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Islamic World News ( 10 Aug 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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From West Bengal, another Heart Touching Picture of Hindu Muslim Friendship

New Age Islam News Bureau

10 Aug 2019

At a mosque in Srinagar Friday after prohibitory orders were relaxed for the first time since the lockdown. (ANI) 


 From West Bengal, another Heart Touching Picture of Hindu Muslim Friendship

 ‘Eid Is In A Couple Of Days… Will They Allow Us To Use Our Phones?’

 ‘Gloom and Despair’ In Kashmir Valley: UN Rights Council Expresses Concern

 Adorable Photo of Kashmiri Child Shaking Hands with CRPF Personnel Wins Hearts

 Don't Link Afghanistan with Kashmir Issue: Taliban Rebukes Pakistan

 Kashmir Crisis: China Says Has Got Pakistan’s Back

 UK, EU Lawmakers Call upon UN for Kashmir Intervention

 Top Iranian Cleric Warns India against Mistreating Muslims in Kashmir

 If Khat Is Islamic, Are Roman Characters Christian? Perlis Mufti Asks

 Somalia: "We Are Coming for You Ruthlessly" - U.S. Tells Al-Shabaab

 ISIS Recruitment Is Growing In Afghanistan As US And Taliban Work For Peace

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau



 Taliban Note Urges India, Pakistan To Avoid Acts That May Pave Way For Violence

 UN, US & China Rebuff Pakistan, Deal It Big Diplomatic Blow

 AIMPLB Meet on Triple Talaq Bill and Ayodhya on August 17

 Yogi's Minister Mohsin Raza, Minister of State for Haj and Minority Welfare, Asks Muslims to 'Don Saffron'

 Russia Backs India, Says J&K Move 'Carried Out Within Framework of Constitution'

 As LoC Tension Mounts, Over A Dozen Terror Camps Reactivated In PoK

 Social Media Helps 10-Day-Old Kashmiri Infant Get New Lease Of Life

 NIA arrests former Jammu and Kashmir MLA Rashid Engineer in terror-funding case

 Kartarpur Corridor: Punjab CM Could Be In First Jatha

 People offer Friday prayers amid tight security in Jammu

 Day after Kargil Protests, Some Shops Open for Eid

 After Samjhauta, Pakistan to suspend Thar Express service

 India to Bring In Food Supplies to Kashmir As Curfew Stays

 Thousands protest in Indian Kashmir over new status despite clampdown




 Pakistan Wants China’s Help to Skirt Terror-Financing Blacklist

 Pakistan Cabinet Approves Suspension of Bilateral Trade with India

 Imran Khan Says India Creating 'War-Like' Situation, MEA Calls It A Ploy

 Shahbaz lashes out at PM over ‘Kashmir sell-out’

 Senate panel for clear-cut policy to counter Modi’s ‘fascism’

 Cabinet hails UN statement on held Kashmir

 Balochistan PA urges implementation of National Action Plan

 JI chief to be added to special Kashmir committee

 APC rejects Indian move to revoke Kashmir’s special status

 PM discusses Kashmir crisis with Bahrain’s king over phone

 KP cabinet adopts resolution against India’s Kashmir move




 Chechnya Sends Ex-IS Women Into Schools, Not Jails

 French street band in Istanbul gets praise for respecting Muslim call to prayer

 Bahrain Embassy protester: I was on the point of becoming Khashoggi #2

 France says needs 'no permission' for Iran dialogue in rebuke to Trump




 Iran’s Cooperation with the Taliban Could Affect Talks on U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

 Turkey accused of extensive links to former Isis fighters

 Coalition intercepts Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia from Yemen

 Palestinian Terrorist Factions Applaud West Bank Terror Attack

 Yemen: UAE-Backed Forces' Commander Defects to Ansarullah

 Israeli fire kills four Palestinians on Gaza border

 Western views need to realign on Yemen

 Israeli forces fatally shoot four Palestinians on Gaza fence

 Ayatollah Khamenei invites Muslims worldwide to oppose 'deal of century'

 Renewed infighting between militias serving Saudi, UAE leaves 8 Yemenis dead

 Houthi militants confirm leader’s brother, Ibrahim Al-Houthi, killed



Southeast Asia

 Islamic World Not Speaking Up Against Persecution Of Muslims, Islamophobia, Says Naik

 China Said It Closed Muslim Detention Camps. There’s Reason to Doubt That.

 Unilateral conversion laws have been abused, rights group tells Selangor

 Amid Selangor’s attempt, Hakam says state laws voided if contrary to Constitution




 Boko Haram: Nigeria moves to deradicalize former fighters

 Tunisian PM Chahed submits bid to run for president

 UN urges rival Libya forces to agree to humanitarian truce



South Asia

 AAF and U.S. airstrikes kill 34 Taliban militants in Logar province

 Airstrike destroys truck carrying weapons, explosives for Taliban in Ghazni

 Afghan Forces Claim Attack on IS Cells in Kabul

 Will a New Plan End the War in Afghanistan?

 Norway can help Afghanistan achieve peace: Zalmay Khalilzad

 Special Forces kill, detain 9 Taliban militants in Wardak province

 Qatar’s Sheikh Al-Thani and President Trump hold talks on U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations



North America

 FBI Plans to Monitor Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for Terrorism and Domestic Threats in Real-Time

 Scare at Missouri Walmart as Man With Rifle and Body Armor Is Detained

 US fighter jets intercept Russian bombers near Alaska

 US report lists Iranian individuals, entities sanctioned for human rights abuses

 US Muslims embrace Hajj ‘heart and soul’

 US Muslims raise $13,000 to release detained migrants



Arab World

 Lebanon is now a Hezbollah-run State

 ISIS, Assad, and Turkey Are Waging a Shadow War on U.S. Allies in Syria

 US Promises Parts of Security Deal for NE Syria to Move ‘Rapidly’

 Egypt Says Security Forces Killed 17 Islamic Militants

 Homs: Hundreds More Civilians Flee US-Controlled Refugee Camp in Al-Tanf Region

 Syrian Army Paralyzing Terrorists Deep Inside Bases in Northern Syria

 Syrian Army Lays Siege to Tahrir Al-Sham’s Bastion in Southern Idlib

 Homs: ISIL’s Military Convoys Destroyed in Syrian Army’s Ground, Air Raids Near Palmyra

 Syrians protest against US-backed SDF militants

 More than two million Muslims begin Hajj pilgrimage

 Hajj pilgrims recall the most important journey of their lives

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



From West Bengal, Another Heart Touching Picture Of Hindu Muslim Friendship

New Age Islam News Bureau

Aug 10, 2019

Asansol , an industrial town of West Bengal has once again proved that centuries old bond between Hindus and Muslims cannot be broken despite efforts by communal forces. An incident in Sitarampur area of Asansol bore testimony to this fact. On Friday, a 70 year old man Surendra Bhagat Agarwal died of cancer. He had no relatives to take care of him. So he had been living in the house of a Muslim friend Shahid Khan as a family member for the last seven months. Shahid Khan arranged for his last rites according to Hindu customs. He and other Muslims of his locality wearing traditional Muslim skull caps along with Hindus shouldered his arthi while the chants of Ram Nam Satya Hai and Bol Hari Hari Bol were raised according to the custom.

Shahid Khan told the media that Surendra Agarwal was his friend for about 25 years as they had worked and lived together in Mumbai. Nine months ago while he was staying in Pune in connection with his job, he contracted cancer. Seven months ago he told Shahid Khan about his illness and came back to him and stayed with him. Shahid Khan did everything for his treatment but he could not be saved. According to Shahid Khan, even during his stay in Pune, Surendra Agarwal visited his house about twice a year and stay for about a month. He would call Shahid Khan's wife his daughter and the couple would respect and take care of him as their guardian. Shahid Khan's wife would cook food for Surendra separately. The couple took every care for his treatment and comfort during his illness and left no stone unturned to save him but fate had his way.

This incident has moved the people of the town and everyone is praising the Shahid Khan. Last year, Maulana Imdadullah Rashidi, an imam of a mosque in Asansol had set an example by preventing the riots from taking uglier turn after his son was killed by anti-social elements. He had appealed Muslims not to resort to violence as an act of revenge and a bigger tragedy was averted.


‘Eid Is In A Couple Of Days… Will They Allow Us To Use Our Phones?’

By Naveed Iqbal

August 10, 2019

Nadira Ajaz walked from Fateh Kadal in Srinagar old town to the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office to try and make two phone calls — one to her son in Riyadh and another to her daughter in Delhi. She was driven to tears with worry — she had not spoken to her children since the communication lines went down.

At the DC’s office, an employee was sitting on the small front lawn, with a working cellphone and a register. In the notebook he had more than 175 names of people who wanted to use the phone. But, with more calls coming in than going out, only 23 people had been able to make phone calls.

Upstairs, there were two working phones — one helpline and an employees’ phone that had also become a helpline. The rooms were crowded with people trying to contact their family members, children, parents on Haj.

The cellphone of Sajid Bhat, the employee, rang continuously. He said the office was handling 500-600 calls a day, and despite starting at 8 am, they were in office till 12.30 am, making and receiving calls on behalf of others. “My phone rang till 2.30 am. People were calling from abroad, trying to find a way to reach their relatives,” he said.

Another employee in the office, Junaid, said, “People are desperate to reach someone. They walk here from different parts of the city since these are the only two numbers working in the district. It is difficult.”

Officials had publicised the numbers through radio and television, hence the continuous incoming calls. Most of them were from students asking if they could come home, the employees said.

Runiya Amin walked an hour and a half to the DC’s office to speak to her son in Chandigarh. The queue moved slowly as men and women had to take turns to make calls. Each person was allowed to talk for 40-50 seconds, “just to let them know that we are alright and we have supplies,” she said.

Read | IIM off-campus in Srinagar gets HRD Ministry green light

Seeing the queue, some people left, deciding to try their luck the next day. However, getting to the DC’s office was not easy. Vishal brought his mother on his Scooty to call his sister in Delhi. “They had said on the radio they would not not stop people going to the DC’s office. But we were stopped at so many places,”

he said.

The crowd grew as the day progressed, with men and women walking in from all parts of the city. “Eid is in a couple days, I wish they would allow us to use our phones that day. Do you think that will happen?” they asked each other.

DC Shahid Iqbal Choudhary was not in his office.



‘Gloom and despair’ in Kashmir Valley: UN rights council expresses concern


August 10, 2019

NEW DELHI: “There is a gloom and despair in Kashmir,” is how Tajamul Islam Manuu describes the situation in the valley.

Mannu is a PhD student at Hyderabad University who returned to the campus on Thursday after spending time in his home town of Bandipora in Kashmir.

“There is frustration, anger, helplessness and a sinister calm in the valley,” he said.

Due to the communication blackout it is difficult to know what is happening in other parts of Kashmir, he said, but “people have been protesting whenever they find an opportunity.”

“The whole of Kashmir is under siege. There is no communication happening. We are almost under house arrest,” said the student who was the head of the Hyderabad students’ union not long ago.

Kashmir has been under strict clampdown since last Sunday with no internet, mobile or landline contact. There is a prohibitory order in place in the entire valley, with 7 million people virtually under house arrest and devoid of all basic democratic rights.

Media reports say that more that 800,000 troops are maintaining a round-the-clock vigil to prevent any violent reaction after New Delhi’s decision to revoke Article 370 of the constitution that gives an autonomous and special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) expressed concern about the situation in Kashmir, saying that there had been “hardly any information at all” from the region was “of great concern.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to reach out to Kashmiris on Thursday in a national broadcast during which he argued that the revocation of the special status would bring development to the state and contain militancy.

“Who cares about Modi in Kashmir. Do you think people in the valley listen to him?” Manuu said.

“People will continue their struggle not for the Article 370 but for self-determination.”

Manuu said: “Kashmir is a far more developed state than many Indian states. The debate here is not about development but about identity. People who have lost their kith and kin are not going to forget the struggle,” he said.

Shams Qari, a Delhi-based Kashmiri photographer, also expressed similar feelings.

“Everyone who is coming from the valley is in the deep shock. They feel that their identity has been challenged. They are angry,” Qari told Arab News. “The snatching of the special status will hurt Kashmir for many generations. They cannot forget and forgive.”

He said that Modi’s speech on Thursday was not “reconciliatory but hurtful.”

“The reaction of the people is calculated so far,” he said. “They have learnt from past. But people are much more angry than before.”

On Friday, two senior left leaders, Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja, were detained at Srinagar airport when they tried to go to the city. On Thursday, a similar incident happened when the opposition Congress party leader and former chief minister of Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad, was asked to return to Delhi by the next flight.

Media reports suggest that more than 300 civil rights activists and people from different walks of life had been detained since Monday. Two former chief ministers, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, and scores of political leaders and activists, continue to be in detention after more than five days.

The UNHRC spokesperson expressed concern that the latest restrictions would “exacerbate the human rights situation in the region.”

He said that the “reported arbitrary detention of political leaders and restrictions on peaceful assembly” will prevent people and political leaders in the region from “participating fully in democratic debate about the future status of Jammu and Kashmir.”

In India, in a joint statement more than 285 civil rights groups condemned the revocation of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir and asked the government to restore normalcy to the state. They expressed solidarity with the people of the region.

SubHajjit Naskar, an assistant professor of international relations at Jadavpur University, said that “by hastily removing a constitutionally protected special status for Jammu and Kashmir, Narendra Modi’s government has reduced the idea of democracy to a mere majoritarian system.”

He told Arab News that it “may add fuel to the secessionist movements in other parts of India and further alienate Kashmiris too.”

“This may also have a deep repercussions for India’s Muslim minorities as a whole,” he said.

“India risks losing the moral high ground in world politics. The statement of the UNHRC proves that. Pakistan is also trying to corner India by taking the issue of Kashmir to different capitals of the world.”



Adorable photo of Kashmiri child shaking hands with CRPF personnel wins hearts

Aug 10, 2019

NEW DELHI: A photograph showing a woman CRPF personnel shaking hands with a Kashmiri child has gone viral on social media, earning widespread appreciation.

The photo has been liked by thousands on Twitter and retweeted by over 700 times.

Several Twitter users appreciated the adorable photograph. "This is the real India. We salute this spirit. Time will bring the required change in Kashmir,' a Twitter user said.

Another user hailed the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF).

Notably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently outlined his vision for a new, developed and prosperous Jammu and Kashmir.

In his first speech since the abrogation of Article 370, he said that Article 370 had deprived the people of J&K of the benefits of well-argued and well thought out central legislations meant for the entire country.

Talking of the Right To Education (RTE) Act, he asked why were the children of the state deprived of its benefits.



Don't link Afghanistan with Kashmir issue: Taliban rebukes Pakistan

09th August 2019

KABUL: The Taliban on Thursday slammed Pakistan for linking the situation in Afghanistan with the Kashmir issue.

''Linking the issue of Kashmir with that of Afghanistan by some parties will not aid in improving the crisis at hand because the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the theatre of competition between other countries,'' Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahed was quoted by Anadolu News Agency as saying.

The group's reaction came after Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif compared the situation in Afghanistan with that of Kashmir.

"What kind of a deal is this that the Afghans enjoy and celebrate peace in Kabul, but in Kashmir, blood is shed? No, this is not acceptable for us," Sharif said in the Pakistan Parliament earlier this week.

The remarks did not go on well with Afghan citizens who voiced their displeasure on social media.

Meanwhile, the Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul stressed that the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan will not hamper peace efforts in Afghanistan.

"The issue of Kashmir has nothing to do with the violence in Afghanistan and it is unfortunately still unresolved...," Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Zahid Nasrullah Khan told reporters on Thursday.

Tensions between India and Pakistan spiralled after the Indian Parliament on Tuesday passed a resolution to revoke Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir and a bill bifurcating the border state into two Union Territories.

Rattled by New Delhi's decisions, Islamabad "rejected" the move and said it will exercise "all possible options" to counter the steps.

Pakistan on Wednesday decided to downgrade bilateral ties with India and suspend all bilateral trade activities with the neighbouring country in the aftermath of the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir's special status.

On its part, New Delhi asked Islamabad to review its decision so that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved while strictly maintaining that its steps in Jammu and Kashmir are an "entirely internal affair".



Kashmir crisis: China says has got Pakistan’s back

Aug 10, 2019

BEIJING: China will support Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir at the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) and will keep on supporting Pakistan in “safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests”, said a statement issued after a meeting between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

In a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang noted that China is “seriously concerned about the latest escalation of tensions in Kashmir”, adding that unilateral actions “will complicate the situation”.

China recognises that the Kashmir dispute must be properly resolved “based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement”, said the statement.

The statement was followed by a video message by FM Qureshi, wherein he said that the northern neighbour has supported Pakistan’s decision to go to the UNSC.

“China would maintain full cooperation with Pakistan and both sides would stay in close contact,” he said, adding that Beijing had, once again, proved today that it was Islamabad’s trustworthy friend.

In a comment on the meeting, he said Chinese FM Wang, despite his busy schedule, held meeting with him on such short notice on President Xi Jinping’s instruction because of the “nature of the relationship between Pakistan and China is different and the response level should also be different”.

“I am happy to share that I presented Pakistan’s point of view and its concerns surrounding India’s recent measures on occupied Kashmir,” said Qureshi in the video statement.

He went on to say that China agreed with Pakistan that India’s actions are unilateral and that with the change in the status of occupied Kashmir the region’s stability and peace are in danger.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Qureshi reached Beijing to discuss India’s “unconstitutional” move to rid occupied Kashmir of its special status by scrapping Article 370 and 35-A and the evolving security situation in the region with his Chinese counterpart.

He was received by Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Naghmana Hashmi on his arrival at the Beijing airport.

He was then taken to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where he was warmly received by FM Yi and discussions between the two began.

Before leaving for Beijing, Qureshi said he will apprise Islamabad’s “trusted friend” about the situation after New Delhi downgraded its portion of Kashmir from statehood to a territory, limited its decision-making power and eliminated its right to its own constitution.

The foreign minister’s visit came in the wake of heightened tensions with India after it unilaterally scrapped Kashmir special status amid a severe clampdown in the held region along with deployment of additional force.

It had also imposed a curfew in the region, which now has entered the fifth day, after ordering the pilgrims and tourists to leave the region.

India this week revoked Article 370, which gave occupied Kashmir an autonomous status and legislated to bifurcate the region into Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

In response to New Delhi’s move to annex occupied Kashmir, Pakistan on Wednesday resolved to downgrade diplomatic relations with India and suspend all bilateral trade.

India, however, has termed it an “internal matter” and asked Pakistan to review its decision. Meanwhile, a communications blackout and security clampdown imposed late Sunday in occupied Kashmir entered its fifth day on Friday. By Thursday, Indian security forces had arrested more than 500 people in the region.



UK, EU lawmakers call upon UN for Kashmir intervention

Aug 10, 2019

LONDON/BRUSSELS: More than 45 United Kingdom lawmakers have co-signed a letter written by Member of Parliament (Warrington South) Faisal Rashid, calling on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to intervene and prevent India’s unconstitutional attack on Kashmir’s autonomy.

“We are deeply alarmed by reports that the Indian government has revoked Article 370 of its constitution, stripping Kashmir of its autonomous status,” the letter states.

“This unilateral decision is a direct attack on the political status of Kashmir and its right to self-governance. The revocation of Article 370 will have far-reaching and dangerous consequences for the region. It also represents a betrayal of the constitutional settlement between India and the people of Kashmir,” it maintained.

“We also note that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has long been an exponent of militaristic, hostile anti-Muslim views as the political figurehead of a far-right Hindu-nationalist movement. His administration has overseen an aggressive erosion of the legal and constitutional foundations on which the Indian republic stands,” the letter stated.

“The revocation of Article 370 represents a significant escalation of this process in what is the only Indian-occupied Muslim majority state,” it added.

“As the secretary-general, we call on you to urgently bring this matter to the attention of the Security Council as a serious threat to the maintenance of international peace and security. We note with alarm that India and Pakistan, whose longstanding differences in this region nearly led to open warfare just months ago, possess nuclear capabilities. We urge the United Nations to do everything in its power to de-escalate this extremely troubling and tense situation,” it concluded.

The letter was signed by MPs Faisal Rashid, Tracy Brabin, Marsha de Cordova, Grahame Morris, Tony Lloyd, Mark Hendrick, Gill Furniss, Tonia Antoniazzi, Lord Qurban Hussein, David Lammy, Rupa Huq, Lord Nasir Ahmed, David Drew, Rosena Allin-Khan, Laura Smith, Angus MacNeill, Mohammed Yasin, Khalid Mahmood, Alison Thewliss, Mike Hill, Kelvin Hopkins, Alex Norris, Matt Western, Thelma Walker, Afzal Khan, Yasmin Qureshi, Stephen Kinnock, Ronnie Campbell, Mary Glindon, Shabana Mahmood, Roger Godsiff, Daniel Zeichner, Kate Osamor, Rashanara Ali, Clive Lewis, Kate Green, Paul Farrelly, Clive Betts, Karl Turner, Nic Dakin, Chi Onwurah, Jim Cunningham, Naz Shah, Catherine West, James Frith, Mary Creagh and lmran Hussein.

A separate letter written by members of the European Parliament to High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini also expressed concerns on the recent developments in the Indian-occupied area of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Over the last few days, it appears the Indian authorities have increased the number of troops in Kashmir. They have also cancelled the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the region, which had been scheduled for this week. According to media reports the Indian army used cluster ammunition near the Line of Control, reportedly killing two civilians, on 30 July. We recall that the use of cluster ammunition would amount to a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and of the international humanitarian law,” the letter stated.

The letter was signed by members of European Parliament Irina von Wiese, Shaffaq Mohammed, Phil Bennion, Judith Bunting, Chris Davies, Antony Hook, Martin Horwood, Lucy Nethsingha and Sheila Ritchie.



Top Iranian cleric warns India against mistreating Muslims in Kashmir

Aug 9, 2019

A senior Iranian cleric has condemned the Indian government’s recent decision to strip Indian-controlled Kashmir region of its special constitutional status as an “obnoxious” move, warning Indian authorities against the use of excessive force against Muslims there.

“We urge the Indian government to refrain from harsh treatment of Muslims as it will neither be in its interest nor that of the region,” Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani said in an address to worshipers at weekly Friday prayers in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

On Monday, a presidential decree revoked Article 370 of India's constitution, which guaranteed special rights to the Muslim-majority Kashmir region, including the right to its own constitution and autonomy to make laws on all matters, except defense, communications and foreign affairs.

India dispatched thousands of additional troops to the disputed Himalayan region in the wake of the move, declaring a strict curfew, shutting down telecommunications and internet, and arresting political leaders as well as pro-independence campaigners.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in return, censured India's 'illegal' Kashmir move, vowing to fight the decision, including at the UN Security Council.

Khan said the move was in breach of international law, adding that he feared ethnic cleansing by India.

Meanwhile, about 8,000 Pakistani protesters staged a demonstration in Islamabad on Friday to denounce New Delhi’s move to strip India-controlled Kashmir of special constitutional status.

Authorities reportedly deployed about 2,000 police and security forces, and did not allow the protesters to approach the Indian Embassy.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since their partition in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought three wars over the territory.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants and allowing them across the frontier. Pakistan strongly rejects the accusation.

Indo-Pakistani relations nosedived in February when over 40 Indian paramilitaries were killed in a bomb attack in Kashmir. New Delhi blamed Pakistan-based militants, but Islamabad denied any involvement.

The Independent's multi-award-winning Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, recently wrote in an article that Israel was playing a big role in India’s escalating conflict with Pakistan.



If khat is Islamic, are Roman characters Christian? Perlis mufti asks

09 August 2019


KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 9 — Perlis Mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin has claimed that the Malay-Arabic calligraphy of khat is not an attempt at Islamisation, but just part of the country’s heritage.

He compared khat to Roman alphabets, saying if the same logic used for the former is applied, then the latter would similarly convert others into Christianity.

“The jawi we have isn’t entirely ‘pure’, there are some Persian character adaptations in it. Some alphabets are not Arabic.

“Jawi writing does not represent the Islam religion. Although the Quran does use the characters, but it is what is written which represents Islam, not the kind of [characters] it is written in.

“Otherwise, if we write in the Romanised form, does it mean that we become Christians?” he said when responding to a question raised during a lecture in Kangar last night.

“In Arab countries, the Bible is written in Arabic. Rock singers sing in Arabic. Books which oppose Islam among the Arabs, what language are they written in? Arabic,” he added.

The Perlis mufti also alleged that Islamophobia is behind the tension and confusion surrounding the introduction of khat writing in the Bahasa Malaysia syllabus for Standard Four pupils.

He said it was how khat was introduced to the non-Muslims which led to the misconception by non-Muslims.

