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Islamic World News ( 16 Jan 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Bengaluru: 3 Kerala Students ‘Thrashed’ By Cops during Midnight Stroll, Allegedly Asked If they’re From Pak







• Why Should A Muhammad From Bangladesh Get A Job Over A Muhammad From India?”— RSS Muslim Wing Head Indresh Kumar at Pro-CAA Event

• G25 Does Not Condone Apostasy or Encourage Muslims to Leave Islam

• Will Not Accept Changes to Seminary Syllabus, Religious Education System: Fazl

• Taliban Say They Handed Cease-Fire Offer to US Peace Envoy

• Islamic State replaces al-Qaeda as Enemy No. 1 in Sahel

• Republican Muslim Refugee Dalia Al-Aqidi Announces She’s Running Against Ilhan Omar

• Take It from Britain's Muslims, It's Not Extinction Rebellion That's the Problem, It's Prevent

• Houthis Escalate Violations amid Forced Haircut Campaigns

 

India

• Bengaluru: 3 Kerala Students ‘Thrashed’ By Cops during Midnight Stroll, Allegedly Asked If they’re From Pak

• Why Should A Muhammad From Bangladesh Get A Job Over A Muhammad From India?”— RSS Muslim Wing Head Indresh Kumar at Pro-CAA Event

• India to invite Pakistan PM Imran Khan for SCO summit in New Delhi

• Isolate Pak to counter terror, says CDS Rawat

• Sikh Farmers from Punjab Come To Cheer Shaheen Bagh Women, Cook Langar

• Anti-CAA clashes: In a first, SIT books 33 for provoking children to pelt stones at cops

• Anti-CAA chorus greets Prez Kovind after Bihu gaffe

• Section 144 in Doda for Hizbul terrorist funeral

• Jaish module busted, 5 terrorists held: J&K police

• J&K govt strips arrested DSP of Sher-e-Kashmir police medal

• Jammu and Kashmir: Vandalism after cops bar crowd at militant’s funeral

• Kashmir issue: China should seriously reflect, refrain from such action, says India

• Malaysia talks to India over palm curbs as wider trade spat looms: report

• Protesters show anti-CAA posters at Muslim Rashtriya Manch event

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Southeast Asia

• G25 Does Not Condone Apostasy or Encourage Muslims to Leave Islam

• Parents Picket Bangladesh School Against ‘Un-Islamic’ Dress Code

• Saudi wants to stand next to Malaysia in fight against Islamophobia, extremism, says envoy

• Smooth Leadership Transition in Muslim Community Due To Strong Renewal Process: Mufti

• Religion is not a competition, Dr M tells Malaysians as communal friction persists

• Over 50% of Malaysians in survey say ‘no’ to resettling Rohingya here

• SIS praises 5-year govt plan to end child marriages

• Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

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Pakistan

• Will Not Accept Changes to Seminary Syllabus, Religious Education System: Fazl

• Qureshi says Afghan Taliban showing ‘willingness’ to reduce violence

• Zulfi gets clean chit, NAB to file fresh references against Nawaz, Zardari, Gilani

• A Saudi-Iran military conflict would be 'disastrous' for Pakistan, says PM Imran

• Musharraf challenges special court’s decision in SC

• ‘Pakistani politics on foreign soil is a dirty game’

• Fazl hints at launching fresh anti-govt drive

• PML-Q, BNP fall in line, MQM-P wants more from govt

• Gen Iftikhar to head ISPR after Ghafoor’s removal

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South Asia

• Taliban Say They Handed Cease-Fire Offer to US Peace Envoy

• 'Into The Arms' Of the Taliban: Inspector General Says US Ties with Corrupt Afghan Warlords Backfired

• Doha Hands Over Keys of Islamic Youth Capital To Dhaka

• Airstrikes kill Taliban militants, destroy weapon cache: MOD

• SIGAR: US officials have ‘routinely’ lied over Afghan war

• Roadside bomb kills five government employees in southern Zabul province

• Pakistan opposes against India-Afghan trade via Wagah port

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Africa

• Islamic State replaces al-Qaeda as Enemy No. 1 in Sahel

• West African Leaders, France Vow New Fight on Terrorism

• Muslim personalities commended for developmental efforts

• Sudan appoints new intelligence chief in wake of failed revolt

• Turkey ‘Not Pessimistic’ About Ceasefire In Libya But Wary Of Haftar

• Nigerian Islamist Militants Free Three Aid Workers, Other Civilian Hostages: U.N.

• Somalia: Al-Shabaab Attacks Killed 4,000 in Past Decade, Says Data-Gathering Group

• Germany pushes Haftar to join Libya peace talks

• Jordan’s king raises Palestine’s plight in talks with Macron

• Libya strongman Haftar in Athens for talks ahead of Berlin peace conference

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North America

• Republican Muslim Refugee Dalia Al-Aqidi Announces She’s Running Against Ilhan Omar

• Cryptocurrency A Growing Challenge in Combating Terror, Security Experts Tell Congress

• Saudi’s Terrorist Massacre at Florida Naval Base Highlights the Weakness of U.S. Vetting

• Eleven US troops injured in Iran missile attack in Iraq: US military

• US must be involved on Afghanistan after troops leave, says Pakistan

• US military dispatches over 70 trucks to oil-rich eastern Syria: Report

• US military says 11 US troops wounded in Iranian missile attack despite earlier denials

• Gen. Soleimani's assassination puts Trump in a no-win situation

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Europe

• Take It from Britain's Muslims, It's Not Extinction Rebellion That's the Problem, It's Prevent

• UK Shuts Down Islamic School After Extremism Fears

• British government condemned for offering to repatriate children from Syrian Isis camp but not their mother

• Kurds file criminal complaint against Iran mosque in Germany for terrorism

• Norway repatriates Isis-linked woman and children from Syria

• France to deploy aircraft carrier to support Middle East operations

• Ukraine says bodies of all 11 Ukrainians killed in Iran plane crash identified

• Grieving nations demand Iran compensate relatives of plane attack victims

• Germany says Libya’s Haftar committed to ongoing truce, to participate in Berlin talks

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Mideast

• Houthis Escalate Violations amid Forced Haircut Campaigns

• Gulenist steals millions of dollars from US Department of Defense

• DM: Iran's Retaliatory Missile Strike Just Warning to US

• Iran's Top Commander Hopes for Ending Regional Conflicts by US Withdrawal

• President Rouhani: Pentagon Kept Awake 24 Hours by Iran's Retaliatory Missile Attacks

• PM: India Committed to Development of Strong Ties with Iran

• FM Zarif: Iran Not to Sign "Trump Deal"

• Acting head of UN Palestinian agency says ‘difficult’ year ahead

• Israel hits Hamas target in Gaza as balloon attacks resume

• Three Turkish soldiers killed in car bomb attack in Syria

• US Treasury will allow 90-day wind-down period for fresh Iran sanctions

• Far-right Israeli parties join forces ahead of March election

• Rouhani says Iran wants dialogue, working to ‘prevent war’

• EU diplomacy chief urges Iran’s Zarif to ‘preserve’ nuclear deal

• Israeli aircraft bomb Gaza Strip for 2nd time in 24 hours

• Turkey’s main opposition urges govt neutrality in Libya

• Israeli, Palestinian youth fear conflict will ‘never end,’ says poll

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Arab World

• US Forces to Suffer Heavy Defeat If They Refuse To Leave Iraq: Hashd Sha'abi Group

• ‘The Time Is Now’ For US-Iraq Talks On Strategic Partnership: US Official

• Syria's war: More than 20 killed in air raids on rebel-held Idlib

• Iraqi air raids kill 6 ISIS members in Salahuddin desert

• Russia denies bombing civilian targets in Syria’s Idlib

• Iraq denies resuming joint operations with US-led coalition

• Lebanon close to forming new govt: Caretaker finance minister

• UN says around 350,000 people have fled Idlib since Dec. 1

• Lebanon detains 100 after protests turn violent

• US military dispatches over 70 trucks to oil-rich eastern Syria: Report

• Bomb attack kills ten in Turkish-controlled northern Syria town

• US threats over Baghdad’s S-400 procurement detached from reality: Iraqi MP

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/bengaluru--3-kerala-students-‘thrashed’-by-cops-during-midnight-stroll,-allegedly-asked-if-they’re-from-pak/d/120818

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Bengaluru: 3 Kerala students ‘thrashed’ by cops during midnight stroll, allegedly asked if they’re from Pak

by Ralph Alex Arakal

January 15, 2020

A casual night walk to have tea in Bengaluru city took an ugly turn for three students from Kerala after they were picked up by police from outside their flat and allegedly thrashed inside a nearby police station.

The incident, which took place in the early hours of Tuesday, came to light only after a video shot by one of the teenagers went viral on social media. Read in Malayalam

Narrating the incident, 18-year-old Ansal (name changed) alleged that the cops repeatedly asked whether the group was from Pakistan as soon as they identified their names.

CAA / NRC Protest Info.

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Yet another case of police brutality took place against students in Bengaluru on 14th January 2020.

Police from SG Palya area physically and verbally abused three students. The students were called Pakistanis on account that they were Muslim. (1/2)

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6:33 PM - Jan 14, 2020

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“At first, two cops who were on night patrol in a Hoysala vehicle approached us to question where we were heading to at around 1 am and asked our names. As soon as we replied, one of them began questioning us if we were from Pakistan. Even though we showed them our Aadhaar cards to prove our identity, this continued and cops called in four more of their colleagues who came in another patrolling vehicle and two bikes. The cops who came with lathis then forced us into the patrol car after which we were taken to SG Palaya police station,” the student from a private college claimed.

However, as the conversation between the parties became louder, the teenager’s brother, who is a working professional, and his friends, rushed downstairs from the flat to enquire what the issue was.

“The cops kept saying that a few terrorists were picked up from the area recently and demanded our phones for a search. When I questioned the action seeking a warrant notice for the same, the cop forced to take us too to the police station,” Ansal’s brother said.

According to the youngster, the video that was shared widely on social media was shot by his friend. The footage shows a policeman angrily asking the student to stop recording while the person on the video is heard saying repeatedly “It is a public place, sir. I can record.”

The title of the video that has been uploaded on Twitter reads, “Police brutality in Bengaluru. Students were called Pakistanis, forcefully picked up and beaten up brutally in the lockup.”

Later, at around 1.30 am, the students were taken to a police station where they were allegedly beaten up using lathis. “Even though the cops behaved well with us initially after reaching the station, a policeman entered the room with a lathi and surprisingly started beating us. The same continued till 3.30 am until my local guardian turned up there,” Ansal added.

Ansal’s friend, another teenager from a different private college in the city, said, “We were brutally hit with lathis on the head, hip, back, and private parts. However, the cop ensured that none of us were bleeding. Later, we were asked to sign an undertaking which mentioned we would not step out late at night henceforth, and if found by cops, action would be initiated.”

The students further alleged that a case was filed against them for “creating public nuisance”, and each person was fined Rs 500 each. “We were also asked to sign a document in Kannada which the police said was signed by persons riding without a helmet. All these acts are totally strange and unacceptable,” the youngster said.

A day later, as the incident garnered public traction online, DCP (Whitefield) MN Anuchet, who is temporarily overseeing the South-East division, ordered an inquiry. “After learning about the incident online, I have sought a report on the incident from ACP (Mico Layout) after a thorough inquiry,” he said.

Meanwhile, when contacted, SG Palaya police denied allegations of either thrashing them or calling them “Pakistanis”. A police officer said, “The students denied producing the ID even though the beat police demanded the same. They were picked up due to this but were never abused verbally or physically.”

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/bengaluru-3-kerala-students-thrashed-by-cops-during-midnight-stroll-allegedly-asked-if-theyre-from-pak-6218439/

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Why Should A Muhammad From Bangladesh Get A Job Over A Muhammad From India?”— RSS Muslim Wing Head Indresh Kumar At Pro-CAA Event

FATIMA KHAN

16 January, 2020

New Delhi: RSS leader Indresh Kumar Thursday said those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 were “misled by the devil”.

Kumar was speaking at an event organised by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), an RSS-arm that he heads, in Delhi to drum up support for the CAA. The MRM organised an ‘ulema conference’ featuring several Muslim clergymen supporting the Act.

Kumar, who headed the conference, said, “The CAA won’t be amended…and it would certainly not be scrapped. Those who are protesting against it have been influenced by the Satan.”

Suhaib Qasmi, the national president of Jamaat Ulema-e-Hind, along with Kaukab Mujtaba of the same organisation shared the stage with Kumar.

Some of the other Muslim clergymen who took part in the event included Muhammad Hamidullah, Irfan Kachausvi and Haji Islamabad. All of them are from different parts of Uttar Pradesh.

Speaking to ThePrint, Kumar said, “In the next five months, the MRM will hold meetings like these in nearly 2,000 places across the country” as part of its nationwide pro-CAA outreach.

When asked about the anti-CAA protests, Kumar said many Muslims taking part in these demonstrations were acting out of fear. “I will only tell those Muslims to not let anyone ruin their future by provocation, or let fear get to them.”

‘Congress gave birth to Pakistan and Bangladesh’

Speaking at the event, Kumar also blamed the Congress for the Partition of India in 1947 and “implementing the two-nation theory” — which supported the proposal that Muslims and non-Muslims should be two separate nations.

“People debate over who was the original mind behind the two-nation theory. But whoever it may have been, it is the Congress party which implemented it. Pakistan and Bangladesh were born out of Congress’ womb,” he said.

Addressing the crowd of Muslim men and women at the event, Kumar said the Congress did not want people from the community to enter mainstream society. “Congress…kept you unemployed and marginalised for 70 years. Why would you want to get influenced by these devils yet again?”

The RSS leader also said Bangladeshi immigrants were taking away the jobs of local youth, including Muslim citizens.

“Of the 3,000 rickshaw pullers in Sadar Bazar, only 250 would be Indians — the rest are all Bangladeshis. Why should a Muhammad from Bangladesh get a job over a Muhammad from India?” he asked the audience.

Citizenship Act protesters shout slogans

The event also saw a group of anti-CAA protesters raising slogans such as “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

Kumar assured the demonstrators that CAA won’t take away anyone’s citizenship. “It is only guaranteeing citizenship to everyone who was in this country before 2014.”

Shaheen Parvez, the national convenor of the women’s wing of MRM, told ThePrint, “Whenever there are attempts to do good, some people will try to cause disruption.”

The CAA seeks to ease citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. There have been widespread protests against the Act which has been called anti-Muslim and discriminatory in nature.

“The three countries have Muslims in the majority. Shouldn’t India help the minorities of those countries? Muslims, including the Rohingya Muslims, have 52 countries to go to. Hindus only have India,” Kumar added.

He, however, said there might not be a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the country. “If NRC is an issue, we won’t do a nationwide register. It was anyway meant primarily for the Northeastern states.”

When asked about the persecution of Ahmadiyas and Rohingya Muslims in Pakistan and Myanmar, respectively, Kumar only said, “Muslims aren’t being persecuted in those countries…so we shouldn’t be accused of practicing any discrimination in the CAA.”

https://theprint.in/india/why-should-bangladeshis-get-job-here-rss-muslim-wing-head-indresh-kumar-at-pro-caa-event/350616/

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G25 Does Not Condone Apostasy or Encourage Muslims to Leave Islam

January 16, 2020

G25 would like to respond to the various comments as well as criticisms that have been made in the media following the publication of its latest report titled “Administration of Matters Pertaining to Islam”.

The report was launched on Jan 11 at a ceremony at the Persatuan Alumni Universiti Malaya clubhouse building. It was well attended by individuals, civil society organisations, foreign missions including the UN and the media.

The launch was followed by a panel discussion by three speakers and was ably moderated by a G25 member who herself played a leading role in the completion of the report. The panel also heard comments and suggestions from the floor.

The report was written to address the main areas of concern relating to the administration of Islam in this country, particularly the lack of clarity in the laws and institutions that are embedded in public policy in the application of Islam.

In looking into these concerns, the researchers studied the historical background of the administration of Islam from the records, papers, discussions and consultations among the stakeholders, including the Malay rulers and political leaders, in the drafting of the constitution for independent Malaya (in particular, we refer to the Report of the Reid Commission, the Alliance Party Memorandum, and the Constitutional Proposals of the Working Party appointed by Their Highnesses the Malay Rulers, the British Government, and the Government of the Federation of Malaya).

Our researchers came to the same conclusion as other historians have said before – that our founding fathers had clearly intended that in making Islam the religion of the federation, this in no way makes religion the foundation of our laws and institutions.

Hence, the finding in the report is that Malaysia is a secular country, with the same system of governance structure as other democracies in the Commonwealth. Further, our founding prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman gave an explicit assurance to the Malay rulers that although the Federal Constitution makes Islam the religion of the federation, this would not affect their power as head of religion in their respective states.

When Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaysia in 1963, they were assured by the Cobbold Commission that Islam would remain as a symbol of the nation and not as a basis of government. It was within this constitutional context that we arrived at our findings on apostasy and Jakim, the two topics which have drawn much criticism of G25 from religious officials and politicians, including ministers.

On apostasy, we wish to state categorically that G25 does not condone it nor do we encourage Muslims to leave Islam. On the contrary, we believe apostasy is a major sin in Islam and Muslims should remain faithful to the religion both in their private as well as their public life.

Those who wish to renounce Islam should be persuaded not to do so as it is one of the major sins in Islam. However, if they insist, and especially if they are recent converts, they should be given the right to do so as the constitution guarantees the freedom of worship not only to non-Muslims but to all Malaysians.

Other Muslim countries like Morocco do not make apostasy a criminal offence because their contextual interpretation of murtad (apostasy) is that it means treason. It was relevant to make it a punishable offence during the time of the Prophet pbuh as there were Muslims who became traitors by deserting to the enemy to fight against him and the Islamic nation state.

Thus, it was a matter of politics and not a religious doctrine. As apostasy cum treachery (as opposed to mere apostasy per se) was then treated as high treason, it was considered right to make it punishable by death. According to the Moroccan religious authorities, this justification no longer applies in modern times.

On Jakim, G25 does not advocate its abolition but as the Federal Constitution does not empower the Conference of Rulers (COR) to establish the National Council on Islamic Affairs (MKI), we advise that if the Malay rulers want the power to create the council and make Jakim its secretariat, they can do so by getting parliament to make an amendment to Article 38 so as to enhance the role of the COR in matters pertaining to the administration of Islam within the federation.

Currently, Article 38 is cautiously worded as to what the COR can do, suggesting to us that the framers of the constitution had the intention to confer on the COR a limited role as far as the administration of Islam within the federation is concerned, as the Malay rulers were given the assurance that Islam is a state matter. Hence, the only function conferred on the COR, as far as matters pertaining to Islam are concerned, is as per limb (b) of Article 38, Clause (2), namely, “agreeing or disagreeing to the extension of any religious acts, observances or ceremonies to the federation as a whole”.

Our legal experts therefore hold the view that Article 38 was expressly worded to meet the wishes of the Malay rulers not to give authority to the COR to establish a national body or department on Islam at the federal level. Furthermore, in light of the Malay rulers’ concerns about the implications of Article 38 on their prerogatives in their respective states, the constitutional drafters assured the rulers that if such a federal body were to be established, it would only be for liaison purposes.

In short, matters pertaining to Islam – that is, those matters that are explicitly spelled out in Schedule 9, List II of the Federal Constitution – are under the exclusive purview of the states, not a federal-level body or the federal government.

We would welcome the amendment to make Jakim constitutional. This federal department in the Prime Minister’s Department has a big budget, bigger than the budget of some ministries. It will be embarrassing and legally risky to the government if somebody questions the legality of allocating public funds to Jakim and brings up the matter to court for a ruling on the constitutional status of the department.

G25 believes that it is being constructive in pointing this out to the government.

We find it regrettable and unfortunate that some commentators, critics and the social media chose to highlight the findings of the study exclusively on the unconstitutionality of Jakim, and not linking it to the other aspects including the recommendation made for taking steps to render it constitutional.

The study drew a parallel with one of the matters under the State List – the matter of land. The Federal Constitution contains a provision, namely Article 91, establishing the National Land Council, although land is a state matter. And the Federal Constitution via Article 76 Clause (4) empowers Parliament to enact the National Land Code, which would allow federal intervention in matters of land, on grounds of achieving uniformity of land law and policy.

Likewise, here, G25 proposes that the Federal Constitution (with the agreement of the states, as Islam is a state matter) be amended to establish a body parallel to the National Land Council, to be called the National Islamic Council that will function in tandem with the functions of the Conference of Rulers on matters pertaining to Islam; with Jakim legally functioning within the framework of the National Islamic Council.

Also, if it deems necessary, Parliament could further invoke via Article 76, Clause (1)(b), to enact a law for the purpose of uniformity of laws pertaining to Islam in the states, as currently there is lack of uniformity in the laws of the states.

We welcome the various comments on the findings in the report as we believe that through dialogue and exchange of views, we can strengthen the administration of Islam in our country and make it a model for application in public policy in modern times.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2020/01/16/g25-does-not-condone-apostasy-or-encourage-muslims-to-leave-islam/

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Will not accept changes to seminary syllabus, religious education system: Fazl

Aamir Yasin

January 17, 2020

RAWALPINDI: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Thursday reiterated that he would not accept the government’s seminary syllabus reforms, saying that the JUI-F would notlet anyone change the religious education system.

At a press conference at Jamia Islamia in Saddar, Mr Rehman said linking seminaries with terrorism was the “wrong narrative” and that seminaries were imparting “education in the country and working for peace in society”.

He added: “The madaris are with democracy.”

Mr Rehman also criticised the seminary reforms after a meeting of his party’s central executive committee (CEC) meeting on Jan 4 in Islamabad, saying that it was condemnable to make improvements or reform seminaries and would have a negative impact on society.

“The JUI-F rejects the education ministry’s seminary reforms and the CEC has decided to launch protests across the country in this regard,” he said.

He said the JUI-F has also rejected Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s decision to distribute honorariums among seminary students in the name of scholarships from the national exchequer.

“Students of any seminary will not get money from the government for religious education. Religious scholars also rejected the honorarium for mosque heads under the previous government, calling it a conspiracy against seminaries,” he said.

Mr Rehman claimed the United States and the Western world were interested in making changes to the syllabus of seminaries while doling out billions of dollars.

“These forces who termed the seminary syllabus a threat to world peace, we want to tell them their policies in the world were the main reason for extremism around the globe and during the Afghan Jihad, these forces forced people to put rifles on their shoulders to wage war for Western interests,” he said.

Mr Rehman said on Thursday that people would soon see change, and the aftershocks of the Azadi March from Karachi to Islamabad were being observed.

He said he would launch another protest movement against the government.

“If no method is successful to defeat the fake government, the government will be overthrown by the people. Organisations are in talks with the madaris,” he said.

To a question, Mr Rehman said the PPP and PML-N had dented the unity of the opposition by supporting the PTI government’s legislation to extend the tenure of the chief of army staff.

He said: “We are not serving the establishment. Apparently, the opposition is part of the government.”

He also said the government had failed to deliver.

“The illegal and incompetent government created inflation, people are committing suicide and children are being sold,” he claimed.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1528779/will-not-accept-changes-to-seminary-syllabus-religious-education-system-fazl

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Taliban say they handed cease-fire offer to US peace envoy

January 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban have given the U.S. envoy their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would last between seven and 10 days, Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations said Thursday.

The offer is seen as an opportunity to open a window to an eventual peace deal that would allow the United States to bring home its estimated 13,000 troops and end the 18-year war in Afghanistan, America’s longest conflict.

The cease-fire offer was handed to Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s envoy for talks with the insurgents, late Wednesday in Qatar, a Gulf Arab country where the Taliban maintain a political office.

Khalilzad has been pressing for a cease-fire but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the Taliban proposal would be enough to allow for the on-again off-again talks between the Taliban and the U.S. to restart, with the aim of eventually signing a peace deal.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment.

