New Age Islam
Thu Sep 24 2020, 05:48 PM

Islamic World News ( 26 Feb 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Bosnia’s Muslim Religious Institution Bans Radical Islamist’s Congregations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Saudi Arabia Lists 4 Firms, 3 Lebanese Men over ‘Hezbollah Links’

 

Saudi Arabia Lists 4 Firms, 3 Lebanese Men over ‘Hezbollah Links’

Suicide Attack on Leader of Anti-Taliban Militia Leaves Over 50 Killed, Wounded In Afghanistan

Every Man in Iranian Village 'Executed On Drugs Charges'

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Europe

Bosnia’s Muslim Religious Institution Bans Radical Islamist’s Congregations

Spain Agrees To Extradite ‘Jihad Jane’ Recruiter to US to Face Terrorism Charges

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Arab World

Saudi Arabia Lists 4 Firms, 3 Lebanese Men over ‘Hezbollah Links’

Senior ISIL Commander, 37 Other Militants Killed in Kirkuk

Two Senior Militant Commanders Killed in Southwestern Syria

Iraqi MP: Turkey's Moves in Northern Iraq Part of Disintegration Plots

Over 100 Syrian Opposition Groups Agree with Ceasefire Plan

Syria civil war: State-of-the-art technology gives President Assad’s army the edge

Aid groups urge Western states to halt Saudi arms sales amid Yemen bombing

US, Russia-brokered cease-fire goes into effect across Syria

Syrian Warplanes Continue to Bomb Terrorists' Centres in Hama

Syria: Gov't Forces Capture More Territories in Aleppo

Homs: Syrian Army Seizes More Weapons, Ammunition from Militants

Army Destroys Militants' Defense Lines in Hama Province

Yemeni Forces down Another Saudi Apache Helicopter

Syrian Commandos Enter Idlib Province after Six Months of Non-Stop Battle

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South Asia

Suicide Attack on Leader of Anti-Taliban Militia Leaves Over 50 Killed, Wounded In Afghanistan

Suicide Bomber Kills At Least 10 in Eastern Afghanistan

Drone Strike Leaves 3 Al-Qaeda Militants Dead In Paktika Province

Taliban’s shadow governor for Zabul’s Atghar district killed

Dostum vows to avenge the beheading of 2 Afghan soldiers by militants

Interior Ministry vows to arrest perpetrators of deadly Kunar attack

Afghan army thwart IED attack plot in Kabul

Landmine blast leaves five civilians wounded, one killed in Nangarhar’s Khogyani district

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Mideast

Every Man in Iranian Village 'Executed On Drugs Charges'

Turkey Warns Of 'Further Measures' Against Kurdish Fighters in Syria

Syrian Rebel Group Says 3 Fighters Killed in Gov’t Attack near Turkish Border Despite Truce

Reformists leading in Iran parliament vote

Palestinian journalist ends 94-day hunger strike in Israel jail – reports

Turkey concerned about future of Syrian cease-fire due to recent attacks

US denies shift in assessment of Syrian Kurdish YPG

Global press bodies call for release of 30 jailed journalists in Turkey

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Africa

Leaders Gather in Rabat to Advance Interfaith Dialogue

Measures Possible Against Libya Deal Nay-Sayers

No One’s going to Be Honest about Libya

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Pakistan

Only Musharraf Be Tried For Treason: Pakistan SC

FC Chief Warns Of Strict Action against Terrorists

Student allegedly commits suicide at private school campus in Peshawar

Altaf case halts as Asma refuses to submit apology

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India

Won't Vacate Siachen, We Can't Trust Pakistan, Says Def. Minister

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Southeast Asia

Vatican`s Foreign Minister Lauds Indonesia`s Religious Tolerance

Lawyers to Challenge Indonesia Court Verdict on Sex Abuse

One Thamrin Bombing Suspect Still at Large: Police

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North America

US To Go Ahead With F-16 Sale, Says State Department

2 US senators oppose F-16 sale to Pakistan

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/bosnia’s-muslim-religious-institution-bans-radical-islamist’s-congregations/d/106481

 

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Bosnia’s Muslim religious institution bans radical Islamist’s congregations

February 27, 2016

Bosnia's Islamic Community has said congregations that lure people into joining extremist groups will have to be closed by March 1. The community is the only official Bosnian Muslim religious institution. Dozens of congregations, gathering nearly 3,000 believers mainly in rural areas, have formed over the years outside of the official structure. Some of them pursue radical interpretations of Islam not traditional among the nearly 2 million Bosnian Muslims, AP said. The Islamic Community on Friday urged members of such groups to abandon self-proclaimed imams who are luring people into a “monstrous” ideology. Last month, envoys were sent to the congregations urging people to switch to an official congregation.

rt.com/news/line/

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Saudi Arabia lists 4 firms, 3 Lebanese men over ‘Hezbollah links’

February 27, 2016

Saudi Arabia has designated four companies and three Lebanese men as having links to the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, state news agency SPA said. “The kingdom will continue its fight against the terrorist activities of the so-called Hezbollah in all available means,” the Interior Ministry said on Friday. Last week, Saudi Arabia suspended aid worth $3 billion to the Lebanese Army over the failure of the government in Beirut to sign up to statements condemning attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, Reuters reported.

rt.com/news/line/

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Suicide Attack on Leader of Anti-Taliban Militia Leaves Over 50 Killed, Wounded In Afghanistan

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

Suicide attack on a leader of anti-Taliban militia has left over 50 people killed and wounded in Asadabad, the provincial capital of eastern Kunar province.

The suicide bomber reportedly detonated his explosives near the governor house this morning.

Eyewitnesses say the suicide bomber who was riding on a motorcycle targeted Haji Khan Jan who was leader of the uprising forces in Dangam District.

Officials at the Public Health Directorate of Kunar province says their record shows the incident has left 11 people killed and 40 others wounded.

However, the casualty toll can possibly rise since the victims have been taken to different hospitals by locals and provincial administration said a complete report would be released later.

Some of those critically wounded have been shifted to Nangarhar Regional Hospital which has better arrangements for emergency situations compared to the medical facilities in Kunar.

Yet, there is no claim of responsibility for the attack.

khaama.com/breaking-news-over-50-killed-wounded-in-kunar-suicide-attack-4594

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Every Man in Iranian Village 'Executed On Drugs Charges'

Lizzie Dearden | The Independent | Feb 27, 2016

Every man in an Iranian village has reportedly been executed by the government on drug charges.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, the vice president for women and family affairs, was arguing for increased provision for convicts' families when she made the admission.

"We have a village in Sistan and Baluchestan (province) where every single man has been executed," she told the Mehr news agency.

"Today their children are potential drug traffickers; either because they will seek revenge for the deaths of their fathers or because they will need to financially provide for their families, as a result of lack of support by the government."

It was unclear when the men in the unnamed village died or whether the executions were carried out at once or over an extended period of time.

Ms Molaverdi argued that society was responsible for the families of executed convicts and said a dropped welfare programme had been reinstated.

Her comments were translated by the Iran Human Rights group, which said several hundred people are hanged on drug charges ever year in Iran, mostly from marginalised groups and ethnic minorities.

"Iranian authorities have repeatedly admitted that the death penalty has not solved the problem of drug trafficking, but they still continue to execute people for drug charges," Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, a spokesperson of Iran Human Rights said.

"In 2015 the number of executions in Iran for drug offences was the highest in 20 years."

The group is calling for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other parties to stop providing equipment, funding, and technology to Iranian investigators until capital punishment is lifted.

In 2011, Iran's Supreme Council for Human Rights said 74 per cent of executions in the country were convicted drug traffickers, mainly handling opium being transported from Afghanistan and Europe.

Reprieve, a British human rights organisatoin, said that approximately 600 out of 947 hangings in Iran in 2015 were related to alleged drug offences - as were at least 31 carried out so far this year - amid concerns over unfair trials, forced confessions, and juvenile arrests.

Research carried out two years ago claimed to find a link between previous rounds of European UNODC funding and more than 3,000 death sentences in Iran and Pakistan, and finding is expected to continue flowing to Iran's Anti-Narcotics Police this year.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: "The apparent hanging of every man in one Iranian village demonstrates the astonishing scale of Iran's execution spree.

"These executions - often based on juvenile arrests, torture, and unfair or non-existent trials - show total contempt for the rule of law, and it is shameful that the UN and its funders are supporting the police forces responsible.

"The UNODC must urgently make its new Iran funding conditional on an end to the death penalty for drug offences."

Sistan and Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan in the country's south-east has seen conflict between armed drug cartels and smugglers since 200, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Baloch Sunni militant organisations, designated terrorists by the government in Tehran, are also fighting an insurgency in the impoverished region.

A spokesperson for the UNODC declined to comment on the specific case when contacted by The Independent's but affirmed its opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances.

"UNODC works with countries to build their capacity to interrupt drug trafficking," he added. "It also offers assistance for prevention and treatment services that benefits drug users and which is founded on scientific evidence, international best practices and the fundamental right to health."

independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/every-man-in-iran-village-executed-on-drugs-charges-death-penalty-capital-punishment-human-rights-a6898036.html

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Europe

Bosnia’s Muslim religious institution bans radical Islamist’s congregations

February 27, 2016

Bosnia's Islamic Community has said congregations that lure people into joining extremist groups will have to be closed by March 1. The community is the only official Bosnian Muslim religious institution. Dozens of congregations, gathering nearly 3,000 believers mainly in rural areas, have formed over the years outside of the official structure. Some of them pursue radical interpretations of Islam not traditional among the nearly 2 million Bosnian Muslims, AP said. The Islamic Community on Friday urged members of such groups to abandon self-proclaimed imams who are luring people into a “monstrous” ideology. Last month, envoys were sent to the congregations urging people to switch to an official congregation.

rt.com/news/line/

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Spain agrees to extradite ‘Jihad Jane’ recruiter to US to face terrorism charges

27 Feb, 2016

Washington had wanted to speak to Damache, who was arrested in December in Barcelona. Police were alerted to his presence in the Spanish city thanks to a telephone tip-off to the country’s emergency 112 number, Spanish media reported.

US officials believe he conspired with an American woman, Colleen LaRose, known in the US media as “Jihad Jane,” to create a “violent jihad organization” and to carry out attacks in Europe.

The Spanish government ruled in favor of granting the US extradition case Friday and if Damache is found guilty, he could face up to 45 years in prison.

Damache, who holds joint Irish and Algerian nationality, is alleged by the US authorities to have tried to recruit men over the internet in order to “wage violent jihad in South Asia and Europe,” according to AFP.

The US authorities had previously asked the Irish government to extradite Damache, but an Irish court allowed him to walk free in 2015.  The judge refused to extradite him to the US due to fears over how he might be treated under America’s severe penal system.

Damache is also believed to have links with LaRose, who was jailed for 10 years in 2014, for plotting to murder a Swedish artist who had depicted the head of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed on a dog.

LaRose, who had reportedly used the name “Jihad Jane” after converting to Islam, traveled to Europe in 2009 in order to try and kill Lars Vilks by shooting him in the chest six times. However, LaRose became impatient with the men who had asked her to come to Europe and she returned to the US after six weeks, where she was promptly arrested.

"I was in a trance and I couldn't see anything else," she said at the time, as cited by Reuters. "I don't want to be in jihad no more."

rt.com/news/333805-extradition-usa-spain-terror/

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Arab World

Saudi Arabia lists 4 firms, 3 Lebanese men over ‘Hezbollah links’

February 27, 2016

Saudi Arabia has designated four companies and three Lebanese men as having links to the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, state news agency SPA said. “The kingdom will continue its fight against the terrorist activities of the so-called Hezbollah in all available means,” the Interior Ministry said on Friday. Last week, Saudi Arabia suspended aid worth $3 billion to the Lebanese Army over the failure of the government in Beirut to sign up to statements condemning attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, Reuters reported.

rt.com/news/line/

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Senior ISIL Commander, 37 Other Militants Killed in Kirkuk

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Iraqi army and volunteer forces (Hashd al-Shaabi) continued their advances in Kirkuk province, killing dozens of Takfiri terrorists, including a senior commander, in heavy clashes in al-Bashir region.

A notorious ISIL commander was among 38 terrorists killed in the army attack on al-Bashir region in Kirkuk province, the Arabic-language media outlets reported.

