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Islamic World News ( 5 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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In Show of Solidarity, Sikhs Take Part in Friday Prayers at Kochi Grand Mosque







• CAA, NRC Could Render Huge Numbers of Indian Muslims Stateless, Says Political Scientist at A US Federal Body Hearing in Washington

• 'Scared for Our Brothers': Aali Village's Hindus and Muslims Stand Shoulder to Shoulder

• Pakistan National Assembly Panel Thinks Slogan ‘Mera Jisam, Meri Marzi’ Is ‘Immoral’

• Coronavirus: Area around Islam’s Holy Kaaba Briefly Emptied for Sterilization

• Coronavirus Prompts Friday Prayers Cancelation in Shia Holy City of Karbala

• Violence in India Threatens Its Global Ambitions: New York Times

• UK Muslim Body Calls for Inquiry into Ruling Party over Allegations of Islamophobia

• Iranians Launch Social Media Campaign Against India's Anti-Muslim Approach

• Trump Calls Taliban Militants ‘Warriors’, Saying The Group’s Leader Has Difficult Task Ahead

 

India

• In Show of Solidarity, Sikhs Take Part in Friday Prayers at Kochi Grand Mosque

• CAA, NRC Could Render Huge Numbers of Indian Muslims Stateless, Says Political Scientist at A US Federal Body Hearing in Washington

• 'Scared for Our Brothers': Aali Village's Hindus and Muslims Stand Shoulder to Shoulder

• Delhi violence: Mandir-Masjid Marg stays true to name, keeps the peace alive

• 35 Muslim families in Gujarat raise Rs 3 lakh for temple revamp in Tamil Nadu

• Delhi Archbishop visits riot-affected families

• “Visit My Masjid” Programme Gets a Warm Response In Tamil Nadu

• Rajinikanth interacts with his outfit, says will help ‘Muslims meet Modi, Shah over CAA’

• Will announce details of trust to build mosque in Ayodhya after Holi: Sunni Waqf Board

• Special flights between India and Iran to evacuate citizens start Friday

• More cops on Coimbatore roads as Hindu, Muslim men attacked

• In response to unprovoked ceasefire violations, Army resorted to artillery firing on Pak posts in February

• India hits out at Erdogan, British minister for ‘irresponsible’ comments over Delhi riots

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Pakistan

• Pakistan National Assembly Panel Thinks Slogan ‘Mera Jisam, Meri Marzi’ Is ‘Immoral’

• Aurat March core body defends bodily rights, presents manifesto

• No Maulana, politician or anchor can stop Aurat March: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

• Minister Fawad invites ulema to briefing on scientific moon-sighting methods

• Two medical camps at Kartapur entry for coronavirus screening

• Pakistan's religious leaders condemn brutal murder of young Christian

• TV channel suspends Khalilur Rehman Qamar’s contract

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Arab World

• Coronavirus: Area around Islam’s Holy Kaaba Briefly Emptied for Sterilization

• Coronavirus Prompts Friday Prayers Cancelation in Shia Holy City of Karbala

• Saudi Arabia closes Grand Mosque, Prophet’s Mosque between night and morning prayers

• No normal ties with Turkey as long as Erdogan supports terrorists: Assad

• Syrian Army Recaptures 3 Villages in Idlib

• Lebanon state prosecutor suspends order to freeze assets of 20 local banks

• Coronavirus and Protests Wreak Havoc on Iraq's Shia Pilgrimage Industry

• At least 15 civilians killed in airstrike on Syrian village

• US Ambassador to UN says only answer on Syria’s Idlib is a ‘complete ceasefire’

• Russia, Turkey reach deal on midnight ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib

• Turkey rebrands 80,000 terrorists to stop Syria's liberation of Idlib

• Syria urges intl. community to take action against Turkish aggression

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North America

• Violence in India Threatens Its Global Ambitions: New York Times

• 'This Is Not a Drill': WHO Urges World To Take Virus More Seriously

• Zionist Elements Developed Deadlier Strain of Coronavirus against Iran: Academic

• US translator charged for outing intel sources to Lebanese Hezbollah

• Pompeo says Iran must be held accountable on nuclear commitments

• US announces more than $59M in aid for Rohingya

• US top diplomat slams ICC decision on Afghanistan probe

• Surge in Afghanistan violence ‘unacceptable’ says Pompeo

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Europe

• UK Muslim Body Calls for Inquiry into Ruling Party over Allegations of Islamophobia

• British Judge: UAE's Sheikh Mohammed Ordered the Abduction of Two of His Daughters

• 300 allegations of Tory Islamophobia sent to equality watchdog

• Italy replaces Iran as country with highest coronavirus cases after China

• EU urges for sustainable cease-fire in Idlib, Syria

• Syrian rebels launch offensive to check regime advances in Idlib

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Mideast

• Iranians Launch Social Media Campaign Against India's Anti-Muslim Approach

• Top Security Official Raps Foreign Media Lies about Coronavirus in Iran

• Dead bodies ‘piling up in Qom’ amid coronavirus outbreak says Iran MP

• Coronavirus may be US ‘biological attack’: IRGC head Hossein Salami

• Over 3,500 coronavirus cases in Iran, 107 deaths: Health ministry

• Iranian MP Fatema Rahbar in ‘critical condition’ due to coronavirus

• Palestinian president declares 30-day state of emergency due to coronavirus

• Senior Iranian official and former advisor to Zarif dies of coronavirus

• Second Khamenei advisor infected with coronavirus in Iran

• Suspected coronavirus case causes Bethlehem Nativity Church to close: Official

• Israel demolishes more Palestinian homes in West bank

• Israel cancels joint drill with US over coronavirus concerns

• Palestinians confirm virus cases, declare two-week tourist ban

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South Asia

• Trump Calls Taliban Militants ‘Warriors’, Saying The Group’s Leader Has Difficult Task Ahead

• US seeks UN backing for Taliban peace deal to end Afghan war

• China rejects Indian allegations of seizing Pakistan-bound equipment for ‘nuclear proliferation nexus’

• Khalilzad meets Mullah Baradar amid differences on release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners

• Flare-up in Afghan violence shows fragility of peace deal

• UAE pledges $3.4m to help Afghanistan diagnose 50,000 cases of Coronovirus

• Afghan president calls for halt to hugging, handshaking amid coronavirus fears

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Southeast Asia

• Singapore: All Aspiring Islamic Religious Teachers To Go Through Practicum Before Being Accredited

• Malaysia's anti-graft chief Latheefa Koya has resigned: Sources

• Inmate dreaming of royal pardon after scoring 6As in SPM

• DAP still controls non-Malay vote despite role in PH collapse

• Coronavirus: Indonesia to ban anyone who visited cities in Iran, Italy, S. Korea

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Africa

• Many Killed As Nigerian Soldiers Repel Boko Haram Attack On Damboa

• FG set to reintegrate 606 rehabilitated Boko Haram fighters

• Nigeria: Boko Haram Attacks Dapchi, Kills Six Police Officers, Two Others

• Mama Boko Haram arraigned before third judge for fraud

• Nigeria: U.S. Renews N2.52bn Bounty Offer for Boko Haram Leader, Shekau

• Kenya, Somalia agree to ease border tensions

• Libya: Airport evacuated after attacks by Haftar forces

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/in-show-of-solidarity,-sikhs-take-part-in-friday-prayers-at-kochi-grand-mosque/d/121241

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In show of solidarity, Sikhs take part in Friday prayers at Kochi Grand Mosque

FEBRUARY 29, 2020

Expressing their solidarity with Muslims in troubled times, members of the Sikh community observed the Friday noon namaz at the Kochi Grand Mosque at Kacheripady.

Five members of the Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha committee observed the congregational prayers and the khutba, the sermon delivered by the Imam. The visit was part of the mosque’s second ‘open day’, that involves opening the prayers up to members of other communities to introduce non-Muslims to Islamic rituals and customs, and promote goodwill and friendship among the city’s various religious communities.

“The visit was a way of saying that we are with them in these troubled times,” said Surinderpal Singh, president of the gurudwara committee. “With an atmosphere of distrust prevailing today, such meetings can help dispel suspicion of each other,” he said.

The Imam and members of the mosque committee had, last week, visited the gurudwara at Thevara.

After his sermon on protecting the laws of the land and ensuring justice prevails, particularly in the light of the violence in Delhi, Imam M.P. Faisal thanked the members of the Sikh community for having opened their gurudwaras to victims of the violence.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/in-show-of-solidarity-sikhs-take-part-in-friday-prayers-at-mosque/article30946687.ece

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CAA, NRC Could Render Huge Numbers of Indian Muslims Stateless, Says Political Scientist at A US Federal Body Hearing in Washington

NAYANIMA BASU

5 March, 2020

New Delhi: The proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) could use the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to render a large number of Muslims stateless in India, political scientist Ashutosh Varshney said at a US federal body hearing in Washington late Wednesday.

Speaking at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) hearing on citizenship laws and religious freedom in India, Varshney, a professor at Brown University, said, “Using CAA, the NRC (National Register of Citizens) can render stateless a large number of Muslims, even if they were born in India and lived in the country for decades, as have their ancestors… That is an important reason (anti-CAA) protests have not ceased.”

Varshney said the implications of CAA are “serious” and “quite horrendous”, adding that Indian Muslims are in danger of being faced with “oppression and discrimination” in the future.

Speaking on the communal riots that shook Delhi last week, Varshney, who is an expert on the history of riots in India, said such incidents have been happening across smaller parts of the country. He added that while Muslims have been at the forefront of the countrywide anti-CAA protests, a large section of non-Muslims were also part of it.

India is about 80 per cent Hindus and a little less than 15 per cent, or about 180-190 million, Muslims, Varshney said.

“Something deeply injurious to the Muslim minority can happen once their citizenship rights are taken away,” he added.

The hearing came three months after the commission sought “sanctions against the Home Minister (Amit Shah) and other principal leadership” of the Narendra Modi government over the contentious law.

‘India’s founding values’

Varshney said India was never created with the vision of making it a “Hindu homeland”, adding that the country was always lauded since its independence for its “Constitutionally enshrined inclusive citizenship with no religious distinctions”.

“If America’s constitutional ideals was freedom of equality, India’s founding values were equality, including religious equality, diversity and tolerance,” he said at the hearing, and added that these basic tenets are violated by the CAA.

Ashutosh Varshney

@ProfVarshney

Here are @USCIRF hearings that took place in Washington earlier today - on Citizenship Laws and Religious Freedom, with a focus on India and Burma | I spoke as a panelist | @SouthAsiaBrown @WatsonInstitute https://youtu.be/IcGgWJG5qxA  via @YouTube

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The passage of CAA in December, which provides for expedited citizenship to six non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who entered India before 2014, have provoked massive protests across India amid fears that the proposed NRC in conjunction with the citizenship law could result in disenfranchisement of Muslims.

“Whether after an unending citizenship protest the NRC will be legislated in Parliament or announced as an executive decree in the coming months remains an open question. But the awfully exclusionary implications for the Muslim minority need to be clearly understood and noted,” Varshney said.

‘NRC has exposed propaganda of illegal immigration’

According to Aman Wadud, a human rights lawyer from Assam who also participated at the USCIRF hearing, the NRC process in the state has already shown what CAA can do to India’s Muslim minorities.

“There are no illegal migrants in Assam. The NRC has exposed the propaganda of large-scale illegal migration into Assam…

“The fear of losing their citizenship forced people to protest, to come on the streets, particularly women who will tell you that (they) do not want to go to the detention centres. The protests are against CAA, NPR and NRC — which is a sinister design,” he said.

Critics have alleged that NPR, or National Population Register under the Census, is the first step towards the Modi government’s proposed NRC.

The Rohingya question

The USCIRF hearing also examined issues facing the Rohingya refugees who faced wide-scale genocide in Myanmar.

“The CAA does not take into account the plight of Muslims in these neighbouring countries nor does it consider the Hindus staying in Rohingya refugee camps,” said USCIRF commissioner Anurima Bhargava.

“In Burma (Myanmar), the government denies the remaining Rohingya recognition of their Rohingya identity, a key obstacle to possessing any form of identity documents including birth certificates,” Bhargava added.

Rohingyas were expelled from their country of birth between 2013 and 2018 and that “has echoes” in today’s India, said a third witness, Azeem Ibrahim, director (displacement and migration), Centre for Global Policy.

Muslim families who have lived in India for the past 40-70 years are “about to find themselves declared stateless and threatened with deportation”, added Ibrahim.

USCIRF chair Tony Perkins said the “the denial of citizenship can be a key predictor for mass atrocities”.

https://theprint.in/india/caa-nrc-could-render-huge-numbers-of-indian-muslims-stateless-says-ashutosh-varshney/376008/

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'Scared for Our Brothers': Aali Village's Hindus and Muslims Stand Shoulder to Shoulder

Tarushi Aswani

Mar 06, 2020

New Delhi: Burnt houses, shops and brotherhood lay smouldering on March 1. But at Aali Village in Mohan Estate of Badarpur, March 1 dawned differently.

Aali Village was among the many areas that were panic-struck by rumours that came in from neighbouring areas such as Madanpur Khadar and Som Bazar. The village lies 20-30 kilometres away from riot struck areas.

When Police and BSF presence suddenly heightened in the area, Muslims, who make up 30% of the village’s population, locked themselves up in their houses fearing carnage similar to those witnessed in other neighbourhoods in north east Delhi.

However, for Bahadur Khan the sight of the entire village coming out to the streets hearing the rumours was one to remember.

Khan said that many Hindus came in groups to the Bagh Wali Masjid to assure the Muslims that no rioter would be getting any leeway here in Aali. “Afwaa sunn kar sab chaurahe per aagaye, Hindu Musalman sab saath, humaray Hindu bhaiyon nay humsay kaha, ‘koi dangai aa kar dikhaaye yahan’!” Khan said with a proud smile on his face.

Khan added, “Hum alag nahi hain, jaisay woh hain, waisay hum hain.”

He also said that he believes that the carnage that unfolded in portions of north east Delhi was not inbred and that rioters were brought in from outside to create chaos and fear.

Zainulabideen, the Imam of Bagh Wali Masjid expressed sorrow over how mosques were burnt during the riots, he said, “Yahan ke logon ne aisa kuch na kia, na honay dia.” As his three daughters sat quietly beside him, he said, “Humara to sab yahin hai, aur hum bhi yahin kay hain, humein nikal kay kya milega kisi ko.”

Bhule Ram Pradhan, 84, former Sarpanch of Aali Village, was furiously reading the newspaper when I entered his verandah.

When I asked him about the current happenings he said, “This is all wrong, very wrong, we are meeting today, the whole village will together pledge to be together is this time of uncertainty”.

He further added how the news about a Muslim man losing all his savings in the carnage affected him a lot. He said, “Yeh konsay Hindu hain jo aisa karengay? Humaray gaon mein sab saath rehtay hain, yahan hum kabhi danga nahi honay dengay!

Pradhan also added that though they faced panic in the face of rumours, even if rioters came here, their unity wouldn’t let the rioters succeed.

“Jo Shiv Vihar mein hua, Karawal Nagar mein hua, humein humaray Musalman bhaiyon kay liye darr lagta hai, isliye aaj hum sab gaon waalay baithak karengay”.

Gyashi Ram, a shopkeeper, narrated his part in ensuring the safety of Muslims. He said that on Sunday, there was utter panic but he, in an effort to ensure normalcy, kept his grocery store open to debunk rumours of rioters approaching the village.

Gyashi Ram added how his Muslim neighbour couldn’t sleep that night and repeatedly said that rioters were bypassing many hurdles to enter Delhi and didn’t belong here.

A village that has a 70% Hindu population, Aali does not have clearly defined Muslim localities.

Roshan Ara, 42, a Muslim woman who lives here in a rented house told me that when on Sunday everybody started panicking, her family, fearing that the situation would turn into what transpired in north east Delhi, locked the house from inside and turned off the lights to make it seem that no one was home.

She said, “Humein darr lag raha tha par yeh mohalla utna kharab nahi hai”.

As I made to leave, Roshan Ara asked, “Aap Muslim ho na?” In this question, she wrapped her anxiety, insecurity and uncertainty of her religious identity and handed it over to me.

On March 4, as the entirety of Aali Village met to ensure the safety of all villagers. They met, not as Hindus and Muslims, but as concerned residents.

After Pradhan asked everyone to be united and not believe in rumours, the gathering expressed concern on the situation. With the DCP and SHO present at the meeting, they encouraged people to report matters to police before engaging in any action on

hearing rumours.

With the death toll in the Delhi riots reaching 49, Aali stands as a village where Muslims don’t feel threatened and where Hindus are making conscious efforts to maintain the village as an inclusive space where religion is definitely not a parameter of inclusivity.

https://thewire.in/communalism/delhi-riots-aali-village-hindus-muslims

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Pakistan National Assembly Panel Thinks Slogan ‘Mera Jisam, Meri Marzi’ Is ‘Immoral’

March 6, 2020

ISLAMABAD: In a supposed attempt to curb ‘moral indecency’ allegedly linked to the Aurat March, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting urged the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to direct all media channels to stop telecasting slogans like “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi”.

The NA body held a meeting on Thursday under the chairmanship of Mian Javed Latif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

The committee asked the government to check the telecast of indecent and controversial content on television channels with a special reference to the slogans related to the Aurat March annually held on the International Women’s Day. The committee decided to take up the issue with PEMRA and owners of the electronic media houses.

A lawmaker, Aftab Jahangir, expressed ‘concern’ over the language used by “certain people in news channel programmes” saying it was repugnant to the Islamic teachings, which no person could “watch in the presence of family members”.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said Islam was the champion of women’s rights, and anything against the religion and socio-cultural values would not be allowed.

The constitution gives the right of freedom of speech but being the citizens of an Islamic and democratic country “we have some responsibilities and values”.

“Nobody would be allowed to ridicule the ‘Islamic way’ of life in the name of freedom of speech,” the SAPM stressed.

Dr Firdous said it was not an issue of the government but that of the entire society. The government, however, was committed to protecting the constitutional, legal, political, social and economic rights of women.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/05/na-panel-thinks-slogan-mera-jisam-meri-marzi-immoral/

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Coronavirus: Area around Islam’s holy Kaaba briefly emptied for sterilization

5 March 2020

The immediate area surrounding Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, was emptied out earlier on Thursday as health authorities sanitized the area amid coronavirus concerns, videos and photos posted on social media showed.