“If we tell the non-Muslims that jawi is a language which is used to defend the Islam religion, obviously the non-Muslims are not going to want to learn it because they are not Muslims.

“There, is likely where it went wrong,” he said, referring to how Muslims attempted to explain khat.

He gave an example of the Malay headgear of songkok, saying that in India, even non-Muslims wear something similar.

“But the Prophet [Muhammad] never wore a songkok,” he said.

“Same goes to the baju Melayu and samping. It does not represent religion, it is a Malay attire.

“It is the same misconceptions applied to Jawi writing and I sense there is hatred with anything related to [Islam]. That is wrong,” he added.

Following opposing views conveyed by several related quarters including Chinese and Tamil educationists, Education Minister Maszlee Malik yesterday said teachers would be given the power to decide on how to teach it.

Yesterday, the minister said the introduction to khat would be implemented in an optional manner where teachers will be given the power to decide on the method they would use to teach in respective classrooms.



Somalia: "We Are Coming for You Ruthlessly" - U.S. Tells Al-Shabaab

8 AUGUST 2019

Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the new commander of U.S. Africa Command, visited Somalia on Wednesday and pledged to continue pressuring violent extremists such as al-Shabab.

Townsend is now on his first trip to the African continent since he took charge of AFRICOM July 26. He met with Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre in the capital city of Mogadishu, as well as U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto and senior Somali military leadership, AFRICOM said in a release.

AFRICOM said Townsend's trip allowed him to assess the situation in Somalia, and reinforce AFRICOM's commitments to the region's security.

"I am committed to working together and advancing our partnership with Somalia," Townsend said in the release. "Along with Somalia and other international partners, we will apply continued pressure on violent extremist organizations. This pressure creates conditions and opportunity for further political and economic development."

Townsend said that Somali forces must keep pushing al-Shabab out of the remaining areas they hold to free Somali people living there, and that degrading the terrorist group's threat supports the interests of both Somalia and the United States.

"We're in the business of protecting our country from these threats," Townsend said. "Degrading the capability of terrorists who operate here makes the entire region safer and prevents its export to other places. This is important work for our country, the Somalis and our allies."

In a sign of how American involvement in Somalia is increasing, AFRICOM carried out as many airstrikes in the nation in the first seven months of 2019 as it did for the entirety of 2018. According to statistics from AFRICOM last month, the U.S. military carried out its 47th airstrike in Somalia on July 27 to target suspected Islamic State militants in the Golis Mountain region, which is a reputed terrorist hotbed.

AFRICOM said Wednesday that the U.S. is coordinating its diplomacy and development efforts with military activity. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale also met with Khayre in Mogadishu earlier this week, and pledged to continue U.S. support for Somalia's political reforms, economic development and stabilization.

"They agreed on the value of security operations to liberate areas from al-Shabab and preparing Somali forces to take over from the African Union Mission to Somalia," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in the release.

The Prime Minister added the partnership with the U.S. is key to reform and sustaining progress, according to the AFRICOM website.

"Through our strategic partnership and support with the U.S. government, Somalia has made tangible progress in security, reconciliation, and debt relief," said Khaire, adding the two nations will continue to partner meaningfully in pursuit of their bilateral interests.

As part of its support, AFRICOM is training a Somali military force called the Danab, a specially-trained unit of the Somali Security Forces that focuses on fighting al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia. Al Shabab is believed to have been responsible for an October 2017 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed 500 people and a January attack on a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed more than 20 people. AFRICOM said that the al Qaida-connected al-Shabab "remains the largest and deadliest terror organization in East Africa" and the region's "principle security challenge."

Townsend met with U.S. units training the Danab, and praised the job they are doing.

"The United States of America offers the best security partnership and training in the world," Townsend said. "We invest in our partners, dedicating the time, energy and commitment to make sure they are ready for any challenge."



ISIS recruitment is growing in Afghanistan as US and Taliban work for peace

Stefanie Glinski

Aug 8, 2019

In the shade of a riverside open-air restaurant in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, Bilal sits cross legged on a pillow, with his eyes scanning the sky and the surrounding area ceaselessly.

He jumps up nervously as the shadow of a bird crosses over his face.

Bilal 28, is a fighter with IS Khorasan – the ISIS branch in Afghanistan – and says that over the past year, they have gained a few thousand fighters in the country, with their funding coming from interests abroad and criminal activity, such as kidnapping.

IS-K has been active in Afghanistan since 2015.

Its fighters pledge allegiance to ISIS command, which once operated out of the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa.

There its members beheaded hostages, raped slaves and killed hundreds over accusations including sorcery.

The Afghan National Army and the US military, as well as the Taliban, fight the extremist group in Afghanistan.

“There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 fighters and one fourth of them are foreigners,” says Lt Gen Abdul Hadi Khalid, a researcher at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies and former vice minister of interior.

Afghan’s spy agency puts the numbers much lower, saying that only about 3,000 remain and most fighters enter the country through the Iranian-Afghan border.

Bilal, a Pakistani native from a religious lower-middle class family, came to Afghanistan eight years ago, originally joining the Taliban.

But the group’s changing ideology pushed him away and he joined IS-K two years ago.

As the Taliban and the US negotiate a peace deal in Doha, Bilal says he is ready for a violent future.

“With ongoing peace talks, IS-K recruitment has increased," a government security official tells The National. "This includes recruitment from foreign fighters who are already in Afghanistan, but work with networks in their home countries.

“We will see if they become bigger once a peace deal is signed, but we estimate that around 5-10 per cent of Talibs might join Daesh then."

Bilal says it was not financial considerations but his personal wish to fight that made him decide to join the group.

“IS-K is giving money and power to people and it’s appealing,” says Mahmood Marhoon, an author and researcher at Kabul University.

“Most of the people who join are young, and while it’s tough to put a finger on exact numbers, the group is definitely stepping up their recruitment.”

The Ministry of Defence’s spokesman, Zubair Arif, insists that 95 per cent of the group has been finished, contrary to other expert opinion.

“We fought hard to remove them in Nangarhar and Kunar,” Mr Arif says. “Many of them are foreigners and enter Afghanistan through all borders, even through Kabul’s international airport.”

The threat is not far-fetched, especially in the country’s eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan, where the group has gained some territory over the past six months, a Pentagon report released in July shows.

"Regionally, the group continues to evade, counter and resist sustained counter-terrorism pressure,” the report said.

According to a new UN report, out of the almost 4,000 civilian casualties in the first months of 2019, 11 per cent could be attributed to IS-K.

The Taliban and IS-K have been fighting each other, often for ideological reasons.

Both groups accuse each other of not being Islamic. In the past year, IS-K has taken over large forest areas, previously under Taliban control, with a booming wood and mining industry helping fund their activities.

“Daesh is also gaining strength in eastern Afghanistan because they are fighting ideologically,” explains Nadir, 35, a former Taliban trainer. After 12 years of educating fighters in suicide attack methods, Nadir, has left the insurgents behind to focus on his university studies.

“The Taliban’s ideology is becoming weak and it means that several of their fighters have joined Daesh – including Bilal,” he says.

IS-K territory is mainly constrained to eastern Afghanistan, yet new, small pockets are emerging across the country.

“We see them in the north, in provinces like Takhar and Badakhshan,” explains Lt General Khalid.

“Salafism is active in some northern areas and that’s where IS-K is finding ground.”

Bilal says the Taliban has changed. “They are not fighting infidels anymore, but they come to the negotiation table with them.”

He says that the group has managed to set up a semi-functioning state system, including schools, courtrooms and medical centres. “Some women have even joined their husbands here.”

“Local people see our good laws and want to join us. The young men I know – some of them are Uzbeks, Indians, Iranians, Chinese, even a few Europeans – want to give their lives,” Bilal says.

“People have been brainwashed,” explains former terrorist trainer Nadir, who is using a fake name to conceal his identity. He’s known Bilal for many years, having once taught him how to build suicide vests.

But, for Bilal, joining the fighting was a decision he made after studying in one of Pakistan’s religious schools.

“Foreign forces have come here to attack us and destroy our home, so we have to do the same,” the young man explains. “We do this to terrorise people and stir fear,” he says.

A few years ago, his family from Pakistan’s Karachi visited him in Afghanistan, an uncommon move. “My mother came to find me a wife, but I refused,” he says. “I live right on the front line and if I die, my wife would be alone.” He now shares a house with two other single Pakistani fighters.

Bilal says he has come to Jalalabad to catch up with friends, but he’s manoeuvring through the city by avoiding checkpoints and hiding from the police.

“We’re targeting people, but we’re also a target here,” Bilal explains. “It’s only in the Daesh areas that I feel safe.”





Taliban note urges India, Pakistan to avoid acts that may pave way for violence

by Shubhajit Roy

August 10, 2019

In a statement that has raised many eyebrows in Delhi, Taliban issued a diplomatically-calibrated statement on the scrapping of special status to Jammu and Kashmir where they expressed “deep sadness” and urged India and Pakistan to “refrain” from taking steps that could “pave a way for violence”.

Top Indian government sources said the statement appeared genuine, as South Block has crosschecked this with some international interlocutors.

Sources in Delhi perceived this carefully-crafted statement to have been issued with the influence of international interlocutors, as the statement cautioned against linking the issue of Kashmir with Afghanistan — something that Pakistan has been advocating for the last few days.

While it seems odd that the Taliban has issued a statement which is contrary to Pakistan’s position, sources said this possibly indicates Taliban’s desire to close the deal with the US — and it doesn’t want the Kashmir issue to complicate the process.

The Indian side had briefed US envoy on Taliban talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, when he visited India and met External Affairs minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday. The Rajya Sabha passed the Bill to scrap J&K’s special status and bifurcate it into two Union Territories Monday. The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha Tuesday.

After the meeting with Khalilzad, Jaishankar tweeted, “Useful discussions with US Special Representative @US4AfghanPeace Zalmay Khalilzad. Provided a comprehensive update on the situation in Afghanistan. Shared views on how we could work together effectively.”

Khalilzad tweeted on Wednesday, “At Hyderabad House yesterday, I had a detailed discussion with Indian Foreign Minister @DRSJaishankar on the #AfghanPeaceProcess. Briefed him & sought his views. #India has an important role to play in helping deliver & sustain a durable peace in #Afghanistan.”

The Taliban’s statement, published online, said, “The Islamic Emirate expresses deep sadness in this regard and urges both India and Pakistan to refrain from taking steps that could pave a way for violence and complications in the region and usurp the rights of Kashmiris.”

“Having gained bitter experiences from war and conflict, we urge peace and use of rational pathways to solve regional issues,” it said. The statement was issued by Spokesman of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Zabihullah Mujahid. “We call on both involved parties, OIC, Islamic countries, the United Nations and other influential institutions to play a constructive role in preventing insecurity in Kashmir. By using your influence, encourage both sides to prevent the spread of crisis and resolve the issue in a calm and composed manner,” it said.

“… the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the theatre of competition between other countries,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Delhi is monitoring statements from OIC countries. So far, UAE and Maldives have said it is an internal matter of India, while Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have pointed to the UNSC resolutions. Turkey has expressed concern and offered mediation.



UN, US & China rebuff Pakistan, deal it big diplomatic blow

Aug 9, 2019

NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON: Pakistan was on Friday rebuffed on all fronts in its effort to seek international mediation and intervention in its campaign against New Delhi’s move to turn Article 370 into a dead letter and bifurcate Jammu & Kashmir into two Union territories. While the biggest setback for Islamabad on Thursday came in the form of a United Nations’ virtual rejection of its August 6 appeal, it was no less of a jolt for Pakistan that it got a tepid response from China — its all-weather ally — on its lobbying on the Kashmir front.

Some deft diplomatic moves by India ensured that the UN Security Council refused to “take cognisance” of Pakistan’s letter to its president, asking for intervention after India’s Kashmir move.

In a letter on August 6 addressed to UNSC president and Polish diplomat Joanna Wronecka and UN General Assembly president Maria-Fernanda Espinosa Garces, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi sought their intervention to “ensure that India returns to full compliance of all UN resolutions by reversing all steps that interfere with the settlement of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute”.

The crux of the Pakistani argument was that India had carried out an “unofficial annexation” of J&K, which was a “material change of the situation” and a contravention of UNSC Resolution 48 of 1948.

India informed the UN that Article 370 was incorporated into the Indian Constitution in 1954, six years after the UNSC resolution and was revoked in 2019. Both happened after the UNSC resolution, so if the first did not signal a “material change”, neither could the second.

The UNSC president dropped Pakistan’s request and refused to answer questions on it. “The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Simla Agreement which states that the final status of Jammu & Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the UN Charter,” the UN said.

Although Pakistan tried to spin the statement as referring to “Indian-administered Kashmir”, the UN’s view of J&K is of an undivided state, including parts occupied by Pakistan. According to a UN spokesman, Secretary-Gene- ral Antonio Gutteres called on “all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kas- hmir”, a formulation that wo- uld also include changes Islamabad has effected on POK.

Guterres urged all parties to “exercise restraint”, his spokesman said, adding, over the past few days, the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) “has observed an increase in military activity” along the LoC.

Pakistan also got no comfort in Washington, where a State Department spokesperson said there was no change in the US policy on Kashmir, which calls for direct, bilateral talks. The US also doubled do- wn on endorsing its strategic ties with India by announcing that deputy secretary of State Sullivan will travel to New Delhi and Thimphu “to advance the US partnership with two nations that are critical to preserving the rules-based order in the #IndoPacific region”.

Beijing too denied any support to Islamabad and told Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who air-dashed there to seek its support on Kashmir, that it regarded both India and Pakistan as “friendly neighbours” and wants them to resolve the issue through UN resolutions and the Simla agreement.

Qureshi had held talks with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi during which he said he believed “China will stand up for justice on the Kashmir issue”, a statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry said. “It should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UNSC resolutions and bilateral agreement,” Wang said.



AIMPLB meet on Triple Talaq Bill and Ayodhya on August 17

Aug 10, 2019

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has convened a meeting on August 17 to chalk out its strategy on the ongoing court hearing in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janma Bhoomi land dispute and on challenging the triple talaq Bill in the Supreme Court.

The meeting to be held in New Delhi would be attended by a battery of Muslim lawyers, including senior advocate Yusuf Hatim Muchala of Mumbai High Court and AIMPLB office-bearers. “We will take a call on whether to move the apex court on the TT Bill or wait-and-watch till someone else challenges it in the court and then become an intervenor in the case,” said senior Allahabad High Court lawyer and AIMPLB secretary Zafaryab Jilani.

On the ongoing hearing in the Ayodhya case, Jilani said so far the Hindu litigants had not been able to furnish any documentary evidence about their possession of the disputed land before the apex court. “This is why they (Hindu litigants) are now trying to divert attention by levying frivolous and baseless charges against Muslim petitioners saying that they want to delay the hearing,” he said. Referring to senior advocate from Muslim side Rajeev Dhavan’s objection over five-days-a-week hearing and the plea that he would not be able to assist the court if the case is “rushed through,” Jilani said adding that the media was blowing the issue out of proportion.

“It was a perfectly normal thing to say as we also need time to study the opposite parties arguments and prepare our brief and counterpoints for the hearings but it was portrayed as we were trying to delay the case,” he said. He said the progress of the case and future course of strategy to be adopted in the title suit would also be discussed in the meeting with the AIMPLB office-bearers.  

On the TT law, AIMPLB member Qasim Rasool Ilyas, who was asked to study the Bill and prepare a report on the inconsistencies in it said, the Bill was self-contradictory and arbitrary. 

“Those tom-toming it as a victory of gender justice for Muslim women have not read the law,” he said. “The Bill provides jail-term for instant triple divorce, which if pronounced by a Muslim, is null or void. In other words, you are penalising a person for an act which under the new law has no legal sanctity,” he pointed out. What makes it even worse for the presumed offender, according to him, was that after spending the jail-term he was supposed to go back to his wife as the marriage has not been annulled. Does that sound plausible?

The Bill, according to him, was silent on providing financial security to Muslim women and her children when the spouse is in jail. Who will pay for the maintenance of his wife and family, he asked. “Another major drawback was that marriage is a civil contract under Muslim personal law. You cannot invoke criminal provisions in a civil matter,” he said.



Yogi's Minister Mohsin Raza, Minister of State for Haj and Minority Welfare, Asks Muslims to 'Don Saffron'

09th August 2019

By Namita BajpaiExpress News Service

LUCKNOW: A day after an advisory was issued to state madarsas to hoist tricolour, sing the national anthem and national song while celebrating Independence Day with pomp and fervour, Minister of State for Haj and Minority Welfare, Mohsin Raza went a step ahead by suggesting the Muslims don saffron here on Friday.

Raza said that saffron was not the contribution of UP CM Yogi Adityanath but of ‘Allah’ and that it represented the ‘light and sheen’.

He felt that if students and clerics in madarsa would start wearing saffron, they would feel enlightened in life.

Raza said that the ‘chishtiya’ sect among Muslims mostly found around shrines and dargahs wear saffron. “Since many of the clerics and Muslim religious leaders also wear saffron, so why should other Muslims hesitation in accepting it,” he said.

Prior to this, Raza had backed the advisory issued to state madarsas Independence day celebrations. As per the new rules, even a non-Urdu speaking person can also apply for teaching in madarsas.

A number of madarsa owners feel that it was a step on the state government's part to introduce BJP supporters in the institutions of Islamic education to saffronize them.

Rejecting the thought, Raza said saffron was given by Allah, not Yogi Adityanath. “It is only that the CM wears saffron,” he said.

Earlier, Mohsin Raza had celebrated the passage of Triple Talaq Bill on Parliament with Muslim women.



Russia backs India, says J&K move 'carried out within framework of Constitution'

Aug 10, 2019

NEW DELHI: Russia has endorsed India's move of abrogating Article 370 and bifurcating the state of Jammu & Kashmir, saying the exercise was "carried out within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India."

In response to questions from the media, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday said: "Moscow expects that India and Pakistan will not allow aggravation of the situation in the region due to the change by Delhi in the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

"We proceed from fact that the changes associated with the change in the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and its division into two union territories are carried out within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India. We hope that the parties involved will not allow a new aggravation of the situation in the region as a result of the decisions.

"Russia is a consistent supporter of the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan.

"We hope that the differences between them will be resolved by political and diplomatic means on a bilateral basis in accordance with the provisions of the Simla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999," the Russian MFA said.

Tensions have soared between India and Pakistan after New Delhi earlier this week revoked Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and moved a separate bill to split the state into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Yesterday, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his nod to the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019, making it into law. The bill was passed in both houses of the Indian Parliament earlier this week.

The Bill provides for the formation of the Union Territory of Ladakh without legislature and a separate one for Jammu and Kashmir with the legislature.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, on its part, has downgraded bilateral ties with India and suspended all bilateral trade activities, communication, and railways, which facilitated people-to-people ties between each other.



As LoC tension mounts, over a dozen terror camps reactivated in PoK

Aug 10, 2019

NEW DELHI: As tension between India and Pakistan escalates over scrapping of special status to Jammu and Kashmir, Islamabad has hastily reactivated nearly a dozen terror camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and close to the International Border along Jammu and Kashmir.

During the past week, hectic movement of terrorists has been seen around these camps which were almost shut in the wake of May 2019 deadline set up by Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body based in Paris. Top intelligence sources said Indian security forces have been put on high alert as terror camps in Kotli, Rawalkot, Bagh and Muzzafrabad in PoK area, bordering Line of Control (LoC), have been reactivated with the ostensible backing of Pakistan army.

Two days back, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had stated in the joint session of Parliament that Islamabad would not be responsible if Pulwama type (or even bigger) terror attack is executed in India. The all important statement of Imran Khan has virtually granted liberty to terror outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and their handlers in Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of Pakistan, to reactivate training camps and launch pads.

Intelligence reports reveal that more than 150 cadres of JeM, LeT and veteran Taliban have reportedly gathered at Fagoosh and Kund camps near Kotli and Shavai Nallah, Abdullah Bin Masud camps in Muzaffarabad area. JeM's chief Maulana Masood Azhar's brother Ibrahim Athar was also spotted in the PoK area, intelligence reports said.

Highly placed sources in the security establishment said National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who is currently in the Valley, had a high level meeting with senior officials which included Intelligence Bureau Director Arvind Kumar, Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir, Dilbagh Singh, and top Army brass. The NSA discussed security strategy and terror threat from across the border in the backdrop of government's bold decisions taken on Jammu and Kashmir.

Sources said security agencies acknowledge the fact that in the cross-border shelling during the past fortnight, a few groups of fidayeen of JeM and LeT reportedly infiltrated into the high reaches of Kashmir. Various strategies have been put into action to neutralise these foreign mercenaries.

Earlier last week, Indian forces foiled major infiltration bid by Pakistan's Border Action Team (BAT) on forward post along the LoC in the Keran Sector, killing at least five intruders. In a week's time BAT made four infiltration bids which were successfully foiled by Indian forces.

Apart from the LoC area, terror outfits continue to train cadres inside and outside PoK. In Khyber Pakhtunwa area, veteran Taliban cadres have a strong foothold. Revealing details of terror activity in Mansehra (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), sources said terrorist training camps are located in Jangal Mandi, Shinkiari, Boi, Garhi Habibullah, Oghi, Elaqa-e-Ghair, Attar Shisha, Skardu base camp, Andher Bela and more.

Sources said that several terror camps have been dismantled while in some camps, there is no activity at present. Although under pressure of possible sanctions by FATF, the list of active camps in Pakistan has been reduced significantly, but the fact remains that terror factories still continue to operate on its soil.

Intelligence agencies have handed over a precise list of operational and non-operational terror camps to Indian security forces, sources added.



Social media helps 10-day-old Kashmiri infant get new lease of life

Aug 10, 2019

NEW DELHI: Social media helped give a new lease of life to a 10-day-old infant born in Srinagar with a congenital heart disease. The boy’s uncle, Muteeb Raina, had tweeted for help on August 9 around 11am, tagging the prime minister, several other BJP ministers and Jammu and Kashmir police officers.

“Need urgent help in transporting a baby from Srinagar to Delhi. Ambulance from Delhi was not allowed in Qazigund. Please help, it is a life and death situation,” Raina wrote from his handle @muteeb316.

His plea for help caught the attention of Srinagar development commissioner and district magistrate Shahid Choudhary, who got in touch with the governor to arrange an air ambulance for the infant. He will be flown to Delhi tomorrow after completion of medical formalities, said Raina, a 29-year-old professional who is settled in Bengaluru.

Raina told TOI that his nephew was born on July 29. Raina, who was there with his family in Srinagar to celebrate the birth of the newborn, extended his leave when they discovered that the infant was born with a heart disease that needed urgent treatment. “We were initially supposed to take him to Delhi on Monday (August 5) for treatment. But when the curfew was imposed, we could not arrange an ambulance that could travel out of the city,” he said, adding that he took the flight to Delhi on August 7 to come to the national capital and arrange an ambulance that could travel to Srinagar and bring his nephew here for treatment. The ambulance, which had two attendants and a doctor, started from Delhi on August 8 but was stopped at Qazigund checkpoint with citing security forces law and order situation as the reason.

“The doctor told me today that they were coming back and were on their way to Pathankot, following which I decided to tweet for help,” he said, adding that he got a lot of encouragement and support from Twitter.

“It was one of those occasions when everyone came together to help someone in distress. The DC got in touch with the ADC Kuldeep Sidda and they contacted the governor, who ensured that we get access to an air ambulance. We will be able to get my nephew to Delhi tomorrow for specialised treatment because of the help from strangers,” he said, adding that he is now confident that his nephew would pull through because he is a “fighter”.



NIA arrests former Jammu and Kashmir MLA Rashid Engineer in terror-funding case

Aug 9, 2019

NEW DELHI: Former Independent MLA in Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Abdul Rashid, popularly known as Rashid Engineer, was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday in connection with a case related to the funding of terror activities in Kashmir, officials said.

Rashid, who was a legislator from the Langate Assembly seat in north Kashmir, is the first mainstream politician to have been arrested by the NIA in the case.

He was earlier questioned in the case in 2017 and again summoned earlier this week.

The officials said that he was unable to give any convincing answers to the questions and therefore, his custodial questioning became necessary.

His name had cropped up during the interrogation of businessman Zahoor Watali, who was arrested by the NIA for allegedly supplying money to terror groups and separatists in the Valley.

The NIA had registered the case against separatist and secessionist leaders, including unknown members of the Hurriyat Conference, who have been acting in connivance with active militants of proscribed terrorist organisations Hizbul Mujahideen, Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other outfits and gangs, the officials said.

The case was registered for raising, receiving and collecting funds through various illegal means, including hawala, for funding separatist and terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir and for causing disruption in the Valley by way of pelting stones on the security forces, burning schools, damaging public property and waging war against India, the probe agency said in the FIR.

Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistan-based chief of the Jamaat-ud- Dawa, the front of the Lashker-e-Taiba, has been named in the FIR as an accused.

The FIR also names organisations such as the two factions of the Hurriyat, one led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the other by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Dukhtaran-e-Millat, an all-women outfit of separatists.



Kartarpur corridor:Punjab CM could be in first jatha

Aug 10, 2019

Cooperation and jails minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa on Friday said chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, his cabinet colleagues, MPs, MLAs would be part of first jatha which would leave for Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur on November 8 through the corridor.

The chief minister will send a five-member member delegation of cabinet ministers from August 22 to 27 to Pakistan to hold consultations with officials there for the 550th Parkash Purb celebrations at Kartarpur and Nankana Sahib, the minister said.

Randhawa who held a meeting with the officials to take stock of the preparations for the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak and construction work on the Kartarpur corridor, said first phase of the project will be complete by October-end.

After the meeting, the minister visited the corridor site near the Pakistan border and paid obeisance to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.



People offer Friday prayers amid tight security in Jammu

Aug 09, 2019

After being confined to their homes for days, people in Jammu offered Friday prayers in their local mosques amid tight security. All schools, colleges and academic institutions will also reopen after a week’s gap on Saturday.

The prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC were withdrawn in Kathua and Samba districts onFriday while deputy commissioner, Jammu, has ordered withdrawing restrictions within municipal limits of Jammu district from Saturday. One-hour relaxation was given in the ongoing restrictions on movement of locals and vehicles in parts of Kishtwar district.

Prohibitory orders in Udhampur are still in place, said Udhampur deputy commissioner Piyush Singla, adding there were exceptions in certain areas, hence the schools were reopened on Friday.

Meanwhile, additional director general of police(ADGP) (law and order) Muneer Ahmed Khan reviewed the law and order situation in the Kathua district.

Khan said, “Situation is normal and things are very much under control in Jammu zone. Situation is also under control in the Kashmir valley and necessary steps are being undertaken to maintain peace, law and order. Action will be taken against anyone who indulges in rumour mongering or false information on the social media.”


As markets are also open between 11am and 5pm, shops and business establishments opened onFriday. No untoward incident was reported from anywhere in Jammu, while Rapid Action Force was deployed in sensitive areas including old city in the wake of Friday prayers.

Despite the government order on Thursday for employees to report on duty, the attendance remained thin in government offices.

The mobile internet services remained suspended for the fifth consecutive day.

Trains, aircraft and long route buses plied as per routine in Jammu, while passengers were allowed to move towards their respective destinations with travel tickets.

In Jammu, a night curfew was imposed in Kishtwar, Doda and Rajouri districts and restrictions under Section 144 of the CrPc were imposed in all districts.

Divisional commissioner Sanjeev Verma said, “Administration is facilitating people to celebrate Eid.”

“The situation in Jammu is normal and the supply of essential commodities has been restored in Rajouri and Poonch. The supply of essential commodities, including vegetables, poultry, fruit, fuel, medicines, are moving to Kashmir as per routine.”



After Samjhauta, Pakistan to suspend Thar Express service

August 9, 2019

Pakistan Friday announced that they will discontinue train services of the Thar Express, which runs across the Rajasthan border linking the two nations. The development comes a day after the Samjhauta Express was suspended by Pakistan following its decision to downgrade bilateral ties with India.

At a press conference in Islamabad, Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid said, “As long as I am railways minister, Samjhauta Express and Thar Express will not operate. That’s it,” Pakistan news agency Dawn reported.

After a 41-year suspension, the Thar Express connected Jodhpur’s Bhagat ki Kothi station to Karachi and ran every Friday night. On February 18, 2006 the train was resumed.

Sheikh further said that he will visit the free Jammu and Kashmir after Eid. “We don’t want war […] But any person who does not fulfill his commitment with the Kashmiris is a traitor,” Dawn quoted him as saying.

On Thursday, Pakistan briefly suspended the train services of the Samjhauta Express at the Wagah border with 117 people stranded. An engine was then sent to bring the train back to Attari.

Pakistani authorities had briefly suspended the train service on February 28 this year following tense bilateral ties in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF soldiers were killed.

Pakistan’s decision to suspend trains comes after India revoked Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The neighbouring country downgraded diplomatic ties with India expelling Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria on Wednesday.



India to bring in food supplies to Kashmir as curfew stays

10 August 2019

Authorities enforcing a strict curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir say they will bring in trucks of essential supplies for the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha next week, as the divided Himalayan region remains in a lockdown following India’s decision to strip it of its constitutional autonomy.

The indefinite curfew was briefly eased on Friday for weekly Muslim prayers in some parts of Srinagar, the region’s main city, but thousands of residents are still forced to stay indoors with shops and most health clinics closed. All communications and the internet remain cut off.

The top administrative official, Baseer Khan, says essential commodities including food, grains and meat will be delivered to different parts of the region ahead of the Islamic holiday on Monday.



Thousands protest in Indian Kashmir over new status despite clampdown

9 August 2019

Indian police used tear gas and pellets to fight back at least 10,000 people protesting Delhi’s withdrawal of special rights for Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state in its main city of Srinagar on Friday, a police official and two witnesses said.

The demonstration soon after Friday prayers was the largest since authorities locked down the revolt-torn region five days ago, cutting off telephone and internet services and detaining more than 500 political and separatist leaders.

Seeking to tighten its grip on the region also claimed by neighboring Pakistan, India this week scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there.

Regional leaders have warned of a backlash in the area, where militants have been fighting Indian rule for nearly 30 years, leading to the deaths of more than 50,000 people.

A large group of people gathered in Srinagar’s Soura area, a police officer said, in violation of orders that prohibit the assembly of more than four people.

The crowd was pushed back by police at Aiwa bridge, where a witness said tear gas and pellets were used against them. “Some women and children even jumped into the water,” a witness said at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, where pellet victims were admitted.

“They (police) attacked us from two sides,” another witness said. The police officer said 12 people had been admitted to two hospitals in the city after receiving pellet injuries at Soura, taking the total injured in the protests this week to at least 30. --------

“There were around 10,000 people at the protest in Soura,” the police officer said. “This was the biggest so far.”

Thousands of extra paramilitary police were deployed across Kashmir just before the sweeping measures were announced on Monday to prevent large-scale protests.

Addressing the nation on Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had acted in Kashmir to help develop the region and that he hoped it would lead to investment and more job opportunities.

His Hindu nationalist-led party has long campaigned for abrogating Kashmir’s special privileges in the constitution, which it sees as an appeasement to Muslims and a hindrance to its own development.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman, Raveesh Kumar, played down the unrest, which he suggested was temporary.

“Just outside Srinagar things have really come back to normal,” he said.

Kumar added, “People are going about their business, vehicles are plying normally. If we are confident of maintaining the law and order, I think those restrictions will be relaxed, I’m quite sure.”


But the police officer, who requested anonymity since he is not authorized to speak to the media, said that political detentions in the wake of the Modi government’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special rights were continuing.

“Over 500 people are now arrested since Sunday,” he said, including former chief ministers, ministers, lawmakers and leaders and workers from political parties and separatist groups.

Modi’s party and even some top opposition leaders have welcomed the decision to absorb Kashmir fully into India, and it has brought him support across the country.

Within Kashmir, officials are hoping anger will die down. On Friday, they eased restrictions to allow residents to offer prayers in neighborhood mosques and said they were making arrangements for Eid, that falls on Monday.

The top administrative official of the Kashmir Valley, Baseer Khan, said that essential commodities including food, grains and meat, would be trucked into villages by Sunday.

Khan also said authorities would set up public phone booths covering every district, sincecommunications lines have been severed by the government anticipating widespread protests.

“More than 300 phone booths will be established in a day or two at landmark points,” he said.

Khan added that all medical services in the valley were working normally, although when Reuters visited two major hospitals and a smaller facility, officials said that doctors and staff were having difficulties reaching work.

Arch-rival Pakistan, which lays claims to Kashmir, has downgraded diplomatic ties with India and suspended trade in anger at its latest move.

On Friday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said China was gravely concerned about the situation in Kashmir, the cause of two of three wars between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

Wang met Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Beijing and assured him that China would continue to support Pakistan to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.




Pakistan Wants China’s Help to Skirt Terror-Financing Blacklist

By Faseeh Mangi  and Ethan Bronner

August 9, 2019

Pakistan is looking to China and two other developing nations for support in avoiding tough financial sanctions, amid signs it is running out of time to meet global anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing standards, according to people familiar with the matter.

The government in Islamabad expects it will fail to comply with enough of the 27 action items set by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force before a final review in October, the people said, asking for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.



Pakistan Cabinet approves suspension of bilateral trade with India

Aug 9, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Cabinet on Friday officially approved the suspension of bilateral trade ties with India, as had earlier been decided in the National Security Council's (NSC) meeting in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 with regard to Jammu and Kashmir by the Government of India.

The decision was taken during a session of the Federal Cabinet today, Geo News reported.

In a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday, the NSC had decided to downgrade its diplomatic ties and suspend bilateral trade with India. In addition, it had asked India to withdraw its High Commissioner from Islamabad and partially shut off its airspace.

Calling its steps in Jammu and Kashmir as an "entirely internal affair", India on Thursday had rejected Pakistan's unilateral move to downgrade diplomatic ties and asked Islamabad to review them so that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved.

"The intention behind these (Pakistan's) measures is obviously to present an alarming picture to the world of our bilateral ties. The reasons cited by Pakistan are not supported by facts on the ground," the MEA said.

The ministry outlined that India's decisions are driven by a commitment to extending to Jammu and Kashmir opportunities for development that were earlier denied by a temporary provision in the Constitution.



Imran Khan says India creating 'war-like' situation, MEA calls it a ploy

Aug 9, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused India of creating a "war-like" situation similar to the post-Pulwama terror attack to divert the world's attention from the Kashmir issue.

Khan, talking to a select group of senior Pakistani journalists on Thursday, claimed that India may stage a "false flag operation" in a bid to create a situation similar to post-Pulwama so that the world's attention could be diverted from what was happening in the Valley.

"The threat is very real. We will have to respond to such a scenario and this is how we have seen wars starting between nations," he was quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.

Asked about Prime Minister Khan's comment on the "war-like" situation, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar in New Delhi said it is time for Pakistan to see the new reality and stop interfering in the internal matters of India.

"From their side, they would like to project a panic situation, the international community does not think there is a war-like situation. It is a ploy to deflect attention...It is time for Pakistan to see the new reality and stop interfering in the internal matters of India," he said.

Early this year, tensions flared up between India and Pakistan after a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) killed 41 CRPF personnel in Kashmir's Pulwama district.

Prime Minister Khan said it seemed that US President Donald Trump's mediation offer triggered India to make the hasty decision of depriving Kashmir of its special status.

“We tried really hard to normalise ties with India. But they [India] exploited the situation. They exploited the Pulwama [attack] for their elections. They have been lobbying to get us blacklisted by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force] as well," he added.

Khan said war was not an option but Pakistan needed to tell the world about what was happening in Kashmir.

It is not the first time that Khan has spoken about the possibility of war with India.

On Tuesday, addressing the joint session of Pakistan's parliament, Khan expressed apprehension that Pulwama-like attacks can follow the revocation of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir, which could trigger a conventional war between Pakistan and India.

Pakistan on Wednesday expelled Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria and decided to downgrade the diplomatic ties with India over what it called New Delhi's "unilateral and illegal" move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

India on Monday revoked Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories -- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army warned India of a tough response in case of any "misadventure" by the Indian Army.



Shahbaz lashes out at PM over ‘Kashmir sell-out’

Syed Irfan Raza

August 10, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The rare unity of parliament seen on the issue of Kashmir during its recent joint session remained elusive in the Friday session of the National Assembly when leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of selling the future of Kashmir.

The lawmakers of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz continued to trade barbs over the alleged corruption and arrest of top opposition leaders, besides accusing one another of trying to appease Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on different occasions in the past.

The Indian government has recently revoked Article 370 and 35A changing the status of India-held Kashmir that has sparked protests across Kashmir and Pakistan.

In his fiery speech on the floor of the house, Mr Sharif said PM Khan had sold the future of Kashmir. He said there was a nexus between the government and the National Accountability Bureau. And the top leaders of the opposition parties were being arrested to divert public attention from the Kashmir issue, he added.

He condemned the arrest of his niece and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz and nephew Yousuf Abbas in front of her father, ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in the jail on Thursday.

“The recent arrests of PML-N and PPP leaders confirmed a nexus bet­ween the government and NAB,” he added.

He said it was quite humiliating that Maryam Nawaz was arrested in front of her jailed father. “Her arrest also established a link between the government and NAB as she was intentionally arrested when she was meeting her father in the jail. NAB officials could have arrested Maryam in her house or on her way to jail or the next day,” he added.

Mr Sharif said top leaders of the opposition parties including Maryam Nawaz, ex-PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khwaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Hamza Shahbaz, Miftah Ismail and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari were in jail or under custody. “But we are not afraid of such tactics and will never bow before the government,” he added.

He alleged that the atmosphere of harmony and unity created by the opposition in parliament on Kashmir issue was marred by the government to meet agenda of political victimisation.

“The opposition created an atmosphere of harmony after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to strip occupied Kashmir of its special status. But the government with the arrest of Maryam shredded that unity,” he added.

At that point, the opposition leader was interrupted by some treasury members but deputy speaker Qasim Suri asked the lawmakers to go back to their seats.

When Mr Sharif called PM Khan a “selected PM”, Mr Suri came to the PM’s rescue and said: “He is an elected prime minister just as the opposition leader is an elected man.”

Mr Sharif said former PM Nawaz Sharif and his family were being targeted just because he had pulled the country out of darkness, established motorways, provided jobs and raised the country’s GDP rate to over six per cent.

“But the present government due to its faulty policies and incapability had brought the economy on the verge of collapse,” he added.

Responding to the speech, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood said NAB was an independent institution and if the Sharifs had committed corruption they should face the music. “It was your (Shahbaz Sharif’s) TT (telegraphic transaction) of $25 million traced by NAB,” he remarked.

PML-N lawmaker Khawaja Asif said Mr Mehmood had served under the then chief minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif as he had been made a director in Punjab Bank. “Shafqat Mehmood enjoyed millions of dollars given by the DFID [Department for International Development],” he added.

Refuting the allegation that the government was in league with NAB, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said: “You should explain in court why you had received billions of dollars from abroad. The government of Pakistan cannot answer NAB.”

In response to opposition members’ allegation that the PTI government was trying to distract the nation from the Kashmir issue, the state minister recalled that Mr Modi had flown to Pakistan to attend the wedding of ex-PM Nawaz’s granddaughter. “It was not Imran Khan who had invited Modi, but you,” he added.

Former premier and PPP lawmaker Raja Pervez Ashraf, however, suggested to the treasury benches to put aside their differences with the opposition and adopt a united stance in the face of the unprecedented crisis in India-held Kashmir.

The session was prorogued before Friday prayers.

Pakistan has taken a number of steps—called a joint session of the parliament, hold National Security Council meeting, Prime Minister made contacts with international leaders to intervene and pressurize India to mend its ways.



Senate panel for clear-cut policy to counter Modi’s ‘fascism’

Iftikhar A. Khan

August 10, 2019

ISLAMABAD: A Senate panel has called for an unambiguous policy to counter the Indian prime minister’s “fascism” and sought a special session of the upper house on the biggest crisis confronting the nation since 1971.

The standing committee on foreign affairs, which met here under the chairmanship of Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, asked the government to prepare an action plan to internationalise the Kashmir dispute and expose Narendra Modi’s “fascist and racist policies reminiscent of Nazi Germany”.

It also called for taking concrete steps in parliamentary diplomacy to highlight human rights violations in occupied Kashmir and evolving a policy on India that protected Pakistan’s national interests, promoted the Kashmir cause and proactively exposed Indian designs that were endangering peace in the region.

The panel observed that India was deliberately trying to escalate tensions along the LoC and the Working Boundary (WB) by resorting to unprovoked firing. It said New Delhi was violating the 2003 ceasefire understanding to divert global attention from its atrocities in occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

The panel condemned the steps taken by the Modi government to revoke the special status of India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOK) through a unanimous resolution. It called upon India to reverse these steps as they had jeopardised the peace and stability of South Asia.

The body called for an immediate release of the Hurriyat leadership, the restoration of mobile and internet services and lifting of curfew in occupied Kashmir.

An official of the Foreign Office, who attended the session, brushed aside an impression that Pakistan’s response to the Indian moves was not befitting or that it wasn’t keeping an eye on the emerging situation. “The measures taken and being taken are measured responses,” he said.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, the committee’s chairman, observed that Pakistan must have a long-term and sustainable policy on India, describing New Delhi’s Kashmir moves as the most important development in the region since 1971.

“We cannot compartmentalise peace and the world cannot expect Pakistan to work for peace on its western border while our eastern border is being disturbed repeatedly,” Senator Mushahid added.

Senator Rehman Malik, the former interior minister, accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of committing crimes against humanity in occupied Kashmir and advised the government to take up the matter with the International Criminal Court. The committee felt the government could not deal with the enormity of the situation alone, calling upon parliament to play its role in taking Pakistan’s narrative to global powers.

The committee said since India’s recent actions had outraged Kashmiris, Pakistan must think out of the box instead of coming up with the usual reaction.



Cabinet hails UN statement on held Kashmir

August 10, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Friday hailed a statement of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Kashmir and decided to give representation to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and opposition parties in the committee recently formed by the prime minister to explore response to the latest Indian move regarding occupied Kashmir.

“The federal cabinet admired the UN secretary general for endorsing our and people of Kashmir’s stance,” said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in a post-meeting press conference.

She said the cabinet approved all the decisions taken by the joint session of the parliament and National Security Committee (NSC), while committee members also expressed complete confidence in whatever decision the prime minister would take on Kashmir.

The UN secretary general in a statement called on all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir. He also expressed concerned over reports of restrictions in India-held Kashmir that could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region.

In the wake of the Indian attempt to change the disputed status of Kashmir unilaterally, Prime Minister Imran Khan had formed a seven-member committee with the heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Public Relations as its members.

The committee was tasked to explore and recommend legal, political and diplomatic response to the latest developments regarding India-held Kashmir.

The cabinet in its meeting on Friday decided to expand the committee by giving representation to the opposition, Azad Jammu and Kashmir President Sardar Masood Khan, AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider and Gilgit-Baltistan Governor Raja Jalal Hussain Maqpoon.

Dr Awan said PM Khan also decided to expose Indian government’s designs through the media. She said the cabinet decided that the nation would express solidarity with Kashmiri brethren on the occasion of Independence Day on Aug 14.

PM calls Bahrain king

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan telephoned the King of Bahrain, His Majesty Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and apprised him of the evolving situation in the India-held Kashmir and Indian violation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution.

Mr Khan said Pakistan rejected the Indian government move as it was in violation of the UNSC resolution. He stressed that India-held Kashmir was an internationally recognised disputed territory and no unilateral step by the Indian government could change the disputed status as maintained in the UNSC resolution. He urged the international community to play its role to stop India from this irresponsible and unilateral action to maintain peace and stability in the region.

The Bahrain king said his government was closely monitoring the developments in Kashmir with deep concern and expressed the hope that all issues would be resolved through dialogue.

Earlier during the cabinet meeting, it was decided that Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) would be provided Rs55.5 million to clean Karachi with the help of all stakeholders.

The cabinet also decided to ease the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) restriction on the construction of highrise buildings near airports in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Peshawar. “Prime Minister directed civil aviation to come up with recommendations to provide ease to the builders in the next meeting,” Dr Awan added.



Balochistan PA urges implementation of National Action Plan

Saleem Shahid

August 10, 2019

QUETTA: Treasury and opposition benches, while expressing concern over bomb attacks in Quetta over the past three weeks, have called for the implementation of the National Action Plan and sought an in-camera briefing on the steps taken by the government against terrorists.

Taking part in a debate on the law and order situation on Thursday evening, the lawmakers recalled that three bomb attacks occurred in the heart of the city recently in which over a dozen lives were lost and up to 60 people suffered injuries. The session in the absence of Speaker Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo and Deputy Speaker Sardar Babar Khan Musakhail was chaired by a member of the panel of chairmen, Mir Ahmed Nawaz Baloch.

The house offered fateha for over 70 people, mostly lawyers, who died in a bomb attack on the premises of the Civil Hospital three years ago.

MPAs Malik Naseer Shahwani, Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind, Finance Minister Mir Zahoor Buledi, Syed Fazal Agha, Leader of Opposition Malik Sikandar and others expressed serious concern over failure of the police to arrest any of the terrorists involved in this inhuman act despite passage of three years.

Qadir Nayal of the Hazara Democratic Party, Nasar­ullah Zerey of the Pakhtun­khwa Milli Awami Party, Akhtar Hussain Langove, provincial ministers Zamarak Khan Piralizai, Saleem Ahmed Khosa and Malik Naseer Ahmed Shahwani spoke at length on the law and order issue.

Members on both sides of the aisle underlined the need for unity among opposition and treasury benches in the fight against terrorism.

“We have buried more than 80 bodies of leaders and workers of the BNP-Mengal who became victims of terrorism,” Akhtar Hussain Langove said.

Qadir Nayal said that since 1999, over 2,000 people from the Hazara community had lost their lives in terrorist attacks. “The government should set up a commission for probing the genocide of the Hazara community,” Mr Nayal suggested.

Provincial minister Mir Saleem Ahmed Khosa said that hundreds of security personnel from the police, Frontier Corps and Pakistan Army had laid down their lives in the line of duty to protect the masses. He said the situation had improved to some extent which was the result of the sacrifices rendered by the security forces. He regretted that the opposition never appreciated the sacrifices of the security personnel.

A resolution regarding child labour in coal mines, tabled by Nasarullah Zerey of the PkMAP, was adopted by the house. It said that under-age children were working in coal mines which is against the Child Labour Act.

The assembly approved another resolution regarding construction of road projects between Mashkel and Nokundi in Washuk district.



JI chief to be added to special Kashmir committee

Aug 10, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Friday decided to include Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Senator Sirajul Haq, Gilgit-Baltistan Governor Jalal Hussain and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Masood Khan in the prime minister’s seven-member committee on Kashmir.

Senator Sirajul Haq, the JI leader, would be extended a formal invitation to join the committee, the notification added, further noting that AJK President Sardar Masood Khan, GB Governor Raja Jalal Hussain Maqpoon, as well as Federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem, would be included in the special team.

On August 7, the prime minister formed a committee to come up with recommendations on how to take up Kashmir issue at the international level.

“The Prime Minister has been pleased to constitute, with immediate effect, a seven (07) member team who shall make recommendations to formulate the legal/political/diplomatic response on the latest developments related to Indian Held Kashmir,” said a notification issued on the same day.

According to the notification, the special team would comprise Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Attorney General for Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood, and the PM’s special envoy Ahmed Bilal Sufi, as well as the directors general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Operations, and the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).



APC rejects Indian move to revoke Kashmir’s special status

Aug 10, 2019

MUZAFFARABAD: An All Parties Conference (APC), presided over by Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan, in Islamabad on Friday categorically rejected the Indian government’s move to change the demography of occupied Kashmir, saying such acts are against the United Nations’ resolutions.

The moot issued a declaration terming India’s abrogation of Article 370 of its constitution as a conspiracy to change the status of held Kashmir against the will of its people.

The APC rejected any kind of division of the occupied valley and vowed to continue struggle till achieving the right to self-determination.

The meeting strongly condemned the revocation of Article 370, saying it has exposed nefarious designs of the Modi government.

The All Parties Conference also condemned disruption of communication networks in the held valley.

It said the Indian government is not only involved in war crimes and genocide of Kashmiri people but also using different tactics to compel Kashmiris on migration.

The APC in its declaration endorsed resolutions adopted by the Parliament and AJK Legislative Assembly.



PM discusses Kashmir crisis with Bahrain’s king over phone

Aug 10, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday telephoned King of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa and took him into confidence on the Kashmir crisis.

The prime minister apprised the Bahraini king of India’s move to annex held Kashmir in violation of the UN resolutions.

Strongly opposing the steps India has taken of late in held Kashmir, PM Imran reiterated that New Delhi has consistently been breaching the UN resolutions.

Held Kashmir has been accepted as a disputed territory globally, he added.

He urged world powers to take note of this irresponsible attitude on the part of India and play their role to maintain peace in the region.

The Bahraini king, expressing concern over the recent developments, said his government has continuously been monitoring the Kashmir situation.

He called for dialogue to settle the Kashmir dispute.