The Iraqi popular forces' artillery pounded and destroyed the terrorists' positions in al-Bashir region.

In a relevant development on Wednesday, the Iraqi volunteer forces commanders reiterated that they are determined to continue their tough battle against the ISIL in a bid to take full control of the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq, and said that they will pay no heed to the US pressures aimed at preventing them from doing so.

"We are committed to the Iraqi government's decision that the Iraqi volunteer forces should play an active role in the battles against the Takfiri terrorists in Mosul," Spokesman of Iraq's Ansarullah al-Nujaba Movement Hashem al-Moussavi told FNA.

He reiterated that the volunteer forces are waiting for the Iraqi government's decision before moving towards Mosul.

"The US and the regional spy agencies are seeking to trouble the Iraqi volunteer forces' partnership in the war against the ISIL in Mosul, but to no avail," al-Moussavi added.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941208000635

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Two Senior Militant Commanders Killed in Southwestern Syria

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- Two notorious commanders of Ajnad al-Sham and Liwa Shohada al-Islam terrorist groups were killed in clashes with the Syrian Army troops and popular forces in Western Ghouta, Southwest of Damascus province.

Feisal al-Shami also known as Abu Malik al-Miqdad, a leader of Ajnad al-Sham, was killed in a heavy fighting with the Syrian government forces in Darayya.

Meantime, the militant group in its social media pages confirmed the death of Imad Abu Mohammad, a field commander of the so-called Liwa Shohada al-Islam terrorist groups, alongside a number of his comrades in another clash with the Syrian army.

Also on Thursday, the Abdal al-Sham terrorists affiliated to the Free Syrian Army held captive several members of their rival group, ISIL, including two commanders, on the outskirts of Damascus city.

Members of Abdal al-Sham surrounded the house of an ISIL member in Kafr Zeit village in Bardi valley on Thursday and held captive their leaders, Abu Maryam al-Araqi and Abu Mosa'ab Sarqaya, along with 12 other ISIL terrorists.

Also, in another development on the outskirts of Damascus city, the Syrian warplanes pounded the terrorists' positions and gathering centres in Darayya and near Tal Farzat region.

Also, tens of terrorists were killed and wounded in clashes with the Syrian army in Darayya city in the Western Ghouta of Damascus.

The Syrian artillery units also targeted the terrorists' positions in the city of Hai Jobar in the Eastern parts of Damascus and Duma and al-Rayhan towns on the outskirts of Damascus.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941208000421

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Iraqi MP: Turkey's Moves in Northern Iraq Part of Disintegration Plots

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Iraqi legislator warned that Ankara's military moves in the Northern parts of Iraq are aimed at plots to disintegrate the Arab country.

"Iraq doesn’t need any foreign side and what the Turkish officials say is a part of plots to disintegrate Iraq and it is completely clear," Iskandar Witwit, a member of the Iraqi parliament's security and defense committee, told FNA on Saturday.

Turkey's moves in Northern Iraq are part of certain regional states, US and Israel's plots to disintegrate the country, he added.

Witwit underlined the necessity for further arming and equipping the Iraqi army, specially the air force, to stand against enemies' plots and threats.

His remarks came after Turkish warplanes struck Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant targets in Northern Iraq late on Wednesday, hitting logistical centers, ammunition depots and shelters, security sources said.

The jets took off from an air base in the predominantly Kurdish Southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, sources said.

Turkey reported that 12 PKK members were killed in the attacks.

Turkish authorities launched a military campaign against the PKK in mid-2015 after a months-long ceasefire collapsed. In recent months, the internal crackdown, which many have branded a humanitarian catastrophe, has been "merging with the increasingly hot war between Turkey" and the Syrian Kurds.

Unlike Ankara, the Kurds have proved to be one of the key forces capable of standing against Daesh. Their success on the battlefield has empowered the fragmented ethnic group to seek greater rights, fueling fears that the Kurds will ultimately manage to overcome their internal differences in a bid to establish an autonomous, if not independent Kurdistan.

Ankara views this as a nightmare scenario, which, in Erdogan's opinion, is becoming more real. For this reason, Turkey has intensified its anti-Kurdish campaign at home and in northern Syria, which could end in Ankara sending ground forces across the border.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941208000534

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Over 100 Syrian Opposition Groups Agree with Ceasefire Plan

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- More than 100 Syrian opposition groups have agreed to implement a ceasefire plan brokered by the US and Russia, media reports said.

A large number of opposition groups came to terms with the ceasefire plan in Syria on Friday, the Arabic-language media outlets reported.

On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced an agreement on cessation of hostilities between the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad and the armed opposition factions had been reached. The agreement will come into force on February 27.

Military action, including airstrikes conducted by Syria, Russia and the US-led coalition will continue against ISIL, al-Nusra Front, as well as other UN-designated terrorist groups.

On September 30, Moscow commenced airstrikes in Syria against the ISIL and the Nusra Front, both outlawed on its territory, at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Moscow and Washington may carry out airstrikes against those who will not adhere to the ceasefire in Syria.

Moscow does not rule out that along with the United States groups in Syria not adhering to the cessation of hostilities agreement may be bombed, Bogdanov said.

"I think that together with the United States we’ll bomb everyone who doesn’t join in on the ceasefire. That is our joint statement,” he added.

The deputy foreign minister announced that all warring parties in Syria must confirm their commitment to the ceasefire by noon on February 26.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941207001361

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Syria civil war: State-of-the-art technology gives President Assad’s army the edge

Robert Fisk | The Independent | Feb 27, 2016

You can see the Syrian army's spanking new Russian T-90 tanks lined up in their new desert livery scarcely 100 miles from ISIS's Syrian "capital" of Raqqa.

There are new Russian-made trucks alongside them, and a lot of artillery and - surely ISIS's spies are supposed to see this - plenty of Syrian soldiers walking beside the perimeter wire beside Russian soldiers wearing floppy military hats against the sun, the kind they used in the old days in the summer heat of Afghanistan in the 1980s. There's even a Russian general based at the Isriyah military base, making sure that Syrian tank crews receive the most efficient training on the T-90s.

No, Russian ground troops are not going to fight ISIS. That was never the intention. The Russian air force attacks ISIS from the air; the Syrians, the Iranians, the Afghan Shia Muslims from north-eastern Afghanistan, the Iraqi Shias and several hundred Pakistani Shias must attack ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra on the ground.

But the Russians have to be up in the desert to the east of the Aleppo-Hama-Homs-Damascus axis, both to train the Syrian tank crews and maintain an eastern base of forward air controllers to guide the Sukhoi bombers on to their night-time targets.

Everyone on the Syrian front lines will tell you that the Syrian air force bombs its enemies only in clear weather. When the winter clouds descend and the rain falls across northern and eastern Syria, the Russians take over.

"The Syrians are low enough to see - the Russians, when they come, you never see them," as one constant visitor to the war fronts put it with military simplicity. No wonder senior Russian officers are now also attached to the Syrian army command in Aleppo. Vladimir Putin doesn't do things by halves.

Yet the most important military support the Russians have given to the Syrians is not the tanks - impressive though they look - but the technology that goes with them.

Syrian officers have been shown how the new T-90 anti-missile system causes rockets to veer off course only yards from the tanks when fired directly at them. Is this the weapon that might defeat the mass rocket assaults of ISIS and Nusra? Perhaps. Even more important for the Syrians, however, are the new Russian night-vision motion sensors, and the electronic surveillance-reconnaissance equipment which enabled the government army to smash through the Nusra defences in the mountainous far north-west of Syria, breaking the rebel supply lines from Turkey to Aleppo.

In an army that has lost well over 60,000 dead in almost five years of hard fighting, Syria's officers have suddenly discovered that the new Russian technology has coincided with a rapid lowering of their casualties. This may be one reason for the steady trickle of old "Free Syrian Army" deserters back to the ranks of the government forces, depleting even further David Cameron's 70,000-strong army of "moderate" ghost soldiers. Intriguingly, since the start of the war in 2011, a far higher percentage of Syrian police and political security personnel have gone across to Bashar al-Assad's enemies than have soldiers in the regular army. There have been 5,000 security personnel defections out of a total force of 28,000 police.

The Russians are in a unique position among Syrian ground forces; they can train the Syrians how to use the new tanks and then watch how the T-90s perform without having to suffer any casualties themselves. Originally, there were plans to recapture Palmyra, the Roman city already partly vandalised by ISIS, but the difficulties of the flat desert terrain have persuaded the Syrians that offensives in the north to cut off all rebel routes from Turkey into Syria will be far more worthwhile.

No wonder the Turks are now laying down shellfire amid Syrian forces along their mutual border. The Russians, of course, find it far easier to train men to fight in cities or mountains - environments in which they themselves have fought - than in deserts, in which no Russian military personnel have had experience since Gamal Abdel Nasser's war in Yemen.

The offensives that retook the Shia villages of Nubl and Zahra last month were of great interest to the Russian military. For the first time, Syrian army Special Forces, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters operated together with Syrian tanks and helicopters, blasting their way through 20 miles of villages and open countryside in just eight days.

But the statistics of foreign forces fighting for the Syrian regime appear to have been grossly exaggerated in the West. There are fewer than 5,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria - this includes advisers as well as soldiers - and the other 5,000 foreign fighters include not only Afghans and Hezbollah but Pakistani Shia Muslims as well.

Despite all the boasts of Saudi Arabia that it has formed a massive, if hopelessly untrained, "coalition against terror", it seems that the Syrians, Iranians and Hezbollah have managed to operate together in difficult, rainy terrain and win their first major joint battle. Iranian forces are now being used on the front lines for the first time, principally around Aleppo. Their first advance began in the south Aleppo countryside in November. Officially, they and the Syrians were said to be planning to open the old international highway from Aleppo to Hama, but the real plan was to break the sieges of the Shia villages of Fuah and Kafraya.

In the eastern countryside, Colonel Suheil Hassan, the "Tiger" whom some of the Syrian military regard as their Rommel, has been heading north to end an ISIS siege on a Syrian airbase.

But what of the Kurds, whose advance southwards has also endangered those rebel supply routes to Aleppo? The Syrians are grateful for any Kurdish help they can get. But few in the military have forgotten the chilling events of 2013, when retreating Syrians sought refuge with Kurdish forces after the battle for the Mineq airbase. The Kurds demanded a vast tranche of weapons from the Syrian army in return for their men - soldiers for ammunition - in which millions of rounds of AK-47 and machine-gun ammunition and thousands of rounds of rocket-propelled grenades were sought in return for the release of the soldiers.

But the Kurds wanted to persuade Nusra to return Kurdish prisoners, and offered the senior Syrian officers from Mineq to Nusra in return for the captives. Nusra agreed, but once the Kurds handed over the Syrian officers, the Islamist rebels - who had lost around 300 of their own men in the Mineq battle - at once killed all the Syrian officers the Kurds had given them, shooting them in the head.

Among them was the acting Syrian commander at Mineq, Colonel Naji Abu Shaar of the Syrian army's 17th Division. Events like these will not endear the Kurds to the Syrian army in future years.

Meanwhile, the Syrians continue to lose high-ranking officers in battle. At least six generals have been killed in combat during the Syrian war, allowing the army to proclaim that their top men lead from the front.

The commander of Syria's Special Forces was killed in Idlib, and the commander of Syrian military intelligence in the east of the country was killed in Deir al-Zour. Major-General Mohsen Mahlouf died in battle near Palmyra. General Saleh, a close friend and colleague of Colonel "Tiger" Hassan, took on the suicide bombers of al-Qaeda in the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City outside Aleppo a year ago.

He told me that suicide bombers killed 23 of his men in one vast explosion there. I met him afterwards, and thought at the time that he had adopted a blithe - almost foolhardy - disregard of death. Just a month ago, he drove over an IED bomb which blew off the lower half of his right leg. These are hard men, many of whom trained in a Syrian military college whose front gate legend reads: "Welcome to the school of heroism, where the gods of war are made." Chilling stuff.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Syria-civil-war-State-of-the-art-technology-gives-President-Assads-army-the-edge/articleshow/51163788.cms

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Aid groups urge Western states to halt Saudi arms sales amid Yemen bombing

Feb 27, 2016

An international coalition of 100 aid and rights organizations on Friday urged Western countries to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia for its air campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen, AP reported. The Control Arms Coalition listed 11 countries including France, Britain, the US and Germany that it says sold arms such as drones, missiles and bombs worth $25 billion to the kingdom in 2015. The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen amounts to a “gross violations of human rights and possible war crimes,” the group’s report said. The fighting in Yemen has killed more than 6,000 people since March 2015, the UN said.

rt.com/news/line/

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US, Russia-brokered cease-fire goes into effect across Syria

AP | Feb 27, 2016

The Syrian government and the opposition, including nearly 100 rebel groups, have said they will abide by the cease-fire despite serious skepticism about chances for success. (AFP photo)The Syrian government and the opposition, including nearly 100 rebel groups, have said they will abide by the ... Read More

BEIRUT: A cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia went into effect across Syria on Saturday, marking the biggest international push to reduce violence in the country's devastating conflict, but the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, were excluded.