The location, called the “Mataf” in Arabic, refers to the open white area immediately around the Kaaba where Hajj and Umrah pilgrims perform the “tawaf” or circumambulation.

Part of any Hajj or Umrah pilgrim’s duties during their pilgrimage is to circle the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction seven times.

Shiraz Hassan

@ShirazHassan

• 17h

All pilgrims inside the Mataf evacuated as a complete sterilization takes place around the Kaabah. #CoronaOutbreak

View image on Twitter

Jawad Kafeel

@jawadkafeel

Sterilization underway around Mataf #Kaaba

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Saudi Arabia has so far expanded a rare suspension on pilgrimages to the holy cities in Mecca and Medina by foreigners, Saudi citizens and residents due as well as Gulf citizens amid rising concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/03/05/Coronavirus-Area-around-Islam-s-holy-Kaaba-briefly-emptied-for-sterilization.html

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Coronavirus Prompts Friday Prayers Cancelation in Shia Holy City of Karbala

5 March 2020

Iraq canceled Friday prayers in the Shia holy city of Kerbala due to concerns about the coronavirus, a statement from the holy site administration said on Thursday.

Kerbala, like the neighboring holy city of Najaf, attract Shia pilgrims from Iraq and abroad.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Coronavirus-prompts-Friday-prayers-cancelation-in-Shia-holy-city-of-Kerbala.html

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Violence In India Threatens Its Global Ambitions: New York Times

Mar 6, 2020

NEW DELHI: Until recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign to portray India as a rising power seemed to be ticking along despite troubles at home.

Much of the world remained quiet, or cautious, in recent months as India began locking up hundreds of opposition politicians and activists without charge across the country. Business executives say they are too afraid to speak out about shortcomings in the government's economic strategy. The press complains of government intimidation.

Still, there was President Donald Trump last week, embracing Modi in New Delhi, where streets were dotted with posters declaring the "world's oldest democracy meets the world's largest democracy."

But as the leaders celebrated each other in India's capital, Hindu mobs began going after Muslim protesters in neighborhoods just a few miles away while the police looked on or joined in. And it was those images — the return of sectarian violence on the streets, not the carefully crafted show of international partnership — that has set the tone for India on the world stage over the past week.

On Wednesday, Freedom House, a nonpartisan democracy advocacy organization, flagged India as a major concern.

"The Indian government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies," the group said, "threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia and the world."

In a rare move, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights filed a petition in India's Supreme Court on Tuesday to challenge a citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims. Some of India's closest partners have begun criticizing its treatment of Muslims and migrants, with condemnations coming in from Iran, the United States, Bangladesh and elsewhere.

"If India loses that secular, democratic identity, then it loses what makes it different than other countries in Asia. We are all watching the riots in Delhi and worry they are going down a dangerous road that makes it harder for us to be a strong advocate for India," said Rep. Ami Bera, a California Democrat who is the longest-serving Indian American in Congress.

Bera, who has long lobbied for closer US relations with India, added, "If they want to become a global power, well, that comes with certain responsibilities."

Though there has been no sign yet that big doors are closing internationally, the violence in New Delhi has clearly opened a new chapter of international questioning of Modi's agenda, and, perhaps, of the investment climate in a country hoping to turn its weakening economy around. The current unrest threatens one of India's biggest appeals for investors or potential allies: that it is the world's largest secular democracy.

In private conversations, diplomats are worried that the rhetoric coming from Modi's governing Bharatiya Janata Party is creating an environment that could lead to more violence. They point out that BJP members have been labeling protesters and opposition supporters as terrorists who were supported by Pakistan. One minister led crowds in chants of "shoot the traitors!"

One area where international officials believe that India may be particularly hurting itself is in its campaign to be granted a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council along with other nuclear powers. Speaking on condition of anonymity, several diplomats, including some from countries that have publicly pushed for an Indian seat on the Security Council, say that their governments are now reluctant to push the issue after India's domestic unrest has laid bare the effects of Hindu nationalism there.

During his first campaign for prime minister in 2014, Modi downplayed his Hindu agenda. His first term was marked by an energetic foreign policy and alliance building. Domestically, he focused on development and economic reforms. He promoted himself as a globalizer and unifier, friends with everyone: the Israelis and Palestinians, the Russians and the Americans.

After winning a second term last year, Modi's government prioritized issues that appealed to its Hindu-nationalist base, and the prime minister himself talked less about economic reform.

In August, the government scrapped the statehood of India's only Muslim-majority state of Kashmir and locked up hundreds of its politicians and activists without charge. In December, the government approved a citizenship law that would expedite citizenship for every major religion in the region except Islam. Coupled with a citizenship test, observers worry the policies will disenfranchise India's 200 million Muslims, 14% of the population.

Now, though none of the Western world leaders who have sought closer partnership with India have yet to issue strong warnings about the sectarian violence in India — at least publicly — more criticism is coming in.

On Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights filed its petition in India's Supreme Court to challenge the citizenship act, claiming the law undermines the country's "human rights obligations." India's foreign ministry has asked the Supreme Court to overturn it.

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom condemned the violence in Delhi, after suggesting in December that the American government consider sanctioning India for the passage of the citizenship law.

Iran, which has close ties with India and has typically refrained from commenting on others' affairs, issued a rare condemnation this week about India's treatment of Muslims.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation slammed the riots as "anti-Muslim" last week. Just last year the OIC had invited India as its guest of honor, which Delhi hailed as a diplomatic victory. While India's Muslims are a minority at home, its Muslim population is the second largest in the world. But it never had a voice at the OIC until last year, coveted progress that is now at risk.

Allies worry that India's domestic turmoil is creating unnecessary tensions with its neighbors, which could help China in the long run as it tries to expand its influence in South Asia.

Relations with Bangladesh are at a low, after India's powerful home minister, Amit Shah, called people entering a country illegally from Bangladesh "termites" last year when justifying the need for the citizenship test. Afghanistan, which rarely comments on other countries' affairs and has a warm relationship with India, has expressed its displeasure about the sectarian undertones Modi's government has recently taken, which includes jabs at Afghan migrants.

The country's domestic politics are now at risk of blowing up India's global ambitions. Two officials in the ministry of external affairs, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid being punished, complained that when visiting foreign dignitaries arrive in Delhi, they spend most of their meetings defending their country's domestic policies instead of fostering bilateral ties.

Some American officials worry that the condemnations from the U.N. or the US Commission on International Religious Freedom may damage its bilateral relationship with India and encourage Congress to halt further weapons sales.

But India's government is likely betting that the international criticism will blow over. With the rise of nationalism globally, leaders like Trump have been less concerned about human rights than protecting their own national interests, which include military and trade relationships with India.

India's external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, noted earlier this week that the rise of nationalism across the world was providing an opportunity for India to shape its domestic politics. He argued that India would rise in a "polarized world."

India's faltering economy may also pose a threat to its ambitions.

The economy is experiencing its slowest growth in nearly a decade, with unemployment at a 45-year high. Government officials seem more focused on crushing political opposition than shoring up the economy, observers worry, and domestic turmoil might push more international investors away. Foreign direct investment in India slid 1.4% last quarter, after foreign investment reached a 10-year low in 2019.

Modi's "party has always had two objectives: advancing Hindu nationalism and reforming the economy. There was this feeling that these two things had equal weight, but that is now dissipating and creating a lot of whiplash in corridors across Washington," said Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Modi wants India to play a more active role globally, but all of that without robust economic growth at home is an empty shell," Vaishnav said. "The nationalism is not only taking over the economic agenda but actively undermining it."

While Modi's government tends to dismiss all criticism as "anti-Hindu," they are often sidelining some of their biggest fans, like Bera, the California congressman, or friendly neighboring countries.

"India is very sensitive to any criticism. If they want to be that world leader, they can't be so sensitive all the time," Bera said. "The US is criticized all the time, and we take it."

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/violence-in-india-threatens-its-global-ambitions-nyt/articleshow/74504411.cms

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UK Muslim Body Calls for Inquiry into Ruling Party over Allegations of Islamophobia

Karim El-Bar 

06.03.2020

LONDON

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said Thursday it has renewed its call for the U.K.’s human rights watchdog to investigate the ruling Conservative Party over allegations of Islamophobia.

The Muslim advocacy group provided the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) with a dossier implicating 300 people in or associated with the party with Islamophobia.

This is the second time the MCB has reported the ruling party to the EHRC, the first being in May 2019. The rights watchdog has neither investigated the Conservatives nor responded to the MCB, they said in a statement.

“Having furnished the Equality and Human Rights Commission with evidence of over 100 incidents of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party ten months ago, we find it extraordinary that the Commission has failed to give any response, let alone inform us and British Muslims as to whether action will be taken,” said MCB Secretary General Harun Khan.

“Two years ago, we estimated that there were cases of Islamophobia being identified in the Party on a weekly basis. Now, with over 300 documented incidents, it appears our estimation was too low.”

In its updated dossier compiling allegations of Islamophobia, the MCB singled out the prime minister’s controversial special advisor Dominic Cummings, who presided over the publication of a picture of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban while he was responsible for the right-wing Spectator magazine.

They also highlighted the hiring, and subsequent firing, of No 10 aide Andrew Sabisky, who had previously made controversial comments on eugenics, women and welfare claimants and expressed harsh views on what he saw as the threat of Britain’s growing population.

The statement said that Thor Halland, the chairman of a local conservative association, called for Muslims to be banned, and two other Conservative party members called for Muslims to be thrown off bridges and sterilized.

These were just a sample of the 300 plus incidents the MCB compiled. Some of the allegations dated back to prospective parliamentary candidates who have since been elected.

MP Anthony Browne responded to a question about Muslim leaders’ opposition to the Iraq War by questioning British Muslims’ loyalty to the U.K.

Another MP, Karl McCartney, retweeted posts by far-right leader Tommy Robinson. McCartney has since apologized.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said his party has a “zero tolerance approach” and pledged to hold an internal investigation into allegations of Islamophobia.

The MCB said in its statement that the Conservatives have “failed to take meaningful action on its problem of Islamophobia.”

The Conservatives reneged on a pledge to hold a dedicated, internal investigation into Islamophobia within the party, instead promising one into all forms of discrimination, a move seen as watering-down their promise in the eyes of critics.

The MCB also highlighted the concerns of several prominent Conservative Muslims, “including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former co-chair of the Party, Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, and Sajjad Karim, former Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, who spoke about a senior serving minister having made Islamophobic comments about him.”

Khan said: “There is no doubt that the Conservative Party has an Islamophobia crisis: it is institutional, systemic and widespread. The Party’s response has been one of denial, dismissal and deceit. This results in clear discrimination against Muslims because of their religion. Islamophobia is never acceptable, yet this dossier cites hundreds of individuals – including many in significant positions of power and influence – who have made horribly offensive comments about Muslims that would not be tolerated for any other section in our society.

“The EHRC has a duty to uphold the Equality Act, and this responsibility includes investigating where there are allegations of discrimination. The absence of meaningful action by the Conservative Party despite the wealth of evidence makes it all the more important that the EHRC recognizes the impact of this level of Islamophobia in our governing party, and takes swift action.”

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/uk-muslim-body-calls-for-inquiry-into-ruling-party/1756515

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Iranians Launch Social Media Campaign Against India's Anti-Muslim Approach

05 March 2020

Iranian social media users have launched a campaign against India’s discriminatory measures targeting Muslims and the deadly acts of violence perpetrated by pro-government Hindu mobs towards the country’s largest religious minority.

They flooded the Instagram page of Indian Union Home Minister Amit Shah with comments on his latest post, decrying India’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim community.

In August 2019, the administration of India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi unilaterally abrogated a constitutional provision that provided a semblance of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.

Four months later, New Delhi passed a controversial citizenship law that is widely denounced as Islamophobic and a threat to the country’s secular constitution.

The so-called Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) grants expedited citizenship to a bevy of non-Muslim minorities from India’s three Muslim-majority neighbors - Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Indian government is also seeking to update the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), raising fears among India's 200 million Muslims that they could soon be marginalized and classified as illegal immigrants.

Iranians also took to Twitter to condemn India's anti-Muslim approach with the hashtag #WorldAgainstCAA.

Since the passage of the CAA in December 2019, Indians have held protests against the legislation, resulting in violent clashes that saw 75 people dead across the country.

Last week, the worst communal violence in decades took place in New Delhi, where at least 47 people were killed and more than 100 wounded.

Groups chanting Hindu nationalist slogans torched mosques and dozens of houses belonging to Muslim.

It came after a series of hate speeches by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, some of whom warned Muslims to wind down their peaceful sit-ins or face consequences.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet filed an application with Indian top court to join pleas challenging the CAA.

Academic and legal expert Faizan Mustafa told the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcaster that the Supreme Court of India may end up hearing the UN application.

On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter to denounce “the wave of organized violence against Indian Muslims” and called for dialog as the best solution to the problem plaguing the South Asian country.

India summoned the Iranian ambassador to New Delhi afterwards to protest the comments. However, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi supported Zarif, saying he “fully share[d]” the concerns expressed by “my brother."

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620173/Iran-India-Muslims

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Trump calls Taliban militants ‘warriors’, saying the group’s leader has difficult task ahead

06 Mar 2020

The U.S. President Donald Trump called the Taliban militants ‘warriors’ in his latest remarks amid ongoing efforts to end the violence in Afghanistan through a negotiated political settlement.

He made the remarks during a question-and-answer session televised by Fox News.

Trump further added that the leader of Taliban will have a difficult task ahead to persuade the group’s fighters to end violent attacks in the country.

“It’s not the easiest leadership position,” Trump said in an apparent reference to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy political chief of the group with whom he spoke for 35 minutes after the signing of peace deal.

This comes as the U.S. and Taliban group recently signed a peace deal after observing a 7-day reduction in violence.

The two sides signed the agreement after almost 18 months of negotiations in Qatari capital of Doha.

However, the recent wave of attacks and clashes in some parts of Afghanistan has sparked concerns that an increase in violence may adversely affect the peace process and subsequent launch of intra-Afghan talks.

https://www.khaama.com/trump-calls-taliban-militants-warriors-saying-the-groups-leader-has-difficult-task-ahead-04477/

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India

 

Delhi violence: Mandir-Masjid Marg stays true to name, keeps the peace alive

by Amil Bhatnagar

February 29, 2020

A group of residents in Noor-e-Ilahi was alerted the moment violence broke out in parts of Maujpur, metres from their lane, on Sunday. The group, comprising both Hindus and Muslims, immediately stood guard outside their lane, known as Mandir Masjid Marg.

As the name suggests, the narrow lane in Noor-e-Ilahi has a mosque and a temple within metres of each other. As violence grew in scale over the week, Hindus shielded the mosque while Muslims stood guard outside the temple and the area remained unscathed.

For decades, the area has been known for its communal harmony due to the presence of two places of worship — Azizya Mosque and Hanuman temple — within close proximity. The area has a mix of both communities’ residents within a 1-kilometre radius.

On Sunday, when stone-pelting began, local youths came out to inform people about mobs in the neighbourhood. The elders of both communities held an emergency meeting in which it was decided that the residents in the area will remain peaceful irrespective of the situation around.

“For us, there is no distinction of Hindus and Muslims in this area. Our childhood has been spent at both the temple and mosque. Shortly after the news broke out, a mob tried to enter the lane from the side of the temple. They wanted to attack both places of worship in order to create a riot. We made sure that the crowd didn’t enter the lane,” said Faizan, a resident.

Next to the temple, a resident described how he helped a Muslim man, who was injured in the clashes, receive treatment before escorting him safely out.

“We have a lot of faith in each other. In fact, when a few people who had been injured came this side for treatment, because they knew they will not be harmed here, we got their dressings done and made sure they reached their homes safely. The legacy of this harmony will continue,” said Sunil Kumar, a resident.

The mosque has a capacity of more than 500 and announcements of peace were also made through the loudspeaker at the peak of the violence. The Hanuman temple dates back to the 1980s, a local said. Locals also said they prevented a petrol pump and several houses being gutted in the colony adjacent to the Marg.

“We were simply doing our duty. And if the time comes, we will do it again,” said Amer, another resident.

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/delhi-violence-mandir-masjid-marg-6291799/

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35 Muslim families in Gujarat raise Rs 3 lakh for temple revamp in Tamil Nadu

by Kamaal Saiyed

March 6, 2020

Thirty-five Muslim families from Paraipatti village in Tamil Nadu who are now settled in Gujarat raised Rs 3 lakh for the revamp of Ambaji temple in their native village.

Abdulkhuda Saiyed (53) had come down to Gujarat 25 years ago along with his brothers. After working for a few years in Valsad and Bharuch, he settled at Piraman village. His brothers are now settled with their families in districts of Surat, Bharuch, Valsad, Mehsana and Ankleshwar.

A few days ago, Vijay Kumar, a temple priest who was also Saiyed’s classmate, called him up asking for help to build the Ambaji temple in the village. When Saiyed assured him help, Kumar came down to Piraman village with his two friends T. Ramakrishnan and Muttu Pandi.

Saiyed contacted around 35 Muslims and requested them to donate for the construction of the temple in their village.

Talking to The Indian Express, Saiyed said, “Of Rs 3 lakh, my brothers and I donated Rs 76,000. This is not the first time I have donated for this cause. Around two years ago, I had collected Rs 2 lakh for the construction of another temple of Lord Ganesha in our village. It is my duty to help people from my village.”

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/35-muslim-families-in-gujarat-raise-rs-3-lakh-for-temple-revamp-in-tamil-nadu-6301523/

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Delhi Archbishop visits riot-affected families

March 3, 2020

New Delhi, March 3, 2020: Catholic parishes, religious congregations and institutions in Delhi are now engaged in bringing relief to areas affected by the recent communal riots in the national capital.

Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi on March 2 visited affected areas and comforted victims and shared his grief with them.

Riots that broke out on February 23 night have claimed nearly 50 lives and wounded hundreds of people in the northwestern parts of the national capital.

Archbishop Couto said all affected people have taken shelter at a place of worship.“We are trying to help people at different levels—medical, counseling and students’ classes with the help of different groups,” he added.

The deserted streets bore tell-tale signs of massive destruction and violence fuelled by hatred, the prelate noted.” Our hearts were filled with deep sadness and anguish at what we saw and heard. The soul of our nation has been torn apart and with such brutality.”

He also said the Catholic parishes and institutions have already plunged into action before his visit.