Previously, Khalilzad said a U.S.-Taliban deal would also include the start of negotiations among Afghans on both sides of the conflict to hammer out a so-called road map to a post-war Afghanistan. That road map would tackle thorny issues such as a permanent cease-fire, women’s and minority rights, and the fate of thousands of Taliban fighters as well as militias loyal to Kabul’s warlords.

But the Taliban have been refusing to talk with the Kabul government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The two are currently fighting over who won last year’s presidential elections. The initial vote count gave Ghani the win but Abdullah, who came in second, is contesting the count. A final outcome has yet to be announced by Afghanistan’s election commission.

Last September, the Taliban and the U.S. appeared close to signing a deal when an upsurge in Taliban attacks, including the killing of another U.S. soldier, prompted President Donald Trump to scrap the talks. On Thanksgiving, during his first visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Trump softened his stance, saying the Taliban were ready to make a deal, though both Kabul and Washington insisted the Taliban would have to show a sign of good faith by reducing their attacks.

In December, the Taliban leadership headquartered in Pakistan agreed to put forth a temporary cease-fire offer after weeks of consultation.

A Taliban official said mistrust has long characterized the U.S.-Taliban talks and the insurgents hesitated to offer a more permanent cease-fire without having U.S. troops pull out first. Should the truce deal fall through, returning Taliban fighters to the battlefield with the same intensity could be a problem, the official said.

“’There was a thinking within the Taliban ranks that it would be difficult for them to reorganize fighters after a break in fighting,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.

Taliban fighters were also unwilling to lay down their arms, “thinking it’s their fighting that’s forcing the U.S. to come to the table,” he said.

The Taliban today control around half of Afghanistan and continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, Afghan government officials or those seen as loyal to the Kabul administration but many civilians are also dying in the crossfire of the insurgent attacks, as well as in operations against the Taliban carried out by Afghan and U.S. forces.

In Kabul, some officials have rejected any suggestion that a reduction in violence would be an acceptable alternative to a cease-fire. While the term has been tossed around, including by the U.S., it isn’t clear exactly what would constitute a reduction or how it would be defined. For example, it’s not clear if it would mean no high profile attacks or no attacks inside cities.

https://apnews.com/bded23c91240fcdf11bb605b05e42d6c

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Islamic State replaces al-Qaeda as Enemy No. 1 in Sahel

15/01/2020

Brutal attacks that have killed nearly 300 people in less than two months have propelled the Islamic State to the status of the Sahel's most-feared jihadist group, eclipsing al-Qaeda, experts say.

The vast fragile region on the southern rim of the Sahara has been battling an escalating insurgency by violent Islamists, beginning in Mali in 2012 and then spreading to Niger and Burkina Faso.

Until recently, groups under the banner of al-Qaeda were in the forefront of the bloodshed.

But their position has now been overtaken by an Islamic State (IS) affiliate, providing the group with an image of resurgence in West Africa after its decline in Syria and Iraq.

"The priority is the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS)," French President Emmanuel Macron declared on Monday at a summit gathering France and its five Sahel allies -- Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The ISGS "has emerged as our main enemy, against whom we should focus our struggle," Burkina President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on Facebook.

"Everyone has probably underestimated the ISGS," said Mahamoudou Savadogo, a Burkinabe researcher at a Senegal-based think tank, CERADD.

"There has been a major rise in (its) power."

- Rise of ISGS -

The ISGS leapt to world prominence after an ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo in Niger in 2017 that claimed the lives of four US special forces and four Nigerien troops.

Its leader is Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, whose nom de guerre derives from his birthplace in the Western Sahara.

His history of militancy dates back to fighting in the Polisario Front, which aims to end Moroccan control over the Western Sahara.

He became a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which then merged with a group led by one-eyed Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, forming Al-Mourabitoun.

He then broke with Belmokhtar to declare allegiance to IS, which the group recognised in 2016.

Savadogo said that from then until 2018, the ISGS prepared the groundwork, recruiting followers and raising funds -- and putting down roots in a region where the borders of Burkina, Mali and Niger meet.

"In 2019, they were ready," he said.

That time spent in training has led to the bloodiest attacks in the history of the insurgency in the Sahel, all of which have been carried out in a range of 200 kilometres (120 miles).

- Mounting toll -

In November, two clashes in Mali, at Tabankort and Indelimane, claimed the lives of 92 soldiers. In December, 42 people -- 35 of them civilian -- were killed in Arbinda in Burkina, and 71 in Inates, Niger. And on January 16, 89 troops were killed in Chinegodar, Niger.

According to UN figures, jihadist attacks in the three countries last year left 4,000 dead.

Defence experts say that spectacular ISGS strikes use the same tactics.

The target is typically a remote military base, which is attacked by dozens of jihadists arriving on swarms of motorbikes.

They cut off the camp's communications, pound the site with mortars, kill as many soldiers as possible and then disappear before the army can fully respond.

"The latest attacks seem to show that the group has acquired skills in command, control and coordination that it didn't have before, with group leaders able to carry out major operations," a French military source said with concern.

- Hard core -

A security expert in the Malian capital Bamako said the ISGS, like other jihadist groups in the Sahel, uses "ad hoc" fighters to beef up its ranks.

"For every trained, radicalised fighter, there are two or three proxies (allies) who are hired just for the operation," the source said.

The hard core of ISGS is probably no more than 200- or 300-strong, specialists say.

"They use poachers, criminals, traffickers" with deep knowledge of the local terrain, Savadogo said.

The ISGS gets technical help from another IS affiliate, the Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP), said Matteo Puxton, an independent analyst who spoke on condition of using a pseudonym after receiving threats.

According to IS propaganda outlets, the ISGS was incorporated into ISWAP in mid-2019. ISWAP also has a dissident faction of Nigeria's ruthless Boko Haram.

"IS headquarters has taken over the ISGS. You can see that in the propaganda, the technical skills," Puxton said.

"The level of ISGS attacks which were carried out in 2015 has been transformed. Their operations are sophisticated, and for the first time in (ISGS's) history, there are long videos, put together by IS's central propaganda unit," he said.

Jean-Herve Jezequel, head of the Sahel project at the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, said IS was "easy to flag as an enemy, given its reputation for violence -- in terms of image, you really have a perfect foil there."

But, in fact, this reflects the situation on the ground, where IS affiliates are on the rise, "including in the former strongholds of al-Qaeda," he said.

The IS "is flying high" in the Sahel, he said.

"The reasons are complex and hard to decipher, but stem in part from the fact that it gives lots of autonomy to the groups that join it."

https://www.france24.com/en/20200115-islamic-state-replaces-al-qaeda-as-enemy-no-1-in-sahel

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Republican Muslim refugee Dalia al-Aqidi announces she’s running against Ilhan Omar

By Ebony Bowden

January 16, 2020

Rep. Ilhan Omar is facing another GOP challenger in November’s election — and she’s also a Muslim refugee.

Dalia al-Aqidi, a former White House correspondent from Iraq, said she felt compelled to run against the Somali-born lawmaker, calling her a divisive figure who has neglected her Minneapolis district.

“She’s spreading hatred, and she is spreading racism throughout not only her district, not only her state, but throughout the whole country, and this is very important,” al-Aqidi, 51, told The Post on Thursday after announcing her GOP run.

“She’s hurting the moderate Muslims; Muslims like myself. She doesn’t represent me as a Muslim,” she continued.

One strength of her candidacy, al-Aqidi said, is that she couldn’t use her background as a Muslim woman refugee to the US as they share the same basic backstory.

Al-Aqidi and her family fled Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein’s regime when she was in her 20s and became US citizens in the early 1990s. Omar fled war-torn Somalia with her family at age 9.

The challenger established a prestigious career as a political reporter, working for Voice of America and then as a White House correspondent for Middle Eastern television networks where she traveled around the world, covering conflicts in her native Iraq and neighboring Lebanon.

When asked about the fact she had only moved to Omar’s downtown Minneapolis congressional district months ago, al-Aqidi said she had spent every day talking to locals who were concerned the freshman lawmaker wasn’t representing them.

“I’ve done my homework for months and months before I decided to move here,” she said.  “On Thanksgiving, I helped feed more than 250 homeless people in Minneapolis, which she doesn’t remember. She doesn’t even talk about homeless situation in Minneapolis, which is extremely cold and there are not enough places of shelters for them to sleep in.

“It’s a very, very important problem in Minneapolis, and it’s getting very cold.”

Al-Aqidi said she would also run on a campaign focused on curbing the gang violence on Minneapolis streets and bringing people together — countering the incendiary, anti-Semitic language which Omar has been criticized for.

On homelessness, Omar in November introduced the Homes for All Act, which would authorize the dramatic expansion of America’s public housing supply by 12 million.

However, members of the Somali community shared similar concerns as al-Aqidi with a Post reporter who was in Minneapolis in September, saying they feared Omar was not doing enough for the community.

“It’s just one crisis after another. She could have done so much more for our community with immigration and education, but she’s not. She’s picking fights,” said one Somali man who didn’t want to be named.

Omar’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Al-Aqidi, who joins several Republican challengers — businessman Lacy Johnson, special-education professional Danielle Stella, minister and missionary Lucia Vogel, activist Alley Waterbury and former auto sales manager Brent Whaley — said she was prepared for a tough fight in the district which Omar won by a landslide 78% in November 2018.

“If anyone thinks I’m just running to be in Congress, I would have chosen one of smallest districts in Virginia,” she said, “But I chose a battle because I believe in what I’m doing, because I believe in the Constitution and I’m defending the Constitution against people who are working against this country.”

Squad member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, also has a cadre of opponents from both parties hoping to unseat her, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is facing a GOP challenge from David Dudenhoefer, the chairman of his district’s Republican party. Of the Squad, only Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., remains unopposed.

https://nypost.com/2020/01/16/republican-muslim-refugee-dalia-al-aqidi-announces-shes-running-against-ilhan-omar/

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Take it from Britain's Muslims, it's not Extinction Rebellion that's the problem, it's Prevent

16 January, 2020

You could be forgiven for thinking the UK's counter-terrorism scheme, 'Prevent', is relatively new, after it recently came under widespread criticism for putting the climate emergency campaign group, Extinction Rebellion (XR), on a list of extremist ideologies that should be reported to the police.

The 12 page guide issued by police included a profile on the non-violent group, calling it a threat due its "anti-establishment philosophy", and warning readers - police officers and teachers who are legally obliged to report 'signs of extremism' - to be on the lookout for people speaking, "in strong or emotive terms about environmental issues".

The backlash that ensued led to the document to be recalled and figures from Keir Starmer, a candidate for the next Labour Party leadership, to Sir Peter Fahy, a previous head of Prevent, to publicly condemn the decision and Home Secretary, Priti Patel's, defence of it.

Police declared the decision to include the group a mistake, and commentators on social media spoke out against the danger for climate change activists and the responsibility of Johnson's government.

But this discussion has - for the most part - ignored the heart of the matter; it is not XR's addition to the extremist list which is the problem here, but the Prevent scheme itself.

Also overlooked is the fact that Prevent cannot be laid at Johnson's door alone, as it has been in place for nearly 15 years. Why, after so much criticism, does the scheme exist? The answer will be an uncomfortable one for many; until now, it has focused primarily on children from a Muslim and ethnic minority background.

Prevent was launched in 2006 under the New Labour government as one of the four strands of the counter-terrorism strategy 'Contest'. Since then, it has been widely condemned for being both ineffective in its mission to combat extremism, and discriminatory towards Muslim children and young people in particular, encouraging a climate of distrust and suspicion in state institutions.

Students have protested the implementation of Prevent in universities, and highlighted how it targets a marginalised group of students who already face discrimination on campus. The state-backed racism it promotes sends the disturbing message that all young Muslims need to be watched, for fear of radicalisation.

In 2016, the National Union of Teachers voted in favour of scrapping Prevent, and speakers voiced the need to "Stop education professionals being the secret service of the public sector."

A secret database run by counter-terrorism police with sensitive and personal information on citizens as young as primary school children is still in place, even though only 1 in 10 reported radicalisation cases has resulted in specialist support.

Despite this policing and reporting being a long and painful experience for Muslim communities, many have seemed to approach the scheme as being a necessary evil for battling "extremism," a term that is open to interpretation and individual prejudice, since it has not been defined by law.

It's no wonder then, that Muslim children are disproportionately targeted, when studies show 31 percent of the British public believes Islam to be a threat to the British way of life.

Extinction Rebellion had a brief appearance in Prevent's guide to reporting extremist ideology, and the decision was quickly reversed when it came under criticism.

In contrast, after over a decade of the scheme targeting Muslims and other minorities, as well as trade unions, teachers, charities and students calling for the scheme's closure, it's still seen as a legitimate use of police force.

To understand the reasoning behind this, it is worth looking at XR's track record when it comes to people of colour. The activist group, in a reflection of the environmental sector as a whole, demonstrably lacks inclusion of black and brown activists.

Its core strategy - to sacrifice activists to arrest - ignores the reality for ethnic minorities in Britain; more than half of young people in British prisons are from a BAME background. Black and ethnic minority young people do not have the luxury of seeking out arrest to protest, safe in the knowledge they will be treated fairly by the system. The public outcry over the treatment of XR and not other activist groups and children is a chilling reminder of this.

Prevent's targeting of XR is not an "error of judgement" but the result of a racist and oppressive scheme that has been allowed to reign unchecked through five successive governments. It has been largely ignored because until now it has only affected ethnic minorities and Muslims.

As others have argued, the governments's counter terrorism strategy is heading in a more aggressive and broader direction as it targets the "far-left" and "anti-imperialism" under the wider bracket of "hateful extremism".

This, as with radicalisation with British Muslims, is easily stereotyped. How do we protect our communities against this? By protesting the scheme as a whole.

It isn't enough, as some have argued, to only contest the inclusion of climate change activists on the extremist list. Prevent itself, is a system reliant on prejudice and interpretation and in an increasingly racist country, rotten to the core.

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2020/1/16/its-not-extinction-rebellion-thats-the-problem-its-prevent

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Houthis Escalate Violations amid Forced Haircut Campaigns

15 January, 2020

The Iran-backed Houthi militias have not stopped their repressive acts and violations against people in Sanaa and other areas under their control. This coincided with their celebrations and events organized to commemorate their members killed on battlefronts.

Moreover, human rights sources have indicated that the militias have intensified their abductions of civilians, in addition to campaigns to shave the hair of teenagers on the street.

The same sources said the militias had kidnapped an entire family in Safia in central Sanaa after armed men, accompanied by female Houthi members, known as the “Zeinabis”, raided their home.

The sources also clarified that the Houthis abducted two girls last month along with their father and brother and took them to an unknown location, likely one of their secret prisons.

Through media outlets that support them, the militias claimed they had kidnapped the family due to honor-related issues – an excuse they often use to justify abductions.

Meanwhile, the militias launched a campaign in Sanaa to shave the hair of male teenagers in the streets as part of their efforts to implement what their leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, called “faithful culture”. Videos circulated on social media showed Houthis holding teenage boys against their will as they get a haircut.

The Houthis forced barbers in areas under their control to perform specific haircuts, threatening them with imprisonment and punishment in case they violated their instructions.

Local sources also mentioned that armed militiamen in Sanaa shot a barber last month while he was working in his shop in Garaf north of the capital.

Forcing Yemenis to adhere to the “faithful culture” has not been limited to haircuts, but has extended to other forms of the people’s daily life.

'Faithful culture'

Houthi armed men have previously broken into weddings and university graduation ceremonies in Sanaa, Dhamar and Amran to object against the use of musical instruments.

The Houthis also removed ads that promote makeup for women in several streets in Sanaa and forced salons to remove their ads under the claim that such photos delayed the “group’s victory”, according to a speech by their leader.

Many Yemeni activists compared the Houthi methods to those of terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, noting the many shared ideas between them. They cited ISIS’ dividing of society into believers and infidels and Houthis’ dividing it into believers and hypocrites.

A few months ago, the Houthis issued a circular to public schools in Sanaa and the governorates under their control to ban singing and music and emphasize the importance of permits to hold celebrations.

The Houthis claim that these incidents are personal initiatives, not their official policies, but their recurrence has made many suspect otherwise.

People from Sanaa have told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “Houthinization of society” by the militias is not only limited to government institutions, but has also involved the media and mosques.

Since taking over Sanaa and several other governorates, the militias have been careful to transform the educational system into hubs for spreading their extremist ideologies. Such efforts were accelerated after Yehya Houthi, the leader’s brother, was appointed Minister of Education in the unrecognized coup government.

Yemeni rights activists confirm that by doing so, in the short term, they are trying to recruit students and turn them into soldiers to be sent to the fronts. In the long run, they want to transform society’s identity and spread their extremist ideology through schools.

https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/2084116/houthis-escalate-violations-amid-forced-haircut-campaigns

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India

 

India to invite Pakistan PM Imran Khan for SCO summit in New Delhi

January 16, 2020

In a significant departure from its stated position that “talks and terror cannot go together”, India on Thursday said that New Delhi will invite Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit to be held in the national capital later this year.

“All 8 countries and 4 observers will be invited,” said Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokersperson Raveesh Kumar when asked whether Imran Khan will be invited to SCO heads of govt meeting in India.

Formerly the Sanghai Five and formed in 1996, the SCO has eight members today including India and Pakistan, which became part of it in 2017. The original Shanghai Five were China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. The SCO was formed in 2001, with Uzbekistan included.

India also launched a stinging attack at Pakistan, a day after Islamabad’s all-weather ally’ China raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir at a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

“Attempt was made by Pakistan, through a UNSC member (China), to misuse the platform. Overwhelming majority of UNSC was of view that UNSC was not the right forum for such issues and it should be discussed bilaterally,” Kumar said while addressing a press conference.

The MEA added that Pakistan has a choice to “avoid such global embarrassment by refraining from such acts in future”.

The move by China was third such attempt since August when the special status granted to J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked by the government, and the state was bifurcated into two union territories. However, members of the UNSC, including France and the US, blocked the attempt by China for a discussion on the Kashmir issue.

“The informal closed-door meeting concluded without any outcome. Pakistan’s desperate measures to peddle baseless allegations and present an alarming scenario lacked any credibility,” Kumar said.

Giving out a stern message, Kumar said, “We hope the message has gone loud and clear to Pak that if at all there’s any matter between India and Pak that needs to be discussed, it should be done bilaterally”.

Speaking about China’s intervention in the matter, Kumar said, “In our view, China should seriously reflect on this global consensus, draw the proper lessons and refrain from taking such action in the future”.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-pakistan-imran-khan-modi-sco-summit-6219808/

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Isolate Pak to counter terror, says CDS Rawat

Jan 17, 2020

NEW DELHI: Listing diplomatic isolation of Pakistan and keeping it under pressure of blacklisting by FATF as measures to tackle Pak-based terror, Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat on Thursday called for strong and concerted global action against states sponsoring terrorism.

In an address at the Raisina Dialogue, Gen Rawat said there is a need to take a hard-line approach in dealing with terrorism, the way the US went after terror groups after the 9/11 terror attacks.

“As long as there are states which sponsor terrorism, we will have to live with the menace. We need to take the bull by its horns. We have to bring an end to terrorism and that can only happen the way Americans started after 9/11,” he said.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/isolate-pak-to-counter-terror-says-cds-rawat/articleshow/73313906.cms

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Sikh Farmers from Punjab Come To Cheer Shaheen Bagh Women, Cook Langar

January 16, 2020

New Delhi: Thousands of women holding protests in Shaheen Bagh against the citizenship law, had some unexpected company today: A group of Sikh men, part of a farmers' union, who came all the way from Punjab. Turning up on the road, they found themselves a corner under a pedestrian overbridge and started unpacking -- cooking gas and stove, huge utensils reminiscent of festive catering, and sacks of provisions. Within an hour, a langar -- the traditional community kitchen of Sikhs -- was up and running.

"We have come here to show solidarity against the Citizenship Bill," one of them said, underscoring that they were against the "divisive politics" of the government.

"Modi wants to rule by making people fight with each other. He is not giving jobs to farmers, instead he is making the Muslims and Sikhs fight," he added to grins and cheers from the locals.

The Shaheen Bagh protest, on now for more than a month, has made it to headlines due to its unique nature. It is women who are drivers of this protest, joining in irrespective of caste and religion, taking turns to sit in at the locality. While some come in the mornings, others sit through the long nights braving the bitter winter chill.

It has provided inspiration to woman in other corners of the country, and similar protests have started in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Over the last few days, protests have mushroomed in Patna, Lucknow and Prayagraj, where women declare that they would continue till the government withdrew the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.

The visitors who came to cheer the women on, said they were from two districts of Punjab and the women of their family have accompanied them.

As the men started on the cooking, the women found space beside the thousands on a sit-down protest on the other corner. Food in a langar is simple vegetarian fare - roti, daal, vegetables and a dessert, usually kheer.

Taking turns to stir the kheer along with the local men, some of them Muslims, one of the visitors said over the coming days, they were expecting more people from Punjab to come and join.

Full report at:

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/sikh-farmers-from-punjab-come-to-cheer-shaheen-bagh-women-cook-langar-2164508?pfrom=home-topscroll

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Anti-CAA clashes: In a first, SIT books 33 for provoking children to pelt stones at cops

Jan 17, 2020

MUZAFFARNAGAR: SIT probing the cases of violence during the anti-CAA protests have booked 33 jailed protesters for allegedly provoking children to throw stones at policemen during the clashes. The probe agency has invoked sections of Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection of Children) Act, 2015 against the accused. All the 33 accused were earlier charged under various sections of the IPC and sent to jail.

Several new offences committed against children, which are so far not adequately covered under any other law, are included in the Juvenile Justice (Care And Protection of Children) Act, 2015. These include use of children by militant groups, sale and procurement of children for any purpose including illegal adoption and offences against disabled children.

The SIT got the permission to slap the additional charge on the 33 accused from chief judicial magistrate Ravikant Yadav’s court.

“SIT has added an extra section of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, against 33 offenders of the violence,” said Wakar Ahmad, a lawyer who is fighting cases of some of the accused of the violence which erupted on December 20 last year in Muzaffarnagar.

During the clashes, several minors were seen throwing stones at the policemen and vandalizing properties.

According to police, as many as 47 cases were registered at Nagar Kotwali and Civil Lines police stations, in which more than 250 people were named. Police have arrested more than 80 people so far in the matter.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/anti-caa-clashes-in-a-first-sit-books-33-for-provoking-children-to-pelt-stones-at-cops/articleshow/73314365.cms

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Anti-CAA chorus greets Prez Kovind after Bihu gaffe

Jan 17, 2020

GUWAHATI: President Ram Nath Kovind was trolled and his official Twitter handle bombarded with anti-CAA hashtags after he inadvertently greeted the people of Assam “on Bohag Bihu”, the Assamese New Year that comes in April, instead of the harvest festival of Bhogali Bihu that coincides with Makar Sankranti in mid-January.

The tweet in Assamese, posted at 10.20am on Wednesday, was replaced with the correct one at 11.33am, but the damage was done by then. “Today is Bhogali Bihu and not Bohag Bihu. You are confused,” one Twitter user wrote in response to the original message. “Sir, your negligence has hurt the sentiments of Assamese people,” another user said.

While the troll army was at it — someone even asked the President if “Modi” had asked him to tweet in Assamese — a flurry of hashtags like “NoCAA”, “AssamRejectsCAA” and “assamopposescaa” flooded the thread.

“As a tradition, we are celebrating Bihu in Assam this year. We are very upset with this C(A)B, which has now been turned into an Act after your signature on it. We, the Assamese, can’t support and will never accept C(A)A. We have no issues regarding NRC, we just don’t need C(A)A,” someone tweeted.

From then on, the anti-CAA chorus overshadowed the Bohag Bihu mistake. “Mr President, thank you very much for your wishes. But yes, we the entire indigenous people of Assam and the North East, oppose the unconstitutional CAA. And we will oppose this Act till our last breath,” one of Kovind’s 7.4mn followers wrote.

“The CAA is a dangerous step, Sir. Please see the present demography of Tripura and compare it with the past. Tripuri are minority in their own land. Sir, do make a right decision that the whole nation supports. Not CAA, it is opposed by the citizens of India. We the people of INDIA,” another user said.