The cease-fire aims to bring representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition back to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks on a political transition. The UN's envoy, Staffan de Mistura, announced that peace talks would resume on March 7 if the cessation of hostilities "largely holds.''

If it does, it would be the first time international negotiations have brought any degree of quiet in Syria's five-year civil war. But success requires adherence by multiple armed factions and the truce is made more fragile because it allows fighting to continue against the Islamic State group and Nusra Front, which could easily re-ignite broader warfare.

The Syrian government and the opposition, including nearly 100 rebel groups, have said they will abide by the cease-fire despite serious skepticism about chances for success.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva after the truce took hold at midnight, de Mistura said initial reports indicated that within minutes both Damascus and the nearby rebel-held town of Daraya suddenly ``had calmed down.'' He said there was a report of one ``incident'' that his team was investigating but did not give details.

Opposition activists on the ground also reported early adherence to the truce.

Mazen al-Shami, an activist near Damascus, said an opposition-held eastern suburb of the capital known as Eastern Ghouta was ``quiet for the first time in years.'' The Ghouta region, which includes the sprawling suburb of Douma, has been the scene of intense fighting during Syria's conflict.

An Associated Press crew in Damascus said the sounds of explosions stopped three minutes before midnight. An Aleppo-based opposition media collective, Aleppo24, said Russian warplanes left Aleppo skies at 12:19 am.

There were also some reports of violations, which could not be independently confirmed, but they appeared to be relatively limited.

Opposition activist Mohammed al-Sibai, who is based in the central province of Homs, told the AP that the cease-fire was violated 15 minutes after it went into effect in the town of Talbiseh, which was being subjected to shelling by government artillery based around the town. However, he said things later quieted down.

Significantly, there were no immediate reports of any airstrikes.

Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist in Daraa in the country's south said intense fighting suddenly stopped at midnight when the cease-fire went into effect.

"In the first half hour of the cease-fire the situation is relatively calm but tense,'' al-Masalmeh said via Skype. He later said Syrian troops fired tank shells at the village of Lajat in Daraa province, wounding two people.

"This is a regime that cannot be trusted,'' al-Masalmeh said.

The Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella opposition activist group, also reported that Syrian troops violated the truce in Daraa.

Less than an hour before the truce was set to begin, the 15-member Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement worked out between the United States and Russia.

De Mistura told the Security Council via video conference from Geneva that he hoped the cease-fire would provide a chance for humanitarian aid to reach those battered by Syria's brutal war and allow for a political solution.

He later told a news conference that operation centers in Moscow, Washington, Amman, Geneva and the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia were collecting information on any truce violations and would share them with the United States and Russia, which are responsible for addressing the incidents.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US didn't expect to be able to judge the cease-fire's success or failure within the first days or even weeks.

"We do anticipate we're going to encounter some speed bumps along the way,'' Earnest said. "There will be violations.''

On Friday, hours before the cease-fire came into effect, warplanes unleashed airstrikes against rebel-held positions in the suburbs of the Syrian capital and near the northern city of Aleppo.

The last barrages came as the main Syrian opposition and rebel umbrella group said dozens of factions — 97 groups in all — had agreed to abide by the truce. The High Negotiations Committee, or HNC, said a military committee has been formed to follow up on adherence.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the warplanes in Friday's strikes were believed to be Russian. The Kremlin did not comment on that report but denied allegations that the Russian air force bombed civilian positions east of Damascus the previous day.

The rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma was hit 40 times on Friday, the Observatory said, along with other areas east of the capital, killing at least eight people, including three women and four children.

Al-Shami, the activist based in the area, said the warplanes were Russian, adding that they carried out some 60 air raids. He said 25 strikes targeted Douma. "The air raids intensified after the revolutionary factions said they will abide by the cease-fire,'' al-Shami said via Skype.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, told reporters in New York that the increase of military activity was "tragic but unfortunately not surprising.''

Late Thursday, US President Barack Obama expressed hope that the cease-fire would lead to a political settlement to end the civil war and allow a more intense focus on battling the Islamic State group. He said he doesn't expect the truce to immediately end hostilities after years of bloodshed between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels who want to end his reign.

Announced just this week, the cease-fire is a "test'' of whether the parties are committed to broader negotiations over a political transition, a new constitution and holding free elections, Obama said. He said Syria's future cannot include Assad as president, which is a chief point of contention with Russia and Iran, who support the Syrian leader.

"We are certain that there will continue to be fighting,'' Obama said, noting that IS, the Nusra Front and other militant groups are not part of the negotiations and the truce.

Obama put the onus on Russia and its allies — including the Assad government — to live up to their commitments under the agreement. The elusive cease-fire deal was reached only after a monthslong Russian air campaign that the U.S. says strengthened Assad's hand and allowed his forces to retake territory, altering the balance of power in the Syrian civil war.

"The world will be watching,'' Obama said.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Friday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner called it "put up or shut up'' time for Russia to prove its seriousness about ending the fighting and starting a political transition by adhering to its pledge not to target "groups that we consider the moderate opposition.''

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country will keep hitting "terrorist organizations'' in Syria even after the truce is implemented.

The opposition umbrella, HNC, said in a statement that the Syrian "regime and its allies should not exploit the (truce) and continue with their hostilities against opposition factions under the pretext of fighting terrorists.''

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/US-Russia-brokered-cease-fire-goes-into-effect-across-Syria/articleshow/51163089.cms

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Syrian Warplanes Continue to Bomb Terrorists' Centers in Hama

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian warplanes carried out several combat sorties over concentration centers of the ISIL and Jeish al-Fatah terrorist groups in different parts of Hama province and inflicted major losses on the militants.

The ISIL positions and gathering centers in the farms of al-Rahil, Rasit al-Hamra, Abu Habilat, Wadi al-Gharib, Harmla, Jubb al-Mazare’e and al-Qetifia in the Eastern part of Hama province were heavily bombed by the Syrian Army's aircraft, which not only claimed the lives of many terrorists but also destroyed their military equipment, weapons and vehicles.

The Syrian fighter jets also targeted the Jeish al-Fatah's strongholds in al-Zaka and al-Lataminah in the Northern part of the province, which ended in the killing of at least eight militants and destruction of their military vehicles.

In relevant developments in the province on Friday, the Syrian army and National Defense Forces stormed the ISIL militants' lines of defense in the Eastern part of Hama province and forced them to retreat from their positions near at least two more villages in the region.

The Syrian pro-government forces continued to advance against the militant group and imposed full control over the villages of Rasm al-Teineh and Mentar al-Hajaneh following hours of intense battle.  

The ISIL suffered a heavy death toll and its military hardware sustained major damage in the attacks.  

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941208000606

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Syria: Gov't Forces Capture More Territories in Aleppo

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army and its popular allies continued to push the ISIL terrorists back from their positions Southeast of Aleppo province and imposed full control over one more key village and strategic hills in the region.

The Syrian army and the National Defense Forces, in a several hour battle, forced the ISIL to retreat from the surrounding of the village of Sallaleh al-Saghireh and Telal (Hills) al-Za'arour.

The ISIL left behind tens of dead or wounded members and fled the battlefield to evade more casualties.

The engineering units of the army, for their part, defused scores of bombs planted by the ISIL in the villages' buildings.

In relevant developments on Friday, the Syrian government forces pushed the ISIL back from their strongholds near the villages of Man'aya, Joukheh and Sallaleh al-Kabireh in the Western side Rasma al-Nafal following hours of intense battle which ended in the killing and wounding of dozens of the terrorists.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941208000501

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Homs: Syrian Army Seizes More Weapons, Ammunition from Militants

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army troops alongside Customs officials in the Central province of Homs seized a vehicle loaded with a large volume of ammunition heading to militant-held regions in the neighboring province of Hama.

The cargo of militants' weapons and ammunition, including machineguns' bullets and grenades, was seized by the Syrian authorities on a road to the town of Masyaf in the Southwestern part of Hama province.

On Friday, the Syrian Army and National Defense Forces stormed the ISIL militants' lines of defense in the Eastern part of Hama province and forced them to retreat from their positions near at least two more villages in the region.

The Syrian pro-government forces continued to advance against the militant group and imposed full control over the villages of Rasm al-Teineh and Mentar al-Hajaneh following hours of intense battle.  

The ISIL suffered a heavy death toll and its military hardware sustained major damage in the attacks.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941208000375

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Army Destroys Militants' Defense Lines in Hama Province

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army and air force backed by the popular forces destroyed the defense lines of the Takfiri terrorists in Hama province.

The army units backed by the popular forces inflicted heavy losses on the militants in Hama province, killing scores of militants and injuring many more in heavy clashes.

The Syrian army and popular forces also hit hard the military positions of the Takfiri terrorists in other key provinces across Syria.

Hama

The Syrian Army and National Defense Forces stormed the ISIL militants' lines of defense in the Eastern part of Hama province and forced them to retreat from their positions near at least two more villages in the region.

The Syrian pro-government forces continued to advance against the militant group and imposed full control over the villages of Rasm al-Teineh and Mentar al-Hajaneh following hours of intense battle.

The ISIL suffered a heavy death toll and its military hardware sustained major damage in the attacks.

Also, the Syrian Air Force bombed the gathering centers of the ISIL terrorists in a desert-like region at the border of Hama and Homs provinces, which inflicted a heavy death toll on the militants.

"The ISIL concentration centers in Wadi al-Azib region in the Southeastern part of Hama province and near the Northern part of Homs province came under the heavy bombardments of the Syrian army's aircraft, which claimed the lives of dozens of the terrorists," the sources said.

Lattakia

The Syrian Army commandos stepped on the territories of the Northwestern province of Idlib after prevailing over the last defense lines of the militant groups and capturing of Ein al-Beidha in Lattakia province.

The Syrian commandos finally reached the strategic border with the Idlib province after several-month-long of nonstop fighting with the terrorists of al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the Lattakia province's Northeastern part.

On Friday morning in Jabal al-Akrad (Kurds Mountain), the Syrian army alongside the Syrian Marines, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), Liwa Suqour al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade) and the National Defense Forces imposed full control over the strategic village of Ein al-Beidha at the Idlib border.

With the capture of Ein al-Beidha this morning, the Syrian Armed Forces officially reentered the Idlib province after a 9-month-long hiatus due to the successful offensive by Jeish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) last spring.

Aleppo

The Syrian army announced minutes ago that its forces and their popular allies continued to drive the ISIL militants back from more villages Southeast of Aleppo province, and reopened the key supply line of government forces in the region.

"The Syrian army men and their allies captured the strategic Khanaser-Aleppo Road after liberating the remaining villages under the control of the ISIL inside the Khanaser Plains," the army said.

"The Syrian Armed Forces and Hezbollah imposed full control over the villages of Raheeb, Ruwahayb, Rasm al-Tineh, and Muntar after another short battle with the ISIL terrorists," the army added.

"With the Khanasser-Aleppo Road fully liberated, the army soldiers and their allies will shift their attention to the Sheikh Hillal-Ithriyah Road, where they are currently under attack by the ISIL terrorists at the important village of Hammam," the army pointed out.

Dara'a

The Syrian Army troops and the popular forces continued to target the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front's concentration centers East and Northwest of Dara'a province.

The Syrian army and the National Defense Forces stormed the ISIL strongholds in Um Walad region, in which several machinegun-equipped vehicles of the militants were set ablaze.

In the meantime, the army soldiers opened fire at one of the supplying lines of Nusra fighters in the Northeastern part of Yadouda, which ended in destruction of several military vehicles and the cutting of the supplying line.

Also, the Syrian army's continued offensives against the militant groups across the neighborhoods of the Southern city of Dara'a pinned the terrorists down behind their lines of defense.