“We are mobilizing resources to help the affected people in the best way possible. Our Holy Family Hospital is doing a great job with two ambulances, a couple of doctors and several nurses rendering first stage medical help. We will lend our support to all efforts for the rehabilitation of the displaced people,” he added.

Archbishop Couto was accompanied by Jesuit Father P R John, principal of Vidyajyoti College of Theology, and Presentation Sister Shalini Mulackal, former president of the Indian Theological Institution and a professor in the college.

“Jeevodaya Sisters are helping any case that we refer to them. These are immediate needs and we are planning to help most deserving cases in their rehabilitation too,” he added.

He also said a group of Delhi Archdiocese officials, nuns and priests now meets with the affected people. They meet new people, who narrate stories of violence and torture that touch their hearts.

“We should raise our voices against those who caused communal riots, destroying the lives of the poor in miserable conditions and I strongly feel that we should strive to get government help for these people,” said the archbishop who had appealed to his parishes and institutions to help the victims.

“At this trying moment when communal riots have suddenly gripped Delhi, let us come forward with our prayers and every possible effort to bring relief to the affected people in terms of shelter, food and clothing. If need be by even opening up our church premises for this noble cause in the Lenten season,” the February 26 appeal had said.

On February 28, the Vidyajyoti principal visited Shiv Vihar, one of the affected areas, along with Presentation Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of Delhi Minorities Commission.

Father John later said he was sad to see the amount of destruction done to the property and lives of Muslims selectively. “Their houses were burnt and their livelihood is destroyed resembling nothing less than a graveyard.

He said he had felt helpless as to how to go about helping people. Then he and others visited two families who worked for the rescuing the people trapped in the riots and gave shelter about 2,000 people.

That was the starting point and Father John’s team made a core committee together with Father Alex Joseph, provincial of Franciscans, and built up a relationship with the people.

“We took immediate steps to make arrangements for medical help that they immediately needed, with the help of 12 Mother Teresa Sisters (Missionaries of Charity) and a few of our students,” said Father John.

By this, Father John’s team made an entry into affected families by gaining their trust.

Following days, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India people visited the place and had a meeting with the Conference of Religious India (CRI), a forum of various religious congregations.

Full report at:

http://mattersindia.com/2020/03/delhi-archbishop-visits-riot-affected-families/

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“Visit My Masjid” Programme gets a warm response in Tamil Nadu

by Syed Ali Mujtaba

March 3, 2020

Chennai March 3, 2020: In wake of discretion of mosques and killing of ‘Imam’ at the recent riots in Delhi, some Muslims in ‘Vaniyambadi,’ a town about 200 km from Chennai, organized a ‘Visit My Masjid’ programme at Masjid-e-Khaderpet on Sunday March 1, 2020.

This was done to strengthen inter-faith relations and build a constituency of peace and communal harmony among the people of different faiths in Vaniyambadi, one of the hubs of leather exports at Tirupattur District in Tamil Nadu.

It was for the first time a mosque’s door was opened to people belonging to different faiths. More than 400 non-Muslim brothers and sisters visited Masjid-e-Khaderpet under the “Visit My Masjid” programme.

They were curious non-Muslims visitors from all walks of life such as; students, professionals, politicians and businessmen etc. They were welcomed with open arms by the volunteers, trustees and committee members of the Khaderpet mosque.

They were taken to the different portions of the mosque and volunteers explained to them about the rituals and concepts of Islam. The explanation started with the water tank (Hauz) where the visitors were told about the way a Muslim perform ‘Wuzhu’ (ablution) before saying the prayers. This was to convey the message of importance of cleanliness in Islam.

Some visitors showed great interest in learning the way of performing the ‘Wuzhu’ and few tried to clean their hands and legs, nose and mouth in the Islamic way of ablution.

The visitors were them taken to the place from where the ‘Azhan’ call for prayer, was given. The Arabic words of ‘Azhan’ were translated and its meaning was explained to the guests.

This was followed by the explanation on the timings and names of daily five time prayers. They were also explained why the timings vary in hours. The guests were then taken to the prayer hall of the mosque. They were explained about the architectural features of the prayer hall like ‘Mihrab’, ‘Minbar’ etc.

They were explained about the ways of prayers in the mosque are performed. How lining up or ‘Saf Bandi’ in prayer is being done. How “Khutba” or sermon in congregation prayers like on Friday prayers is made. The visitors were also told about the importance of “Imam” in leading the prayers.

Placards were at display in few places of the mosque to help the visitors understand the concepts of Islam and the way Muslim pray in a mosque to add clarity to ‘Visit My Masjid’ programme.

The visitors were then taken to nearby the graveyard or ‘Qabrastan.’ They were explained about the way funeral prayer is performed and how burial is done. The visitors were also explained about the concept of ‘Aaqirath’ or life after death in Islam.

They visitors very much appreciated the “Visit My Masjid” programme. They were impressed by the way they were welcomed and treated in the mosque. They gave their feedback in a form and also recorded their experience on video camera about their enhanced knowledge and understanding about Islam and its teachings.

Full report at:

https://countercurrents.org/2020/03/visit-my-masjid-programme-gets-a-warm-response-in-tamil-nadu

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Rajinikanth interacts with his outfit, says will help ‘Muslims meet Modi, Shah over CAA’

by Janardhan Koushik

March 5, 2020

Amid speculations that he would indicate a timeline to float his political party, actor Rajinikanth met the district secretaries of Rajini Makkal Mandram (Rajini People’s Form), the launchpad to his proposed outfit, at the Raghavendra Mandapam in Chennai on Thursday.

The meeting began around 10:30 am. Though only the district secretaries had been invited for the meeting, RMM functionaries and the superstar’s fans gathered in huge numbers outside the venue.

Afterwards, Rajinikanth addressed reporters at his residence in Poes Garden. The actor said while the meeting went smoothly, he was disappointed with one thing, which he would reveal later. “I met the district secretaries after a year. They had a lot of questions and I answered them all. We shared a lot of things, they are satisfied with the discussions. I, however, am not satisfied with one thing. I was disappointed, but I won’t be able to share what it is now. I will explain that later,” Rajinikanth said.

When asked about his meetings with leaders of various Muslim outfits, Rajinikanth said it was a pleasant experience, and he was ready to help them meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah over the new citizenship law.

“Brotherhood, peace, and love should prevail in this country and I am ready to do anything for that. I requested the religious leaders to discuss the changes they want in the CAA and NPR among themselves, and then seek an appointment with the Home Minister and the PM. I informed them I will try to help them in this as much as possible,” he added.

When asked if he would join hands with fellow actor Kamal Haasan ahead of the 2021 state elections, Rajinikanth also said “only time will tell”.

According to sources, Rajinikanth asked the secretaries’ opinions on the possibility of conducting a public rally in some districts he had in mind. He was also slightly disappointed about the performance of certain district secretaries, who were given the task of appointing more booth-level committees across the state.

The secretaries were asked not to talk on things discussed in the meeting with the media. They have also been warned that ‘all of their activities will be closely monitored by the high command and if anyone is found acting against the principles of the forum, they will be sacked’.

After the meeting, the district secretaries addressed the media jointly and said the actor will make the party announcement soon.  “Thalaivar briefed us about various things we need to do before the party launch. He was keen on knowing the mood of the people, and we have explained to him about the situation in each district. Thalaivar is well aware that he has only 12 months (for the elections), so he will make the decisions accordingly. One thing is sure, he has come to politics to do good things for the people of Tamil Nadu. We cannot comment further on this meeting, Thalaivar will announce everything soon,” a forum member said.

Outside the venue was 62-year-old Anbazhagan, who sells items like key chains and photo frames and is an ardent Rajini fan. He said he is present wherever Rajinikanth makes public appearances in the city.

“Through newspapers and other sources, I know where Thalaivar will come, so I try to settle in that area a few hours before he arrives. I was a fan of MGR till his death and after that, I started to admire Rajinikanth. He is an honest man, his spiritual politics will also follow the path of honesty. If there is one thing I would like to say to him, it is ‘don’t join anyone, including friend Kamal Haasan’. Thalaivar vazhi epodhumey thani vazhi than (Thalaivar’s path is always a separate path),” Anbazhagan said.

The last time Rajinikanth met office bearers of RMM was in May 2018, a year after he announced he would enter active politics. Terming his brand of politics ‘spiritual’, Rajinikanth said his party would contest all the 234 constituencies in the 2021 assembly elections.

In October 2018, during his meeting with the RMM functionaries, Rajinikanth said 90 per cent of the work involved in launching the party was done, and he would announce the date soon.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/rajinikanth-meets-his-followers-says-will-help-muslim-outfits-meet-with-modi-and-shah-6301013/

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Will announce details of trust to build mosque in Ayodhya after Holi: Sunni Waqf Board

March 5, 2020

Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board on Thursday said it would announce sometime after Holi the details of the planned trust for the construction of a mosque in Ayodhya.

Waqf Board chairman Zufar Farooqui told this to reporters after a meeting of the board in which, he said, the issue of the formation of the proposed trust was not discussed today.

“The issue of the proposed trust for the construction of a mosque as well as an Indo-Islamic research centre, a hospital and a library on the five-acre plot allotted following the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict was not on the agenda of the meeting today,” said Farooqui.

He said the meeting discussed other issues related to the Waqf and action taken on them.

“Details about the trust and its members will be announced through a press conference after Holi,” he said.

Holi falls next week on Tuesday, March 10.

The Waqf Board, after its last meeting on February 24, in which it had decided to accept the five-acre land given by the state government for building a mosque in Ayodhya, had also said it would soon set up a trust for the construction of the mosque.

The Board had also decided to build an Indo-Islamic research centre, a public library, a charitable hospital and other useful facilities on the land besides the mosque.

In a historic verdict in November on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the construction of a temple. It had also ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for building a mosque within Ayodhya.

In 1992, the 16th century Babri mosque that stood on the disputed site in Ayodhya was demolished by karsevaks, claiming that originally there was a Ram temple at the spot.

Soon after last year’s verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute, there were suggestions that the Sunni board should not accept the plot.

There were also suggestions that instead of a mosque to replace the demolished Babri Masjid, the Muslim community should build a public facility like a hospital there.

Based on the SC verdict, the Centre had asked the Uttar Pradesh government to allot five acres of land to the Sunni Waqf Board. The UP Cabinet made the allotment after its meeting of February 5.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/ayodhya-mosque-holi-sunni-waqf-board-6300851/

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Special flights between India and Iran to evacuate citizens start Friday

Mar 05, 2020

Iran has announced special flights to evacuate its citizens stranded in India after regular commercial flights between the two countries were suspended due to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

News agency ANI quoted an Iranian embassy official to say that an empty flight will arrive in Delhi tomorrow to fly back Iranian nationals to Tehran, Iran’s capital. The official said another flight will arrive on Saturday to carry Indian equipment to Iran.

“Iran will send an empty flight to India (Delhi) tomorrow to take back the Iranian nationals from India to Tehran & one more flight will come to India a day after tomorrow to carry Indian equipment to Iran for stranded Indian nationals,” ANI said.

Several Indians including students, pilgrims and fishermen are stranded since a sharp escalation in the cases of coronavirus in Iran. A total of 107 people have succumbed to the disease there so far.

The Indian government said a team of medical professionals had reached Iran to carry out tests for the infection on the stranded Indians and those found uninfected will soon be evacuated using normal aviation channels. A date for evacuation was, however, not specified in the briefing held by the ministry of external affairs on Thursday.

The Iranian embassy official quoted by ANI said about 2000 Indians were stranded in Iran and their evacuation was incumbent on “proper approval” of the Indian authority.

“From tomorrow, special flights will start between Iran and India for the stranded passengers. Over 2000 Indians are stranded in Iran. We can send them back to India only after proper approval of Indian authority,” the agency quote of the official said.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had tweeted earlier in the day saying the government hoped to establish the first clinic at Qom in Iran to screen Indians for coronavirus by Thursday evening and the screening process, he said, will start immediately after the setup.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/special-flights-between-india-and-iran-to-evacuate-citizens-start-friday/story-6EVcdAGMomaPvZJYuHC8AO.html

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More cops on Coimbatore roads as Hindu, Muslim men attacked

Mar 6, 2020

COIMBATORE: Security has been beefed up in Coimbatore after three incidents reported since Wednesday night — district secretary of a Hindu outfit was attacked at Podanur, a kerosene bomb was hurled at a mosque in Ganapathy and an autorickshaw driver, a Muslim, was attcked at CMCH.

Hidayathul Sunnath Jamath at Vedambal Nagar in Ganapathy had come under attack around 1am on Thursday, police sources said. “The bomb did not go off. People who were sleeping inside the mosque found the broken bottle and wick and alerted the Saravanampatti police,” a police officer told TOI.

On Wednesday night, Hindu Munnani (HM) district secretary M Anand, 33, of Bazaar Street at Podanur was attacked when he was returning home on his motorcycle after attending the pro-CAA dharna held at Gandhipuram. “When he reached the flyover on Nanjundapuram-Podanur Road, men on two motorcycles attacked him with an iron rod,” the officer said. He was rushed to the Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital (CMCH), where he was given first aid. The Podanur police have registered a case and have formed three special teams to arrest the attackers.

Around 10.30am, members of several Hindu outfits who had gathered at CMCH, attacked Mohammed Khani, an autorickshaw driver. Police saved him from the attackers. Khani, who suffered injuries to his head, was admitted to a private hospital. Members of the Tamil Nadu Meter Auto Association petitioned Coimbatore police commissioner on Thursday afternoon demanding action against those who attacked Khani.

In view of the incidents, additional director general of police Jayanth Murali and ADGP Shankar Jiwal conducted a meeting with senior police officers. As many as 1,500 cops and rapid action force (RAF) personnel have been deployed in Coimbatore to maintain law and order, police commissioner Sumit Sharan said.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/more-cops-on-coimbatore-roads-as-hindu-muslim-men-attacked/articleshow/74504155.cms

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In response to unprovoked ceasefire violations, Army resorted to artillery firing on Pak posts in February

Mar 5, 2020

NEW DELHI: The Indian Army resorted to artillery firing on key posts of the Pakistani military across the Line of Control as part of punitive retaliation to unprovoked ceasefire violations, sources said on Thursday.

The artillery was fired on Pakistani posts in the Tangdhar and Poonch sectors on February 24 and 25, the sources said.

India has adopted a tit-for-tat posture in replying to ceasefire violations by Pakistan, officials said.

There has been a rise in ceasefire by Pakistan violations since the abrogation of special provisions of Article 370 in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in August last year.

This year alone there were a total of 646 incidents of ceasefire violations along the Indo-Pakistan International Border (IB) as well as the Line of Control (LoC) between January 1 and February 23, Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik said on Wednesday.

"There have been 27 encounters with terrorists in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) since August 5 last year to February 23 this year. Forty five terrorists were neutralised and seven security force personnel were also martyred," the minister stated.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/in-response-to-unprovoked-ceasefire-violations-army-resorted-to-artillery-firing-on-pak-posts-in-february/articleshow/74499965.cms

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India hits out at Erdogan, British minister for ‘irresponsible’ comments over Delhi riots

March 5, 2020

Days after Turkish president criticised Delhi riots, India Thursday hit out at Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying his comments were “factually inaccurate” and driven by “political agenda”. External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, while addressing a press conference in the national capital Thursday, said India had made a strong demarche on the matter with the Turkish Ambassador in Delhi on Tuesday.

“We do not expect such irresponsible statements from a Head of State,” Kumar was quoted as saying by PTI.

Last week, the Turkish president had severely criticised India for the communal clashes in Delhi and even went on to call them “massacres of Muslims”.

On being asked UK’s junior foreign minister Nigel Adams’ comment on Delhi violence, Raveesh Kumar said the situation in the capital is fast returning to normal and that law enforcement agencies are doing their best to restore confidence and ensure that law and order is maintained.

“Prime Minister has appealed for peace and brotherhood. Senior officials have visited the place of violence, peace committees have been formed and other steps have been taken in this direction,” he added.

In response to an urgent question on “Recent Violence in India” tabled by Pakistani-origin Opposition Labour Party MP Khalid Mahmood in the House of Commons on Tuesday, UK’s Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Nigel Adams had said, “The UK government also have concerns about the potential impact of the legislation (CAA).”

Earlier today, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei also said that the Indian government should confront extremist Hindus and stop the ‘massacre’ of Muslims.

“The hearts of Muslims all over the world are grieving over the massacre of Muslims in India. The govt of India should confront extremist Hindus & their parties & stop the massacre of Muslims in order to prevent India’s isolation from the world of Islam,” Khamenei tweeted.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-hits-out-at-turkish-president-british-minister-for-irresponsible-comments-over-delhi-riots-6301242/

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Pakistan

 

Aurat March core body defends bodily rights, presents manifesto

March 06, 2020

LAHORE: The Aurat March manifesto was launched formally on Thursday at the Lahore Press Club. The manifesto revolves around ‘Khud Mukhtari’ or the independence of women.

The 15-point manifesto demanded an end to the IMF-sponsored economic policies and budget cuts as well as immediate control of inflation of basic foods, whose burden was felt by working-class women as well as by gender and sexual minorities. It demanded a minimum of Rs40,000 fixed wages for workers.

Likewise, they spoke about bodily rights, especially in the context of the ongoing controversy regarding one of the slogans of Aurat March. The committee explained that demanding bodily rights was a basic human right, regardless of age. It extended to children as well, and was especially important to think of with regards to the widespread incidents of child sexual abuse and murder, all over the country.

Some reporters challenged the slogan and said that the march had been banned, to which the core committee explained that the march was not banned as per court clear directives, as this was their right.

There was also some objections relayed to the committee regarding their slogan ‘mera jism meri marzi’ (my body, my right). An argument ensued following which women activists began chanting the slogan loudly, especially as they were being pushed to admit whether this slogan was part of their manifesto or not.

Farida Shaheed said it was obvious that those who proudly claimed they were anti-Aurat March did not even understand what the slogan meant.

At one point when journalists’ arguments began growing louder, she asked them, “Who has a right over your bodies?”

There was no reply. “Out of 15 points of the manifesto, they found only one to talk about,” said Ms Shaheed.

“They seem to be quite insecure and afraid about this side of the conversation. When you talk about human rights, we are referring to a person, and his or her body,” she said.

“We speak of rape cases and sexual harassment even of little girls, yet no one thinks of all that.”

Another core body member Neelum Hussain said that when demands challenge the status quo, there is always fear. “Journalism is male dominated and so they did not want to listen to our demand.”

