood (Fréres musulmans in French), with its moderate façade but divisive agenda, and the Salafists, with their firm rejection of French society.

“We are talking,” Macron said in another speech last April, “about a secession that is sometimes insidiously installed because the Republic has deserted or has not kept its promises. We are talking about people who, in the name of a religion, are pursuing a political project, that of a political Islam that wants to secede from our Republic.”

The trigger for France’s heightened concerns about Islamism has unquestionably been terrorism.The trigger for France’s heightened concerns about Islamism has unquestionably been terrorism. Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, in fact, the country has been in an almost constant state of alert. It has experienced massive attacks, like the November 2015 Paris attacks and the July 2016 Nice truck ramming, and an almost monthly slew of low-intensity acts of violence often perpetrated by individuals linked to or simply inspired by the Islamic State. It is also the European country with the dubious honor of having contributed the largest contingent of foreign fighters in Syria—some 2,000.

The assessment among many experts inside and outside the government is that the “lost territories of the Republic,” as areas where government control is weak and where crime and Islamism thrive have come to be referred to in some quarters, were the perfect breeding grounds for this phenomenon. Two recent books by Hugo Micheron and Bernard Rougier, which have received huge coverage, have clearly shown that while marginalization, crime, and unemployment were important factors in causing France’s radicalization wave, even more crucial was the separatist environment created by the so-called fréro-salafistes. In substance, they argue, nonviolent Islamists provide a conducive ecosystem that aids the recruitment efforts of jihadi groups—a position, to be sure, that is not universally accepted.

But France’s concerns about Islamism go well beyond terrorism. Critics argue that nonviolent Islamist groups, wh­ile largely operating within the boundaries of the law, propagate an interpretation of Islam that drives a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims, contributing to polarization and harming integration. Europeans are concerned about the growing sway of Islamist groups that seek to push members of local Muslim communities to detach from mainstream society—mostly through preaching but also through various forms of social pressure, intimidation and, occasionally, violence— and resort to alternative legal, educational, and social systems.

“In the Republic,” Macron said in Mulhouse, “we cannot accept that we refuse to shake hands with a woman because she is a woman. In the Republic, we cannot accept that someone refuses to be treated or educated by someone because she is a woman. In the Republic, one cannot accept school dropouts for religious or belief reasons. In the Republic, one cannot require certificates of virginity to marry.”

Macron is a staunch foe of populism, but he is also a good reader of his nation’s collective psyche.

That Macron, a staunch foe of populism but, at the same time, a good reader of his nation’s collective psyche, would highlight the negative impact of Islamism on French society is also indicative of a trend that can be observed throughout Europe. The debate on nonviolent Islamism has often taken a back seat to that on the violent manifestations of the ideology.

For obvious reasons, terrorist attacks get all the attention from policymakers, security services, and the media. The activities of nonviolent Islamists, on the other hand, tend to be ignored: They are mostly legal, rarely flare up in dramatic incidents, and often bring (sometimes justified, sometimes not) charges of racism and Islamophobia to those who highlight them.

Yet now, throughout Europe, the debate over Islamism is taking place with increasing openness and nuance. A 2018 report by the security services of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, encapsulated these new debates by arguing that “in the long run, the threat posed by legalistic Islamism to the liberal democratic system is greater than that of jihadism … They aspire to an Islamist order, but are prepared to allow certain democratic elements within that framework. For this reason, their extremism is often barely recognizable at first glance.”

These concerns are not new, but what is noteworthy is that they are no longer expressed almost exclusively by those on the right of the political spectrum but, much more frequently than in the past, by politicians and commentators of all political persuasions—not to mention security services.

No European country has adopted an even remotely cohesive approach to challenge Islamism, a task rendered particularly complex by the fact that most activities of nonviolent Islamists fall within the bounds of the law. Various countries have adopted measures aimed at tackling certain aspects: banning foreign funding (as Austria did) or limiting it (as the Netherlands is discussing); training imams (as Germany does) and deporting radical ones (Italy does this more than any other country); and cutting public funding to organizations connected to Islamist networks for religious, social, pro-integration, anti-Islamophobia, or radicalization prevention activities (as Sweden recently did for a Muslim Brotherhood youth group that did not “fulfill the democracy requirement” necessary to receive aid).

While indicative of a trend, these measures hardly represent a comprehensive approach. Even Macron’s strategy covers only a few aspects. It aims to end the system of teaching of languages from the pupils’ countries of origins in school and the phenomenon of “detached imams” sent from abroad, replacing them with clerical leaders trained in France. It also calls for more stringent scrutiny over the funding of places of worship. (Macron’s speech was not coincidentally delivered in Mulhouse, the site of a mega-mosque whose Qatari funding has been the source of a national controversy.)

The implementation of some measures will also be problematic, particularly in a country that makes the separation of religion and state (the concept of laïcité) one of its cornerstones. But even if they were enacted, they hardly constitute a multipronged, generational, socio-cultural grand strategy that many believe is necessary to counter Islamism, whether in France or elsewhere.

Despite the feebleness of the measures Macron announced, his speech is important because it shows where the conversation in Europe is headed.Despite the feebleness of the measures Macron announced, his speech is important because it shows where the conversation in Europe is headed. While each European country’s debate has its own dynamics and degree of intensity, there are continentwide commonalities.

The debate in all countries features the vocal and problematic presence of two extremes: foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Islamist (and, often, anti-Islam) activists on the right and willfully blind leftists who tend to dismiss any accusation against Islamists as preposterous fabrications motivated by Islamophobia.

Macron exemplifies the rise of a middle-of-the-road approach—a combination of concern and healthy skepticism of Islamism that does not degenerate into paranoia or conflate Islamist ideology with Islam.

Lorenzo Vidino is the director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Closed Circle: Joining and Leaving the Muslim Brotherhood in the West.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/02/24/emmanuel-macrons-war-on-islamism-is-europes-future/

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UN Security Council calls for ‘Two-State’ solution to be respected in Mideast

25 February 2020

The UN Security Council made a rare show of unity Monday when it called on all parties to maintain their support for a two state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“Council Members reiterated their support for a negotiated two state solution ... where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,” said a statement released by Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency, and supported by all 14 other members, including the United States.

“All parties should refrain from undermining the viability of the two states solution in order to maintain the prospects for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace,” the statement added, an allusion to Israel’s recent threat to build thousands more homes in East Jerusalem, in an area claimed by the Palestinians.

The council also “stressed the need to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues” and expressed “grave concern about acts of violence against civilians.”

The statement came after two days of rising tensions in the region after the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad fired rockets at Israel, following the killing of three of its members in the Gaza Strip and Syria.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/25/UN-Security-Council-calls-for-two-state-solution-to-be-respected-in-Mideast.html

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Advocacy Groups Renew Calls For Bloomberg To Renounce NYPD's Muslim Surveillance

February 25, 2020

In the days after a New York Times report indicated Michael Bloomberg’s financial influence may have led a major think tank to remove his name from a report on Islamophobia, Muslim groups and advocates have renewed their calls for the presidential candidate to apologize for his treatment of American Muslims.

Senior-level members of the Center for American Progress removed eight mentions of Bloomberg’s name ― and more than 4,000 words about the New York City Police Department surveilling Muslim communities ― from a 2015 report because the organization was worried about blowback from the wealthy politician, according to the Times. Bloomberg, a billionaire, had given the organization nearly $1.5 million worth of grants by the time the report was published.

The edited CAP report is yet another example of Bloomberg’s problematic record on policing and violating Muslim civil rights, advocates say. The former New York City mayor has refused to accept responsibility for the NYPD’s surveillance program, has a dismissive attitude toward the Muslim community’s civil rights and has repeatedly used his wealth to silence his critics — which civil rights activists say make him a dangerous candidate for president.

Bloomberg’s campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Under the NYPD program that started in 2011, law enforcement placed undercover informants in predominately Muslim communities. They took pictures and video of mosquegoers, recorded the license plate numbers of worshippers, chatted up Muslim business owners, hung out in hookah bars — and reported everything back to the NYPD.

A coalition of leading Muslim advocacy organizations sent a letter to Bloomberg last week in which they demanded an apology for his role in the program during his tenure as mayor.

“In perpetuating bigoted stereotypes, your actions as Mayor of New York City, and your rhetoric on this issue has put the lives of American Muslims at risk of prejudice and violence,” they wrote. “We call on you to apologize unequivocally for the harm you have done and condemn the implementation of any similar programs.”

The surveillance tarnished the relationship between Muslims and law enforcement, even after it was shut down. Bloomberg has firmly defended the program, which Donald Trump praised during his presidential campaign.

But CAP’s “Fear Inc 2.0.” report ― which the organization’s website says addresses the rise of “politically motivated Islamophobia,” and particularly the influence Islamophobia had on law enforcement training ― ended up not mentioning Bloomberg’s ties to the program.

Yasmine Taeb, a co-author of the report and a former CAP employee hired to manage the Islamophobia project, told HuffPost she was disappointed to see the final version.

“My job was to ensure that the report that we were putting out at CAP was factual, detailed and impactful,” Taeb said. “We weren’t going to put out a product with our names on it that was going to whitewash the NYPD’s egregious actions. To me, it was unthinkable. There was no way I was going to do that and I know that CAP knew that.”

“The sort of message that it sends to our community and other communities that have been targeted by Mayor Bloomberg policies is that ultimately you take a backseat to Mayor Bloomberg money,” she added.

CAP told the Times there were other reasons to revise the section of the report that tied Bloomberg to the NYPD surveillance program. The organization did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Several Muslim groups have called on CAP to explain exactly why the chapter about the NYPD was removed from its report, and to release it to the public. They also proposed creating a consultation process for future reports documenting issues facing the Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities.

“The removal of the NYPD spying program from this report compromises the important structural analysis of the role of the state in advancing Islamophobia,” several local and national organizations that work with those communities wrote in an open letter to CAP.

For this to have happened at a liberal organization that claims to be nonpartisan was particularly alarming, said Darakshan Raja, the co-director of the Justice For Muslims Collective, a D.C.-based grassroots group that fights institutional Islamophobia. 

“It’s important for the average person to see the influence and particular relationship with big money into these organizations and how that can have indirectly or directly can have an influence on the type of information that is put out or not put out,” Raja told HuffPost.

It is especially critical for such reports to accurately depict the traumatizing result the surveillance program had on Muslims, Raja said.

“For Muslim communities who’ve gone through the brutality of the NYPD surveillance and mapping program, in addition to the hate violence that community experiences, we don’t have the privilege to cut out that part of our lives,” said Raja. “Unlike this chapter, we can’t say, let’s just take one part of myself out that was experiencing hate and NYPD mapping and yet you can focus on all other aspects of my life.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/muslim-surveillance-michael-bloomberg-nypd_n_5e5424d5c5b66729cf6067d4?ri18n=true

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India

 

50% posts of school teachers vacant in Muslim segment Ferozepur Jhirka

Feb 24, 2020

Chandigarh At least 37 government middle schools of the Muslim-dominated Ferozepur Jhirka assembly segment in Nuh district have been functioning without a single Trained Graduate Teacher (TGT), the Haryana government admitted in the Vidhan Sabha on Monday. Not just this, there are 32 other middle schools where only one TGT each has been managing the show. Of 761 posts of the TGTs sanctioned for the middle schools of Ferozepur Jhirka segment, 552 posts are vacant (70%). Overall, the picture is even worse.

The Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP-JJP coalition government on Monday also informed the Vidhan Sabha that 1,355 posts of teachers of 2,875 sanctioned posts of 312 schools are lying vacant in the Ferozepur Jhirka assembly segment.

This was revealed after education minister Kanwar Pal gave a 16-page statement on the floor of the House giving details about the sanctioned teaching staff versus the presently posted in government schools of Ferozepur Jhirka. Congress MLAMamman Khan had asked the question. Yes, there is a shortage of teachers…we may fill the posts within three months,” the education minister assured the House.

The Ferozepur Jhirka segment has 17 government senior secondary, nine high, 107 middle and 180 primary schools.

As per the minister’s statement, all nine sanctioned posts of head masters are vacant, even as four posts of the principals and 16 posts of head teachers of the primary schools are vacant. Of 117 sanctioned posts of head teachers of the primary schools, 101 posts are filled. However, 608 posts of primary teachers have been lying vacant of 1,537 sanctioned posts.

Equally grim is the situation of students of high schools. Against 761 sanctioned posts of trained graduate teachers, 552 are vacant and 209 are filled up. In 17 senior secondary schools, 142 posts of Post Graduate Teachers are vacant, with only 160 posted against 302 sanctioned posts.

The education minister said posts of principals and headmasters, both in high and middle schools, and head teachers in primary schools are promotional posts.

“The cases for the promotion of these posts have been invited and are likely to be completed in three months,” Kanwar Pal said.

He added that the posts of PGTs, TGTs are filled by way of direct recruitment and through promotions. He said the promotion cases for these categories had already been invited. “The requirement for direct categories of PGTs. TGTs and PRTs/JBTs will be sent to the Haryana Staff Selection Commission within two months,” the minister added.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/50-posts-of-school-teachers-vacant-in-muslim-segment-ferozepur-jhirka/story-Tpjds5cZgiLMttc4xUuNMO.html

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Internet restrictions to continue in Jammu and Kashmir till March 4

Feb 25, 2020

JAMMU: Internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir will remain operative till March 4 as the state administration stated that "VPNs are being misused by anti-national elements including handlers from across the border to bypass the Internet restrictions".

"While assessing the impact of the directions relating to regulation of telecom services, issued from time to time, on the overall security scenario, it has come to fore that VPNs continue to be misused by ANEs, including handlers from across the border to bypass the internet restrictions, to coordinate with their operatives within the UT of J&K and plan terror acts and scale-up anti-national activities," read an official notification.

Principal secretary Shaleen Kabra in a notification said that the mobile data services in some areas of the Kashmir Valley had to be suspended, although for limited periods or time, due to acts of terrorism over the last week and the' apprehension regarding disruption to the public order, with the larger aim of causing dissatisfaction and discontent against the state.

"After considering the available alternatives and subject to further review, I, Principal Secretary to the Government, Home Department, being satisfied that it is absolutely necessary so to do, in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the Security of the State and for maintaining public order, in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and sub-rule (1) of Rule 2 of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, hereby order that the directions/restrictions contained in Government Order No. 13(TSTS) of 2020 dated 15.02.2020 shall continue to remain operative till 4th March, 2020, unless modified earlier," the notification said.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/internet-restrictions-to-continue-in-jammu-and-kashmir-till-march-4/articleshow/74295276.cms

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‘India, US are united in fight on Islamic terror’

Feb 25, 2020

NEW DELHI: US President Donald Trump on Monday reaffirmed cooperation with India in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism, underlining a key area unaffected by ups and downs over trade and tariffs as security agencies collaborate closely on counter-terrorism.

“The United States and India are also firmly united in our ironclad resolve to defend our citizens from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said at Motera Stadium with US agencies often playing a crucial role in assisting terrorism investigations in India as after major terror strikes like 26/11.

“Both of our countries have been hurt by the pain and turmoil of terrorism and that terrorism brings. Under my administration, we unleashed the full power of the American military on bloodthirsty killers of Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria. Today, the IS territorial caliphate has been 100% destroyed. And the monster known as Al Baghdadi, the founder and leader of IS, is dead,” Trump said.

In addition, he defended the US’s measures to secure its borders. “In the United States, we have also made clear that while our country will always welcome newcomers who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorists and terrorism and to any form of extremism,” he said.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-us-are-united-in-fight-on-islamic-terror/articleshow/74292408.cms

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NIA raids 25 TN & K’taka sites over IS-inspired cells

Feb 25, 2020

NEW DELHI: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Monday conducted searches at multiple locations in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in three cases relating to modules inspired by banned terrorist outfit Islamic State (IS). While 10 locations in Tamil Nadu — including one each in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Toothukudi, three in Salem, and four in Cuddalore — were searched, as many as 15 locations were searched in Bengaluru and Kolar in Karnataka.

The first case, registered by NIA in January this year, involved 10 people arrested and charged with conspiring with an IS member for carrying out unlawful activities and committing terrorist acts in the country by procuring illegal arms, for furthering the objectives of the proscribed terror group.

The second case — IS Khaja Moideen Module — was also registered by the NIA in January this year. Four accused and their associates were named by the NIA in an alleged conspiracy to carry out terrorist attacks in Delhi-NCR to further the objectives of IS. During searches at the houses of the arrested accused, documents, including books supporting violent jihad have been seized, the NIA said.

In Karnataka, the NIA carried out searches at 15 locations in Bengaluru and Kolar in connection with an investigation of a case relating to IS Al Hind Module. The locations include houses of the arrested and absconding accused and office of Al-Hind Trust. The case pertains to a criminal conspiracy of killing Hindu leaders, creating communal riots and to carry out “anti-national” activities by forming a terrorist gang inspired by IS.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/nia-raids-25-tn-ktaka-sites-over-is-inspired-cells/articleshow/74292363.cms

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Waqf board to build mosque, hospital on allotted 5-acre plot

Feb 25, 2020

The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board (SCWB) announced on Monday that it would accept the five acres allotted to it as part of the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute case on November 9.

The board, one of the main litigants in the case, also announced the formation of a trust to look after the construction of the mosque as well as an Indo-Islamic centre, a grand hospital and a public library -- all of which will come up on the land.