KP cabinet adopts resolution against India’s Kashmir move

Aug 10, 2019

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cabinet on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution against the revocation of Article 370 by India, ending the special status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan presided over the meeting of the provincial cabinet held here on Friday.

The resolution read that the “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government fully supports the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan on Kashmir issue.”

The government reiterated its commitment of continuing political, social and moral support to Kashmiri brethren in their struggle for the right to self-determination.

Addressing the meeting, Mahmood Khan directed all the departments to take a monthly review of ongoing development projects.

He directed to ensure approval of PC-I from Planning and Development Department (P&D) within three months and directed to ensure maximum use of foreign development assistance funds in the projects.




Chechnya sends ex-IS women into schools, not jails

August 09, 2019

Mother of five Zalina Gabibulayeva says she was "tricked" into joining the jihadists in Syria five years ago. Now, repentant and repatriated to Russia's Chechnya, she goes into schools to teach others of the dangers of extremism.

Countries around the world are grappling with the question of how to treat citizens who travelled to the Islamic State "caliphate" and have since decided to return.

That problem is felt particularly keenly in Russia, which has seen thousands of people leave to fight alongside jihadists in Syria, according to President Vladimir Putin.

While some Western nations have stripped IS recruits of citizenship or banned them from coming back, Russia has actively repatriated women and children -- though the return of women was suspended more than a year ago over security concerns.

Most of Russia's IS recruits came from Muslim-majority Caucasus republics such as Chechnya, the site of two bloody separatist conflicts with Moscow in the 1990s and now notorious for human rights abuses.

The republic however has welcomed in women like Gabibulayeva -- with the expectation some go to work to prevent young Muslims from becoming radicalised.

"We're useful. We can tell the new generation about what happened to us, so they don't make the same mistakes we did," the 38-year-old says as her two youngest children play on the floor of her flat in regional capital Grozny.

Wearing a leopard-print khimar veil covering her head and body, she describes visiting schools or colleges a couple of times a week across Chechnya and neighbouring republic Ingushetia.

There she tells young people how she fell for propaganda from the Islamic State group before her family moved to the "caliphate" and found "cruelty, had nothing to do with Islam".

- 'To show they repent' -

Gabibulayeva was already widowed when she went to Syria with her children, but married a Macedonian there after discovering discrimination against women without a husband.

Later the pair tried to escape via Iraq, where he was arrested and she was sent to a refugee camp, from which she was eventually brought back to Russia.

Gabibulayeva moved to Chechnya after receiving a suspended sentence in her native republic of Dagestan.

While using former members of extremist groups in education is not unusual, analysts told AFP this was the first such schools programme they were aware of using returnees from the Islamic State.

"It's very difficult for (the women) to talk about their experience but we get them to understand it's a way to show they repent," says Kheda Saratova, who sits on the rights council of Chechnya's authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Saratova -- who manages repatriation efforts with Kadyrov and Moscow's backing -- said young people were turned off by traditional lecturing about the dangers of extremism.

"But when someone appears before them to say in detail how they were radicalised, what they did there, how they managed to escape...they see the real picture, the real face of this terrorist organisation."

- Showcase -

In a video from one of the classes, another returnee's voice cracks as she describes the pain she caused her family by going to IS.

"There were special groups who taught children how to fight, they treated it as a game, they taught them how to shoot," the woman tells the class of Grozny teenagers.

Saratova hopes Russian federal authorities will remove their ban on repatriating women from Syria and Iraq. The activist says around 200 women and children have already been brought back, and she is planning a trip to collect more children of Russian families.

"Eventually they will come back to their countries -- especially the children. But in what capacity?" she said.

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, director of the independent Conflict Analysis and Prevention Centre, said in some ways the initiative was a "showcase" to balance out reports of rights abuses from Chechnya.

At the same time she believes the use of such personal experience "is considered to be one of the most effective ways of trying to ideologically counter terrorism."

"It's not easy to do because usually in democratic states you can't push people to speak -- you have to ask for their consent and most are reluctant to do it" because of psychological difficulties, stigma or personal risk.

Fenna Keijzer of the European Union's Radicalisation Awareness Network said similar education projects in other countries tended to use the experience of people who had been longer out of extremist environments.

Saratova insisted that the five women involved in the programme, which has reached around 600 young people over the last year and is seeking support to continue, took part voluntarily.

But she suggested there was an element of quid pro quo in the arrangement.

"You have to pay for everything in this life," she said.



French street band in Istanbul gets praise for respecting Muslim call to prayer

August 09, 2019

A French street band received great praise from Istanbulites after they stopped mid-performance upon hearing the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) from a nearby mosque.

Visiting Istanbul to go on stage at a venue in Kadıköy, the French "Poil O'Brass Band" gave a street performance in the famed Taksim Square Thursday.

Quickly gathering themselves an audience, the band won the hearts of the crowd after they temporarily stopped playing as the call to prayer began echoing from nearby mosques.

Playing music while a call to prayer is being recited is considered inappropriate in Muslim cultures.

Speaking to reporters after the video of the thoughtful gesture went viral, band member Morgane Wallace said they were accustomed to Turkish customs and that they stopped playing out of respect.

"We have performed in Istanbul many times. Turkish people are very kind to us and are interested in our music. We try to be sensitive to the city's cultural and religious customs," Wallace said.



Bahrain Embassy protester: I was on the point of becoming Khashoggi #2

Aug 9, 2019

A human rights activist, who protested on the roof of the Bahraini Embassy in London, has detailed his harrowing experience with embassy staff and their attempt to make him the ‘second Jamal Khashoggi’.

Two weeks after the July 26th incident in London, Moosa Abd-Ali spoke for the first time with media regarding his protest at the Bahraini Embassy and his fear of becoming a ‘second Jamal Khashoggi’.

According to The Guardian newspaper, Abd-Ali said that while standing over the five-storey Belgravia building of the Bahraini Embassy, staff members tried to push him off the roof and beat him with a long stick.

The man who was brandishing a weapon said, “We will execute two people in Bahrain and you will be the third.” Another staff member said that no one would come to his aid because he was on ‘Bahraini soil’.

On July 26, Abd-Ali managed to scale the Bahrain Embassy and reach the rooftop, in order to protest the imminent execution of two men in the Persian Gulf nation, set for the following morning.

Speaking of the encounter, the protester said that he believed he could have become “a second Jamal Khashoggi, in London,” comparing himself to the Saudi journalist murdered by the country’s agents at its embassy in Turkey.

“At that moment I thought he (the staffer with the weapon) was throwing me {off} down the ceiling and because no one sees him doing it, it would look like I was accidentally falling down,” Abd-Ali said.

He further said that the two embassy staff members lowered him to the ground and tried to strangle him with a t-shirt.

The ordeal ended when British police and the fire brigade took the unusual step of forcing entry into the embassy.

On the roof of the embassy, the Bahraini activist urged new British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to contact the King of Bahrain to prevent the executions.

However, as expected, London as the main supporter of the Bahraini regime in the West, not only refused to take steps to halt the executions, but British police arrested the protester and transferred him to jail upon entering the Bahraini Embassy building.

The regime in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom carried out the death sentences as scheduled despite fierce protests by the United Nations and several human rights organisations.

Since February 2011, the Bahraini people have been holding peaceful protest rallies on a regular basis, demanding that the Al Khalifah family relinquish power and let a just system, representing all citizens, be established.

They have also been complaining about widespread discrimination against the country's Shia majority.

Manama has responded to the demonstrations with an iron fist. The authorities have detained rights campaigners, broken up major opposition political parties, revoked the nationality of several pro-democracy activists and deported those left stateless.

In March, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.



France says needs 'no permission' for Iran dialogue in rebuke to Trump

Aug 9, 2019

France’s top diplomat has said that Paris "needs no permission" to engage in dialogue with Iran, responding to an earlier tweet made by US President Donald Trump scolding French President Emmanuel Macron over the matter.

"On Iran, France speaks with complete sovereignty. It is working hard for peace and security in the region, it is working to facilitate a deescalation in tensions and it needs no permission to do so," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday.

Trump had earlier blamed Macron for sending “mixed signals” to Tehran.

In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was a deal between Iran and six world powers. Washington introduced old and new sanctions on Iran and sought to further scupper implementation of the deal by pressuring remaining signatories, specifically the deal’s European signatories.

While expressing opposition to the US withdrawal, European signatories have also so far failed to ensure that Iran receives the economic benefits promised under the deal but hampered by US sanctions.

Trump’s comments chastising Macron came two days after the French president spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani.

During the phone call, Macron stressed that France was committed to upholding the JCPOA and finding a solution that could both benefit Iran and be accepted by all sides of the deal.

Macron also welcomed a proposal from Rouhani calling for the formation of a joint panel of experts seeking solutions to regional and international disputes.

Macron recently stepped up diplomatic contact with Tehran in a bid to allegedly cease the US economic war against Iran and deescalate tensions in the region.

"That's what President Macron is doing, in full transparency with our partners, above all our European partners," Le Drian said of the initiative on Friday, adding that Macron was "obviously keeping American authorities informed".

The French diplomatic push comes as the US has taken a quasi-warlike posture against Iran in recent months, stepping up provocative military deployments in the Middle East and calling for the formation of a "multinational maritime" naval deployment in the region.

The initiative has so far failed to receive much support among many of Washington's key allies.

Iran has repeatedly stressed that foreign presence in the Persian Gulf is a lead cause for tension and that only regional cooperation between neighboring countries can assure the security of the vital international energy hub.




Iran’s cooperation with the Taliban could affect talks on U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

By Ariane M. Tabatabai

August 9, 2019

In late 2018, as it became clear that the United States was contemplating a withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Iranian military announced that it was taking charge of the security of the border between Afghanistan and Iran. This indication of Tehran’s increased concern resulted from the prospect of renewed instability and insecurity.

Just a few weeks later came an exchange of visits between Tehran and Taliban delegations. Iranian and Taliban representatives weren’t meeting for the first time, but, in a departure from the past, the Iranians publicized these meetings.

Alongside these developments, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledged that his country had some level of cooperation with the Taliban. He also summarized Iran’s current thinking on the Taliban: “It would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban.”

How did Iran’s recently publicized relationship with the Taliban come about, and how might it affect the future of U.S.-Taliban talks?

Economic ties

Iran has become an important economic lifeline for war-torn Afghanistan: Tehran became Kabul’s biggest trading partner last year. The trade volume is so significant that the Trump administration has allowed for some sanctions exemptions to enable the completion of Iran’s Chabahar port even as the United States has pushed a “maximum pressure” strategy against the country. The exemption would allow India to continue developing an area in southeastern Iran that is important for the Afghan economy.

Iran is also home to millions of Afghan refugees. Iran has repatriated several hundred thousand Afghans, whose return could place additional stress on the Afghan economy.

Foes in need

Although the United States and Iran cut diplomatic ties during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, the two countries have had rare instances of rapprochement. Among these diplomatic overtures is the U.S.-Iranian cooperation that characterized the early days of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan in 2001. It was instrumental in establishing the new government in Kabul, according to James Dobbins, who served as President George W. Bush’s envoy to Afghanistan. While this U.S.-Iranian cooperation was short-lived, Iran still tolerated the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan.

Tehran largely refrained from engaging in nefarious activities in Afghanistan. Unlike faraway theaters such as Syria and Yemen, Afghanistan’s security and stability are directly relevant to Iran’s own. Tehran is much more risk-averse and, as such, less inclined to accept the costs of pushing back the United States in Afghanistan than it would have been in a less-proximate theater.

U.S. and Iranian interests also aligned in other areas, albeit to varying degrees. Both countries (and NATO allies of the United States) were concerned about a new refugee influx, opioid trafficking, and the possible return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to Afghanistan and those groups’ ability to operate and threaten their borders and populations from there.

Iran’s new partner

By the end of the first decade of the war, Iran’s stance toward the Taliban was beginning to change. The rise of the Islamic State’s offshoot in Afghanistan, known as the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISKP), deeply troubled Iranians beginning in 2014. The country had already witnessed its western neighbor, Iraq, succumb to the terrorist group’s power grab and territorial control. Islamic State leaders and operatives made it clear they were also planning attacks on Iranian soil.

Tehran came to see the Taliban as the lesser of two evils, viewing cooperation with the insurgents as a check on ISKP — even as events on the ground proved more complex and the relationship between ISKP and the Taliban more fluid. A number of interests led Iran to form a partnership with the Taliban.

Beginning in 2016, Iranian officials believed that their country’s main rival, Saudi Arabia, was becoming more assertive in Afghanistan and sought to stymie Riyadh’s progress there. This occurred against the backdrop of heightened Saudi-Iranian tensions after the two Middle Eastern powers severed ties that year. Iran viewed it as imperative to create a bulwark against a Saudi domination of the Afghan political, security and religious landscapes by forging ties with groups beyond its traditional allies (chiefly, the Northern Alliance). But Iranians saw the rise of the Taliban as a fait accompli and tried to forge ties with some Taliban groups whose more-moderate positions made them decent candidates for cooperation.

This wasn’t a novel approach by Tehran, which has long preferred some cooperation to confrontation with groups it considers a threat to its security (including al-Qaeda).

But ideology also played a role in forging ties between Iran and the Taliban: Both shared the objective of undermining the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and the broader neighborhood. Although Iran didn’t wish to see a complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which it believed would lead to the country’s descending into chaos again, Tehran did want the American presence there minimized.

From covert to overt

Tehran’s support for the Taliban remained largely covert until last year. In fact, Iranian officials often dismissed or denied reports that their country was lending a hand to the insurgent group.

In 2018, some signs indicated a possible move toward a more overt relationship between Iran and the Taliban. Tasnim News, an outlet associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ intelligence, published a report that spring outlining the viability of the Taliban as a force countering ISKP, serving as a buffer against the Americans and as a de facto governing entity in parts of Afghanistan.

As the United States counts its losses and looks to pull troops from Afghanistan, Iran is finally publicizing its relationship with this important player in Afghan politics. This relationship with the Taliban now spans the economic, security and political realms and is likely to grow as the Taliban asserts itself again.

So far, Iran has largely refrained from actions that may derail or complicate the negotiation process but has the ability to take on that role. And the Taliban could leverage its ties to Tehran to make fewer concessions in the talks with the United States. Understanding what motivates Iran in Afghanistan could help mitigate these risks.

Ariane M. Tabatabai is an associate political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp. and an adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University.



Turkey accused of extensive links to former Isis fighters

AUGUST 8, 2019

AN explosive new report has revealed extensive links between senior members of the Isis death cult and Nato member Turkey, including claims that intelligence services helped jihadists cross into Syria to commit alleged war crimes against Kurds.

The database, published today by the Rojava Information Centre (RIC), draws on information gathered from jihadist Telegram messaging groups and local intelligence sources provided by the foreign ministry of North Eastern Syria.

It details more than 40 former senior jihadists, including Isis commandeers, brigade leaders, recruiting officers and co-ordinators who the report claims are working closely with Turkish intelligence services (MIT).

The former Isis fighters are now part of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which Ankara allied with during its illegal invasion and occupation of the largely Kurdish canton of Afrin in northern Syria during Operation Olive Branch in January 2018. The FSA is made up of dozens of jihadist militias including Jaysh al-Islam, Suleiman Shah and Sultan Murad — all of which have been accused of atrocities.

Ankara claimed its Afrin invasion, which displaced up to 300,000 people and killed at least 500, according to human rights groups, was to protect its border from terrorism.

The operation targeted the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG), part of the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) but deemed by Turkey an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation has led to accusations of war crimes, torture, rape and judicial executions by the United Nations and human rights organisations.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), ultra-nationalist Turkish faction the Grey Wolves, a fascist “death squad” responsible for massacres of hundreds of civilians, also fought alongside many of these factions in Afrin.

An RIC spokesman told the Star: “Residents, rebels and local opposition officials suggest Turkey’s role in Syria has gradually expanded from the security sector to encompass most aspects of political and civilian life — courts, schools and religious authorities,” with local councils now operating under Ankara’s control.

The database includes former Isis commander Isma’il Firas al-Abbar, who is now a brigade leader in the FSA operating in Afrin and former Isis fighter Basil Nayef al-Shehab, now a commander in the Sultan Murad division, which receives military equipment and training from Turkey.

RIC researcher Joan Garcia told the Star the database is just a fraction of the depth and extent of Turkey’s collusion with Isis.

“Multiple prominent Isis commanders and fighters are now operating openly as commanders in militias funded, armed, trained and controlled by Turkey,” she said.

“Some of these individuals work in direct co-operation with the Turkish intelligence services, and all are part of a chain of command reaching directly to Ankara and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Some are known to have passed through Turkey once leaving Isis as their defeat became apparent, taking the return path on the ‘jihadist highway’ which brought tens of thousands of jihadist fighters and their families into Syria via Turkish soil, in both tacit and active collusion with the Turkish state.“



Coalition intercepts Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia from Yemen

August 08, 2019

JEDDAH: The Arab coalition intercepted a Houthi drone launched from Yemen towards Jazan in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Coalition spokesman, Col. Turki Al-Maliki, said the attempted attack “reflect the Houthis losses on the ground.”

Earlier, the coalition said the Houthis fired a ballistic missile late Wednesday from a civilian site located in Yemen’s Al-Hajjah governorate.

Al-Maliki said the missile was launched from a local market and fell within the same Yemeni governorate. It was unclear what the militants were targeting.

Such  “absurd attempts” are an extension to previous acts by the Iranian-backed militia that use civilian sites to launch their attacks from, Al-Maliki said.

He said the militia has previously used a university campus as a site to launch a missile that fell on residential neighborhoods in Al-Jawf governorate.

As well as using the missiles inside Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis have launched dozens of strikes into Saudi Arabia, targeting civilian infrastructure such as airports and oil pipelines.

The coalition says Iran has supplied the Houthis with ballistic missile technology.The Houthis triggered the Yemen conflict when they seized the capital Sanaa from the internationally recognized government in 2014.



Palestinian Terrorist Factions Applaud West Bank Terror Attack

By Khaled Abu Toameh  

August 9, 2019

Several Palestinian factions on Thursday welcomed the murder of off-duty soldier Dvir Sorek in the Gush Etzion area, while the Palestinian Authority expressed fear that Israel would use the terrorist attack to intensify its security measures against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The factions and many Palestinian activists urged Arab villagers in the Gush Etzion area to immediately delete footage or remove private security cameras so as to prevent the IDF from identifying the terrorists.

In separate statements, the Palestinian factions praised the “heroic operation” and said it was a “natural response to Israeli crimes.”

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab described the murder as “heroic” and “bold,” and said it carried an important message to Israel because of its policy of holding Palestinians in administrative detention.

“This operation is a natural response to the crimes of the occupation, the latest of which was the demolition of houses in Wadi al-Hummus,” he said, referring to the recent demolition by the IDF of 12 illegal buildings near the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher.

“The operation,” he added, “affirms that all settlers and occupation soldiers are legitimate targets for the Palestinian resistance.” He also praised the terrorists who carried out the attack and expressed hope that there would be more “heroic operations” against settlers and soldiers.

In a statement welcoming the murder of 18-year-old Sorek, Hamas also praised it as a “heroic operation.”

Hamas said that the attack was a “practical response” to recent talk about Israeli intentions to annex Area C of the West Bank.

Hamas claimed that the off-duty soldier had “graduated” from a military college that advocates the “killing of Palestinians and seizure of their land.”

Hamas called on the Palestinian Authority and its security forces to immediately halt security coordination with the IDF in the West Bank and to “side the with the Palestinians in defending their land.”

Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Risheq praised the murder and accused Israel of “committing crimes and acts of terrorism against the Palestinian people.” He said that such attacks send a message that the “occupation is on its way to ending.”

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem also linked the murder to the recent demolitions in Wadi al-Hummus. “The Gush Etzion operation is a natural response to the crimes of the occupation, including the recent Wadi al-Hummus crime,” he said.

The PLO’s Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) were also quick to publish statements praising the murder of Sorek.

“We praise the [Gush] Etzion operation, which is a natural response to the presence of the occupation,” the PFLP said. “This operation proves that the resistance is the most effective way to fight the settlers and Zionist soldiers, who are not safe on any part of the land of Palestine.”

The DFLP said that the terrorist attack was a “legitimate right of our people in response to the crimes of the occupation.” The group warned that Israel’s “stepped up measures” won’t deter the Palestinians from pursuing the “resistance in all forms and means.”

A PA official in Ramallah pointed out that the murder of Sorek came on the eve of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. He said he did not rule out the possibility that a Hamas cell was behind the attack.

“Our major concern now is that Israel would use the killing to escalate its security measures against our people, especially ahead of Eid al-Adha, which starts on Sunday [night],” the official said. “Whoever carried out this attack also acted against the interests of our people.”

Another PA official said that the Palestinian security forces were conducting their own investigation into the terrorist attack. The official refused to say whether the Palestinian security forces were helping the Israeli authorities lay their hands on those behind the attack.



Yemen: UAE-Backed Forces' Commander Defects to Ansarullah

Aug 09, 2019

Major Qassem Ahmad al-Khezri, the Commander of Logistical Forces of the 4th Republican Guard Brigade of Yemen affiliated to Tareq Saleh forces and supported by Saudi-Emirati coalition, defected the Saudi-Emirati side and joined the Yemeni army and Ansarullah popular forces.

Al-Khezri told alkhabaralyemeni news outlet very early on Friday that the UAE-backed forces are now divided as they have found themselves just abiding by Abu Dhabi’s orders which are against the national interests of their country.

He added that Yemeni forces are considered as weapons and fuel for the “aggressing coalition” which is after annihilation of the Yemenis and is supporting armed groups which are fighting against each other.

According to Spokesman for Yemeni Armed Forces Brigadier General Yahya Saree, division among Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-Emirati coalition is gaping and around 2,000 forces have abandoned the Saudi side in the past couple of weeks.

Amid a widening rift in the Riyadh-led military coalition waging war on Yemen, new reports are recounting that the port city of Aden — which bases the ex-government of the war ravaged country — has been rocked by deadly clashes between the UAE-backed separatists and Saudi-backed militants.

According to reports, the infighting broke out Wednesday after the Southern separatists attended a funeral for dozens of fellows, including a senior militant commander, who were killed in last week’s retaliatory missile attack by Yemen’s Ansarullah movement on a military parade.

Both the UAE-backed separatists and the militants loyal to the former Saudi-allied Yemeni government serve the Riyadh-led coalition, which has been engaged, since 2015, in a bloody military campaign against Yemen aimed at reinstating ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who resigned in 2014 and later fled to the Saudi capital.

During the funeral, the mourners chanted slogans against the self-proclaimed Hadi administration and exchanged gunfire with the guards at the presidential palace in Aden — where Hadi was supposed to be based but which remains largely empty as the ex-president lives in Riyadh.

The two sides pursue different agendas for Yemen’s future; the separatists want independence from Yemen, while the other militants seek to bring Hadi back to power, but the two camps have joined forces in the Saudi-led battle against Yemen’s Houthi movement, which has been both running state affairs and defending the country against the aggression.

Local officials and Aden residents told Reuters that Wednesday’s violence had left three people dead and nine others injured.

Hani Ali Brik, vice president of the separatist so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC), called for a march on Hadi’s palace to oust his administration.

“The people of the south are all on the street. This is a movement by the people that cannot be stopped, except with the government’s downfall,” noted mourner Abdelhakim Tabaza.

Presidential guard Brigadier General Sanad al-Rahwa told al-Masdar Online news website that his forces had clashed with armed groups, who were trying to storm the presidential palace and the central bank.

Ties between the pro-Hadi side and the UAE-sponsored militants have grown increasingly tense over a number of issues, including what the Yemenis view as Abu Dhabi’s intention to occupy Yemen’s strategic Socotra Island and gain dominance over the major waterways in the region.

The latest clashes erupted weeks after the UAE — a key party to the Saudi-led coalition — announced a surprise plan to withdraw its troops from Yemen in a major blow to its coalition allies.

It is not the first time such clashes break out between rival militants in Aden. In January, the UAE-backed southern Yemeni separatists took control of the two city after days of frighting and confined the Hadi administration to the presidential palace.

On Sunday, Abdul-Khaleq Abdullah, former aide to Emirati Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed, said in a tweet that the war against Yemen is over for Abu Dhabi.

Abdullah asserted that the UAE involvement in the Saudi-led war against Yemen is over and it will be soon announced officially.

“The UAE, from now on, will put all its political and diplomatic weight behind resolving the crisis and establishing peace for the people of Yemen,” the senior Emirati figure underlined in his post.

In response to Abdullah’s tweet, Ania El Afandi, an Algerian journalist, posted a tweet asking the Emirati figure why the UAE did not put its political weight, from the very outset, behind efforts for materializing peace.

Then the Arab journalist questioned the game-over rhetoric of Abdullah, asking, “War should come to an end officially, are your words addressing Saudi Arabia?”