Activists also mentioned double standards of society, saying that when Khadim Rizvi was swearing on TV, and when there was degradation of women, no one rose against that.

Other points of the manifesto demanded that safe and equal workplaces be provided through criminalisation of discrimination, defamation laws be decriminalized, domestic violence be criminalised in all territories, anti-harassment laws and sexual assault laws be amended to and include all genders to be complainants, concrete actions be taken to curb child sexual abuse and exploitation, campuses be demilitarised and surveillance of students be ceased, justice for all the families of those who have been victims of enforced disappearances, Kashmiris’ right to self-determination be upheld, community-led truth and reconciliation commissions be made to deal with violence by state and non-state actors, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2017 be implemented, all laws impinging on civic freedoms be repealed, and the preservation of, and transparency from big corporations on the use of, our natural resources. A representative of the core committee told Dawn: “After the dismissal of the Lahore High Court petition, it has been determined that we are a peaceful and legitimate march.”

“We are however still waiting for the city administration to give us our NOC in accordance with our Constitutional rights.”

Prominent representatives of the transgender community were also present.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1538745/aurat-march-core-body-defends-bodily-rights-presents-manifesto

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No Maulana, politician or anchor can stop Aurat March: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

March 6, 2020

LAHORE: Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto has pledged that the PPP will fully support the Aurat March and said no maulana, politician and anchorperson can stop women from holding the march.

Speaking at a Punjab PPP women convention in Lahore on Thursday, he said Benazir Bhutto had always fought against terrorism with courage. The people who say that women would not march should hear loud and clear that they will march and no one can stop them. This path was shown by Benazir Bhutto. The PPP is standing shoulder to shoulder with women of this country and we demand the government provide protection to each and every march and the people threatening women be arrested and cases registered against them. Women are not begging rather they are seeking their constitutional rights. This is Pakistan of Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan of every woman the country. This is not a Pakistan for the conservatives. The PPP is a party of prosperity for the people of Pakistan. Women know the best about the economy of the country because they manage homes. Women will take the PPP’s message of prosperity to every nook and corner of this country.

Bilawal said the PPP has always raised voice for women empowerment and it will continue supporting women n future as well. “I regard every Pakistani woman, every Pakistani mother as my mother because every son wants to serve his mother,” he said.

He said that Benazir Bhutto's name comes to mind whenever the rights of women are discussed in Pakistan. “Islam gives rights to women and Pakistan People’s Party is the most prominent party with regards to women's rights. Our 1973 Constitution gives equal rights to the women of Pakistan. We want equal rights for labourers, growers and women,” he said, adding the PPP has always raised voice for women rights.

Highlighting the steps taken by the Pakistan People’s Party for women welfare, Bilawal said the PPP has given rights to women as it is the only party which increased quota for women in every field.

The PPP gave Pakistan the first woman prime minister in the history of Muslim world whereas the first woman judge was also appointed by the PPP. Land was given to women by the PPP and a Lady Health Workers project was introduced by it as well.

Moreover, he said projects like Benazir Income Support Programme was also initiated by the PPP that was hailed by the world. BISP has brought about economic revolution for women.

The people who oppose this programme do not want to spend money on women. This is the reason they oppose this programme. This programme was replicated in the other countries of the world. The PML-N and the PTI wanted to end this programme because they do not want women to prosper. There were other programmes like Waseela-e-Taleem, Waseela-e-Sehat under the BISP. Now Imran Khan has changed the name of this programme and made it Ehsaas Programme.

Full report at:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/624324-no-maulana-politician-or-anchor-can-stop-aurat-march-bilawal

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Minister Fawad invites ulema to briefing on scientific moon-sighting methods

Jamal Shahid

March 06, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry and moderate scholar Tahir Ashrafi on Thursday invited ulema for an interactive briefing on scientific means of sighting the moon.

“This is nothing personal but a national issue. We appreciate ulema who have approved the scientific method. We urge members rejecting modern methods of moon-sighting to give us a chance to explain how the scientific approach works,” Mr Chaudhry said at a press briefing.

He said the Ramazan moon would be sighted nationwide on April 24, adding: “The month of Ramazan will start from April 25.”

He said: “Stubbornness will create divisions. Science is advancing with leaps and bounds. It is the duty of the Council of Islamic Ideology to resolve this dispute representing futuristic thinking.”

Mr Chaudhry insisted that the ministry would only make recommendations to facilitate the government and the nation would celebrate Eid together on one day.

Last year, the ministry launched Pakistan’s first ever moon-sighting website. This was followed by the launch of an application called Ruet that would share real-time data regarding the moon.

Mr Chaudhry also gave examples of nine Islamic countries, including Turkey, Brunei and Malaysia, which use scientific methods to spot the moon.

“The United Arab Emirates is shifting to science-based methods as well and Saudi Arabia has been using science-based announcements for religious holidays,” he said, adding more than 60 observatories will sight the moon over Pakistan.

The ministry had arranged a meeting of the scientific community on advanced moon-sighting methods earlier, which Mufti Muneebur Rehman and Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai did not attend.

Mr Ashrafi urged Mr Rehman and Mr Popalzai to give science a chance, particularly when they also use scientific devices to sight the moon.

He urged the Ministry of Religious Affairs and all schools of thought to settle the issue of celebrating religious holidays on varying dates.

It was announced that Mr Chaudhry will also brief the parliamentary committee on religious affairs in this regard.

“Eid and other religious festivals should be a reason for joy and happiness, not divisions,” he said.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1538700/minister-fawad-invites-ulema-to-briefing-on-scientific-moon-sighting-methods

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Two medical camps at Kartapur entry for coronavirus screening

Mar 5, 2020

AMRITSAR: Pakistan government claims to have set up two medical camps each on Indian and Pakistan side of entry and exit points of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur as a preventive measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.

While talking to TOI, chairman of Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Aamer Ahmad informed that in wake of the spread of coronavirus, they had set up two medical camps to screen the pilgrims arriving to pay obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib both from Indian as well as the Pakistani side.

“We have set up two camps , one each at the Indian and Pakistan side of entrance to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. The medical staff is equipped with thermal scanners and all the yatree’s are screened before entering the gurdwara complex” said Ahmad.

He further informed that the sanctum sanctorum of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib and other places including staircase, which were frequented by pilgrims ,including washrooms, were regularly cleaned with antiseptics .

“All possible measures were being taken under the standard operating procedure of ministry of health with active cooperation of all the departments entrusted with the management of complex” said the ETPB chairman.

According to Pak media reports, Pakistan’s state minister of health has confirmed 6 cases of COVID-19.

Deputy commissioner Gurdaspur Muhammad Ishfaq informed that they had deployed two doctors at Integrated Check Post (ICP), Dera Baba Nanak for screening of the pilgrims .

“They have infrared thermometers, we are fully prepared for any situation “ said Ishfaq, adding that so far no suspected coronavirus case had been reported from the district. He said the administration was contemplating on deploying two more doctors at ICP.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/two-medical-camps-at-kartapur-entry-for-coronavirus-screening/articleshow/74499964.cms

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Pakistan's religious leaders condemn brutal murder of young Christian

March 6, 2020

Outrage and condemnation are running high in Pakistan’s Christian communities following the brutal murder of a 22-year old young Christian in Kasur district, in Punjab Province.

Saleem Masih was attacked whilst taking a bath in a tube-well pool belonging to an influential local Muslim landlord.  Accusing him of polluting the pool water, his killers tortured him brutally causing multiple fractures and internal and external injuries all over his body. 

The murderers kept him for about three days before returning the body to his family.  Taken to a hospital in Lahore Saleem succumbed to death on 28 February after three agonising days.

Several Christian and Muslim religious leaders met in Lahore on Wednesday to address the issue and plan their action, the Vatican’s Fides news agency reported.

At the meeting, chaired by Anglican Bishop Azad Marshal Raiwind of the Church of Pakistan, were present, among others, Father Francis Nadeem OFM Cap, Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism (NCIDE) of Pakistan’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC), Pastor Emmanuel Khokhar and Islamic leader Muhammad Asim Makhdoom.

All present "expressed deep regret" over the episode, a sign of widespread intolerance towards Christians, and also over the inaction of the police to prevent the crime and releasing the perpetrators soon after.

“It is the state's responsibility to provide security to all citizens of the country without any kind of discrimination. All citizens, of all religions, are equal, contribute to the development of their beloved nation and deserve equal rights,” Fr Nadeem told Fides.  “We are a nation and live under a single Constitution and a single flag. The state must enforce these fundamental principles," he added.

Bishop Azad Marshal declared he will file a “First Information Report against the criminals and will not step back until the perpetrators receive the appropriate punishment”.

The assembly of religious leaders expressed While expressing pain and bitterness at the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, the assembly of religious leaders also recalled the sufferings of Muslims in India, inviting both countries to avoid discriminatory laws and behaviour and respect the "principle of citizenship".

Full report at:

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/world/news/2020-03/pakistan-christian-muslim-leaders-saleem-murder-outrage.html

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TV channel suspends Khalilur Rehman Qamar’s contract

March 6, 2020

Geo Entertainment on Thursday announced that they had suspended their contract with writer Khalilur Rehman Qamar after he swore at rights activist Marvi Sirmed two days ago on live television, saying the deal would remain suspended until Qamar apologised.

Qamar, who is working with other TV channels as well, is also involved in a movie project that features renowned actors Mehwish Hayat and Humayun Saeed and is being shot these days.

“Geo believes in exchange of ideas and promoting the culture of Live and Let live (Geo our Jeenay do) we believe that everyone has the right to express their opinions and the culture of healthy debate should be encouraged,” a statement from the channel read.

The statement further said such debates should be held in the norms of decency and with respect. “He [Qamar] not only used abusive language against a woman but also refused to accept his mistake and apologise for it,” read the statement.

“GEO has always aimed to create an enabling environment for thought and debate even if that includes criticism on the organisation itself. GEO Aur Jeenay Do.”

Following Geo’s announcement, Qamar responded by saying that he will not apologise for his comments and assured his followers that he will “not work with this institution for my life to come”.

On Wednesday, the topic of discussion on the news channel was none other than Aurat March and Qamar expressed his disdain towards the kind of slogans that are raised during the yearly protest.

In response to a question by the host, Qamar started off by saying, “When the court has denied the usage of slogans like ‘Mera jism, meri marzi’ (My body, my choice), then it hurts me deeply when figures like Marvi Sirmed use these slogans.”

As soon as he said this, Sirmed interrupted his response by reiterating the same slogan over and over again. This left Qamar baffled and he started yelling at her in a demeaning manner.

“Tere jism men hai kya? (What is in your body) Don’t talk in between. Thookta nahi hai koi tere jism pe (No one would even spit on your body). Shut up you b****. Beech men nahi bolo (Don’t talk in between),” he said.

The host, a woman herself, chimed in asking Sirmed to stay quiet, without calling out Qamar for his vulgar use of language.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/05/tv-channel-suspends-khalilur-rehman-qamars-contract/

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Arab World

 

Saudi Arabia closes Grand Mosque, Prophet’s Mosque between night and morning prayers

March 05, 2020

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday that the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah will close an hour after the Isha prayer and will open an hour before Fajr (dawn) prayers each day.

It is the latest precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom suspended all Umrah pilgrimages on Wednesday over coronavirus fears and authorities have cleared out the Grand Mosque in preparation for its sterilization, following the recent suspension of Umrah visits.

A Saudi official said the deep-cleaning operation is a “temporary preventive measure” that is “unprecedented.” Upper floors remain open for prayers, he added. Videos posted online on Thursday showed a deserted mataf, the area where pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba.

The areas surrounding the Kaaba where pilgrims walk around it seven times and between the hills of Safa and Marwah where they perform a ritual called Sa’ee will remain closed until the Umrah ban is lifted. Prayers will be performed inside the Grand Mosque.

Bringing food and drink into the mosques is now prohibited and access to Zamzam containers will temporarily be stopped.

The Sacred Chamber in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah which houses the graves of Prophet Muhammad and his two companions, Abu Bakr Siddiq and Omar ibn Al-Khattab, will also be closed off to worshippers.

The changes at the Two Holy Mosques came as the Kingdom accused Iran of increasing the global threat from the coronavirus by not properly documenting the arrival and departure of foreign visitors.

The Ministry of Health previously announced five Saudis tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Iran, via Bahrain and Kuwait, without revealing they had been in Iran.

An official source in the Kingdom denounced the irresponsible action of granting Saudi citizens entry to Iran without stamping their passports at a time when there is an outbreak of the virus in the country.

It is proof of Iran’s direct responsibility for growing infection rates and the spread of the virus around the world, the source said. Such behavior poses a serious public-health threat to the global community, undermines international containment efforts, and puts communities at greater risk,

he added.

The official urged all Saudis who have visited Iran recently to call the Ministry of Health’s toll-free number (937) so that health precautions can be taken. Saudis currently in Iran were urged to report their visit immediately upon return.

Citizens who voluntarily report their visits to Iran within 48 hours of this announcement will not be subject to the Travel Documents Law and related regulations, the official said. The priority is to ensure the health and safety of citizens who have visited Iran, and their families, by removing the threat of legal action so that they take advantage of safety measures, he added.

The official reiterated that Saudi citizens should not travel to Iran for any reason, and anyone who ignores this faces serious legal repercussions. He called on Iranian authorities to disclose the identities of Saudi nationals who have illegally visited Iran since Feb. 1, and added that they are fully responsible for all Saudis who fail to report their visits and become infected in Iran.

In another development, seven Palestinians working at a hotel in Bethlehem where Greek tourists were staying have tested positive for the coronavirus. The government has declared a two-week ban on tourists.

Italy has closed all schools for at least 10 days, and Iran is closing educational institutions until April. California has declared a state of emergency after its first coronavirus death, and a cruise ship with 3,500 people on board is being held

off its coast.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1637341/saudi-arabia

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No normal ties with Turkey as long as Erdogan supports terrorists: Assad

05 March 2020

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has described the chances of normal diplomatic relations with neighboring Turkey as remote, stressing that such an ideal cannot be achieved as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports Takfiri militant groups and is under the heavy influence of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.

“Erdogan is fighting alongside terrorists (in Syria) on the basis of his Brotherhood ideology. Therefore, he himself is unable to tell Turks why he is sending his army to fight in Syria. The single reason is the Muslim Brotherhood. It has nothing to do with Turkish national interests,” Assad said in an exclusive interview with Russia's state-owned Rossiya 24 television news network broadcast on Thursday.

He described disputes between Syria and Turkey as "illogical," stressing that both nations have fraternal relations and share common interests.

“What hostile action – big or small – have Syrian people committed against the Turkish nation during the war or even before the war? There is no such a thing. There are Syrian-Turkish marriages, there are families, there are vital common interests. This mutual cultural interaction is historically determined. It is illogical that we have some serious disagreement between our countries,” the Syrian president pointed out.

Assad further noted that there would be no rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara as long as “Erdogan continues to support terrorists, adding, "He has to stop supporting terrorism, at which point things can return to normal because there is no hostility between the two nations.”

The Syrian leader then sharply criticized the Muslim Brotherhood, stating that its supporters “have no political, social, or religious ethics.  For them, religion is not meant for the prevalence of virtue but rather violence. Erdogan is a member of such an opportunistic cult. Hence, it suits him to do what he has already done. Lack of transparency and never-ending travesty are part of their (Muslim Brotherhood supporters') nature.”

Assad went on to say that the Syrian society is now more coherent and integrated than ever.

“There is a simple reason for it. War is a very important lesson to any society, a lesson that extremism is destructive and rejection of others is dangerous.  As a result, segments within our society came together.

“You see all strata of the Syrian society, without exception, in government-controlled areas.  Whereas in terrorist-held regions, they are not looking for a single walk of life but rather the radical one. This is why only people at the far end of extremism could live together, and large numbers of people have fled terrorist-controlled areas to government-held regions,” he said.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Assad described restoration of public services as the first step that the Damascus government takes in liberated areas in order to facilitate the repatriation of displaced locals.

“The second, which is equally important, is the reconstruction of schools so that they can receive students,” he said.

The Syrian president also touched on his country’s relations with the Arab world.

“Most Arab countries have maintained their relations with Syria, but not publicly, because they fear pressures.  These countries have expressed their support for Syria and hoped we defeat terrorism. However, Western pressures and US strain in particular were so severe on these countries that they opted to keep away and not to open their embassies in Syria, particularly the [Persian] Gulf states,” Assad commented.

“Europe ceased to exist after the US invasion of Iraq back in 2003. Europe has surrendered completely to the United States, and its role has been reduced to implementing what the US administration crafts. That is why we do not waste our time talking about a European role and policy,” he underscored.

Assad finally pointed to long-established Russo-Syrian relations, and the presence of Russian military forces in Syria, saying, “The presence of Russian military forces in Syria is not simply aimed at fighting terrorism. What’s more, it is meant to create an international political balance in the UN Security Council, as well as a military balance in different arenas."

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620211/No-normal-ties-with-Turkey-as-long-as-Erdogan-supports-terrorists,-Syria%E2%80%99s-Assad-says

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Syrian Army Recaptures 3 Villages in Idlib

Mar 05, 2020

The Arabic-language al-Mayadeen news channel reported on Wednesday night that the army troops repulsed the terrorists’ attacks in the Northern parts of Saraqib and liberated the village of Afes.

The village along with several other regions, including Saraqib, had collapsed earlier this week during the terrorists’ heavy offensives but the Syrian army won back control of the entire region on Sunday.

The Army on Wednesday recaptured two other villages in the Eastern and Southern parts of Idlib, killing 28 terrorists, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

In a relevant development on Wednesday, the Syrian army repelled an offensive launched by al-Nusra Front and Ajnad al-Caucasus terrorist groups, supported by Turkey, to occupy the strategic town of Saraqib, killing 150 militants.

The Arabic-language service of Sputnik news agency quoted a source in the Syrian army Division 25 as saying that the two terrorist groups launched extensive attacks on Army-controlled Saraqib on Wednesday.

He added that clashes between the two sides lasted until afternoon, but the terrorists failed to capture any position or advance in the battlefield.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981215000612

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Lebanon state prosecutor suspends order to freeze assets of 20 local banks

6 March 2020

Lebanon’s state prosecutor suspended an order on Thursday to freeze the assets of 20 local banks, warning it would plunge the country and its financial sector into chaos, according to a copy of the decision seen by Reuters.