Some people posted pictures of copies of CAA being thrown into the traditional bonfires that are lit on the morning of Bhogali Bihu.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/anti-caa-chorus-greets-prez-kovind-after-bihu-gaffe/articleshow/73314227.cms

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Section 144 in Doda for Hizbul terrorist funeral

Jan 16, 2020

JAMMU: Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC were imposed in parts of Jammu and Kashmir’s Doda district on Thursday, to prevent any untoward incident after Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Haroon Abbas Wani, a local, was killed during a joint anti-insurgency operation in Doda the previous day.

“We were worried about law and order situation after Wednesday’s encounter in which Wani was killed, so Section 144 was imposed as a precautionary measure,” Doda deputy commissioner Sagar Doifode told TOI over phone. “Restrictions were imposed in Doda and Bhaderwah towns of the Doda district and village Ghat, where the burial of the slain terrorist was to be held.”

“We will be assessing the situation, which as of now is peaceful, and then take a decision whether to lift Section 144,” he added.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/section-144-in-doda-for-hizbul-terrorist-funeral/articleshow/73309414.cms

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Jaish module busted, 5 terrorists held: J&K police

Jan 16, 2020

SRINAGAR: Ahead of the Republic Day, J&K police have busted a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) module and arrested five of its “active” members involved in recent incidents of terror in the city, a senior police officer said on Thursday.

Following searches based on the disclosures made by the arrested terrorists, police have recovered a huge cache of incriminating materials, including gelatine sticks, explosives, detonators, arms, explosive body vests, batteries and nitric acid, deputy inspector general (DIG), central Kashmir range, Vidhi Kumar Birdhi said at a press conference here.

The five men, who were working towards executing sensational terror attacks and IED explosions, were nabbed in two phases, he said.

Giving details of the arrests, Birdhi said a grenade explosion on January 8 near Habak crossing in Soura area of the city led to minor injuries to a few civilians. Police launched investigations into the crime and nabbed two suspects — Ajaz Ahmad Sheikh, a driver by profession, and Umar Hameed Sheikh, a street vendor — both residents of Hazratbal area.

During interrogation, they admitted to their role in the crime and provided leads to a similar attack near Kashmir University in Hazratbal area on November 26 last year, the officer added.

“More raids were conducted and three more people — Imtiyaz Ahmad Chikla alias Imran, a sports shop owner, Sahil Farooq Gojri, a private company worker, and Naseer Mir, a businessman — were apprehended. All are residents of Hazratbal,” the DIG said.

Initial probe revealed that they had lobbed grenades at the two places as markets there were keeping open and carrying out normal business activities despite terrorists’ call to keep shut to protest scrapping of special status of J&K, the officer said.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/jaish-module-busted-5-terrorists-held-jk-police/articleshow/73309381.cms

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J&K govt strips arrested DSP of Sher-e-Kashmir police medal

Jan 16, 2020

SRINAGAR: J&K government on Thursday stripped ‘delinquent’ deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Davinder Singh, who was arrested along with terrorists, of Sher-e-Kashmir police medal that was awarded to him for gallantry in 2018. Sher-e-Kashmir is the highest police award in J&K.

A police party had on January 11 arrested DSP Singh along with two wanted Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists and an over-ground worker of the outfit at a checkpoint on Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Mir Market in Kulgam district of south Kashmir. DSP Singh, who was currently posted at the Srinagar International Airport (SIA) as part of the anti-hijacking squad, has been placed under suspension since his arrest.

A government order issued on Thursday by principal secretary (home) Shaleen Kabra said the suspended officer’s act amounted to disloyalty and brought the force into disrepute.

“Consequent upon the arrest of the DSP, while trying to assist terrorists to travel outside J&K, and recovery of arms and ammunition, which amount to disloyalty and conduct that has brought the force into disrepute, the Sher-e-Kashmir Police Medal for Gallantry, awarded to him in August 2018, is hereby forfeited,” the government order said.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/jk-govt-strips-arrested-dsp-of-sher-e-kashmir-police-medal/articleshow/73309380.cms

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Jammu and Kashmir: Vandalism after cops bar crowd at militant’s funeral

January 17, 2020

There was stone-pelting and vandalism in Doda town on Thursday with a procession of nearly 2,000 people from the nearby Ghat village damaging vehicles and shops after police raised barricades to prevent a large crowd from attending the burial of slain Hizbul Mujahideen militant Haroon Abbas Wani.

Haroon, who carried an award of Rs 15 lakh on his head, was killed by the J&K Police in Gundana area on Wednesday. His burial was scheduled for Thursday. As some people, who were part of the crowd that had come to receive Haroon’s body, raised pro-independence slogans, the district administration on Thursday morning imposed prohibitory orders banning the assembly of four or more people in Doda, Bhaderwah and Ghat .

Following reports that people in large numbers had gathered on the outskirts of Doda town to participate in the last rites and were not being allowed to move ahead by the police, a group of nearly 2,000 people from Ghat village walked to Doda town after breaking through the police barricades and allegedly resorted to stone-pelting, damaged vehicles and vandalised some shops.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/vandalism-after-cops-bar-crowd-at-militants-funeral-6220507/

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Kashmir issue: China should seriously reflect, refrain from such action, says India

by Shubhajit Roy

January 17, 2020

A day after China’s attempt to raise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir — at Pakistan’s behest — failed to yield an outcome as an “overwhelming majority” said it was not the right forum, New Delhi asked Beijing to “seriously reflect” on the global consensus and “refrain” from taking such action in future.

Besides France and the US, sources said that UK, Russia and Germany also joined in along with other members to block Beijing’s attempt to get an outcome. Sources said that while UK’s ambivalent position in the UNSC closed-door consultations in August had surprised many — a claim strongly denied by the UK — London’s decision to block Beijing’s attempt sent an important signal to Delhi.

For the third time since August, Beijing had raised the J&K issue at a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council late Wednesday.

On Thursday, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar made a sharp comment on Beijing. “China should seriously reflect on this global consensus, draw proper lessons and refrain from taking such action in future,” he said, replying to a question on why India has not reacted strongly to Beijing raising the Kashmir issue at the UNSC. “I suggest that this question should be posed to the Chinese side as well.”

He also slammed Pakistan for trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue with the help of China, saying Islamabad’s “desperate” measures to “peddle” baseless allegations and present an alarming scenario about the Valley lacked credibility.

“An effort was made by Pakistan through a member of the UNSC to once again misuse the platform of UNSC for discussing a bilateral matter,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of the UNSC members were of the view that UNSC was not the right forum for such issues and this should be discussed bilaterally between India and Pakistan. The informal closed-door meeting, therefore, concluded without any outcome.”

He added, “We sincerely hope that the message has gone across loud and clear to Pakistan that if, at all, there is any matter between India and Pakistan that needs to be discussed, it should be discussed bilaterally.”

In New York, Chinese ambassador Zhang Jun said: “We had a meeting on J&K. And I’m sure you all know that Foreign Minister of Pakistan wrote letters to the Security Council asking it to pay attention to the current situation in J&K. ” He said China has stated its “position very clearly. We remain concerned about the situation on the ground (in Kashmir).”

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/china-should-seriously-reflect-refrain-from-such-action-india-6220477/

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Malaysia talks to India over palm curbs as wider trade spat looms: report

January 16, 2020

Malaysia is talking to Indian government and trade officials in a bid to resolve concerns over New Delhi’s new palm oil import restrictions, a minister in Kuala Lumpur said on Thursday amid a trade spat between the countries.

India’s Hindu nationalist government has repeatedly objected to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaking out against recent policies of New Delhi that critics say discriminates against Muslims. Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation.

India, the world’s biggest buyer of edible oils, last week placed curbs on imports of refined palm oil and has informally asked traders to stop importing all kinds of palm oil from Malaysia, the world’s second-biggest producer and exporter of the commodity after Indonesia.

Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing sources, that New Delhi could also restrict the import of petroleum, aluminum ingots, liquefied natural gas, computer parts and microprocessors from Malaysia. However, no action has so far been taken.

“This year, we foresee more challenges in some of our major markets,” Teresa Kok, Malaysia’s primary industries minister who is in charge of the palm oil portfolio, told an industry conference, referring to India’s new palm import rules.

Kok said the Indian high commissioner, the ambassador, in Malaysia, was one of the people she was in touch with over the issue.

“Important for us to engage them further through diplomatic channels and stakeholders,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the event. “We will continue to engage.”

Mahathir, the 94-year-old premier who is vocal on issues concerning the Muslim world, ignored a question from Reuters on the spat with India on the sidelines of a separate event on Thursday. On Tuesday, he said Malaysia was concerned about the palm oil curbs but indicated he would continue to speak out against “wrong things” even if it costs his country financially.

Last month, he criticized India’s new religion-based citizenship laws that critics say is loaded against Muslims, and its policies in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir that is also claimed by Pakistan. India was Malaysia’s biggest buyer of palm oil in 2019, with 4.4 million tonnes of purchases. In 2020, purchases could fall below 1 million tonnes if relations don’t improve, Indian traders say.

To make up for the potential loss, Malaysian officials say they are trying to sell more to countries such as Pakistan, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. But replacing a massive buyer like India won’t be easy, and there have been calls for both countries to talk it outputting aside any “personal or diplomatic ego”.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/malaysia-talks-to-india-over-palm-curbs-as-wider-trade-spat-looms-6219435/

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Protesters show anti-CAA posters at Muslim Rashtriya Manch event

January 17, 2020

New Delhi: A group of protesters wearing skull caps showed posters against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at an event of Muslim Rashtriya Manch organised here on Thursday to support the Act.

They also charged towards the RSS leader and patron of MRM Indresh Kumar showing anti-CAA and NRC pamphlets.

Exchange of blows

The protesting members and those who came in support of the Act exchanged few blows while the latter tried to push protestors out of the venue.

This drama that unfolded at the event organised by the RSS and Ulemas was followed by quick detention of the protestors.

Kumar too mentioned that he knew at least one of the protestors.

“I can see one of them (protestors) he had come to me to resolve some issue at his household. I won’t name them as they all the brothers but they need to understand that they can’t indulge in anti-national activity and I don’t want media to hound them,” said Kumar.

Kumar explains how event beneftit CAA movement

Post ruckus, Kumar dedicated an hour explaining how the event has actually benefitted the CAA movement.

“I am sure the media will show ‘Shaitaan as Shaitaan’. There is a success in today’s protest as it showed that there are few devils who are troubling the nation. Rest Muslims are peace lovers. Devil came and people gave them a befitting reply,” he said.

“The success of this event is in the fact that Muslims have shown that they are Indian and will remain so. Those who are enemies of the nation indulged in ‘Shararat’ and those who love the country would give out the message of love and peace,” added Kumar.

Even during the event, the organisers kept a vigil at the audience lest someone else too start the protest and disrupts the function.

Kumar said he is being called at Shaheen Bagh but he will go only when few of the ‘devils’ will lessen from the venue.

Full report at:

https://www.siasat.com/protesters-show-anti-caa-posters-muslim-rashtriya-manch-event-1795045/

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Southeast Asia

 

Parents picket Bangladesh school against ‘un-Islamic’ dress code

January 16, 2020

DHAKA: Hundreds of parents picketed a top Bangladesh school and blocked a major road in the capital to protest against a decision to make Islamic dress optional for students.

Some 200-300 parents held hands and blocked a road in front of an Ideal School and College campus in Dhaka’s Banasree neighbourhood on Wednesday, said local police chief Abdul Kuddus.

Ideal is one of the country’s best private school chains, with branches in several middle-class neighbourhoods. Its students regularly top nationwide exam tables.

Parents said the school this year dropped a requirement for boys to wear Islamic skull caps and for girls to wear an “orna”, a loose scarf-like shawl that covers the chest.

“It has been a tradition of this school since 1973 and we don’t have any problem with it,” said Tofazzal Hossain, a parent.

“Why did the authorities suddenly take such an anti-Islamic decision without discussing it with us?”

College principal Shahan Ara Begum said neither item of clothing had been banned, but rather made optional.

She said also that Muslim traditions should not be forced on pupils belonging to other faiths.

Although overwhelming Muslim, Bangladesh is officially secular.

Thousands of people took to social media to criticise the school’s new dress code.

“How would the female students go in front of their male teachers without the orna?” Facebook user Shipon Ahmed wrote.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2020/01/16/parents-picket-bangladesh-school-against-un-islamic-dresscode/

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Saudi wants to stand next to Malaysia in fight against Islamophobia, extremism, says envoy

17 Jan 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 — Saudi Arabia is keen to work with Malaysia to provide a true picture of Islam in its fight against Islamophobia, radicalism and global extremism, said Saudi Ambassador to Malaysia Datuk Dr Mahmoud Hussien Saeed Qattan.

He said both countries were always making efforts to convey the true picture of Islam through the concept of moderation and wasatiyyah.

Emphasising the need for a collective cooperation among Muslim countries to find a way to solve the problems that beset the ummah and the Muslim world, he said it required joint efforts and participation from all Muslim countries to resolve it.

“Issues and problems affecting Muslims worldwide, such as Islamophobia, radicalism and extremism are also facing many other countries in the world. There need to be a collective cooperation among Islamic countries to find a solution to the problems, “he said in a special interview with Bernama at the Saudi Arabia Embassy here.

Expressing the Saudi government’s concern on problems affecting the Muslim countries and the ummah, Mahmoud Hussien said Muslim countries could work together through existing international institutions such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The Saudi Arabia ambassador to Malaysia said that through the mechanism and instruments of the OIC, the Muslim countries were able to voice its stand on such issues, including discussing actions that needed to be taken to address matters of Islam and its ummah,  particularly the phenomenon of Islamophobia, extremism and violence.

“This collaboration is part of efforts developed by OIC and Malaysia, as well as several other Muslim countries.

“Therefore, discussions and collaboration between the two countries should always be held to highlight the true picture of Islam. This is in line with the call by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud) and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (Mohammed bin Salman) who seek to strengthen relations between the two countries in all areas,” he said.

Touching on relations between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Hussien said diplomatic relations among the two countries were strong.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/01/17/saudi-wants-to-stand-next-to-malaysia-in-fight-against-islamophobia-extremi/1828833

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Smooth leadership transition in Muslim community due to strong renewal process: Mufti

Hariz Baharudin

JAN 16, 2020

SINGAPORE - Even before he took up office, outgoing Mufti Fatris Bakaram, 49, said plans were already under way to groom his successor, and this has allowed for a smooth leadership transition.

Speaking to the media in an interview on Thursday (Jan 16), Dr Fatris, who has been Singapore's highest Islamic authority for nine years, said that succession planning for the mufti and the development of future Islamic leaders are part of a constant, ongoing renewal process at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

Succession planning "is something that has started within Muis even before I was appointed as the Mufti", said Dr Fatris, who will step down from the role on March 1.

Thanks to such efforts, there was no delay in finding a successor, he added.

On Jan 9, Muis announced that Dr Fatris' deputy, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, 43, will succeed him. Dr Nazirudin, who has a PhD in theology from the University of Oxford, was appointed deputy mufti last March after previously holding the post of Muis' senior director for religious policy and development.

Dr Fatris said the mufti before him, Shaikh Syed Isa Semait, had to delay his resignation due to the lackof potential candidates, even after he reached retirement age.

He added that this spurred Muis to not just plan for Dr Fatris' eventual appointment, but to also plan for his successor. Not long after he was sent to do his doctorate in Islamic studies at Birmingham University in Britain, Muis sent Dr Nazirudin and a few other officers for further studies overseas too, said Dr Fatris.

Dr Fatris, with an eye clearly on the renewal process, said he was moved to step down because he felt it was important to bring in new blood.

"I think it's only fair for the community for me to pass the baton and have trust that you have someone who can offer new ideas that can rejuvenate the position and the office that commands support from the religious fraternity in Singapore," he said.

On Thursday, Dr Fatris also touched on Muis' role in establishing a dynamic Muslim identity to address issues like education, climate change and social illnesses in Singapore.

Such ideas have been featured in campaigns and efforts by Muis, and as talking points in the sermons during the weekly Friday prayers that are delivered in mosques islandwide.

While he acknowledged that some Muslims here and in communities around the world might be uncomfortable about the new efforts, as they feel religion should only be concerned with lessons and instructions that pertain to life after death, Dr Fatris stressed they are necessaryto ensure that the Muslim community here is a progressive one.

He expressed his hopes that efforts in this will be continued by Dr Nazirudin.

Full report at:

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/smooth-leadership-transition-in-muslim-community-due-to-strong-renewal-process-mufti

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Religion is not a competition, Dr M tells Malaysians as communal friction persists

16 Jan 2020

BY SOO WERN JUN

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Malaysians should not seek to outdo one another in matters of religion, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.

The prime minister’s remarks follow recent controversies over cultural events such as the Ponggal harvest festival and Chinese New Year, which some communities claimed to be religious in nature.

“People have the right to have their own religion, but we mustn’t try to compete with each other, who is taller, who is bigger and all that,” he told reporters after officiating Tenaga Nasional Berhad’s Balai Islam Complex here.

A recent circular released by the Education Ministry but originating from the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) that described Ponggal as a “religious festival” went viral on social media, triggering public uproar.

Ponggal is actually the Tamil harvest festival celebrated with offerings of sweet rice milk as thanksgiving.

Jakim later claimed it had been asked to issue the advisory for the parents of Muslim students on the proper response to the celebration.

Several ministers subsequently issued statements clarifying that Ponggal was a cultural and not a religious festival.

It was the second cultural controversy this month after a Muslim Malay lawyer took issue with a Puchong school’s red lantern decorations to mark the upcoming Chinese New Year, calling it a religious celebration and insisting it was unconstitutional and an attempt to propagate a non-Muslim religion to Muslims.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/01/16/religion-is-not-a-competition-dr-m-tells-malaysians-as-communal-friction-pe/1828530

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Over 50% of Malaysians in survey say ‘no’ to resettling Rohingya here

January 16, 2020

PETALING JAYA: A survey by a Singaporean research centre found that 56.4% of Malaysians polled are not in favour of the Rohingya being resettled in the country, despite Putrajaya previously criticising the treatment of the Muslim minority.

The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute said that more than half the 1,308 respondents from all 10 Asean member states “did not favour the resettling of the displaced Rohingya people in their respective countries”.

“Even in Brunei and Malaysia, which are predominantly Muslim societies, 68% and 56.4% say ‘no’ to the Rohingya’s resettlement in their respective countries,” the report read.

There were 163 respondents from Malaysia.

The report said only in the Philippines and Indonesia were the Rohingya more welcome, with 61.3% and 56.1%, respectively, saying “yes”.

Last year, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad hit out at the lack of will by the United Nations and its inability to intervene in the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

He also criticised Myanmar leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi for apparently standing by the actions of the Myanmar military against the community.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), more than 900,000 Rohingya had fled Rakhine to Bangladesh after Myanmar’s armed forces launched a crackdown following attacks on security posts in 2017.

UN investigators have said the army campaign, which included mass killings and gang rapes, was carried out with “genocidal intent”.

The military denies almost all the allegations made by refugees during what it said was a legitimate counter-terrorism operation.

Full report at:

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/01/16/over-50-of-malaysians-in-survey-say-no-to-resettling-rohingya-here/

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SIS praises 5-year govt plan to end child marriages

January 17, 2020

PETALING JAYA: Sisters in Islam (SIS) has lauded Putrajaya’s comprehensive five-year plan detailing programmes and initiatives to end child marriage, launched yesterday, despite seven states still refusing to raise their legal age for marriage.

The NGO, in a statement, described the plan as a responsible step in the right direction.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail launched the National Strategy Plan in Handling the Causes of Child Marriage, which aims to ensure that state-level laws, rules and guidelines are in line with federal policies.

It also wants to increase access to education and attendance in schools.

Wan Azizah, who is also the women, family and community development minister, said that the plan contained programmes and actions to address six factors identified as the causes of child marriage, such as poverty and the lack of access to education.

The plan covers short, medium and long-term programmes and actions, and involves not only the federal and state government agencies but also NGOs and international organisations.

Selangor increased the minimum age for marriage to 18 in 2018 while Melaka, Perak, Johor, Sabah, Penang and the Federal Territories are in the process of doing so.

However, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Perlis, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Sarawak still refuse to raise the legal marrying age to 18.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh said religious authorities have released interim guidelines which make it compulsory for applications for underage Muslim marriages to be heard at the Shariah High Court.

Parents making such applications are also required to submit reports from healthcare officials and the Social Welfare Department to confirm their children’s medical and mental health.

The children’s parents will also be interviewed by Shariah High Court judges to determine the underlying circumstances for their applications.

SIS said the plan, involving 61 agencies and 58 programmes or actions, must lead to compliance with international standards, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

SIS urged all identified ministries, departments and agencies to cooperate with the women’s ministry to ensure an end to child marriage in the country.

Full report at:

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/01/17/sis-praises-5-year-govt-plan-to-end-child-marriages/

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Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

January 17, 2020

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s business community on Thursday welcomed the UAE’s pledge to pump tens of billions of dollars into a wide range of key sector projects.

President Joko Widodo and his entourage secured an overall $22.9 billion deal during an official two-day visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this week covering the fields of energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture.

It was also revealed that the delegation brokered a UAE commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

At a bilateral meeting, the Indonesian leader and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan witnessed the signing of 11 business accords between the two countries. Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said the UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into the initiatives.

Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s chief minister for maritime affairs and investment, described the UAE’s pledges as possibly being “the biggest deals in Indonesia’s history, secured with the UAE within only six months,” referring to the crown prince’s visit to Indonesia last July.

While most lauded the deal, some Indonesian business leaders remained cautious over the long-term prospects for the projects.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee and OIC at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the schemes could trigger a wide-ranging domino effect through job creation and other business ventures.

“The government needs to have a strong lobbying team that can follow up these deals and push them into investment realizations. We have had such commitments from other Gulf countries, but there was no further lobbying and the pledges were hardly realized,” he told Arab News.

Zaini Alawi, a businessman who exports and imports between Indonesia and the Middle East, said: “It would set a good precedent to attract other Gulf countries to invest here if Indonesia shows it could aptly manage these investment deals.”

Director for Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, Achmad Rizal Purnama, told Arab News that the $6.8 billion commitment from the UAE was only the first phase of a long-term program.

Widodo and the crown prince also witnessed the signing of five government cooperation agreements in health, agriculture, Islamic affairs, and counterterrorism.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi said one of the main aspects of the cooperation agreement would be the promotion of religious moderation and raising awareness of the dangers of extremism.

Noting that the UAE had pledged to fund the construction of a replica of the Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Solo, the president’s hometown in Java, the minister pointed out that the grant was part of a commitment by the two countries to establish a mosque that welcomed all people and served a pivotal role in promoting the middle path of Islam.

Riza Widyarsa, a Middle East expert at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the cooperation deal could help more Indonesians to understand that not all countries in the Middle East observed conservative Islam. “They are also very active in countering religious extremism and radicalism,” he said.

In addition to the multi-billion-dollar projects, Purnama said Indonesia had also secured the UAE’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

And according to Pandjaitan, the UAE had pledged to be “the biggest contributor” to the fund.

The fund would be used to finance Indonesia’s ambitious infrastructure development projects and the construction of its proposed new capital in East Kalimantan, a relocation that has been estimated to cost $33 billion and of which Indonesia could only afford 19 percent.

He said all parties involved would meet in Tokyo soon to set up the structure of the fund and to finalize the plan, which the government expected to launch by mid-2020, a year after the crown prince proposed the idea to Widodo.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1614291/business-economy

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Pakistan

 

Qureshi says Afghan Taliban showing ‘willingness’ to reduce violence

January 17, 2020

NEW YORK: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday said the Taliban have shown “a willingness” to reduce violence in war-torn Afghanistan after more than 18 years of fighting with the US, sparking speculation that a potential breakthrough in talks with the Americans may be near.

Negotiations between the Taliban and the US have repeatedly stalled, with Washington calling on the insurgent group to reduce violence before they can resume.