The Syrian army troops stormed the militant groups' positions and gathering centers in al-Bahar neighborhood, al-Bajabja and the Southwestern part of al-Nazehin camp, which claimed the lives of several terrorists and slowed down their logistic-military movements.

Deir Ezzur

The Syrian Army troops' offensives across the Eastern province of Deir Ezzur ended in the killing of tens of ISIL terrorists, including Libyan and Iraqi nationals.

Wali al-Shaddadi, also called by the ISIL Abu Osama al-Iraqi and Abu Sayyaf al-Libi (the Libyan) were killed in the Syrian army attacks in Deir Ezzur.

In the meantime, the ISIL site near the town of Ayash was hit by the Syrian army, which ended in the destruction of the terrorists rocket-launching pads.

The army also engaged in fierce clashes with the ISIL terrorists in the surroundings of Deir Ezzur air port and the village of Beit Doqiem, which also inflicted major losses on the militants.

Idlib

The Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance forces are winning back two strategic heights in Lattakia province which will in turn pave their way to capture key areas in neighboring Idlib province.

The strategic al-Ra'yee and al-Qala heights in Lattakia province overlook Idlib province and capturing them will pave the way for the army's military advances in Idlib province.

If the Syrian government forces and the resistance fighters take full control of these heights, the al-Younsiyeh, al-Tafahiyeh, Ain al-Hoor and Zeitouniya will fall to the Syrian army's hands. Also, in this case the Syrian army will be only three kilometers away from the Turkish borders.

Homs

The Syrian fighter jets, in a fresh round of combat sorties, targeted the concentration centers of the ISIL and al-Nusra Front in the Southeastern and Northern parts of Homs province and inflicted major losses on the terrorists.

The ISIL concentration centers near the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur), Bier al-Afa'ai and al-Mahasa came under the heavy attacks of the Syrian air fleet, which not only left scores of the militants dead or wounded by destroyed their military hardware.

The Syrian fighter jets struck positions of al-Nusra Front near the town of Talbiseh in the Northern part of Homs province, which ended in the killing or injuring of tens of terrorists.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941208000533

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Yemeni Forces Down Another Saudi Apache Helicopter

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Yemeni army and popular forces continued to inflict heavy losses on the Saudi army by destroying their military equipment and hardware and shot down another military helicopter in the province of Shabwah.

"The Yemeni forces hit an Apache helicopter in Azan region in Shabwah province," the Arabic-language media outlets quoted informed Yemeni sources as saying on Friday.

The Yemeni army and the popular forces have intensified their attacks against the Saudi forces and their military positions in recent week by destroying their warships and helicopters.

In a relevant development on Wednesday, Yemeni forces killed at least 54 Saudi troops, including commanders, in a ballistic missile attack in the Northern Jawf province, said the country’s Defense Ministry.

The Yemeni Army, backed by Popular Committees loyal to the Ansarullah movement, targeted a Saudi military installation in Beir al-Maraziq region with a Qaher-1 ballistic missile in the early hours of Wednesday.

A large number of Saudi forces also sustained injuries in the attack.

The Yemeni surface-to-surface missile also destroyed a number of military equipment of the installation and inflicted heavy damage on its infrastructure.

The Yemeni forces have fired tens of missiles on the military positions and gathering centers of Saudi-led coalition so far, killing hundreds of Saudi forces and injuring many more.

Yemenis carry out these attacks in retaliation for the US-backed Saudi strikes on civilian targets, launched with the aim of undermining Ansarullah movement and bringing back to power the country’s fugitive former president Mansour Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh and Washington.

Yemen has been under military attacks and siege by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies since late March last year. At least 8,300 people, among them 2,236 children, have been killed so far in the Saudi aggression while over 16,000 others sustained injuries.

The strikes have also taken a heavy toll on the impoverished country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941207001393

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Syrian Commandos Enter Idlib Province after Six Months of Non-Stop Battle

February 27, 2016

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army commandos stepped on the territories of the Northwestern province of Idlib after prevailing over the last defense lines of the militant groups and capturing of Ein al-Beidha in Lattakia province.

The Syrian commandos finally reached the strategic border with the Idlib province after several-month-long of nonstop fighting with the terrorists of al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the Lattakia province's Northeastern part.

On Friday morning in Jabal al-Akrad (Kurds Mountain), the Syrian army alongside the Syrian Marines, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), Liwa Suqour al-Sahra (Desert Hawks Brigade) and the National Defense Forces (NDF) imposed full control over the strategic village of Ein al-Beidha at the Idlib border.

With the capture of Ein al-Beidha this morning, the Syrian Armed Forces officially reentered the Idlib province after a 9-month-long hiatus due to the successful offensive by Jeish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) last Spring.

Earlier reports said that the Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance forces are winning back two strategic heights in Lattakia province which will in turn pave their way to capture key areas in neighboring Idlib province.

The strategic al-Ra'yee and al-Qala heights in Lattakia province overlook Idlib province and capturing them will pave the way for the army's military advances in Idlib province.

If the Syrian government forces and the resistance fighters take full control of these heights, the al-Younsiyeh, al-Tafahiyeh, Ein al-Hoor and Zeitouniya will fall to the Syrian army's hands. Also, in this case the Syrian army will be only three kilometers away from the Turkish borders.

en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13941207001342

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South Asia

Suicide Attack on Leader of Anti-Taliban Militia Leaves Over 50 Killed, Wounded In Afghanistan

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

Suicide attack on a leader of anti-Taliban militia has left over 50 people killed and wounded in Asadabad, the provincial capital of eastern Kunar province.

The suicide bomber reportedly detonated his explosives near the governor house this morning.

Eyewitnesses say the suicide bomber who was riding on a motorcycle targeted Haji Khan Jan who was leader of the uprising forces in Dangam District.

Officials at the Public Health Directorate of Kunar province says their record shows the incident has left 11 people killed and 40 others wounded.

However, the casualty toll can possibly rise since the victims have been taken to different hospitals by locals and provincial administration said a complete report would be released later.

Some of those critically wounded have been shifted to Nangarhar Regional Hospital which has better arrangements for emergency situations compared to the medical facilities in Kunar.

Yet, there is no claim of responsibility for the attack.

khaama.com/breaking-news-over-50-killed-wounded-in-kunar-suicide-attack-4594

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Suicide bomber kills at least 10 in eastern Afghanistan

AFP | Feb 27, 2016

JALALABAD: At least 10 people were killed and over 40 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a market in Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar today, officials said.

"A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated his explosives in a market in Asadabad the provincial capital, 10 people were killed and over 40 were injured." Ghani Mosamem, spokesman for the provincial governor told AFP.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/Suicide-bomber-kills-at-least-10-in-eastern-Afghanistan/articleshow/51165661.cms

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Drone strike leaves 3 Al-Qaeda militants dead in Paktika province

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

At least three militants affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network were killed in a drone strike in eastern Paktika province of Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the airstrike was carried out by the coalition forces in Gomal district targeting the militants in Dadul village on Friday.

The Afghan Special Operations Forces Operational Coordination Command said two motorcycles belonging to the militants were also destroyed in the air raid.

The anti-government armed militant groups have not commented regarding the report so far.

Paktika is among the relatively volatile provinces in eastern Afghanistan where anti-government armed militant groups, including the Taliban militants and Al-Qaeda linked Haqqani network are actively operating.

At least six people were killed and eleven others were injured after the explosive device was detonated inside the bakery shop in Yahya Khel district earlier this month.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) said the two suspects were arrested during a special military operation in connection to the incident who have confessed that they placed an explosive device inside the bakery shop afer receiving instructions from the Taliban group.

khaama.com/drone-strike-leaves-3-al-qaeda-militants-dead-in-paktika-province-0183

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Taliban’s shadow governor for Zabul’s Atghar district killed

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

Security forces have launched operation against militants in Atghar District of southern Zabul which according to officials has been successfully going on.

Deputy Police Chief of the province told reporters on Friday that security forces killed the so-called governor of Taliban for Atghar district and his body guard during a three hour clash in Zeyarat village last night.

Colonel Ghulam Jailani identified the Taliban shadow governor as Mullah Nasir.

He said Taliban left the dead bodies of their colleagues on the battle field.

Col. Jailani added that the operation would continue until security is maintained in the area.

Taliban have not yet commented on the report.

khaama.com/taliban-shadow-district-governor-killed-in-zabul-4597

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Dostum vows to avenge the beheading of 2 Afghan soldiers by militants

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum has vowed to avenge the brutal murder of two Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers by anti-government armed militants.

He was speaking to reporters and local residents following his arrival to northern Faryab province to lead counter-terrorism clearance operations.

Gen. Dostum said the militants beheaded the two soldiers after capturing them in Faryab province, calling the murderers of the two soldiers as ‘butchers’.

He said the militants involved in the brutal killing of the soldiers will soon be arrested by the security forces.

Gen. Dostum further added that twenty villages have been cleared from the militants presence since the clearance operations were launched.

He also added that 120 militants, including foreign insurgents have surrendered to the security forces in Khwajah Sabs Posh district.

The First Vice President joined the Afghan security forces to lead counter-terrorism operations in northern Jawzjan province and arrived to Faryab province after supervising operations in Qosh Tapa and Darzab districts.

Gen. Dostum has said he will travel to northern Sar-e-Pul, Takhar and Kunduz provinces once the operations are concluded in Faryab province.

his is the third time Gen. Dostum is joining the Afghan forces to clear parts of northern provinces from the militants presence.

Gen. Dostum first joined the Afghan security forces in the frontline in northern Faryab province earlier in the month of August last where he survived at least two assassination plots by the anti-government armed militant groups while he was leading counter-terrorism operations.

khaama.com/dostum-vows-to-avenge-the-beheading-of-2-afghan-soldiers-by-militants-0185

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Interior Ministry vows to arrest perpetrators of deadly Kunar attack

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

The Ministry of Interior while condemning the deadly terrorist attack in eastern Kunar province that left over 50 people killed and wounded vows to arrest perpetrators of the carnage and bring them to justice.

The ministry “reiterates that it won’t spare any effort in arresting the perpetrators of the attack,” states a statement released by the ministry after the attack this morning.

According to the statement, the suicide bomber who was riding on a motorbike blasted his explosive materials among civilians around 9:30 am leaving 11 of them killed and 40 others wounded.

There are children among those killed and wounded, the statement adds.

Eyewitnesses said target of the suicide bomber was Haji Khan Jan, leader of anti-Taliban militia in Dangam District, who is among those killed.

The casualty toll can possibly rise since the victims have been taken to different hospitals by locals and officials are still in the process of collecting more information.

Some of those critically wounded have been shifted to Nangarhar Regional Hospital which has better arrangements for emergency situations compared to the medical facilities in Kunar.

Yet, there is no claim of responsibility for the attack.

khaama.com/interior-ministry-vows-to-arrest-perpetrators-of-deadly-kunar-attack-4598

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Afghan army thwart IED attack plot in Kabul

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

EOD team thwart attack in KabulThe Afghan armed forces thwarted an attack plot by anti-government armed militants involving Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Kabul province.

According to 111th Division of the Afghan National Army (ANA) forces in Kabul, the militants had planted two Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on a roadside in Moosahi district of Kabul.

A statement by 111th ANA division in Kabul said the two IEDs were discovered and defused while the Afghan army forces were patrolling in the area.

No further details were given if any suspect was arrested in connection to the attack plot with the anti-government armed militant groups yet to comment regarding the report.

Taliban militants group and insurgents belonging to the other militant groups frequently use Improvised Explosive Device (IED) as the weapon of their choice to target the security forces but the ordinary civilians are targeted in majority of such attacks.

A civilian was killed and five others were wounded in an explosion involving Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.

According to the latest UN report on civilian casualties, the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) remaied one of the top causes of civilian deaths in the country during the year 2015, which saw 3,545 deaths and 7,457 casualties.

khaama.com/afghan-army-thwart-ied-attack-plot-in-kabul-0184

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Landmine blast leaves five civilians wounded, one killed in Nangarhar’s Khogyani district

By Khaama Press - Sat Feb 27 2016

A bomb blast has killed one person and wounded five others in Khogyani district of eastern Nangarhar province.

Local officials say the bomb was planted on a road side in Kaga Bazaar area and that all of the victims of the incident are civilians.