Local lenders are at the heart of a financial crisis crippling Lebanon as the clock runs down on its looming debt maturities, including a $1.2 billion Eurobond due on March 9.

The government will meet on Saturday to take a decision, after Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said a majority of MPs oppose paying, even if that leads to default. The comments compounded doubts over whether the heavily indebted state will meet the repayment.

The banks, which for years funneled deposits to the state, hold the bulk of the sovereign debt and have been in discord with political powers over the March repayment.

Financial prosecutor Ali Ibrahim questioned bank chairmen this week over transfers abroad and recent sales of Eurobonds to foreign funds. Ibrahim issued an order on Thursday to freeze the assets of 20 Lebanese banks, their top bosses and boards as part of a probe, state media and judicial sources.

“Such a move would send the country, as well as its monetary, financial and economic sectors into chaos,” said a memo by State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, who suspended the assets freeze.

The memo said international financial authorities had intended to halt dealings with Lebanese banks, without elaborating.

A judicial source said the freeze was directed at some of Lebanon’s biggest banks, including Blom Bank, Bank Audi, Byblos Bank, Bank of Beirut and SGBL.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon, which represents the nation’s lenders, could not be reached for immediate comment.

Financial strains came to a head last year as capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against a political elite that has dominated Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war and steered it into crisis.

The crisis is rooted in decades of waste and corruption which landed the country with one of the world’s biggest public debt burdens.

Berri, one of the country’s most influential leaders, blamed banks on Wednesday for diluting the local holding by selling the Eurobonds to foreign investors. Critics say this has weakened Lebanon’s position in talks with foreign bondholders.

Some politicians have turned their criticism to the banking sector as public anger boiled over at the banks, which have severely curbed people’s access to their savings and blocked transfers abroad.

The head of the banking association, Salim Sfeir, has said the restrictions aim to keep Lebanon’s wealth in the country.

Sfeir said on Wednesday the sector was being targeted with rumors and banks had suffered losses to secure liquidity.

Earlier this year, the central bank asked banks to review transfers of funds abroad by politicians and government employees between October and December.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/economy/2020/03/06/Lebanon-state-prosecutor-suspends-order-to-freeze-assets-of-20-local-banks.html

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Coronavirus and protests wreak havoc on Iraq's Shia pilgrimage industry

6 March 2020

Iraqi hotel manager Badr al-Jilawi needs to think for a moment to remember when the last guest checked in to visit the holy Shia Muslim city of Najaf, once a prime destination for millions of pilgrims.

With the coronavirus spreading, authorities have banned foreign pilgrims, paralyzing an industry already crippled by anti-government protests and an economic crisis in Shia Iran, usually the source of five million pilgrims annually.

Check out our dedicated coronavirus site here.

Hotels stand empty in Najaf, home to the Iman Ali shrine, and neighboring Kerbela, site of the Imam Hussein shrine - two of the holiest of the Shia world. Souvenir shops and restaurants are also counting their losses.

“Business has stopped. We haven't had one single visitor since around six months, maybe some five Iraqis came but no foreigner,” he said. “Unemployment has jumped (in Najaf).”

He has laid off all but three of his 40 staff to hold the fort with him in the sparsely lit reception.

In total about 4,000 people working in the hospitality sector have lost their jobs in Najaf as the occupancy rate at the 350 hotels and their 40,000 beds is practically “zero”, said Saib Radhi Abu Ghanem, head of the local hotel and restaurant association.

His last guest came in October when anti-government protests broke out and roads were blocked. News that 500 protesters had been killed scared off many pilgrims from Iran, the Gulf, Pakistan, Lebanon and other countries home to Shias.

More unemployment could fuel the protests, which are driven by complaints by many Iraqis about corruption, mismanagement and the lack of basic services despite Iraq's oil wealth.

Iraqi pilgrims still come but often only for day trips, benefitting the economy little. Many shops in the narrow streets clustered around the shrine have closed and those still open have little to do.

“Najaf has always been a harbor for pilgrims but now I have very little work,” said Emar Saadoun, a tailor selling religious garments.

He has been running his one-room shop for 40 years but business has been rarely as bad as now, not even under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, toppled by the 2003 US-led invasion, who used to suppress Shias.

Crisis

Tourism is a key industry not just in Najaf but also in Kerbela, Baghdad and Samarra, home to other Shia places of worshipping.

More than ten million arrived annually alone in Najaf, half of them Iranians, and hotels were usually booked at this time of the year when some Gulf countries have schools breaks, said Abu Ghanem.

Pilgrimage tourism has been in trouble for years due to an economic crisis in Iran, where the currency crashed in 2018 due to US sanctions.

The crisis is worsened by a political void in Iraq. Caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who quit in November over the unrest, walked away on Monday, a day after his designated successor, Mohammed Allawi, also left amid political infighting.

“This is a second coronavirus, that there is no state, no prime minister,” said Jilawi. “I have monthly costs of $10,000 for electricity, taxes, water. We should get waivers.”

One hotel still has business, the five-star Qasr Aldur where some 120 of its 420 rooms are occupied by Kuwaiti pilgrims, who stay here until their embassy has figured out how to bring them back. A doctor keeps checking on them.

“There are no flights anymore so we don't know when we can go home,” said Mohamed Jasser, a Kuwaiti pilgrim.

Once they are gone the hotel owner, Nuri Nur, also thinks of closing up and send his 60 mask-wearing staff home.

“I might close in a week or so,” said Nur.

Authorities check on health of non-resident travelers at roadblocks to Najaf and Kerbala, and the latter has canceled Friday prayers for the first time since 2003.

Many pilgrims were still undeterred, with few wearing masks and many kissing the Imam Ali shrine, a Shia tradition.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/06/Coronavirus-and-protests-wreak-havoc-on-Iraq-s-Shia-pilgrimage-industry.html

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At least 15 civilians killed in airstrike on Syrian village

5 March 2020

An airstrike on an opposition-held village in northwestern Syria early Thursday killed at least 15 people, including children, and wounded several others, opposition activists said.

The activists blamed Russian warplanes for the strike on Maaret Musreen village, which is home to thousands of internally displaced people.

The strike comes amid a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria's last remaining rebel stronghold.

The offensive began in early December and has killed hundreds. The fighting has also displaced nearly a million people many of whom fled north toward the border with Turkey.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday's airstrike hit a settlement for internally displaced people, killing 15 including children and women. It said 18 others were wounded.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/At-least-15-civilians-killed-in-airstrike-on-Syrian-village.html

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US Ambassador to UN says only answer on Syria’s Idlib is a ‘complete ceasefire’

5 March 2020

The only answer for the United States regarding Syria is a lasting and durable ceasefire, US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft told Al Arabiya English after visiting the Turkish-Syrian border to observe one of the two remaining UN-authorized border crossings.

“I arrived here because Secretary Pompeo and President Trump thought it was most important that an official was actually in Turkey, and to go to the border. We are very supportive from a humanitarian standpoint, and we obviously would like to have a political solution,” Craft said during her interview from Ankara.

“The only answer for us is a complete ceasefire, a durable ceasefire. The humanitarian aid is just a response, but the real answer is a ceasefire,” Craft added.

The recent push by Syrian regime forces to recapture the province of Idlib has forced nearly one million civilians to flee their homes and prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to open Turkey's border with Greece to refugees and migrants.

Craft said that she would be going back to the Security Council session meeting on Monday to stress for the vital need to keep the remaining border crossings open for much-needed humanitarian aid.

“I think that the importance, going back to the Security Council, is to start on Monday, stressing before we have the meeting in July for the border crossings, the importance and the fact that also we need to make certain that all of the INGOs are registered so that we can have more access within the country,” Craft said.

When asked about the US message for the Syrian people, as well as the Syrian regime, the US Ambassador to the UN reiterated the Trump administration’s policy that only the Syrians will decide their future and leadership.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/03/05/US-Ambassador-to-UN-says-only-answer-on-Syria-s-Idlib-is-a-complete-ceasefire-.html

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Russia, Turkey reach deal on midnight ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib

05 March 2020

The Russian and Turkish presidents say they have come to an agreement on an imminent ceasefire regime in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, where Turkish violations have brought about an unwarranted flare-up of already high levels of violence.

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the remarks at a joint press conference in Moscow on Thursday after three hours of face-to-face talks.

Erdogan told reporters the truce would come into effect at midnight, and Putin said, "I express hope that these agreements will serve as a good basis for a cessation of military activity in the Idlib de-escalation zone.”

The zone and other similar ones were set up across Syria during talks that began in the Kazakh capital of Astana in early 2017 among Turkey, Russia, and Iran focusing on the Arab country .

Turkey was allowed to set up a number observation posts to supposedly contribute to de-escalation efforts. Turkish troops, however, are reported to have ventured outside the areas assigned for the posts and engaged in deadly clashes with Syrian soldiers.

Turkey has also been backing a number of militant groups in Idlib against Damascus in violation of all underway pacification efforts.

Another Syria talks format that took place in the Russian resort city of Sochi allowed Turkey to bring in a small number of troops to man the observation posts. Ankara, though, has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into the province in an unprecedented incursion to back the militants.

Putin said he hoped that the Thursday deal will “stop the suffering of the peaceful population,” while Erdogan claimed, "We will work together to supply aid for the Syrians in need."

Right before the deal was announced, Russia's RIA news agency said Idlib-based militants had resumed shelling the strategic town of Saraqib, where the Russian military police are deployed. The Turkish Defense Ministry also said it had destroyed four tanks, five rocket launchers, and a dozen military vehicles in artillery and airstrikes in the previous 24 hours.

Erdogan, who has been defiant about Turkey’s military actions in Syria, meanwhile, appeared not to rule out any future attacks on Syrian military targets by alleging Ankara retained the right "to respond” to Syrian forces.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620216/Syria-Russia-Turkey-ceasefire-Idlib-Erdogan-Putin

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Turkey rebrands 80,000 terrorists to stop Syria's liberation of Idlib

05 March 2020

As tensions are escalating in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, the last militant bastion in a nine-year war, Turkey is attempting to hold its grip over the flashpoint region through tens of thousands of militants it supports.

Syria, whose large parts were once infested by the foreign-backed militancy and Takfiri terrorism, has managed to liberate almost all of its militant-held cities, towns and villages from the clutches of an array of militant outfits and Takfiri terrorist groups during the past few years.

However, large parts of the Idlib province are still under the grips of dozens of militant and Takfiri terrorist groups, most of which are those that chose the volatile region to hide and concentrate after suffering defeat against government troops elsewhere in the Arab country.

Being a neighbor of Syria to the north, Turkey has for the past years expressed its strong opposition to the legitimate government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and launched a cross-border offensive into the Arab country’s northwest, mostly Idlib and portions of neighboring Aleppo province, under the pretext of clearing a narrow border area, known as the so-called safe zone, from the presence of “anti-Ankara” Kurdish militants.

Syria and Russia, Syria’s close ally in fighting against militants and terrorists, have condemned Turkey’s cross-border offensive. Back in 2018, Moscow and Ankara reached an Iran-brokered deal, known as the Sochi agreement, to set up a de-militarization zone mainly situated in northern Idlib.

However, Turkey is supporting several armed militants, who have been launching attacks on army and civilian targets from the buffer zone, prompting Damascus to launch an ongoing full-scale offensive last year in a bid to flush out all militant and terrorist groups. 

Press TV has just obtained credible information from sources on the ground that the Turkish government is generously offering various kinds of support to roughly 80,000 armed militants in their battles against Syrian government forces and allied fighters from popular defense groups.

The sources, requesting not to be named, said some 38,500 militants are operating under the banner of the so-called National Front for Liberation, which is composed of 15 factions, including the Sham Legion and Ahrar al-Sham outfits.

These militants are scattered in the northern countryside of the provinces of Hama and Latakia as well as the western, northern and southern countryside of Aleppo, and the eastern, northern and southern countryside of Idlib.

Furthermore, the al-Qaeda affiliated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is the dominant militant group in the province, is also among the militant groups backed by Ankara. It was formerly known as al-Nusra Front and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Led by Abu Muhammad al-Julani, it consists of 18,000 militants, according to the data.

Ankara has reportedly provided the HTS with heavy weapons and that the CIA has facilitated the provision.

Turkey also supports the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), whose 22,000 militants are present in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo. The group is commanded by Haitham al-Ofeisi.

Back in early October last year, the so-called National Front for Liberation joined the FSA and their merger was announced at a press conference in the southern Turkish city of Sanliurfa at the time.

The Turkish government calls all these militant groups the so-called armed opposition groups and distinguishes them with Takfiri terrorist groups like Daesh and the like. However, rebranding these militant groups does not alter their terrorist nature and their use of ordinary people as human shields against advancing army forces.

Furthermore, Ankara has even rebranded HTS, a Takfiri terrorist group, as a so-called armed opposition group.

Ali Heydari

@alih6441

روند تحول یه تروریست تکفیری به یه معارض ملایم

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The Turkish government not only continues to support these militant groups but has also boosted its military presence in Syria’s northwest recently to stop Syrian army troops, who have come under Turkey's artillery and rocket fire and airstrikes.

The Turkish military, with support from the FSA, launched two cross-border operations in northern Syria, namely “Euphrates Shield” in August 2016 and “Olive Branch” in January 2018 with the declared aim of eradicating the presence of Kurdish militants and Daesh terrorists near Turkey’s borders.  

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620208/Syria-Turkey-militants-Idlib-Hayat-Tahrir-al-Sham-FSA

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Syria urges intl. community to take action against Turkish aggression

Thursday, 05 March 2020

Syria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates has called on the international community, particularly European countries, to adopt a genuine humanitarian stance vis-à-vis the sufferings of Syrian people, and severely censure the Turkish military onslaught in the northwest of the Arab country.

On Thursday, an unnamed official at the ministry slammed the misleading statements being made by Western statesmen about the humanitarian situation in Idlib province in the wake of the Syrian army's ongoing battle against terrorist groups there, emphasizing that their reckless disregard for crimes being perpetrated by the Takfiris and Turkish forces against local Syrian civilians in the area prove the outrageous level of their hypocrisy and travesty, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported.

SANAEnglishOfficial

@SANAEnOfficial

Syria calls on international community to take sincere humanitarian stance, condemn Turkish regime’s aggressive behavior https://www.sana.sy/en/?p=187437

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The source added that such remarks clearly show that these politicians tend to politicize any humanitarian issue only for the sake of their own interests regardless of the massacre and displacement of Syrians and the deterioration of their living conditions.

Syria reminds those states that the fight against terrorism within its territory is a legitimate right enshrined in the international law and conventions, particularly as those terrorist groups are led by the (so-called) Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance of militant outfits, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council,” the source pointed out.

He noted, “Whilst Western countries, especially Germany and France, are trying to exploit the humanitarian situation in Idlib in order to cease the Syrian army operations against terrorists there, they capitulate to the blackmail of (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan who continues to take advantage of the sufferings of displaced Syrians.”

This comes as Press TV has obtained credible information from sources on the ground that Ankara is generously offering various kinds of support to roughly 80,000 Takfiri militants in their battles against Syrian government forces and allied fighters from popular defense groups.

The sources, requesting not to be named, said some 38,500 extremists are operating under the banner of the so-called National Front for Liberation. The group joined the Turkish-backed so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) on October 4 last year, and their merger was announced at a press conference in the southern Turkish city of Sanliurfa at the time.

The FSA is estimated to have 22,000 members, who are commanded by self-proclaimed Colonel Haitham al-Ofeisi.

Additionally, the al-Qaeda affiliated HTS receives major support from Turkey. The militant coalition is led by Ahmed Hussein al-Shar’a, known by the nom de guerre Abu Mohammad al-Julani, and is believed to consist of 18,000 militants.

On Wednesday, a fight broke out in the Turkish parliament between lawmakers from opposing parties during a tense discussion about Turkey's military campaign in northwestern Syria.

Video images showed dozens of legislators from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party and from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) pushing each other, throwing punches while others try to pull the brawling legislators apart.

The clash started when CHP legislator Engin Ozkoc took the rostrum.

Earlier in the day, Ozkoc called Erdogan "dishonorable, ignoble, low and treacherous."

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620190/Syria-urges-intl.-community-to-take-humanitarian-stance,-slam-Turkish-aggression

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North America

 

'This is not a drill': WHO urges world to take virus more seriously

March 6, 2020 

World health officials have warned that countries are not taking the coronavirus crisis seriously enough, as outbreaks surged across Europe and in the United States where medical workers sounded warnings over a "disturbing" lack of hospital preparedness.

Global markets tumbled again over concerns about the impact on the economy and as countries took more drastic steps to prevent contagion of a disease that has killed over 3,300 people and infected nearly 100,000 in some 85 nations.

Cases soared in Italy, France, Greece, and Iran, while a cruise ship was held offshore in California to test passengers showing symptoms of the disease -- echoing a harrowing episode in Japan several weeks ago that saw hundreds infected on a luxury liner.

The epidemic has wreaked havoc on international business, tourism, sports events, and schools, with almost 300 million students sent home worldwide.

Even religion is affected: The Vatican said Pope Francis may have to change his schedule, tourists have been barred from Bethlehem, and Saudi Arabia emptied Islam's holiest site in Mecca to sterilize it.

China -- where the virus emerged late last year -- still accounts for the majority of cases and deaths, but infections are now rising faster abroad, with South Korea, Iran and Italy major hotspots.

The World Health Organization warned Thursday that a "long list" of countries were not showing "the level of political commitment" needed to "match the level of the threat we all face".

"This is not a drill," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

"This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor."

Tedros called on the heads of government in every country to take charge of the response and "coordinate all sectors", rather than leaving it to health ministries.

What is needed, he said, is "aggressive preparedness."

In the United States, the largest nursing union said a survey of thousands of nurses at hospitals showed "truly disturbing" results.

"They show that a large percentage of our nation's hospitals are unprepared to safely handle COVID-19," said Jane Thomason, a hygiene specialist with the union.

Nurses are working without necessary personal protective equipment and lack education and training for handling the disease, said National Nurses United director Bonnie Castillo.

Countries spend

The US Congress passed an emergency $8.3 billion spending bill to combat the coronavirus on Thursday as the number of cases surged in the country's northwest and deaths reached 12.

More than 180 people are infected in the United States.

But President Donald Trump has downplayed the risk, saying the WHO's conclusion of a 3.4 percent mortality rate was "false".

Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health, estimated the death rate at "somewhere between 0.1 percent and one percent" -- closer to the seasonal flu -- due to a high number of unreported cases.

Passengers on a cruise ship stranded off the coast of San Francisco were confined to their cabins Thursday as tests were conducted to determine if any of the nearly 3,500 guests and crew had contracted the new coronavirus.

Health officials sounded the alarm after two passengers who had been on board during a previous voyage between San Francisco and Mexico later fell ill and one of them died.

The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises, the company that operated the Diamond Princess -- the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month from which more than 700 people tested positive and six died.

China imports cases

Cases in China have gradually fallen as tens of millions of people remain under strict quarantine to contain the virus.

But fresh infections rose for a second consecutive day on Friday, with 143 new cases, and 30 more deaths.

China's death toll now stands at 3,042 with over 80,500 infections.

Beijing faces a new concern with the number of cases imported from abroad rising to 36.

But cases are increasing faster in other countries.

Italy, which has the biggest outbreak in Europe, has ordered schools and universities shut until March 15, and on Thursday reported a sharp rise in deaths, bringing the total to 148.

France also reported a steep jump in cases, bringing its total to 423 with seven deaths, as President Emmanuel Macron warned the country was heading towards an "inevitable" epidemic.

Italy unveiled a 7.5-billion-euro ($8.4-billion) economic rescue plan while South Korea -- the world's second largest hotspot after China -- has proposed an extra budget of $9.9 billion.

Stock markets in Asia were sharply down on Friday, with Tokyo losing more than 3.0 percent by the break, following another sell-off on Wall Street as traders fret about the economic fallout from the disease.

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/03/06/this-is-not-a-drill-who-urges-world-to-take-virus-more-seriously.html

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Zionist elements developed deadlier strain of coronavirus against Iran: Academic

05 March 2020

An American academic and analyst has suggested that “Zionist elements” in the US or Israel have exploited the global coronavirus epidemic to create and spread a deadlier strain of the virus in Iran as a form of “biological warfare” against Iranians.

“I believe that what is going on is, under the cloak of the alleged coronavirus epidemic, that biological warfare is being conducted against Iran by Zionist elements who are taking advantage of the situation,” said James Fetzer, a retired professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota.

“This is why Iran appears to be hit so severely; in other words, the coronavirus is being used as a smokescreen to conceal the fact that the real enemies of Iran are deliberately targeting the Iranian people,” Fetzer told Press TV on Thursday.

Fetzer said a more aggressive type of the new coronavirus might be spreading in Iran. “I encourage Iranian scientists to examine the virus to see if it is, or is not, the same as the virus that is alleged to be causing such harm around the world,” he said.

“Almost certainly, in my opinion, this is in fact a plot to damage Iran,” he added.

Iran on Thursday reported 591 new infections and 15 new deaths from coronavirus. That brought the total number of confirmed cases in Iran to 3,513 while deaths have reached 107 since the outbreak began in the country on February 19.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday dismissed US offers for helping Iran in the fight against coronavirus, saying the Americans should lift bans on Iran’s access to medicines if they are really genuine in their humanitarian claims.

Despite the sanctions, Iran has mobilized all its resources to fight coronavirus with authorities saying that hundreds of people have been released from hospitals over the past days after recovering from the illness.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday the mortality rate among reported cases was 3.4 percent, revising upward previous estimates.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620217/US-coronavirus-James-Henry-Fetzer

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US translator charged for outing intel sources to Lebanese Hezbollah

 5 March 2020

A US military translator who was based in Iraq was charged on Wednesday in Washington federal court with passing the names of US informants to people linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

An indictment said Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, formerly of Rochester, Minnesota, was a contract linguist with a “top secret” security clearance who began working with US Special Forces in Erbil, Iraq in mid-December.

It said that one day after US airstrikes December 29 on installations of an Iraqi Shiite militia allied with Iran, Thompson began accessing US military computer files with the identities of US sources and information they had provided.

After Thompson was arrested on February 27, she admitted to investigators that she passed the information on the informants, together with a warning for a Hezbollah-linked target of US military intelligence, to a Lebanese national whom she had “a romantic interest in,” according to the charges.

The Lebanese national is related to a Lebanese government official and “has apparent connections to Hezbollah,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

“Thompson accessed dozens of files concerning human intelligence sources, including true names, personal identification data, background information, and photographs of the human assets, as well as operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the US government,” the Justice Department said.

Thompson was charged with transmitting national defense information to representatives of a foreign government - Hezbollah of Lebanon - the maximum penalty for which is life imprisonment.

“While in a war zone, the defendant allegedly gave sensitive national defense information, including the names of individuals helping the United States, to a Lebanese national located overseas,” John Demers, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.

“If true, this conduct is a disgrace, especially for someone serving as a contractor with the United States military. This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished.”

The Justice Department said that during its investigation, it discovered audit logs showing a “notable shift” in Thompson’s network activity on the Defense Department’s classified systems.

The discovery came on December 30, 2019, a day after the United States launched air strikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and the same day that protesters there stormed the US Embassy in response.

Files on human intelligence sources

The information Thompson was looking up involved dozens of files on human intelligence sources she had no need to access, including their names, photographs and other personally-identifiable information, the department said .

In February, FBI agents searched her living quarters on the base and discovered a handwritten note written in Arabic under her mattress, according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent contained in a court filing.

The note had the names of US intelligence informants. The note said these sources were collecting information for the United States, and suggested that their phones be monitored and their target should be warned, according to the sworn statement.

In subsequent interviews with the FBI, Thompson she waived her Miranda rights and told the agents she had passed along the information from the note to a Lebanese foreign national, according to the statement.

Court documents identify the person only as a co-conspirator whom Thompson had a romantic interest in. She told the FBI she did not know if he was with Hezbollah, which was first designated as a terrorist group by the United States in 1997, according to the court filing.

To share the intelligence, Thompson claimed she had memorized the classified information, wrote it down and conveyed it to the co-conspirator through a secure messaging application on her phone, according to the filing. She apparently later amended her statement, saying she was 70 percent sure she had not transmitted the note.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/03/05/Pentagon-linguist-faces-charges-for-passing-on-classified-intel-to-Hezbollah-.html

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Pompeo says Iran must be held accountable on nuclear commitments

March 06, 2020

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday called on all nations to hold Iran accountable for its nuclear commitments and said Tehran’s failure to report nuclear material was a clear violation of safeguard agreements.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing Iran’s troubled nuclear deal with major powers, sounded an alarm on Tuesday over a lack of Iranian cooperation in clearing up what the IAEA suspects are undeclared activities and materials dating back to the early 2000s.

Iran on Thursday stood by its decision to deny UN nuclear inspectors access to sites where they have questions about past activities, arguing that the agency’s case is based on “fabricated” Israeli intelligence.

Pompeo told a State Department news conference that all nations must hold Iran accountable under the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has been the foundation of global nuclear arms control since the Cold War.

“Iran’s intentional failure to declare such nuclear material, as reported by the IAEA this week, would constitute a clear violation of its safeguards agreements required by the NPT,” Pompeo said.

“The regime must immediately cooperate with the IAEA and fully comply with its IAEA safeguards obligations. All nations must hold Iran accountable to its commitments, otherwise, the NPT isn’t worth the paper that is written on.”

Iran warned in January it would withdraw from the NPT if European nations referred Iran to the UN Security Council over its alleged violations of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1637486/middle-east

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US announces more than $59M in aid for Rohingya

Servet Gunerigok 

06.03.2020

WASHINGTON

The U.S. announced more than $59 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh on Thursday.

The aid will also cover internally displaced Rohingya and members of other affected communities in Myanmar, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

"This funding will help address the emergency needs of more than 900,000 refugees in Bangladesh, many of whom are Rohingya women and children from Rakhine State, Burma, as well as the needs of Bangladeshi host communities.

"This funding will also provide life-saving assistance to internally displaced persons, including Rohingya, and members of other affected communities in Burma, including those affected by the fighting between the Burmese military and the Arakan Army," said Ortagus.

Since Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017 which forced hundreds of thousands to flee and cross into Bangladesh, the U.S. has provided nearly $820 million with this new funding.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA) said in a report titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-announces-more-than-59m-in-aid-for-rohingya/1756513

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US top diplomat slams ICC decision on Afghanistan probe

Michael Hernandez 

05.03.2020

WASHINGTON

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out Thursday at the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding its decision to authorize a probe into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

Pompeo called the international court a "political body" and characterized as "reckless" the investigation that encompasses Afghan government forces, the Taliban and the U.S.

"This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body," the top diplomat told reporters at the State Department. "It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed an historic peace deal on Afghanistan, which is the best chance for peace in a generation."

An ICC Pre-Trial Chamber rejected the request to open an investigation in April 2019, but Judge Piotr Hofmanski, the presiding judge in an appeals case, overruled that decision.

"Having considered the Prosecutor's grounds of appeal against the Pre-Trial Chamber's decision, as well as the observations and submissions of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, representatives of victims and other participants, the Appeals Chamber found that the Pre-Trial Chamber erred in considering the 'interests of justice factor' when examining the Prosecutor's request for authorization to open an investigation," the court said in a statement.

Pompeo said the U.S. "has evidence" that suggests foreign efforts to provide the court with "misinformation," vowing Washington will "take all the appropriate actions to ensure that American citizens are not hauled before this political body to settle a political vendetta."

An announcement would likely be made "within a couple weeks," he added.

The ICC's decision comes less than a week after the U.S. and the Taliban signed a landmark deal in Doha, Qatar that lays out a timetable for full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months.

It is expected to lead to dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government in seeking an end to the armed conflict that began in 2001.

Pompeo slammed a recent uptick in violence in Afghanistan, saying it must be reduced "immediately for the peace process to move forward."

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-top-diplomat-slams-icc-decision-on-afghanistan-probe/1756157

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Surge in Afghanistan violence ‘unacceptable’ says Pompeo

March 5, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the upsurge in violence in Afghanistan in recent days is unacceptable and said it must cease immediately for the peace process to move forward.

Speaking at a news conference at the State Department, Mr Pompeo stressed all sides should stop posturing and prepare for negotiations, including practical discussions about prisoner releases following the signing of a deal betwen the US and the Taliban last week.

"We know that the road ahead will be difficult. We expected it, we were right. The upsurge in violence in parts of Afghanistan over the last couple of days is unacceptable. In no uncertain terms violence must be reduced immediately for the peace process to move forward," Mr Pompeo said.

Mr Pompeo made his comments on the violence a day after the US conducted a strike against Taliban forces, who were "actively attacking" an Afghan military post in Helmand Province.

The first US strike on the Taliban in 11 days was prompted by 43 separate attacked against Afghan forces on March 3 alone.

At least 20 Afghan forces were killed in Taliban attacks in two separate attacks in northern Kunduz province in the past 24 hours, said Fawzia Yaftali, a member of the Kunduz provincial council.

The intra-Afghan negotiations are due to begin March 10 according to a US-Taliban deal signed in Doha on Saturday, but a dispute over a prisoner swap has raised questions about whether they will go ahead.

The agreement includes a commitment for the Taliban to release up to 1,000 prisoners and for the Afghan government to free around 5,000 insurgent captives - something the militants have cited as a prerequisite for talks but which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do before negotiations start.

The surge in violence could put the peace process in danger, but experts said it was unsurprising as both sides seek to exploit whatever leverage they hold to force the other's hand.

Full report at:

https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-americas/surge-in-afghanistan-violence-unacceptable-says-pompeo-1.988833

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Europe

 

British judge: UAE's Sheikh Mohammed ordered the abduction of two of his daughters

05 March 2020

Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum ordered the abduction of two of his daughters and orchestrated a campaign of intimidation against his former wife, a British judge has ruled.

Towards the beginning of the judgment, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, described the sheikh as “a man of international prominence whose position and international standing justify a high level of respect”.

The billionaire sheikh, who became crown prince of Dubai in 1995, is on friendly terms with the British royal family and spends a considerable amount of time at his UK residences and visiting racing events. In June last year, just over a month after initiating proceedings against Princess Haya in the high court, he received a trophy from the Queen when one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.

The sheikh has been credited with directing the emirate’s dramatic transformation and its international standing, including through the “Destination Dubai” tourism brand.

In 2001, he announced plans for the famous Palm Jumeirah, a tree-shaped sand and rock formation, one of a number of projects aimed at attracting international visitors.

An accomplished poet and horse-rider, he became ruler of Dubai after the death of his elder brother in 2006. The UAE official website hails his philanthropy and describes him as a “people’s person”.

Judge Andrew McFarlane said he accepted as proved a series of allegations made by Mohammed's former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, 45, half-sister of Jordan's King Abdullah, during a custody battle over their two children at London's High Court.

These included that Mohammed arranged for his daughter Shamsa, then aged 18, to be kidnapped off the streets of Cambridge in central England in 2000, and had her flown back to Dubai where she remains in captivity.

Sheikh Mohammed is also the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. He has fathered 25 children; his two with Haya are the youngest.

He refused to attend any of the multiple hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London. His wife, Haya, was a constant presence in court, sitting alongside her solicitor, the prominent divorce lawyer Lady Shackleton.

The sheikh, who was represented by Lord Pannick QC, changed his legal team intermittently.

The judgment goes into detail about the campaign of harassment endured by Haya. The judge accepted virtually all her allegations as true on the balance of probabilities, including that the sheikh:

Attempted to have her abducted by helicopter.

Arranged for guns to be left in her bedroom.

Taunted her over her adulterous relationship with a bodyguard.

Divorced her without telling her.

Threatened to seize their children.

Published threatening poems about her online.

He also arranged for Shamsa's younger sister Latifa to be snatched from a boat in international waters off India by Indian forces in 2018 and returned to the emirate.

In the judgements published on Thursday, McFarlane, President of the Family Court division in England and Wales, also accepted that the sheikh subjected Haya to a campaign of intimidation which put her in fear of her life.

His conclusions could only be reported after restrictions were lifted on Thursday after the UK Supreme Court earlier rejected Mohammed's request for permission to appeal against their publication.

McFarlane ends his judgment saying: “I have … concluded that, save for some limited exceptions, the mother has proved her case with respect to the factual allegations that she has made.

“… These findings, taken together, demonstrate a consistent course of conduct over two decades where, if he deems it necessary to do so, the father [Sheikh Mohammed] will use the very substantial powers at his disposal to achieve his particular aims.”

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620215/Sheikh-Mohammed-bin-Rashid-al-Maktoum-ordered-abduction-of-his-daughters

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300 allegations of Tory Islamophobia sent to equality watchdog

Rowena Mason

5 Mar 2020

A dossier of more than 300 allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative party has been submitted to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, increasing pressure on the watchdog to launch a formal investigation.

The submission from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) catalogues evidence of allegedly Islamophobic comments and actions by hundreds of activists, councillors, and advisers to the prime minister.

It also includes comments made by Tory candidates in the election who later became MPs, two of which were first revealed by the Guardian.

Sally-Ann Hart, the MP for Hastings and Rye, was put under investigation by the party for sharing a post claiming a women’s march had been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood to promote the “Muslim agenda”. Anthony Browne, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, questioned the loyalty of Muslims to Britain when responding to Muslim leaders’ concerns about the Iraq war. Karl McCartney, the MP for Lincoln, retweeted Islamophobic and antisemitic posts by Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins. Browne and McCartney apologised for their actions.

The MCB also highlighted the role of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s de facto chief of staff, in having responsibility for the Spectator website when a controversial cartoon of the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban was posted, with a caption feeding into a far-right, Islamophobic trope about a Muslim “takeover”.

Another example was that of Andrew Sabisky, briefly a No 10 adviser, who questioned in a book review whether a growing Muslim population would be countered with violent resistance.

The dossier also includes allegations against Boris Johnson himself, who has previously apologised for describing Muslim women wearing face-covering veils as looking like “letterboxes”.

The MCB first sent a file of 150 cases to the EHRC 10 months ago. However, the watchdog has resisted launching an inquiry until it can see the terms of reference of the Tories’ independent investigation into prejudice within the party.

With no action so far, the MCB said it was sending another 150 cases and accused the EHRC, which launched an investigation in allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party last year, of failing to act on evidence of “institutional, systemic and widespread” Islamophobia in the Conservative party.

The secretary general of the MCB, Harun Khan, which represents 500 Muslim groups, mosques and charities, said: “Having furnished the Equality and Human Rights Commission with evidence of over 100 incidents of Islamophobia in the Conservative party 10 months ago, we find it extraordinary that the commission has failed to give any response, let alone inform us and British Muslims as to whether action will be taken.

“Two years ago, we estimated that there were cases of Islamophobia being identified in the party on a weekly basis. Now, with over 300 documented incidents, it appears our estimation was too low. There is no doubt that the Conservative party has an Islamophobia crisis. The party’s response has been one of denial, dismissal and deceit.

“This results in clear discrimination against Muslims because of their religion. Islamophobia is never acceptable, yet this dossier cites hundreds of individuals – including many in significant positions of power and influence – who have made horribly offensive comments about Muslims that would not be tolerated for any other section in our society.”

He said the EHRC had a duty to uphold the Equality Act and called on the watchdog to take the wealth of evidence into account by launching a formal investigation.

On becoming prime minister, Johnson had pledged to launch an inquiry into all forms of discrimination, including Islamophobia, before the end of last year. However, the terms of reference have still not been published.

Full report at:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/mar/05/300-allegations-of-tory-islamophobia-sent-to-equality-watchdog

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Italy replaces Iran as country with highest coronavirus cases after China

05 March 2020

Italy has replaced Iran as the country with the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside of China, as its fatalities exceed 140.

The total number of people in Italy who died of the COVID-19 virus has risen to 148, the country’s Civil Protection Agency said on Thursday, after 41 deaths were reported in the previous 24 hours.

The accumulative number of cases in the country, which has been hardest hit by the virus in Europe, totalled 3,858, up from 3,089 on Wednesday.

COVID-19 has killed 92 people and infected 2,922 others in Iran as of late Wednesday, according to the Iranian Ministry of Health. Some 552 Iranians have recovered from the disease so far.

The Italian outbreak started 13 days ago. The country is believed to have been the pathogen’s gateway to Europe.

On Wednesday, Italy shut down all schools and universities until March 15 and took other emergency measures to combat the spread the new coronavirus, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

More than 93,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide and the number of deaths from the virus has reached 3,110 globally, although most of them remain confined to China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

South Korea

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that the number of confirmed cases in the country had reached 5,766, the largest outside China, adding that 35 people had died. Around 75 percent of the cases are in the southeastern city of Daegu.