Monday’s announcement came after the SCWB held a meeting of its members to discuss issues related to compliance with the SC order.

Chairman of SCWB, Zufar Ahmed Farooqui, said: In the board meeting, it was decided to accept the five acres and to form a trust to look after the construction of the mosque.

Farooqui said the trust would also construct a centre that will highlight the rich Indo-Islamic culture.

Farooqui said the construction of the centre, a hospital and a library, were all suggested by board members. He said the size of the mosque will be decided keeping in mind local needs.

Including Farooqui, the Sunni Waqf Board has eight members. Six of them attended the meeting.

On November 9, the board welcomed the apex court’s order in a press conference and said it would not file a review petition.

In a historic verdict on November 9 on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of construction of a temple. It also ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque within Ayodhya. Based on the verdict, the Centre asked the Uttar Pradesh government to allot five acres of land to SCWB.

The Uttar Pradesh cabinet, after its meeting on February 5, alloted the land in Dhannipur village in Sohawal tehsil of Ayodhya district.

The land, which was inspected by a team from SCWB last week, is 18 km from the district headquarters Faizabad (Ayodhya), 200 metres from the highway and is easily accessible.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/waqf-board-to-build-mosque-hospital-on-allotted-5-acre-plot/story-5J990APtBKOH3Kttv7hxJL.html

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Kashmir's Islamic State seeks to cash in on Delhi communal violence through new online call to arms

Praveen Swami

Feb 25, 2020

New Delhi: The Islamic State's subcontinental branch has called on Indian Muslims angered by the Citizenship Amendment Act to abandon political protest, and instead  turn to jihadist violence. "Democracy is not going to save you," asserts the terrorist group's new digital magazine, Sawt-ul-Hind, released on jihadist online fora late on Monday. "Only shari’ah implemented in its purity in the shade of Khilafah [the caliphate] can now save you."

The Islamic State magazine's release came amidst murderous communal violence in northeast Delhi, pitching protesters against supporters of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act just as President Donald Trump began a high-profile visit to India on Monday.

"Islamist groups have been trying to capitalise on Muslim fears and anxieties around the CAA to create some kind of legitimacy for themselves," said Khalid Shah, an expert on Kashmiri jihadist groups at the Observer Research Foundation.

"They are sensing an opportunity for themselves in these largely leaderless protests, but until now they did not appear to be getting a great deal of traction. That could, of course, change."

"O Muslims of Hind!," Sawt-ul-Hind [Voice of Hindustan] exhorts readers, "Has the time not come for you to wake up from the deep slumber, which has overtaken all of you to the point of an intoxicated stupor [sic]? Haven’t you yet realised that the idolatrous Hindus would never ever be pleased with you until you renounce the Deen [religion] of Islam?"

The magazine attacks Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, alleging they are responsible for "vicious atrocities against the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, and their unconcealed hatred and enmity against Allah".

But it also attacks Communist Party of India youth leader Kanhaiya Kumar, All-India Majlis-e Ittehad-ul Muslimeen Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi and well as Deoband-school scholars Mahmoud Madani and Arshad Madani, for "misguiding Muslim youth".

"Do you really think that this is the way that pure Kalimah [declarations of religious faith] is raised up to the throne of the Lord of the Worlds," the magazine asks? "Do you really think that rubbing shoulders with Communists, Atheists, Christians and Secularists will help you achieve what you desire?"

It attributes the problems of Indian Muslims to their syncretic accommodation with their milieu, saying they have "stooped so low that that you differ from the Hindus only in name".

The Islamic State announced the creation of its subcontinental wilayah, or province, in May 2019, soon after the police shot dead ethnic-Kashmiri jihadist Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi near Shopian. This issue of Sawt-ul-Hind — a name earlier used for at least two Islamic State-linked online fora — is the organisation's first digital publication.  The issue is dated only to the month of Rajab, which corresponds to 25 February to 24 March, in the common era calendar.

Eisa Fazili, an engineering student turned-jihadist slain in 2018 and Mughees Mir, whose body was laid to rest draped in an Islamic State flag at Parimpora in 2017, are among several Kashmiri jihadists linked to the organisation of whom the magazine makes special mention.

The magazine also commemorates Pakistani jihadist Amir Sultan, also known as Abu Huzaifa al-Bakistani, who was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan's Nangarhar region last summer.

Kashmir's fledgling Islamic State unit was, intelligence officials say, founded by Aijaz Ahanger, a Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen jihadist who fled India for Pakistan in 1996. Infuriated by the Pakistani State's growing confrontation with jihadists hostile to the United States, he travelled to Afghanistan in 2015 with his family, to join the Islamic State in Nangarhar. In 2016, he took charge of the jihadist group.

Abdullah Ibn Aijaz, Ahanger’s teenage son, was killed fighting rival Taliban jihadists in the summer of 2017, followed in short order by his father.

The Islamic State leader's older daughter, 1997-born Sabira Ahanger, was married to Amir Sultan, and is among a group of women now awaiting repatriation by the Indian government while being held in prison in Kabul, as first reported by News18.

Tooba Ahanger, Sabira Ahanger's younger sister, and mother, Rukhsana Ahanger, are also with her in prison.

Rukhsana Ahanger’s father, Badgam-based jihadist-turned-cleric Abdul Gani Dar, had founded the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen — linked to the neo-fundamentalist Ahl-e-Hadith sect, from which several terrorist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Islamic State have raised recruits.

Full report at:

https://www.firstpost.com/india/kashmirs-islamic-state-seeks-to-cash-in-on-delhi-communal-violence-through-new-online-call-for-violence-8083021.html

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Stop looking at each other through prism of religion: Actor-filmmaker Sanjay Khan

25 FEBRUARY 2020

Mumbai, Feb 25 (PTI) Actor-filmmaker Sanjay Khan has urged all Indians not to look at each other through the "narrow prism of religion", and urged the government to stop use of the word ''minorities''.

Khan said this here on Monday while unveiling his new book ''Assalamualaikum Watan'', which traces the role of Muslims in shaping India''s heritage and encourages Indian Muslims to join the mainstream.

The book was launched by Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and state Medical Education and Culture Minister Amit Deshmukh.

Through his book, Khan urged Indians to "stop looking at each other from the narrow prism of religion".

He also urged the government to "banish the word ''minorities'', as it comes with a different meaning".

Calling his book an honest attempt to answer some quintessential questions which have remained overlooked over the years, the author said Muslims in India today represent a population of 172 million individuals.

"As Indian Muslims, we must feel tremendous pride, a sense of empowerment and responsibility in this fact, because we serve as a trajectory to the compass of achievement for all Muslims in the world," said Khan, who is known for his roles in films like "Dosti", "Ek Phool Do Mali" and "Mela".

"We are not immigrants in our motherland; we are the sons and daughters of the soil. It''s time my fellow brothers and sisters reclaim that spirit of the soil," the actor said.

He said Muslim women should be encouraged to engage themselves shoulder to shoulder with the men to keep their equality and share of education and positions.

The veteran actor, who directed and starred in the TV drama series "The Sword of Tipu Sultan", said he has done considerable research and unearthed a compelling dossier on the advent of Muslims in India.

According to Khan, his book gives sufficient weightage to the role played by the community in nation-building be it in architecture, art, science, music, technology or simply governance.

"At first an Indian, then an author and last a Muslim," Khan said, adding he implores that all Indians see minorities as ''Indians'' and forget every other new-age tag.

On the occasion, state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said Khan has taken the ideology of a secular India ahead.

"We are all aware of the contribution of Muslims to the development and overall shaping of the country. Hindus and Muslims have been residing in peace and harmony," he said.

"But many attempts are being made to create a rift between the two religions, but fail to succeed each time. I hope the book encourages Muslims of the country to empower themselves," he said.

He urged state Culture Minister Amit Deshmukh to turn Khan''s dream of having a grand film made on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj into a reality.

On the occasion, Amit Deshmukh said, "I feel the country is currently going through an unfortunate phase and an Indian like me would have been happy if it wasn''t true."

"We can''t think of India without legendary personalities like A P J Abdul Kalam, A R Rahman, Madhubala, among others. This ideology is reflected in the book as well," he said.

"I hope the book is read by as many people as possible in the country as well as outside India, who''ll understand the core message of the book," he added.

Full report at:

https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/stop-looking-at-each-other-through-prism-of-religion-sanjay/1743445

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A year after Balakot: Pakistan’s options have reduced, India has more room for manoeuvre

by Syed Ata Hasnain

February 25, 2020

Pakistan’s deep state took a major risk in executing the Pulwama attack. It clearly assessed that unless it could sponsor a spectacular terror-related event in Kashmir by early 2019, the comprehensive Indian approach towards conflict management initiated since 2017 could effectively prevent it from further calibration of the situation in Kashmir. An element of irrationality continued to remain a part of Pakistan’s policy. It is important to revisit Pakistan’s 30-year-old strategy to determine why it suddenly felt insecure and hesitant from 2016 onwards.

The chain of events in Kashmir and part of the Indian counter-strategy, which appeared to unnerve Pakistan’s deep state, need to be reviewed to get the right perspective.

From 1989 onwards, Pakistan pursued hybrid war as the core of its strategy. Its then ambiguous nuclear status was exploited in the post-Cold War period, when nuclear strategies were in a state of flux. Pakistan’s intent was the long-term emasculation of New Delhi’s policy on J&K and attempt to embarrass India by internationalising the issue — the Simla Agreement’s provision of bilateralism was never respected by Islamabad and Rawalpindi. From 1998 onwards, when both nations became overtly nuclear-armed, Pakistan become bolder — Kargil 1999 and the attack on Parliament in 2001 seemed to be based on the assumption that the nuclear overhang had closed the window for an effective conventional Indian response. Perhaps the decision not to cross the LoC in 1999, taken for completely different reasons by the Vajpayee government, and the long standoff of 2002 (Operation Parakram) appeared to substantiate India’s reluctance. Seven years later, the Mumbai terror attack, too, made Indian reluctance to execute hot pursuit more evident.

The nature of the proxy, hybrid conflict started to change from 2013 onwards when a generational transition in local terror content was apparent. Burhan Wani and his cohorts were reluctant to listen to, and were less under the control of, elements from across the LoC. As its big ticket capability waned, Pakistan’s deep state panicked. In addition, there was a sudden change in the stance of the Indian government in mid-2015. The deep state has never been comfortable with talks and did not support Nawaz Sharif. In 2016, it conducted the Pathankot attack in India’s hinterland and in September that year, the Uri attack close to the LoC. The year ended with the Nagrota terror attack.

The year 2016 turned out to be decisive and saw a change in the nature and dynamics of hybrid conflict in J&K. The Indian government responded in a graduated way — activity at the LoC increased, followed by the surgical strikes in September 2016 post the Uri attack. The strikes were essentially experimental but provided sufficient inputs to strategise beyond just the tactical level. The perception of a lack of Indian response below the nuclear threshold was effectively breached.

In 2016-17, while the deep state succeeded in bringing mobs to the streets, the Indian government was bold about upping the ante in its counter-terrorist strategy. While Operation All Out was launched to neutralise attempts at increasing the terror footprint, the less visible but extremely effective measures were those that targeted the Pakistan-sponsored ecosystem. This ecosystem comprising a combination of human resources such as over ground workers (OGWs), ideologues and separatists, had permeated the very core of Kashmir. Combined with complex financial networks and an effective communication strategy evolved by Pakistan’s Inter State Public Relations (ISPR), it had matured over time. It was given space to function by the persistent Indian strategy to primarily count upon physical neutralisation of terror groups, limiting infiltration and preventing fresh local recruitment, which became rife after 2013.

Most countries have followed this model when facing similar problems as India’s. However, the new Indian strategy from 2017 surprised Pakistan. It took some time for Pakistan to realise how subtly this change had taken place, even as the Indian Army went on the kinetic offensive re-adopting some of its practices from the Nineties. By the end of 2018, Pakistan was already on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) was succeeding in dismantling financial networks and the separatists had become increasingly irrelevant. With the Indian general elections then scheduled for March-April 2019, the deep state assessed that a terror-related event could, with some effort, be branded a “false flag” operation. This assumption came on grounds that the Narendra Modi government would seek a return to office on the back of nationalist fervour generated by Pulwama. The Balakot-type response 12 days later was unexpected, but demonstrated political will, military escalation control and a willingness to engage internationally to neutralise Pakistani propaganda.

The international support that Balakot garnered, the run of military success against terrorist cadres post Pulwama-Balakot and the added political stability at the Centre gave the Indian government the confidence to execute long-awaited political initiatives. Pakistan’s attempt to gain greater relevance in Afghanistan through the US and President Donald Trump’s ill-informed offer to mediate on J&K, acted as triggers for the decisions of August 5, 2019 — to rescind the special constitutional provisions for J&K.

With a communication lockdown, the political community under strictures and the ecosystem under progressive neutralisation, the time since has seen Pakistan relatively ineffective in the conduct of hybrid war. Now with FATF unrelenting on Pakistan to do more to dismantle the terror infrastructure, an economy which is causing major concern, and the focus shifting to the management of the US interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan finds itself in a dilemma. Internal demands to wind up terror networks are increasing.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/balakot-airstikr-one-year-pulwama-attack-iaf-6284747/

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Will Oppose Proposed 5 Per Cent Muslim Reservation In Maharashtra: Devendra Fadnavis

February 23, 2020

Mumbai: Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday said his party, BJP, will oppose the 5 per cent reservation for Muslims as proposed by the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.

"We oppose the Muslim reservation or any reservation which is given on the basis of religion," Mr Fadnavis told media when asked whether BJP will support the long-awaited Muslim reservation in the state.

"Any reservation which is against the Constitution needs to be opposed. Muslim reservation is being given on the basis of religion. So, we will be opposing this reservation as it is anti-Constitutional. We will not support anything which is anti-constitutional," he said.

The MVA government has promised 5 per cent reservation to the Muslims in the state. The demand for reservation was pending for several years.

On January 31, Maharashtra minister and Congress leader Aslam Shaikh had said that the state government will soon bring Muslim reservation since it was a part of the alliance government's common minimum programme.

"MVA government will soon bring Muslim reservation as it is a part of the grand alliance's common minimum programme," Mr Shaikh had told news agency ANI.

Full report at:

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/will-oppose-proposed-5-per-cent-reservation-for-muslims-in-maharashtra-devendra-fadnavis-2184505

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Pakistan

 

Pakistan human rights minister may raise Jammu and Kashmir in UN speech today

Shishir Gupta

Feb 25, 2020

With Pakistan foreign minister Makdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi dropping out of the event at the last minute, Shireen Mazari, the country’s human rights minister, is expected to speak at the UN Human Rights Council session at Geneva on Tuesday, and accuse India of human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mazari, who has previously accused the European Union of adopting discriminatory approach by not mentioning human rights violations by India in Kashmir and against its minorities, is expected to obliquely raise the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by talking about religious persecution. The act fast-tracks Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

Indian representative Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West), will address the UNHRC on February 26 and is expected to give a firm riposte to the Pakistani allegations. Unlike the Financial Action Task Force, Pakistan does not have support of its close allies Malaysia and Turkey in the 47 member UNHRC. Even its all-weather ally China isn’t a member.

Pakistan minister Shireen Mazari did not find any traction to her charges against India in the EU, with India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar meeting all EU Foreign Ministers at Brussels last week and explaining India’s position on both the nullification of Article 370 as well as the CAA.

However, Pakistan is waiting for China to assume presidentship of the UNSC in March for a month to make its next move against India, people familiar with the matter said.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pakistan-human-rights-minister-may-raise-jammu-and-kashmir/story-nUTVfd0We5O7yXrNqsFOlJ.html

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‘Saibane Pakistan’ launched in inter-faith moot at IIU

February 25, 2020

Islamabad:The 'Saibane Pakistan', a project of ‘Paigham-e-Pakistan’ narrative focusing on the role of minorities, was launched here on Monday at the Islamic Research Institute (IRI) of International Islamic University (IIU) in an international conference on inter-faith dialogue and national cohesion.

A declaration of 22 points has been jointly drafted by ‘Paigham-e-Pakistan’ Centre for Peace , Reconciliation and Reconstruction studies of IRI and Council of Islamic Ideology, Government of Pakistan. The conference was jointly organised by IRI and Nazarbayev Centre for development of interfaith and inter civilisation dialogue, Kazakhstan.

The participants of the conference agreed that constitution of Pakistan is guarantor of the rights of minorities. They said educational institutions must play a role for creating awareness for minorities’ rights. It was noted that the society needs an atmosphere of unity, mutual respect and patience. They opined that latest tools such as social media must be used to aware masses about rights of minorities and dissemination of peace.

The conference was addressed by Asad Qaiser, Speaker National Assembly who said government had been a staunch supporter of protection of minority rights. He continued that since PTI government was pursuing the model of Madina, therefore, maintaining peace, discouraging violence and promoting interfaith harmony were the leading objectives of the ruling party. He vowed that lower house will soon witness a debate on promotion of peace and rights of minorities. The NA speaker added that culture of dialogue is a salient feature of a sound society and universities can be of vital role in this regard.

Altay Abibullayev Chairman board of Nazarbayev Centre for development of interfaith and inter civilizational dialogue addressed the conference. He said dialogue is the key to maintain global peace. He pointed out youth as most meaningful source for promoting dialogue and peace. He also highlighted importance of the ties between Pakistan and Kazakhstan adding that Feb 24th was the day when Pakistan and Kazakhstan had commenced bilateral ties officially.