Two victims with minor injuries were treated at the medical facility in the district but three others who sustained life threatening injuries were shifted to Nangarhar Regional Hospital in Jalalabad.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for Friday’s explosion but security agencies have launched an investigation into the incident.

Taliban militants who plant IEDs on road sides as one of their tools in their fight have a strong presence in this district .

khaama.com/landmine-blast-leaves-five-civilians-wounded-one-killed-in-nangarhars-khogyani-district-4598

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Mideast

Every Man in Iranian Village 'Executed On Drugs Charges'

Lizzie Dearden | The Independent | Feb 27, 2016

Every man in an Iranian village has reportedly been executed by the government on drug charges.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, the vice president for women and family affairs, was arguing for increased provision for convicts' families when she made the admission.

"We have a village in Sistan and Baluchestan (province) where every single man has been executed," she told the Mehr news agency.

"Today their children are potential drug traffickers; either because they will seek revenge for the deaths of their fathers or because they will need to financially provide for their families, as a result of lack of support by the government."

It was unclear when the men in the unnamed village died or whether the executions were carried out at once or over an extended period of time.

Ms Molaverdi argued that society was responsible for the families of executed convicts and said a dropped welfare programme had been reinstated.

Her comments were translated by the Iran Human Rights group, which said several hundred people are hanged on drug charges ever year in Iran, mostly from marginalised groups and ethnic minorities.

"Iranian authorities have repeatedly admitted that the death penalty has not solved the problem of drug trafficking, but they still continue to execute people for drug charges," Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, a spokesperson of Iran Human Rights said.

"In 2015 the number of executions in Iran for drug offences was the highest in 20 years."

The group is calling for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other parties to stop providing equipment, funding, and technology to Iranian investigators until capital punishment is lifted.

In 2011, Iran's Supreme Council for Human Rights said 74 per cent of executions in the country were convicted drug traffickers, mainly handling opium being transported from Afghanistan and Europe.

Reprieve, a British human rights organisatoin, said that approximately 600 out of 947 hangings in Iran in 2015 were related to alleged drug offences - as were at least 31 carried out so far this year - amid concerns over unfair trials, forced confessions, and juvenile arrests.

Research carried out two years ago claimed to find a link between previous rounds of European UNODC funding and more than 3,000 death sentences in Iran and Pakistan, and finding is expected to continue flowing to Iran's Anti-Narcotics Police this year.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: "The apparent hanging of every man in one Iranian village demonstrates the astonishing scale of Iran's execution spree.

"These executions - often based on juvenile arrests, torture, and unfair or non-existent trials - show total contempt for the rule of law, and it is shameful that the UN and its funders are supporting the police forces responsible.

"The UNODC must urgently make its new Iran funding conditional on an end to the death penalty for drug offences."

Sistan and Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan in the country's south-east has seen conflict between armed drug cartels and smugglers since 200, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Baloch Sunni militant organisations, designated terrorists by the government in Tehran, are also fighting an insurgency in the impoverished region.

A spokesperson for the UNODC declined to comment on the specific case when contacted by The Independent's but affirmed its opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances.

"UNODC works with countries to build their capacity to interrupt drug trafficking," he added. "It also offers assistance for prevention and treatment services that benefits drug users and which is founded on scientific evidence, international best practices and the fundamental right to health."

independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/every-man-in-iran-village-executed-on-drugs-charges-death-penalty-capital-punishment-human-rights-a6898036.html

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Turkey warns of 'further measures' against Kurdish fighters in Syria

AFP | Feb 27, 2016

ANKARA: Turkey is prepared to take further measures against Kurdish fighters in Syria beyond its current artillery bombardment and does not rule out air strikes on their positions, a senior official said on Friday.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told foreign reporters at a briefing that Ankara was dismayed at the level of support given by the United States to the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey considers to be a terror group linked to its own Kurdish militants.

Accusing the YPG of firing over the border and alarmed by its advance in northern Syria, Turkey on successive days last week shelled their positions in Syria, creating alarm ahead of a ceasefire planned for Friday midnight.

"We are taking measures along the border. If we see a further worsening of the situation we will take further measures," Kalin told reporters in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's palace in Ankara.

Asked if these measures could extend to air strikes, like Turkey has carried out on positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, Kalin said: "It depends on the threat level. We will see. It depends on the situation on the ground.

"I cannot say yes or no, it depends what areas and targets we are talking about."

He said the YPG had been boosted by assistance from the United States and accused the group of also cooperating with President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara's enemy Russia, which wants the Syrian leader to stay in power.

"They (the YPG) are getting all the help."

"They are calculating that things are going to their advantage. They have the support of the Americans, Assad and the Russians, all at once," said Kalin.

He said that Russia provided YPG fighters with air protection, while the Kurdish fighters were giving Russia coordinates for strikes on the ground.

He admitted the dispute over the YPG had caused tensions between Turkey and the US which are key NATO allies, but said Washington was now becoming more cautious in its support of the group.

"The YPG thing became an issue. I see some change and the US position has become more careful,'but there is more to come'."

Turkey accuses the YPG of carrying out a car bombing on a military bus convoy in Ankara that left 29 people dead earlier this month, in a joint operation with the PKK.

On relations which Russia, which soured to post-Cold War lows after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over Syria on November 24, Kalin said Ankara favoured a de-escalation.

"It is not in our nation's interests to continue these tensions," he said.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Turkey-warns-of-further-measures-against-Kurdish-fighters-in-Syria/articleshow/51163990.cms

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Syrian rebel group says 3 fighters killed in gov’t attack near Turkish border despite truce

February 27, 2016

A Syrian rebel group in the country's northwest said it came under attack from government ground forces at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Saturday in what it called a breach of the cessation of hostilities plan that came into effect at midnight.

Three fighters from the rebel Second Coastal Division were killed while repelling the attack in the Jabal Turkman (Turkmen Mountain) area near the Turkish border in Latakia province, Fadi Ahmad, spokesman for the affiliated First Coastal Division, told Reuters.

The Syrian military could not immediately be reached for comment. The Syrian government has said it will respect the agreement drawn up by Russia and the United States, but that it will continue to fight the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which are not covered by the deal.

"It is a violation (of the agreement)," Ahmad said, describing the attack as a ground assault with no air strikes. "Currently, the regime has halted the attack," he added.

The First and Second Coastal Divisions are part of a loose alliance of rebel groups known as the Free Syrian Army.

Northwestern Syria is one of the areas where the Nusra Front operates near rebel groups that have approved the cessation of hostilities. Ahmad said the positions attacked on Saturday are controlled by his group, and the Nusra Front has no presence there. Nusra has called for an escalation of attacks.

Another rebel group, Jaish al-Islam, also claimed ceasefire violations by government forces. It said the government forces dropped two barrel bombs and opened fire on its positions during several violations of a cessation of hostilities agreement in the Eastern Ghouta near Damascus on Saturday.

Citing field reports from the group's commanders, Jaish al-Islam spokesman Islam Alloush told Reuters that in one incident government forces trying to advance "were dealt with with machine guns."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there was calm in many parts of the country shortly after midnight when the agreement came into effect.

todayszaman.com/anasayfa_syrian-rebel-group-says-3-fighters-killed-in-govt-attack-near-turkish-border-despite-truce_413468.html

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Reformists leading in Iran parliament vote

AP | Feb 27, 2016

TEHRAN: Reformists and moderate conservatives were leading in parliamentary elections according to early results Saturday, an indication President Hassan Rouhani may face a more friendly house to pursue his domestic agenda.

Early returns from Friday's polls show that none of the three competing political factions will win a majority in the 290-seat parliament. But reformists seeking greater democratic changes are heading toward their strongest presence since 2004 at the expense of hard-liners.

Officials are yet to release early results but reports in the semiofficial Fars and Mehr news agencies and a count conducted by The Associated Press show that hard-liners are the main losers of the vote.

Friday's election for Iran's parliament and a powerful clerical body known as the Assembly of Experts was the first since Iran's landmark nuclear deal with world powers last year.

Reformists seeking greater democratic changes and moderates supporting Rouhani appear to be cashing in on the lifting of international sanctions the moderate president achieved under last summer's historic agreement.

Nearly 55 million of Iran's 80 million people were eligible to vote. Participation figures and other statistics were not immediately available, though Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli predicted late Thursday there would be a turnout of 70 percent.

Polls were closed at midnight and officials immediately began counting the ballots afterward. As more ballots are counted, reformists appear to be on the path to expand their presence from the fewer than 20 they currently hold to a majority with the moderate conservatives and reduce the number of hard-liners.

Partial results emerging from about 50 small towns across Iran, show reformists and their moderate allies were leading the vote with moderate conservatives and hard-liners trailing behind them. In the capital Tehran, officials counting the ballots at three different districts confirmed to The Associated Press that reformists were leading far ahead of their hard-line rivals.

The hard line camp is largely made up of loyalists of Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who during his two terms in office avidly stoked tensions with the U.S. and cracked down on internal dissidents.

In a bid to squeeze them out, reformists have allied with moderate conservatives, many of whom split with the hard liners because of Ahmadinejad.

Reformists stormed to power with the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami, followed by 2000 parliamentary elections that brought a reformist majority in parliament for the first time. The movement pressed for an easing of Islamic social restrictions, greater public voice in politics and freedom of expression and better ties to the international community.

But that hold was broken in the next election in 2004, when reformist candidates were largely barred from running. Ahmadinejad's election victory in 2005 sealed the movement's downfall. Reformists were all but shut out of politics for nearly a decade until Rouhani was elected.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Reformists-leading-in-Iran-parliament-vote/articleshow/51164731.cms

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Palestinian journalist ends 94-day hunger strike in Israel jail – reports

February 27, 2016

Mohammed al-Qiq, a Palestinian journalist jailed without trial in Israel, agreed on Friday to end his 94-day hunger strike under a deal for his release in May, AFP reported. “An agreement has been reached under which his administrative detention will end on May 21 and will not be renewed,” the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an NGO, said. Israeli authorities did not immediately confirm the agreement. The 33-year-old television reporter started his hunger strike on November 25 in protest at the “torture and ill treatment that he was subjected to during interrogation,” according to Addameer, a Palestinian rights organization. The Supreme Court officially suspended the internment order against al-Qiq on February 4, but refused his demand for transfer to a hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israel’s administrative detention law allows the state to hold suspects without trial for periods of six months, renewable indefinitely.

rt.com/news/line/

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Turkey concerned about future of Syrian cease-fire due to recent attacks

February 26, 2016

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's adviser and spokesperson İbrahim Kalın has said that due to the increasing number of air strikes by Russia and forces loyal to the Syrian regime, Turkey has serious concerns about the Syrian cease-fire deal that will be effective as of Feb. 27, hours before the "cessation of hostilities" deal in Syria was due to start.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Kalın also said Turkey will respond to any attack if there is a threat to its security during the cease-fire, in line with its rules of engagement. “In principle, we support the cease-fire,” Kalın said, adding that the recent increase in air strikes by Russia and the Syrian regime trageting Aleppo, Idlib and near the area populated by Turkmens has made Turkey concerned about the future of the cease-fire. In the past, the Syrian regime has used such windows of opportunities for its own interests, Kalın said.

He also stressed that it was a source of worry that the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) were taking the side of the Syrian regime. Kalın said Turkey's national security is not a matter of negotiation and added that the countries ignoring the ties between the YPG and terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), despite the intelligence reports proving the link, seem to have different interests. Turkey has recently been at odds with the US due to their differences on the PYD/YPG. The US says it does not consider the PYD to be a terrorist organization. The PYD has emerged one of the effective ground forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Kalın said that despite the fact that the international press has been reporting Turkey's worries about the YPG as if Turkey is trying to prevent the achievements of Syrian Kurds, Turkey does not have any problems with Syrian, Iraqi or other Kurds in the region. He said Turkey is worried about the possible establishment of an autonomous state next to its borders that is controlled by the PKK and that Turkey is right to ask its friends and allies to take side with it in the fight against terrorism. The fight against the PKK and its affiliates is as legitimate as the fight against ISIL, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, according to Kalın.

No ground operation into Syria

Kalın also said that Turkey has no plans to launch a ground operation into Syria, either unilaterally or with Saudi Arabia. Turkey has repeatedly made it clear that it will act with the international coalition with regards to Syria, the presidential adviser said.