“Today, positive progress has been made, the Taliban have shown their willingness to reduce the violence, which was a demand… it’s a step towards the peace agreement,” said FM in a video statement.

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However, he gave no further details.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the official Taliban spokesman, told AFP the Taliban were looking into the comments.

The Taliban and the US were on the brink of announcing a withdrawal deal in September last year when President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process “dead”, citing Taliban violence.

Talks were later restarted between the two sides in December in Qatar but were paused following an attack near the Bagram military base in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has helped facilitate the talks between the militants and Washington in Qatar over the past year, seeking an agreement that would pave the way for a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in return for various security promises from the insurgents.

Any agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — an American withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the insurgents not to offer sanctuary to jihadists.

The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason cited for the US invasion nearly 18 years ago.

The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime, raising fears that fighting will continue regardless of any deal ironed out with the Americans.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/16/qureshi-says-afghan-taliban-showing-willingness-to-reduce-violence/

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Zulfi gets clean chit, NAB to file fresh references against Nawaz, Zardari, Gilani

January 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Executive Board Meeting (EBM) of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday authorised filing fresh corruption references against former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Yousaf Raza Gilani and former president Asif Ali Zardari for allegedly causing losses worth billions of rupees to the national exchequer, while closing the inquiry against prime minister’s close friend and special assistant on overseas Pakistanis, Zulfi Bukhari due to lack of evidence.

The meeting, chaired by NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, authorised filing three corruption references against Gilani, Sharif, Zardari, Khawaja Anwer Majeed and Khawaja Abdul Ghani Majeed in the fake bank accounts case.

The suspects have been accused of receiving gifts and vehicles from the government in violation of rules and regulations which inflicted losses to the national exchequer, said a press release issued by the accountability watchdog on Thursday.

The meeting also approved filing a corruption reference against former ambassador Kamran Shafi and former high commissioner in United Kingdom Wajid Shams-ul-Hassan for causing losses of $27,000 and GBP 28,000 to the national exchequer, respectively.

Besides, the meeting accorded approval for filing a corruption reference against Abdullah Alvi, the honorary secretary of the State Bank of Pakistan Staff Cooperative Housing Society, and others for cheating people and depriving them of Rs7.8 million.

The meeting also authorised conducting four investigations against various personalities including officials of Nishat Chaunian Limited, Nepra and Central Power Purchasing Agency, officers of the Sindh Health Department, programme manager of Hepatitis Prevention and Control Programme, Government of Sindh and others, Balochistan Health Minister Rehmat Baloch and former MNA from district Jacobabad Ejaz Hussain Jakhrani.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/16/zulfi-gets-clean-chit-nab-to-file-fresh-references-against-nawaz-zardari-gilani/

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A Saudi-Iran military conflict would be 'disastrous' for Pakistan, says PM Imran

January 16, 2020

Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that a military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be "disastrous" for Pakistan and it is for this reason that his government is making efforts to defuse regional tensions.

In a wide-ranging interview with German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), published on Thursday, the premier also shed light on the balancing act that Islamabad often finds itself in while maintaining ties with its neighbours.

"It's true that we live in a difficult neighbourhood and we have to balance our actions. For instance, Saudi Arabia is one of Pakistan's greatest friends and has always been there for us. Then we have Iran, with which we have always maintained a good relationship," he said in response to a question by DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl.

"Therefore, a military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be disastrous for Pakistan. We are trying our best to make sure that ties between these two countries do not deteriorate. It is a region that cannot afford another conflict."

Prime Minister Imran said Pakistan is also "doing its best" to bring peace to Afghanistan. "It is a country that has suffered so much in the past 40 years. We pray that the Taliban, the Americans and the Afghan government achieve peace," he added.

His comments come a week after the United States and Iran came to the brink of war after Iran launched missile attacks on US-led forces in Iraq, in retaliation for the US drone strike on Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani whose killing raised fears of a wider war in the Middle East.

The situation de-escalated after US President Donald Trump, while delivering a televised address, extended an olive branch to the "people and leaders" of Iran to work together for "shared priorities". In the same breath, he announced more "punishing" economic sanctions against Tehran.

Taking note of the dangerously high tensions, Prime Minister Imran sent Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to Tehran and Riyadh to encourage exercising of "maximum restraint" in the dispute. Qureshi is currently in Washington as part of his efforts to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States.

'Lukewarm response' to Kashmir

Discussing the tensions between India and Pakistan that worsened after New Delhi scrapped the special status of Indian-occupied Kashmir in August last year, Prime Minister Imran reiterated that India has been taken over by the extremist "Hindutva" ideology.

"It is a tragedy for India — and for its neighbours — that the country has been taken over by the RSS, an organisation which also assassinated the great Mahatma Gandhi. A nuclear-armed country is being run by extremists, and Kashmir has been under siege for over five months," he told DW.

The premier said it was "sadly" true that the international community has not paid enough attention to the Kashmir conflict. "Consider the sort of media attention the Hong Kong protests are getting. The tragedy of Kashmir is much greater," he stressed.

Asked why was this was so, the prime minister said: "Unfortunately, commercial interests are more important for Western countries. India is a big market and that is the reason behind the lukewarm response to what is happening to some eight million people in Kashmir, as well as to minorities in India. [...] Also, strategically, India is supposed to be a counterbalance to China, and therefore you see a completely different approach to the two conflicts."

Responding to the allegation that the human rights situation in Azad Jammu and Kashmir is not good, Prime Minister Khan said: "Well, it's very easy to find out. We invite anyone from anywhere in the world to visit the Pakistan side of Kashmir and then go to the Indian side. Let them decide."

He once again justified not speaking out publicly against China's treatment of its Muslim Uighur population, saying the scale of what is happening in India "is not comparable to what is supposedly happening to the Uighurs in China".

"Second, China has been our great friend. It has helped us in our most difficult times because of the economic crisis my government inherited. Therefore, we do talk about things with China privately, not publicly, as these are sensitive issues."

Pakistan influence on Taliban

Talking about the current status of the Afghan peace talks, Prime Minister Imran said in his view they were "heading towards a ceasefire".

"Peace in Afghanistan would open up trading opportunities in Central Asia. It [Afghanistan] would also become an economic corridor for us. If there is peace in Afghanistan, our people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, will also benefit," the premier said.

Asked how much influence Pakistan still wields over the Afghan Taliban, he replied: "Pakistan has played its part in peace talks. There was a hostage situation and with Pakistan's efforts, two out of three Western hostages were released. So, we are doing our best with whatever influence we have."

On Harry and Meghan

The prime minister was also asked for his thoughts on Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan's decision to step back from senior roles in the royal family.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1528691/a-saudi-iran-military-conflict-would-be-disastrous-for-pakistan-says-pm-imran

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Musharraf challenges special court’s decision in SC

JANUARY 16, 2020

The special court in Islamabad on December 17 last handed down the death penalty.

Pakistan’s self-exiled former dictator Pervez Musharraf on Thursday challenged in the Supreme Court a special tribunal’s verdict that found him guilty of high treason and handed him a death sentence, according to a media report.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had filed the treason case against the former army chief in 2013 over the imposition of an extra-constitutional emergency in November 2007, which led to the confinement of a number of superior court judges in their houses and sacking of over 100 judges.

The special court in Islamabad on December 17 last handed down the death penalty to the 74-year-old retired general, now based in Dubai, after six years of hearing the high-profile treason case against him.

However, on Monday, Musharraf’s trial in the high treason case was declared as “unconstitutional”, leading to the annulment of the death sentence against the ex-Army chief.

In a 90-page appeal, the former military called for the order of the special court to be set aside, the Dawn newspaper reported.

“Any other remedy that the honourable court deems fit and proper may also be granted,” the appeal said.

News Analysis: What does Musharraf’s death sentence mean for Pakistan

The petition stated that the former president’s absence from the special court was not intentional and he was unable to appear before the court as he was suffering ill health, the Express Tribune reported.

It further stated that the special court had accepted Musharraf’s ailment but convicted the former president in absentia.

Musharraf, who has been living in Dubai since March 2016, left Pakistan for medical treatment and has not returned since, citing security and health reasons.

Full report at:

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/musharraf-challenges-special-courts-decision-in-sc/article30576193.ece

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‘Pakistani politics on foreign soil is a dirty game’

January 17, 2020

With several political parties mainlining active wings in other countries and leaderships of some other parties frequently convening critical meetings abroad, the speaker at a dialogue urged parties to shun such practices while warning about the dangers of involving foreign elements in domestic politics.

The dialogue between political, judicial and military leadership, politics on foreign soil and judicial reforms had been organised by the Allama Iqbal Council in the federal capital on Wednesday and saw prominent members of different political parties, civil, judicial and military institutions participate.

To shun political activities in foreign countries, speakers discussed the dangers of the involvement of foreign elements in Pakistani politics. They highlighted that major blunders had been made by dictatorships and previous governments in this regard.

Pakistani politics on foreign soil is a dirty game which should be stopped, said former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar.

Pakistan’s security challenges and political instability

His sentiments were echoed by another former foreign secretary and ambassador to the US Aizaz Choudhary who conceded that substantial Pakistani diaspora exists in several countries, particularly in the west and in the Middle East, but suggested that the Pakistani ex-pats there should participate in local politics of those countries instead of getting involved in Pakistani politics.

On the subject of balance between political parties, the military and the judiciary Senior Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former federal information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said that if our institutions do not respect the Constitution, then a social movement will be triggered which will sweep away “everything”.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Dr Nisar Cheema suggested that major blunders were made under dictatorships in the country. However, he agreed with the notion that the leadership of political parties must make greater and sincere efforts to improve the level of integrity and competence of the political lot.

“Sacrifices of politicians should be acknowledged,” he added.

Aik tou chori, upar se hawa khori

On the other hand, General (retired) Tahir Mahmood Qazi suggested that if the performance of political parties was up to the mark, then no one would dare to interfere in the domestic politics of the country.

“If the government loses credibility the state itself is weakened,” warned former Lahore High Court (LHC) judge and current chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Justice (retired) Ali Nawaz Chohan.

Allama Iqbal Council Chairman Zulfiqar Cheema added that character, competence and courage are required to establish civilian supremacy but our present political leadership lacks these traits.

Full report at:

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2138862/1-pakistani-politics-foreign-soil-dirty-game/

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Fazl hints at launching fresh anti-govt drive

By ABDUL RASHEED AZAD

January 17, 2020

Denouncing any differences with establishment, Emir Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman Thursday hinted to start a fresh anti-government drive in upcoming weeks.

Addressing a press conference prior to a consultation meeting with the senior party leaders of Punjab chapter, Maulana said that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government has badly failed on all fronts. He said the government's economic policies have forced the people to commit suicides as prices of essential kitchen items have gone out of the reach of the common man.

He said now the relevant institutions are saying there is no expectation of improvement in economics situation for the next three years and the PTI government is responsible for the economic disaster. He said that entire parliament is based on fake mandate and therefore his party is committed to topple the government with the help of the masses.

Talking about the opposition parties' role in recent developments, Maulana said that seemingly opposition was a part of the government, adding that a divided opposition is in the favour of the government, therefore, under the prevailing situation JUI-F and other likeminded parties' role in ridding the masses of incompetent rulers has become more critical. He said that major opposition parties have disappointed the masses by voting in favour of the Army (Amendment) Act.

Responding to a question, he said that his party is not in any kind of dispute with the establishment, adding, “However, we are totally against interference in politics." He said that his party is committed to send the government packing with the power of people and for this purpose an anti-government drive will start soon.

He said that propaganda against religious seminaries must come to an end, and those who are trying to defame the religious seminaries by levelling different allegations will soon realize who have actually used seminaries and religious parties in achieving their nefarious designs. He said that his party and religious parties will not accept any kind of dictation on the issue of independence of seminaries system and these will keep operating independently.

“We are not ready to accept imposition of any agenda in the name of seminary reforms. In universities and colleges students are even assaulting teachers and other faculty members but no such incident has ever happened in religious seminaries. The government will be forced to go home," Maulana said.

He said that political movements are not immediate objective-oriented and it always takes time to achieve objectives, adding that Azadi March created awareness among the masses about their “vote snatchers" and no one will be allowed to steal the people's mandate.

Responding to a question, he said the JUI-F is the oldest political party of the country and if in future his party comes into power he is fully ready to lead the government. He also said that there is no difference among US President Trump, Indian PM Modi and Pakistani PM Imran Khan as they all lack competency and wisdom.

The JUI-F chief said that top leadership of the two major opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), has failed to respect their pledges with the masses of ridding the country of incompetent government.

Full report at:

https://www.brecorder.com/2020/01/17/562447/fazl-hints-at-launching-fresh-anti-govt-drive/

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PML-Q, BNP fall in line, MQM-P wants more from govt

January 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has managed to persuade the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) to stay part of the government,while hoping to convince the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) in the next couple of days.

Sources close to the negotiation process told Pakistan Today that the meetings with the PML-Q and BNP-M have paid off and that these parties had committed to continue supporting the ruling party in return for the acceptance of their demands.

About the tough statements made by PML-Q leaders against the ruling party, the sources said that the PTI delegation had taken up the issue with the PML-Q senior leadership.

“PML-Q has assured us that it would ask its leaders to refrain from making such statements in public,” sources said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan has also directed Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to improve his relations with the allied parties in the province amid increasing trust deficit.

Buzdar called on PM Imran Khan at his office in Islamabad and briefed him about his negotiations with the allied parties, especially the PML-Q.

GOVT TAKES BNP, GDA INTO CONFIDENCE:

The government’s dialogue committee, comprising Jahangir Tareen, Pervez Khattak, Farogh Naseem and Azam Swati, met a BNP-M delegation and assured the party that its demands would be met.

The dialogue committee assured maximum coordination by the PTI-led government to BNP-M, including the resolution of issues regarding the missing persons and miseries of Balochistan people.

Earlier in the day, a government team led by Jahangir Tareen held a meeting with a Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) delegation to discuss reservations and demands of its coalition partner in Sindh.

GDA leader Fehmida Mirza expressed grievances and complained that the federal government was not providing funds for the development in its constituencies, leaving the allies in a tough spot. The alliance was not being taken into confidence over decisions related to Sindh, the political base of GDA, she complained.

The government team assured that the GDA grievances would be addressed and that the party would be a part of future decisions.

“All allies are respectable to the government and their reservations will be addressed,” Jahangir Tareen said in the meeting. He also assured that the development funds to the coalition partners would be issued soon.

MQM-P NOT SO HAPPY:

Meanwhile, the MQM-P continued to ramp up pressure on the government, as the resignation letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan by its chief, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, was mysteriously leaked to the media and no one from the MQM-P wanted to talk about it.

Sources linked this development to the MQM-PTI rift and said issues between the federal government and MQM-P could not be resolved and the Karachi-based party was in no mood to mend fences with the ruling party, at least for now.

“In view of my decision not to continue as Member of the Federal Cabinet, I hereby tender my resignation as Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication w.e.f 12th January 2020. It is requested that my resignation may be accepted accordingly,” the resignation letter stated.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/17/pml-q-bnp-fall-in-line-mqm-p-wants-more-from-govt/

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Gen Iftikhar to head ISPR after Ghafoor’s removal

January 17, 2020

RAWALPINDI: Major General Asif Ghafoor was on Thursday removed from the position of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director-general (DG) and replaced by Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar.

Maj Gen Ghafoor’s services were transferred to the 40th Infantry Division (Okara), where he will serve as the general officer commanding (GOC).

According to sources, Gen Ghafoor will relinquish charge when his successor will take oath in February. Till then, Gen Ghafoor will remain on his post of the army spokesperson.

“Thanks to everyone I have remained associated with during the tenure,” Maj Gen Ghafoor wrote on Twitter from the @OfficialDGISPR handle as news of his transfer broke.

“My very special thanks to Media all across. Can’t thank enough fellow Pakistanis for their love and support [sic],” he said in his farewell message, while also wishing his successor the best.

Maj Gen Ghafoor had headed the military’s media wing since December 2016. The announcement of his departure comes after Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed called on Prime Minister Imran Khan.

WHO IS MAJ GEN BABAR?

Maj Gen Iftikhar was commissioned in 6 Lancers in March 1990. He is a graduate of the Command and Staff College Quetta, National Defence University (NDU) Islamabad and Royal Command and Staff College Jordan. The General Officer carries with him a rich command, staff and instructional experience.

He has served as Brigade Major in an Armoured Brigade, Brigadier Staff in an Infantry Division in North Waziristan and Chief of Staff in Corps Headquarters. He has commanded an Armoured Brigade and infantry Brigade in North Waziristan (Operation Zarb-e-Azb).

He also served on the faculty of Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) and NDU Islamabad. He is married with four sons. An avid reader and golfer, Maj Gen Iftikhar was presently commanding an Armoured Division before being appointed as the military spokesperson.

PROFILE OF GEN GHAFOOR:

Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor was appointed as the DG ISPR in December 2016. He had replaced Lt Gen Asim Bajwa.

According to the ISPR website, Maj Gen Ghafoor was commissioned on Septemeber 9, 1988, in 87 Medium Regiment. He is a graduate of Command & Staff College Quetta, Command & Staff College Bandung (Indonesia) and NDU Islamabad. He holds a master’s degree in strategic studies.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/16/gen-babar-iftikhar-replaces-gen-asif-ghafoor-as-ispr-chief/

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South Asia

 

'Into the arms' of the Taliban: Inspector general says US ties with corrupt Afghan warlords backfired

by Russ Read

January 15, 2020

The United States unintentionally aided the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan because of its alliances with corrupt warlords, the government's top Afghanistan watchdog said on Wednesday.

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the U.S. helped foster corruption that undermined its strategic goals in Afghanistan. His testimony followed the December publication of the Washington Post's Afghanistan Papers, a trove of documents about the war.

The U.S. inadvertently helped the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan "by forming alliances of convenience with warlords who had been pushed out of power by the Taliban," Sopko said in his prepared opening statement.

"The coalition paid warlords to provide security and, in many cases, to run provincial and district administrations, on the assumption that the United States would eventually hold those warlords to account when they committed acts of corruption or brutality," he said. "That accounting rarely took place — and the abuses committed by coalition aligned warlords drove many Afghans into the arms of the resurgent Taliban."

When Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman of California asked if the U.S. earned a D- or an F in building up Afghanistan, Sopko answered: "E. You showed up for class. That's it."

In future operations, Sopko said, the U.S. needs to address corruption from the start, ensuring it does not inject too much money too soon into a cash-strapped country such as Afghanistan. "It would also mean limiting U.S. alliances with malign power brokers, holding highly corrupt actors to account, and incorporating anti-corruption objectives into security and stability goals."

Pentagon officials defended the government's track record following the release of the Afghanistan Papers.

"So I think between all the folks looking at this conflict over the years, some type of insinuation that there's been this large-scale conspiracy is just, to me, ridiculous," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during a press briefing in late December.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/into-the-arms-of-the-taliban-inspector-general-says-us-ties-with-corrupt-afghan-warlords-backfired

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Doha hands over keys of Islamic Youth Capital to Dhaka

January 16 2020

The Ministry of Culture and Sports, under the auspices of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on Thursday celebrated the conclusion of events held as part of the 2019 Doha - the Capital of Islamic Youth initiative and the handover of the symbolic key to Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, for the 2020 edition.

The ceremony was held at Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC) on the sidelines of the 30th Doha International Book Fair.

HE the Minister of Culture and Sports Salah bin Ghanem al-Ali attended the event along with HE the President of Planning and Statistics Authority Dr Saleh bin Mohamed al-Nabit, Bangladesh's Minister of Youth and Sports Zahid Ahsan Russell, Islamic Co-operation Youth Forum president Taha Ayhan and a number of officials on youth from Jordan, Palestine and Kuwait.

A number of ambassadors also attended the ceremony.

The Ministry of Culture and Sports stressed, in a speech read out by Mohamed al-Fuhaida, that Doha will remain a capital for all youth-related initiatives, expressing its appreciation of the success of all the 2019 events. The ministry noted that the Doha events concluded following strong participation from Muslim youth from all over the world throughout the year.

The ministry's statement stressed that the event enhanced the status of Qatari youth due to the trust of the wise leadership and the role they are playing in realising Qatar National Vision 2030.

Ayhan thanked Qatar for hosting the event, praising the role played by the country in helping Muslim youth improve their skills. He also noted that they look forward to further co-operation with Qatar.

Afterwards, Ayhan announced Dhaka as the Capital of Islamic Youth for 2020.

The Bangladeshi minister expressed pleasure at attending the ceremony, while thanking Qatar and the Islamic youth forum for organising the event.

He noted the strong ties between Bangladesh and Qatar, which hosts a large number of his country's workers, adding that there is co-operation with Qatar in a number of areas such as health, sports and culture, which has been strengthened in recent years. He also congratulated Qatar on the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will take place in an Islamic country for the first time.

Russell said the Islamic youth forum is an important platform for co-operation between Islamic countries and that Bangladesh has a good relationship with all countries of the Islamic world. He added that a busy programme will be presented during the activities of Dhaka in co-operation with the Islamic youth forum.

During the event, HE al-Ali presented awards as part of the Doha - the Capital of Islamic Youth initiative, including the Doha Prize for Youth Innovation in its three tracks, namely the winners in the short film, visual arts and photography categories.

In recognition of its efforts in supporting and empowering Muslim youth, Qatar received the key of Doha - the Capital of Islamic Youth in March 2019 during the closing ceremony of Al Quds - the Capital of Islamic Youth 2018 that was held in Ankara.

Full report at:

https://www.gulf-times.com/story/653518/Doha-hands-over-keys-of-Islamic-Youth-Capital-to-D

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Airstrikes kill Taliban militants, destroy weapon cache: MOD

16 Jan 2020

Airstrikes on Taliban hideouts in Nimroz and Farah provinces of Afghanistan killed 5 Taliban militants, MOD said in a statement.

An airstrike conducted by Afghan airforce on a Taliban hideout in Khasro district of Nimroz province on Wednesday night killed at least 3 Taliban militants, a MOD statement said.

The statement further added that in another separate airstrike conducted in Poshtro district of Farah province, 2 Taliban militants were killed and a weapon cache has been destroyed.

Afghan commandos have also conducted a military operation in Qala-e-Kah district of Farah, as a result of which a Taliban militant has been detained, MOD said in a statement.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/airstrikes-kill-taliban-militants-destroy-weapon-cache-mod-8689643/

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SIGAR: US officials have ‘routinely’ lied over Afghan war

16 Jan 2020

John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) told US Congress on Wednesday that US officials have ‘routinely lied’ to the public with exaggerating reports on the Afghan war. Sopko was summoned by the US Congress to talk about the ‘Afghanpapers’ recently published by America’s Washington Post.

“There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue... mendacity and hubris,” Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”

As an example, he said that US officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they “knew the data was bad.”

Sopko cited a 2014 agency newsletter, where the then-USAID administrator stated: “Today, 3 million girls and 5 million boys are enrolled in school—compared to just 900,000 when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan,” he said.

The US sent personnel into Afghanistan who did not know the difference between al-Qaeda and Taliban and who lacked any substantive knowledge of Afghan society, Sopko said.

He also said that the abuses committed by coalition-aligned warlords drove many Afghans into the arms of the resurgent Taliban.

“For all the lives and treasure the US and coalition partners have expended in Afghanistan, and for Afghans themselves who have suffered the most from decades of violence, the very least we can do is to learn from our successes and failures,” he said.

“Oversight is mission-critical to any successful reconstruction and development program in Afghanistan,” he added.

He said that in the future, “we need to recognize vital importance of addressing corruption from outset. This means taking into account the amount of assistance the host country can absorb and ensuring that agencies can more effectively monitor assistance.”

“While honesty and transparency are always important, when government agencies overstate the positive and overlook flaws in their methodologies or accountability mechanisms, it has real public policy implications,” he said.

On peace, Spoko said: “We know that a stronger Afghan economy is necessary to last peace and stability, and, without it, US reconstruction efforts are largely unsustainable.”