Rector IIU Dr Masoom Yasinzai stressed the need for imparting modern education based on critical thinking and characterization integrated with the blend of Islamic character. He added that there was no place for terrorism in Islam and added that IIU took the responsibility to provide a narrative to the nation to remain clear about Islam, its teachings and dissemination of message of peace. He urged for the promotion of the attitude of peaceful co-existence.

Full report at:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/619419-saibane-pakistan-launched-in-inter-faith-moot-at-iiu

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Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Get a Longer Range and Greater Precision

BY JEREMIAH JACQUES

February 24, 2020

Pakistan successfully test-fired a new version of its Ra’ad ii nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile on February 16, in the latest sign of the nation’s thermonuclear weapons advancement.

The Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ispr) said in a statement that the new version of the Ra’ad ii can travel up to 375 miles, nearly twice the range of the earlier model. It noted that the missile is “equipped with state-of-the-art guidance and navigation systems ensuring engagement of targets with high precision.” The combination of the longer range and the precision navigation “significantly enhances” the military’s “air delivered strategic standoff capability on land and at sea,” the ispr said.

Lt. Gen. Nadeem Zaki Manj, head of the military’s Strategic Plans Division, oversaw the launch, saying it represents a “major step towards complementing Pakistan’s deterrence capability.”

A video accompanying the ispr statement shows the weapon being launched from one of the Pakistani Air Force’s Mirage iii fighter jets:

The successful launch underscores how far Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program has come since 1998 when it became the first Islamic nation to join the short list of nuclear-armed powers. Since its first successful nuclear detonation in May of that year, Pakistan has steadily developed more powerful, more compact and more numerous nuclear warheads—and, as evidenced by the new Ra’ad ii variant, more deft systems to deliver them.

Meanwhile, parts of Pakistan have become hotbeds of intensifying Islamic radicalism, which calls the security of these unfathomably destructive weapons into question. “Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world,” Michael Morell, a former acting Central Intelligence Agency director, told Axios in 2018. “[A]nti-state jihadist extremism is growing in Pakistan, creating the nightmare society down the road: an extremist government in Islamabad with nuclear weapons.”

The Pakistani military has control over the nation’s 70 to 90 nuclear weapons. But the military routinely works with some of the most dangerous terrorist groups on the planet, including the ruthless Haqqani branch of the Afghan Taliban. The Brookings Institution noted, “Pakistan has provided direct military and intelligence aid” to the Haqqani, which has resulted in “the deaths of U.S. soldiers, Afghan security personnel and civilians, plus significant destabilization of Afghanistan.”

Despite the chaos such jihadist groups sow, Pakistan’s military, even at the senior levels, keeps funding and supporting them. The trend has spawned fears that Islamic terrorists could soon gain control over the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Rahmatullah Nabil, former chief of the Afghan Intelligence service, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed: “[E]ven as Pakistani officials proclaim that their nuclear assets are secure, evidence, including internal Pakistani documents, suggests that they know better.”

Nabil said he is “skeptical about Pakistan’s ability to keep its nuclear weapons safe from extremists,” and warned that the international community “must take action to prevent a global catastrophe before it is too late.”

The Trumpet has often warned of the danger of Pakistan and its increasingly advanced nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Islamists radicals, particularly those with ties to one of the world’s other Islamic Repbulics. In our January 2008 issue, editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote: “Pakistan also has the nuclear bomb and could be taken over by radical Islam, with plenty of help from Iran.” The nation’s military could soon become a “proxy of the Iranian mullahs,” he wrote.

Whether Pakistan’s nuclear weapons fell under the control of Iran-linked jihadists, homegrown terrorists or some other faction, the results could be catastrophic.

During His ministry on Earth, Jesus Christ warned of the modern age of nuclear proliferation, saying it would indicate that the end of the age of man’s rule over man was near, and that His return was imminent: “For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive …” (Matthew 24:21-22; New Living Translation).

At the time that Christ spoke those words in the first century, a war that could threaten to slaughter every “single person” was not technologically possible. But today, with at least nine nations in possession of thousands of nuclear warheads, and with the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons so much in doubt, the conditions are right for this prophecy to be fulfilled.

Yet as we see nuclear cataclysm looming on the horizon, there is reason for hope! In verse 22, just after Christ stated that the war at the end of this age would be so destructive that it could end all human life, He added a crucial statement: “But it will be shortened.”

Nuclear World War iii will be interrupted! Just before the nations detonate enough weaponry to wipe out all human life, Jesus Christ will cut the conflict short. After the time of unprecedented war, He will bring in a new era of unprecedented peace and security. Regarding this future epoch of worldwide harmony, Isaiah 2:4 says: “[N]ation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Full report at:

https://www.thetrumpet.com/21979-pakistans-nuclear-weapons-get-a-longer-range-and-greater-precision

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Fazl wants to unite opposition parties against govt

Noor Aftab

February 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has decided not to further show his grievances publicly against two mainstream political parties--Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-- with an aim to unite all opposition forces for massive anti-government movement in the coming months, sources told The News here on Sunday.

“JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman assured representatives of both the PML-N and PPP that he would not publicly criticise these parties but his grievances must be addressed by their respective leadership for a joint movement against Imran-led government,” the sources said.

It is pertinent to mention here that Maulana Fazlur Rehman in first week of this month decided to distance his party from opposition parties alliance led by the PML-N and PPP and formed a new opposition parties alliance comprising six parties.

The new alliance includes JUI-F, National Party, Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadees, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan.

The sources said PML-N leader Ayaz Sadiq and PPP leader Raja Pervaiz Ashraf during their separate meetings with Maulana Fazlur Rehman few days back conveyed important messages of their respective leaderships to him, but he was of the view that both mainstream political parties ditched him badly when he was fully prepared for a final showdown in the capital city against the incumbent government.

They said Maulana Fazlur Rehman informed these representatives that his party would hold three public meetings (27th February in Karachi, March 7 in Bannu and March 19 in Lahore) in coordination with five other parties to mobilise the masses for anti-government movement.

The sources said as a result of these two meetings JUI-F is now all set to again bring together all opposition parties next month and evolve a joint strategy to get rid of the PTI-led government that according to it is pushing the country into the troubled waters.

They said JUI-F and PML-N are of the view that the joint opposition should utilise its energies to pave the way for fresh general elections before next Senate elections to be held next year in March.

“PML-N and JUI-F are not in favour of any in-house change and both these parties want fresh elections in the country. When opposition parties would sit together next month then it would be thoroughly discussed whether they should seek in-house change or demand fresh elections in the country,” the sources said.

Talking to The News, JUI-F leader Mufti Kifayatullah said they had reservations about some policies of the PML-N and PPP, but now things are moving in the right direction due to which JUI-F chief has decided to again launch an aggressive drive in coordination with all the opposition parties to get rid of the Imran-led government.

“The senior members of PML-N and PPP met Maulana Fazlur Rehman a few days back and conveyed messages of their respective leaderships. Now we think that both mainstream political parties are ready for a final showdown against the incumbent government,” he said.

To a question, he said first of all they demand fresh elections in the country but if other opposition parties evolve any strategy for in-house change then they can also support it.

He said no one is ready to give more time to this incompetent government so they would ponder over all the available options and prepare roadmap for a political change.

Full report at:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/619057-fazl-wants-to-unite-opposition-parties-against-govt

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PPP calls for JIT to look into judges’ surveillance reports

Amir Wasim

February 25, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has warned the government against confronting the country’s national institutions, including judiciary, and called for an investigation into the fiasco that led to the resignation of attorney general Anwar Mansoor Khan over the issue of judges’ surveillance and the role of Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Dr Arif Alvi in it.

Speaking at a news conference here on Monday, PPP information secretary Dr Nafisa Shah and her deputy Palwasha Khan called for the resignation of federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, alleging that the latter was the main person behind the alleged surveillance of the judges.

“Shahzad Akbar Sahib was spying on the judges and the judiciary,” Dr Shah alleged, calling Mr Akbar a “bounty hunter”.

She stated that Mr Akbar was wearing three caps at the same time as he was the special assistant to the prime minister, a state minister as well as the head of the Assets Recovery Unit which, according to her, had no legal standing in the presence of other institutions like the National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investiga­tion Agency and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Dr Shah said the attorney general had submitted his resignation reportedly after making some allegations against the judiciary. She said the former attorney general (AG) had stated that he had resigned on the demand of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), whereas the law minister was claiming that the AG had been asked to quit his post by the government.

Similarly, she said, the former AG had stated that whatever he did in the court was on the directives of the government but later he retracted his statement saying the government had nothing to do with whatever opinion had been given by him in the court during the hearing of the reference against Supreme Court judge Qazi Faez Isa.

The PPP leader was of the view that in order to find the truth after these conflicting statements and to determine the role of the prime minister and the president in the whole episode there was a need for a proper investigation through a joint investigating team (JIT).

She said that as the captain of the government’s legal team, the law minister should resign.

Dr Shah alleged that after quarrelling with the opposition, the parliament, the Sindh government and the Election Commission of Pakistan, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had now started a “conflict with the judiciary”.

Palwasha Khan on this occasion stressed the need for launching a movement for the prestige of the judiciary on the pattern of the 2007 movement which lawyers, politicians and the civil society had launched for the restoration of the judiciary during the military government of Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Ms Khan also criticised the federal government for backing the Sindh Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kaleem Imam “after failing to conquer the province through various federal ministers and PTI personalities”. She said that lives of all opposition lawmakers and politicians from Sindh were in danger. She said that one party MPA had already been assassinated.

In reply to a question about disunity in the ranks of opposition parties, Dr Shah said the PPP had been demanding that Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif should come back to the country to play his role.

She said that at present PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was playing the role of the opposition leader by visiting various parts of the country and exposing the government’s failures on all fronts.

She lashed out at the government’s economic policies and said FBR chairman Shabbar Zaidi had become a “missing person” at a time when the economy was nose-diving.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1536488/ppp-calls-for-jit-to-look-into-judges-surveillance-reports

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KP Assembly committees dissolved to induct members from tribal districts

Zulfiqar Ali

February 25, 2020

PESHAWAR: All standing committees of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly were dissolved on Monday for inducting lawmakers from the merged tribal districts as uproar by the opposition marred the house proceedings for the fourth working day.

MPA of the ruling PTI from Khyber merged tribal district Mohammad Shafiq Afridi moved a motion seeking dissolution and reconstitution of the standing committees to induct MPAs from the erstwhile Fata.

He demanded representation of the MPAs from tribal districts in the standing committees.

The MPA said the strength of lawmakers had increased from 124 to 145 after the merger of seven tribal agencies and six Frontier Regions of the erstwhile Fata, where elections for the KP Assembly were held on July 20, 2019.

He said the number of the members of the standing committees in accordance with an increase in the overall strength of the assembly.

The house passed the motion by a majority vote as MPAs of the opposition were not present.

The government did not oppose the motion regarding dissolution of the committees.

Speaker Mushtaq Ghani, who presided over the sitting, dissolved the standing committees under Rule 193 of the Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Procedure and Conduct of Business Rules, 1988.

Under the new arrangements, the strength of members of the standing committee will be increased from nine to 13 after the induction of new lawmakers.

Atmosphere in the assembly looked conducive for reconciliation between the treasury and the opposition. Sanity was expected to be returned to the house in the wake of contacts between the two sides.

Opposition members were meeting in the lobby after PTI chief whip Qalandar Khan Lodhi and information minister Shaukat Ali Yousafzai met Awami National Party parliamentary leader Sardar Hussain Babak in an attempt to defuse tensions.

Speaker Mushtaq Ghani smoothly started proceedings in the absence of the opposition members.

The chair disposed of items on the agenda one by one.

Sardar Babak and Balochistan Awami Party MPA Bilawal came to the floor for a brief chat with the PTI chief whip and gave him (Lodhi) a piece of paper.

Both lawmakers went back to the lobby, where the opposition members were meeting.

A rumpus broke out when the opposition members entered the house and began thumping desks and shouting slogans.

PPP lawmaker Nighat Yasmin Orakzai had brought a megaphone to the floor.

As she started shouting slogans on the megaphone, the sergeant-at-arms called women constables to stop her from using the sound system.

The MPAs stopped the assembly’s security staff from snatching the megaphone from their colleague.

Amid hue and cry, the chair gave the floor to minister Shaukat Yousafzai and ruling party MPA Fazal Elahi to respond to the opposition.

Mr Elahi blamed disorder on the opposition and alleged that some MPAs had turned the house into a fish market.

He asked the chair to confiscate illegal equipment (megaphone) brought in by members.

Speaker Mushtaq Ghani directed the security staff to stop the entry of members on Tuesday if they brought ‘illegal equipment’ to the assembly’s premises.

He adjourned the sitting until 2pm today (Tuesday).

Mr Babak told reporters that the opposition and treasury had reached an understanding that the speaker would be asked to adjourn the sitting to end the ongoing government-opposition standoff in the assembly.

He said the opposition MPAs moved to the lobby as a goodwill gesture.

The ANP leader said the opposition waited in the lobby while the speaker started disposing of the agenda.

He alleged that Qalandar Lodhi did not fulfil his commitment and deceived the opposition.

Mr Babak said the assembly’s speaker had lost impartiality.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Finance (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Universities (Second Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Galiyat Development Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2020, were passed by the house after debate.

After amendments, the Universities (Second Amendment) Act will be extended to the former Provincially Administered Tribal Areas and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The communication and works department in response to a question from MMA lawmaker Inayatullah Khan informed the house that work on the Swat Motorway could not be completed within the stipulated time under the concession agreement.

The department said the deadline for the project’s completion was May 3, 2019, which the contractor failed to meet due to a delay in land acquisition for the last 20 kilometers of the motorway falling in Malakand district, which was not a settled district.

It added that the project was likely to be completed by next June.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1536447/kp-assembly-committees-dissolved-to-induct-members-from-tribal-districts

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Activities at Pakistan-Iran border remain suspended

Saleem Shahid

February 25, 2020

QUETTA: After the government’s decision to close Pakistan border with Iran where novel coronavirus has claimed at least 12 lives, all activities at Taftan and four other entry points remained suspended on Monday.

According to officials, around 200 Pakistani pilgrims, who were scheduled to return to the country, were not allowed to cross the border by Pakistani authorities. They are now stranded in the Iranian border town of Mirjaveh.

“Around 200 pilgrims are waiting to enter Pakistan, but the border is closed and all offices of immigration, customs and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are closed,” an FIA official told Dawn.

According to sources, the stranded Pakistani pilgrims informed the authorities that they had reached the border with the permission of the Iranian government. But the Pakistani authorities urged their Iranian counterparts that these people should be shifted to isolation centres in Iran and kept there for 14 days before their entry into Pakistan.

Officials of the health department and the administrations of Pakistan’s border districts have denied detecting any case of coronavirus. They said the government had adopted all precautionary measures and kept a watchful eye on borders.

“No one can enter Pakistan without proper screening at all entry points,” a security official told Dawn.

The sources said pilgrims and other people who had crossed into Pakistan before the border with Iran were closed had been put under observation. They will spend 14 days in an isolation facility.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Balochistan government has said that around 5,000 Pakistani pilgrims are still in Iran. They are scheduled to return to the country before March 15, but the provincial government has announced that they will not be allowed to cross the border without their complete screening for coronavirus and obtaining a clearance certificate from the Iranian government.

After closing of the borders between the two countries, hundreds of travellers were stranded on both the sides.

The pilgrims in Pakistan are being screened for coronavirus at a medical facility established by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority and the health department.

Meeting reviews situation

After the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in Iran, all stakeholders in Pakistan sat together in Islamabad on Monday to review the situation and device a strategy.

According to a statement of the Ministry of National Health Services, the meeting was jointly chaired by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri. It was attended by representatives of Pakistan Army and National Institute of Health and the federal information secretary. There was also provincial representation in the meeting through video links.

Dr Mirza said that so far over 100 samples had been tested and all were found negative.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1536471/activities-at-pakistan-iran-border-remain-suspended

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South Asia

 

Taliban, Afghan forces clash on first day of violence reduction period

FEBRUARY 22, 2020

If the violence reduction period is observed successfully, the United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 that could lead to a pullout of thousands of U.S. troops after nearly two decades in the country.

Taliban fighters attacked Afghan forces in Balkh province in the early hours of Saturday, according to the spokesman for the provincial police and head of the provincial council.

The attack was confirmed by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in an audio message to Reuters. He said an Afghan forces convoy tried to enter territory controlled by the group.

The two sides have fought for control over parts of Balkh province for years.

The Taliban spokesman also confirmed similar clashes in other parts of the country, adding that the violence reduction understanding covered specific actions and areas and all incidents of firing should not be considered a violation of the understanding, which, he stressed, was “not a ceasefire”.

There were no immediate details on the casualties in the clashes.

Meanwhile, speaking to journalists on Saturday morning, General Scott Miller, who commands U.S. forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolution Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan, addressed the issue of what would constitute a breach of the understanding.

“It is about observable trends showing a reduction in violence and I am confident we will be able to understand that on a daily basis and as more days go on we’ll have better understanding of what the trends are,” he said standing alongside the Afghan defense and interior ministers.