There have been recent reports about the possibility of a ground incursion into Syria by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Kalın stressed that air strikes alone are not enough to change the situation in Syria and that Syrian opposition forces need to be supported. Saudi military airplanes have started to arrive in Turkey's İncirlik Air Base in Adana province since Thursday, Kalın said, adding that they will join the anti-ISIL coalition.

Kalın also said that unless attacks by Syrian government forces and Russia stop, the influx of refugees into Turkey and Europe will continue. Turkey will continue its “open door” policy with regards to the refugees despite the security risks and the heavy financial and social burden on the country, Kalın said, adding that Turkey has deported about 37,000 people from 105 countries in the fight against ISIL.

todayszaman.com/diplomacy_turkey-concerned-about-future-of-syrian-cease-fire-due-to-recent-attacks_413370.html

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US denies shift in assessment of Syrian Kurdish YPG

February 27, 2016

The United States has reiterated once again that its assessment of a Syrian Kurdish militia group, the People's Protection Units (YPG), has not changed despite Turkish statements that Washington's position is evolving.

Speaking at a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said on Friday the US does not even contemplate designating the YPG as a terrorist group, against Turkey's wishes, but said Washington is opposed to YPG moves to expand territory in an around Aleppo in northern Syria.

US support for YPG has strained Turkey's relationship with Washington. Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group, an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that is designated as a terrorist group both by Ankara and Washington. The US, on the other hand, says the YPG is an effective force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and supports it in the fight against the extremist group.

In remarks earlier on Friday, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said the US was becoming more careful in its ties with the YPG. "I see some change in the US position. I think they are being more careful," Kalın told reporters in Ankara.

But Toner rejected any change in the US position. “I think if the question is have we changed our viewpoint or our position or attitude towards the YPG, I would say no,” he said in response to a question. “We've always been somewhat clear-eyed about where they are effective, where they benefit from our support, and where, in some areas – and I spoke about Aleppo – where we found some of their actions – and these are different groups, obviously different groups of the YPG that are operating in some of these areas. Some of them are not all that linked up – part of this complex situation we have on the ground – but we've been very clear when we find their actions to be counterproductive,” he said.

“We still view them as an effective fighting force that's taking on Daesh [ISIL] in many respects and many areas and parts of Syria very effectively, and we continue to support those efforts, but that's always been with the understanding that they're not going to seize territory or hold onto territory, but rather, liberate territory that then can be returned to the groups that have been displaced,” Toner said.

Turkey has been shelling the YPG positions in northern Syria since Feb. 13 and vowed to continue to take measures it deems necessary for its security despite a US-Russia engineered ceasefire that went into force at midnight on Saturday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has insisted that the YPG should be excluded from the ceasefire, like ISIL and al-Qaeda's Syria branch, the Nusra Front.

Ankara has also blamed a car bomb attack in Ankara that killed 29 people on the YPG and is frustrated with US refusal to designate the group as a terrorist organization despite its links to the PKK.

Asked if the US is close to designating the YPG as a terrorist organization, Toner said: “No, no.” When further pressed if it has ever been contemplated, he again said “no,” adding: “It's a long process by which you designate any organization that's a foreign terrorist organization. We're not even there with the YPG. We don't consider them to be one.”

todayszaman.com/anasayfa_us-denies-shift-in-assessment-of-syrian-kurdish-ypg_413469.html

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Global press bodies call for release of 30 jailed journalists in Turkey

February 26, 2016

International press organizations have welcomed the release of the Cumhuriyet daily's Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara representative Erdem Gül from Silivri Prison pending trial early on Friday and have called on the Turkish authorities to release 30 other journalists who are in pre-trial detention in jails across Turkey.

Dündar and Gül were freed by the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court in the early hours of Friday after Turkey's top court ruled on Thursday evening that their detentions had violated their rights, ending 92 days of pre-trial detention for the journalists.

The indictment against the Cumhuriyet editors seeks an aggravated life sentence, a life sentence and 30 years of imprisonment on separate charges including “obtaining and revealing secret information pertaining to the security of the state for espionage purposes,” “seeking to overthrow the Turkish government” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization” due to reports and photos published in Cumhuriyet in May and June 2015 over National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks that were allegedly transferring arms to radical groups in Syria.

In a statement on Friday, the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ-IFJ) said that it warmly welcomed the ruling by the Constitutional Court on Thursday. The ruling proved the lack of justification for the jailing of Dündar and Gül, the EFJ-IFJ said, and called on the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against the Cumhuriyet editors and release the remaining 30 journalists still in jail in Turkey.

In a joint statement on Friday, PEN International, English PEN and PEN Turkey said that they expect the ruling to pave the way for the release of all other journalists and writers held in jails in Turkey for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. “Turkey's Constitutional Court ruling on Thursday [and subsequent release] of journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül … is a positive development in the current dire situation for freedom of expression in Turkey,” the PEN statement said.

In a message on his personal Twitter account on Friday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Secretary-General Christophe Deloire also welcomed the release of Dündar and Gül, writing, “The joy of RSF will be even greater on the day when the charges against Can Dündar and Erdem Gül are abandoned.” On its official Twitter account, RSF wrote that the ruling to release Dündar and Erdem Gül shows the independence of the Constitutional Court.

The International Press Institute (IPI) also released a statement on Friday to welcome the ruling. The IPI said that the arrest and pre-trial detention of Dündar and Gül violated their freedom of expression, freedom of the press and right to personal security and freedom. The IPI also wrote on its Twitter account that the “ruling shows democracy, human rights [are] still fundamental values [in Turkey].”

Freedom House President Mark P. Lagon also issued a statement, saying: “We welcome the ruling and applaud the court for upholding the right of journalists to do their jobs. Can Dündar and Erdem Gül should be released immediately, and the charges against them dropped. This ruling is a reminder of the importance of checks and balances in a democracy.”

todayszaman.com/national_global-press-bodies-call-for-release-of-30-jailed-journalists-in-turkey_413434.html

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Africa

Leaders Gather in Rabat to Advance Interfaith Dialogue

26 February 2016

Rabat – Wednesday marked the inauguration of the Center for Research and Training in Interfaith Relations at the Rabita Mohammadia des Oulémas headquarters in Rabat.

The event started with the Canadian Ambassador Nathalie Dubé and Ambassador to the European Union Rupert Joy addressing the attendees about the necessity of interfaith and intercultural dialogue. While Ambassador Joy stated that the formation of the EU was itself an example of bridging cultural norms, further dialogue will be needed to address growing tensions in Europe regarding the current refugee crisis.

During a discussion on the concept of mutual acceptance across different religious texts, Rev. Karen Smith from Akhwayn University in Ifrane stated that she was specifically avoiding using the word tolerance in her arguments. “I never used that word,” she said in response to a question regarding Evangelical teachings of tolerance. “Tolerance is to greet your teeth and smile,” she claimed as she explained that rather than tolerating our differences, we should embrace them.

The exchange itself highlighted the hurdle of maintaining the subtle nature of an argument over the linguistic divides that often accompany these types of dialogue.

Bringing the discussion from interpretation to application, Dr. Farid El Asri from the International University Rabat stressed the importance of the “integration of text into…reality,” and “how to make interpretations in modern time.”

Mr. Shamil Idriss, CEO for the US based nongovernmental organization Search for Common Ground, in trying to dispel myths surrounding interfaith dialogue, emphasized that an “agreement is irrelevant when trying to obtain progress through dialogue.” He maintained that researchers from MIT have found that the most important part of any dialogue is the free exchange of ideas and beliefs, not necessarily an agreement.

Mr. Idriss also warned that the essence of a religious leader shouldn’t always be to speak out against those who are against the idea of mutual acceptance. “Don’t silence them, but give them a platform to be heard” he said, contending that the only way to reach people who work against efforts towards an interfaith society is to bring them into the dialogue.

The inaugural event ended with an interfaith musical concert at Rabat’s national library, a project from the Belgian/Moroccan artist Rafik El Maai. The concert featured traditional songs from multiple cultures and faiths, including a rendition of the famous American protest song “We Shall Overcome” both in its original English and Arabic translations.

moroccoworldnews.com/2016/02/180625/leaders-gather-in-rabat-to-advance-interfaith-dialogue/

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Measures possible against Libya deal nay-sayers

2016-02-27

Limassol - Mediterranean foreign ministers said on Friday that European countries could take unspecified "measures" against parties in Libya who block a UN-backed unity government initiative for the war-torn North African nation.

Libya has had rival parliaments and governments since 2014, after an Islamist-led militia alliance overran Tripoli and forced the internationally recognised administration to flee to the remote east of the oil-rich nation.

National accord

Extremists including the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos, raising fears of jihadists using the Libyan coast as a launchpad for attacks on Europe.

Foreign ministers from Mediterranean countries belonging to the so-called "Med Group" warned on Friday that the EU could take action against anyone blocking a unity government.

"Measures could be taken against those held accountable of spoilers of such a solution," the ministers said in a joint statement after meeting in Cyprus, without elaborating.

"A government of national accord would be a crucial partner in tackling effectively the threats and challenges to Libya, including terrorism, particularly considering the growing presence of (ISIS) and other extremist groups," they added.

Members of Libya's recognised parliament said this week they had been intimidated from voting in favour of a unity government.

Unity government

Libya was thrown into turmoil after a Nato-backed uprising that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Western countries have agreed that military action is needed to dislodge ISIS in Libya, but world powers want a national unity government installed to request help before formally intervening.

Libya's recognised government on Thursday denied a report in the Le Monde newspaper that French troops were fighting in the country.

"This is not true. We deny these reports," said government spokesperson Hatem El-Ouraybi.

news24.com/Africa/News/measures-possible-against-libya-deal-nay-sayers-20160227

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No One’s Going to Be Honest About Libya

Feb. 26, 2016

CNNCNNIn a way, the mainstream debate over Libya is sort of like an exercise in avoiding the passive voice. The Libyan government collapsed. Weapons spread from Nigeria to Syria. People died. You've got your subject and verb, and little about actual responsibility.

"We didn't topple Qaddafi," Marco Rubio said at last night's CNN Republican debate, referring to the ruler of Libya until a U.S.-backed intervention in the Libyan civil war. "The Libyan people toppled Qaddafi."

The only choice for President Obama, according to Rubio, was whether it was going to "happen quickly" or "take a long time." Qaddafi was caught by Libyan rebels, with U.S. air support, sodomized and killed five months after the NATO intervention started. That delay (in getting the people of Libya to topple Qaddafi) Rubio said was where "'leading from behind' came from".

Of course, the Arab spring-turned-civil war in Libya started around the same time as the one in Syria, where the dictator Bashar Assad is still clinging to power. The U.S., and U.S.-backed rebels on multiple sides of the conflict, insist he must go.

Libya came up last night, actually, in an answer from Ted Cruz about the ceasefire arranged for Syria by the U.S. and Russia, to go in effect at midnight (5pm ET) tonight in Damascus. The ceasefire is an opt-in for the warring parties on the ground.

CNNCNNCruz said there was "reason to be skeptical" about the ceasefire because of Russia's strengthened position due to "Obama's weakness in the Middle East."

Cruz argued only he could "lay out a clear difference" between himself and Hillary Clinton. "So for example, in Libya, both of them agreed with the Obama/Clinton policy of toppling the government in Libya," Cruz said. "That was a disaster. It gave the country over to radical Islamic terrorism and it endangered America."

But he didn't explain how his approach to Libya (making sand glow?) would be different or yield different results. Instead, he moved on to calling John Kerry "the most anti-Israel secretary of state this country has ever seen."

Donald Trump denied he supported toppling the Qaddafi government. Cruz said he would post evidence later, but didn't offer it at the debate.

Trump supported U.S. intervention to remove Qaddafi in a 2011 video blog, saying it would be "very easy and very quick."

via Buzzfeedvia BuzzfeedWe could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives," Trump said in 2011. "This is absolutely nuts. We don't want to get involved and you're gonna end up with something like you've never seen before."

Arguably, Syria fits that description, but I wouldn't expect Trump to pick up on that "told you so" moment. Would he take Rubio's route, and say it should have been done even faster and more surgically?

John Kasich, another Republican candidate for president, did bring up Syria in his answer.

"Libya didn't go down because there was some people revolution," Kasich said. "Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and all these other people convinced the president to undermine Gadhafi. They undermined him, and now they have created a cesspool in Libya."