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/sigar-us-officials-have-routinely-lied-over-afghan-war-879768763/

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Roadside bomb kills five government employees in southern Zabul province

16 Jan 2020

A roadside bomb targeted the Afghan government employees in the southern Zabul province on Thursday, which caused the death of a driver and four passengers, the provincial officials said.

The provincial governor’s spokesman Gulsalam Siyal said the blast occurred this afternoon around 12:00 pm local time when the Da Afghanistan Brishna Sherkat (DABS) employees’ vehicle was hit by a roadside mine in Zeyarat area of Shahr-e-Safa district.

As of now, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Mohammadullah Amiri, the provincial police spokesperson, accused the Taliban of placing a bomb on the road in the Shahr-e-Safa district, which destroyed the vehicle, and killed the passengers.

However, the Taliban did take responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed two American service members and wounded two others in southern Afghanistan last week.

Over the last couple of years, the Taliban expanded their domain and now control roughly half of Afghanistan. They continue to attack Afghan and US forces even though peace talks and a promising agreement on a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan is going on.

Similar to the previous years, scores of innocent Afghan civilians have been killed in the crossfire and by roadside bombs planted by insurgent groups across Afghanistan.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/roadside-bomb-kills-five-government-employees-in-southern-zabul-province-879875475/

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Pakistan opposes against India-Afghan trade via Wagah port

16 Jan 2020

Losing its dominant position as Afghanistan’s largest and the most important trade partner over the decades, some traders in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa state of Pakistan on Wednesday opposed the proposal to allow Afghan traders to import goods from India via the Wagah-Attari border.

According to some Pakistani businessmen, the approval of any such trade agreement is contrary to the Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement. It does not only create and an uncompetitive environment for the Pakistani made products in the Afghan markets but also negatively affects local industries.

Shahid Hussain, Acting President of Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), said, “the proposal is not feasible because the mutual ATTA was a bilateral, not a trilateral as per the WTO rules.” Doing so will further escalate trade relations between the two nations he added. 

Mr. Hussain and other Pakistani trade expert’s great concern is that that if Indian products are allowed to enter Afghanistan via Wagah border, then local industries will be damaged despite the fact the Pakistan products can compete in the market.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/pakistan-opposes-against-india-afghan-trade-via-wagah-border-87689764/

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Africa

 

West African Leaders, France Vow New Fight on Terrorism

15 JANUARY 2020

By Daniel Gillet

A surge of terrorist violence in Africa’s Sahel region is forcing West African nations to reconsider their strategy and unify military forces. Leaders invited by French President Emmanuel Macron to a G5 summit in the southern French city of Pau on Monday agreed to pursue their engagements with France - and put aside their differences with the former colonial power – to fight against jihadism.

Presidents of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad joined Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron at a ceremony in Pau commemorating French soldiers killed recently in Mali.

Macron’s purpose for inviting members of G5 Sahel was to clarify their position on France’s military presence in the Sahel region at a time when protests are growing in Mali and Burkina-Faso against French military operation Barkhane.

Protesters blame Paris for failing to restore stability.

Amid growing anti-French sentiment in the region, Macron was looking to boost the legitimacy of France’s presence. He received it from his West African counterparts – who at this meeting – appeared to be on his side.

The French leader, at a news conference, said the heads of state of the G5 Sahel wish to pursue their engagements with France and its allies in the region.

France and G5 Sahel states agreed to change of the method combining their military forces under one command structure, to concentrate their efforts in the three borders zone of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, and called for more international support.

Mr. Macron announced France will deploy 220 more troops and will work to convince US forces to stay.

Macron assured his West African counterparts that if the Americans withdraw, that would be bad news.  He said he hopes he can convince President Donald Trump that the fight against terrorism in which he is engaged is also playing in the region.

U.N. officials say the number of casualties has increased five times since 2016 with more than 4,000 victims in 2019. In Niger recently, terrorist attacks killed 89 people on January 9 in Chinegodar and 71 on December 10 in Inates.

France, a former colonial power in the Sahel, deployed 4,500 soldiers in the region. Thirteen French soldiers died on November 25th in a helicopter crash in Mali.

France has suffered 41 casualties since its current engagement in the Sahel began in 2013.

https://allafrica.com/stories/202001150058.html

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Muslim personalities commended for developmental efforts

By Shakirah Adunola

17 January 2020 

The Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum as emerged the Nigerian Muslim Personality of the Year 2019, going by the assessment of an Islamic newspaper, Muslim News.

Zulum, a Professor of Soil and Water Engineering replaced the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar Saad III who won the most coveted award in 2018.

The Publisher, Muslim News, Mallam Rasheed Abubakar, said Zulum’s emergence as the Nigerian Muslim Personality of the Year is not surprising going by his unique and excellence in governance exhibited since he was sworn in barely a year ago as the governor of Borno State.

According to him, the governor has done pretty well in the area of security, which he sees as his number one priority and of course in the area of education, health, transportation regulations, economic and humanitarian support for citizens of different local governments within the state.

“As a former Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement under former Governor Ahmed Shettima, Zulum has continued his rebuilding exercise of hundreds of communities destroyed by Boko Haram and likewise, finding a safe haven for millions of citizens displaced by the attacks which has since continued albeit drastically curtailed by this current administration”.

Abubakar said his medium identified Zulum’s commitment in nipping the debilitating activities of the Boko Haram insurgent group in the bud and his drive towards socio-economic development with his laudable actions and policies as factors that made him deserving of the award.

“His developmental policies are well felt across the strata of the state. From civil servants to artisans to market women and even the retirees, Zulum has impacted lives within this short period of his stay in office. He came out boldly declaring that his own political philosophy does not agree with the fact that payments of salaries and gratuity are achievements to boast of”, he said.

Full report at:

https://guardian.ng/opinion/muslim-personalities-commended-for-developmental-efforts/

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Sudan appoints new intelligence chief in wake of failed revolt

17 January 2020

Sudan’s transitional authorities on Thursday appointed a new intelligence chief days after putting down an armed revolt by former agents linked to toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir, the sovereign council said.

The army said two soldiers were killed and four wounded in fighting late on Tuesday in Khartoum with former members of the country’s once-feared security service before government forces quelled the uprising.

It was the biggest confrontation so far between the old guard and supporters of the transitional authorities, which helped topple Bashir in April after 30 years in power.

The Transitional Sovereign Council, which runs the country, accepted the resignation of General Abu Bakr Dumblab, the head of the General Intelligence Service, formerly known as National Intelligence and Security Service, a council statement said.

The council appointed General Jamal Abdul Majeed as a new head of the service. He had headed military intelligence.

Dumblab resigned “to open the door for a new leadership to take over the agency at this sensitive and delicate stage,” the intelligence service said in statement. Dumblab had become head of the service after the removal of Bashir.

Former agents of the intelligence service, who had been protesting against their severance packages, also shut two small oilfields on Tuesday.

The military took control of the two fields, which have an output of around 5,000 barrels a day, and production resumed on Wednesday.

The revolt also forced the authorities to close Sudan’s airspace but it was reopened on Tuesday.

In a speech early on Wednesday, the sovereign council head, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, vowed to stand firm against any coup attempt and added that the army was in control of all buildings used by the intelligence service.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/17/Sudan-appoints-new-intelligence-chief-in-wake-of-failed-revolt.html

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Turkey ‘not pessimistic’ about ceasefire in Libya but wary of Haftar

16 January 2020

Turkey says it is not pessimistic about the prospect of a ceasefire in Libya, even after the collapse of peace talks in Moscow, but accuses renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar of seeking continued conflict.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made the remarks in the capital, Ankara, on Wednesday, two days after Haftar left peace talks mediated by Ankara and Moscow without signing a truce agreement that was meant to put an end to the months-long fighting around Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

“We are not pessimistic, but the truth is Haftar does not want peace. Haftar does not want a political process... and seeks a military solution,” Turkey’s top diplomat said.

Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two rival camps: the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, seated in the capital, and another group based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Haftar is the self-proclaimed commander of an array of militia groups apparently supporting the eastern camp.

His militia launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in April last year, interrupting peace negotiations underway at the time. Despite intense and deadly clashes between the two sides, Haftar has so far failed to achieve his objective and his offensive has stalled outside Tripoli.

In a declared attempt to restore peace in Libya, Turkey and Russia mediated peace talks between Sarraj and Haftar, who spent about eight hours of indirect talks in Moscow on Monday. But the talks ended without result when Haftar walked away. Sarraj had already signed a draft agreement on a truce.

“I saw it as a disappointment for our Russian friends as well. They did everything in their power and continue to do so,” Cavusoglu further said on Wednesday, adding that efforts were still going on to have a ceasefire deal before the Berlin summit later this week.

Germany will host an international conference to achieve a truce between the Libyan government and Haftar’s militia on the weekend.

Turkey supports the Libyan government and has sent troops to the North African country to help Sarraj’s government defend itself against Haftar’s offensive.

Separately on Wednesday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar expressed hope that both the Libyan leader and Haftar would show up in the German capital.

“We are in favor of ceasefire and peace. We do not want the continuation of clashes. Efforts should be focused on a ceasefire so that Libyan parties can engage in talks for a political solution,” he told reporters.

Without mentioning names, Akar blamed third parties for prodding Haftar to leave Moscow without reaching a peace accord with Serraj.

“Some powers dislike the Turkish-Russian dominance in pushing for peace. They have given some advice to Haftar. As seen, he did not fully burn the bridges but delayed the ceasefire,” he said.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/16/616314/Turkey-Libya-ceasefire-Haftar

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Nigerian Islamist Militants Free Three Aid Workers, Other Civilian Hostages: U.N.

Jan. 16, 2020

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Islamist militants released three aid workers and other civilians in northeast Nigeria who had been held hostage since late December, a United Nations official said on Thursday.

The people were kidnapped on Dec. 22 by militants posing as soldiers who stopped a convoy of commercial vehicles traveling towards the city of Maiduguri, state capital of the northeastern state of Borno.

Islamist militants have waged an insurgency in northeast Nigeria that has killed 36,000 people since 2009 and left 7.1 million people needing humanitarian assistance. Boko Haram, a group seeking a separate state in northeast Nigeria adhering to a strict interpretation of Islamic laws, began the insurgency.

"I am deeply relieved that some civilians, including three aid workers, who were abducted by non-state armed groups along the Monguno – Maiduguri road on 22 December 2019 have been released yesterday and are now safe," said Edward Kallon, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, in a statement.

Kallon said he was concerned about the "increasingly insecure environment that humanitarians are working in". He said a total of 12 aid workers lost their lives in 2019, more than twice the total in 2018, making it one of the most dangerous years for humanitarian actors in Nigeria.

The U.N. did not state whether the militants behind the abduction were associated with Boko Haram or a faction that broke away in 2016 and pledged allegiance to Islamic State. The group -- Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) -- has in the last two years been the dominant insurgent group in Nigeria.

Full report at:

https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/01/16/world/middleeast/16reuters-nigeria-security.html

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Somalia: Al-Shabaab Attacks Killed 4,000 in Past Decade, Says Data-Gathering Group

16 JANUARY 2020

Somali militant group al-Shabab recently said it does not intentionally target Muslims – but a new report indicates that whatever its intentions, the group has a lot of Muslim blood on its hands.

More than 4,000 civilians have been killed in al-Shabab attacks since 2010, according to records compiled by the independent group Armed Conflict, Location and Event Data Project, or ACLED. The majority of the deaths were in Somalia – where the population is almost entirely Muslim – with smaller numbers stemming from attacks in Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. More than 3,000 of the deaths have occurred since 2015.

ACLED says the figure encompasses deaths from shooting attacks, abductions, suicide bombings, and other incidents in which civilians were “determined to be the direct, primary target.” It excludes deaths from battles with the military or other armed groups, and bombing attacks primarily targeting security forces, ACLED says.

ACLED also says the death toll is “the most conservative fatality estimate.”

The true number may be even higher, according to records from Somali doctors. Medina, the biggest hospital in Mogadishu, has recorded more than 54,000 injuries from gun- and bomb-based attacks since 2007, of which 75 percent are civilians.

Hospital director Dr. Mohamed Yusuf estimates there were 20- to 25 fatalities for every 100 injured people brought to the hospital. Based on that estimate, fatalities from attacks involving al-Shabab may be more than 10,000, most of them civilians.

Al-Shabab ‘regret’

Following a deadly truck bombing at the Ex-Control intersection on Dec. 28, which killed more than 80 people including dozens of students, al-Shabab maintained that their intended target was a Turkish convoy at the junction and not the “Muslim Somalis.”

Turkish and Somali officials confirmed that two Turkish road construction workers were killed, both of them civilians. Al-Shabab said they “regret” the loss of lives.

"The attack caused the loss of lives and materials of Muslims who were caught in the attack,” said group spokesman Ali Mohamud Rageh, better known as Ali Dhere. “We are very sorry for the loss of our Muslim Somalis and we send our condolences to all those Muslims who died, wounded and those who lost materials. It happened on God’s willing and no one could have stopped, and that the enemy held those vehicles carrying Muslims at the junction."

Dhere said in his statement that the group is aware that shedding the blood of Muslims is “forbidden.” The spokesman, however, tried to justify it, saying, “Jihad comes before saving a life.”

Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, the chairman of the Mogadishu-based Ulema Council of religious scholars, dismisses al-Shabab’s statement. “Jihad is not their job,” he said. “They are involved in a job that is not theirs; they are doing an unlawful job,” Salad told VOA Somali’s Investigative Dossier program.

"They are like a doctor who does not have a permit to perform operations; a doctor with a fake license that needs to be closed down and arrested.”

Direct attacks

Al-Shabab has used gunmen and explosives on numerous occasions to attack areas that are not military targets, and are known to be populated by civilians.

In the deadliest examples, al-Shabab launched two complex attacks on Lido beach restaurants and hotels in February and August 2016, killing more than 30 people. In November of that year, the group detonated a truck bomb at a Mogadishu farmers’ market, killing 40 people.

The group directed car bombings at a market in Wadajir district in February 2017 and again in November 2018, killing a total of 52 people. In addition, in June 2017, al-Shabab launched a complex attack on a Pizza House restaurant, killing more than 20.

Security experts and al-Shabab defectors confirmed that security forces and government officials were not present at any of these locations.

Experts and defectors say the group also has a policy of detonating Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) at the closest possible site to the intended target, regardless of the presence of civilians.

Al-Shabab defectors and security forces say triggering a bomb can be done in two ways. In one instance, the bomber sets off the device after realizing he cannot reach his intended target and faces possible arrest. In the other scenario, someone dials a number into a phone built into a bomb, causing the device to explode. The device can be remotely detonated from hundreds of kilometers away.

Explosives that are set off as a result of this strategy include the two deadliest truck bombings in the capital. An October 2011 bomb, which was intended for the nearby Central Investigations Department, hit hundreds of students waiting to take exams for scholarships to Turkey, killing 100 people. Almost all of them were students.

An Oct. 14, 2017, truck bombing intended for the Turkish military training facility instead exploded at a busy intersection, killing at least 587 people.

Human rights groups say they have no doubt that al-Shabab – not African Union forces, not Islamic state militants or any other armed group -- is causing the most civilian casualties in Somalia. “

This is due to both indiscriminate attacks and the use of weapons and weaponry that do not discriminate and differentiate between civilians and military targets, but also because of targeted attacks on civilians including individuals that took part in the 2016 electoral process,” says Laetitia Bader, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “

Full report at:

https://allafrica.com/stories/202001160119.html

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Germany pushes Haftar to join Libya peace talks

16 January 2020

Germany’s foreign minister headed to Libya on Thursday to persuade Libyan General Khalifa Haftar to join an international conference on the conflict, as the UN urged support for the peace initiative.

Heiko Maas said the Berlin conference – scheduled for Sunday – was “the best chance in a long time” for peace talks in Libya, which has been in chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed former Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi.

Maas was due to meet Haftar in the eastern city of Benghazi – one of the general’s strongholds – days after meeting his rival Fayez al-Sarraj, who serves as head of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

Sarraj’s government has been under attack since April from forces loyal to Haftar, with clashes killing more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displacing tens of thousands more.

“I hope that the parties will use this chance to take Libya’s future back into Libyan hands,” Maas said in Berlin before boarding his flight.

“For that, we need readiness for a real ceasefire and the participation of both warring parties in the dialogue format suggested by the United Nations.”

The leaders of the warring groups were in Moscow early this week at talks aimed at finalizing a ceasefire orchestrated by Russia and Turkey.

But Haftar walked away without signing the permanent truce, sparking fears about the shaky ceasefire.

In his report to the UN Security Council late on Wednesday, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged all warring parties to stop fighting and “engage constructively towards that end, including within the Berlin process”.

He also warned against “external interference”, which he said would “deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a clear international commitment to a peaceful resolution of the underlying crisis”.

The Berlin conference will aim to agree six points including a permanent ceasefire, implementation of the arms embargo and a return to the political process for peace, he added.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/01/16/Germany-pushes-Haftar-to-join-Libya-peace-talks-.html

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Jordan’s king raises Palestine’s plight in talks with Macron

January 17, 2020

PARIS: France is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, French President Emmanuel Macron told Jordan’s King Abdullah during talks between the two leaders at the Elysee Palace.

Macron’s comments came a week before he is due to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Discussions between the French leader and King Abdullah centered on the Israeli-Palestinian question, the plight of Syrian refugees in Jordan and the country’s struggling economy.

Both leaders also highlighted the need for de-escalation in the conflict between Iran and the US, diplomatic sources told Arab News.

King Abdullah said that a political solution to the Syrian conflict is needed urgently.

Without an agreement on safe, voluntary repatriation, Jordan cannot put pressure on Syrian refugees to return to their country, he told Macron.

Since 2018 the number of Syrian refugees returning home had dwindled, he said, with 90 percent now living outside camps in cities and regional areas.

The Jordanian leader has called for international efforts to ensure refugees’ voluntary and safe return to their homeland, and is appealing to France to lead a European push for this solution.

King Abdullah urged France — Jordan’s biggest investor outside the Arab League — to increase investment in the country, saying that although its political and security situation is stable, the struggling economy “could lead to a crisis.”

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1614271/middle-east

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Libya strongman Haftar in Athens for talks ahead of Berlin peace conference

January 16, 2020

ATHENS: Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar has flown to Athens for talks ahead of a peace conference in Berlin, a source with knowledge of the issue said Thursday.

“Haftar is coming to Athens,” the source told AFP as Greek media reported he would be meeting with the Greek prime minister and foreign minister on Friday.

Meanwhile, Egypt, Italy and Greece say Turkey PM Erdogan’s announcement that he is sending troops to Libya violates international resolutions.

The Berlin conference comes as world powers step up efforts for a lasting cease-fire, nine months since an assault on Tripoli by Haftar’s forces sparked fighting that has killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters, displacing thousands.

An interim truce which came into force Sunday has mostly held, despite accusations of violations from Haftar’s forces and the rival Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

GNA chief Sarraj told officials in Tripoli that “we are going to be present in Berlin” for the talks, according to a statement Thursday.

Haftar had walked away from cease-fire talks in Moscow on Monday, but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited his eastern Libya stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday to persuade him to join the conference.

Haftar “wants to contribute to the success of the Libyan conference in Berlin and is in principle ready to participate in it,” Maas tweeted, calling it “the best chance in a long time” for peace.

Haftar “has agreed to abide by the ongoing cease-fire,” he added.

But Sarraj, whose GNA did sign the Moscow deal, cast doubt over Haftar’s intentions.

Haftar “has chosen not to sign the agreement and asked for a delay,” he said, calling that “an attempt to undermine the Berlin conference before it starts.”

The oil-rich North African state has been in turmoil since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and multiple foreign powers have become embroiled.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1614216/middle-east

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North America

 

Cryptocurrency a growing challenge in combating terror, security experts tell Congress

January 15, 2020

A neo-Nazi organization received a donation of nearly 14.88 bitcoins or roughly $60,000 in the days following the 2017 white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Hamas — an Islamist Palestinian group that calls for the death of Jewish people everywhere — set up a website for visitors to make bitcoin donations.

Terrorists, both domestic and foreign, are increasingly using bitcoin for illicit transactions because it is nearly impossible to track, law enforcement officials and scholars told a congressional committee Wednesday.

The House Committee on Financial Services held the hearing as it mulls legislation to crack down on terrorism financing.

“As cryptocurrency becomes more prevalent and the technology becomes easier to adopt and use, we do believe we will see more use of that in the domestic terrorism realm,” said Jared Maples, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are favored by criminals because they can be transferred without a central bank or transfer service such as PayPal, which can freeze accounts or report suspicious activities to law enforcement.

The transactions are not linked to names, physical addresses or any other identifier. The anonymity has made it difficult for law enforcement to link transactions to users.

But Congress and the witnesses struggled to find answers on how to scrutinize such transactions more closely without sacrificing privacy rights.

“How do we do it in such a way that we are able to track this money but not be so involved in their lives they feel its government intrusion,” asked Rep. Juan Vargas, California Democrat.

Mr. Maples said the government needs to balance oversight and processes to ensure privacy concerns are met, but offered a few details.

Lawmakers also took aim at credit card companies and financial institutions saying they need to flag suspicious transactions.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, Virginia Democrat, called on such firms to share suspicious spending with law enforcement.

Stephen Paddock spent nearly $95,000 on firearms in the months leading up to his shooting and killing of 59 people at a Las Vegas country music concert in 2017. Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen spent roughly $26,000 on weapons and ammunition before he shot and killed 49 people in 2016.

George Selim, senior vice president for programs at the Anti-Defamation League, agreed the financial institutions need to share information with law enforcement.

“More can be done,” he said. “There can be more information sharing. There can be more transparency reporting as well as training for trust and safety teams at financial institutions that may see abnormalities in purchases of firearms or bulk purchases of ammunition.”

Mr. Maples called on Congress to bring terrorism charges against those who financially support such organizations. Currently, those who fund terror groups face can only be prosecuted as providing material support for terrorism, which carries a more lenient sentence.

“When financial systems are used to fund these terrorist activities, they are seen as independent of the acts,” he said. “When you’ve used illicit funding schemes and it ends up in a violent act … it should be treated as terrorism. Getting your support on that side would be huge for us.”

The Finance Committee is mulling multiple bills to block terrorism financing. Only one of those bills has passed the House and is currently awaiting debate in the Senate.

That bill, known as the Counter Act, would change federal banking laws to make financial institutions more accountable to share suspicious activity. It also calls on the Treasury Department to explore ways to detect illicit money transfers.

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jan/15/congress-urged-take-aim-terrorist-funding/

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Saudi’s Terrorist Massacre at Florida Naval Base Highlights the Weakness of U.S. Vetting

January 15, 2020

The Justice Department has concluded that the deadly mass-shooting attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola in early December, carried out by a Saudi Air Force trainee, was an act of terrorism. Though Lieutenant Mohamed Saeed al-Shamrani, who was killed during the attack, was determined to have acted alone, the United States is expelling 21 other Saudi military trainees after the FBI’s investigation uncovered jihadist rhetoric and child pornography on their social-media accounts.

Attorney General Bill Barr announced the terrorism finding and the expulsions at a Justice Department press conference on Monday afternoon. The attorney general’s remarks demonstrate that longstanding national-security challenges continue to vex U.S. law-enforcement officials. Most significant is the problem of vetting foreigners, including the thousands of foreigners enrolled in training programs run by our armed forces, for anti-American ideology.

Such an ideology is sharia supremacism, commonly distinguished from Islam, the religious creed adhered to by over 1.5 billion people globally, through the use of “radical Islam,” “political Islam,” and similar labels. The ideology’s goal is the imposition of a fundamentalist construction of Islamic law (sharia). Though it is derived from Islam, sharia supremacism is far from the only way of interpreting Islam. In the West, it is not a majority interpretation of Islam, though it has influential backers. The most extreme form of sharia supremacism is jihadism, which advocates the use of force when necessary to establish and further the imposition of sharia, as well as to “defend” Islam when it is deemed to be under attack (which, in the view of jihadists, is more or less always).

It is thus inevitable that a certain unknown percentage of Muslims are or will become sharia supremacists, and a certain unknown but smaller percentage of sharia supremacists are or will become jihadists.