Previous attempts at negotiating peace agreements have been scuttled by Taliban attacks on international forces, most recently in December last year when an attack on a U.S. military base put talks on hold.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-afghanistan-talks/taliban-afghan-forces-clash-on-first-day-of-violence-reduction-period-idUSKCN20G0KT

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Ghani meets Noor and Karzai amid controversies surrounding election results, peace process

24 Feb 2020

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani met with Ata Mohammad Noor, the Chief Executive of Jamiat-e Islami and Mahmud Karzai, the brother of the former President Hamid Karzai.

In a statement posted online, Noor said the meeting focused on current situation of the country, announcement of election results, peace process, establishment of an inclusive government and reduction in violence.

Noor further added that he does not support crisis and violence in the country, emphasizing that violence will negatively impact the ongoing efforts for peace in Afghanistan.

The meeting between Noor, Ghani and Mahmud Karzai takes place amid controversies surrounding the announcement of election results and its effects on peace process.

The Chief Executive of the Unity Government Abdullah rejected the announcement of the election results, vowing that he would establish a parallel government, insisting that last year’s elections were marred by massive fraud.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/ghani-meets-noor-and-karzai-amid-controversies-surrounding-election-results-peace-process-04454/

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GPS system to be used to control, counter corruption and misuse of Kabul Police vehicles

23 Feb 2020

The Kabul Police Commandment has started the installation of Global Positioning System (GPS) in Kabul Police vehicles in a bid to control, counter corruption and misuse of Afghan National Police (ANP) vehicles.

Senior Deputy Interior Minister for Security Gen. Abdul Saboor Qaneh visited the center where the officials are tracking the ANP vehicles with the help of GPS system in Kabul.

Gen. Qaneh further added that the activation of GPS system will also help in further improving the effectiveness of police patrols and ensure the effective presence of police forces in the city.

The system would also help in jamming and stopping the engine of the police vehicles which would veer off from its main travel route, the Kabul Police Headquarters said.

Meanwhile, Gen. Qaneh said the Kabul Police Vehicle Tracking Center would play a key role in maintaining fuel efficiency and fighting corruption, calling it as one of the main priorities of the Ministry of Interior.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/gps-system-to-be-used-to-control-counter-corruption-and-misuse-of-kabul-police-vehicles-04449/

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U.S. wants Ghani to delay his second-term inauguration amid looming election crisis

25 Feb 2020

The United States wants President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to delay his second-term inauguration amid looming election crisis following the controversial announcement of election results.

The U.S. officials fear that the election feud could jeopardize U.S.-led peace efforts, two sources privy of the development told Reuters.

Washington has not recognized the announcement by the Independent Election Commission which confirmed Ghani’s victory in 2019 presidential elections

Meanwhile, Washington has also not recognized the announcement by Abdullah Abdullah, the main opponent of Ghani who rejected the final election results as fraudulent and proclaimed himself as the winner.

Fearing that the election feud could further complicate the naming of a delegation to negotiate with Taliban during intra-Afghan talks, the U.S. envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad wants Ghani to delay his planned inauguration.

This comes as the U.S. and Taliban agreed to a week-long reduction of violence with effect from Saturday, a move which may pave the way for the launch of intra-Afghan dialogue.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/u-s-wants-ghani-to-delay-his-second-term-inauguration-amid-looming-election-crisis-04456/

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Gen. Tadin Khan strongly reacts to repeated violations by Taliban amid violence reduction agreement

25 Feb 2020

The Police Chief of Kandahar warned of retaliation while strongly reacting to repeated violations by Taliban amid commitments to reduce violence over a period of one week.

Gen. Tadin Khan in a statement said the security forces fully adhered to Reduction in Violence agreement in southern Kandahar.

However, he said the Taliban militants have repeatedly violated the agreement during the past two days and attacked the convoys of the security forces in three districts.

He also added that the security forces were returning from Shorabak, Shawali Kot adn Maruf districts, respecting the Reduction of Violence agreement but the Taliban militants repeatedly attacked their convoy.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/gen-tadin-khan-strongly-reacts-to-repeated-violations-by-taliban-amid-violence-reduction-agreement-04455/

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Australian special forces probed for alleged Afghan war crimes

February 25, 2020

SYDNEY: Australia is investigating more than 50 alleged war crimes by the country’s special forces in Afghanistan, including the killing of civilians and prisoners, the military watchdog said Tuesday.

An annual report by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defense Force said 55 separate incidents were being investigated as part of a years-long probe into allegations Australian soldiers committed war crimes while serving in Afghanistan.

These relate mainly to unlawful killings of “persons who were non-combatants or were no longer combatants” as well as “cruel treatment” of such persons, the report said.

“The inquiry is not focused on decisions made during the ‘heat of battle’,” it added.

It is also considering “cultural, psychological, operational and organizational factors” surrounding the alleged incidents.

The probe was launched in 2016 in response to what the watchdog called “rumors” of “very serious wrongdoing” over more than a decade by members of Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Elite Australian commandos were deployed alongside US and allied forces in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks. NATO and its allies pulled combat forces from the country in 2014.

The ongoing inquiry, led by judge Paul Brereton, has called 338 witnesses and is now “approaching the final stages of evidence-taking.”

Defense Minister Linda Reynolds told Sky News she expected the watchdog would provide a report to the country’s defense chief within months and he would “decide on appropriate further actions.”

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1632851/world

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Southeast Asia

 

Lawyer now wants to withdraw suit to declare vernacular schools unconstitutional

V Anbalagan

February 25, 2020

PUTRAJAYA: Lawyer Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz, who filed a suit to declare the continued existence of vernacular schools as unconstitutional, is now proposing to withdraw it.

The lawyer said he preferred to drop the suit filed at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur because there were two other parties who had filed similar court actions.

“I have suggested withdrawing my action and have sent letters to all defendants,” he told FMT.

Meanwhile, lawyer T Gunaseelan confirmed that he had received a letter from Khairul’s lawyer on the matter.

“Details of what we intend to do can only be revealed in court later,” said the lawyer who is representing the Chinese Language Council, the Tamil Language Association and the Confederation of Former Tamil School Pupils.

On Feb 12, High Court judge Nordin Hassan also allowed 11 other political parties and organisations to be parties to the suit.

Nordin has fixed May 5 as the hearing date.

Khairul is seeking a declaration that Sections 28 and 17 of the Education Act 1996, which allow the use of Chinese and Tamil languages as the main medium in vernacular schools, are against Article 152 of the Federal Constitution.

Two other groups, namely Association of Peninsular Malaysia Students (GPMS) and the Islamic Educational Development Council (Mappim), also filed lawsuits to Sections 2, 17 and 28 of the Education Act.

Last week, Ikatan Guru Guru Muslim Malaysia also filed a lawsuit at the High Court in Kota Bharu to challenge the existence of vernacular schools in Malaysia.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/02/25/lawyer-now-wants-to-withdraw-suit-to-declare-vernacular-schools-unconstitutional/

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Bersih 2.0 chief fears institutional reforms stunted if Pakatan govt collapses

24 Feb 2020

BY JERRY CHOONG

PETALING JAYA, Feb 24 — The collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government could mean a lost opportunity in institutional reforms, Bersih 2.0 chairman Thomas Fann said today.

The electoral watchdog chief said he is worried that the chances are “quite slim” for the continuation of institutional reforms as proposed by civil society groups in light of mounting speculation of a new alliance to succeed PH.

“This could be the case if the new government includes BN component party members, as they either did nothing or outright ignored all of the reform demands while they were in power,” he told Malay Mail after a press conference on the current government crisis that has seen Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resign as prime minister and his party Bersatu, pull out from PH.

Fann said even if former PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, who has been a key proponent of reforms,  were to join the much-talked about new alliance, the Gombak MP would still be in the minority.

“There is also the distinct possibility that the new government could not only halt the process of reforms, but could also backtrack on them in some ways. But we will wait and see as to what they have to say or will do,” Fann said.

One such example is the Election Commission (EC), which Fann said is still not independent enough from the influence of the executive branch of government.

“The past two years since the 14th general election has seen the EC acting more transparently, more open to suggestions and much improvement in the election processes.

“Without greater independence, we also fear that there will be pushback in the event an election is conducted,” he said.

Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (Abim) vice-president Zairudin Hashim, who was also in attendance, said his primary concern is the country’s stability.

“If they wanted to change the government, then it ought to have been done properly through a fresh election. These backdoor manoeuvres will only contribute to instability,” he said.

Zairudin added that recent political developments are also an indicator of even greater problems emerging.

“The impact will be seen and felt in the areas of economy, race relations, and overall political fragility, as leaders continue to fight and bicker with one another in aiming to become part of the new system.

“In my view, it is especially concerning as a narrative of Malay-Muslim will be brought about. For example, if we do not support the new government, we would be castigated as not being Islamic enough, whereas the right to support political parties as they wish is part of a democratic system,” he said.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/02/24/bersih-2.0-chief-fears-institutional-reforms-stunted-if-pakatan-govt-collap/1840488

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Saloma Link bridges old and new Kuala Lumpur, a big hit with city folks

23 Feb 2020

BY R. LOHESWAR

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 23 — It’s literally a bridge that links two sides of Kuala Lumpur.

The beautiful Pintasan Saloma or Saloma Link spans the Klang River to join Kampung Baru to Jalan Ampang, near KLCC.

Once connected by an old narrow bridge across the river in the 1950s, these two parts of the city had for a long time been separated by the six-lane Ampang-Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway (Akleh).

Now it will just take you seven minutes to walk to the other side, and along the way you will pass the Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery where the legendary P. Ramlee and his third wife Saloma are buried.

Since the opening of the Saloma Link (named for Saloma) on February 5, it has already drawn quite a crowd with its unique design — a quick check on social media will show you many pictures of the walkway — and LED displays at night.

The afternoon Malay Mail visited the area, former teacher Lanka Devi was also there. She said the walk across the Saloma Link brought back memories of a time when Kuala Lumpur was easier to get around.

Lanka and her university friends used to hang out in the city on weekends and walk from Central Market to Kampung Baru to eat at the various stalls.

They stopped doing so once rapid development started and the city became more and more congested.

When she heard about the walkway and the access to the cemetery, the avid P. Ramlee fan had to go take a look.

“I love P. Ramlee and have watched all of his movies. His wife Saloma was a beautiful, sexy and talented woman. It’s wonderful that this bridge is named after her,” she said.

“This place looks so different now but I'm glad Kampung Baru has maintained some of its allure. In fact standing on this top platform, you can see the difference between the old KL and the new KL.

“In time, I feel this bridge will benefit the people of Kampung Baru tremendously as more and more people will start using the Kampung Baru LRT to walk across to the city. It's just a short walk compared to driving.

“Once tourists start identifying this bridge as a place to check out, coupled with the ability to visit the graves of P. Ramlee and Saloma, I'm sure there will be more shops selling souvenirs, local arts and craft as well as food popping up, which will be great for the residents here,” she added.

Sabarudin Kasim, 62, a security guard at Saloma Link told Malay Mail an estimated 3,000 people used the bridge on the day it opened.

But the number has been going up steadily since.

“Today's Friday, right? Well, if you guys come at night this place will be packed,” said Sabarudin.

“I'd say from that 3,000 on the first day to around 10,000 now. The public love the colour display at night which is themed. For Deepavali, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and even Ponggal, they had corresponding colours to mark those occasions.”

Friends Muhd Iskandar Ismail, 16; Muhd Zulizhan, 16, and Muhd Danial Aizat, 20, couldn't wait to get to the bridge after finishing classes at Institute Delta Semarak where they are taking up welding.

They trio saw pictures of the Saloma Link posted online and wanted to see it for themselves. As Friday lessons were only till noon, they hurried to Saloma Link to recce the place before visiting it again later that night with more of their friends.

“When we heard about this place we said we had to come check out the lights,” said Iskandar.

Danial said they would have around 10 friends with them and they planned to take pictures.

“We saw the posts on Instagram and Twitter and we said, ‘Let's see the place!’ I have to say this must be great for the Kampung Baru people. It's very convenient.

“I know about the grave and it's a very well kept one, it looks very clean. I'll come again and maybe we'll put some Insta stories up,” said Zulizhan, referring to P. Ramlee’s grave.

The Saloma Link’s design draws inspiration from the sirih junjung, an essential item at Malay weddings made from betel nut leaves.

The walkway has also widened the lunch options of colleagues Zarahyah Aziz and Nina Abdullah.

“We've never gone to Kampung Baru to buy food before because it wasn't accessible without this bridge, but we decided to give it a try today and we're glad we did. It's beautiful,” said Nina.

Zarahyah added that more and more of her colleagues are getting to know about the bridge and eventually more of them may take the walk to Kampung Baru for food as there are more choices available.

“We could never walk across those streets to get there, always needed to take a drive so no one would even do it. Now I think if people want a cheaper choice or some Malay food, they'll take the walk.

“After all, it's not very far and it's also a pleasant walk,” she added.

For former Kampung Baru resident, Zulkifli Muhammad, 49, the bridge is heaven sent as he can now take an LRT to Kampung Baru and walk to the cemetery to pay respects to his loved ones.

“Last time to get there I took the bus. It would take a while depending on traffic and the time and date. I'd say around 30 to 45 minutes.

“Now it's so convenient and for tourists you can visit two famous places at a time. The kampung and the city and KLCC,” said Zulkifli who now stays in Keramat.

Dentistry student Maldanie Anak Sulaiman makes regular visits to his dentist in Kampung Baru.

Maldanie said he saw pictures of the bridge on Twitter and thought it'd be good to have a look.

“So many people were talking about it, even those at the dentist,” he added.

Safura Damia, 22, loves the design of the bridge in particular. “It's pretty unique and special. It's spacious and a nice and cooling walk with the breeze. I'd recommend people come and see it for themselves and we might come at night to see it again when it's nice and lit.”

However, all these visitors have caused a problem for the Kampung Baru residents. They have caused congestion in the area as they tend to park wherever they can find a spot along the narrow roads nearby.

“People are parking wherever they want and are disturbing the residents and the usual traffic flow here has been disrupted badly.

“One time, I had to circle this area seven times to get into my house as the place was jammed," said Ainon Sahlan who runs a roadside stall called Cherry Corner on the Kampung Baru side of the bridge.

“It gets worse on weekends.”

Ainon said the authorities should place more signages as well as station traffic controllers around the area to ease congestion and provide proper direction for the drivers.

“....because now there are no directional signage pointing to the bridge so people are coming from all directions. That's what's causing the jam,” added Ainon.

“As for my business, it hasn't risen dramatically since I only work the day shift. However the stalls at night are packed with customers.”

Iman Raihana and Iman Balqis are both residents in the area whose homes are close to the bridge.

They've seen a drastic rise in traffic since the bridge opened and it has affected them.

“This place should not be accessible to cars,” said Raihana.

“I urge everyone who wants to come here to take public transport as there is no proper parking here. Since they've started parking everywhere, it's affected the daily lives of the people around here.”

According to Raihana, there used to be a pasar malam in the area which made it impossible for cars to drive in. Since the authorities moved the pasar malam to a new area, it's allowed traffic to flow into the area.

“They should bring back the pasar malam... then people can see the contrast between modern and traditional markets,” said Balqis.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/02/23/saloma-link-bridges-old-and-new-kuala-lumpur-a-big-hit-with-city-folks/1839967

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Malaysia’s king accepts Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation

Stefania Palma

February 25, 2020

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s nonagenarian prime minister, has announced his resignation, threatening the future of the ruling coalition and plunging the south-east Asian country into political turmoil.

The dramatic move throws into doubt the promise the veteran leader made to Anwar Ibrahim — his former foe turned ally — after the landslide election victory of their Pakatan Harapan coalition in 2018, when he said he would hand power to Mr Anwar after “one or two years”.

Mr Mahathir has already gone back on that pledge several times and it was not clear whether Monday’s announcement marked the end of the political career of one of south-east Asia’s longest serving leaders or his latest political manoeuvre.

He also resigned as chairman of his party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).

“Mahathir will be the frontrunner to be the ‘next’ prime minister if he wishes to stay at the helm; there are currently few viable alternatives,” said Peter Mumford, head of south-east and south Asia at Eurasia Group. “Political risks are likely to remain elevated in Malaysia.”

After accepting the prime minister’s resignation, Malaysia’s king asked the 94-year-old Mr Mahathir to stay on as interim prime minister until a new leader was appointed.

On Mr Mahathir’s advice, the king also agreed to dissolve the cabinet, Mohd Zuki Ali, chief secretary to the Malaysian government, said in a statement. He added that the duties of all members of the administration, including the deputy prime minister and all ministers, had been terminated.

Under Malaysia’s constitution, the monarch must appoint a prime minister who has secured a majority of the 222-seat parliament.

Mr Mahathir’s resignation followed talks at the weekend between members of his coalition and opposition parties, widely seen as an attempt to form a new coalition to replace the Pakatan Harapan.

Members of opposition parties including United Malays National Organisation and Parti Islam Se Malaysia (PAS), as well as Bersatu and a group from Mr Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) led by Mohamed Azmin Ali, the economic affairs minister, met late on Sunday at a Kuala Lumpur hotel.

Muhyiddin Yassin, Bersatu’s president, said in a Facebook post that the party would leave the ruling coalition. Eleven MPs also quit the PKR to form an independent unit.

Lim Guan Eng, Malaysia’s finance minister and secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party, said in a statement that the DAP would call for Mr Mahathir to continue as prime minister at a Pakatan Harapan presidential council emergency meeting, which was postponed until Tuesday.