The South Korean authorities have announced a ban on face mask exports.

On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in said the entire country was at war with the new coronavirus, saying Seoul would inject 25 billion dollars into the economy in the wake of the outbreak.

China

On Thursday, China reported a rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19, reversing three days in a row of declines, saying the spike had occurred due to new infections in Wuhan, the birthplace of the outbreak.

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said that 139 new cases had been confirmed as of Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 80,409. It had reported 119 new cases on Wednesday and 125 on Tuesday.

Algeria

Algeria’s Health Ministry reported nine new confirmed cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 17.

It added that the cases included 16 people from the same family in Blida Province.

First death in Switzerland

On Thursday, regional police in the western canton of Vaud announced the first death from the fast spreading Covid-19 disease outbreak.

The 74-year-old woman had been hospitalized at Lausanne's University Hospital since Tuesday, authorities said, adding that the high-risk patient was suffering from chronic disease.

Fifty-eight confirmed cases have been reported so far in the central European country.

Update: Iran's coronavirus deaths rise to 107

Later on Thursday, the spokesman for Iran's Health Ministry told media that 15 new deaths from the novel coronavirus have been reported, raising the national death toll to 107.

Kiyanoush Jahanpour added that 591 new cases of coronavirus infection have been also detected, taking the total number of Iranian patients to 3,513, noting that 739 coronavirus patients have been treated so far.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620163/coronavirus-China-Iran-Italy

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EU urges for sustainable cease-fire in Idlib, Syria

Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak 

05.03.2020

EU urged for a sustainable cease-fire in Idlib, northwestern Syria, European Council president said on Thursday.

“In my call with Russia’s President [Vladimir] Putin, I stressed the urgent need for a sustainable ceasefire in Idlib and a negotiated political solution to end the war in Syria,” Charles Michel said on Twitter.

“The suffering of Syrian civilians must stop,” Michel noted, adding that access to humanitarian aid by the people is a “key priority.”

Idlib, just across Turkey’s southern border, falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018.

The Syrian regime and its allies have consistently broken the terms of the 2018 cease-fire and a new one that started on Jan. 12, launching frequent attacks inside the territory.

Besides civilian casualties, this has led to an influx of refugees along the Turkey borders.

Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield on Sunday after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred in an Assad regime airstrike in Idlib.

Under the 2018 deal with Russia, Turkish troops were in Idlib to protect civilians from attacks by the Assad regime and its allies.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/eu-urges-for-sustainable-cease-fire-in-idlib-syria/1755857

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Syrian rebels launch offensive to check regime advances in Idlib

Khaled Yacoub Oweis

March 5, 2020

Syrian rebels supported by Turkey have launched a counter-offensive against pro-regime forces in Idlib province, opposition sources said on Thursday as a proxy war between Turkey and Russia intensified ahead of a meeting of the leaders of the two countries.

The aim of the offensive around the M5 highway between Damascus and Aleppo is to deny the regime and its Iranian and Russian allies strategic gains with which they hope to crown a two-month-long campaign in northern Syria, the sources said.

Agreements between Moscow and Ankara on how to share the spoils from their interventions in Syria and carve out spheres of influence broke down at the start of this year. A war of words between the two countries has escalated, raising fears of a direct confrontation in Idlib.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he expects his talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow later on Thursday to result in a ceasefire.

But Turkey kept up the military pressure on the ground, with Syrian opposition sources saying Turkish artillery and rocket launchers in Idlib were bombing loyalist positions in and around the town of Saraqib. Russian planes raided rebel positions in Zawiya Mountain to the south-west.

Saraqib lies at the intersection of the M5 and the M4, a highway between Aleppo and the Mediterranean, and has changed hands several times amid fierce battles.

Opposition activist Ahmad Al Sheikh said the rebel counter-offensive “is major but is not being advertised”. He said although Turkey has sent significant troops and hardware into Idlib, its Syrian allies were doing the fighting.

“Turkish support is injecting new life in the opposition,” Mr Al Sheikh told The National from Atmeh on the border with Turkey.

Mr Al Sheikh said the Saraqib offensive was being kept low key, possibly to avoid raising tensions ahead of Mr Erdogan's meeting with Mr Putin.

The town has become a focal point of the contest in Idlib. But even if the regime and its Iranian-backed allies hold on to the city, they face a Turkish-backed war of attrition that could undermine the military superiority they had enjoyed, mainly because of Russian air support.

Beneficiaries of Turkey's renewed support range from the Syrian National Army, Ankara's proxy that until now was primarily used against a Syrian Kurdish militia; the Al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al Sham; and units of the Free Syrian Army, which had almost become defunct.

The Turkish-backed push on Saraqib is taking place despite Moscow's announcement this week that Russian military police were sent to the city, the sources said.

Most of Idlib falls under one of the “de-escalation” zones in Syria designated under the 2015 Astana agreement supervised by Moscow. Most of these zones have since been overrun by regional Shiite militias allied to the Syrian regime, with the help Russian air strikes.

An intensified Russian air campaign in Idlib gave regime forces access to the M5 and M4, which run through the east and south of the province respectively.

But the regime has not been able to translate its territorial gains into control over the two highways because of Turkey's entry into the battlefield with drones, artillery and missiles, and its support for rebel hit-and-run attacks, the sources said, pointing to the downing of at least two regime planes.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said Russian and regime air strikes killed at least 300 civilians in January. The air campaign has pushed much of Idlib’s 3 million population into a narrowing strip of territory along the border with Turkey.

Moscow says it only targets what it describes as terrorists.

Turkey says it cannot afford another influx of Syrian refugees and that Russia and western countries must realise its need to maintain a de facto buffer zone in Idlib and northern Aleppo as a safe haven for Syrians displaced by regime attacks on rebel areas.

Lack of European support for Turkey’s position prompted Mr Erdogan last month to allow some of the millions of Syrian refugees hosted by his country to cross into Europe, thrusting Syria's conflict back to the top of foreign policy concerns for decision-makers on the continent.

After the first wave of refugees into Europe in 2015, European powers, as well as the US, ceded management of the Syrian conflict to Russia and Turkey.

Othman Abdulqader, another opposition activist in Idlib, said that although Turkey’s declared intention is to push the Syrian regime away from the displaced civilians massed near its border, it had sacrificed its Syrian allies before in deals with Moscow.

Full report at:

https://www.thenational.ae/world/syrian-rebels-launch-offensive-to-check-regime-advances-in-idlib-1.988479

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Mideast

 

Top Security Official Raps Foreign Media Lies about Coronavirus in Iran

Mar 05, 2020

“People’s mental health is being targeted by unfair attacks of Western, Hebrew, and Arabic media to harm their physical health,” Shamkhani wrote on his twitter page on Thursday.

“The mission of the nation’s enemies is to boost the effectiveness of the coronavirus by weakening the community resilience. The big lie of secrecy is the keyword of striking at Iranians’ mental health,” he added.

His remarks came after some foreign media outlets raised allegations that the Iranian Health Ministry does not release real figures about the coronavirus patients and deaths. Since the outbreak of the disease, the Health Ministry officials have every day updated the number of infected people and the tolls.

The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Sunday that the organization has not noticed any problem with Iran's statistics on coronavirus outbreak.

“There are reports in the media, but here is the World Health Organization which is a technical organization and needs to investigate the facts; we don't repeat what the reporters say, we have our own mechanism, and we haven't seen faults in the statistics,” he said.

The number of patients firmly diagnosed with coronavirus infection in Iran has reached 3,513, health ministry announced on Thursday, raising the number of deaths to 107.

It added that 739 coronavirus patients have been cured and discharged from hospitals across the country.

As a preventive measure, Iranian authorities have ordered closure of educational and cultural institutions across the country and the gyms and sports events by the end of winter.

Reports from different cities and towns of Iran indicate strenuous efforts by the officials to help the coronavirus patients and prevent an epidemic.

Globally, more than 95,480 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 with over 3,280 deaths so far, the vast majority of them in China where the virus originated late last year.

The coronavirus is spreading in the Middle East, Europe, US and other parts of the world, while parts of China begin to lower their emergency response level as the number of new cases reported there continues to slow.

As the US death toll hit 11 Wednesday, both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared states of emergency and announced six additional cases of the deadly coronavirus that has health officials around the world scrambling for answers. More than 150 cases have been confirmed across the US.

Tehran’s municipality announced that all the city’s public places, including the metro trains and buses, are being disinfected at the end of the line every hour as part of attempts to contain the spread of the virus.

Head of Food and Drug Administration Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz also said that pharmacies will no longer be allowed to sell protective masks and that masks will be distributed among the population via government-run centers free of charge, with the priority given to virus-hit provinces.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stressed Iran’s high capabilities to prevent an epidemic of novel coronavirus infection.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry hosted a meeting last week to brief a WHO representative and the foreign ambassadors residing in Tehran on the latest preventive and therapeutic measures taken by the country to contain COVID-19, as the novel coronavirus is called.

In comments at the meeting, the WHO representative said Iran has the necessary fundamental capabilities to tackle the epidemic, and that Tehran’s performance has been as “successful and exemplary” in the region and the world.

The Iranian Health Ministry officials, who were also present at the meeting, reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to the international health regulations and standards.

Iran enjoys all the technical and specialized capabilities needed to battle the coronavirus, they stressed.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981215000631

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Dead bodies ‘piling up in Qom’ amid coronavirus outbreak says Iran MP

5 March 2020

Dead bodies are “piling up” in Qom due to the coronavirus outbreak, an Iranian MP said on Wednesday, warning that if the city is not quarantined, Iran will end up having the most deaths in the world due to the virus.

“Corpses piling up in Qom and the helplessness of the people of Rasht are evidence of the failure in giving timely warnings about coronavirus,” Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh tweeted on Wednesday.

Click here for our dedicated coronavirus site.

“You did not quarantine cities, but now that we are at the peak of the outbreak, at least make home quarantines mandatory in Qom and Rasht so that we do not become world record holders for the number of deaths [due to coronavirus],” he added in the same tweet.

Several Iranian officials have disputed the official coronavirus figures in Iran and criticised the government’s handling of the outbreak.

While the official death toll from the virus for the whole country stood at 12 on February 24, an MP from Qom said on the same day that 50 people had died from coronavirus in his city alone.

A lawmaker from the city of Rasht had also disputed the health ministry’s figures, saying that the death toll from coronavirus in Iran is “much higher” than the official death toll.

“I have statistics about the number of deaths due to coronavirus from three different cemeteries in Rasht and I have to say that the numbers are much higher than what is being said,” he said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Dead-bodies-piling-up-in-Qom-amid-coronavirus-outbreak-says-Iran-MP-.html

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Coronavirus may be US ‘biological attack’: IRGC head Hossein Salami

5 March 2020

The coronavirus outbreak in Iran may be due to a US “biological attack” on the country, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami said on Thursday.

The total number of coronavirus deaths in Iran is 107 amid 3,513 confirmed cases, the health ministry said on Thursday.

“It is possible that this virus is a product of a biological attack by America which initially spread to China and then to Iran and the rest of the world,” said Salami.

Full report at:

 “America should know that this virus will return to it if it was behind it,” said Salami.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Coronavirus-may-be-US-biological-attack-IRGC-head.html

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Over 3,500 coronavirus cases in Iran, 107 deaths: Health ministry

5 March 2020

Iran on Thursday reported 15 new deaths from the novel coronavirus and 591 fresh cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the toll to 107 dead and 3,513 infected.

“Until today, samples have been taken of 23,327 suspected cases, only 3,513 of which have been confirmed,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a televised news conference.

“Unfortunately 15 people have passed away, raising the total number of the dead to 107,” he added, noting that the provinces of Tehran, Qom, Gilan, and Esfahan are the worst hit.

Iran’s health minister said earlier on Thursday that authorities will begin manning checkpoints to limit travel between major cities amid virus.

Iran and Italy have the highest death toll in the world outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Twenty-three Iranian MPs have so far tested positive for coronavirus, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Abdolreza Mesri said on Tuesday.

Al Arabiya English

@AlArabiya_Eng

Watch: Firefighters in #Iran are spraying the streets with disinfectants to fight the #coronavirus outbreak. The official death toll in the Islamic Republic has so far reached 107. https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Over-3-500-coronavirus-cases-in-Iran-107-deaths-Health-ministry.html …

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Iran’s response criticized

The Iranian government has been criticized for its response to the crisis.

After reports of the initial outbreak in the city of Qom, US Secretary Mike Pompeo voiced his concern that the authorities were suppressing the real numbers. Pompeo's comments followed the MP from Qom, who said that the number of infections were far higher than the official tally.

And on Tuesday, Masoud Pezeshkian, the first deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament, said that the reported official figures on the number of coronavirus cases in Iran are “not real.”

Iranian officials had previously been seen spraying chemicals on the streets.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Over-3-500-coronavirus-cases-in-Iran-107-deaths-Health-ministry.html

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Iranian MP Fatema Rahbar in ‘critical condition’ due to coronavirus

6 March 2020

Iranian MP Fatemeh Rahbar is currently in “critical condition” in a hospital in Tehran due to coronavirus, state media reported on Thursday.

Rahbar served as an MP from 2004 to 2016 and was recently elected again in Iran’s February 21 polls.

Follow our latest coverage of the coronavirus here.

Rahbar is “connected to an oxygen tank and doctors have expressed concern about her condition,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, while the semi-official ISNA news agency reported that she is in a coma.

Iranian authorities have put the death toll from the coronavirus virus at 107 as of Thursday. Several officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/06/Iranian-MP-Fatema-Rahbar-in-critical-condition-due-to-coronavirus.html

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Palestinian president declares 30-day state of emergency due to coronavirus

6 March 2020

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a 30-day state of emergency on Thursday after coronavirus cases were reported in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

The decree was announced by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh hours after officials closed Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplaces of Jesus, and banned foreign tourists from West Bank hotels.

Click here for our dedicated coronavirus section.

“We have decided to declare a state of emergency in all Palestinian areas to confront the danger of the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading,” Shtayyeh said, reading from the decree.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/06/Palestinian-president-declares-30-day-state-of-emergency-due-to-coronavirus.html

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Senior Iranian official and former advisor to Zarif dies of coronavirus

5 March 2020

Hossein Sheikholeslam, Iran’s former ambassador to Syria and former advisor to current Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has died due to the coronavirus, semi-official Fars news agency reported late Thursday.

The editor-in-chief of a state-run news website reported on Tuesday that Sheikholeslam has been infected with coronavirus. This was later confirmed by state media.

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مشاور #ظریف هم #کرونا گرفت

باخبر شدم، حسین شیخ الاسلام، مشاور وزیر امورخارجه هم به کرونا مبتلا شده و به خیل مسئولین کرونایی پیوسته است.

او، هم اینک در بیمارستان #مسیح_دانشوری بستریست

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Iranian authorities have put the death toll from the coronavirus virus at 107 as of Thursday. Several officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of Iran’s Expediency Council, also died from coronavirus earlier this week, state media reported.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Senior-Iranian-official-and-former-advisor-to-Zarif-dies-of-coronavirus.html

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Second Khamenei advisor infected with coronavirus in Iran

5 March 2020

A member of Iran’s Expediency Council, Mohammad Sadr, has reportedly been infected with coronavirus, the editor-in-chief of the state-run news website Entekhab, Mostafa Faghihi, tweeted on Thursday.

Find out more in our dedicated coronavirus section here.

The council advises Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as settles disputes between the Supreme Leader and parliament. Members of the council are appointed by Khamenei.

Sadr is also reportedly a senior advisor to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Several officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Another member of the council, Mohammad Mirmohammadi, died from the virus, state media reported on Monday.

Faghihi had also previously reported that Hossein Sheikholeslam, a former advisor to Zarif, had been infected with coronavirus. This was later confirmed by state media.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Iranian-council-member-infected-with-coronavirus-Reports.html

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Suspected coronavirus case causes Bethlehem Nativity Church to close: Official

5 March 2020

A spokesman for the Palestinian tourism ministry said Thursday that the storied Nativity Church in the biblical city of Bethlehem will close indefinitely later in the day over coronavirus fears.

Jeres Qumsiyeh said the church, built atop the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, will close at 4 p.m. Thursday after being disinfected.

“We have informed that the Nativity Church will be closed today at 4 p.m. until further notice,” he said.

The church is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors and worshipers for the upcoming Easter holiday next month.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/05/Suspected-coronavirus-case-causes-Bethlehem-church-to-close-Official-.html

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Israel demolishes more Palestinian homes in West bank

05 March 2020

Israeli forces have demolished the homes of two Palestinian men after accusing them of involvement in an alleged bomb attack in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military in a statement said that soldiers on Thursday razed the home of Walid Hanatsheh in Ramallah and Yazan Mughamis in the nearby town of Birzeit.

It said Palestinians hurled rocks and petrol bombs at troops and burned tires in protest during the demolitions, while soldiers responded with unspecified "riot dispersal means".

The family of Kasim Shibli, another detained suspect, has been notified that his home in Kobar near Ramallah is also to be demolished.

Palestinians said the fourth suspect, Samer al-Arbeed, rents his home, which can therefore not be demolished.

Israeli claims the explosion on August 23 last year, near a spring close to the settlement of Dolev, killed a 17-year-old Israeli female and wounded her father and brother.

Four men were subsequently rounded up, accused of planting the roadside bomb as members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They have not been charged yet.

In September 2019, interrogators with Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet brutally tortured them so as that one of the Palestinian men was hospitalized with kidney failure and 11 broken ribs.

Several other Palestinians swept up by the Israeli agency say they were threatened, beaten, forced into painful stress positions, and denied sleep.

The Public Committee Against Torture, an Israeli body, says more than 1,200 complaints have been filed against Shin Bet since 2001, without even one going to trial.

Tel Aviv already uses the “administrative detention” which enables it to arrest Palestinians without any charge.

Israel has razed the homes of hundreds of Palestinians for their alleged involvement in attacks against Israelis. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned the move as a violation of international humanitarian law, which prohibits collective punishment.

Israeli authorities also demolish Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank usually claiming that the residential structures have been built without the relevant building permits. Israeli authorities sometimes order the Palestinian owners to demolish their own homes or else the municipality would charge them for the demolition costs.

The Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, said in a report last year that Tel Aviv uses other strategies to block Palestinian use of land, or demolish the homes Palestinians have already built, thus, clearing the way for new Israeli settlements in the region.