Consequently, it has long been known that our capacity to protect America from jihadist attacks hinges on our ability to discourage the infiltration of the political ideology that fuels them, which would necessitate vetting for sharia supremacism and jihadism when foreign Muslims seek to enter the United States. Nevertheless, though the Constitution would not prevent such vetting (there being no constitutional right for an alien to enter the U.S.), our laws, guidelines, and political conditions have made it practically impossible to bar foreigners from entering the United States on ideological grounds. Instead, we draw the line at violence: If it can be shown that an alien has ties to a known terrorist group, or has engaged in terrorist activities, that alien may be denied entry.

The inadequacies of this approach are obvious, and the Pensacola attack brings them into sharp relief.

Despite the extensive catalogue of ideologically driven terrorist attacks committed by Muslims in the U.S. and against U.S. targets over the last 30 years, our government has generally taken the public position that violent jihad has nothing to do with Islam (except in court prosecutions, where prosecutors commonly prove intent and motive by showing the nexus). We have been cowed into the concession that it would be “Islamophobic” bigotry to vet Muslim aliens for sharia-supremacist ideology. Indeed, we have even taken the nonsensical position that sharia — the fundamentalist interpretation of which is authoritarian, discriminatory, and violent — is completely compatible with the Constitution.

Government officials do not wish to be perceived as oblivious to terrorist threats. Having straitjacketed themselves, officials delegate to third parties responsibility for some semblance of vetting. These include our “partner” governments, such as the Saudi regime, which was given responsibility for “vetting” the Saudi cadets in Florida.

Of course, Saudi Arabia is the cradle of sharia supremacism, and the regime enforces sharia-supremacist strictures on Saudi society. While there are signs of reform, the kingdom is not close to being a liberal democracy. For decades, our government has considered the regime a strong American ally even as Saudi society has reliably produced anti-American jihadists (not least, 15 of the 19 suicide-hijackers who carried out the 9/11 atrocities). To rely on the Saudi government for assurance that its aliens seeking entry do not have sharia-supremacist sympathies is like asking the Muslim Brotherhood for guidance on what counterterrorism instruction our law-enforcement officers should receive (which, naturally, Washington has also done).

In his December 6 attack, Shamrani killed three members of our Navy: Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23; Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21. Eight others were wounded before Shamrani was finally taken down by a deputy sheriff. At Monday’s press conference, Barr said that investigators had concluded it was a terrorist act because it was motivated by “jihadist ideology.”

This conclusion is amply supported by Shamrani’s social-media accounts, which were replete with claims that American policies are anti-Islamic, favor the invasion of Muslim countries, and persecute Muslims. At least some observers said that Shamrani had become more sullen and reclusive after a visit back home to Saudi Arabia shortly before he returned to the base and carried out the attack, which would have been a bigger bloodbath had it not been for acts of heroism by American military officials on the scene.

There had been early reports that other Saudi cadets may have been complicit in the attack and recorded it pursuant to a plan. As is often the case in terrorist incidents, these first reports proved to be wrong. Barr explained that Shamrani acted alone. It turned out that some Saudis were on the scene at the time and, as commonly occurs these days, took out their cellphones to record some of the commotion when it started. These cadets, at the urging of their government, were completely cooperative with investigators, and no conspiracy was found.

But here is the kicker: The investigation turned up evidence that 17 other Saudi cadets had social-media accounts containing jihadist or otherwise anti-American content. Moreover, 15 Saudi cadets “had had some kind of contact with child-pornography.” (There is overlap in these two groups.) Tellingly, the AG asserted, “The relevant U.S. Attorneys’ Offices independently reviewed each of the 21 cases involving derogatory information and determined that none of them would, in the normal course, result in federal prosecution.” So why is our government expelling 21 Saudi cadets? Because the Saudi government decided to take action.

Barr elaborated that the regime decided this conduct was unbecoming of officers in the Saudi air force. Therefore, it “dis-enrolled” them from the U.S. training. With the enrollments retracted, there is no reason for these foreigners to be here, so they’ve been sent packing.

Let’s put the child-porn issue aside. The bottom line is that we have 17 Saudi cadets getting valuable military training at a U.S. naval base who had jihadist and other anti-American materials on their social-media accounts. Yet, because possession of such materials is not a crime per se, we apparently would not have expelled them from our country. At least ostensibly, they have been expelled because the Saudi government objected to their continued presence.

Of course, there are always political considerations at the intersection of law enforcement and international relations. The Trump administration considers Saudi Arabia to be an important counterterrorism ally. The administration knows that the American public, familiar for decades with the double-game the Saudis play — propagating sharia supremacism while condemning the jihadism it inevitably spawns — tends not to be thrilled by our “alliance” with Riyadh. By portraying the Saudi regime as fully cooperative in a terrorism investigation (they haven’t always been) and unwilling to countenance any hint of jihadism, the Trump administration, like previous administrations, can offer the rationalization that the Saudis are not the problem but part of the solution.

That is, maybe if the Saudis hadn’t cooperated, we would have expelled the cadets anyway, even though their conduct was not violent and did not establish criminal liability.

Full report at:

https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/01/saudi-terror-attack-florida-naval-base-exposes-weakness-of-us-vetting/

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Eleven US troops injured in Iran missile attack in Iraq: US military

17 January 2020

Eleven US troops were treated for concussion symptoms as a result of the Jan. 8 Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi base where US forces were stationed, the US military said on Thursday, after initially saying no service members had been hurt.

“While no US service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad Air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed,” Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.

The United States treated 11 of its troops for symptoms of concussion after an Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi base where US forces were stationed, the US military said on Thursday, after initially saying no service members were hurt.

The attack was retaliation for a US drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3 that killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

President Donald Trump and the US military had said there were no casualties after the strike on the Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq and a facility in its northern Kurdish region.

“While no US service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed,” Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.

As a measure of caution, some service members were taken to US facilities in Germany or Kuwait for “follow-on screening,” he added.

“When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq.”

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/01/17/Eleven-US-troops-injured-in-Iran-missile-attack-in-Iraq-US-military.html

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US must be involved on Afghanistan after troops leave, says Pakistan

17 January 2020

Pakistan said on Thursday that the United States must remain engaged in Afghanistan’s reconstruction even if it succeeds in withdrawing troops and ending its longest war.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was visiting Washington where he is set to speak to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the growing momentum toward a deal between the United States and the Taliban.

Qureshi warned the United States not to return to neglect of Afghanistan, as seen after 1989 when Soviet troops pulled out under pressure from Islamic guerrillas backed by Washington and Islamabad.

“Do not repeat the ‘80s,” Qureshi said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the eve of his talks with Pompeo.

“Even if there is a successful agreement, challenges will remain there, so the United States and its friends and coalition partners will have to have a more responsible withdrawal,” he said.

“They should remain engaged - not to fight, but to rebuild,” he said.

The United States returned to Afghanistan in 2001 in an invasion to out the Taliban, whose extremist regime welcomed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks.

President Donald Trump is eager to remove the more than 12,000 US troops remaining in Afghanistan, seeing the war as no longer worth its cost.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/01/17/Pakistan-US-must-be-involved-on-Afghanistan-after-troops-leave-.html

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US military dispatches over 70 trucks to oil-rich eastern Syria: Report

17 January 2020

The United States has reportedly dispatched dozens of truckloads of military and logistical equipment to oil-rich areas it has occupied in Syria’s eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr and the northeastern province of Hasakah as Washington and some of its regional allies are vying with one another to seize oil reserves and plunder natural resources in the war-battered country.

Local sources from the Kurdish-majority northeastern city of Qamishli, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Syria’s official news agency SANA that a convoy of 75 trucks crossed the Semalka border crossing, which is a pontoon bridge across the Tigris, on Thursday evening and headed towards US positions in the two provinces.

In late October last year, Washington reversed an earlier decision to pull out all of its troops from northeastern Syria, announcing the deployment of about 500 soldiers to the oil fields controlled by Kurdish forces in the Arab country.

The US claimed that the move was aimed at protecting the fields and facilities from possible attacks by the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group. That claim came although US President Donald Trump had earlier suggested that Washington sought economic interests in controlling the oilfields.

Pentagon chief Mark Esper then threatened that the US forces deployed to the oil fields would use “military force” against any party that might seek to challenge control of the sites, even if it were Syrian government forces or their Russian allies.

Syria, which has not authorized American military presence in its territory, has said the US is “plundering” the country’s oil.

On December 18, 2019, China’s special envoy for Syria said the United States’ pretext for extending its military presence in the Arab country, namely to protect Syrian oil fields, was untenable.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/17/616387/US-military-dispatches-over-70-trucks-to-oil-rich-eastern-Syria:-Report

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US military says 11 US troops wounded in Iranian missile attack despite earlier denials

17 January 2020

The United States military has said that 11 of its troops were wounded in an Iranian retaliatory missile attack last week despite Washington's initial claim denying casualties.

"While no US service members were killed in the January 8 Iranian attack on al-Asad Air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blasts and are still being assessed," US Central Command spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement on Thursday.

On January 8, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Ain al-Asad, a large airbase hosting about 1,500 US troops, and another outpost in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

The missile operation was in response to Washington's January 3 assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who led the IRGC’s Quds Force.

The assassination also resulted in the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

Speaking on the morning following Iran's reciprocal military operation, US President Donald Trump had said that "no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack".

"We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases," he added.

The Pentagon had also initially ruled out any casualties from the attack.

Speaking on Thursday, however, Urban said that US soldiers injured from the Iranian missile strikes had been taken to US bases outside Iraq for further treatment "out of an abundance of caution".

"At this time, eight individuals have been transported to Landstuhl, and three have been transported to Camp Arifjan," he said, referring to Washington's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

The development marks the latest report in a string of recent revelations undermining initial US claims downplaying casualties and damage following Iran's retaliatory missile attack.

Reports and satellite images have gradually revealed what US media have described as "extensive" damage at the base.

On Wednesday, the AFP reported that US drone operators stationed in Ain al-Asad had lost access to US military drones after the base sustained damage during the Iranian missile strikes.

Speaking on Thursday, head of the Aerospace Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said that Iran had managed to cut US access to eight of its drones as part of electronic warfare during the missile strikes.

He also added that dozens of US troops had been killed and injured in the operation.

According to Hajizadeh, the US military conducted at least nine sorties of C-130 flights after the missile strikes, taking wounded personnel to Jordan and Israel while Chinook helicopters transferred the injured to the US hospital in Baghdad.

'Daesh delighted about Soleimani assassination'

Many observers have highlighted that Washington's provocations in Iraq, notably the assassination of Soleimani, benefits Daesh in Iraq.

Earlier this week, the leading US daily New York Times said that Soleimani assassination had "delighted" the foreign-backed terrorist group.

The report said that the assassination could lead to the further destabilization of the country and create room for the terrorist group's reemergence.

"General Suleimani’s death will have its (Daesh) leaders rubbing their hands in anticipation," for a resurgence, NYT said.

Soleimani played a major role in advising Iraqi forces successfully push back Daesh after the terror group swept over large parts of the country in 2014.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/17/616392/11-troops-wounded-Iranian-missile-attack

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Gen. Soleimani's assassination puts Trump in a no-win situation

16 January 2020

By Myles Hoenig

The simplest explanation for the cancellation of the hearings is that it is a no-win situation.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that there was no legitimate justification for the assassination [of General Qassem Soleimani] and the blowback has even devastated the power of the military, considering that they may be forced to leave Occupied Iraq.

The Pentagon, State Department and media can spin it all they want to but more and more people are seeing it for what it was, an attempt to raise public support for killing a ‘terrorist’ during an impeachment trial. Frankly, it’s a stupid move as it only intensifies broader attacks on Trump’s credibility and lack of intelligence.

There is also growing evidence that the claim that Soleimani killed over 600 Americans was manufactured by the military. And even if he had some responsibilities in supplying the weapons that killed American soldiers, it can be easily spun that he is just a name and face to one of many factors why the Iraqi invasion wasn’t a mistake, but a huge war crime.

What would be most destructive to the American Empire would be to be forced to leave Iraq. Whether that happens or not, we can’t say now. But the State and Defense Departments’ rejection of such a resolution by the Iraqi Parliament will reverberate wherever the US has its troops, especially in the Middle East. By now, only the most ‘brain-dead’ would recognize that the word of the US is worthless and countries will assess their relationship to the US based on this.

The blowback to his assassination also reaches into Congress. Even Republicans question the dismissiveness of Congressional oversight by the White House. This does not bode well during an impeachment trial where some of the Republican caucus will have to decide if this abuse of Executive power is similar to his browbeating of Zelensky, the central charge. If only some Republicans would have the courage to follow the Constitution and not their cult leader.

Time will tell how this will all play out. There is even talk of several Republican Senators privately endorsing Trump’s removal. But again, this takes courage and that is something of Congress, of both parties, has no history.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/16/616368/US-airstrike-General-Soleimani

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Europe

 

UK shuts down Islamic school after extremism fears

Paul Peachey

Jan 15, 2020

The UK government has shut down a scandal-hit British Islamic school where the head was identified as a “potential risk to pupils” after more than a decade of management failures and concerns over radicalisation.

The closure came in a year when the head of Birmingham Muslim School was banned from teaching during an investigation into an alleged failure to promote “fundamental British values” of tolerance and respect.

Education officials said they closed down the school in December after “consistent failings” and a series of damning reports by inspectors that criticised the way the school was run and how pupils were taught.

The closure comes eight months after The National revealed that the wife of an extremist commander in Syria was in charge of child protection at the school attended by 83 pupils aged four to 11.

The charity that runs both the school and relief projects in Syria remains under investigation by regulators because of “serious concerns” about its ability to operate.

Problems at the now-shuttered school in Britain’s second largest city have exposed broader concerns about child protection at Islamic establishments in Britain.

The closure, only the second time officials took such action during 2019, followed scandals at other schools where extremists were found to have led classes and sought to radicalise young students.

“This case will understandably raise public concerns over extremists’ ability to involve themselves in the governance of religious schools in the UK,” said Dr Rakib Ehsan, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a thinktank that has campaigned for improved scrutiny of schools.

“The severity of the safeguarding issues in this case demonstrates that there must be more robust forms of anti-extremism regulation across religious schools – including those schools which operate in the private sector”

The most recent report for the £2,000-a-year Birmingham Muslim School from July criticised officials following the temporary ban from teaching of the head Janet Laws.

The school failed to effectively supervise the ban “to ensure that she does not breach the interim prohibition order, including promoting views that undermine fundamental British values”, according to a report by the UK schools’ inspectorate Ofsted.

The school’s policies on keeping students safe failed to reflect that the “headteacher herself has been identified [by authorities] as being a potential risk to pupils”.

Authorities declined to comment on the reasons for the ban, which was reportedly lifted before the school was finally closed and deregistered, 12 years after it was first rated as “inadequate”.

Previous reports had warned of the potential for pupils to be “exposed to extremist views through contact with older pupils or adults out of school, such as when on school trips”.

School inspectors were not taking “all reasonable steps” to protect pupils from “exposure to partisan political views,” it said.

In 2017, inspectors said that staff “lack vigilance in being alert to the risks of pupils being radicalised” but later found that the school had tightened up its policies.

The school had been subject to close scrutiny after it emerged that Ms Laws was married to a man once on a US sanctions list for allegedly funding the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Ghunia Abdrabba later successfully appealed to have his name removed from the list in 2011, the year in which the group described by the UK as an Al Qaeda-linked “brutal terrorist organisation” was disbanded after securing its goal of the downfall of Col Muammar Qaddafi.

Mr Abdrabba was identified as the proprietor of the school in 2017 before control was transferred to the Albayan Education Foundation, where Ms Laws is a trustee. Ms Laws did not respond to requests for comment.

The National reported in April last year that the “designated safeguarding lead” at the school was married to a man named by the UK government as the leader of Kateeba Al Kawthar, a multinational group of fighters in Syria with links to Al Qaeda.

Education regulators have previously come under pressure after it emerged that a terrorist behind the 2017 London Bridge attacks was allowed to teach Quranic skills at a London school despite having no qualifications.

In a separate case, an extremist working at another school was jailed in 2018 after holding secret terrorism classes as he sought to recruit a children’s army to launch terrorist attacks in the capital.

https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/uk-shuts-down-islamic-school-after-extremism-fears-1.964898

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British government condemned for offering to repatriate children from Syrian Isis camp but not their mother

Lizzie Dearden

January 17, 2020

Human rights campaigners have condemned the British government for reportedly agreeing to repatriate children from Syrian camps on the condition they are separated from their mother.

Relatives of Mehak Aslam, who joined Isis with her husband in 2014, want her to sign paperwork that would allow her four children to return to the UK on the condition that she does not come with them.

They are currently being held alongside other Isis families at a camp in Syria, while her husband Shahan Choudhury is being held in a prison nearby, ITV News reported.

A letter from the Foreign Office to the family said that if Ms Aslam “were to make a fresh request for her children to be repatriated without her, we would urgently investigate the practicalities of doing so”.

If the same offer is made to other British detainees, it could provide a route out of Syria for dozens of children.

But Maya Foa, director of the legal charity Reprieve, told The Independent amounted to family separation.

“The UK government has the choice to bring back mothers in northeast Syria together with their children and preserve family unity, something which child rights organisations all agree is in the best interests of the children,” she added.

“If the mothers have charges to answer, they can and should be prosecuted here in the UK by our justice system which deals with complicated cases every single day.”

The couple, from London, have been stripped of their British citizenship as part of controversial government attempts to prevent the return of alleged Isis members.

According to government documents, the deprivation of citizenship can only be used if it is “conducive to the public good” including for national security reasons.

Despite legal challenges, the government claims it can use the measure even if it makes a person stateless, as long as there are reasonable grounds to believe they can claim citizenship elsewhere.

The most recent figures show that 104 people were deprived of British citizenship in 2017.

Ms Aslam’s father, Mohammed, said his eldest granddaughter had been killed in an explosion in Isis’s last stronghold of Baghouz and he feared for her siblings’ safety amid the continuing war and dire conditions in camps.

“I can never forgive them for that,” he told ITV News. “They wanted to take this step for themselves. That’s fine, that’s their problem, but why involve the kids in this?”

He said it would be a “very hard thing” for Ms Aslam to be separated from her children but added: “I hope she will see the right side and realise this is in the best interests of the children.”

Relatives of Ms Aslam and Mr Choudhury approached the Foreign Office after seeing an interview with the husband on television last June.

The government announced late last year that a small number of orphans would be brought back from the UK but charities estimate that up to 60 British children remain in Syrian camps.

Addressing parliament in November, Dominic Raab said: “We have made it clear that we are willing to repatriate unaccompanied UK minors or orphans where is no risk to UK security.

“We would consider carefully individual requests for consular support more generally and subject to national security considerations, but of course the UK has no consular presence in Syria from which to provide assistance, and that makes it very difficult to help, but we respond on a case-by-case basis.”

The Independent understands that requests for assistance from families in Syria can be transmitted to the British government by friends and relatives in the first instance, as it has no consular presence in the country.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said it would not comment on individual cases, adding: “Every request for consular assistance is considered on a case by case basis.

Full report at:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/isis-children-syria-british-citizenship-repatriation-mehak-aslam-a9285481.html

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Kurds file criminal complaint against Iran mosque in Germany for terrorism

JANUARY 16, 2020

Ali Ertan Toprak, the chairman of the Kurdish community in Germany, on Tuesday lodged a formal criminal complaint against the Iranian regime-controlled Islamic Center of Hamburg, the owner of the Imam Ali Mosque, for its support of terrorism.

According to the complaint, “The Imam Ali Mosque serves as a meeting place and event location for the meetings of this association as well as of individuals in particular, who work as supporters of terrorists, terrorist organizations and various other sponsors of terrorist activities.”

The complaint, which was sent to prosecutor Jörg Fröhlich, further stated that “the institution [Islamic Center of Hamburg] in its entirety as well as each board member as an individual and as a community, and also the members…fulfill the act of supporting terrorists as individuals and terrorist associations.”

The popular German news and commentary website Tichys Einblick first published the complaint filed with the local prosecutor’s office.

The Jerusalem Post reported that a group of 600 pro-Iranian regime Islamists attended a memorial service in early January at the Islamic Center in Hamburg to mourn the death of the EU- and US-designated terrorist Qasem Soleimani.

The US administration said it eliminated Soleimani on January 3 because he planned terrorist attacks against American diplomats.

The mourners from the Islamic Center praised Soleimani as a “heroic martyr.”

The criminal complaint states the Islamic Center’s “board of directors and the association's members work as an extended arm of the Tehran revolutionary leadership…and are actively involved in the dissemination of Islamist ideas and the support of related activities at home and abroad.”

According to the complaint, “all of the association's activities can also be seen as direct and indirect support, probably also of a financial nature, for terrorists and terrorist organizations.”

The complaint noted that the Islamic Center honored  Soleimani and he served as the head of the  Quds Force  that is responsible for operations outside of Iran’s territory for Tehran’s regime. The Kurdish community leader wrote the Quds Force provides “financial and material aid to terrorist organizations, for example, Hezbollah.”

The Islamic Center of Hamburg is also a stronghold of Hezbollah members in Germany. According to German intelligence reports, there are 1,050 Hezbollah operatives in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to ban the entire Hezbollah structure in the federal republic.

Soleimani was listed as number 15 on the current European list of terrorists, wrote the complaint.

German Hezbollah members,  according to intelligence reports, transfer money to Hezbollah’s parent organization in Beirut. The German government has not imposed a crackdown on financial transfers from Hezbollah operatives to Beirut or elsewhere.

Germany’s intelligence agency classifies the Islamic Center as an “instrument” of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the federal republic.

The German federal government declared the Shi’ite umbrella organization to be “influenced by extremists.”

The Islamic Center and its Mosque, which are owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran, charter buses each year to Berlin’s Al-Quds protest that calls for the destruction of Israel.

The annual demonstration is packed each year with Hezbollah operatives and Iranian regime supporters who also spread BDS activity against Israel.

In 2017, a politician from Hamburg urged the cancellation of the city’s contract with the Iranian-controlled institution because it participates in the annual Quds Day rally. Carsten Ovens, from the Christian Democratic Union faction in Hamburg’s legislative body, told The Post at the time that the “CDU is calling for the suspension of the agreements” because “Israel’s right to exist and the freedom of the Jewish people are not subject to negotiation.”

Full report at:

https://www.jpost.com/International/Kurds-file-criminal-complaint-against-Iran-Mosque-in-Germany-for-terrorism-614308

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Norway repatriates Isis-linked woman and children from Syria

15 January 2020

Norway said Tuesday it was repatriating from Syria a woman linked to the Islamic State (Isis) group and her two children, one of them reportedly seriously ill, citing humanitarian reasons.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, confirming the operation to bring them home, told reporters: "We are doing that for humanitarian reasons because we fear the child is sick."

The government had until now refused calls to bring back the five-year-old, who according to media reports may be suffering from cystic fibrosis, unless his mother let him travel alone.

But the right-wing administration relented, allowing the three to travel to Norway from the Kurd-controlled camp at Al-Hol, northeast Syria, where they have been detained since March 2019.

Norwegian daily Aftenposten published a photo of the 29-year-old veiled mother, taken they said as she crossed from Syria into Iraq with her two children and two men. All the faces in the photo were blurred out.

The mother, who is described as Pakistani, is accused of having travelled to Syria in 2013 and married a Norwegian jihadist who was killed in fighting.

She faces arrest when she gets to Norway on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

Since the collapse of the Islamic State group's so-called caliphate, the international community has been grappling with the problem of what to do with captured foreign nationals who fought with them.

Full report at:

https://www.thelocal.no/20200115/norway-repatriates-isis-linked-woman-and-children-from-syria

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France to deploy aircraft carrier to support Middle East operations

16 January 2020

France will deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its battle group from January to April to support French military operations in Middle East, Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

“The aircraft carrier will support Chammal operations (in the Middle East) from January to April 2020 before deploying to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea,” Macron said at a New Year speech to the French military.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/France-to-deploy-aircraft-carrier-to-support-Middle-East-operations.html

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Ukraine says bodies of all 11 Ukrainians killed in Iran plane crash identified

16 January 2020

The bodies of all 11 Ukrainians who died in last week's plane crash in Iran have been identified and will be transported back to Ukraine on Jan. 19, the interior ministry said in a statement to Reuters on Thursday.