“DAP condemns the treachery of some PH leaders and MPs that attempted to form a backdoor government to replace the existing democratically elected PH government with a new coalition,” added Mr Lim.

Mr Mahathir made a stunning political comeback in 2018 after he defected from Umno, the former ruling party that had led Malaysia for 61 years, and recast himself as a reformer. Together with Mr Anwar, he toppled Najib Razak, the then prime minister and Umno stalwart, who is accused of involvement in the multibillion-dollar 1MDB embezzlement scandal. Mr Najib, who is standing trial on charges relating to the 1MDB fraud, maintains his innocence.

Full report at:

https://www.ft.com/content/093e9472-56ce-11ea-a528-dd0f971febbc

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Arab World

 

Second case of coronavirus detected in Bahrain

24 February 2020

A second case of the deadly coronavirus has been detected in Bahrain, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health confirmed.

The second case was registered after a Bahraini woman arriving at the Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai was examined as part of the precautionary measures taken in light of the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, read a statement carried by the Bahrain News Agency (BNA).

Bahrain civil aviation suspended all flights from Dubai airport and Sharjah airport for 48 hours over coronavirus fears, according to BNA, the official news agency.

The ministry indicated that the infected citizen had arrived in Bahrain after a visit to Iran, accompanied by her husband and her sister-in-law, stressing that the accompanying relatives were also moved to isolation as a precautionary measure, after testing negative for the virus.

Earlier on Monday, Bahrain confirmed the first new case of the coronavirus. The case was detected after a citizen arrived from Iran and was suspected of having contracted the disease.

Iran announced on Sunday that eight people have died in the country from coronavirus, marking the first deaths from the outbreak in the region. The Iranian Ministry of Health said that there are 43 confirmed cases of the illness in Iran.

The Bahraini citizen was transferred to a medical center for immediate testing, and is currently receiving treatment under the supervision of a specialized medical team, BNA reported.

The ministry added that it will be monitoring all individuals who had been in contact with the patient.

All individuals who are showing symptoms of coronavirus, have interacted with a person who has been showing symptoms, or have traveled to a country where the virus was detected are advised to report to the ministry to get tested, the BNA statement said.

On the same day, Kuwait announced its first three cases of coronavirus, one of which was a Saudi Arabian citizen. Saudi Arabia said it is coordinating with Kuwait to treat the citizen.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/02/24/First-case-of-coronavirus-detected-in-Bahrain-.html

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Saudi arrests former SBA director general amid crackdown on journalists: Report

24 February 2020

Saudi authorities have reportedly arrested the former director general of the state-owned Saudi Broadcasting Authority (SBA) as a crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against rights campaigners and intellectuals widens in the conservative kingdom.

Arabic-language al-Khaleej Online news website, citing a post published by the rights group Prisoners of Conscience, which is an independent non-governmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia, reported on Monday that Saudi officials had detained Dawood al-Shiryan.

Shiryan had purportedly gone missing since the beginning of the current month.

🔴 BREAKING

Unconfirmed news of detaining the journalist Dawood al-Shirian. He has disappeared since the beginning of February, and he was fired from his post as chair of Saudi Broadcasting Authority in September 2017.#داود_الشريان pic.twitter.com/zNvzD8YIGF

Prisoners of Conscience (@m3takl_en) February 24, 2020

According to Prisoners of Conscience, the renowned Saudi journalist was relieved of his position as head of the SBA last September.

In March 2019, the Saudi SBC channel announced the suspension of the "With Dawood" program presented by Shiryan himself only after six episodes were aired.

The program discussed social issues, most notably runaway girls, slums and an episode on foreign women married to Saudis, and vice versa.

Some critics took to Twitter and argued that Shiryan had publicly exposed the ills of the society.

Human rights groups that monitor the kingdom say Saudi Arabia’s long-running drive to muzzle dissent and intellectuals has escalated recently.

Since Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the government has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of Riyadh. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif, Eastern Province, in 2012.

Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the region.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619446/Saudi-arrests-former-SBA-director-general-amid-crackdown-on-journalists:-Report

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Turkish shelling kills 9 regime personnel in northwest Syria: monitor

February 24, 2020

BEIRUT: Turkish shelling Monday killed nine regime fighters in northwest Syria, where Ankara-backed rebels are fighting off advancing regime forces, a monitor said.

Syrian regime forces have since December clawed back parts of the last major opposition bastion of Idlib in violence that has displaced almost a million people.

Fighting raged on Monday, killing almost 100 fighters on both sides around the jihadist-dominated bastion, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Those included 41 pro-regime fighters, as well as 53 jihadists and allied rebels.

Overall on Monday, the regime advanced rapidly in the south of the bastion, but lost the town of Nayrab along the M4 highway to Turkish-backed rebels in the southeast.

Turkish shelling in that area killed four regime fighters near Nayrab and another five near the town of Saraqeb to its east, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Opposition fighters had already broken back into Nayrab last week after the regime seized it at the start of the month, but then lost it again several hours later.

Saraqeb, which lies at the intersection of the M4 and another important highway the M5, has been under regime control since February 8.

Earlier Monday, Russian air strikes killed five civilians in the Jabal Al-Zawiya area in the south of the bastion, the Observatory said.

In fighting on the ground, regime forces seized 10 towns and villages south of the M4, which links the coastal regime stronghold of Latakia to government-held second city Aleppo, it said.

State news agency SANA, for its part, said “units of the Syrian army continued to progress in the south of Idlib” province.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the regime’s aim was to wrest back control of stretches of the M4 still under the control of jihadists and allied rebels.

That would require operations against the towns of Ariha and Jisr Al-Shughur, both along the M4.

Analysts expect a tough battle for Jisr Al-Shughur, held by the jihadist Turkistan Islamic Party whose fighters mainly hail from China’s Uighur Muslim minority.

They are allied to Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a group led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate which dominates the Idlib region.

Loyalist forces have already taken back control of the M5, which connects the capital with Aleppo.

They have also secured the region around the northern city, a major pre-war industrial hub.

Fighting in northwest Syria since December has forced some 900,000 people to flee their homes and shelters amid bitter cold.

The United Nations said Monday that the latest fighting was coming “dangerously close” to encampments of the displaced, risking an imminent “bloodbath.”

Mark Cutts, a UN humanitarian coordinator, also told reporters in Geneva that the world body was trying to double aid deliveries across a border crossing with Turkey from 50 to 100 trucks a day.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1632556/middle-east

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Pompeo orders Iraq's PM-designate to protect US troops despite calls for their expulsion

24 February 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged Mohammad Allawi, Iraq's designated prime minister, to protect American troops even though the Arab country’s parliament has voted in favor of expelling them.

During a phone call with Allawi on Sunday, Pompeo "stressed Iraq's obligation to protect US and coalition diplomats, forces and facilities," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

His remarks are the first substantive US comment on Allawi’s appointment as the new prime minister on February 1.

The Iraqi parliament voted on January 5 to oust all US forces following Washington's assassination of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani and Iraq's Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Angered by the Iraqi parliament's decision, Washington threatened to cut off Iraq's access to a US-based key bank account where the Arab country's oil revenues are kept.

President Donald Trump also threatened Iraqis with "sanctions like they've never seen before" if US troops were asked to leave. He suggested blocking some $35 billion of Iraqi money "right now sitting in an account" in the United States.

Washington’s insistence to stay in Iraq comes amid its attempts to end the presence of Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters, a move that has been condemned as interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.

Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters played a major role in the liberation of Daesh-held areas to the south, northeast and north of the Iraqi capital, ever since the terrorists launched an offensive in the country, overrunning vast swathes in lightning attacks.

In December 2019, Washington imposed sanctions targeting leaders of Iraq’s Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbollah groups which operate as part of the country’s Popular Mobilization Units, commonly known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha'abi.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619384/Pompeo-dictates-Iraq-PM-US-troops-

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Lebanese activists and critics of Hezbollah face attacks, arrest and threats

February 25, 2020

BEIRUT: Activists in Lebanon, in particular those who speak out against Hezbollah, continue to face physical attacks, arrest, psychological pressure and threats to their families. The individuals being targeted include lawyers, journalists, media personalities and writers.

On Monday, Asrar Shebaro, a correspondent for An-Nahar newspaper, was attacked in a public place. It happened while she was working at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut covering the arrival of a flight from Iran as part of a story about the response of Lebanese authorities to the coronavirus threat.

A video she filmed showed an unidentified young man attacking her and taking her phone by force. He told her she was not allowed to film in the airport because these were “families” there, which is a term Hezbollah uses to describe its supporters. The man deleted a number of videos Shebaro had filmed of passengers arriving from Iran. When she asked him under whose authority he was acting and who he represented, he said that he belonged to a political party.

In a message posted on the An-Nahar website, the newspaper said: “The bullying of the media and the truth will not dissuade this newspaper from completing its message by accurately conveying information and holding those responsible for their fragile measures taken to combat the Coronavirus.”

Activists in Lebanon, especially Shiites, have faced threats as the protests against corruption, the financial crisis in the country, high levels of unemployment and the lack of basic services escalated. Some told Arab News they have been prevented from visiting their families in the southern suburbs of Beirut, and that pressure has been put on their relatives.  In some cases, protesters have been forced to sleep in tents at protest sites or other locations.

“The pressure and attacks have diminished after a decision was taken to prevent the supporters of the Amal Movement and Hezbollah from confronting activists in the protest squares, but this does not stop moral pressure,” said activist Mohamed Kassem, who is a secondary school teacher.

Protester Mahmoud Fakih, who lives in Beirut, said he avoids neighborhoods dominated by the Amal Movement and Hezbollah.

“At the beginning of the revolution, the pressure on us was great but it decreased with the decline of the movement,” he said. “Yet, we are still cautious. For example, I do not go to my village in the south. There is real social hostility to us there. We were previously attacked in the Zuqaq Al-Blat area but nobody documents these attacks.”

Ali Al-Amin, another activist, said: “At the beginning of the protests, a number of Shiite clerics strongly participated but suddenly they disappeared from the protest sites. It was found that, in cooperation with security services that have good relations with Hezbollah, false charges were filed against one of them related to unpaid taxes, so he was arrested and held in custody for a few days. Another cleric…is still detained on another charge, and a third was severely beaten.”

The pressure exerted on activists is not limited to one particular social group. According to Al-Amin, the situation is “more complicated and linked to a range of internal and external issues … Everyone who disagrees with Hezbollah is subject to repression and threats.”

Some protesters have faced arrest and detention as a result of opinions posted on social media. In the most recent case, activist Charbel Khoury was interrogated on Monday by the authorities about messages he had posted. His arrest was ordered by a judge alleged to be a supporter of the Free Patriotic Movement, while lawyers protested outside the Palace of Justice in Beirut to demand the independence of the judiciary from political influence.

One of Khoury’s lawyers described his arrest as a “judicial scandal. We have had enough of the suppression of the revolutionaries and the violation of freedom of opinion and expression. The Lebanese judiciary is today facing a major test.”

Al-Amin said: “The way in which Hezbollah suppresses militants differs from that of other parties. Hezbollah is a security party and it does not initiate a direct reaction; it refers the matter to the ‘family’ environment to exert pressure. And this (the family) of course does not operate on its own, but there is an apparatus that manages it and incites it.”

He added: “Despite the iron grip other parties have on their supporters, many of them came out from under the cloak of those parties and joined the protests and turned against their parties. But the Shiite community is still governed by a security apparatus that even controls the security institutions of the state.”

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1632801/middle-east

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Several Turkish forces killed in Syrian-Russian strikes in Idlib: SOHR

24 February 2020

At least 10 Turkish army soldiers have reportedly been killed or injured following joint airstrikes launched by the Syrian and Russian air forces in Syria's embattled northwestern province of Idlib.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) made the claim on Monday, saying the casualties took place near the town of Kansafra in the southern sector of Idlib countryside.

The SOHR also claimed that several Turkish military vehicles had been burned and damaged as a result of the aerial bombardment.

The Turkish Defense Ministry has yet to comment on the claims. However, if confirmed, the new fatalities could put the Turkish military’s death toll in the past week at over 20.

The observatory reported on Saturday that as many as 2,700 Turkish military vehicles had been sent into Syria over the past 19 days, as the Syrian government forces advance in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

The Britain-based war monitor reported that a Turkish convoy of 80 vehicles had entered Idlib, and that 7,400 Turkish soldiers had been deployed in the area and neighboring Aleppo.

Last week, Russia warned Ankara against launching attacks against Syrian army soldiers after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to commence a military operation in Idlib region.

Ankara has been beefing up its military presence in Idlib, the last militant bastion in a nine-year war, where several anti-Damascus militant outfits receive Turkey’s support in their persisting militancy against the Syrian government.

Syria and Russia have condemned Turkey’s cross-border offensive into the Arab country, which was carried out to allegedly clear anti-Ankara Kurdish militants from a sliver of land bordering the Anatolian country.

Back in 2018, Moscow and Ankara reached an Iran-brokered deal, known as the Sochi agreement, to set up a de-militarization zone mainly situated in northern Idlib.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619419/Turkish-soldiers-Idlib-Syria-

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Israeli airstrike near Damascus kills six: Monitor

24 February 2020

Six pro-Syrian regime fighters were killed in overnight Israeli air strikes near Damascus, a war monitor said Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two members of the Islamic Jihad militant group and four pro-Iran fighters in Syria were killed when Israeli aircraft targeted the group late Sunday.

The group threatened to respond to the attack on Monday.

Syria’s capital Damascus was rocked by multiple explosions late on Sunday, and the country’s air defenses fired back in the latest attack by Israel on targets in Syria.

State media said air defenses confronted a wave of “enemy rockets” coming from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Israeli-airstrike-near-Damascus-kills-six-Monitor.html

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Turkish shelling kills nine Syrian forces in Idlib: Monitor

25 February 2020

A Turkish shelling has reportedly killed nine Syrian forces in the northwestern Idlib province, where the Syrian army is fighting Ankara-backed militants to retake the last stronghold of terrorists, a London-based monitoring group said.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Monday five Syrian forces lost their lives near the town of Saraqeb while the others died near the town of Nayrab.

It added that militants backed by Turkey also retook control of Nayrab and fired at Syrian government forces in the town of Sarmin.

Saraqeb, which lies at the intersection of the M4 and another important highway the M5, has been under the government's control since Feb. 8.

The fighting that raged on Monday killed almost 100 fighters on both sides around the militant-dominated bastion, the SOHR said.

Those included 41 forces allied to the Syrian army as well as 53 terrorists.

The clashes came after the Syrian Army and its allied forces regained control of eight more villages as they make further advances in the south of Idlib countryside.

The government forces also inflicted heavy losses on Nusra Front terrorists and their affiliates.

The army’s advances were followed by the discovery of a vast network of tunnels, heavy weapons, and fortified dens belonging to the terrorists.

Idlib remains a flashpoint amid Turkey’s increased military presence in the region. The latest gain marks another step in the government's advance against foreign-backed militants.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/25/619461/Idlib-syria-turkey-shelling-nayreb

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Iraqi legislators schedule confidence vote for new government

24 February 2020

Iraqi lawmakers say they will hold a vote-of-confidence session for Prime Minister-designate Mohammad Tawfiq Allawi later this week, following months of intense protests accusing the former government of corruption and mismanagement.

Allawi, a 65-year-old former communications minister, was appointed as the new premier by President Barham Salih earlier this month, after the divided parliament missed a February 1 deadline set by the president to nominate someone for the post.

Allawi, whose appointment came some two months after former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in the wake of unprecedented anti-government protests, had earlier called for a Monday vote and his request was supported by his predecessor and Deputy Parliament Speaker Hassan Karim al-Kaabi.

Influential Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose bloc is the largest in parliament, also supports Allawi. It had threatened to organize mass protests outside parliament unless the legislators backed the new premier’s cabinet in a confidence vote on Monday.

However, the Iraqi parliament, known as the Council of Representatives of Iraq, said in a statement on Monday that the confidence-vote session would be held on Thursday.

Months of political turmoil began in Iraq in early October last year, when public grievances grew, pressing the government to bring in reforms that would root out corruption and alleviate the economic woes.

Demonstrations, however, soon turned violent, amid reports of foreign interference. Hundreds of people, including members of security forces, were killed.

In November, Abdul Mahdi stepped down. The parliament approved his resignation in early December, but he had retained the position ever since as caretaker prime minister.

Allawi, the son of a wealthy Iraqi industrialist who educated at the American University of Beirut, is a cousin of pro-Western Shia politician Ayad Allawi, a figure who has been at the heart of many political disputes in Iraq for the past years.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619442/Iraq-parliament-confidence-vote-Allawi

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US forces detain tribal fighters leader affiliated to Hashd al-Sha’abi in western Iraq

24 February 2020

US military forces have reportedly conducted an operation and arrested a leader of tribal fighters affiliated to the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), better known by the Arabic name Hashad al-Sha’abi, in the country’s western province of Anbar.

An unnamed security source said US troops carried out an airdrop operation in al-Shuhada neighborhood of al-Baghdadi district, located west of the city of Hit, on Monday, and detained Sheikh Mu’di Karab al-Samarmad al-Ubaidi, the Arabic-language al-Forat television network reported.

The source added that Ubaidi is a prominent figure within the PMU, and that Americans have not provided any information about the reason for the arrest or the charges against him.