“Thirdly, will the blockade against Qatar be lifted if issues with Iran are solved?” she concluded.

The UAE seems to have started a U-turn in its regional polices after Iran's tough warnings to Abu Dhabi about the dire consequences of the UAE’s destructive polices in the region.

The UAE was seriously criticized by Iran and warned of consequences after a US spy drone took off from an Emirati airport and intruded into Iran’s airspace on June 20. The Iranian air defense units shot down the American spy drone and lodged a complaint with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Also on Saturday, a senior member of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) of Yemen, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Arabi21 news outlet that Senior Emirati officials have reassured Tehran that they will start a major shift in policy in Yemen's Southern provinces and launch intelligence cooperation with Ansarullah Movement.

The UAE has recently reached an agreement with Iran and within the framework of the agreement has promised Tehran that it will shift the state of political affairs in the Southern provinces of Yemen, the STC source added.

He added that the military and political heads of the STC, which is backed by Abu Dhabi, are among those who will be targeted by the new revisionist polices of the UAE in accordance with the agreement with Tehran.

According to the same source, now disagreements and rivalries have intensified among different fractions within the council, specially between the party of Aidarus al-Zoubaidi, who chairs the council, and the party of Ahmed Hamed Lamlas, the secretary general of the STC.

"One of the articles of the comprehensive agreement reached between Tehran and Abu Dhabi entails the UAE's intelligence cooperation and coordination with Ansarullah Movement," the source claimed.

On Tuesday, a maritime security delegation from the UAE arrived in Tehran to resume bilateral coast guard meetings between Iran and the Arab country after a 6-year hiatus, in a bid to increase joint efforts on enhancing maritime security in the Persian Gulf region.

The seven-member delegation from the UAE coast guard was headed by UAE Coast Guard Commander Brigadier General Mohammed Ali Musleh Al-Ahbabi who later signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Commander of Iran's Border Police Brigadier General Qassem Rezayee.

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan, launched a brutal war against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall Yemen’s former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The aggression initially consisted of a bombing campaign but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces to Yemen. Around 20,000 people have died since the war began, says Yemen’s Health Ministry.

The Saudi-led war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The United Nations (UN) has said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.

Despite Riyadh's claims that it is bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters, Saudi bombers are flattening residential areas and civilian infrastructures.

According to several reports, the Saudi-led air campaign against Yemen has driven the impoverished country towards humanitarian disaster, as Saudi Arabia's deadly campaign prevented the patients from travelling abroad for treatment and blocked the entry of medicine into the war-torn country.



Israeli fire kills four Palestinians on Gaza border

10 August 2019

Four Palestinians were killed on the Gaza border by Israeli fire, the Israeli army said on Saturday.

The men were armed with assault rifles, anti-tank missiles and hand grenades, one of which was hurled at the Israeli troops, the military said.

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials in Gaza or from militant groups in the territory.



Ayatollah Khamenei invites Muslims worldwide to oppose 'deal of century'

Aug 10, 2019

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has called on Muslim nations to unite against the “ploy” of the so-called “deal of the century” proposed by the US.

"The ploy of 'deal of the century' prepared by the oppressive US, and its treasonous cohorts, is a crime against human society, and not just the Palestinian nation. We are inviting everyone to actively participate in defeating the enemy's deception,” said the Leader on Saturday.



Renewed infighting between militias serving Saudi, UAE leaves 8 Yemenis dead

Aug 9, 2019

At least eight civilians have lost their lives in Yemen’s port city of Aden - which bases the ex-government - during renewed infighting between Emirati-backed separatists and Saudi-backed militia loyal to former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The infighting broke out Wednesday after the southern separatists attended a funeral for dozens of fellows, including a senior militant commander, who were killed in last week’s retaliatory missile attack by Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement on a military parade.

Both the UAE-backed separatists and the militants loyal to Hadi serve a Saudi-led military coalition, which has been engaged in a bloody campaign against Yemen since March 2015 to reinstate Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh who resigned in 2014 and later fled to the Saudi capital.

According to local witnesses, the civilians were killed after shells landed on their homes on Friday, with the clashes concentrated in the city's northern residential areas.

The clashes have further exposed a rift within the invading coalition after the UAE scaled down its military presence in some areas, including Aden, amid pressure from Western allies.

Reuters, citing the head of Aden’s health directorate, reported that at least 24 forces had been killed during the past three days, without specifying which side they belonged to.

According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), 75 people had been treated in one of its surgical hospitals since Thursday night. Most of them, it added, were civilians wounded by shrapnel during shelling on their houses or stray bullets. “There has been heavy, continuous shelling. We’re still hearing clashes in my neighborhood,” said Amgad, a staff member of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) aid group. “There is no way to get out of the city. Roads are closed and it is not safe. People are scared. We hope this will end soon.”

The two sides pursue different agendas for Yemen’s future; the separatists want independence from Yemen, while the other militants seek to bring Hadi back to power, but the two camps have joined forces in the Saudi-led battle against Yemen’s Houthi movement, which has been both running state affairs and defending the country against the aggression.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the Saudi-led war has claimed the lives of over 60,000 Yemenis since January 2016.

The years-long military aggression has also taken a heavy toll on Yemen’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The United Nations has warned that more than 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.



Houthi militants confirm leader’s brother, Ibrahim Al-Houthi, killed

August 09, 2019

DUBAI/JEDDAH: The Yemeni rebel militia said on Friday that a senior member of the Houthi family had been “assassinated,” according to the group’s Al-Masirah TV.

The body of Ibrahim Badreddin Al-Houthi, the brother of Houthi leader Abdel-Malek Al-Houthi, was found in a house in Sanaa.

A Yemeni security source said Ibrahim Al-Houthi was close to his brother and was the militia’s commander for Saada, the Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen which borders Saudi Arabia.

Reading from a statement from the Houthi Interior Ministry, the presenter blamed the “treacherous hands” which it claimed were affiliated with the US, for the killing.

The Houthis did not provide any further details, but said they would do everything “to pursue the criminal aggressors” responsible and bring them to justice.

Security sources previously said the Houthis had deployed additional forces around Sanaa in response to the killing.

Separately, the Arab coalition intercepted a Houthi drone on Thursday, targeting Abha. The drone was launched from Sanaa.

Earlier on Thursday, the coalition intercepted a drone targeting Jazan. The militants fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday from a civilian site in Yemen’s Al-Hajjah province, the coalition said.


Southeast Asia


Islamic world not speaking up against persecution of Muslims, Islamophobia, says Naik

Minderjeet Kaur

August 10, 2019

PETALING JAYA: Controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik last night said Muslim countries are not speaking up against the persecution of Muslims and Islamophobia worldwide.

Naik gave China’s prosecution of ethnic Muslim Uighurs as an example.

He said it was non-Muslim countries that had initially raised concerns over the treatment of Uighurs while several Muslim countries joined in to support China’s re-education of the community.

“Do you know today who are the Muslims that are persecuted the most? It is the Uighur Muslims,” he said in a speech titled “Islamophobia” during his Kelantan tour at Stadium Sultan Muhammad IV in Kota Bharu.

Kelantan Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob and Umno’s Annuar Musa were also present at the packed stadium.

Earlier, Naik’s son Fariq gave an hour-long speech on the goodness of the Quran in everyday life.

Naik said Palestinians and Rohingyas were still able to fast and pray but in China, the Uighurs were systematically persecuted.

“China is trying its level best to see that the Muslims are exterminated,” he claimed.

He said there was a second batch of letters sent by 37 countries supporting China’s move in re-educating the Uighur community, including 15 that were from Muslim countries.

Without naming the countries, Naik, who is a permanent resident in Malaysia, said they should not exchange power and wealth for after-life paradise.

He said Muslims were being persecuted as the Islamic world was not united and close to their religion, Quran and Sunnah.

“Muslims are the richest in the world but we are looked down because we are away from the Quran,” he said.

Naik also explained his version of Islamophobia and the reasons behind it. “Islamophobia means extreme irrational fear and aversion towards Islam,” he said. “But Islam is peace.”

He said countries like the US feared peace as they may not be able to sell weapons to make money.

According to him, former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had previously said that US$8 billion was used to create the Taliban to carry out proxy wars against Russia.

He said the US and Britain had attacked Iraq by creating fear that the country was producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), a claim proven otherwise.

Naik said Islamophobia was also created by the current Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in relation to the Kashmir territorial dispute and to remain in power.

Islamophobia had worsened as Muslim countries were not united, making it easier for leaders like US President Donald Trump and Modi to win office.

He attributed other causes of Islamophobia to the Sept 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York and an increase in the Muslim population worldwide with documentaries claiming that in 20 years’ time, 50% of the European population will comprise Muslims.

Naik said so-called moderate Muslims were also creating Islamophobia. “They claim to be secular Muslims and are funded by governments or anti-Islam groups,” he claimed.

Naik, 54, said he was happy as there was no Islamophobia in Kelantan. He urged Muslims to get guidance from the Quran and to keep away from moderate Muslims who selectively followed Islam.

Naik, who is wanted in India, has insisted that he has not broken any Indian law and is being targeted by the “enemies of Islam”.

He is facing charges of money laundering and hate speech in India, where authorities last year said he had been “promoting enmity and hatred between different religious groups in India through public speeches and lectures”.

The preacher has been living in Malaysia since India started investigating him and has kept a low profile over the past year amid criticism that he is a threat to peace in Malaysia.



China Said It Closed Muslim Detention Camps. There’s Reason to Doubt That.

By Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers

Aug. 9, 2019

HOTAN, China — The muscular young Uighur man sat uncomfortably, glancing occasionally at three Chinese officials in the room, as he described his state-mandated salvation in a re-education camp.

The man, Abduweili Kebayir, 25, explained how watching Islamic videos on his phone landed him in one of China’s notorious indoctrination camps for Muslims for eight months — and how he emerged in January as a reformed man.

“Now I know the error of my ways,” he said, as his wife and daughter shuffled nervously around the living room. The room, like the rest of the eerily sparse house where officials who arranged the meeting said he lived, seemed almost staged, decorated with a family portrait, a potted plastic plant and a wall clock that had stopped.

His words at times sounded as rigidly scripted as the government’s propaganda. “Now I know what is right and wrong, and what is legal and illegal,” he said.

In late July, the government said most detainees had been released from the indoctrination camps built to eliminate what it described as the threat of Islamic radicalism and antigovernment sentiment among the overwhelmingly Muslim population of Uighurs in the Xinjiang region in China’s northwest.

But reporters from The New York Times found, over seven days of traveling through the region, that the vast network of detention camps erected by the government of China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, continues to operate, and even expand.

These camps, large and small, remain swaddled in heavy security and secrecy, despite the Chinese government’s new pledge of transparency. There are five major ones around Hotan, a city in southern Xinjiang, including the one where Mr. Kebayir said he was detained. Recent satellite images showed that a new detention facility has risen in the desert across the road from his former camp, surrounded by high walls and telltale watchtowers.

Efforts by Times reporters to approach the camps, factories and other religious sites were repeatedly blocked by plainclothes security officials — often giving outlandish explanations. Men claiming to be construction workers pulled power cables across the road near the camp where Mr. Kebayir was held and said the scene was too dangerous for anyone to pass. (When the reporters were later some distance away, the road promptly reopened.)

Since last year, evidence has also pointed to a system of forced labor linked to the camps. Factories being built nearby provide a place to transfer detainees whom officials consider sufficiently “reformed,” like Mr. Kebayir now, while keeping them under government supervision. Critics say this is simply another form of subjugation.

“I always thought the government was backing itself into a corner with its policies in Xinjiang,” said Sean R. Roberts, a professor at George Washington University who studies the region. “I can’t imagine that the process of backing out of it is going to be very quick at all.”

The Communist government’s narrative of redemption through state-enforced “re-education,” despite its dystopian echoes, remains the justification for the camps.

The camps have already swallowed up one million Muslims or more, by most estimates, wrenching them from their families and homes and subjecting them to what activists, relatives of detainees and former detainees describe as stressful, even debilitating, indoctrination. Detainees, they say, are forced to denounce their religious beliefs and embrace the ideology of the Communist Party.

The establishment of the detention and re-education system — which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called “the stain of the century” — has generated the harshest criticism of China’s record on human rights since the bloody Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.

The government seems more eager to quell international outrage over the camps than to begin to wind down the far-flung system it has built over the past two years. It remains unapologetically proud of the centers, which were established in a region that experienced a string of deadly attacks up until 2016, especially targeting ethnic Chinese and government buildings.

The chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, Shohrat Zakir, declared that the re-education system was accomplishing its goal of eliminating radicalism and separatism.

How China Turned a City Into a Prison

Children are interrogated. Neighbors become informants. Mosques are monitored. Cameras are everywhere.

Whether the government succeeds in stamping out the threat of terrorism remains to be seen. The authorities in Xinjiang have taken some steps to relax the suffocating surveillance and travel restrictions on Uighurs and others in the region.

Security in major cities in southern Xinjiang has visibly eased somewhat, including in Hotan, Yarkand and Kashgar, all centers of Uighur traditions and resistance to Chinese dominance. There are fewer checkpoints now, though residents have to pass through scanners with facial-recognition software when they move between cities.

Mr. Zakir, the regional chairman, welcomed visitors to the region to see the changes for themselves, but it is clear the authorities are not yet prepared to allow unfettered access.

Local officials instead offered to organize visits and interviews that, in some cases, did more to raise questions than to dispel them.

Mr. Kebayir’s village, a farming settlement reclaimed out of the desert after 2014 and called Harmony New Village, also has a smaller re-education center that continues to hold more than 300 local Uighurs, ages 24 to 41, according to Wuergulia Ashim, an official there.

The center offered a model of how the Chinese government describes the indoctrination camps — a kind of boarding school and training center that turns local residents into loyal citizens. Former detainees have disputed this description of these centers, saying that life inside the camps is far harsher and that inmates included professionals and officials who were not in need of job training.

Ms. Ashim said “more and more” of the detainees, whom she called students, were “graduating” from the center. They are confined from Monday morning to Saturday afternoon, when they are allowed to return home briefly.

“Society is increasingly stable, and fewer and fewer people are infected with extremist thought,” she added.

The impeccably neat, six-story building was built in 2017 and has a capacity of 447 people.

Detainees sleep six to room. There is a music room, an art room, a library with books mostly in Chinese, a room to learn how to give manicures and another to learn to cut hair.

There was also a psychological counseling room. “Have a heart-to-heart,” read a sign on the wall. “Your secrets are my responsibility.”

The walls of classrooms were decorated with Communist Party adages and displayed samples of exemplary class work. “I have achieved true happiness because I was born in a country that is prosperous, strong and democratic,” one essay read. “How happy we are!”

Even the carefully choreographed meeting with Mr. Kebayir, conducted over an impressive spread of glass dishes bearing bread, fruits and nuts, faltered under questioning.

A seemingly rehearsed monotone slipped when the conversation turned to details of Mr. Kebayir’s detention, and one official tried to cut him off. A question about how many detainees were housed with Mr. Kebayir, an official said angrily, was a leading one.

By his account, Mr. Kebayir was now earning a decent wage — 2,100 renminbi last month, about $300 — stitching soles onto leather shoes at one of the new factories. Before he entered the camp, he said, he struggled as a poorly educated farmer, growing corn and walnuts, for which Hotan is famous.

He paused awkwardly when pressed about details of his re-education. He said most of the others there were young men from the countryside, but he did not know any of them personally.

Much of the instruction involved agricultural techniques, he said, but he also learned Chinese, the tenets of the Communist Party and what he called “healthy life habits.” He credited the instructors with dispelling his budding extremist thinking.

“Before I couldn’t even write my own name in Chinese,” he said. “Now I can speak the national language, my thinking is clear, and I have job skills.”

He initially said that he had volunteered to “enroll” but later acknowledged that village officials had picked him because of antisocial behavior, like watching the Islamic-themed videos and spending time at home alone. The latter seemed to be contradicted by the fact that he was married and had a daughter, now 2.

“Young people can be extremely vulnerable to extremist ideas,” he said.

It was not even clear that the house where Mr. Kebayir was interviewed was actually his. The closet held nothing except for a few dresses, and the refrigerator was empty except for a plate of uncooked dough. There were no toys around for their toddler.

Only hours later, Mr. Kebayir and his wife and daughter were no longer at the house and could not be reached, not even through the officials who set up the interview. One of them said Mr. Kebayir had business to deal with and had turned off his phone.

Chris Buckley is a correspondent covering China, where he has lived for more than 20 years after growing up in Australia. Before joining The Times in 2012, he was a correspondent for Reuters. Steven Lee Myers is a veteran diplomatic and national security correspondent, now based in the Beijing bureau. He joined The New York Times in 1989, and has previously worked as a correspondent in Moscow, Baghdad and Washington.

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting from Hong Kong.



Unilateral conversion laws have been abused, rights group tells Selangor

August 9, 2019

PETALING JAYA: In the wake of the proposed amendment to allow unilateral conversion of minors in Selangor, human rights society Hakam today reminded those debating the issue that such laws have been abused to gain custody of children.

“More often than not, as in the case of Indira Gandhi, it is the parent from the minority religion who is disadvantaged under the law and suffers the greatest hardships,” its secretary-general, Lim Wei Jiet, said in a statement.

Indira, a Hindu, has been battling in the courts for custody of her children and against their unilateral conversion to Islam by her estranged Muslim convert husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah.

It was recently reported that Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari attempted to push through an amendment to a state enactment to change the wording regarding the conversion of minors.

The Federal Court last year made a landmark ruling that the consent of both parents is needed for the conversion of minors.

The Selangor amendment seeks to change this to “mother or father”.

Last night, Amirudin said he still intended to table the controversial bill if there is a need to do so.

Lim pointed out that Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution must be read to mean that the consent of both parents is required to determine the religion of a child.

He said that Article 75 stipulates that any laws passed by states which are inconsistent with the Federal Constitution are void.

Furthermore, Lim said, the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration.

“It is undesirable for a significant decision such as the conversion of a child to be made without the consent of both parents, and any such attempts are arguably not done in the child’s best interests,” he said.



Amid Selangor’s attempt, Hakam says state laws voided if contrary to Constitution

09 August 2019


KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 9 — The Federal Constitution stipulates that any attempt by the state to introduce any laws which are inconsistent with the country’s most supreme law is void, the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) stressed today.

Hakam said the Bill for an enactment allowing unilateral conversion of children into Islam, which was to be tabled in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly, contradicts the ruling of the Federal Court in the watershed M. Indira Gandhi case.

It claimed the apex court clearly held that Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution must be read to mean that both parents’ consent is required to determine the religion of a child.

“Hakam urges all Selangor State Legislative assembly persons to pay due regard to Article 75 of the Federal Constitution, which states that any laws passed by the states which are inconsistent with the Federal Constitution are void,” Hakam’s secretary-general Lim Wei Jiat said in a statement.

“Hakam also calls for all parties to take note of the Federal Court’s reference to Section 5 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1961, which provides Malaysia’s underlying family policy that a mother shall have the same rights and authority as the law allows to a father; and the rights and authority of mother and father shall be equal.

“Furthermore, the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration. It is undesirable for a significant decision such as the conversion of a child to be made without the consent of both parents, and any such attempts are arguably not done in the child’s best interests,” he added.

A group led by Selangor Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari attempted to table the Bill at the last Selangor state legislative assembly but could not do so because the most recent assembly sitting which was originally scheduled for nine days was cut short to two days.

Selangor Speaker Ng Suee Lim was accused of shortening the sitting but he has denied that the shortened sitting was due to disagreement between him and the Amirudin over the Bill, saying that as the Speaker, he is only concerned with the management of the Dewan Negeri and is neutral on political matters while in the House.

The Speaker clarified that the session was adjourned due to the low turnout of assemblymen during debates on the issues tabled during the session, adding that the unilateral conversion Bill was merely a rumour and never listed on the Order Paper.

Since then, DAP have come out strong in their rejection of the Bill with Selangor DAP chairman Gobind Singh Deo, his brother and national legal bureau chairman Ramkarpal Singh, party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and many more saying it is unnecessary to debate the Bill on the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam in the Selangor State Assembly.

This is due to the fact that a Federal Court ruling has determined such conversions require the consent of both parents, and as such, any state legislation is bound by the same ruling.

This was evident in Indira’s case whereby her husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah kidnapped her then 11-month old daughter in 2009 and converted her and her two other children to Islam without their knowledge and without Indira’s consent, before going to the Shariah court just a few days later to obtain custody rights for them.

This sparked a court battle for nine long years, as Indira, a Hindu, fought to gain custody of her three children — Prasana; Karan Dinish, 19; and Tevi Darsiny, 20 — and to quash their conversions.

The battle finally ended in January 2018, when the Federal Court nullified their conversions and ruled that consent of both parents was needed to convert a minor.

Hakam said this is why the law shouldn’t be tabled as it has been abused before.

“More often than not, as in the case of Indira Gandhi, it is the parent from the minority religion who is disadvantaged under the law and suffers the greatest hardships,” Lim continued in the statement.

“One must not forget that at the end of the day, the foundational principles of the Federal Constitution were built to protect the various diverse communities and religions. It would be most unfortunate if such delicate compromise is undermined in the New Malaysia.”




Boko Haram: Nigeria moves to deradicalize former fighters


The Nigerian government has developed an action plan for the total deradicalization and rehabilitation of former Boko Haram insurgents in a bid to find a lasting solution to the persistent Islamic extremism crisis in the country's north-east.

The initiative was first proposed at the Nigerian National Security Council (NSC) meeting in September 2015, after which repentant Boko Haram members were encouraged to surrender and embrace peace.

Hundreds of former insurgents, who either surrendered or were captured during clashes with Nigerian security forces, are currently undergoing the process of deradicalization in line with the government's Operation Safe Corridor. 

Since 2011, the Boko Haram insurgency has killed over 50,000 people and displaced at least 2.1 million across Nigeria. The majority of their activity takes place in Borno State, including kidnappings and reprisal attacks.

Authorities confident of success

Following their release from rehabilitation centers, the ex-insurgents are issued certificates confirming their 'psychosocial normalcy' before they return to live in local communities.

Treatment involves a combination of psychotherapy, art therapy and psycho-spiritual counseling. Boko Haram's extremist narrative is also broken down by imams, who hold lectures aimed at shifting the participants' simplistic worldview by offering alternative interpretations of Islamic texts and values.

DW visited the Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Center in Borno State's capital Maiduguri where 151 former Boko Haram members were formally handed over to the state government. One of them, Ali Abana, said they were well taken care of by authorities.

"We were well received here, the accommodation is good," he told DW. "Three square meals a day. We were provided with all of the necessary and basic things to make us comfortable."

The coordinator of Operation Safe Corridor, Brigadier General Bamidele Mathew Shafa, is confident of a positive outcome for all involved.

"A lot of ground [has been covered] and we hope these boys will be accepted," he told DW. "As a matter of fact, the reports we are getting on the first set of people we handed over to the state are positive. We have not received any report of maltreatment in the various communities that they are in. I think this is something we need to sustain."

Read more: What makes young African muslims joins jihadi groups?

Nigerian citizens suspicious of returnees

Reports from some communities in Borno State tell a different story. Although Nigerian authorities are already branding the deradicalization program a success, there have allegedly been a number of incidents in which authorities were forced to take released former insurgents back to the rehabilitation center after they were attacked by members of the community who had suffered under Boko Haram.

Many people reject the idea that Boko Haram fighters are capable of repentance and believe the deradicalization program has become a breeding ground for spies and recruitment agents — especially considering their recent release has coincided with an increase in attacks in neighboring Chad.

"Boko Haram killed my husband while he was praying inside the mosque, two of my brothers were slaughtered," Hauwa Adamu, a victim of the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno state, told DW. "They should find a place to keep [the former fighters], but not in our society, please."

Malam Abdullahi agrees that living side-by-side with the ex-insurgents would be too painful for the community.

"People like Gabage (an ex-Boko Haram member currently in the rehabilitation program) were the ones who killed my brother," he told DW. "How can they bring such a person to where I live? Whoever destroys your family…I don't think it is wise to live with them."

Victims' understandable desire for justice may lead to Nigeria adopting reconciliation measures similar to those used in Rwanda, which focused more on a form of community justice known as Gacaca, or more recently, in The Gambia. Bulama Bukarti, a Nigerian barrister and expert in peace, security and Islamic extremism at SOAS, University of London, says he understands the concerns of victims. However, he believes reconciliation is a necessary step, no matter how painful.

"You have a community and a society which firmly believes: 'These are our killers, and these are the people who killed our loved ones.' They are as convinced of that as anything," he told DW. "So you can't just bring [the former fighters] into society without any form of reconciliation."