The five countries whose citizens died when Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane have said Tehran should pay compensation to the families of the victims, saying the world is watching for its response.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/01/16/Ukraine-says-bodies-of-all-11-Ukrainians-killed-in-Iran-plane-crash-identified.html

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Grieving nations demand Iran compensate relatives of plane attack victims

16 January 2020

Five countries whose citizens died when Iran shot down an airliner last week said on Thursday that Tehran should pay compensation to families of the victims.

The foreign ministers of Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain said Iran should hold a “thorough, independent and transparent international investigation open to grieving nations,” in a statement issued after a meeting of officials in London.

The countries said they welcomed Iran’s engagement to date.

All 176 people aboard the Ukraine International Airlines plane died when it was hit by missiles last week shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/01/16/-Grieving-nations-demand-Iran-compensate-relatives-of-plane-crash-victims.html

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Germany says Libya’s Haftar committed to ongoing truce, to participate in Berlin talks

16 January 2020

Germany says Libya’s renegade general Khalifa Haftar, commander of the east-based army, has agreed to abide by an ongoing ceasefire with the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, known as the GNA, following a nine-month-old war.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced the news on Thursday, saying during a visit to the North African country Haftar promised not to break the existing temporary truce between the two warring sides which took effect on Sunday.

“During my visit to Libya today, General Haftar made clear: He wants to contribute to the success of the Libyan conference in Berlin and is in principle ready to participate in it. He has agreed to abide by the ongoing ceasefire,” the German top diplomat tweeted after talks in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

Mass had traveled to Libya to persuade Haftar to join in the upcoming peace initiative in Berlin, three days after the Libyan commander left the Russian capital Moscow without signing a permanent truce agreement expected to put an end to a persisting war in and around Libya’s capital Tripoli.

The Moscow peace talks were mediated by Russia and Turkey.

Since 2014, Libya has been divided between two rival camps: one based in the eastern city of Tobruk, and the other, the UN-recognized GNA, based in Tripoli.

Haftar is the self-proclaimed commander of an array of militia groups, collectively known as the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), and is apparently supporting the eastern government.

The LNA launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in April last year, interrupting peace negotiations underway at the time. Despite intense and deadly clashes between the two sides, Haftar has so far failed to achieve his objective and his offensive stalled outside Tripoli.

In a declared attempt to restore peace in Libya, Turkey and Russia mediated peace talks between Sarraj and Haftar, who spent about eight hours of indirect talks in Moscow on Monday, but the talks ended at an impasse, after Haftar failed to come to terms with Serraj, sparking fears about the shaky ceasefire.

However, Haftar’s agreement to observe the existing ceasefire and his pledge to participate in Berlin talks are considered as an apparent advance for efforts to end a near-decade of turmoil in Libya.

Separately in Tripoli, Sarraj also expressed his readiness to attend the Berlin talks, which will be held under the auspices of the UN.

On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the two sides to stop fighting and “engage constructively towards that end, including within the Berlin process.”

Figures show that since April, clashes between the two sides have left more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters dead. They have also displaced tens of thousands of people.

Turkey supports the GNA and has sent troops to the North African country to help Sarraj’s government defend itself against Haftar’s attacks. The deployment, which has further complicated the situation, came after Ankara and the GNA reached a military agreement recently, angering Haftar.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/16/616358/Germany-Libya-Haftar-Maas-ceasefire-Sarraj-GNA-Russia-Turkey

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Mideast

 

Gulenist steals millions of dollars from US Department of Defense

16 January 2020

A Turkish-American car dealer with close links to a movement led by US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Ankara government accuses of having masterminded the failed July 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has reportedly defrauded the Pentagon of millions of dollars.

US Attorney Craig Carpenito said Hurriyet Arslan, a resident of Willingboro and native of Turkey, conspired with Turkish nationals in 2018 to steal money from a Defense Department contract worth $23.5 million for aviation turbine fuel to be supplied to troops operating in Southeast Asia.

According to a written statement by the US Justice Department, Arslan opened a shell company based in New Jersey, with a mobile phone number and bank account.

According to the statement, the conspirators used the login credentials of a person in contact with Arslan and working in the company to access its government account and changed the bank account information to reflect a bank account controlled by the Turkish-American car dealer.

The conspirator in California later contacted the Pentagon and confirmed that Arslan had been fraudulently receiving contract funding, and the corporation's payment method had been changed to the Deal Automotive Sales bank account.

He pleaded guilty to charges of one count of conspiracy to commit mail, wire and bank fraud, one count of bank fraud and one count of money laundering.

The 49-year-old man faces a 30-year prison term, and a fine up to $1 million or twice the gross profits received or gross loss from the offense when he stands trial on April 13.

During the 2016 botched putsch, a faction of the Turkish military declared that it had seized control of the country and the government of Erdogan was no more in charge. The attempt was, however, suppressed a few hours later.

Ankara has since accused US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen of having orchestrated the coup. The opposition figure is also accused of being behind a long-running campaign to topple the government via infiltrating the country’s institutions, particularly the army, police and the judiciary.

Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and reiterated that he had no role in it.

“Accusations against me related to the coup attempt are baseless and politically-motivated slanders,” he said in a statement.

The 78-year-old cleric has also called on Ankara to end its “witch hunt” of his followers, a move he says is aimed at “weeding out anyone it deems disloyal to President Erdogan and his regime.”

Turkish officials have frequently called on their US counterparts to extradite Gulen, but their demands have not been taken heed of.

Turkey ended the nationwide state of emergency, imposed since the coup, in July last year, after seven three-month renewals.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. Many more, including military staff, civil servants and journalists, have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.

The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/16/616376/Gulenist-steals-millions-of-dollars-from-US-Department-of-Defense

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DM: Iran's Retaliatory Missile Strike Just Warning to US

Jan 16, 2020

"The American commanders who had been used to show to the public their hollow power by heavy fire against other countries, while those countries were in weak conditions, and against the defenseless nations, felt the scorching heat of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)'s missile power," General Hatami said, addressing a ceremony in Tehran on Thursday.

"I hope that the enemies never make a decision to test the Iranian nation's determination because what was carried out, was just a warning and a slap," he added.

On January 8, the IRGC Aerospace Force started heavy ballistic missile attacks on US Ein Al-Assad airbase in Southwestern Iraq near the border with Syria and a US operated airbase in Erbil in retaliation for the US assassination of IRGC Qods Force Commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.

Ein Al-Assad is an airbase with a 4km runway at 188m altitude from sea levels, which is the main and the largest US airbase in Iraq. Early reports said the radar systems and missile defense shields in Ein Al-Assad failed to operate and intercept the Iranian missiles. Unofficial reports said the US army's central radar systems at Ein Al-Assad had been jammed by electronic warfare.

The second IRGC reprisal attack targeted a US military base near Erbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan Region in the second leg of "Martyr Soleimani" reprisal operation.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981026000607

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Iran's Top Commander Hopes for Ending Regional Conflicts by US Withdrawal

Jan 16, 2020

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is not interested in spreading tensions, but it will give a crushing response to any unwise and aggressive move and we hope that all disorders and conflicts will be uprooted by the US withdrawal from the region," General Baqeri said in a phone conversation with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Thursday.

He added that the US assassination of IRGC Quds Force Commander Lieutenant Qassem Soleimani and its attacks against Hashd al-Shaabi bases in Iraq and certain bases in Syria created a new round of tensions in the region, noting that Iran's retaliatory missile strikes against the US bases in Iraq showed them Tehran's determination to defend itself and give a more crushing response in case of continued mischiefs.

Akar, for his part, called for joint efforts to maintain regional stability and prevent the terrorists from using the opportunity of heightened tensions.

On January 8, the IRGC Aerospace Force started heavy ballistic missile attacks on US Ein Al-Assad airbase in Southwestern Iraq near the border with Syria and a US operated airbase in Erbil in retaliation for the US assassination of General Soleimani.

Ein Al-Assad is an airbase with a 4km runway at 188m altitude from sea levels, which is the main and the largest US airbase in Iraq. Early reports said the radar systems and missile defense shields in Ein Al-Assad failed to operate and intercept the Iranian missiles. Unofficial reports said the US army's central radar systems at Ein Al-Assad had been jammed by electronic warfare.

The second IRGC reprisal attack targeted a US military base near Erbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan Region in the second leg of "Martyr Soleimani" reprisal operation.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981026000626

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President Rouhani: Pentagon Kept Awake 24 Hours by Iran's Retaliatory Missile Attacks

Jan 16, 2020

"The United States is oppressing and carrying out acts of aggression against all countries around the world, and some may respond with words, but the Islamic Republic of Iran shook their base for one night and kept the Pentagon awake for 24 hours,” President Rouhani said in Tehran on Thursday, addressing the 59th Session of the General Assembly of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).

He said that it was very important that we forced the United States to retreat from their threats, adding, "The US president had said that if Iran responded to the assassination of Gen. Soleimani, 52 important points, including Iran's cultural and historical centers, would be targeted, but when the Islamic Republic of Iran attacks this military base, his tone and program change and he officially pulls back”.

 Referring to the hard days and the many tragedies and hardships over the past two weeks, the President emphasized, "The people have alleviated their sorrows and troubles by their presence and sympathy, and it is the cultural and national characteristics of the Iranian nation”.

"The enemies created a situation, overcoming which was not –and will not be- possible without the resistance and steadfastness of an integrated nation," Rouhani said.

The president referred to the consequences of assassination of an Iranian military commander by the Americans in the region and the world, saying, "This martyrdom even affected the prices of the currency, oil, and stock markets inside out outside of the country, and influenced the whole region psychologically, intellectually and politically”.

"People from Kashmir to Africa sympathized and mourned his General Soleimani’s martyrdom in an unprecedented move," he added.

Referring to the tragic incident of the Ukrainian passenger plane that killed 176 dear educated Iranians, the president continued, "A nation was stricken with grief and there was no one in the country who did not sympathize”.

Rouhani emphasized that the Iranian nation will not easily be deviated from its goals, stating, "The Iranian nation is a great nation that chooses its way and stands well. Of course, in the path of resistance, there are injuries and difficulties, which is natural”.

Expressing that a superpower has violated international regulations and officially declared that it wants to fight this system and people, he emphasized, "After the US actions, it became clear for themselves and the world that their program was completely wrong. And this is not something to be just inferred, but the US President had told leaders of other countries that the Iranian regime would not resist for more than three months with the new sanctions and maximum pressure”.

On January 8, the IRGC Aerospace Force started heavy ballistic missile attacks on US Ein Al-Assad airbase in Southwestern Iraq near the border with Syria and a US operated airbase in Erbil in retaliation for the US assassination of IRGC Qods Force Commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.

Ein Al-Assad is an airbase with a 4km runway at 188m altitude from sea levels, which is the main and the largest US airbase in Iraq. Early reports said the radar systems and missile defense shields in Ein Al-Assad failed to operate and intercept the Iranian missiles. Unofficial reports said the US army's central radar systems at Ein Al-Assad had been jammed by electronic warfare.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981026000552

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PM: India Committed to Development of Strong Ties with Iran

Jan 16, 2020

Modi emphasized on India's commitments in boosting and developing its strong and friendly ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

He also expressed his thanks for progress and achievement gained in Chabahar Port in placing it in Special Economic Zone.

“India has strong interests in preserving peace and stability in the Middle East region,” Modi said.

Zarif had also on Wednesday met and held talks with the Minister of External Affairs of the Government of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on the sidelines of his visit to India for participating in ‘Raisina Dialogue 2020’.

In this meeting, the two sides reviewed latest developments of bilateral relations, specially in economic field and regional conditions.

Also, in December, Zarif who had co-chaired a meeting of the joint commission of Iran and India in Tehran described relations between the two countries as age-old and unbreakable.

"A pleasure to co-chair 19th Joint Commission Meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar in Tehran," Zarif wrote on his Instagram page.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981026000490

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FM Zarif: Iran Not to Sign "Trump Deal"

Jan 16, 2020

”E3's response to US attack on JCPOA has been to cut trade/investment in Iran while embargoing our oil,” Zarif wrote on his twitter page while participating in the Raisina Dialogue 2020 in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday.

“[I] told Raisina2020 it's sad that biggest economy has allowed itself to be bullied into violating own obligations. JCPOA's future depends on E3, not Iran,” he stressed.

"[I] told Raisina2020 that Iran believes in diplomacy: but not in re-negotiating a UNSC Resolution we agreed on with 6 Governments and EU,” Zarif said.

“We did not sign an Obama deal to go for a Trump deal now. Even if we did, who's to say we won't need Biden, Sanders or Warren deal next year?” he questioned.

In relevant remarks on Wednesday, Zarif lashed out at the 3 European signatories of the nuclear deal — the UK, France and Germany—for abiding by unilateral pressures of the US, underlining that the trio’s Tuesday unconstructive move was a strategic blunder.

Zarif denounced as a “strategic mistake” the European trio’s decision to trigger a dispute mechanism under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The top diplomat criticized the European signatories to the landmark deal once again on Tuesday for failing to abide by their commitments under the JCPOA and said triggering a dispute resolution mechanism is legally baseless and politically a strategic blunder.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981026000233

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Acting head of UN Palestinian agency says ‘difficult’ year ahead

17 January 2020

The interim head of the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees on Thursday accused pro-Israel groups of lobbying foreign parliaments to stop donations, even as it struggled to recover from losing United States funding in 2018.

Christian Saunders, in an interview with Reuters in his Gaza office, also said Israel was seeking to replace United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem with those of its own.

UNRWA has faced budgetary difficulties since 2018, when the United States, its biggest donor, halted its annual aid of $360 million. The United States and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.

Last November, UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned amid an investigation into misconduct allegations.

Investigations confirm no misuse of funds

In the interview, Saunders, now acting commissioner-general, said the inquiry by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services was complete and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had confirmed there had been no corruption or misuse of funds.

Saunders said the investigation had uncovered mismanagement related to human resources and abuse of authority, and that major donors, who had withheld funding while the inquiry was under way, have resumed contributions.

Saunders said he felt confident UNRWA had enough money for at least the first quarter of 2020, but he expected it to be an “even more difficult” year than last. He added that they had not given up on persuading the United States to change its mind about funding.

“We are engaged with the US, we will continue to engage with them in the hopes that they will see UNRWA as a reliable partner and worth supporting,” Saunders said in the interview.

Saunders initially said that Israel and the United States were “advocating against funding UNRWA in the European parliaments and elsewhere,” but later clarified in a statement that he was referring to pro-Israel groups. He said UNRWA “had no reason to believe that the US was engaged in lobbying to stop funding the agency.”

He said UNRWA was feeling “the pressure in East Jerusalem in particular”, saying that Israel was in the process of building schools and institutions “to compete” with the agency and stop it from operating there.

“The important thing to remember here is that UNRWA has a mandate from the (UN) General Assembly, from the rest of the world, the member states, to provide services to Palestinian refugees in East Jerusalem,” Saunders said.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including the eastern part captured along the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, as its “indivisible capital”. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/17/Acting-head-of-UN-Palestinian-agency-says-difficult-year-ahead.html

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Israel hits Hamas target in Gaza as balloon attacks resume

17 January 2020

The Israeli military said an attack helicopter struck a Hamas target in the northern Gaza Strip late Thursday in response to the launch of incendiary balloons into Israeli territory earlier in the day.

Israeli police said the balloons touched down in southern Israel and a bomb squad was dispatched. Police said there was an explosion, but there were no injuries.

The Israeli military said its airstrike targeted “infrastructure used for underground activities” by Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group. In Gaza, local reports said the airstrike hit an open area. There were no reports of injuries.

During more than a year and half of mass demonstrations along the Israeli border that began in early 2018, Palestinians frequently launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israeli territory, torching large swaths of farmland.

The balloon launches were halted several months ago, while the demonstrations have been scaled back as Israel and Hamas try to implement an informal cease-fire brokered by international mediators.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/17/Israel-hits-Hamas-target-in-Gaza-as-balloon-attacks-resume.html

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Three Turkish soldiers killed in car bomb attack in Syria

17 January 2020

Three Turkish soldiers were killed in a car bomb attack while carrying out roadside checks on vehicles in northeast Syria on Thursday, security sources said.

The sources said the attack was at the town of Suluk, 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) southeast of the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, bordering Turkey.

Both towns are in an area that Turkey and allied Turkish-backed opposition forces took control of in a cross-border operation launched last October against the Kurdish YPG militia.

Ankara views the YPG, the main component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that helped the United States defeat ISIS, as a terrorist group with links to Kurdish militants on Turkish soil.

Turkey’s offensive was widely condemned by Ankara’s Western allies, who said the assault could hinder the fight against ISIS in Syria.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/17/Three-Turkish-soldiers-killed-in-car-bomb-attack-in-Syria-.html

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US Treasury will allow 90-day wind-down period for fresh Iran sanctions

16 January 2020

The US Treasury Department said on Thursday it would allow for a 90-day period to wind down transactions in certain sectors of Iran’s economy hit with fresh US sanctions last week.

The period, which expires April 9, will allow transactions to be wound down in the construction, mining, manufacturing or textiles sectors of Iran’s economy that could fall under the sanctions, though new business would still be sanctionable, according to the Treasury Department’s website.

The United States imposed more sanctions on Iran on Friday in retaliation for its missile attack on US forces in Iraq last week and vowed to tighten the economic screws if Tehran continued “terrorist” acts or pursued a nuclear bomb.

The targets of the sanctions included Iran’s manufacturing, mining and textile sectors as well as senior Iranian officials who Washington said were involved in the January 8 attack on Iraqi military bases housing US troops.

In a related development, two Iranian agents were sentenced to prison in the US on Wednesday on charges of spying on American citizens and US nationals, the US Department of Justice announced.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/US-Treasury-will-allow-90-day-wind-down-period-for-fresh-Iran-sanctions.html

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Far-right Israeli parties join forces ahead of March election

16 January 2020

Three far-right Israeli political parties joined forces late Wednesday, seeking to strengthen their hand in a coming election after a left-leaning alliance was announced earlier in the week.

Israel is gearing up for its third election in less than a year after neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his centrist challenger Benny Gantz were able to form a majority government following two polls last year.

Whoever is tasked with forming a government will need to win the support of small parties, which can wield major clout in coalition negotiations.

Under Israel’s system of proportional representation, parties may form joint electoral lists to boost their chances of being selected as coalition partners.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s New Right party struck a deal with the National Union faction of Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

On Wednesday night, just before the deadline for filing electoral lists, they were joined by the national religious Jewish Home party, led by Education Minister Rafi Peretz.

The trio will run under the name Yamina (“Rightward” in Hebrew).

Left out in the cold was Jewish Power - the extreme-right party which many view as racist - despite Netanyahu’s reported push for them to be included in Bennett’s alliance.

“I will not include on my electoral list someone who has in his living room at home a picture of a man who murdered 29 innocent people,” Bennett wrote on Facebook Wednesday.

Video shot in Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir’s home in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron shows a photograph of Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslim worshippers with an assault rifle in 1994 before being beaten to death by survivors.

Ben Gvir, who lives in a Jewish settler enclave in the mainly Palestinian city, has been quoted as saying that the picture is there out of respect for Goldstein as a doctor he says saved Jewish lives.

Israeli media reported that Ben-Gvir had offered to take down the picture if Bennett allowed him into his alliance.

Data released by Israel’s National Elections Committee on Thursday showed Jewish Power registered to run alone, with an optimistic 17 candidates on its list.

In the September election, Jewish Power failed to reach the threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote reqired to enter parliament.

The other three far-right parties presented a joint list and won seven seats.

On Monday, the left-wing Labor-Gesher and Meretz parties announced they were joining forces for the next election.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/Far-right-Israeli-parties-join-forces-ahead-of-March-election-.html

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Rouhani says Iran wants dialogue, working to ‘prevent war’

16 January 2020

Iran’s president said Thursday dialogue with the world was “possible” despite high tensions with the United States, and stressed that Tehran was working daily “to prevent military confrontation or war.”

Iran attacked the US military in Iraq on January 8 with missiles to retaliate against Washington’s targeted killing of a key Iranian general five days earlier in Baghdad, at a time when both are also locked in a bitter dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. “The government is working daily to prevent military confrontation or war,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech, adding that “for me this is a daily concern.”

The latest surge in tension has prompted calls for de-escalation from an international community that fears a wider conflagration in the Middle East, where the US has multiple allies and bases and Iran has proxies, especially in Iraq and Lebanon.

On Wednesday, Rouhani had said Iran’s missile launches against Iraqi bases used by the US armed forces had provided “compensation” for the death of General Qasem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s Middle East military strategy.

In his speech on Thursday, Rouhani said that the Iranian retaliation -- which caused significant material damage but no casualties according to the US military -- had strengthened Iranian deterrence against the “threats” of President Donald Trump.

Rouhani, a moderate on his country’s political spectrum, also defended the policy of openness to the world that he has pursued since his first election in 2013, and which has come under fire from Iran’s ultra-conservatives.

He also defended the 2015 international agreement designed to limit Iran’s nuclear program which has been in tatters since Trump unilaterally pulled out of it in 2018.

Rouhani said that with the nuclear deal “we have proven in practice that it is possible for us to interact with the world.”

“Of course, it’s difficult,” he acknowledged.

“They tell us: there are people you should not trust,” he said, referring to the rhetoric of Iranian ultra-conservatives about Europe and the United States.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/Rouhani-says-Iran-wants-dialogue-working-to-prevent-war-.html

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EU diplomacy chief urges Iran’s Zarif to ‘preserve’ nuclear deal

16 January 2020

The European Union’s top diplomat met Iran’s foreign minister in India on Thursday to press Tehran to “preserve” the increasingly fragile nuclear deal, according to a statement released in Brussels.

In his talks with Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi, Josep Borrell warned that the deal was “more important than ever” given rising tensions in the Middle East, the statement said.

The two had “a frank dialogue” in which Borrell “underlined the continued interest of the European Union to preserve the agreement”.

The accord between Iran and world powers was struck in 2015 to ensure that Tehran could not develop nuclear weapons.

But the deal has been weakened, first by a US withdrawal in 2018 and the return of sanctions on Iran, and by a series of retreats by Tehran from its obligations under the agreement.

Heightened military tensions between the United States and Iran, spurred by America’s killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq and a retaliatory Iranian missile salvo on bases used by US soldiers, has put the deal under greater pressure.

This week, European powers France, Germany and Britain said they were triggering a dispute mechanism over Iran’s pullbacks.

While that could theoretically eventually lead to a return of UN and EU sanctions on Iran, European officials have made clear that the decision was made in a bid to bring Tehran back into compliance and save the accord.

The EU sees itself as an “honest broker” in the accord’s implementation, but takes its lead on Iran’s degree of compliance from the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, which continues to monitor Iranian atomic activities on the ground.

Iran has reacted angrily to the European countries’ decision. Zarif accused them of having “sold out” what remains of the nuclear deal to avoid new US tariffs on European exports.

His comment referred to a report by the Washington Post newspaper saying President Donald Trump’s government had renewed a threat to slap a 25 percent tariff on European car exports if the three EU governments held back.

The EU’s position is further complicated by Britain’s exit from the European bloc, expected in two weeks.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/EU-diplomacy-chief-urges-Iran-s-Zarif-to-preserve-nuclear-deal-.html

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Israeli aircraft bomb Gaza Strip for 2nd time in 24 hours

17 January 2020

Israeli military aircraft have carried out a fresh round of airstrikes against targets in the northern part of the Gaza Strip as the Tel Aviv regime continues with its acts of aggression against the besieged Palestinian coastal sliver.

The Israeli military said in a statement that a combat helicopter attacked infrastructure used for by the Hamas resistance movement late on Thursday. No immediate reports of casualties in the aerial assaults were available.