Back on December 19 last year, US military forces detained Naseer al-Ubaidi, a leader of tribal fighters linked to Hashd al-Sha’abi forces in the same Iraqi province.

Ubaidi was arrested for no reason in an area of Khan al-Baghdadi city, which lies close to the Ain al-Asad air base, where hundreds of American troops are stationed.

Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters have played a major role in the liberation of Daesh-held areas to the south, northeast and north of the Iraqi capital, ever since the terrorists launched an offensive in the country, overrunning vast swathes in lightning attacks.

In November 2016, the Iraqi parliament voted to integrate Hashd al-Sha’abi, which was formed shortly after the emergence of Daesh, into the military.

Daesh began a terror campaign in Iraq in 2014, overrunning vast swathes in lightning attacks.

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

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

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

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619438/US-forces-arrest-top-Hashd-al-Sha%E2%80%99abi-commander-in-western-Iraq

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Syrian army continues anti-terror operation in Idlib, liberates more villages

24 February 2020

Syrian government forces, supported by allied fighters from popular defense groups, have continued their operation against foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants in the country’s embattled northwestern province of Idlib, liberating more areas from the grip of the extremists.

Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that army soldiers and their allies managed to wrest full control over Tal Nar region, the villages of Sheikh Mustafa, al-Naqeer and Arinbeh as well as Kafrsajna town in the southern countryside of the province on Monday following intense battles with members of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, Takfiri terrorist group and their affiliates.

SANAEnglishOfficial

@SANAEnOfficial

Army advances in Idleb Countryside, liberates Tal al-Nar, Sheikh Mustafa, al-Naqir, Kafr Sajnehhttps://sana.sy/en/?p=186432

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The report added that the clashes incurred heavy losses on the terrorists in terms of military equipment and personnel, and destructed hideouts, which the Takfiris used to attack military posts in the area.

Later in the day, Syrian government forces discovered an underground network of tunnels in Kafrsajna, which linkes the town to nearby Amiriya town. Takfiri terrorists would use the tunnels to transfer comrades as well as ammunition.

This picture, provided by Syria’s official news agency SANA on February 24, 2020, shows the entrance of a network of tunnels in the northwestern Syrian town of Kafrsajna, which terrorists used to transfer ammunition.

The developments came only a day after Syrian government forces pounded the positions of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham terrorists in a number of areas in the southern countryside of the northwestern city of Ma’arat al-Nu’man, located 33 kilometers south of Idlib.

SANAEnglishOfficial

@SANAEnOfficial

Syrian army targets with artillery and rocket fire dens of al-Nusra terrorists in Idleb countrysidehttps://sana.sy/en/?p=186354

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SANA reported that Syrian soldiers monitored the movement of the extremists on the outskirts of Kafr Nabl town in addition to Maarzita and Ftireh villages on Sunday.

The strikes resulted in cutting off the supply routes of the militants, and destruction of their fortified positions.

Also on Sunday, Syrian army units liberated the villages of Sheikh Dames and Hantutin in Ma’arat al-Nu’man district. Terrorists suffered serious losses in terms of personnel and munitions.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619424/Syrian-army-continues-anti-terror-operation-in-Idlib,-liberating-new-villages

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Family of Egyptian militant ‘not aware of his fate’

February 25, 2020

CAIRO: The family of the convicted top Egyptian militant Hisham Al-Ashmawy has not been formally notified about his execution on Monday, said his lawyer Khaled El-Masry.

Earlier, the online website of state news paper Al-Ahram, and the private pro-government Al-Shorouk and Al-Watan dailies reported Ashmawy had been executed but later removed their reports from their websites.

“I think the media reports about his execution are not true especially after the media websites removed the reports,” said Masry.

Three security sources had also said Al-Ashmawy had been executed. An Egyptian military source, however, said the reports were not true.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1632796/middle-east

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Europe

 

UK venue owners must plan for militant attacks: Government

24 February 2020

The owners and operators of businesses and public spaces such as concert halls, shopping centers and parks, under a new statutory duty proposed by the government, will be legally bound to protect such venues from terrorism.

Responding to a series of incidents in recent years, the government said on Monday that the proprietors of such venues will have to come up with plans to prevent militant attacks, if possible, and deal with them better if they should transpire.

Preparation for such threats would include, but not be limited to, increased physical security, training, incident response plans, and exercises for staff on what to do during an attack, the interior ministry declared in a statement.

Security minister, James Brokenshire, stressed that such venues needed to have “effective and proportionate protective security and preparedness measures to keep people safe”.

The security minister cited a 2017 bomb that killed 22 after a performance by pop star Ariana Grande in Manchester and recent knife attacks in London as reminders of the prevalent security threats the country is facing.

The proposed law will be put to a public consultation later in the year, and will invite submissions from businesses and the public sector on how the new duty should be enforced and how failure to comply would be responded to.

There are currently no specific proposals on how operators of venues and businesses would be penalized if they failed to comply.

The security minister, James Brokenshire, said: “Our first priority is keeping the public safe and preventing more families from suffering the heartbreak of losing a loved one.

“The devastating attacks in 2017, and more recently at Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham, are stark reminders of the current threat we face. We are in complete agreement with campaigners such as Figen Murray on the importance of venues and public spaces having effective and proportionate protective security and preparedness measures to keep people safe.

“Of course, it is important that this new law is proportionate. This public consultation will ensure we put in place a law that will help protect the public while not putting undue pressure on businesses.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow security minister, responding to the government plans, said: “There can be no objection to proper consultation on a duty to protect and we pay tribute to those who have campaigned for this change.

“However, a duty to protect is no substitute for professional policing. Combating the terrorists requires everything from community policing through to counter-terrorism.

“Unfortunately, successive Tory governments axed police numbers and the current government does not have plans to fully restore them any time soon.”

Matt Maer, director of security and resilience for the Canary Wharf Group, which owns nearly 100 acres of property in the capital, backed the initiative, saying: “This legislation has the potential to make a significant impact on public security, improving the situation for people as they go about their daily lives.”

Clare Collier, advocacy director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “Yet again this government is shirking responsibility for its failures. This is an admission that after 10 years in power they haven’t been able to address the problem and are now asking someone else to have a go.

“The government’s counter-terrorism strategy has only served to propagate discriminatory attitudes and handing that strategy over to private companies will see those attitudes deepen. This new legislation is likely to have the same impact as Prevent – creating suspicion, causing division and further marginalization of targeted communities.”

The government vowed to restore 20,000 police officers and has committed itself to increasing counter-terrorism policing funding by £90m. The Home Office rejects the idea that the protect duty proposals will discriminate and says it will ensure consistency across industry, with many organisations already putting in place what has been proposed.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619403/UK-venue-owners-must-plan-for-militant-attacks

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Germany's Schäuble denounces far-right AfD for not stamping out extremism

22.02.2020

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is "open to right-wing extremism," Wolfgang Schäuble, the president of the Bundestag (Germany's parliament) told the newspaper Handelsblatt on Saturday.

"The problem is that the AfD does not draw a line," he said, criticizing the party for its affiliation with right-wing extremism.

His comments follow several days of finger-pointing towards the far-right, anti-immigrant party — the third-largest in Germany's parliament — in the wake of Wednesday night's deadly shootings in Hanau, which targeted the patrons of two hookah bars.

Schäuble gave the example of Thuringian AfD state leader Björn Höcke, who he said could be called a fascist, in reference to Höcke's support for another German nationalist and anti-Islam movement, Pegida.

If every problem in Germany is attributed to immigrants, events will quickly escalate to include all minorities, Schäuble warned. "We have known for a long time that words can turn into actions. Elected representatives cannot be released from this responsibility," he added.

The former finance minister said it was up to investigating authorities to quickly determine the motives and background relating to last week's shootings. But it is up to the state to politicians and the state to "not only talk about a well-fortified democracy but also enforce the law," he added.

'Racist incitement'

Meanwhile, politicians from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Free Democratic Party (FDP)  said that public servants belonging to the AfD should leave their posts. "It is from the civil service that one expects a clear commitment to democracy, and that is what this democracy stands for," said CDU parliamentarian Patrick Sensburg. "In my opinion, it is not possible to work with the AfD."

"AfD functionaries have no place in the public service," said SPD politician Ralf Stegner. Those who belong to such a party identify themselves with a nationalistic, right-wing extremist policy that, with its racist incitement, bears a "significant share of the responsibility for right-wing terrorism in Germany."

Full report at:

https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-sch%C3%A4uble-denounces-far-right-afd-for-not-stamping-out-extremism/a-52476628

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UK takes action to ban two right-wing terrorist groups

Dilara Hamit  

25.02.2020

The U.K. took steps Monday in parliament to make membership in two right-wing terrorist groups illegal.

In a statement, the government said it will proscribe Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD) as well as System Resistance Network, an alias of the already banned right-wing group National Action.

"As part of the order to proscribe SKD, the entry for Partiya Karkeren Kurdistani (the Kurdistan Worker’s Party or PKK) will be amended to include Teyre Azadiye Kurdistan (TAK) and Hezen Parastina Gel (HPG) as aliases," it said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel emphasized that recent attacks in Germany have highlighted the threat of violent extremism.

"We are working to keep the public safe by increasing funding for counter-terror police and strengthening the law to keep terrorists locked up for longer.

"By proscribing these groups, we are making it much harder for them to spread their hateful rhetoric," she said.

The decision followed a meeting of the Proscription Review Group, which brings together representatives from the police and other partners to assess the risk posed by groups who may be considered for proscription.

"Proscription renders membership of a group illegal in the U.K. Anyone found to be a member of or offering support to the groups could now face up to 10 years behind bars," the statement said.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/uk-takes-action-to-ban-two-right-wing-terrorist-groups/1743850

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Germany: Memorial for Turkish victims of racist attack

Mesut Zeyrek

24.02.2020

A memorial ceremony was held Monday honoring three of four Turkish nationals slain in last week’s racist mass shooting in Germany.

The ceremony for Fatih Saracoglu, Gokhan Gultekin, and Sedat Gurbuz was held in Hanau, near Frankfurt, the scene of the attack.

Attending the memorial were Turkey’s Ambassador to Germany Ali Kemal Aydin, Turkey’s Consul General in Frankfurt Burak Kararti, Turkey’s Presidency of Turks and Related Communities Abroad (YTB) head Abdullah Eren, Kazim Turkmen, head of the Turkish-Muslim umbrella group DITIB, and a number of lawmakers from Turkey’s parliament.

After the ceremony, the bodies of Saracoglu and Gultekin were sent to their hometowns in Turkey.

Gurbuz was laid to rest in Frankfurt’s Dietzenbach district.

Last Wednesday, a German far-right extremist attacked two cafes and killed nine people with migrant backgrounds in the western town of Hanau.

Four people with Turkish roots died in the racist terror attack, as did one Bosnian, one Bulgarian, one Romanian, and a dual German-Afghan national.

Germany has witnessed growing racism and Islamophobia in recent years, fueled by the propaganda of neo-Nazi groups and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/germany-memorial-for-turkish-victims-of-racist-attack/1743593

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Mideast

 

Coronavirus death toll rises to 14 in Iran: Official

The comments by MP Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani suggest that coronavirus is far more widepsread in Iran than previously thought. The Iranian government announced on Monday morning that the total stood at 12 in the entire country, raising questions over its reporting of the crisis. Iran's Health Ministry rejected the number on Monday afternoon.

“Up until last night, around 50 people died from coronavirus. The health minister is to blame,” Amirabadi Farhani said on Monday.

Ten people die in Qom daily due to the coronavirus outbreak in the city, he added.

In response, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi denied the figures and said he would resign if Amirabadi Farhani's numbers were correct. “If the number of coronavirus victims in Qom is a quarter of what media outlets are reporting, I will resign. The figure is incorrect, and we are sure of our statistics,” he said.

However, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianush Jahanpour rapidly revised the total up on Monday, saying there are now 61 confirmed cases in the country.

Amirabadi Farhani also criticized the government's efforts to control the virus. “Qom is in a poor state and the government has been unsuccessful in controlling the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

The government is not “worried enough” about the outbreak, he added, stating: “It is true that we should keep calm, but we must not act like nothing has happened.”

He added that coronavirus has been in Qom for three weeks already, but nurses were still unprepared.

The MP himself was forced to leave the parliament due to feeling unwell, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing another MP.

The Iranian parliament held a session behind closed doors today which was also attended by health minister Saeed Namaki.

Prior to the start of the session, the body temperature of MPs was checked as a precaution, and three MPs – including Amirabadi Farhani – were advised not to attend the session, ISNA quoted an unnamed MP as saying.

Despite that, all three MPs attended the session, the unnamed MP told ISNA.

Amirabadi Farhani was told that he needs to be quarantined, but he declined and went home, the MP added. A member of the parliament staff then disinfected his seat, according to ISNA.

Amirabadi Farhani spoke with journalists today and gave exclusive interviews to several TV channels, ISNA said, adding that the MP was wearing a mask and a pair of gloves.

Iran late to announce, unprepared for coronavirus

Amirabadi Farhani's announcement takes the number of cases in Iran up rapidly, from eight on Sunday night to at least 50 on Monday.

“Coronavirus has been in Qom since three weeks ago and the outbreak was announced late,” Amirabadi Farhani said.

The Iranian government only announced the presence of coronavirus in Qom on Wednesday, when officials said it killed two elderly people - the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.

Speaking on Wednesday, the health ministry spokesman had said that Iran carried out tests on 785 suspected cases.

Iran also announced the closure of schools in the Shia city of Qom.

But already on Friday, Iranians voiced their discontent at the level of preparation, with protests breaking out in the northern city of Talash reportedly aimed at the government's response to the outbreak.

Amirabadi Farhani also criticized the government's response and said they did not have the sufficient supplies.

“Nurses currently do not have proper quarantine clothing and are treating patients with fear and anxiety,” he said.

Coronavirus hits the Middle East

If Amirabadi Farhani is correct, the numbers from the outbreak mark a major increase in the number of deaths from coronavirus anywhere outside China - let alone just Iran.

The virus began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December. It has since spread to countries across the globe, but until this week only minimal cases have been detected in the Middle East.

On Monday, Bahrain and Kuwait also reported coronavirus cases.

Bahrain said a man who traveled to the country from Iran had been infected, while Kuwait said that three people including a Saudi citizen had been infected. Saudi Arabia announced it is cooperating with Kuwait to treat the patient.

Earlier in the month, the UAE reported that an Iranian couple had tested positive for the virus while in the country.

Many regional countries reacted to the much bigger outbreak in Iran by closing borders and putting restrictions on travel.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Iranian-MP-50-dead-from-coronavirus-in-Qom-Health-Minister-to-blame-ILNA.html

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Iran rejects MP’s claim of 50 coronavirus deaths: Deputy Health Minister

February 25, 2020

“If the number of coronavirus victims in Qom is a quarter of what media outlets are reporting, I will resign. The figure is incorrect, and we are sure of our statistics,” said Iran’s Deputy Health Minister, rejecting a claim by an MP that coronavirus has claimed the lives of around 50 people in the city of Qom alone.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi's comments came after MP Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani, who represents Qom, suggested that coronavirus is far more widepsread in Iran than previously thought. The Iranian government announced on Monday morning that the total stood at 12 in the entire country, raising questions over its reporting of the crisis.

On Monday afternoon, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianush Jahanpour revised the total number of cases across the country upwards by 18, from 47 to 61. The death toll remained at 12.

According to Jahanpour, there were eight new cases in Qom, three in Tehran, two each in Markazi, Isfahan, and Gilan, and one in Hamedan.

Amirbadi Farhani warned against trusting the government numbers and said they had been slow to report the true outbreak of the virus in the country.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Iran-s-health-ministry-rejects-MP-s-claim-of-50-coronavirus-deaths-Spokesman.html

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About 50 dead from coronavirus in Qom, Health Minister to blame: Iran MP on ILNA

24 February 2020

Coronavirus has killed around 50 people in Qom, the Iranian city's representative in parliament said, according to the semi-official ILNA news agency.

Latest: Coronavirus death toll rises to 14 in Iran: Official

The comments by MP Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani suggest that coronavirus is far more widepsread in Iran than previously thought. The Iranian government announced on Monday morning that the total stood at 12 in the entire country, raising questions over its reporting of the crisis. Iran's Health Ministry rejected the number on Monday afternoon.

“Up until last night, around 50 people died from coronavirus. The health minister is to blame,” Amirabadi Farhani said on Monday.

Ten people die in Qom daily due to the coronavirus outbreak in the city, he added.

In response, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi denied the figures and said he would resign if Amirabadi Farhani's numbers were correct. “If the number of coronavirus victims in Qom is a quarter of what media outlets are reporting, I will resign. The figure is incorrect, and we are sure of our statistics,” he said.

However, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianush Jahanpour rapidly revised the total up on Monday, saying there are now 61 confirmed cases in the country.

Amirabadi Farhani also criticized the government's efforts to control the virus. “Qom is in a poor state and the government has been unsuccessful in controlling the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

The government is not “worried enough” about the outbreak, he added, stating: “It is true that we should keep calm, but we must not act like nothing has happened.”

He added that coronavirus has been in Qom for three weeks already, but nurses were still unprepared.

The MP himself was forced to leave the parliament due to feeling unwell, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing another MP.