Read more: Experts say Nigeria must change its strategy to defeat Boko Haram

The difficulties of deradicalization

Nigeria is not alone in implementing a deradicalization program for religious extremists. Many countries approach the process in different ways. In France, for example, any reference to religious ideology is purposely avoided for legal and practical reasons. However, a number of Asian and Middle Eastern countries, such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, focus primarily on the issue of ideology.

Operation Safe Corridor also offers participants basic vocational training, such as carpentry, farming or welding, so they are better equipped to find a stable livelihood after they are released, something Bukarti says is vital in the deradicalization process.

"Available research shows us that many Boko Haram fighters who join the group [do so] voluntarily because of social and economic reasons," he says. "So you not only have this combination of extremist religious ideology, but also secure economic capital."

Whatever the approach, says Burkati, deradicalization ultimately follows the same line of reasoning.

"Even if you look at the issue logically, if we believe that people can be taught to hate, we should also believe that people can be taught to love," he told DW.

For him, one of the biggest challenges of the deradicalization process is finding a way to measure the progress which has been made.

"There is need for improvement and one of the major areas of improvement is the area of measurement and evaluation. So that we can know, scientifically, that these kinds of interventions are working."





Tunisian PM Chahed submits bid to run for president

9 August 2019

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, leader of the secular Tahya Tounes party, on Friday  officially submitted his candidacy for the presidential election expected next month, making him one of the likely frontrunners.

The Sept. 15 vote comes after Beji Caid Essebsi, the first president to be democratically elected in Tunisia after the 2011 uprising, died last month aged 92.

On Thursday, the PM said he would stand in presidential elections next month.

“I have thought hard and decided to put myself forward for the position of president of the republic.”

The 43-year-old, Tunisia’s youngest prime minister, faces possible competition from Abdelfattah Mourou of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party and controversial media magnate Nabil Karoui.

Originally scheduled for November, the vote was brought forward following the death of incumbent Beji Caid Essebsi on July 25.



UN urges rival Libya forces to agree to humanitarian truce

Aug 9, 2019

The United Nations has called on forces loyal to Libya's internationally-recognized government and a rival administration to commit to a humanitarian truce by midnight on Friday.

The UN mission in Libya "calls on all parties to accept a humanitarian truce for Eid al-Adha," it said in a statement on Twitter late Thursday, referring to the Muslim festival of sacrifice that begins on Saturday.

"The mission hopes to receive written agreement from the parties no later than midnight (2200 GMT) on Friday," the statement said.

Strongman Khalifa Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive against Tripoli — seat of the Government of National Accord — in early April.

Over the past four months, 1,093 people have been killed in fighting, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with forces loyal to the GNA keeping Haftar's troops at bay on the southern outskirts of the city.

UN envoy Ghassan Salame has already called several times for humanitarian truces, without success.

In a video conference with the UN Security Council late last month, Salame warned against mounting tensions and called for a ceasefire for Eid al-Adha.

The clashes since early April have wounded 5,752 people and displaced more than 100,000, the WHO says.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.


South Asia


AAF and U.S. airstrikes kill 34 Taliban militants in Logar province

10 Aug 2019

The Afghan and U.S. forces conducted airstrikes in various parts of Logar province killing at least 34 Taliban militants.

The 203rd Thunder Corps said in a statement that the Afghan and U.S. forces conducted the airstrikes in Tandan area of the capital of Logar, Qala-e Ebad of Baraki Barak district and Kharpichak Kotal of Charkh district.

The statement further added that the airstrikes killed 34 Taliban militants and wounded at least 4 others.

Furthermore, the 203rd Thunder Corps said the airstrikes also destroyed a vehicle packed with explosives and munitions.



Airstrike destroys truck carrying weapons, explosives for Taliban in Ghazni

09 Aug 2019

The Afghan military has released a video which purportedly shows an airstrike targeting a truck in south-eastern Ghazni province.

The 203rd Thunder Corps in a statement said the truck was loaded with weapons, munitions and explosives.

The statement further added that the airstrike destroyed the truck in Deh Yak district of Ghazni in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Furthermore, the 203rd Thunder Corps said the militants were looking to use the weapons, munitions and explosives loaded on teh truck to carry out attacks in Ghazni city.



Afghan Forces Claim Attack on IS Cells in Kabul

By Hasib Danish Alikozai

August 8, 2019

WASHINGTON — Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, the country’s intelligence agency, released a new video showing its special forces attacking Islamic State sleeper cells in rural areas of Kabul Wednesday.

The agency also said it arrested this week a key member of the terror group accused of coordinating suicide attacks and managing suicide bombers in the capital.

The agency said in a statement that it acted on prior intelligence about three locations around the capital, killing two IS suicide bombers and seizing a large amount of explosives and ammunitions.

“We have killed two IS suicide bombers and seized heavy weaponry, suicide vests, explosives and materials used to improvise vehicular bombs,” the statement said.

At least two members of the Afghan security forces also died in the operation.

Abu Zar

Meanwhile, Afghan officials told VOA they had arrested a key member of the Islamic State terror group in Kabul.

Eid Mohammad, nicknamed Abu Zar, a resident of Kabul province, was arrested by security forces this week.

Abu Zar was responsible for coordinating suicide attacks in the capital and was involved in several recent terror attacks on the city.

Talking to reporters while in NDS custody, Abu Zar said he was trained at a madrassa in neighboring Pakistan and after the completion of his training joined IS in Afghanistan in eastern Nangarhar province, fighting Afghan security forces.

He also said that he, along with 14 other IS members, planned the 2017 terror attack on Imam Zaman Mosque in Kabul, killing at least 56 worshippers and injuring more than 50 others.

“We were 14 people who planned the attack and four of us were able to carry it out,” he told reporters.

Foreign IS members

Abu Zar also said he was tasked by the terror group to transport foreign IS fighters to eastern Nangarhar province, the traditional stronghold of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, where the group first emerged in the country in 2015. Fighters were trained in the province, he said and then taken to Kabul to carry out terror attacks.

“I would take foreign fighters and transfer them to Nangarhar and hand them over to somebody named Luqman. During one trip, he handed me over two people and told me to transfer them to Kabul and hand them over to someone named Jawid,” he said.

“Later Jawid told me that the two individuals were part of the group that carried out a terror attack against the Afghan Ministry of Communication,” he added.

About a dozen people were killed during the IS-claimed attack on the Afghan Ministry of Communications building in Kabul in April 2019.

Officials said at the time that a bomber blew himself up outside the ministry, paving the way for other attackers to enter the heavily guarded building. The ensuing firefight between the attackers and security forces lasted about five hours.

Increase in violence

The recent crackdown on IS comes amid an increase in violence in the city perpetrated by both Taliban and IS militants, officials said.

On Wednesday, a car bomb exploded outside a police station in Kabul, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 140. Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Sunday, IS carried out a deadly bombing on a minibus carrying the employees of private television, Khorshid TV, in Afghanistan, officials said.

The blast killed two civilians passing by and injured three employees of the television station.

Peace talks

The increase in violence comes amid direct peace talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan, the latest round of which was wrapped up in Doha, Qatar, this week.

Led by Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. has been holding direct talks with the Taliban since mid-2018. There have been seven rounds of direct talks in an effort to reach a deal to end the war.

Both sides seem to have ironed out their differences for a deal to end the conflict in the country.

“My team & Taliban representatives will continue to discuss technical details as well as steps and mechanisms required for a successful implementation of the four-part agreement we’ve been working toward since my appointment. Agreement on these details is essential,” Khalilzad tweeted Monday.

Khalilzad, however, condemned the recent violence in Afghanistan.

“Indiscriminate attacks and intentional Injury to civilians are never warranted. We condemn the attack today in Kabul for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, and in which scores were killed and reportedly more than 145 injured, including many civilians,” Khalilzad said Wednesday.



Will a New Plan End the War in Afghanistan?

By Lara Jakes, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt

Aug. 9, 2019

WASHINGTON — After 18 years of war, the United States is once again preparing to unveil a plan for peace in Afghanistan.

Months of dialogue between American diplomats and the Taliban have yielded a framework agreement that is expected to be announced in days. That agreement, in turn, seeks to smooth a path for direct talks between elected Afghan leaders and the Taliban — a significant but tenuous step for a government and its former oppressors.

Those negotiations will be rocky at best, and a final cease-fire could be years away. Crucial obstacles remain, according to military and diplomatic officials, including whether American troops will stay in Afghanistan, how to protect women’s rights enshrined in the republic’s constitution and, importantly, if a future government could share power with the Taliban.

The framework will be announced as presidential elections approach, both in Afghanistan and in the United States, and as the Taliban continue a march of deadly attacks. The expected agreement will signal whether peace is even possible.

Here is a look at what we know — and what we don’t know — about the framework deal.

Does the agreement mean the war is over?

No. But it opens the way for the Taliban to start direct negotiations with Afghan government leaders. Before that could happen, American and Taliban officials wanted to settle on two areas at the heart of their concerns: How much longer the 14,000 United States troops that are in Afghanistan would remain, and whether that country could ever be used as a safe haven for terrorist groups.

Other demands raised during eight rounds of framework talks led by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the American envoy, will be addressed in the direct negotiations with Afghanistan’s elected officials.

Does it at least mean the fighting has stopped?

No. Violence surged in July, the deadliest month in Afghanistan in years, according to the United Nations. An estimated 1,500 Afghan civilians were either killed or wounded last month; 14 people died this week in a truck bombing in Kabul.

Afghan government officials have called for a cease-fire during the negotiations, but the Taliban have refused. Officials have raised the possibility that violence will at least drop, as a trust-building measure, but Ambassador Roya Rahmani, the Afghan government’s chief envoy to the United States, said no level of attacks were acceptable. “I am hoping that when we say ‘cease-fire,’ it means we should prevent violence, in total,” she said.

So what happens now?

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Rahmani expressed hope that talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, known as the intra-Afghan dialogue, would begin as soon as possible, and potentially before the country’s presidential elections are held on Sept. 28.

But there are a number of sticking points. Perhaps the most significant discussions will center on whether — or how — the elected government in Kabul will share power with the Taliban, an extremist group. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the “Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan.”

“After almost 20 years of hard fighting, I think there’s just too much bad blood between the two sides to ever seriously expect that to be papered over by a peace agreement,” said David W. Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general who led the war effort in Afghanistan for almost two years.

But the Taliban also wield power over more than 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population — 59 of the country’s 407 districts, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Another 119 districts are considered contested.

When will American troops fully leave Afghanistan?

The Taliban have demanded that all United States and other international military forces leave Afghanistan before there is a cease-fire. The framework agreement will clarify a continuing debate among American officials, pitting President Trump’s demand to end the war in Afghanistan against the military’s advice for some residual forces to remain.

American military officials in Kabul believe the Taliban are unable, and unwilling, to divorce themselves from Al Qaeda, a key requirement for the United States. The officials also believe Afghan government forces and Taliban fighters alike are incapable of defeating the Islamic State’s offshoot in the country.

“Any agreement must allow for the U.S. to intervene at will to strike A.Q. and I.S. targets,” said Mr. Barno, referring to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The rift between the American military in Kabul and the intelligence officials is another point of contention over whether keeping even a modest number of troops in Afghanistan is worth the risk of scuttling the fragile peace negotiations.

How many American troops might stay in Afghanistan?

That is unclear, but American officials have proposed keeping a task force of as many as 7,000 troops, based in Kabul, to feed intelligence and other information to Afghan soldiers across the country for several years. That could also include Special Operations forces who would be moved to Kabul after their base in Bagram is closed.

One of the more pressing issues to be resolved is what happens to Afghan national security forces if the Taliban are given power in the government. The United States has spent years and billions of dollars to train the Afghan forces.

Defense Department officials hope that a new government would request that American troops stay behind, and that the current Afghan military will not be disbanded. Ms. Rahmani said on Friday that the Afghan government wanted United States forces to remain only as long as needed to help the national troops ensure stability.

In a separate interview, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Asad M. Khan, also expressed hope that a “residual” force of American troops would remain in Afghanistan.

But given that the Taliban has demanded a total withdrawal of Western troops, the future of American forces in Afghanistan remains one of the most fundamental questions that the framework is expected to address. It’s unclear if — or how — Mr. Khalilzad will seek to strike compromise.

Given the distrust between Kabul and the Taliban, is a final peace deal even possible?

Ms. Rahmani, who stressed on Friday that she had not yet seen the framework agreement, acknowledged a trust deficit between the two sides that could not be glossed over in informal “ice-breaking” talks on the sidelines of the negotiations with the United States.

Among Afghan negotiators in Doha, Qatar, where the talks took place, “some of them felt there is a positive change; that there would be some hope in terms of finding a way to come to middle ground,” Ms. Rahmani said. “Some others felt that the Taliban has not really changed — they’re still of the same views as they held during the time they were in power in Afghanistan.”

Choosing her words carefully, Ms. Rahmani nonetheless signaled that the Afghan government remained skeptical of whether the framework agreement had any hope of paving the road to peace.

Trust “is also something that cannot be merely achieved on the basis of what they say, or even what they will put on paper,” she said. “Afghanistan has unfortunately has had many rounds of such negotiations over the last 40 years — that people came together but they did not manage to implement what they agreed.”

”It will be tested by the actions on the ground,” she said.

Lara Jakes is the foreign policy editor in Washington, overseeing the coverage of reporters at the State Department, the Homeland Security Department and the Pentagon. She also edits the Washington bureau’s resident fact checker.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a reporter in the Washington bureau and a former Marine infantryman. @tmgneff

Eric Schmitt is a senior writer who has traveled the world covering terrorism and national security. He was also the Pentagon correspondent. A member of the Times staff since 1983, he has shared three Pulitzer Prizes. @EricSchmittNYT



Norway can help Afghanistan achieve peace: Zalmay Khalilzad

09 Aug 2019

The U.S. special envoy for Afghan peace Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has said Norway can help Afghanistan achieve peace.

Ambassador Khalilzad said in a statement posted in his Twitter account that he had a productive meeting with the Norwegian officials in Oslo on Thursday.

Khalilzad further added that he briefed the Norwegian Foreign Minister Mari Eriksen Soreide on current peace efforts.

Furthermore, Khalilzad said he also discussed the next steps which are due to be taken regarding the Afghan reconciliation process.

However, he did not disclose further information in this regard.

This comes as the U.S. and Taliban representatives are busy in talks in Qatari capital of Doha for the past one week.

The two sides have reported good progress in talks and it is expected that the two sides will sign an agreement in coming days.

This comes as reports had emerged earlier suggesting that the intra-Afghan talks between the Afghan and Taliban leaders will be held in Oslo of Norway.



Special Forces kill, detain 9 Taliban militants in Wardak province

10 Aug 2019

The Afghan Special Forces killed six Taliban militants during the operations in central Maidan Wardak province of Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the Special Forces conducted the raids in Sayyidabad and Chak districts of Wardak.

The statement further added that the Special Forces killed six Taliban militants and detained three others during the operations.

Furthermore, the Special Operations Corps said the Special Forces also destroyed large caches of weapons and munitions.



Qatar’s Sheikh Al-Thani and President Trump hold talks on U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations

09 Aug 2019

The Sheikh of Qatar Tamim bin Hamid Al-Thani and the U.S. President Donald Trump held talks on U.S.-Taliban peace talks in Doha.

Sheikh Al-Thani called President Trump on Thursday and discussed “strategic cooperation relations between the two countries and the latest regional and international developments,” Reuters reported, citing the State-run news agency of Qatar.

The source further added that the two leaders also discussed the U.S.-Taliban peace talks that Doha hosted recently.

The Qatar State-run QNA news agency has not provided further details regarding the discussions between the two leaders.

This comes as the U.S. envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad concluded the 8th round of peace talks with Taliban in Qatar on Monday.

Calling the 8th round of peace talks as ‘excellent’, Ambassador Khalilzad said his team and Taliban representatives will continue to discuss technical details as well as steps and mechanisms required for a successful implementation of the four-part agreement that they have been working toward since his appointment.


North America


FBI Plans to Monitor Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for Terrorism and Domestic Threats in Real-Time

Jennings Brown

Aug 10, 2019

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is soliciting technology firms to build a tool that can monitor social media for threats.

The agency posted a request for proposals on July 8 claiming it wants a “social media early alerting tool,” that will help it track the use of the platforms by terrorists, criminal organizations, and foreign agencies.

“With increased use of social media platforms by subjects of current FBI investigations and individuals that pose a threat to the United States, it is critical to obtain a service which will allow the FBI to identify relevant information from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms in a timely fashion,” the request reads. “Consequently, the FBI needs near real-time access to a full range of social media exchanges in order to obtain the most current information available in furtherance of its law enforcement and intelligence missions.”

The solicitation was first reported on by Defense One. The documents released by the FBI show that the agency plans to have a tool that can be accessed from all FBI headquarters and field offices, or through FBI-issued mobile devices.

The tool would allow FBI agents to access people’s email addresses, phone numbers IP addresses, user IDs, and associated accounts. It would also allow agents to create filters and custom alerts, so they can receive notifications when “mission-relevant” activity happens on social media.

As CNN points out, in 2016 the FBI announced it was using a Dataminr tool to “search the complete Twitter firehose, in near real-time, using customizable filters.”

During a recent speech at the International Conference on Cyber Security—a couple of weeks after the request was posted—Attorney General William Barr told tech companies that they must allow law enforcement to gain access to encrypted messages of criminals and suspected criminals. Later at the same conference, FBI director Christopher Wray said he strongly agreed with Barr on this matter.

In the wake of many recent acts of terrorism and mass shootings, the suspects’ social media activity, which sometimes includes online manifestos, have been assessed by law enforcement and the greater public. So it’s no surprise that there is growing interest within government agencies to track this activity in real-time but one of the biggest questions is whether social media companies will offer their help in the FBI’s mission to figuratively plant the biggest wiretap of all time. We’ve reached out to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to ask for comment and we’ll update this post when we receive a reply.

The FBI’s social media tool solicitation claims the service must ensure “all privacy and civil liberties compliance requirements are met,” but there’s no doubt this push will further erode privacy and put anyone with a social media account at greater risk of data breaches.

Update: A Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company works with law enforcement on their investigations, but does prohibits the application programming interface from being used for surveillance. “We prohibit developers using the Public APIs and Gnip data products from allowing law enforcement—or any other entity—to use Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period,” the spokesperson said. “And if developers violate our policies, we will take appropriate action, which can include suspension and termination of access to Twitter’s Public APIs and data products.”



Scare at Missouri Walmart as Man With Rifle and Body Armor Is Detained

By Mihir Zaveri

Aug 8, 2019

A man with a loaded rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition walked into a Walmart in Springfield, Mo., on Thursday afternoon, alarming shoppers before he was detained by an armed off-duty firefighter and arrested by the police, according to the authorities and local news media.

No shots were fired, and it was not clear what the man, who is in his 20s and whose name was not immediately released, was planning to do inside the store, Lt. Mike Lucas of the Springfield Police Department said.

Lieutenant Lucas told The Springfield News-Leader that the man had intended “to cause chaos.” In an emailed statement, the Police Department said, “We are working to determine his motives.”

“Nobody was harmed, thankfully,” Lieutenant Lucas told reporters at the scene. “Just a really scary, dangerous situation that thankfully got resolved, and everyone’s going home tonight.”

The episode came five days after 22 people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso. The authorities there arrested a white man who they said warned of a “Hispanic invasion” in a four-page screed posted online minutes before the shooting.

Lieutenant Lucas told The News-Leader that the man at the Missouri Walmart was wearing a bulletproof vest. The man was arrested in the parking lot after he walked out of the store and was held at gunpoint by the firefighter, Lieutenant Lucas said.

Lieutenant Lucas said the police would investigate the man’s social media accounts to try to determine his intent. He said that hundreds of cameras inside the Walmart would also help describe what happened on Thursday.

A day after the El Paso shooting, a man was arrested in Florida after he threatened to shoot up a Walmart store in Gibsonton, a suburb of Tampa, according to The Associated Press.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has more than 4,000 stores across the United States. Partly because of their ubiquity, the stores have regularly become crime scenes.

The El Paso shooting has prompted renewed scrutiny of the stores’ safety. It has also raised questions about the retailers’ gun policies. About 40 employees staged a protest in San Bruno, Calif., on Wednesday over gun sales, The Washington Post reported.

“People can express their point of view and we respect that,” said Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart. “There are more constructive avenues for associates to offer feedback, such as emails or leadership conversations.”

Mihir Zaveri covers breaking news from New York. Before joining The Times in 2018 he was a reporter for The Houston Chronicle.



US fighter jets intercept Russian bombers near Alaska

Zachary Cohen

August 9, 2019

Washington (CNN)US and Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian long-range bombers off the coast of Alaska Thursday, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which released images of the encounter.

Two US F-22 stealth jets and two Canadian CF-18 fighters intercepted the nuclear-capable Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers after they entered Alaskan and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zones, which extend approximately 200 miles off Alaska's western coast, NORAD said in a statement.

The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and never entered US or Canadian sovereign territory, the statement added.

This latest intercept comes at a complicated time in US-Russian relations.

On one hand, President Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants to improve relations with Moscow, but at the same time, the two countries have clashed over a wide range of geopolitical issues, including Russia's annexation of Crimea, election interference and the attempted poisoning of an alleged Russian spy in Britain.

It is also just the latest in a string of encounters between US and Russian military assets this year.

Russian bomber flights like the one that took place on Thursday are viewed by US military officials as part of Moscow's effort to train its military for a potential crisis while simultaneously sending a message of strength to adversaries.

US officials say Russian bombers and jets have flown in the area several times a year for the last few years and have similarly been intercepted by US or Canadian jets operating as part of NORAD.

"NORAD's top priority is defending Canada and the United States. NORAD operators identified and intercepted the Russian aircraft flying near our nations," said Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, the NORAD commander. "Whether responding to violators of restricted airspace domestically or identifying and intercepting foreign military aircraft, NORAD is on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

Thursday's incident comes after NORAD identified two Russian maritime reconnaissance anti-submarine warfare aircraft entering the same zone last week.

"The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace west of mainland Alaska and at no time did the aircraft enter sovereign United States airspace," NORAD said in a statement about that incident.

The most recent intercept involving Russian aircraft off the coast of Alaska took place in May when two US F-22s intercepted four Russian bombers and two Su-35 fighter jets that flew into the Air Defense Identification Zone.

In January, a US E-3 aircraft, two F-22 fighter jets and two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets similarly "positively identified" two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers entering the Canadian Air Defense Identification Zone.

The US also conducts similar flights in international airspace near the Russian coast though at times, has accused Russian pilots of performing unsafe or unprofessional maneuvers during the encounters.

In June, a Russian jet intercepted a US aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea three times in just under three hours, according to the US 6th Fleet.

The second of the three interactions "was determined to be unsafe" due to the Russian aircraft "conducting a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk," the 6th fleet said in a statement at the time.

The Russian aircraft was armed and passed about 150 feet directly in front of the US plane, according to two US officials.

The Russian military disputed the US Navy's characterization of the intercept as unsafe.



US report lists Iranian individuals, entities sanctioned for human rights abuses

9 August 2019

The US State Department has released a report with an updated list of sanctions targeting human rights abuses linked to Iran, adding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC – QF) and a range of Iranian militias.

As part of ongoing sanctions combating human rights abuses associated with Iran, the state department released on Tuesday an updated list of individuals and entities designated under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISDA) and subsequent executive orders.

Human Rights groups have criticized Iran for its record. Iran carries out the highest amount of executions per capita in the world. According to Amnesty International, the Iranian regime executed 253 people in 2018 and 507 in 2017.

The IRGC-QF, the overseas arm of the IRGC led by Qassem Soleimani, was designated under Executive Order 13553 on January 24, 2019. Executive Order 13553, titled Blocking Property of Certain Persons with Respect to Serious Human Rights Abuses by the Government of Iran and Taking Certain Other Actions, was originally issued on September 28, 2010.

The same order also sanctioned Iranian proxy militias such as the Fatemiyoun Division, which is made up of Afghan Shiites and founded by Revolutionary Guards in 2013 to fight in Syria, and the Zaynabiyoun Brigade, which is comprised of Pakistani Shiites fighting in Syria,

Also included in the updated list are the financial institutions Ghavamin Bank and Ayandeh Bank.

The list was compiled by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to be submitted to the US Congress.

Prominent individuals listed in the 29 officials include: Abdollah Araghi, IRGC Ground Forces deputy commander; Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, prosecutor general of Tehran; Hassan Firouzabadi, senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader, former chairman of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff; Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC; Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam, former commander of the Law Enforcement Forces; Sadeq Mahsouli, former minister of welfare and social security, former minister of the interior and deputy commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces for Law Enforcement.