The statement added that the attack was conducted after two balloons with explosives were flown from the Gaza Strip into Israeli-occupied territories earlier in the day.

وكالة صفا

@SafaPs

طائرات الاحتلال نقصف موقعا للمقاومة شمال القطاع http://safa.ps/post/275054  #safa

طائرات الاحتلال تقصف موقعا للمقاومة شمال القطاع

قصفت طائرات الاحتلال، الليلة، موقعا للمقاومة شمال بلدة بيت لاهيا شمال قطاع غزة.وأفاد مراسل (صفا) أن طائرات الاحتلال أطلقت ثلاثة صواريخ صوب الموقع، دون أن يبلغ عن وقوع إصابات.وأعلن الناطق بلسان جيش ا

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Video published by Israel’s Kan news network purported to show Hamas members leaving a post ahead of the strike.

Israeli police said at least two clusters of balloons carrying explosive devices were launched from the Strip into the southern sector of Israeli-occupied territories earlier in the day.

One of the clusters apparently landed in an open field and the other got tangled in a tree. Sappers were called to the scenes in the Sdot Negev region east of Gaza.

One of the devices purportedly went off as the sappers arrived at the scene. The explosion caused no injuries or damage.

Late on Wednesday, Israeli warplanes carried out several airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting a number of areas in the north and the northwest of the coastal enclave.

Palestinian media reported that one of the airstrikes targeted a Hamas position. The attack caused an explosion and material damage to nearby buildings.

Another attack targeted areas in Jabalia and Beit Lahia in Gaza’s north.

Gaza has been under Israeli siege since June 2007.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/17/616386/Israeli-military-conducts-new-attacks-on-besieged-Gaza-Strip

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Turkey’s main opposition urges govt neutrality in Libya

January 16, 2020

ANKARA: Turkey’s main opposition leader on Tuesday urged Ankara to play a mediation role in Libya between the country’s two rival camps, rather than siding with the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj.

“We’ve … urged the government not to follow the Syria policy in Libya. We told them not to support one side, but try to mediate between the fighting parties. Turkey has … followed this policy between Iran and Iraq, for instance,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

He also urged the government to mend ties with other countries in the region, especially Syria, Israel and Egypt.

“Rather than trying to assume the role of an honest broker, the government has preferred to take part in regional conflicts, which has caused great damage to Turkey,” Kilicdaroglu said, citing the Syrian conflict.

Turkey backs Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based government against forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya.

Ankara recently sent military advisers to Libya to reinforce its support to the GNA, in return for a controversial maritime agreement in Mediterranean waters.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened a large-scale military intervention after he obtained parliamentary approval.

Ariz Kader, an independent researcher on regional conflicts, said Kilicdaroglu is urging the government to become a mediator because this is what the Turkish public wants to hear.

“Erdogan is trying to save his last Muslim Brotherhood ally in North Africa. It’s something he can’t say outright without giving up the game,” Kader told Arab News.

Unal Cevikoz, the CHP’s deputy chairman responsible for foreign relations, said the deterioration in Ankara’s ties with regional countries such as Israel and Egypt undermines Turkey’s role as an honest broker, especially in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. Deploying troops abroad is also triggering accusations of neo-Ottomanism, he added.

Turkey does not currently have ambassadors in Syria, Israel or Egypt due to tensions with those countries. Ankara began explicit contacts with Damascus at the level of spy chiefs only two days ago.

“To assume a mediation role, Turkey should begin by prioritizing the role of the UN in the Libyan crisis rather than insisting on hard-power capabilities, which only serves to escalate the conflict even further,” Cevikoz told Arab News.

To regain its reliability in the eyes of the international community, Turkey has to drop its policy of taking sides in regional conflicts, said Cevikoz, a former ambassador to the UK.

Meanwhile, Erdogan warned on Tuesday that Turkey will not refrain from “teaching a lesson” to Haftar if his forces continue to attack the people and government in Tripoli.

“It’s our duty to protect our kin in Libya,” Erdogan said, referring to Libyans of Turkish origin.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1613846/middle-east

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Israeli, Palestinian youth fear conflict will ‘never end,’ says poll

January 16, 2020

GAZA: The majority of young Israelis and Palestinians believe the conflict between their peoples “will never end,” according to a survey published Thursday by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Sixty five percent of Israeli millennials surveyed and 52 percent of their Palestinian counterparts said they expected the conflict to continue in perpetuity, the ICRC said in a statement.

It said they were the most pessimistic of a series of war-affected populations surveyed in a global poll of more than 16,000 people aged between 20 and 35.

The global poll found more than half feared there would be a nuclear attack in the next decade.

“In general, the results indicate that millennials are nervous about the future, and heightened tensions in the Middle East are likely to deepen these fears,” the ICRC said in a statement.

The simmering conflict has been ongoing for decades and there are currently no peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in a 1967 war and later annexed the flashpoint holy city in a move never recognized by the international community.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1614191/middle-east

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US Forces to Suffer Heavy Defeat If They Refuse To Leave Iraq: Hashd Sha'abi Group

16 January 2020

A senior official from Iraq's Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq group, which is part of the country's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha'abi, says his fellow comrades are ready to inflict heavy losses on American troops should Washington refuse to comply with a parliament decision demanding the withdrawal of all US-led foreign military forces from the Arab country.

“The resistance factions are completely prepared to inflict a great defeat on American forces if they go against the will of the Iraqi government and people,” Mahmoud al-Rubaye, a member of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq's political wing, said in an interview with Russia's RT Arabic television news network on Thursday.

He added, “I think the United States is afraid of direct confrontation with resistance groups, because it has a bitter experience of face-off with them.”

Rubaye highlighted that Iraqi anti-US resistance groups are now much more developed and ready compared to the time before 2011.

The remarks came two days after influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demanded that Iraqis stage a “million-man march” against the continued US military presence in the country.

The march is needed “to condemn the American presence and its violations,” Sadr, who leads the largest parliamentary bloc, Sairoon, said in a tweet on Tuesday.

“The skies, land, and sovereignty of Iraq are being violated every day by occupying forces,” he added. The cleric, however, cautioned that such a show of popular disapproval should be a “peaceful, unified demonstration,” but did not offer a date or location for the proposed rally.

On January 5, Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country.

Late on January 9, Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on the United States to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the withdrawal of US troops from the country.

According to a statement released by the Iraqi premier’s office, Abdul-Mahdi “requested that delegates be sent to Iraq to set the mechanisms to implement the parliament's decision for the secure withdrawal of (foreign) forces from Iraq” in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The prime minister said Iraq rejects violation of its sovereignty, particularly the US military's violation of Iraqi airspace in the airstrike that assassinated Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the deputy head of PMU, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and their companions.

“The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement added.

The US State Department bluntly rejected the request the following day.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/16/616334/US-forces-will-suffer-heavy-defeat-if-they-refuse-to-leave-Iraq:-Hashd-Sha'abi-group

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‘The time is now’ for US-Iraq talks on strategic partnership: US official

16 January 2020

The US and Iraq should reengage in talks over their strategic partnership, said Joey Hood, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the US State Department.

“The time is now for the United States and Iraq to sit down and talk about recommitting to the strategic partnership, on the diplomatic level, the financial level, the economic level, and the security level as well,” said Hood, in an interview with Al Arabiya’s Washington Bureau Chief Nadia Bilbassy.

US-Iraqi ties are under strain following the Iraqi Parliament’s request for US troops to leave the country in the aftermath of the US airstrike which killed Iran commander Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad.

The US currently has an estimated 5,000-6,000 troops stationed in the country.

“It’s not time to be talking about withdrawal,” said Hood.

He added that he hoped Iraqi political parties would come together to nominate a suitable prime minister. Caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi resigned in late November during nationwide protests.

“We hope that the Iraqi political parties will come together very quickly to nominate and approve a strong prime minister who has full control over his cabinet, full control over the security forces, and can help us make a strong, sovereign, stable, and prosperous Iraqi government, and country of Iraq,” he said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/-The-time-is-now-for-US-Iraq-talks-on-strategic-partnership-US-official.html

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Syria's war: More than 20 killed in air raids on rebel-held Idlib

January 17, 2020

At least 21 people were killed in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province as government forces and their Russian allies intensified an air offensive on the country's northwest.

A new ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in Syria's nearly nine-year conflict, went into effect on Sunday but violence has continued, according to rescue workers operating in opposition-held areas.

The Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said air raids and barrel bombs on Wednesday struck a vegetable market in the town of Ariha, as well as repair workshops in an industrial area, a few hundred metres away from the market.

At least 19 people were killed in the attacks on the market and the nearby shops, including a Civil Defence volunteer, Ahmed Sheikho, a spokesman for the group, told Al Jazeera.

A man was also killed in the village of Has as a result of a Syrian government air raid, Sheikho said, while a young girl succumbed to wounds sustained in a previous attack, which took place before the latest ceasefire was implemented.

At least 82 people were wounded in the attacks on Wednesday and the death toll is likely to increase, according to the White Helmets.

The White Helmets

@SyriaCivilDef

21 innocent people have lost their lives today, and 82 others have been injured, as a result of the regime/Russian terrorist attacks on #Idlib and #Ariha market and many other places in northern #syria. The number of dead will climb as many are critically injured.

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The bombardment engulfed several vehicles in the industrial zone, leaving the charred corpses of motorists trapped inside, an AFP news agency correspondent said.

Mustafa, who runs a repair shop in the area, told AFP he returned to find the shop destroyed and his four employees trapped under the rubble. It was not immediately clear if they had survived.

"This is not the neighbourhood I left two minutes ago," Mustafa said.

The attacks come days after a brief lull. The ceasefire brokered by Moscow, which supports the Syrian government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, faltered on Tuesday night when air raids hit a string of towns in the southern part of Idlib province.

Since December 1, about 350,000 people, mostly women and children, have been displaced by the renewed offensive, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest situation report that the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate as a result of the "escalating" hostilities.

The short-lived ceasefire follows a previous truce announced in late August, after attacks by the government killed more than 1,000 civilians in four months, according to the UN.

Residents and rescue workers said many towns and villages in the province's southern region are now empty as a result of the Russian-backed Syrian government offensive which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people since it began in April.

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday said in a statement the world body is increasingly concerned about the safety of civilians.

"The UN urges all parties, and those with influence over those parties, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law," he said.

The UN, which is responsible for delivering most of the aid to Idlib, has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe as people flee the fighting towards the overcrowded Turkish border area.

There are already about one million displaced people living near the border, with official camps already at full capacity.

Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher for Human Rights Watch, said nearly four million civilians are "essentially trapped" in Idlib due to the relentless bombardment.

"It's likely that many of these attacks on protected civilian infrastructure, where there is large civilian presence and no real military target, are likely to be war crimes," Kayyali told Al Jazeera.

"Although human rights organisations are scaling up their operations, they simply can't keep up with the demands," she said.

Kayyali noted that numerous families are now left "out in the open, in the middle of freezing weather" with "no tents, no shelter, no food".

"If they're not being bombed, they're dying because they're hungry," she said.

Government-led attacks have mainly struck areas close to the strategic M5 highway, one of the most important arteries in Syria's transport network before the war erupted.

The Syrian government has been battling to take control of the road, which links the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, something that would allow it to connect cities under its control and boost trade.

The northwestern region is home to nearly three million people, about half of whom were transferred there in large groups from other parts of the country which had been held by rebels and were retaken by pro-government forces.

Full report at:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/syria-war-21-killed-attacks-idlib-market-shops-200116071519043.html

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Iraqi air raids kill 6 ISIS members in Salahuddin desert

January 16-2020

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Iraqi air force carried out a series of airstrikes on Wednesday, targeting positions held by sleeper cells of the so-called Islamic State in Salahuddin province, a statement from the Iraqi military communications center said.

The operation came in coordination with the Salahuddin Operations Command, seeking out members of the terrorist organization hiding in the inhospitable areas of al-Shai Valley in rural Salahuddin, according to the Security Media Cell (SMC).

Two separate airstrikes killed six alleged terrorists, an SMC statement said. The attacks also totaled a vehicle and destroyed a tunnel the group used as a hideout. SMC also reported that one officer had been injured during the operation.

Shai Valley is comprised of rugged, barren terrain that has been a haven for Islamic State sleeper cells who use it as a base from where they can plan and launch attacks in surrounding settlements and towns.

Read More: Iraqi forces arrest prominent ISIS ‘health official’ south of Mosul

The Iraqi operation comes amid ongoing US-Iran tensions in the region as the terror group took advantage of an escalating situation that raised fears of an all-out war to carry out a series of attacks and continues to attempt to re-establish a foothold in Iraq.

Full report at:

https://www.kurdistan24.net/en/news/d444e853-950c-40bc-992c-09dffb63d95d

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Russia denies bombing civilian targets in Syria’s Idlib

17 January 2020

Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Thursday denied media reports that it had bombed civilian targets in the de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib province, saying there had been no military flights since a ceasefire was introduced on January 9, RIA reported.

“Reports by a number of outlets about shelling allegedly by Russian aviation on civilian targets in the Idlib de-escalation zone does not correspond to reality,” Russian major-general Yury Borenkov was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/17/Russia-denies-bombing-civilian-targets-in-Syria-s-Idlib-.html

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Iraq denies resuming joint operations with US-led coalition

16 January 2020

An Iraqi government spokesman denied reports on Thursday that joint operations had resumed between local forces and the US-led coalition fighting ISIS sleeper cells.

The coalition, active in Iraq since 2014, said on January 5 that it was pausing anti-ISIS operations and training missions due to security concerns after a series of rocket attacks on bases where US and other international troops are located.

The New York Times, citing two American military officials, reported Thursday that the US - which makes up the bulk of the coalition - had resumed the operations.

But the Iraqi prime minister’s spokesman on military affairs told AFP the coalition did not have permission from Baghdad to carry out any joint missions.

“The joint operations have not resumed and we have not given our authorization,” said Abdulkarim Khalaf.

He said the Iraqi government had ordered the coalition to halt its joint operations following two US air strikes including one that killed a top Iranian commander.

The first, in late December, killed 25 Iraqi paramilitary fighters in the country’s west, in retaliation for the killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack.

The second was a US precision drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, which killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and leading Iraqi military official Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

“The agreement was that the coalition was here to fight ISIS and help the Iraqis fight ISIS, so we considered these strikes to be unilateral actions,” said Khalaf.

In response, he said, “joint operations, which include the use of Iraqi airspace, were banned.”

The Pentagon told AFP it had no information to provide concerning a resumption.

The US-led coalition’s spokesman in Baghdad also declined to comment.

But a top US defense official told reporters last week that the operational pause was a coalition decision - and resuming them would be, too.

“It is absolutely our call,” the official said, saying the security situation was still too tense.

“As soon as it’s permissive, we’ll turn it back on.”

The official also said the coalition had continued flying surveillance drones over Iraq despite Baghdad’s complaints.

“I need that to see the environment. So I’ll continue to fly that as long as I need it to protect,” the official said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iraqi leaders have told him privately they support the US troop presence, despite public appeals for them to leave.

“They won’t say so publicly. But privately they all welcome the fact that America is still there executing its counter-terror campaign,” Pompeo said at a forum at Stanford University.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/Iraq-denies-resuming-joint-operations-with-US-led-coalition-.html

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Lebanon close to forming new govt: Caretaker finance minister

16 January 2020

Lebanon is on the brink of forming a new government, the country's caretaker finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Thursday.

The new cabinet would comprise 18 specialist ministers, Khalil added.

Lebanon has been without a government since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29 in the face of sweeping protests.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/Lebanon-on-the-brink-of-forming-new-govt-Caretaker-finance-minister.html

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UN says around 350,000 people have fled Idlib since Dec. 1

16 January 2020

Around 350,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, have been displaced by a renewed Russian-backed offensive in the opposition-held Idlib province since early December, and have sought shelter in border areas near Turkey, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest situation report that the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate as a result of the “escalating” hostilities.

Russian jets and Syrian artillery have pounded towns and villages in recent weeks in a renewed assault backed by pro-Iranian militias that aimed at clearing the opposition.

“This latest wave of displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Idlib,” David Swanson, Amman-based UN regional spokesman for Syria, told Reuters.

Russian and Syrian jets resumed bombing of civilian areas in the opposition enclave two days after a ceasefire agreed between Turkey and Russia formally took effect on Sunday.

UN officials said earlier this month the humanitarian crisis had worsened with thousands of civilians on the run in Idlib province on top of close to 400,000 people who fled earlier bouts of fighting to the safety of camps near the Turkish border.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/UN-says-around-350-000-people-have-fled-Idlib-since-Dec-1.html

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Lebanon detains 100 after protests turn violent

16 January 2020

Lebanon’s security forces were holding at least 100 anti-government protesters Thursday, lawyers told AFP, after two nights of demonstrations that turned violent in Beirut.

An unprecedented nationwide movement of protests demanding an end to endemic corruption and the wholesale removal of Lebanon’s political elite broke out nearly three months ago.

With little change in sight, protesters also angered by a financial crisis they blame on Lebanon’s oligarchs resumed their rallies with renewed determination Tuesday after a holiday lull.

Protesters vandalized several banks on the central Hamra street on Tuesday evening and hurled rocks at anti-riot police, who responded with volleys of tear gas canisters.

Gathered in front of the Central Bank again on Wednesday, the protesters then moved to a police station where some of their comrades had been detained the previous night, leading to clashes that left dozens lightly wounded.

According to documents put together by a committee of lawyers defending the protesters and seen by AFP, a total of 101 protesters are currently being detained over the violence.

“The total number of people arrested now tops 100, it’s madness,” said Nizar Saghieh, who heads the Legal Agenda non-government organisation.

A fresh demonstration is planned on Thursday to demand the release of those held.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned under pressure from the street less than two weeks into the wave of protests but a new government has still not been formed.

After a long search for a suitable candidate, former education minister and university professor Hassan Diab was nominated and tasked with picking a new cabinet.

Protesters have demanded a government of technocrats excluding the household names that have symbolized Lebanon’s sectarian-based politics for generations.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/16/Lebanon-detains-100-after-protests-turn-violent-.html

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US military dispatches over 70 trucks to oil-rich eastern Syria: Report

17 January 2020

The United States has reportedly dispatched dozens of truckloads of military and logistical equipment to oil-rich areas it has occupied in Syria’s eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr and the northeastern province of Hasakah as Washington and some of its regional allies are vying with one another to seize oil reserves and plunder natural resources in the war-battered country.

Local sources from the Kurdish-majority northeastern city of Qamishli, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Syria’s official news agency SANA that a convoy of 75 trucks crossed the Semalka border crossing, which is a pontoon bridge across the Tigris, on Thursday evening and headed towards US positions in the two provinces.

In late October last year, Washington reversed an earlier decision to pull out all of its troops from northeastern Syria, announcing the deployment of about 500 soldiers to the oil fields controlled by Kurdish forces in the Arab country.

The US claimed that the move was aimed at protecting the fields and facilities from possible attacks by the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group. That claim came although US President Donald Trump had earlier suggested that Washington sought economic interests in controlling the oilfields.

Pentagon chief Mark Esper then threatened that the US forces deployed to the oil fields would use “military force” against any party that might seek to challenge control of the sites, even if it were Syrian government forces or their Russian allies.

Syria, which has not authorized American military presence in its territory, has said the US is “plundering” the country’s oil.

On December 18, 2019, China’s special envoy for Syria said the United States’ pretext for extending its military presence in the Arab country, namely to protect Syrian oil fields, was untenable.

“Who have given the Americans the right to do this? And, at whose invitation is the US protecting Syria’s oil fields?” Xie Xiaoyan said at a press conference in Moscow.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/17/616387/US-military-dispatches-over-70-trucks-to-oil-rich-eastern-Syria:-Report

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Bomb attack kills ten in Turkish-controlled northern Syria town

16 January 2020

Nearly a dozen people have lost their lives when a powerful car bomb explosion ripped through a northern Syrian border town seized by Turkish military forces and their allied militants in the aftermath of a cross-border incursion against militants of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack took place in the town of Suluk, which lies southeast of Tal Abyad district in Syria’s northern province of Raqqah, on Thursday evening.

The Britain-based war monitor said the blast targeted the headquarters of the Turkish-backed and so-called Ahrar al-Sharqiya (Free Men of the East) militant group, leaving seven members of the Takfiri outfit dead.

The Observatory added that three Turkish soldiers were among the fatalities, noting that the death toll is expected to rise as some of the wounded are in critical condition.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

On October 9, Turkish military forces and Ankara-backed militants launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to push YPG militants away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a memorandum of understanding that asserted YPG militants had to withdraw from the Turkish-controlled "safe zone" in northeastern Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow would run joint patrols around the area.

The announcement was made hours before a US-brokered five-day truce between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces was due to expire.

Militant rocket attack leaves six civilians dead in Aleppo

Meanwhile, at least six civilians were killed in Syria’s northwestern city of Aleppo after foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants launched a number of projectiles at a residential neighborhood.

An unmanned source at Aleppo Police Command told Syria’s official news agency SANA that terrorists positioned on the western and northwestern outskirts of Aleppo fired three rockets at al-Sukari neighborhood, claiming the lives of six people and leaving 15 others wounded.

The attack also inflicted material damage on civilian houses and property, SANA added.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/16/616354/Bomb-attack-kills-ten-in-Turkish-controlled-northern-Syrian-town

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US threats over Baghdad’s S-400 procurement detached from reality: Iraqi MP

16 January 2020

An Iraqi lawmaker has dismissed US threats to impose sanctions on Baghdad over its procurement of advanced Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems, saying such pressure is far away from realities on the ground.

“US sanctions on Iraq need the approval of decision-making bodies in that country,” Ali al-Ghanmi, a member of the Parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, said in an interview with Arabic-language Baghdad Today news agency on Thursday.

He asserted that the US punitive measures over Russian S-400 missile systems would be simply formal sanctions, which would not actually materialize and would fall short of their objectives.

“According to the Constitution, Iraq is free to arm itself, acquire necessary military hardware and purchase any system it deems appropriate under the circumstances. The import of S-400 missile systems requires Russian supervision, and its training of Iraqi military personnel,” Ghanmi pointed out.

On January 10, Iraqi lawmakers said the government had decided to move forward with negotiations to buy Russian S-400 air defense missile systems in response to concerns the US may withdraw its support for Baghdad.

“We are talking to Russia about the S-400 missiles but no contracts have been signed yet,” Karim Alawi, a member of the Iraqi parliament's security and defense committee, announced.

He added, “We need to get these missiles, especially after Americans have disappointed us many times by not helping us in getting proper weapons.”

Alawi further noted that Iraq’s national security adviser Falih al-Fayadh traveled to Russia three months ago for negotiations with Russian officials about the missiles, but anti-government protests and the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi delayed the talks.

Abdul Khaleq al-Azzawi, another member of the Iraqi parliament's security and defense committee, said, “We authorized the prime minister to get air defense weapons from any country he wants and we authorized him to spend the money for it, from any country, from Russia or anyone.”

Earlier this year, Igor Kurushchenko, a member of the General Council of the Russian Ministry of Defense, announced that Iraq could improve its air defense capabilities with the help of the Russian S-400 missile system.

Kurushchenko underlined that the recent US assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), in an airstrike ordered by US President Donald Trump, clearly indicated that Baghdad needs to improve its air defense system.

“Iraq is a partner to Russia in the field of technical military cooperation. Russia can send the necessary means to ensure the country's sovereignty and reliable protection of its airspace, including the supply of S-400 missiles and other parts of the air defense system,” he pointed out.

The United States has already warned Iraq of the consequences of extending military cooperation with Russia, and striking deals to purchase advanced weaponry, particularly S-400 missile systems.

Former US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on February 22, 2018 that Washington has contacted many countries, including Iraq, to explain the significance of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and possible consequences that would arise in the wake of defense agreements with Moscow.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/16/616345/US-threats-over-Baghdad%E2%80%99s-S-400-procurement-detached-from-reality:-Iraqi-MP

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