The Iranian parliament held a session behind closed doors today which was also attended by health minister Saeed Namaki.

Prior to the start of the session, the body temperature of MPs was checked as a precaution, and three MPs – including Amirabadi Farhani – were advised not to attend the session, ISNA quoted an unnamed MP as saying.

Despite that, all three MPs attended the session, the unnamed MP told ISNA.

Amirabadi Farhani was told that he needs to be quarantined, but he declined and went home, the MP added. A member of the parliament staff then disinfected his seat, according to ISNA.

Amirabadi Farhani spoke with journalists today and gave exclusive interviews to several TV channels, ISNA said, adding that the MP was wearing a mask and a pair of gloves.

Iran late to announce, unprepared for coronavirus

Amirabadi Farhani's announcement takes the number of cases in Iran up rapidly, from eight on Sunday night to at least 50 on Monday.

“Coronavirus has been in Qom since three weeks ago and the outbreak was announced late,” Amirabadi Farhani said.

The Iranian government only announced the presence of coronavirus in Qom on Wednesday, when officials said it killed two elderly people - the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.

Speaking on Wednesday, the health ministry spokesman had said that Iran carried out tests on 785 suspected cases.

Iran also announced the closure of schools in the Shia city of Qom.

But already on Friday, Iranians voiced their discontent at the level of preparation, with protests breaking out in the northern city of Talash reportedly aimed at the government's response to the outbreak.

Amirabadi Farhani also criticized the government's response and said they did not have the sufficient supplies.

“Nurses currently do not have proper quarantine clothing and are treating patients with fear and anxiety,” he said.

Coronavirus hits the Middle East

If Amirabadi Farhani is correct, the numbers from the outbreak mark a major increase in the number of deaths from coronavirus anywhere outside China - let alone just Iran.

The virus began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December. It has since spread to countries across the globe, but until this week only minimal cases have been detected in the Middle East.

On Monday, Bahrain and Kuwait also reported coronavirus cases.

Bahrain said a man who traveled to the country from Iran had been infected, while Kuwait said that three people including a Saudi citizen had been infected. Saudi Arabia announced it is cooperating with Kuwait to treat the patient.

Earlier in the month, the UAE reported that an Iranian couple had tested positive for the virus while in the country.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Iranian-MP-50-dead-from-coronavirus-in-Qom-Health-Minister-to-blame-ILNA.html

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Iran will be ‘held accountable’ for any actions against US in Iraq: State Dept.

25 February 2020

The United States warned on Monday that it will do everything possible “to deter the Shia militias” aligned with Iran from attacking US interests in Iraq, and said the Iranian regime should take these warnings “seriously” in the aftermath of the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

“We’re still going to do everything we can to deter the Shia militias from attacking us. We also obviously saw as it started with the attacks that were sponsored by Iranian militias… attacking our embassy back in the beginning of the year. And now, we’re starting to see and continue to see more of this activity start to creep up again,” said Morgan Ortagus, spokesperson of the US State Department in an interview with Nadia Bilbassy,  Al Arabiya correspondent in Washington.

She warned that Washington will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any actions by “the Shia militias” in Iraq against US interests, reminding of the US attack that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on January 3, in Baghdad.

“The Iranian regime should know that we will hold them accountable for any actions that their Shia militias take in Iraq," Ortagus said. "We were serious at the beginning of the year when we warned them on this before we killed Qassem Soleimani and we’re serious about it now, and they need to take those warnings seriously."

US calls for an Iraqi government represented by all sides

In a wide-ranging interview, Ortagus reaffirmed the US support for the Iraqi people following the countrywide protests that erupted since last fall.

“One of the things that is most important for us is that the killing of innocent protesters in Iraq," said Ortagus. "You know, we have seen a lot of protests around Iraq, and we understand that people are frustrated with their government. It’s one of the reasons that you’ve seen a change in leadership and that we saw the last prime minister resign.”

She added that the newly-designated prime minister should form a representative government comprising all political groups.

“The next prime minister needs to be open to bringing all parties to the table: Sunni, Shia, Kurds, and everyone. We need a unifying presence in the central government in Iraq, and so we think the stability and security of Iraq, and especially the central government, is important. We will continue to work on that relationship quite closely,” Ortagus said.

American-Saudi historical relations

In regard to the historical relations between the US and Saudi Arabia, the spokesperson reiterated the US commitment to stand with the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia is the bulwark of our relationship, especially when it comes to Iran, and without the partnership of Saudi Arabia and our other Gulf allies, we would not be able to have the maximum economic pressure campaign that we have,” Ortagus said.

“But I do think it is important to notice as much as we have a relationship that is very much focused on the same policy toward Iran, we know that Tehran seeks to exert its malign influence Saudi Arabia," she said. "So we know that weapons that are Iranian supplies to the Houthis are constantly aimed at Saudi Arabia, constantly trying to hit civilian airports, oil fields, and other infrastructure.”

Ortagus also brought up the recent visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia where he also visited American troops stationed there.

“I see his eyes light up whenever he goes and visits our troops overseas. It was important for us and to talk to people who are newly stationed there to talk to them. They’re really on the front lines and figuring out how we continue to pressure and deter the regime in Iran, I mean that’s why our troops are there,” she said.

Idlib offensive by Syrian and Russian forces

The spokesperson criticized the Syrian regime forces who are trying to seize back control of the last large opposition-held province of Idlib with the support of Russia and Iranian-backed militias, saying the only solution to the conflict in Syria is through a political solution.

“It’s just disgusting what the Russians and the Iranians, and the Assad regime are doing," Ortagus said. "There’s almost nothing more disgusting on the planet than what’s going on right now in Idlib.”

She added that the State Department continues to work with the United Nations in this regard, pointing to the recent visit by US Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey to Turkey.

“We continue to work through the United Nations; Ambassador Jeffrey has been in Turkey. And as we have said during the many years of this conflict, we will never be able to solve this militarily. We need a political resolution,” she said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/25/Iran-will-be-held-accountable-for-any-actions-against-US-in-Iraq-State-Dept-.html

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Islamic Jihad announces renewed rocket fire from Gaza at Israel

24 February 2020

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad announced renewed Gaza rocket fire at Israel on Monday after earlier announcing  that it had ended its “military response” against Israel after two days of Gaza rockets and Israeli air strikes.

The group’s armed wing said it had halted its attacks, which it called a response to Israel’s killing of an Islamic Jihad member at the Israel-Gaza border on Sunday morning.

The hostilities escalated and saw Israel carry out air strikes which killed two suspected Islamic Jihad militants outside Damascus late on Sunday.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Islamic-Jihad-says-military-response-over-after-two-days-of-rockets-air-strikes.html

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Another round of rockets fired towards Israel from Gaza

24 February 2020

Islamic Jihad militants claimed responsibility for another round of rockets fired towards Israel on Monday, following a new flare-up between the group and Israel.

Israel’s army said six “projectiles” had been fired from Gaza, but that its air defense systems had “intercepted five of the launches.”

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Another-round-of-rockets-fired-towards-Israel-from-Gaza-.html

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Eleven countries close air and land borders with Iran over coronavirus fears

24 February 2020

Eleven countries across the Middle East have closed their air and land borders to Iran as the deadly coronavirus continues its spread throughout the Islamic Republic.

Update: UAE authorities issue travel ban to Iran and Thailand over coronavirus outbreak.

Update: Oman authorities suspend all civil aviation with Iran following outbreak in country.

On Monday morning, Qatar Airways also announced that it would quarantine passengers arriving from Iran and South Korea for 14 days, even if they show no signs of the coronavirus.

An Iranian parliamentary representative said on Monday that the death toll had reached 50 in the country, according to the semi-official ILNA news agency. This figure places Iran as by far the most deadly epicenter for the virus outside of China, with South Korea as the next, reporting seven dead. A spokesman for Iran’s health ministry has since rejected the MP’s claim.

Five of Iran’s seven neighbors, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Armenia, have closed their borders to the Islamic Republic.

Other regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, Oman, and Georgia have also imposed travel and immigration restrictions.

Iran’s other two neighbors, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, are reportedly intensifying border checks to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Iranian outbreak has mostly been centered on the city of Qom. Parliamentary elections held on Friday may have helped to facilitate the spread of the virus as people went to the polls.

Iranian travelers who had contracted the virus have been confirmed in Kuwait, the UAE, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Canada.

The speed of the spread has brought into question ability to detect the virus, with the three infected travelers from Iran who journeyed to Kuwait all originating from the city of Mashhad that has yet to report any confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Iranian protests break out over coronavirus handling

Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters in the northern city of Talesh over Iranian authorities handling of the coronavirus outbreak broke out on Sunday, according to videos shared on social media by activists.

Protesters gathered in front of the Noorani Hospital of Talesh country in Gilan Province, northern Iran, on Saturday night.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/02/24/Nine-countries-close-borders-with-Iran-over-coronavirus-fears.html

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Iran: Countries imposing medical bans not qualified to be HRC members

24 February 2020

The head of the Iranian Judiciary's High Council for Human Rights says countries imposing sanctions on supply of medicine to Iran are "murderers of human beings" and lack qualification to be members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

Ali Baqeri-Kani made the remarks while addressing the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, where he described the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran as the “most recent grave and systematic violation of human rights.”

Emphasizing that “the Iranian nation is the major victim of such a violation,” Baqeri-Kani said, “The United States has created an international sanction regime which amounts to a systematic violation of human rights at an international level.”

“This new policy in practice has prevented the access to medicine and basic needs by those who are in need,” the Iranian rights official said, adding, “Those who impose sanctions on medicine are not only violators of human rights but also murderers of human beings. And those who impose sanctions on life-saving medicine are not eligible to be a member of the Human Rights Council.”

Refuting US claims that its anti-Iran sanctions do not cover supply of medicine, the official said, “Although the US claims that basic needs such as pharmaceutical and commodities are not sanctioned, access to the most basic human needs are blocked due to the sanctions imposed on international financial transactions and banking.”

Baqeri-Kani slammed US allies and some other countries for following the US sanctions policy against Iran and said, “To preserve their political and economic benefits, many states that may not approve such sanctions, not only have failed to oppose such inhuman treatment, but also supported these policies by succumbing to them.”

“These acts are not only the collective punishment of a nation, but also a modern method of violation of human rights, which should be put high on the agenda of the Human Rights Council,” he added.

The US returned its sanctions against Iran in 2018 after leaving a historic nuclear accord -- officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- signed between Iran and major world powers. The measures defied the agreement’s multilateral nature and the fact that it had been ratified by the United Nations Security Council.

Washington then began forcing other parties to toe its sanctions line. The three European signatories to the deal -- Britain, France, and Germany -- have stopped their transactions with the Islamic Republic, bowing under the pressure.

Switzerland late in January launched the so-called Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), claiming it was aimed at facilitating the medicine trade, reportedly using the Central Bank of Iran's credits. Swiss officials have, however, refused to clarify how such transactions would continue if the CBI ran out of credit with Swiss banks.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi on February 3 dismissed as insufficient the Swiss-US “humanitarian” channel, arguing that the United States is originally banned by the International Court of Justice from subjecting Iran’s much-needed medical supplies to sanctions.

“We do not recognize any such so-called humanitarian channel. We do not recognize sanctions [for that matter]. Medicine and foodstuffs were never subject to sanctions in the first place so they can now create a channel [for their transfer] with much publicity,” he added.

An NGO reported in November 2019 that Iranian children suffering from a rare skin condition known as EB are losing their lives as US economic sanctions hamper the flow of vital medical products.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619445/Baqeri-Kani-Judiciary-High-Council-Human-Rights-HRC-medicine-sanctions

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Gaza-Israel hostilities flare through 2nd day with rocket attacks, air raids

25 February 2020

Israeli jet fighters have launched airstrikes against the positions of resistance forces in Gaza Strip after the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad fired 80 rockets toward occupied territories in retaliation for Tel Aviv's killing of its forces.

The Monday exchange of fire marked the second day of an escalation that began to ebb after the Islamic Jihad announced a halt to its attacks.

Islamic Jihad has fired 80 rockets toward occupied territories along the Gaza border since Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said, while Israel has attacked sites in Gaza and Syria that killed three Islamic Jihad members.

The violence comes a week before an Israeli election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office after two inconclusive votes.

The violence comes a week before an Israeli election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office after two inconclusive votes.

Islamic Jihad said earlier on Monday it had ended its "military response" to Israel. But it then reversed course and resumed firing rockets, saying Israel had continued air strikes after the resistance forces' apparent de-escalation.

"We have carried out a response in order to stress our position: bombardment for bombardment," said Abu Hamza, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad's armed wing.

A Palestinian official later said that Israel and Islamic Jihad had reached a "reciprocal and simultaneous" ceasefire, brokered by Egypt and the United Nations and set to take effect at 23:30 (21:30 GMT).

The Israeli military said its jets truck an Islamic Jihad training and weapons storage facility in southern Gaza, as well as other underground infrastructure.

"Yesterday we attacked in Syria and in Gaza. We are continuing to strike now with jets, tanks and helicopters," Netanyahu said in a statement on Twitter on Monday evening.

"We will continue to strike until quiet is restored," Netanyahu added.

Israel's military said it had closed all the border crossings of occupied territories with the Gaza Strip, which it keeps under blockade citing security concerns, and closed the coastal enclave's waters from fishing. Crossings would remain closed except for humanitarian cases, a statement said.

The latest fighting began around dawn on Sunday when Israeli troops killed an Islamic Jihad member who was trying to plant explosives near Israel's border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Video widely shared on social media showed what appeared to be the lifeless body of the resistance fighter dangling from an Israeli military bulldozer as it removed the corpse.

The images created an uproar in Gaza, prompting calls for retaliation. Islamic Jihad later fired a barrage of rockets into Israel.

Just before midnight on Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck what the military called "a hub of Islamic Jihad's activity in Syria" in the Adeliyah region outside Syria's capital, Damascus.

Islamic Jihad continued to fire rockets into southern occupied territories into Monday as funerals for the group's two dead resistance fighters were held in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/25/619458/Palestine-Israel-islamic-jihad-rocket-airstrike

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North America

 

US: Bernie Sanders to skip pro-Israel lobby conference

Beyza Binnur Dönmez  

24.02.2020

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced Monday he will not attend a forthcoming conference organized by a pro-Israel lobby group that serves as a platform to "express bigotry."

"The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people," Sanders, a front-runner in the Democratic nomination for U.S. president, said on Twitter.

"I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason, I will not attend their conference."

Sanders reiterated his support for a two-state solution in the region, saying: "As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region."

Scheduled from March 1-3 in Washington, the AIPAC Policy Conference is the largest gathering of America's pro-Israel community.

The senator is known for his criticism of President Donald Trump's so-called Deal of the Century, which was unveiled late January.

According to him, the plan, meant to end one of the world's longest running disputes, "will only perpetuate the conflict" between the two countries.

"The United States can bring unequaled leadership to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we must use that leadership to promote a just and durable agreement. Any acceptable peace deal must be consistent with international law and multiple UN resolutions," Sanders had tweeted immediately after the plan was announced.

"It must end the Israeli occupation and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent state of their own alongside a secure Israel," he said. "Trump's so-called 'peace deal' doesn't come close, and will only perpetuate the conflict. It is unacceptable."

The so-called peace plan unilaterally annuls previous UN resolutions on the Palestinian issue and has drawn criticism for giving Israel almost everything it has sought while giving Palestinian demands short shrift.

In addition to recognizing the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel's "undivided capital," Trump's "peace plan" ticks off a series of check-list items long-sought by Israel right-wingers, including U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over illegal settlement communities constructed in the occupied West Bank and the annexation of the Jordan Valley, which runs along the entirety of the territory's eastern flank.

International law views the West Bank and East Jerusalem as "occupied territories" and considers all Israeli settlement-building activity illegal.

The plan was rejected by Palestine as well as bodies including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-bernie-sanders-to-skip-pro-israel-lobby-conference/1743162

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Our ties with Pakistan very good: Donald Trump

Feb 25, 2020

NEW DELHI: The loudest cheer for President Donald Trump went up when he spoke of US commitment to working with India to fight terrorists and their ideology and working to defend Indian and American citizens from radical Islamic terrorism.

While making an important point from the Indian view, Trump also said the US and Pakistan enjoyed a good relationship and added it was paying off. "Our relationship with Pakistan is a very good one. Thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan and we are hopeful for reduced tensions, greater stability and the future of harmony for all of the nations of South Asia,'' he said.

A part of his remarks was immediately highlighted by Pakistani media though he was quite unequivocal on Islamabad and terrorism, saying his office was working with Pakistan in a "very positive way" to crack down on terror organisations and militants that operate on the "Pakistani border''.

India would hope for an even clearer statement after official talks on Tuesday given its position that no substantive bilateral engagement can take place in view of cross-border terrorism - a stance it has has held after the Pathankot terror attack in January 2016. Trump's remarks may have a bearing on a peace deal with Taliban where Pakistani functionaries have underlined Islamabad's criticality.

Trump's remark on Pakistan also has to be seen in conjunction with comments made by a senior US administration official that the president was very much encouraging a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan and also encouraging them to engage in bilateral dialogue to resolve differences.