Among the 14 entities are: The IRGC; IRGC - QF; The Basij Resistance Force; Law Enforcement Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran; The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security; Tehran Prisons Organization; Rajaee Shahr Prison; Ansar-e Hezbollah; Evin Prison; Iranian Communications Regulatory Authority; Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting; Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; and the Press Supervisory Board, among others.

“The Departments of State and the Treasury continue to seek new targets, and Treasury will designate those persons determined to meet the relevant criteria as information becomes available,” added the announcement.



US Muslims embrace Hajj ‘heart and soul’


August 10, 2019

DETROIT: Thousands of Muslim Americans have paid at least $6,000 each to make the journey to Makkah in Saudi Arabia as part of the Islamic ritual of Hajj.

The Hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah, is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims are required to complete the journey during their lifetime.

Muslims in the US, including Arab Americans, are among millions worldwide who have arrived in the Kingdom for the pilgrimage, which ends on Aug. 14.

“We are welcoming the Hajj season,” said Sufian Nabhan, director of the Detroit Islamic Center. “Our hearts and souls will live the Abrahamic journey of sacrifice, struggle, worship and surrender to God’s commands.”

Many from Detroit’s Muslim community have traveled to Makkah.

At one time, exhaustion, robbery and disease were the main hazards facing Hajj pilgrims. Now financial cost is the major obstacle, with US worshippers paying at least $6,000 per person to make the journey.

Some countries, such as Malaysia, offer pilgrims grants or subsidize part of the cost. Meanwhile, those unable to meet the financial or physical challenges of Hajj can perform the smaller Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah called Umrah, which can be carried out year-round.

“Hajj is an invitation from God to visit His House and engage in one of the most illustrious acts of worship. But at the same time, it is a struggle where you have to be prepared financially, physically, mentally and spiritually,” said Zahra Idrees, a teacher at Al-Ikhlas training academy in Detroit.

Hajj is more than just a physical journey, said pilgrim Omar Rashid.

“You will give up everyday comforts for a few short days as you purify the soul. Hajj is not something a person does many times — so make sure you receive the full reward for completing it.  Do not risk an unaccepted Hajj,” he said.

Many celebrities have taken the Hajj journey. 

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who converted to Islam in 1992, took to Twitter to declare his faith, saying: “I just left the Holy City of Makkah where I was blessed to have been able to make Umrah. Inshallah (God willing), Allah will continue to bless me to stay on the straight path.”

Brothers Hussain and Hamza Abdullah, both NFL players, took a career hiatus to complete the pilgrimage, sitting out the 2012–2013 football season and missing out on lucrative pay checks. Hussain has played for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Minnesota Vikings, while his brother has played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals.

The brothers said that they “wanted to show that Islam is a religion of peace and has nothing to do with the extremist terrorists seen on the news.”

“You know, we’re playing football, America’s No. 1 game. We went on a road trip. What’s more American than a road trip?” said Hussain.

Imam Dr. Shadi Zaza, founder and CEO of Rahma Worldwide Relief and president of the Islamic University of Minnesota’s Detroit chamber, said he gains personal satisfaction from helping other Muslims to complete Hajj.

“It is an interesting job to be an imam taking groups from the US to perform Hajj. People from different ethnicities come together to worship one God, with everyone praying in his own language.

“The most beautiful part is when we come close to Kaaba for the first time. Everybody sheds tears thanking Allah for witnessing this moment. The other moving scene is that of the estimated 3 to 4 million people coming together to stand on Mount Arafat. It’s a similar picture to Judgment Day.”



US Muslims raise $13,000 to release detained migrants

Beyza Binnur Donmez  


An Islamic non-profit initiative in the U.S. has raised $13,000 to bail out detained migrants, according to an American news outlet.

The Muslims for Migrants campaign launched on Monday by CelebrateMercy has already exceeded its original goal of raising $10,000 in two weeks, reported Religion News Service on Thursday.

"Looking at a project like this, I can’t think of something that is more useful to do with your money [than] to help detained families," said Ryan Smith, a case manager with Chicago’s Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants.

"It’s something that’s underfunded, and for the families I work with it’s often eight months to a year before they’re released," Smith added.

More than 50,000 people are currently detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, while some 20,000 are in Customs and Border Protection centers, the report said. Another 11,000 children are currently in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The detained immigrants -- undocumented or legal asylum-seekers -- are held in detention facilities until they go to trial, where the court will decide whether they can stay in the country, or until they can pay their bond.

According to the Freedom for Immigrants foundation, these cash bonds are typically higher than bails in criminal cases and can reach as high as $250,000, with an average of $14,500.

Smith said the most of his cases range from $10,000 to $15,500.

Scores of migrants from Central American countries are grappling with the U.S. anti-migrant policy at the border.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pursued a hardline approach to immigration, both legal and illegal, since coming to office and has particularly singled out Mexico for what he says is a lack of action to stem migrant flows, where people are fleeing destitute conditions, including rampant poverty and gang violence in the hopes of securing safety or asylum in the U.S.

In May, Trump announced tariffs on imports of Mexican goods that were ultimately averted when the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement the following month that included Mexican efforts to increase security at the country’s northern border as well as additional efforts to stem migrant flows.

Washington also signed a safe third country agreement with Guatemala to reduce immigration flows in late July.

The agreement forces Central American migrants to apply for asylum in Guatemala and be rejected in that country before they can apply in the U.S., even though under U.S. law migrants are allowed to apply for asylum within the U.S. or at official ports of entry.


Arab World


Lebanon is Now a Hezbollah-run State

9 August, 2019

Eyad Abu Shakra

What began as a small shooting incident in the mountain village of Qabr Shmoun is now a full-fledged political crisis threatening the future of Lebanon.

From weaving an ‘assassination attempt’ in an alleged ‘ambush’ the crescendo has gone to arguing the powers of the President and the Prime Minister. This is an issue that most Lebanese politicians have avoided discussing either because they are convinced that it is untreatable but only kept at bay, or feel it is futile to handle in a dangerous regional climate.

The ‘Qabr Shmoun Incident’, indeed, has shown - like many before it – that the Lebanese may have ended the combat side of the Civil War (1975-1990) but continue to fight it in every other form. Absent are the goodwill, the true reconciliation and entente, the healthy coexistence, and the willingness to have a real state and citizenship.

A few years ago, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general said “… why don’t you build a state first”, when answering a question about why his party refuses to hand over its arsenal to the Lebanese state.

Of course, Nasrallah’s well-spoken words, came before Hezbollah finalized its full takeover of a badly injured Lebanese state, and made it a part of its regional sectarian project. In fact, going through the party’s development of its thoughts, maneuvers, style of action, as well as its wars, one realizes that Lebanon – whether as an entity or a state – means little to it. Unlike Nasrallah’s recurrent claims that his party was “Lebanese”, and under “Lebanese legitimacy”, he himself has declared his real authority: He was proud to be a soldier of Wilayat al-Faqih.

Moreover, even if we were to accept a party’s respect for and commitment to a state’s national borders, its laws, and its constitution, are part and parcel of the said party’s – as well as the state’s – legitimacy; Hezbollah has been uncommitted to all the above under the pretext of ‘Resistance’ (Resisting Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon (1980-2000).

It has been uncommitted to the borders, not as far as attacking Israeli military targets during wartimes, but fighting inside Syria. Hezbollah has fought across the border inside Syria, killing civilians, destroying cities and villages and displacing their inhabitants, without official approval from the Lebanese government. It has also been directly engaged in direct negotiations with foreign governments, and indirectly with ‘enemy states’ through a ‘third party’ without the Lebanese government’s approval. As for disrespect to Lebanese laws, Hezbollah has refused to hand over its members accused of murder and attempted murder, including the murders of Fighter-Pilot Samer Hanna, and peaceful demonstrator Hashem Al-Salman, and the attempted assassination of former cabinet minister Butros Harb; in addition, to possessing a formidable military ‘arsenal’ built up without import licenses, customs duties, etc.

Last, but not least, Hezbollah has recurrently disregarded the Lebanese Constitution through various means. Its intentions have been to either disable the state, or undermine national coexistence through abolishing the ‘Tae Accords’, turning its weapons inside the country, and actively seeking to marginalizing, and destabilizing religious and sectarian communities.

The new confrontation launched by President Michel Aoun against the powers of the Prime Minister, came directly from the Presidential Palace. This is a serious shift from the silent campaign carried out for some time by his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, manifesting itself by challenging, besieging and intentionally marginalizing Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

It’s now that Hariri has realized that there was a conspiracy to infiltrate and divide the Druze community through bloodshed, and that he is being besieged and ‘squeezed out’ politically, judicially and militarily.

On the political level, Aoun has been pushing Hariri to discuss the ‘Qabr Shmoun Incident’ in the forthcoming cabinet meeting, where the Hezbollah-Aoun axis has a slight majority. The Axis’ aim is to refer the incident in which two young men were killed to ‘The Judicial Council’, a special tribunal that deals only with issues of national security; and hence, accuse the Druze and Socialist leader Walid Jumblatt of a political crime, as a means to blackmail him or force him out of the political scene.

Judicially, under alleged Presidential orders as well as pro-Aoun Justice Minister, there have been dubious handling of the legal side of the investigation; including changing prosecutors and investigators, as well as courts in order to secure a ‘political accusation’.

Finally, in the military-security sphere, Aoun and Hezbollah desire to disregard the results of the intelligence and investigation carried out by the ‘Information Branch’ of the Internal Security Forces (ISF). The Hezbollah-Aoun axis regards the IB-ISF as pro-Hariri, so it will not be possible to tamper with evidence, invent fake data, and turn the invented data into ‘Confidential intelligence’, as was the case during the Syrian security hegemony in Lebanon pre-2005.

The Aounist ‘Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), has been involved in the current from day one; indeed, it has been its incendiary device, and now the FPM is extending its aggressive campaign from Jumblatt to include Hariri and their most powerful Christian ally Samir Geagea. Hezbollah, the de facto ruler of Lebanon and the force that imposed Aoun as President, has – as expected – sided with Aoun and his political henchmen from the first hour after the Incident, unhesitatingly confirming its role in what is going on.

There is no doubt of what Hezbollah, backed by its backers in Tehran and Damascus, wants. Actually, I believe that what this party and its Lebanese henchmen are perpetrating cannot be separated from what is happening in the Arabian Gulf, and what is being planned for Syria. In any case, Hezbollah and its henchmen are executing in Lebanon and Syria exactly what the Houthi militia is, since the command center, the allegiance, and aims are the same.

Furthermore, I wish that those who still believe that the greatest aim for Iran’s Mullahs and their Arab followers was “liberating Jerusalem” recall an interesting quote by the Hezbollah leader.

“If asked, now that I am 56 or 57 years old, about the best thing I did during my entire lifetime, I shall hesitate to reply that the greatest ever position I took has been my position against the aggression against Yemen!”. Indeed, to make the whole picture much clearer, he recently said “the whole region will burn” if Iran is attacked.

Thus, it is obvious that neither Palestine nor Syria, and not even Lebanon, are top priorities for Hezbollah. Supporting Iranian expansion from the Mediterranean to Bab El-Mandeb Strait is…



ISIS, Assad, and Turkey Are Waging a Shadow War on U.S. Allies in Syria

Kevin Knodell


QAMISHLO, Syria—An enormous fire raged across several wheat fields outside this town on July 6. It was a dry summer day and dark smoke towered over the countryside as the flames spread across the farmland. Some locals watched in awe at the inferno. Others tried to fight back with shovels and rakes. They had little success. They watched the blaze consume their livelihood. Locals told The Daily Beast that the fire started near Turkish military checkpoints along the border and made its way south across Kurdish farms.

Scenes like this have become commonplace this summer as fires have burned across Northeast Syria (or “Rojava” as it is known to the Kurds and their supporters). They have been particularly destructive this year and suspiciously concentrated in contested territories that make up the lines between between U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Turkish troops and Syrian pro-regime forces—as well as scattered fires near former ISIS strongholds.

Now, as Turkish leaders threaten to invade this region, things could heat up even more.

In December, President Donald Trump declared the so-called Islamic State to be completely destroyed and announced that U.S. troops would immediately leave Syria. After the announcement, forces loyal to the Assad regime in Damascus, and Turkish-backed proxies as well, began massing on the edges of territory held by the Kurdish-led and U.S.-backed SDF.

In fact, even after Trump declared victory, the war against ISIS continued. It wasn’t until March that SDF forces officially seized the last major ISIS stronghold in Baghouz.

Today ISIS cells still remain scattered throughout Syria and Iraq waging a deadly insurgency. And thousands of American and European troops remain in parts of Syria controlled by the SDF hunting down those cells, much to the relief of many Kurds—and the chagrin of the Syrian and Turkish governments.

Last week at a trilateral summit in the Kazakh capital of Astana, Turkish officials met with the Syrian regime’s Russian and Iranian allies. In a joint statement released on Aug. 2 leaders from the three countries promised to work toward ending the savage fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels in Idlib Province while also condemning the “separatist” agenda of the SDF, noting they “rejected… all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism.”

Throughout the summer the Turkish Army has been massing thousands of troops—including tanks and heavy weapons—along its border with SDF-controlled territory. Over the weekend Turkish officials announced they had notified both Russian and American leaders of their intent to launch a new military incursion into Northeast Syria, which would be the third major Turkish military operation in Syria, following incursions in 2016 and 2018.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed, "We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates.”

American diplomats hastily worked out a new agreement with Turkish officials that seems to have halted the offensive—at least for now.

While the U.S. military presence has prevented a full scale invasion of Northeast Syria up to this point, SDF commanders told The Daily Beast that both Turkish and Syrian regime forces have turned to sneakier tactics as they allegedly burn crops, collaborate with jihadist groups, coordinate bombings and even try to bribe some American-backed fighters to change sides in an effort to destabilize the region and make it more vulnerable to their influence.

While some of the fires plaguing Northeast Syria this summer are likely natural, a huge portion have started near military positions, on contested borders and along roadways, and frequently in multiple places at once.

In places like Tirbespiye or on the road to Hasakah, the scene is almost apocalyptic—miles of black fields have replaced the bright gold crops.

"Most of the fires in our areas are caused by the Syrian regime, Turkish intelligence, and ISIS cells," said Salman Barudo, joint chairman of the Agriculture and Economic Commission for the U.S-backed and Kurdish-led administration that now oversees much of Northeast Syria.

According to the region’s Economic and Agricultural Authority, the crop losses brought on by fires in Northeast Syria this summer are currently estimated to be more than 19 billion Syrian pounds (about $33 million). The fires have so far destroyed 44,788 hectares (more than 110,000 acres), killed at least 10 people and injured many more—including both military personnel and civilians.

In the province of Deir Ezzor to the south, the Syrian military and allied Iranian-backed militias allegedly burned crops and tried to convince locals not to sell them to the Kurdish-led self-administration through a mix of counteroffers and threats.

“It’s an insidious attempt by the [Syrian] government to undermine the livelihood and base of support for Rojava,” says David Phillips, a former diplomat who is now the director of the Peace-Building and Human Rights Program at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. “It highlights the precarious position of Kurds stuck between Turkey to the north and aggression from the [Assad] regime.”

In the Syrian city of Raqqa the devastating impact of the war is readily apparent. Much of the city remains rubble. Raqqa has been highly contested throughout the Syrian civil war. It was first controlled by factions of the Free Syrian Army before the al-Qaeda aligned Jabhat al-Nusra took over. ISIS took the city in January 2014 and made it the Caliphate’s capital. SDF forces finally seized Raqqa in 2017 with the backing of Coalition forces.

While Western military leaders touted their aerial bombing campaign as “the most precise” in history, much of the infrastructure has been destroyed and Amnesty International estimates Coalition forces killed more than 1,600 civilians.

Small businesses are slowly setting up shop even among the devastation, and children play in the streets—but the recovery remains slow. International funding for reconstruction has been scant. ISIS also remains a problem, with sleeper cells regularly detonating bombs and ambushing local officials. But SDF officials stressed that ISIS isn’t the only group with cells planting bombs in the city.

“There are some problems with the regime, they have been carrying out bombings to try to scare people and make them flee the city,” explained a commander in the Raqqa Internal Security Forces who is known by the nom de guerre Mohammed Raqqa. A Kurd, he took on the city’s name because he was born and raised in Raqqa and has been overseeing its internal security for about a year. “Lately the regime has been behind more bombings here than ISIS, but the reduction in ISIS bombings might be because they want to change tactics.”

Security officials in Raqqa told The Daily Beast that coalition special operations forces have supported local forces by helping them track cells and bombers, providing logistical support and aerial surveillance.

SDF leaders say they have gradually tracked the regime’s operations through interrogations of suspects and analyzing patterns in the attacks. Mohammed explained that ISIS bombings are typically more complex and coordinated, usually involving multiple explosive devices and occasionally accompanied by guerrilla-style attacks against security forces. By contrast regime operations usually only involve one bomb and perpetrators quickly flee the scene.

The regime’s campaign started “after President Trump announced that U.S. troops would withdraw,” said SDF spokesperson Farhad Youssef. He added that the Syrian government’s covert bombing campaign has particularly centered on former ISIS strongholds like Raqqa, Manbij and Deir Ezzor that have struggled to rebuild and that regime agents hope to exploit tensions between Kurds and Arabs. “The regime wants to discredit the coalition and the SDF and send a message to people that we can’t protect them.”

SDF members admitted that they initially struggled to gain the trust of locals in Raqqa when they first arrived in the city, but insist that they have slowly made inroads. Today most of the city’s internal security force is made up of Arab members, many of them locals from the area.

Mohammed said the cells carrying out bombings on behalf of the regime seem less driven by ideology or loyalty to Assad and more motivated by financial incentives. When caught, members generally surrender easily and talk readily. “We have caught several people who confessed that they work for the regime and that they took money,” Mohammed said. “Lots of people are coming back [to Raqqa], but there’s no opportunities for work.”

Members of the Raqqa Internal Security Forces allege that on some occasions regime agents have used children, both boys and girls and usually between the ages of 11 and 16, to plant bombs before detonating them by remote control. “They tell the children ‘go take this bag to this place’ and that they’ll give them cigarettes, buy them clothes or give them money,” Mohammed explained. “Then after the explosion a lot of times they don’t even actually pay them.”

SDF personnel said that many of the regime attacks target wealthier neighborhoods in an effort to drive away entrepreneurs and other educated professionals.

“The reconstruction is what’s most important. Half the city has no electricity. What we need is real support, financial support, to rebuild the city,” says Mohammed. “There are some organizations working, but they’re limited—they need international organizations to support them.”

Amid continued bombings the Syrian government has also been conducting a simultaneous propaganda campaign with messages suggesting that Syrian troops will try to retake control of Raqqa—a notion that a portion of the city’s frustrated residents seem increasingly open to. “There’s a sort of cooperation between Daesh [ISIS] and the regime in that they don’t want stability here,” Mohammed asserted.

Mohammed believes ISIS and the regime have common interests, but said that he doesn’t necessarily believe the Syrian government and ISIS are directly coordinating in this case, though Syrian regime defectors have admitted to past cooperation with the group and as recently as last year members of the Druze minority accused the regime and Russia of enabling the militants.

Mohammed said he does have reason to believe ISIS has directly benefited from Turkish interventions and is using enclaves held by Turkish troops and their allied militias. “I believe most of the [ISIS] cells are in the city, but some are coming from outside territories, especially Jarabulus and the Turkish areas, to make instability.”

As Turkish troops began their military buildup along the border video emerged purportedly showing a Kurdish member of the SDF in Manbij abusing Arab residents and has widely circulated on social media. It wouldn’t be the first time SDF members got caught mistreating civilians.

In February 17, 2018 a group of U.S. Marines in Deir Ezzor provided care to badly wounded Arab civilians as angry Kurdish SDF fighters tried to stop them from providing treatment, leading to a violent confrontation that night that left one Kurdish fighter dead and U.S. Marine Sgt. Cameron Halkovich injured.

However the Manbij Military Council—which is made up of both Arabs and Kurds along with other ethnicities—insists that the uniforms in the recent video are wrong and that it’s a product of Turkish government propaganda.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been critical of what it considers heavy-handed tactics and abuses by the SDF in several parts of the country, agrees the video is likely faked and that the timing isn’t a coincidence. “The Syrian Observatory rejects all forms of torture and abuse against the Syrian citizen by any party,” it said in a statement. “However, such fabricated videos in primitive ways which appear… at a time when Turkey is preparing to launch a military campaign east of Euphrates, aim to create an Arab-Kurdish strife.”

In the al-Hol displaced persons camp, where SDF authorities have housed suspected families of ISIS fighters since the Battle of Baghouz, there are almost daily attacks on the camp’s staff and aid workers by residents. More than 73,000 people currently live in the camp and some are vocally eager for the prospect of a Turkish invasion, seeing it as a potential opportunity to stage large scale uprisings and escape. Foreign “ISIS brides” seem particularly enthusiastic. “[The Turkish Army] will get here, and they will liberate us,” an American woman in al-Hol who didn’t want to reveal her real name but who goes by Umm Sofia told The Daily Beast.

“If the coalition withdrew, we would face problems from both Turkey and the Regime,” said Mohammed. “Both would attack from the North and from the West.”

When the war in Syria began in 2011 after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fired on Arab Spring activists, the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party decided not to side with either the regime or the opposition despite the government’s long history of repressing the Kurds. Instead they pursued what they called a “third way”—their own “Rojava Revolution” aimed at all people and not just Kurds.

The goal was to create an autonomous region with a decentralized governing structure based on democratic confederalism and in 2012 some Syrian Kurds began forming “people’s protection units” as self-defense forces—better known as the YPG. Their ideology aligns closely with the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the insurgency in its own Kurdish regions.

Despite early battles in 2012, for much of the conflict the regime and the YPG largely avoided direct confrontation with each other—despite occasional clashes in cities like Qamishlo where both sides control different sections of the city. They both fought against Sunni Arab militant groups that were often supported by Turkey and that both considered enemies. But regime hardliners still viewed the Kurds’ ambitions to break away from their control as a direct affront to their authority and as a long term threat.

During the bitter fight for the town of Kobani along the Turkish-Syrian border in 2014 the YPG formed a united front against ISIS with a few Free Syrian Army factions and other armed groups, fighting the militants as American jets pounded jihadist positions. The Kurdish guerrillas and their new Arab allies (with some prodding by American officials) formed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a year later.

The new multi-ethnic alliance of armed groups raised alarms in both Ankara and Damascus—especially after the Kurdish-led force began receiving an influx of overt western military assistance in the form of arms, advisers, vehicles, and tactical air support.

Turkey has continued backing several rebel groups, though some Syrian activists and former rebels have accused Ankara of using Islamist fighters to snuff out moderate and pro-democratic elements of the Free Syrian Army to turn it into a Turkish proxy force. Today Turkish-backed militants continue to be a thorn in the side of the regime in Idlib, home to millions of displaced Syrians and the scene of what’s been the bloodiest fighting in the country lately.

This weekend an uneasy ceasefire took hold in the embattled province until Syrian forces resumed aerial bombings on Monday. Syrian and Turkish troops have clashed violently around Idlib, most recently in June when Turkish forces shelled Syrian troops in retaliation for a Syrian government attack that killed a Turkish soldier. However, when it comes to the Kurds in Northeast Syria, Ankara and Damascus’s goals seem to overlap.

In January 2018, Ankara launched the “Olive Branch” operation. Turkish troops and allied Syrian militias invaded the Kurdish-held city of Afrin, justifying it as an operation against “YPG terrorists.” The bloody campaign displaced thousands of people and numerous Human Rights groups accused Turkey of war crimes against the Kurds.

Displaced Kurds have since accused Turkish forces of trying to “Arabize” the area by moving Arabs and Turks into formerly Kurdish and mixed neighborhoods. Ankara’s goal seems to be to annex Afrin into Turkey as authorities issue residents Turkish ID cards, raise Turkish flags in institutions and schools, and have destroyed Kurdish monuments.

During the battle for Afrin a handful of pro-regime fighters actually came to the aid of the Kurdish defenders to fight Turkish troops. But since the battle’s conclusion both parties seem to have agreed to a new approach. “After the Afrin war and until now there have been meetings between Turkey and the regime intelligence,” a senior SDF commander told The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity. “According to our information a number of times Syrian intelligence went to Turkey, and Turkey has come to Syria. A month ago they had a meeting in Afrin.”

Though Erdogan has publicly called for the destruction of the Syrian regime, he and Assad seem to have an understanding of sorts when it comes to the Kurds. “Even though Erdogan is rhetorically committed to transitioning the regime, that coordination between Damascus and Ankara has been going on for years,” Phillips argued. “And it will continue because Turkey insists that the regime complies with its offensive against the Kurds.”