Now, Kasich argued, the U.S. was "gonna have to deal with" it, referring to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya. "Then we have ISIS in Syria, and we have ISIS in Iraq," he continued. "Because this administration has not had a strong and firm foreign policy, we are going to inherit, one of us here is going to inherit a total mess."

There was, of course, some kind of revolution in Libya, but Clinton and other liberal interventionists, like Samantha Power, did convince Obama to go along with calls from the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League to act in Libya. Members of Congress, including Rubio and Cruz, didn't do anything to asset their authority in the war decision-making process.

And how would a "strong and firm foreign policy" in Syria look different than Western action in Libya 2011? Topple Assad even faster? Kasich brought up Iraq too: the remaining Republicans candidates (who have something resembling policy ideas) argue that the U.S. should have remained in Iraq, which would have prevented the rise of ISIS, their way of shifting the blame from the U.S. intervention in Iraq in the first place.

Yet they also argue, as in last night's debate, that a (2011) intervention in Syria could've thwarted the rise of "radical Islamic terrorism" in that country. Yet an intervention in Libya in 2011 only helped ISIS eventually "gain a foothold" in that country. Ah, but Qaddafi was not removed quickly enough. There's no evidence the political aftermath would look much different with a few extra months of a political vacuum. Would the entire Middle East have to be occupied to prevent the rise of ISIS?

C-SPANC-SPANFor her part, at this week's Democratic town hall Clinton touted the intervention in Libya as "the first coalition between NATO and Arab nations" and the kind of experience that qualifies her to be president. She expresses optimism about the political process in Libya, where they "actually held elections" and "elected moderates."

She mentioned "challenges internally coming from the outside with terrorist groups and other bad actors." Col. Qaddafi claimed in 2011 that Al-Qaeda would overrun Libya, saying the radical Islamists were backing many of the emerging rebels.

Clinton also blamed "internal disputes" on the continuing conflict in Libya (there are two rival governments vying for power), and said she supported current U.S. actions against ISIS in Libya. She said Libya had a "good election" and pivoted to pointing out the U.S. still had troops in places like South Korea and Germany—a similar argument to the one John McCain used in 2008 to defend keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.

Meanwhile, President Obama this week informed Congress the declaration of a "national emergency with respect to Libya" first issued five years ago would continue.

The notice repeated that the "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and close associates" against the people of Libya as well as the risk that he and his associates would "misappropriate" Libyan state assets necessitated the "national emergency."

"The situation in Libya continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States," the president's notice read, "and we need to protect against the diversion of assets or other abuse by certain members of Qadhafi's family and other former regime officials."

reason.com/blog/2016/02/26/no-ones-going-to-be-honest-about-libya

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Pakistan

Only Musharraf be tried for treason: Pakistan SC

Feb 27, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Spelling further trouble for military ruler Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday ruled that only he should be tried on the charge of treason for subverting the Constitution in 2007.

The apex court accepted former chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar's appeal to exclude him from the investigation into the treason case launched against 72-year-old Musharraf in 2013 for imposing emergency in 2007 when he was president.

It removed the names of three persons from the list of accused.

A three-member special court trying Musharraf on November 27, 2015 had directed Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to re-investigate the case by including ex-prime minister Shaukat Aziz, former minister Zahid Hamid and ex-chief justice Dogar.

Dogar had challenged his inclusion in Islamabad High Court, which on December 12, 2015 rejected the plea.

But he again challenged it in the Supreme Court which annulled a special court's decision to include the new names in the trial.

It said that the special court trying Musharraf had no jurisdiction to associate any individual with the high treason probe.

"A fresh investigation into the said offence by associating any person with the same lies within the prerogative of the Federal Government," Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in the judgment.

The court also asked the three-member panel trying Musharraf to complete the trial as early as possible.

High treason is punishable with death if proved. Musharraf has pleaded non-guilty.

Musharraf was indicted in April 2014 but since then no progress has been made in the case for various reasons.

He grabbed power in 1999 by deposing then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and ruled till 2008 when he was forced to resign.

Facing impeachment following elections in 2008, Musharraf went into self-imposed exile in Dubai.

The ex-army chief is facing a slew of court cases after returning from five years of self-exile in Dubai to contest the general elections in 2013 which he lost.

Musharraf now lives in Karachi with his daughter. He is not allowed to leave the country under an order by the court.

Musharraf has also been charged in connection with the 2007 assassination of prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the killing of a radical cleric in Islamabad in a military crackdown.

Musharraf, who was recently admitted to a hospital, yesterday moved an application in the Supreme Court to let him go abroad for treatment.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Only-Musharraf-be-tried-for-treason-Pakistan-SC/articleshow/51162613.cms

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FC chief warns of strict action against terrorists

February 27th, 2016

QUETTA: The Inspector General of Frontier Corps, Balochistan, Maj Gen Sher Afgun, has said that elements involved in creating law and order situation will be dealt with an iron hand and forces will continue to play their role for protecting the life and property of people.

Speaking to tribal elders and others during his visit to Awaran on Friday, he said that with the joint efforts of security forces and people’s cooperation, security forces had succeeded in eliminating the elements involved in terrorist acts and creating law and order situation in the area.

“FC has broken the backbone of the banned organisations through intelligence-based targeted operations in Awaran and adjoining areas,” Gen Afgun said, adding that targeted operations would continue against terrorist and criminal elements in Balochistan. “FC will not hesitate to render sacrifices for restoration of peace in Balochistan,” he said.

Gen Afgun urged elders of Awaran to play a positive and constructive role in the development of the area and extend help and cooperation in taking action against the anti-peace elements and banned organisation for the economic and social development of the area.

“Action was needed against the facilitators of the banned organisations and forces will continue to expose such people who are extending financial and other assistance to the militants,” the FC inspector general said.

He announced that a school and a medical centre would be set up in Jaahoo area.

dawn.com/news/1242230/fc-chief-warns-of-strict-action-against-terrorists

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Student allegedly commits suicide at private school campus in Peshawar

ALI AKBAR — February 27th, 2016

PESHAWAR: A student of grade seven, allegedly committed suicide at the premises of a private school in the outskirts of Peshawar on Saturday.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Police DSP Sajjad confirmed to DawnNews that the student committed suicide inside the school, which is situated in Gul Bela area of the provincial capital.

"The student had brought a handgun to school which was concealed in his school bag," added the police official.

Read: Female student commits suicide after being barred from exams

The child's body was shifted to Lady Reading Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Initial reports suggested that the child had committed suicide as he was depressed because of problems faced at home.

Pakistan has witnessed similar cases in the past in which students have committed suicide with in their school premises.

dawn.com/news/1242291/student-allegedly-commits-suicide-at-private-school-campus-in-peshawar

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Altaf case halts as Asma refuses to submit apology

WAJIH AHMAD SHEIKH — February 27th, 2016

LAHORE: Proceedings in the MQM chief’s media blackout case before a Lahore High Court full bench reached a deadlock on Friday after counsel for the party refused to submit a written apology for her critical remarks about the bench’s order banning coverage of Altaf Hussain’s activities in both electronic and print media.

At the outset of the proceedings, the petitioners’ counsel alleged that Advocate Asma Jahangir, counsel for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, had spoken of the sub judice matter in a “contemptuous” manner during a television programme.

Advocates Azhar Siddique and Aftab Virk played a recording of the television programme before the crowded court. They said it was a usual practice of Ms Jahangir to mock orders of the courts.

When asked for an explanation, Ms Jahangir expressed her regret and tendered an oral apology.

Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, who heads the bench, asked the counsel to submit a written apology — which Ms Jahangir refused.

She said she did not accept it whole-heartedly. But she said she “apologised orally out of respect for the dignity of the institution (judiciary).” She also expressed her distrust of the bench.

The bench rose and resumed hearing after half an hour with the stance of the MQM’s counsel unchanged.

At this Justice Naqvi said to Ms Jahangir: “You have double standards… You are committing contempt of court and you should submit an apology in writing.” Ms Jahangir, however, again refused to submit written apology.

The heated dialogues between the bench and the counsel provoked a chanting match between the lawyers present in the court.

Lahore High Court Bar Association’s president Pir Masood Chishti requested Justice Naqvi to adjourn hearing to avoid any chaos in the court. The bench deferred hearing till March 28. Earlier at one point, Justice Naqvi addressed MQM Senator Attiqur Rehman and said that let there be no misconception that protests and hunger strikes would influence the court.

Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Barrister Saif and other leaders of the MQM were also present on the occasion.

Sources close to Ms Jahangir said she would request the chief justice of the LHC to transfer the case to another judge, “as the best possible way out of this situation”.

One of the petitioners Abdullah Malik filed an application with Old Anarkali police for registration of a case against the lawyers and leaders of the MQM for chanting slogans against the judiciary and trying to malign it.

The petitions were filed in wake of Altaf Hussain’s speeches against state institutions including army and rangers. The bench had on Sept 7, 2015 ordered a complete blackout of MQM’s chief activities in both electronic and print media. Justice Mazhar Iqbal Sidhu and Justice Erum Sajjad Gull are the other members of the full bench.

dawn.com/news/1242222/altaf-case-halts-as-asma-refuses-to-submit-apology

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India

Won't Vacate Siachen, We Can't Trust Pakistan, Says Def. Minister

PTI | Feb 26, 2016

NEW DELHI: India on Friday ruled out withdrawal of Army from the icy heights in Jammu & Kashmir, saying Pakistan cannot be trusted and it may occupy the strategic area if India vacates.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said in Lok Sabha that vacating Siachen could lead to bigger loss of lives and reminded about the "experience" of 1984 when India evicted Pakistan from the strategically critical heights after a bloody fight.

"I know we have to pay the price and I salute our armed forces personnel. But we have to maintain this position. We have to man the strategic position. The position is very important from the strategic point," Parrikar said while replying to questions against the backdrop of the recent loss of 10 soldiers in an avalanche.

"I don't think anyone in this House can take Pakistan's words for granted ... If we vacate the position, the enemy can occupy the position and they would have the strategic advantage. Then we would have to lose many more lives. We know the experience of 1984 (Siachen conflict)," he said.

India occupies the highest point in Siachen glaciers, the Saltoro Ridge which is located at 23,000 feet, he said.

On February 3, an avalanche hit an Army post in a forward location in Siachen glacier, burying 10 soldiers, including a JCO. One of them was found alive under a huge mass of ice after six days but he died a few days later.

The defence minister said so far 915 people have lost their lives in the last 32 years in Siachen, which comes to 28 lives every year. This has now been reduced to 10 lives every year.

Parrikar said constant medical support is given to those serving in the Siachen glaciers which is six times more than the normal medical care. A total of 19 categories of clothing are provided to the soldiers in addition to various other assistance like snow scooters.

"There is no supply shortage. ... We can't totally conquer nature," he said.

In Rajya Sabha, JD(U) member K C Tyagi voiced concern over the death of soldiers in Siachen recently and said India and Pakistan should work towards withdrawal of troops from such tough areas to save the lives from both sides.

Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Tyagi referred to the avalanche mishap and said many Indian and Pakistani soldiers die due to difficult working conditions in Siachen.

He recalled that during the Prime Ministership of Rajiv Gandhi, an attempt was made to withdraw forces from both sides from such difficult terrain.

This issue should figure in talks between India and Pakistan whenever it happens next time so that untimely deaths of soldiers can be prevented, Tyagi said.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Wont-vacate-Siachen-we-cant-trust-Pakistan-says-Manohar-Parrikar/articleshow/51158511.cms

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Southeast Asia

Vatican`s Foreign Minister Lauds Indonesia`s Religious Tolerance

27 February, 2016

TEMPO.CO, London - Vatican’s Foreign Minister Mgr. Paul Richard Galagher has conveyed his appreciation toward Indonesian people tolerance, despite minor incidents of intolerance.

The message was conveyed by Foreign Minister Paul Richard Galagher to the new Indonesian Ambassador to The Holy See, Antonius Agus Sriyono at the office of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, said Third Secretary of Indonesian Ambassador to Vatican, Sturmius Teofanus Bate, on Thursday, as reported by Antara.

The meeting between Ambassador Agus Sriyono with Foreign Minister Mgr. Paul Richard Galagher, which was held for 45 minutes, discussed issues of interfaith dialogue, 2017 Asian Youth Day, Palestine Independence, Papua and LGBT.

During the discussion on interfaith dialogue, Mgr. Galagher conveyed his appreciation of Indonesian people tolerance, despite minor incidents of intolerance.