While the official had said the "core foundation'' of any successful dialogue between India and Pakistan was based on continued momentum in Islamabad's efforts to crack down on terrorists on its territory, he had also said that Trump was going to urge both countries to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/our-ties-with-pakistan-very-good-trump/articleshow/74292372.cms

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Donald Trump promises united front against terrorism

Rezaul H Laskar

Feb 25, 2020

President Donald Trump received some of the loudest cheers during his speech at the ‘Namaste Trump’ rally here on Monday when he referred to the joint commitment of the US and India to protect their citizens from “radical Islamic terrorism” and said his administration was working with Pakistan to root out terror in that country.

In an apparent acknowledgment of Washington’s dependence on Islamabad for swinging a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Trump hastened to add that the US has a “very good” relationship with Pakistan and was “beginning to see signs of big progress” in the efforts to crackdown on terror groups and militants based on the Pakistani soil.

He also emphasised what he described as his administration’s efforts to kill Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and destroy the group in Iraq and Syria, though experts now believe the organisation has started regrouping in these countries.

Counterterror cooperation between India and the US has increased under the leadership of Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The US offered unstinted support to India after the 2019 terror attack in Pulwama by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that killed 40 troopers and in the subsequent listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar by the UN Security Council as a global terrorist.

“The US and India are also firmly united in the ironclad resolve to defend [their] citizens from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Both of our countries have been hurt by the pain and turmoil of terrorism, and that terrorism brings,” Trump said.

“The US and India are committed to working together to stop terrorists and to fight their ideology. With this reason...my administration is working in a very positive way with Pakistan to crackdown on the terrorist organisations and militants that operate on the Pakistani border.”

Without making any pitch to help mediate between India and Pakistan, as he has in recent months, Trump said the US hoped all of the steps it has taken will reduce tensions and lead to more stability in South Asia.

“Our relationship with Pakistan is a very good one and thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan. And we are hopeful of reduced tension and greater stability and future harmony for all the nations of South Asia,” he said.

Though a Pakistani court recently gave a five-and-a-half year jail term to Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed in two terror financing cases, the Indian government has remained sceptical as the ruling came four days ahead of a key meeting of the Financial Action Task Force that assessed Pakistan’s steps to counter fund-raising by terrorist groups. Trump had suspended security aid worth more than $2 billion for Pakistan in 2018 after accusing the country of giving nothing but “lies and deceit” for such assistance. But the US recently resumed a key military training programme for Pakistan.

Without referring to Afghanistan, Trump spoke of India having an “important leadership role to play” as it takes on the “responsibility of solving problems and promoting peace” in the region.

He also explained his administration’s travel ban and efforts to secure US borders as part of measures to counter terrorism. The US, he said, will “always welcome newcomers who share our values and love our people” while the borders “will always be closed to terrorists...and any form of extremism”.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/donald-trump-promises-united-front-against-terrorism/story-xZ73u9Hxv76m5ZAj8QpgdP.html

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Persecuted Muslims find an unlikely ally in Donald Trump’s envoy

Katrina Manson

February 25, 2020

Sam Brownback, Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said he “didn’t imagine” he would ever be defending Muslims.

When Mr Brownback, an evangelical Christian-turned-Catholic, was first nominated for the post in 2017, the social conservative drew opposition from Muslim rights groups and every Democrat in the Senate, where he once represented Kansas as a Republican. While governor of Kansas, he had signed legislation decried by some as Islamophobic. And he has supported the Trump administration’s move to restrict entry for people from a number of Muslim-majority nations.

Yet Mr Brownback has emerged as the face of America’s support for Muslims in China and Myanmar, surprising some of his earlier critics even as others remain sceptical about the administration’s motives as he defends an estimated 1m Uighurs detained in what he referred to as “concentration-type camps” in China.

“When...China puts a rule in place that you cant name a child Mohammed and you cant fast and they force-feed people pork, youre really going right into the face of the practice of the faith,” he told the Financial Times. He said Beijing’s “pernicious” measures were aimed at turning Muslims into “good placid Chinese citizens”.

Sitting in front of two stone tablets etched with the Ten Commandments and a book about the Gutenberg Bible, he said: “It is a war on faith.”

Human rights groups say Mr Brownback’s work has pushed the US out ahead of a number of western governments when it comes to action over Uighurs.

In October, the US blacklisted Chinese entities involved in the surveillance or repression of Uighurs, preventing US companies from selling them high-tech wares. The US also imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials implicated in the detentions. Several people familiar with the matter said Mr Brownback had personally pushed for harsher measures and language. He has lobbied China’s neighbours to take a stand against Beijing and visited Bangladeshi refugee camps where persecuted Muslim Rohingyas have fled from neighbouring Myanmar.

Robert McCaw, government affairs director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which opposed Mr Brownback’s nomination, said he had been “pleasantly surprised” by Mr Brownback’s support for Muslims.

“It appears he has come to the conclusion that in order to defend the rights of Christians he must defend the rights of all religious communities, which is a welcome change,” he said.

Mr Brownback recalled when he was first brought a case about maltreatment of a Uighur in China, about 20 years ago, when he was a senator championing the rights of Christians imprisoned abroad.

“I didn’t know what a Uighur was...They said theyre Muslims, and I would just go, well... Mr Brownback shrugged to indicate his disinclination. And then my office staff was very poignant about saying, ‘Look, we’ve got to stand up and fight for everybody’.”

Some observers suggest the administration is embracing the issue only because it dovetails with two others that are more valuable to the US president. The first is a broad push to counter what the administration sees as Beijing’s aggressive global posturing.

Although Mr Brownback said the Trump administration had “put more pressure on China than any prior administration”, the US has yet to impose so-called Global Magnitsky sanctions that would designate Chinese leaders as human rights abusers. Several people close to the deliberations said such a move was under consideration but had been held up by efforts to strike a trade deal with China.

Mr Trump “obviously wanted to get a trade deal done and did,” said Mr Brownback, declining to comment on future sanctions. “That’s been his primary focus, but he’s let the rest of us be out there too.”

Mr Brownback’s boss, Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, has also denounced Chinese actions against Uighurs as “the stain of the century”.

Analysts say the Trump administration is also seeking to focus on religion in a way that appeals to white evangelical Christians, who form a large part of the US president’s support base. Research indicates there are over 62m evangelicals in the US. Pew Research Center found 69 per cent of white evangelicals approved of Mr Trump, compared with only 12 per cent of black Protestants, 18 per cent of Muslims and 20 per cent of “religiously unaffiliated”.

“The Trump administration’s [religious] initiative is aimed at protecting the rights of Christians but is marketed as a commitment to religious freedom in general,” said Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The support for persecuted Muslim groups in China and Burma is window-dressing to make it appear that there’s an overarching concern with religious freedom when it’s really about the freedom of Christians.”

While Mr Brownback’s personal faith commits him to wanting increased global numbers of Christians, he pointed to the new Abrahamic faiths initiative spearheaded by the state department — which brings together Christians, Jews and Muslims to promote peace — saying it was important to prevent foreign governments from putting “a lid” on religion.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said that despite Mr Brownback’s efforts, the Trump administration appeared to be moving towards the direction of a “hierarchy of humans” that put white Christians at the top.

Mr Trump has rarely mentioned the Uighurs and made no mention of Muslims at the national prayer breakfast this month, referring solely to Christian and Jewish faiths by name and saying his administration was “spreading faith” in comments seen to refer to the spread of Christianity.

Full report at:

https://www.ft.com/content/990302f8-4eab-11ea-95a0-43d18ec715f5

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US State Department calls Saudi Arabia ‘important strategic partner’

February 24, 2020

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday said Saudi Arabia was an "important strategic partner" and paid tribute to the "historical relations" between the two countries.

The comments come following US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to the Kingdom during a tour of Middle East and African countries last week.

The State Department added that Pompeo discussed regional issues with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and said the US-Saudi Arabia relationship was a "distinct" one that went beyond confronting Iran.

It also said that the situation in Syria was "catastrophic," while calling on Russia and Iran to do more to protect civilians and saying there was no military solution to the conflict in the country.

The department also spoke about the situation in Iraq, saying the Iraqi Prime Minister-designate, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, must include the Kurds and Sunnis in the formation of a government.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1632626/saudi-arabia

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US' Pompeo talks to Iraq premier-designate on new gov't

Beyza Binnur Donmez  

24.02.2020

The U.S. secretary of state discussed the current government formation process in Iraq with the country's prime minister-designate in a phone call.

Mike Pompeo called Iraq's Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi in order to reaffirm the U.S.' enduring commitment to "a strong, sovereign, and prosperous" Iraq, department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Sunday in a statement.

"Secretary Pompeo welcomed Prime Minister-designate Allawi’s promise to hold early elections to strengthen Iraq’s democratic system," she said, adding: "He urged the new prime minister to resolve differences with Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni political leaders to assure success in pursuing the vital tasks faced by his government."

Pompeo also stressed Iraq's obligation to protect U.S. and coalition diplomats, troops and facilities during the call.

Pompeo and Allawi further discussed the protest movement in Iraq and the "urgency with which Iraq's next government must put an end to the killing of protesters, seek justice for those killed and wounded and address their legitimate grievances."

Pompeo and Allawi also agreed on the importance of kickstarting reforms that would better position the government to provide the Iraqi people a life of "dignity, prosperity, and security."

Iraq has been rocked by mass protests since October for poor living conditions and high unemployment, forcing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to resign.

More than 600 people have been killed and 17,000 injured since protests erupted in October, according to an Iraqi human rights group.

Sitting premier Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced on Nov. 29 that his government would step down on March 2 following a constitutional deadline during which parliament should approve a new cabinet.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-pompeo-talks-to-iraq-premier-designate-on-new-govt/1743000

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Africa

 

Libya political rivals announce suspension of Geneva talks

24 February 2020

Libya’s rival camps announced on Monday they had suspended their participation in UN-sponsored peace talks this week in Geneva.

Lawmakers based in areas of eastern Libya, backed by Libyan National Army (LNA) military commander Khalifa Haftar, said it would not take part because the UN mission to the country had not approved all its 13 representatives.

Rival authorities in Tripoli of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj said they would also not participate in talks scheduled for Wednesday until progress was made in military negotiations.

Five senior officers from the GNA and five appointed by LNA, led by Haftar, were taking part in the talks hosted by the United Nations’ Libya envoy Ghassan Salame.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/02/24/Libya-political-rivals-announce-suspension-of-Geneva-talks-.html

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Ethiopia: 29 injured in ‘bomb attack’ at rally in support of PM Abiy

23 February 2020

A “bomb attack” on a rally in support of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed injured nearly 30 people on Sunday, a police official said, in the latest sign of instability ahead of elections in August.

The incident occurred in the town of Ambo, located roughly 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.

“The bomb attack on a rally for Dr. Abiy has injured 29 people, of whom 28 have been treated and sent home,” Arasa Merdasa, the top police official in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, where Ambo is located, told the state-run Ethiopian News Agency.

“Police have arrested six people who are suspected in the attack,” Arasa said.

Ethiopia’s electoral board has scheduled landmark national polls for August 29.

Opposition parties and civil society organisations have questioned whether the elections will be peaceful and credible, citing persistent ethnic violence since Abiy was appointed in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests.

The formal campaign period begins in May.

Abiy did not attend Sunday’s rally, which was organised by officials in Ambo.

Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, hopes the elections will secure him a mandate to continue with an ambitious agenda of political and economic reforms.

Arasa said Sunday’s attack was believed to be the work of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the breakaway armed wing of the Oromo Liberation Front, an opposition party.

Officials have also blamed the OLA for the assassination on Friday of the top security official in Burayu, another Oromia town located on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

That attack left three other people injured, and police “vowed to hunt down” those responsible, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/02/23/Ethiopia-29-injured-in-bomb-attack-at-rally-in-support-of-PM-Abiy.html

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UN says Libya’s warring sides propose ceasefire proposal in Geneva

24 February 2020

The warring sides in Libya have proposed a draft agreement for ceasefire that could turn a frequently-violated fragile truce into a lasting deal and would see the United Nations monitor the safe return of the displaced people in the country, the UN says.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced the news in a statement on Monday, saying the two parties had “prepared a draft ceasefire agreement to facilitate the safe return of civilians to their areas with the implementation of a joint monitoring mechanism.”

Since 2014, two rival seats of power have emerged in the North African country: the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, known as the Government of National Accord (GNA), and another group based in the eastern city of Tobruk, supported militarily by rebel forces, collectively known as the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of renegade General Khalifa Haftar.

The rebel leader, who is primarily supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan, launched a deadly offensive to capture the capital Tripoli, the seat of the GNA, in April last year. Despite intense fighting, he has so far failed to achieve his objective of ousting the GNA, and the offensive has stalled outside the city.

Numerous attempts to bring about peace between the two sides of the conflict have failed, except for a shaky ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey in January, which has been violated dozens of times and has been described by the UN as a “joke.”

The UNSMIL statement on Monday came after military representatives from the GNA and the LNA concluded the second round of their UN-brokered indirect talks in Geneva, Switzerland.  

The delegates of both sides must now send the draft for approval to their respective leaders, Sarraj and Haftar, to halt the persisting fighting. According to UNSMIL, the representatives had promised to come to Geneva for a third time next month to work out the details of the deal’s implementation.

The negotiations, mediated by the UN envoy Ghassan Salame, are aimed at establishing a lasting truce to defuse a persisting conflict that has left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced some 140,000 since last April, according to the UN figures.

Haftar’s rebels had recently escalated their attacks on Tripoli. The offensive hit the capital’s civilian seaport, narrowly missing an explosive liquefied petroleum gas tanker and prompting the GNA to withdraw from the peace talks. The negotiations, however, resumed days later, with low expectations for a lasting agreement.

Last month, officials from Turkey, Russia, Egypt, France, Italy, Britain, and the United States gathered in the German capital of Berlin to help establish a permanent ceasefire. Sarraj and Haftar were also present in the summit.

The final communiqué of the summit called on all the parties concerned in the conflict “to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire.” Participants also pledged not to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs and its conflict and agreed to “fully respect” the arms embargo imposed on the North African country by the UN in 2011.

However, Haftar refused to sign the joint communiqué.

The situation in Libya has been compounded as a result of a move by Turkey, a GNA ally, to transfer allied militants from Syria to the North African country.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed for the first time that “Turkey is there with a training force,” referring to a group of anti-Damascus militants previously known as the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA).

GNA branded Haftar as “war criminal” at the UN

Separately on Monday, Sarraj lambasted Haftar for the shelling of civilian areas and airports in Libya, labeling him as a “war criminal” in a speech he delivered to the UN Human Rights Council.

“Children have lost their right to education due to the shelling and the closure of schools because of the attacker and those who fund the attacker and provide weapons, these must be held accountable,” Sarraj told the forum.

He also said the GNA had “always showed its readiness to move forward on the path to peace and stability.”

The UN political negotiations between the GNA and LNA are scheduled to be held in Geneva on Wednesday. 

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/02/24/619423/Libya-GNA-Sarraj-LNA-Haftar-UN-ceasefire-Tripoli-Turkey

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Boko Haram Terrorists Burn Police Barracks, Churches, Army General's House In Adamawa

FEB 22, 2020

Police barracks, churches and a house belonging to General Paul Tarfa were among several buildings torched in Adamawa State on Friday during an attack by Boko Haram terrorists.

The insurgents attacked and sacked the ancient missionary town on Friday evening, causing huge devastation.

A source from Garkida, Andrawus Tarfa, narrated how the hoodlums looted the town and set fire to major structures unhindered.

He said, "They came in droves, with about 14 vans and plundered the town; they looted pharmaceutical shops and food stuff.

"They had unfettered access because a battalion of troops in the town was withdrawn sometimes back, leaving behind just a pocket of soldiers who could not repel the insurgents.

"After looting, they burnt down a police barracks, police station, two churches, Living Faith and EYN, and a shopping mall.

"People were also killed but I have no record as of now.

"They have also razed General Paul Tarfa's resident, among other important buildings in the town."

Full report at:

https://saharareporters.com/2020/02/22/boko-haram-terrorists-burn-police-barracks-churches-army-generals-house-adamawa

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Turkey training Kenya police to fight crime, terrorism

Andrew Wasike 

24.02.2020

NAIROBI, Kenya

Turkey’s state-run aid agency kicked off a training program for Kenyan police on Monday in a bid to modernize and improve Kenya’s law enforcement agencies.

The training by the Turkish police started in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, with the coordination of the Directorate General of Security and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).

The trainees will learn about criminal investigation methods and strategies for national security, identification, criteria, and characteristics of the crime organization, organized crime investigations systematics, weapons, ammunition, and dangerous substance smuggling, among many other areas.

Dozens of Kenyan police will also learn about laundering offenses and the terror financing, which is chocking under massive corruption in Kenya. They will also be trained on corruption and financial offences investigation methods.

“TIKA has commenced the training activity between the Turkish Directorate General of Security and the Kenyan police service. Two trainers from the Turkish International Academy Against Drugs and Organized Crime (TADOC) have started the course program,” Emre Yuksek, the TIKA coordinator in Kenya, told Anadolu Agency.

He added that the trainees are from various departments of the Kenyan police, including the criminal investigation department and the administration police.

He added that TIKA is keen to support further programs for Kenya’s efforts to boost the capacity building of the police service.

“In this regard these activities will continue in 2020 and 2021 in various subjects around terrorism and smuggling and provision of security of key institutions like airports,” Yuksek said.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/turkey-training-kenya-police-to-fight-crime-terrorism/1743118

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