The enmity between Turkey and the SDF has put Washington in a bind. Turkey is a NATO member and historically a close partner of the United States. After SDF troops took the city of Manbij with Western help, U.S. troops began coordinating patrols along the border with the Turkish military and American diplomats began working with Ankara and Kurdish leaders to negotiate a “safe zone” that would keep Syrian Kurdish fighters away from the Turkish border.

But Turkish proxies have allegedly fired on U.S. troops near Manbij and the Turkish military recently acquired Russian missiles over the objections of American officials. The United States has since taken steps to cut Turkey out of the F-35 jet program. While American officials seem to have convinced the Turkish military not to launch its latest proposed offensive, the alliance is increasingly strained.

Syrian Kurdish leaders, uncertain about their future since Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces, reached out to the regime in Damascus to open talks shortly after Trump’s declaration. The two groups have long communicated through back channels. However, the potential loss of American military support for the Kurds has undercut their leverage, and seems to have made the regime less interested in negotiating.

“The Kurds are actively seeking mediation from international mediators. It’s the regime that is reluctant to talk to them,” explains Phillips. “[The regime] discovered from their experience elsewhere in the country that they can use overwhelming force with Russian and Iranian backing to get the opposition to kneel and succumb to their demands.”

Even as Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian government forces continued sparring in Idlib, they have both kept one eye on their American-backed enemies in Northeast Syria waiting for an opportunity to strike. “Let me be clear: If the U.S. withdrew, Turkey and Syria would collaborate in an offensive against the Kurds and commit terrible atrocities in the Northeast,” says Phillips.

The oil rich province of Deir Ezzor may be one of the most volatile places in SDF-held Syria. It was the last stronghold of ISIS, where many fighters made their final stand at Baghouz. It’s also where American special operations troops fought a fierce battle against a force of Russian mercenaries and pro-regime fighters last year. The ousting of ISIS from its last stronghold in Baghouz has made the situation even more complex. Today coalition forces, SDF fighters, Russian troops and contractors, the Syrian army, Iranian agents and ISIS cells all operate within the city of Deir Ezzor and throughout the province.

For months, some Arab residents have held protests against the SDF. Locals have lodged complaints about a lack of services, an ailing economy and frustration with a security situation that remains volatile as attacks and bombings target both civilians and local forces. All the while Coalition special operations troops conduct raids against suspected ISIS cells on an almost daily basis, often alongside SDF fighters.

“The coalition forces, especially the British forces, started operations to capture ISIS members in the area and they killed civilians in the process,” said Abu Kahwla, an Arab SDF commander.  “Of course people mistake the coalition forces with the SDF and the media say they are all the same, they don’t understand this is two different things.”

Kahwla, who says he commands roughly 11,500 SDF fighters in Deir Ezzor, told the Daily Beast one of the greatest challenges he and his men face is the wide-ranging—and sometimes shifting—mix of ethnic groups and tribes in the area. For instance, there is now a significant presence of Shiite Muslims. For years Iranian-backed militias have sought alter Syria’s demographics to bolster support for the regime by displacing Sunni Arabs and Kurds who opposed Assad and repopulating towns with Shiites.

“This has been a long-time project for Iran,” explains Kahwla. “They started years ago to have influence in this area, and the Shiite population is growing.” Kahwla also said that outside forces are trying to bribe tribal leaders to turn them against SDF. “They offered million of dollars, even to me,” he noted. “This strategy is not just the regime, also Iran is doing the same: offering money to different clans.”

Kahwla doesn’t mince words in accusing both the regime and regional powers of using militant groups as proxies to advance their interests and undermine the SDF. “Everybody knows that, they use Daesh sleeper cells to bomb cities like Hasakah, Manbij, and even here. The last one was on July 11,” he said. “They also use other groups such as Jabhat al Nusra to make bombing campaigns against the SDF and weaken their position with the people.”

But ultimately Kawhla said that the SDF can’t solve Deir Ezzor’s problems, and that in many ways the people don’t really want them to. “Everyone in Deir Ezzor wants self-rule. They don’t want an external force to come and rule them,” he explains. “They want to have a self-administration, this is why we got initial support, because the aim of SDF is exactly that. But we are military and not a political force, so now we are waiting for the council to step up.”

Kawhla said he sees reason to be optimistic about the future, but that conflicts between outside powers playing out in Syria continually thwart local efforts. “All these external forces, Iran, Russia, Turkey, even America, should stop interfering in our affairs,” he said. “Each day they spend in our country they force us to work for at least another year.”

However, as international players vie for control of strategic Syrian oil fields it’s unlikely that meddling will stop soon. It’s also why, despite talk of American withdrawal, U.S. troops may be in Syria for a very long time. “I think that the U.S. has a strategic objective, has a strategic goal, in maintaining an association with the Syrian Kurds,” said Phillips. “Otherwise the U.S. has no friends or allies in Syria and can’t influence events. That doesn’t mean that the U.S. won’t downsize, but I can’t imagine a full withdrawal.”



US Promises Parts of Security Deal for NE Syria to Move ‘Rapidly’

By Jeff Seldin

August 8, 2019

The United States is promising a new agreement with Turkey will help ease tensions and alleviate Ankara’s concerns in northeastern Syria, even as Turkish officials accuse Washington of letting prior agreements stall.

U.S. and Turkish officials unveiled the deal Wednesday, following three days of talks in the Turkish capital.

It calls for the establishment of a joint operations center in Turkey that would then coordinate the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria, where Turkish officials have expressed increasing alarm over the presence of Syrian-Kurdish fighters.

The U.S. Defense Department late Wednesday described the agreement as a crucial step, though it said more work needs to be done.

The talks “made progress toward establishing a sustainable security mechanism in northeast Syria that addresses the legitimate concerns of our NATO ally Turkey,” Pentagon spokesman, Commander Sean Robertson, told VOA in statement.

“The security mechanism will be implemented in stages,” he added. “The United States is prepared to begin implementing some activities rapidly as we continue discussions with Turkey."

Turkish officials had been threatening to send troops into northeastern Syria and move against Syrian Kurdish forces in the region.

Those forces, under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces and with U.S. backing, played a key roll in collapsing the Islamic State terror group’s self-declared caliphate.  They have also been crucial to efforts to maintain stability and root out IS sleeper cells.

But Turkey has long viewed the Kurdish SDF fighters, many with ties to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), as an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Both Ankara and Washington consider the PKK, which has been engaged in a bloody war with the Turkish military for three decades, a terrorist organization.

On Thursday, Turkey’s foreign minister warned the U.S. the new deal must be implemented quickly.

"We will not allow these efforts [on the safe zone] to turn into the Manbij roadmap," Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters.

The Manbij roadmap, an agreement last June between Turkey, the U.S. and other NATO allies, called for members of the YPG to withdraw from the key town of Manbij.

But progress has been slow, for which Turkey blames the U.S.

“The United States delayed this with many excuses, such as joint patrols," Cavusoglu said.

While the new agreement to establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria seems to have postponed an imminent military action by Turkey, key details, like the size of the zone remain unresolved.

WASHINGTON - Heading into this week’s talks, the U.S. had proposed a two-tier zone that would be 14 kilometers deep.  That is less than half the size Turkey had demanded. Turkey had also been requesting ultimate authority over the area, control that the U.S. has been hesitant to grant.

Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said warned Turkey any unilateral military action in northeast Syria would be "unacceptable.”



Egypt Says Security Forces Killed 17 Islamic Militants

By Associated Press

August 8, 2019

CAIRO - Security forces killed at least 17 suspected militants in raids in Cairo and in another province, Egypt officials said Thursday, four days after a car filled with explosives wrecked outside the county's main cancer hospital, killing at least 20 people in the ensuing explosion.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said in a statement that eight of the militants were killed when security forces stormed their hideout in the town of Atsa in Fayoum province, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Cairo.

It said another seven were killed in the Cairo suburb of Shortouk. The remaining two, including a brother of the suspected militant who was driving the car, were also killed in Cairo, the ministry said. It said police arrested another suspect.

The statement said the militants were members of Hasm, which has links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The ministry released a series of images and video purportedly depicting some of the militants and assault rifles found in their hideouts. The statement did not say when the raids took place, or whether police forces were wounded in the clashes with the militants.

Car blast

Sunday's blast was the deadliest militant attack in more than two years in the Egyptian capital. Authorities said a car packed with explosives being driven to carry out an attack elsewhere collided with other vehicles and exploded on the busy Corniche boulevard along the Nile River, setting other cars on fire.

At least 20 people were killed and 47 wounded in the blast that also damaged Egypt's main cancer hospital nearby, shattering parts of the facade and some rooms inside, forcing the evacuation of dozens of patients.

For years, Egypt has battled Islamic militants, led by an IS affiliate, in the Sinai Peninsula. That insurgency has at times spilled over into other parts of the country.



Homs: Hundreds More Civilians Flee US-Controlled Refugee Camp in Al-Tanf Region

Aug 09, 2019

The Arabic-language Al-Watan newspaper quoted special sources as saying that around 200 to 300 civilians, most of them women and children, left al-Rukban Camp in al-Tanf region near the border with Iraq via Jaliqam crossing towards areas controlled by the Syrian Army in Eastern Homs.

The newspaper noted that the flow of the civilians from al-Rukban Refugee Camp takes place while the US forces and their allied militants are blocking the Syrian citizens’ exit from the camp to use the camp as a shield against the Syrian army.

The residents of al-Rukban, who have recently left the refugee camp, have pointed to the camp’s critical conditions and acute shortage of hygienic and health conditions as well as shortage of foodstuff, and said that the US Army and its allied militants are still blocking the exit of civilians from the refugee camp.

Nearly 28,000 civilians are being held in al-Rukban camp in Homs province which is under occupation by the US and its affiliated militants in al-Tanf region.

In a relevant development in early June, the medical team affiliated to the Red Crescent in Syria reported that most children who had left the camp were suffering from different diseases due to the lack of medical and treatment facilities.

Also, the Russian and Syrian Joint Coordination Committees said that around 28,000 Syrian citizens still remain in al-Rukban refugee camp.

"Most Syrian citizens return from Syria’s neighboring states. Every day, between 1,000 and 2,000 people come to the country from Jordan and Lebanon, confirming that the measures have been effective," said a statement signed by the heads of the Russian and Syrian coordination headquarters Mikhail Mizintsev and Hussein Makhlouf.

It added that more than 1.8mln refugees have come back home, including over 1.3mln internally displaced and another 500,000 refugees coming back from other countries.

The Russian and Syrian Joint Coordination Committees had also earlier declared that around 28,000 Syrian citizens are still in al-Rukban refugee camp since they are unable to leave the area.

"About 28,000 Syrians who cannot leave its territory remain in Rukban in appalling conditions due to being hostage to the US-controlled armed groups," read the document signed by the committees’ heads Mikhail Mizintsev of Russia and Hussein Makhlouf of Syria.

It stressed that the armed groups demanded up to $1,500 for leaving the camp and "the vast majority of camp residents do not have."

Russia and Syria called on the US command in the al-Tanf area "to foil the criminal activities of the armed groups under its control and ensure the unhindered exit of Rukban camp residents".



Syrian Army Paralyzing Terrorists Deep Inside Bases in Northern Syria

Aug 09, 2019

The Syrian Army has managed to regain control of tens of regions in Northern and Northwestern Hama stretching towards the administrative borders with Idlib province, including several strategic bases of the terrorists, after the latter set up a joint operation room, reinforced their military positions, built tunnels and were equipped with modern weapons, Sham News website reported.

Syrian military expert Ali Maqsoud said that the terrorist groups have been badly disarrayed after the Syrian Army’s rapid advances in Northern Hama which was supported by the Russian Air Force, and as their lines and strategic positions in Northern Syria, including the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun along Damascus-Aleppo Road in Idlib Province, were destroyed.

Maqsoud noted that the Syrian Army killed a large number of terrorists and destroyed their military vehicles in ambush operations in al-Arabaeen and al-Zuka towns and the strategic town of Hasraya in Northern Hama that was a main depot of the militants' US-made arms and military equipment.

In a relevant development earlier on Friday, the Syrian Army continued its military operations in Northern Hama, and laid siege on a main stronghold of Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay’at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) from two different directions in Southern Idlib.

The Syrian Army units continued their clashes with Tahrir al-Sham terrorists after taking full control of the town of Jisat in Northern Hama. The Damascus Army regained control over Savameh Jisat and Damion Farms after inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists.

The Arabic-language website of the Russian Sputnik News Agency, meantime, reported that the Syrian Army, in its recent advances in Northern Hama, has laid siege on the town of al-Hobait, one of main bastions of Tahrir al-Sham in Southern Idlib, from the Southern and Western directions.

A battlefield source also noted that the strategic town of al-Hobait is considered the intersection of Eastern, Northern and Northwestern parts of Hama. Al-Hobait is also the supply line and a passage for logistical aid to the terrorists in Khan Sheikoun. The terrorist groups have built complex underground tunnel networks in Khan Sheikhoun and its surrounding farms in recent years.



Syrian Army Lays Siege to Tahrir Al-Sham’s Bastion in Southern Idlib

Aug 09, 2019

The Syrian Army units continued their clashes with Tahrir al-Sham terrorists after taking full control of the town of Jisat in Northern Hama. The Damascus Army regained control over Savameh Jisat and Damion Farms after inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists.

The Arabic-language website of the Russian Sputnik News Agency, meantime, reported that the Syrian Army, in its recent advances in Northern Hama, has laid siege on the town of al-Hobait, one of main bastions of Tahrir al-Sham in Southern Idlib, from the Southern and Western directions.

A battlefield source also noted that the strategic town of al-Hobait is considered the intersection of Eastern, Northern and Northwestern parts of Hama. Al-Hobait is also the supply line and a passage for logistical aid to the terrorists in Khan Sheikoun. The terrorist groups have built complex underground tunnel networks in Khan Sheikhoun and its surrounding farms in recent years.

In a relevant development on Thursday, the Syrian army forces continued military operations in Northern Hama, regaining control of several regions and reaching the strategic town of al-Habit in the Southern part of Idlib province.

The Syrian army troops, backed by artillery fire, engaged in heavy clashes with Tahrir al-Sham militants in Northwestern Hama, recapturing the town of al-Sakhar and Tal al-Sakhar.

Meantime, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the army forces have gained control over the town of al-Jaisat in Northern Hama near the border with Idlib province, adding that they have approached the town of al-Habit in Southern Idlib, one of the terrorists' strategic bases.



Homs: ISIL’s Military Convoys Destroyed in Syrian Army’s Ground, Air Raids Near Palmyra

Aug 09, 2019

The Syrian Army troops engaged in fierce clashes with ISIL terrorists near T3 Station and Avirez Dam in Eastern Badiyeh in Eastern Homs, killing and injuring a number of them.

The Syrian air force also pounded the ISIL’s movements near Badiyeh Palmyra and al-Saneh around Abu Rajmin Mountain, Humeimeh region, Avirez Dam to the provincial border with Deir Ezzur, inflicting heavy losses on the terrorists.

A battlefield source, meantime, said that the Syrian Army’s air and ground forces destroyed several military convoys of the ISIL in Palmyra’s Badiyeh and in Eastern Sukhneh as they were moving towards the Syrian Army positions.

In a relevant development in June, the Arabic-language al-Mayadeen Television news network reported that the ISIL backed by the US troops stationed in al-Tanf region had heightened its movements against the Syrian Army in Eastern Badiyeh of Homs province. Al-Mayadeen, meantime, pointed to the massive spread of terrorists in the surrounding areas of Jabal al-Bashri in Southeastern Raqqa and al-Dafineh in Southern Deir Ezzur and between Palmyra desert and Al-Sukhneh and the surrounding areas of al-Tanf in Eastern Homs, and said that the ISIL's movements have taken place in line with US' objectives to exert pressure on the Syrian Army and its allies in Syria.



Syrians protest against US-backed SDF militants

Aug 9, 2019

People in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah have protested against the practices of the Kurdish-led militants from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that the residents of Nis Tal Village staged a protest on the road linking Tell Brak Village and the city of Qamishli on Friday against the practices of the SDF militants, including the reported kidnapping of civilians.

According to the report, the protesters burnt tires and cut off the road, demanding an end to the arbitrary practices and the release of the abducted people.

The report said that the SDF militants frequently abduct civilians in the countryside of Hasakah and Dayr al-Zawr in order to terrorize people.

Over the past few months, several rallies have been held in northern and eastern Syria in protest against the SDF militants, calling for their expulsion from the region.

On May 13, the Syrian Foreign Ministry wrote letters to the United Nations (UN)’s secretary-general and the head of the Security Council, saying that the SDF should be compelled to respect the world body’s resolutions that assert Syria’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.

The US has long been providing the SDF with arms and calls them a key partner in the purported fight against the Daesh terrorist group. Many observers, however, see the support in the context of Washington’s plans to carve out a foothold in the Arab country.

That support has also angered Washington’s NATO ally Turkey, which views the militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the backbone of the SDF — as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).



More than two million Muslims begin Hajj pilgrimage

Aug 9, 2019

Muslims gathered from around the globe in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia have begun this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.

According to local media, about 2.5 million believers are participating in the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which started on Friday.

Each and every able-bodied Muslim, male or female, is required to complete the religious trip at least once in their lifetime if they also have the sufficient financial capacity to do so.

The nearly month-long pilgrimage features various rites, including stoning a column representing the devil, sacrificing sheep in remembrance of Prophet Abraham’s offered sacrifice, and Tawaf, which consists of walking and praying around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

'An indescribable feeling'

"It's an indescribable feeling. You have to live it to understand it," said an Algerian pilgrim describing his first time taking part in the spiritual trip.

"It's a golden opportunity and moment," said his female companion.

The gathering is also seen as a symbol of Muslim unity, with all participants required to wear a simple and identical outfit during the processions.

The clothing consists of a two-piece white seamless garment for men, and a loose cover-all dress for women.

Muslim scholars have pointed that the simple attire, along with other aspects of the pilgrimage, are meant to express unity and the humility of the Muslim Ummah — the Muslim people as a whole —  towards God.

The pilgrimage ends with the start of Eid al-Adha, also known as the "Festival of Sacrifice".

Saudis fear political opposition

This year's Hajj takes place as the country is mired in a number of conflicts with its neighbors and faces the prospect of popular expressions of discontent.

The kingdom's push to normalize relations with Israel and further isolate the Palestinian cause in taking part in the US-backed so-called "deal of the century" has been specifically met with anger in many Muslim countries.

Saudi officials have consequently warned pilgrims to avoid any political topics during the pilgrimage, despite the belief held by many Islamic scholars that the Hajj is in fact intended to be an opportunity for Muslims to discuss social and political issues affecting the Ummah.

"Leave all other matters in your countries to discuss," said Mecca Governor Prince Khalid al-Faisal earlier this week.

Riyadh has also faced strong criticism for its mismanagement of the Hajj specifically after thousands of pilgrims died in a tragic human crush incident in 2015.

Saudi authorities gave an initial tally of 770 deaths and then stopped updating that figure, even as official counts from individual countries whose nationals had died in the incident rose to more than a total of 2,400 individuals, reaching nearly 5,000 deaths according to some reports.

At least 464 Iranians lost their lives in the incident.



Hajj pilgrims recall the most important journey of their lives

August 09, 2019

RIYADH: Until relatively recently, Hajj was very difficult for most pilgrims, who in some cases would spend months making the pilgrimage to Makkah. It meant that many families faced emotional farewells when they left their families behind for such a long time.

Even those who lived much closer to the holy sites would often be treated to elaborate going-away celebrations.

Manal Al-Harbi, from Madinah, first performed Hajj 40 years ago when she was only 15 years old. In those days, local families had their own special way of saying goodbye to pilgrims and wishing them well on their journey.

“Once the Hajjis were ready to leave, the families usually gathered around them carrying baskets of candy and money and tossed it at them while cheering and praying for their safe return,” she said. “They do this, usually, before Hajjis leave and after they return.

“I will never forget that moment when my family said goodbye to me. It was very emotional.”

In the old days, many pilgrims from around the world would prepare for Hajj for years in advance, saving money for the complicated and expensive transportation that was available back then.

Zahid Hasan, an Indian national who used to work in reception at a hotel in Makkah, journeyed from his home country to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s to perform Hajj.

“In those days, the journey from Mumbai to Jeddah took 10 to 15 days,” he said.

“Al-Noor Jahan and Akbari were the only ships that took pilgrims from Mumbai to Jeddah. The total amount spent during the Hajj season by Hajjis from India might have taken five months to save. Now it takes one and a half months maximum.

“Ships were the most common mode of transport from India to Saudi Arabia. There were flights available but only a small number of pilgrims used to travel by plane.”

Similar are the Hajj memories of Dr. Sayed Inseram Ali, a Pakistani national who lived and worked in Madinah for almost 50 years. “The sea voyage was slow because some ships had to stop in a number of countries along the way,” he said.

"For instance, they would go from Pakistan to India to Egypt and, finally, to Jeddah. The total time for the Hajj trip might be four months, where now it’s only 40 days.”

Ships of this kind stopped sailing in 1995. The Akbari was the last one to carry pilgrims to Hajj. However, now that passenger ships are more modern and comfortable, the government is reintroducing sea voyages for pilgrims.

In comparison with pilgrims from other countries, Al-Harbi had a much smoother Hajj experience. Because she lived in Madinah, her preparation for the pilgrimage took only three days.

“My family and I immediately started to pack once we decided to go to Hajj,” she said. “I remember there wasn’t any paperwork to complete because we lived in Saudi Arabia. We took our tent and food with us.

“The roads were rugged and unpaved at that time, and since it was the busy Hajj season the trip by car from Madinah to Makkah took us seven hours, compared with now when it only takes three.”

Al-Shareefa Wadeeah bint Abdullah, an 80-year-old native of Taif, has vivid memories of Hajj she performed 50 years ago.

“We packed our bags, put on our Ahram and headed off to Makkah to perform Hajj,” she said. “In the past there weren’t really any hamlat (Hajj missions) to register with. Our trucks would be filled with food and tents, and we would camp at Muzdalifa or Mina.

“It was a simple affair, as usually the whole family would go, even little children, but it was tiring. Nowadays it’s much more organized.”

In those days pilgrims had to arrange everything by themselves, with the help of muallims, who were like sponsors for hajjis.

Said Ali: “Once pilgrims arrived, in Jeddah for example, muallims divided them into groups, each of which had a muallim in charge of it. They were also responsible for accommodation.”

Ali came to live in Saudi Arabia in 1970, when was appointed by the ministry of health to work in Madinah. He performed Hajj the following year.

“Hajj took place during the winter back then, and a group of us traveled in a minibus,” he said. “Tents were provided and my wife used to cook for the group. A tent back then cost only 50-70 riyals.

“In Arafat, the muallims used to provide different kinds of Saudi food and water. During the 1970s, access to toilets was limited, as was the availability of tents. Now there are tents for everyone. You can also now get plenty of food and snacks.”

For her part, Al-Harbi said: “We had to walk for long distances between the mashaer (pilgrimage stopping points) to complete our Hajj.

"However, the atmosphere was fun and joyful and because we went during the winter season it made the trip a lot easier as the weather was nice and we didn’t suffer from the heat.

"Still, I remember I was complaining a lot but probably because I was too young to go to Hajj.”

Pilgrims also had to cook for themselves, before this was banned by the government in the 1990s.

They are not allowed to make open fires or bring gas cylinders or portable gas stoves with them to cook, and food is provided for everyone.

“I remember we took the whole kitchen with us: rice, bread, coffee and tea, candies, meat, vegetables and fruit. Everything that was needed keep our stomachs full for five days,” said Al-Harbi.

She said that every hajji experiences both tough moments and happy times during their journey.

“I remember hating the road trip,” she said. “Because I was the youngest in my family, I had to sit in the back seat of the car, surrounded by the luggage and food.”

Al-Harbi also remembers some difficulties in Mina: “It was tiring for us. We stayed there for three days and I was sleeping in the car and it wasn’t comfortable at all.

“There were also happy moments, too. We used to play games and my father would tell us a lot of stories and jokes to make the time pass faster.”

Hasan said he had a satisfying Hajj experience, too, and that he liked the fact that there were fewer pilgrims in those days.

“Performing Hajj was easy,” he said. “There wasn’t a huge rush like today; the number of pilgrims was not so high back then.”

In the 1970s, said Ali, “the number of pilgrims was 700,000; today there are nearly three million and they are all moving in the same direction, thanks to the Saudi government. This would never be pulled off in any other country.”

Hasan too says he is thankful for the efforts of the Saudi government in organizing trips and helping the pilgrims complete what is a very important journey in their lives.

“I am impressed by and praise the expansions of the holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah,” he said.





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