When discussing about Asian Youth Day, the new Indonesian Ambassador to The Holy See, Antonius Agus Sriyono conveyed his expectation to Pope Franciscus to attend the event which will be attended by around 29 Asian countries. Mgr. Galagher said that he would convey the message to the State Secretary, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

On the occasion, Ambassador Antonius Agus Sriyono raised the issue of Indonesia’s stance in the resolution of Palestine independence wherein Indonesia has share the same policy with The Holy See, namely the two state solution.

With regard to Papua, The Holy See’s policy has not changed as it continues to recognize Indonesia’s sovereignty over Papua. However, Mgr. Galagher hoped that the Indonesian Government could give more attention to the issues of freedom of political activity, prosperity and respect to human rights.

Ambassador Sriyono explained that the Indonesian Government has thus far given huge attention to Papua’s development through, among others, granting of special autonomy, infrastructure development and improving education in Papua.

On Vatican’s policy regarding LGBT phenomenon, Mons. Galagher explained that Vatican sees it as two issues. First, LGBT as sexual orientation and LGBT as a movement. As a sexual orientation, Vatican respects LGBT’s personal rights as humans and they need to be treated.

LGBT as a movement is contradictory to the teachings of the church, wherein the Catholic Church categorizes it as a sin.

According to Sturmius, the meeting of Indonesian Ambassador to Vatican with Vatican’s Foreign Minister was held for only two days after Ambassador Sriyono arrived in Rome to commence his duty as Indonesian Ambassador to Vatican.

en.tempo.co/read/news/2016/02/26/309748497/Vaticans-Foreign-Minister-Lauds-Indonesias-Religious-Tolerance

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Lawyers to Challenge Indonesia Court Verdict on Sex Abuse

27 February, 2016

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A lawyer representing two imprisoned teachers, a Canadian and an Indonesian, said Friday they will appeal a Supreme Court ruling that overturned their earlier acquittals on charges of sexually abusing three children at a prestigious international school.

Neil Bantleman and Ferdinant Tjiong were sentenced to 10 years in prison last April by the South Jakarta District Court, but were acquitted by the High Court in August.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned the acquittals and ordered them to serve 11-year prison terms.

Their lawyer, Patra M. Zein, said Friday they will request a judicial review after they finish studying the verdict and gather new evidence.

"We believe the verdict was reached without a careful and thorough examination," Patra said. "We are awaiting a copy of the verdict to study it."

He said they would try to obtain the results of a medical examination of one of the alleged victims by a clinic in Belgium, which found no sign of sexual abuse.

"That will be part of the evidence for our appeal," he told a news conference.

Supreme Court spokesman Suhadi said a three-member panel of judges also ordered the teachers, who were convicted of violating the 2007 Child Protection Law, to each pay a fine of $7,440 or serve six more months in jail.

Canada and the United States have both expressed shock at the Supreme Court decision.

Bantleman, who surrendered to authorities in Bali, was taken Friday to Cipinang Prison, the same prison in eastern Jakarta where Tjiong was placed Thursday.

His wife, Tracy, described the verdict as "inhuman, ridiculous and absurd."

"Neil and Fredy are honorable men, they are innocent. The Supreme Court's decision is shocking," she said, sobbing.

"Do you know what is like to accompany your husband who is innocent ... to willingly come back to prison? It is a double nightmare. It's the cruelest thing," she said.

Bantleman and Tjiong were arrested in July 2014 following allegations by the parents of a 6-year-old student that he had been sodomized.

Four male janitors at the school were sentenced to eight years in prison in that case and a woman received a seven-year sentence as an accomplice. Police said a sixth suspect killed himself in custody by drinking bathroom cleaner.

The South Jakarta District Court threw out a civil lawsuit in which the child's parents sought $125 million from the school for alleged negligence.

The school in southern Jakarta is attended by children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and Indonesia's elite. It has 2,400 students aged 3 to 18 from about 60 countries.

en.tempo.co/read/news/2016/02/27/055748803/Lawyers-to-Challenge-Indonesia-Court-Verdict-on-Sex-Abuse

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One Thamrin Bombing Suspect Still at Large: Police

27 February, 2016

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Indonesia`s national police chief said on Friday that one of the suspects directly involved in the bombing incident in Thamrin, Central Jakarta, early last month was still at large.

"We have caught 16 people for being directly involved in the bombing but one still remains at large," the chief, General Badrodin Haiti, said at the Police Headquarters.He said the police are now investigating two convicts for their possible involvement in the bombing incident.

So, in all, the total number of alleged perpetrators who were directly involved in the case has reached 19, he said.

General Badrodin said these 19 people were part of five different groups and three of the groups are led by Hendro Fernando, Helmi and Romli. He did not mention the names of the leaders of the other two groups.

"Several groups were involved and they certainly had different plans. This poses a problem that may threaten security," he said.

The bombing on Thamrin Boulevard claimed eight lives, including four bombers and four civilians. The four civilians included a foreigner.

en.tempo.co/read/news/2016/02/27/055748782/One-Thamrin-Bombing-Suspect-Still-at-Large-Police

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North America

US to go ahead with F-16 sale, says State Department

February 27th, 2016

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Friday defended the decision to sell F-16 aircraft to Pakistan and endorsed Islamabad’s position that the planes were being used in counter-terrorism operations.

In a separate statement, the Pakistan Embassy in Washington appreciated the Obama administration’s determination to go ahead with the proposed sale.

The deal, however, is facing stiff resistance in the US Congress where lawmakers have moved resolutions both in the House and the Senate, seeking to block the sale.

“We support the proposed sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan to assist Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations,” said a State Department spokesperson Helaena W. White.

“Pakistan’s current F-16s have proven critical to the success of these operations to date,” she added, endorsing Pakistan’s position that it had effectively used its existing fleet of F-16s in counter-terrorism operations.

Know more: US committed to boosting Pakistan’s precision strike capability, Congress told

India, and some US lawmakers, have rejected this claim, saying that the F-16s have not been useful in such operations and would ultimately be used against India.

But Ms White noted that the operations Pakistan was conducting in Fata with the help of F-16s, “reduce the ability of militants to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan.”

She also noted that “these operations are in the national interests of Pakistan, the United States, Nato, and in the interest of the region more broadly.”

Ms White said that the administration was “committed to working with Congress to deliver security assistance to our partners and allies that furthers US foreign policy interests by building capacity to meet shared security challenges.”

A spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy, Nadeem Hotiana, pointed out that the US administration had already notified Congress of its ‘determination’ to sell F-16s to Pakistan. “The public notification clearly articulates the reasons for the prospective sale,” he added.

“We appreciate the public assessment of the US leaders in response to Congressional enquiries that Pakistan has used F-16s effectively against terrorists and the subject sale is also intended to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to continue the ongoing operations,” the embassy said.

The statement noted that the proposed sale would help strengthen Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capacity under a mutually agreed defence cooperation framework .

US lawmakers have until March 12 to block the sale but they have acted promptly, introducing two resolutions in the House of Representatives and the Senate this week.

Both resolutions urge the administration not to sell these planes and other weapons to Pakistan.

On Thursday, the head of a powerful Senate committee called for a detailed hearing on the proposed deal, arguing that it was not the right time to sell weapons to Pakistan.

The developments may cast a long shadow on the sixth session of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, scheduled on Feb 29.

Former Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul introduced a joint resolution in the Senate on Wednesday, seeking to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets and other military hardware to Pakistan including eight Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suites and 14 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems.

“While we give them billions of dollars in aid, we are simultaneously aware of their intelligence and military apparatus assisting the Afghan Taliban,” said Senator Paul in the resolution, which has now been sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who actively seeks to disintegrate Pakistan, moved another joint resolution in the House of Representatives.

“The government of Pakistan has been using weapons from the US to repress its own citizens and especially the people of Balochistan,” said the lawmaker while introducing the resolution.

“The deciding factor of whether to support this Joint Resolution is, for me, the arrogant and hostile actions taken by the government of Pakistan against the man (Dr Shakil Afridi) who helped bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Mr Rohrabacher said.

Another former Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, however, said that it was a difficult issue as both India and Pakistan were important for the United States.

dawn.com/news/1242227/us-to-go-ahead-with-f-16-sale-says-state-department

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2 US senators oppose F-16 sale to Pakistan

Chidanand Rajghatta | TNN | Feb 27, 2016

WASHINGTON: Forget about air superiority, when it comes to Pakistan and F-16s, the dogfight begins on the ground.

The Obama administration's move to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to a country that is sometimes described as a "frenemy" has run into torrid opposition in Washington with lawmakers raking up Pakistan's support to terror groups to oppose the deal.

At least two US senators have announced they intend to try and stop the sale despite the administration having vetted the deal with backdoor approvals.

On Thursday, senator Rand Paul joined his colleague Bob Corker, the senate foreign relations committee chairman, in opposing the sale, saying he has introduced a resolution of disapproval seeking to halt all arms sales to Pakistan. If passed, the measure would also stop the F-16 sale, which needs to be approved by the Senate before March 12.

They appear to have the backing of veteran senator John McCain, whose three decades in the Senate has overseen billions of dollars in foreign aid to Pakistan, but who now has second thoughts about the F-16 supply. "I would rather have seen it kicked over into the next administration," McCain said on Thursday, saying he was "conflicted" on the timing of he announcment.

"This is really a tough one for me and for a lot of people. I think the timing was really bad on this issue," the former presidential candidate told the Defense Writers Group on Thursday, pressing for a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where the administration will have to explain and defend the deal to a country many lawmakers believe uses terrorism as a policy tool.

Opposition to the deal is bipartisan. "Pakistan must prove it is taking substantive steps to go after all terrorist groups in the country before we move forward with the sale of F-16s," said California congressman Ami Bera, an Indian-American Democrat. "So far, Pakistan has not shown willingness to go after groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is why I cannot support a sale at this time."

Bera added that in the event the administration proceeded with the sale, US taxpayers should not subsidise the cost of the F-16s. "If Pakistan wants to buy the planes they should pay for them," he said.

Why the administration has chosen this moment to press for the supply of the lethal, albeit an older generation fighter jet, remains a mystery. One congressional insider said it was possibly a legacy issue, leftover from the Bush administration when Washington contracted to sell 36 F-16s to Pakistan.

Under the original contract Lockheed Martin was to manufacture 12 F-16C plus 6 F-16D for Pakistan, as part of a larger deal for the supply of 36 new fighter jets. No timeline was given for the induction of the full complement of jets.

Now, the Obama administration may be pushing through the leftover part of the deal to lubricate a messy relationship in its final months to achieve certain goals in Afghanistan. "No one likes to deal with Pakistan. This is just to kick the relationship over the next few months," the Congressional source said.

"This is really a tough one for me and for a lot of people. I think the timing was really bad on this issue," McCain told the Defense Writers Group. "It (the next administration) is not that far away. You know that F-16 issue has been hanging out there for four-five years. I think we could have waited a little longer." Much of the Congressional reservation comes from the broad view that long-term strategic ties with India are far more important than with troubled Pakistan.

"I think that the future of Asia, if we want to have the kind of influence that we always had and deterrence to the Chinese behaviour is a very close relationship between the US and India. Which by the way the F-16 issue complicates that," McCain said.

F-16s have entered Pakistani mythology as a lethal counter to India although the fighter jet, which debuted in the mid-1970s, is considered an older-generation aircraft.

One reason why the deal has even a modicum of support is because the assembly line at Lockheed Martin, which makes the aircraft, will be busy for a few months and retain local jobs in Texas, where the manufacturing facility is located. Lockheed Martin has even offered to manufacture the jet in India so it can stay in play as newer generation aircraft are capturing the market.

On its part, India has decided to play hardball and oppose the latest sale to Pakistan, although eight F-16s does not materially alter the balance of power. Indian sources conjecture that US may eventually get the deal through given its exigencies in Afghanistan, "'but that's no reason for us to make it easy. This is a matter of our security and the overall perception of our ties with US".

Indeed, on social media, the current dispensation is New Delhi is being given a hard time over the deal. @narendramodi friend @BarackObama sanctions 8 #F16 to another of his friend Nawaz Sharif of #Pakistan. What does it say? Read one tweet.

timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/2-US-senators-oppose-F-16-sale-to-Pakistan/articleshow/51162548.cms

 

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