Israeli authorities may declare Palestinian-owned land as “open scenic areas,” where development is prohibited, or as “national parks,” where construction and urban development are almost entirely forbidden.

In other parts of the occupied territories, vast swaths of land, including towns and villages, may be declared to be “military zones” almost as a matter of routine, and Palestinians are forced to leave their homes for set periods when the military moves in.

In addition,  the attacks, thefts and vandalism by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their lands are coordinated ahead of time with the Israeli military. Furthermore, most of such attacks are met with impunity, with those guilty rarely facing any consequences.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620212/Palestine-West-Bank--Shin-Bet-Israel-Kasim-Shibli-Samer-al-Arbeed

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Israel cancels joint drill with US over coronavirus concerns

05 March 2020

Israel has canceled a major joint military drill with the United States over fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Following the instructions of the Israeli ministry of health and the situation assessment regarding the coronavirus, and in the coordination of the IDF chief of the general staff and the commander of US European Command, it has been decided to cancel the exercise,” a statement by the Israeli military said on Wednesday.

The exercise, dubbed Juniper Cobra, started on Tuesday and was expected to last until March 13 with the participation of over 600 American troops, who had arrived from Germany and the US.

Another drill had been supposed to be held between the Israeli forces and US-European troops but was also suspended on Friday.

The Israeli regime has ordered travel restrictions for people arriving from Germany, France, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland over coronavirus concerns, and says people arriving from those states must be quarantined for 14 days.

The Tel Aviv regime has already imposed temporary bans on flights from China, Italy, Thailand, and Singapore.

Israeli media reports said 15 Israelis had been diagnosed with the deadly virus and some estimated 6,000 Israelis were in home quarantine.

The virus, known as COVID-19, emerged in the central city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province late December last year and has so far claimed more than 3,000 lives worldwide.

More than 93,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide and the number of deaths from the virus has reached 3,110 globally, although most of them remain confined to China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/05/620177/Israel-coronavirus-joint-military-drill-US

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Palestinians confirm virus cases, declare two-week tourist ban

March 05, 2020

BETHLEHEM: The Palestinian government confirmed the first coronavirus cases in the occupied West Bank Thursday and declared a two-week ban on tourists visiting cities and sites including Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

The health ministry said seven cases had been confirmed in the Bethlehem area south of Jerusalem.

"They are now being treated in quarantine," a statement from minister Mai al-Kaila said.

Government officials announced a series of measures in the occupied West Bank, also including the cancellation of major sporting events and other large gatherings.

The Church of the Nativity, built on the location revered as the birthplace of Jesus, was closed Thursday afternoon and is among the sites expected to be shuttered until March 20, an AFP correspondent said.

"We have decided to prevent the entry of tourists for a period of 14 days and to prevent hotels in all cities from receiving foreigners," tourism minister Rula Maayah told AFP.

The Palestinian health ministry said the cases had first been detected at a hotel in the Bethlehem area.

The head of the local health directorate, Imad Shahadeh, told AFP that a group of Greek tourists had visited the hotel in late February, with two later diagnosed with the virus.

A number of suspected cases have since been identified among hotel workers, he said.

Asbed Balian, senior cleric of the Armenian church at the Church of the Nativity, said infected visitors had entered the site.

"People affected by corona visited the church," he told AFP. "It will be closed for 14 days and they are going to spray antiseptics."

Schools, universities and mosques in Bethlehem were also closed Thursday, an AFP correspondent said, and the Palestine Marathon, scheduled for March 27, has been postponed.

Israel controls all entry points to the West Bank from the Jewish state but the Palestinian government has limited autonomy in cities.

Israel, which so far has 16 confirmed cases of the disease, has imposed stringent measures on many European nations in a bid to contain the disease.

Israel and the United States also scrapped the remainder of a joint military exercise in Germany Thursday.

The Israeli army announced that from noon Friday all forces would be prevented from leaving Israel, whether "on personal trips or on duty".

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1637321/middle-east

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South Asia

 

US seeks UN backing for Taliban peace deal to end Afghan war

March 06, 2020

UNITED NATIONS: The US is seeking UN Security Council backing for the ambitious peace deal it signed with the Taliban aimed at ending America’s longest war and bringing US troops home from Afghanistan.

A US draft resolution, obtained Thursday evening by The Associated Press, would welcome the Feb. 28 announcement of the agreement.

It would also encourage “the sustained support” of the United Nations and international partners for efforts toward peace, including the convening of “intra-Afghan negotiations in order to achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”

The draft resolution would also affirm “that any political settlement must protect the rights of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities.” This was an addition from the original draft sought by council members who want to ensure that women’s rights are protected and the Taliban doesn’t return to its previous draconian measures, including barring women from education and work.

According to the US-Taliban deal, peace negotiations between the warring Afghan sides are supposed to begin March 10. However, the Afghan government has already rejected releasing Taliban prisoners ahead of launching the talks, a precondition that the militants say was part of the US agreement.

The Security Council scheduled closed consultations on the draft resolution for Friday at Russia’s request.

The draft resolution would also welcome the intention of the Afghan government and the Taliban to pursue additional confidence-building measures to create conditions conducive for talks. And it would call for additional reductions in violence and international support for Afghanistan prior to a cease-fire agreement.

It would express the council’s readiness to review sanctions on individuals and groups once intra-Afghan negotiations start “in order to support the peace process,” stressing that the Taliban’s actions in reducing violence and advancing talks will affect the review.

The draft would acknowledge the Afghan people’s demand for lasting peace and an end to war and recognize “that a sustainable peace can be achieved only through an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process that leads to an inclusive negotiated political settlement.”

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1637601/world

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China rejects Indian allegations of seizing Pakistan-bound equipment for ‘nuclear proliferation nexus’

March 6, 2020

ISLAMABAD: China has debunked Indian media claims of seizing industrial autoclave seized from the Chinese ship Da Cui Yun that was being shipped to Pakistan that could be used for the “manufacture of very long-range ballistic missiles or satellite launch rockets” suggesting ‘nuclear proliferation’ between China and Pakistan.

When contacted, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Pakistan Today that China had noted the Indian media claims.

“We have noted the relevant (Indian media) reports. The Pakistan bound merchant vessel from China was detained by India, but the autoclave on the ship that India claimed to be material for ballistic missiles is neither military supplies nor dual-use items under non-proliferation and export control,” he said.

After seeking the information, Zhao Lijian said that China believes that the seized item is “actually a heat treatment furnace shell system”, produced by a private company in China.

“This is not for military use and it is not a dual-use item under the non-proliferation and export control,” he said.

He said the Chinese merchant ship and its owner had also declared this item truthfully beforehand with the Indian authorities. “So there is no concealment and forced declaration”.

Reports said the ship bearing Hong Kong flag was detained by Customs Kandla Port in Gujarat while en-route to Port Qasim, Karachi on February 3. The cargo of the Chinese ship has been offloaded and kept in a godown at the port.

The spokesman said that as a responsible major country, China faithfully fulfills its international non-proliferation obligations and commitments.

“We have learned that the cargo involved is actually a heat-treating furnace shell system made by a private Chinese company. It is by no means a piece of military equipment or a dual-use item covered by China’s non-proliferation export control regime,” he said.

Zhao Lijian added that the Chinese commercial ship and owner of the cargo have declared the item truthfully beforehand with the Indian authorities in charge.

“So there is no concealment or false declaration,” he asserted.

It merits mention that Indian media report alleged that experts at India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had confirmed that the industrial autoclave allegedly seized from the Chinese ship Da Cui Yun can be used for the “manufacture of very long-range ballistic missiles or satellite launch rockets”.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/05/china-rejects-indian-allegations-seizing-pakistan-bound-equipment-nuclear-proliferation-nexus/

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Khalilzad meets Mullah Baradar amid differences on release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners

05 Mar 2020

The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has said Washington is committed in facilitating prisoner exchange between the Afghan government and Taliban group.

He made the remarks following a meeting with Taliban’s deputy political Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

“I met Mullah Berader and his team last night for a candid discussion about next steps, followed by a constructive phone call with President @realDonaldTrump. We all agreed the purpose of the US-Taliban agreement is to pave the path to a comprehensive peace in #Afghanistan,” Trump said in a Twitter post.

Khalilzad further added “Increasing violence is a threat to the peace agreement and must be reduced immediately. In addition to discussing the need to decrease violence, we also talked about the exchange of prisoners.”

He said “US is committed to facilitating prisoner exchange, agreed in both US-Taliban Agreement & US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration. We will support each side to release significant numbers.”

This comes as President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani had earlier said only the Afghan government can decide regarding the release of Taliban prisoners.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/khalilzad-meets-mullah-baradar-amid-differences-on-release-of-5000-taliban-prisoners-04475/

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Flare-up in Afghan violence shows fragility of peace deal

Mar 5, 2020

WASHINGTON: Less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump said he had a "very good talk" with a top Taliban leader and insisted the group wants to cease violence, a US military drone on Wednesday targeted the militant group — retaliation for an uptick in Taliban attacks against Afghan forces.

The mixed signals underscored the fragility of the US-Taliban deal signed last weekend that aims at ending America's longest war.

US officials said Wednesday's airstrike was intended as a message to the Taliban to continue to enforce a reduction in violence commitment they had agreed to ahead of intra-Afghan peace talks that are supposed to begin next week. They stressed there was always the expectation that there would be hiccups in the process and that scattered violations would not necessarily crater the deal or the intra-Afghan talks.

Officials noted that the deal signed in Doha, Qatar, does not include a full-on cease-fire but rather leaves negotiations on a comprehensive nationwide truce to the intra-Afghan talks. In the meantime, the reduction in violence commitment had been expected to be respected. It does not, however, say that the truce or completion of a peace accord are required conditions for the withdrawal of American troops.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told a Senate panel Wednesday that the Taliban are honoring the agreement by not attacking US and coalition forces, "but not in terms of sustaining the reduction in violence." He added: "Keeping that group of people on board is a challenge. They've got their range of hard-liners and soft-liners and so they're wrestling with that too, I think."

Esper, who was in Kabul on Saturday with Afghan leaders while the peace agreement was signed in Doha, said the document allows the US to act in defense of the Afghan forces. "It's the commitment I made to the Afghans when I was there on Saturday. We would continue to defend the Afghans," he said.

The peace deal calls for a comprehensive nationwide cease-fire to be negotiated in the intra-Afghan talks, and it says the US must begin withdrawing more than 4,000 US troops from Afghanistan in the next week or so.

Still, a surge in Taliban attacks since the peace deal was signed, coupled with the refusal thus far of the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners, may have imperiled the planned March 10 start of the Afghanistan negotiations.

And, as the renewed violence complicated the situation, US lawmakers expressed concern that the US-Taliban agreement gives away too much for too little and may threaten America's national security. They also complained about two annexes to the agreement that have not been made public that lay out the process for the withdrawal of American and allied troops

"I read the secret annexes to the Taliban deal today. Bottom line: the administration is telling a terrorist group the conditions (such as they are) of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, but not telling the American people. This is wrong. And it serves no national security purpose," said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a former State Department official.

Even Trump allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., have aired doubts.

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday Cheney made a point similar to Malinowski's. "The documents have been seen by the Taliban, so I believe that the American people deserve to know what agreement has been entered into our name with the terrorists" who harbored those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she said.

Graham accused the Taliban of violating the deal. "Always suspicious of the Taliban when it came to any peace agreement, but can't believe they're this stupid," Graham tweeted, adding that the violence "not only violates the spirit of the alleged peace deal, it violates the letter of the agreement."

US military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a tweet that Wednesday's "defensive" strike was aimed at countering a Taliban assault on Afghan government forces in southern Helmand province. He said Taliban forces had conducted 43 attacks on Afghan troops on Tuesday in Helmand, where the local governor's official said two police officers were killed.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said four civilians and 11 troops were killed Wednesday in a wave of Taliban attacks across the country.

In his account of the call with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of their political office in Qatar, Trump told reporters that his relationship with Baradar is "very good" and that the Taliban "want to cease the violence."

The White House readout of the call was more restrained. It said Trump had "emphasized the need to continue the reduction in violence" and urged the Taliban to participate in the intra-Afghan talks.

In a tweet Wednesday, the US special representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he had met with Baradar and other Taliban members before the call with Trump. "We all agreed the purpose of the US-Taliban agreement is to pave the path to a comprehensive peace in Afghanistan," he said.

Trump has looked to the agreement as a step toward making progress on his campaign pledge to extract US troops from "endless wars."

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/flare-up-in-afghan-violence-shows-fragility-of-peace-deal/articleshow/74491418.cms

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UAE pledges $3.4m to help Afghanistan diagnose 50,000 cases of Coronovirus

05 Mar 2020

The United Arab Emirates pledged 3.4 million U.S. Dollars to help Afghanistan in diagnosis of 50,000 cases of Coronavirus, the Afghan officials said.

Waheed Mayar, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public of Health said the first consignment of the diagnosis kits is expected to arrive in the near future.

The Public Health Ministry officials had earlier said the ministry has registered a total of 15 suspected cases of Coronavirus in four provinces including Kabul.

According to Mayar, the Public Health Ministry registered 10 suspected cases of Coronovirus in capital Kabul but the authorities ruled out 5 cases as negative in the initial stage.

The Minister of Public Health Ferozuddin Feroz confirmed late in February that the authorities in western Herat province recorded the first positive case of Coronavirus in western Herat province.

The outbreak of Coronavirus in Herat likely has links with the outbreak of the virus in Qom of Iran where the authorities confirmed that the disease has killed two people.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/uae-pledges-3-4m-to-help-afghanistan-diagnose-50000-cases-of-coronovirus-04476/

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Afghan president calls for halt to hugging, handshaking amid coronavirus fears

SAYED SALAHUDDIN

March 05, 2020

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday urged government officials to stop hugging and shaking hands in a bid to prevent the spread of the killer coronavirus.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Ghani said the virus posed a threat to the country’s security and defense forces involved in combating a broadening Taliban insurgency.

And in a further effort to contain the global outbreak, Afghan Minister of Public Health Ferozuddin Feroz called on people not to take part in Nowruz (Persian new year) festival public celebrations later this month.

The government in Afghanistan has so far confirmed only one positive case of COVID-19 infection, although 80 Afghans who recently returned from neighboring Iran (where there have been 3,513 recorded cases and 107 deaths) are a concern.

Ghani said: “The campaign against this virus requires a major change in our culture and system of governance. The first clear and primary requirement is to change this culture in the administration and please refrain from handshaking and embracing … and this should be taken very seriously.”

The president added that the deportations in recent weeks of a number of Afghan migrants from Iran, where they have lived for decades, was a worry for his government. Kabul recently closed its border with Iran over fears that scores of returnees could be infected with the deadly coronavirus, and it has also halted air and land travel between Afghanistan and Iran.

Days ago, Uzbekistan sealed off its border with Afghanistan to prevent a possible spread of the virus. The closure of border crossings with Iran and Uzbekistan has restricted trade and Afghan imports of food, gas and fuel.

Ghani said authorities needed to focus on resolving potential issues such as food security in the country in the wake of import and export restrictions.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1637281/world

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Southeast Asia

 

Singapore: All Aspiring Islamic Religious Teachers To Go Through Practicum Before Being Accredited

Hariz Baharudin

March 6, 2020

SINGAPORE - All aspiring Islamic religious teachers will now have to go through on-the-job training or work-based projects before they get accreditation to practise and teach in Singapore.

This practicum, which aims to improve the employability and professionalism of religious teachers or asatizahs, is part of the compulsory year-long Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS).

Aspiring asatizahs have to receive this certificate before they can be accredited under the mandatory Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS).

The first batch of 50 PCICS students will start in April, with another 50 expected for the next intake in October.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said on Friday (March 6) that the practicum component will provide PCICS students with exposure and experiential learning, to make them more employable.

"Our young asatizah can be great assets to the community, beyond the mosque and the madrasah. We must continue to invest in their development," he said during the debate on the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's budget.

"In turn, I hope that our young aspiring asatizah will rise to the occasion, be the confident guides that the community needs to navigate future challenges, contribute to the vision of a Muslim community of success and help us build a strong and cohesive Singapore."

Dr Maliki chairs the Committee on Future Asatizah (Cofa), a panel to guide the development of religious teachers here.

He was responding to several MPs, including Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), on plans to develop asatizahs.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), which set up the PCICS programme, said students will have three choices for the practicum: work-based projects, internships of a minimum of two months, and a work experience programme that lasts between 10 months and a year.

Participants who opt for the last two options will receive a salary.

A Muis spokesman told The Straits Times these three options were chosen to cater to the diverse needs of students.

He encouraged those who wish to work throughout their PCICS candidature to opt for the work experience programme.

Those who prefer freelance work or are passionate about a certain topic could choose the work-based project, he added.

On whether the practicums could clash with academic classes, the Muis spokesman said the PCICS programme was developed with the working adult in mind.

Face-to-face classes are thus scheduled mainly on weekday nights and Saturdays, to help students balance their studies with work or practicum commitments.

Organisations that students can partner with for their practicums include Islamic organisations, mosques and public and private sector groups like the SSA Academy and the Family and Inmates Through-care Assistance Haven (Fitrah) office under Muis.

On Friday, Dr Maliki also announced a new three-year asatizah workforce development plan to build up the skills and capabilities of the more than 4,800 asatizah here.

This plan will include schemes for skills upgrading, salary guidelines and a career and competency framework.

It was developed following recommendations from Cofa, which released its report last month on how to improve the development and competencies of asatizah here.

Muis will release a Career Map and Competency Framework (CCF) next month to guide asatizah in their personal and professional development.

"This framework articulates the different roles and pathways within the formal religious sector and provides information on the respective skillsets needed," said Dr Maliki.

A Muis spokesman said the framework will also help asatizah identify skill gaps in their current or desired job roles, which can include work in mosques, religious schools, the syariah court and the council itself.

The religious teachers can then identify relevant training programmes to improve their skills.

https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/parliament-all-aspiring-islamic-religious-teachers-to-go-through-practicum-before-being

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Malaysia's anti-graft chief Latheefa Koya has resigned: Sources

Nadirah H. Rodzi

MAR 6, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's anti-graft agency chief Latheefa Koya has resigned, sources told The Straits Times on Thursday (March 5).

"Yes, she has tendered her resignation and it was submitted to the Prime Minister yesterday," the source said, referring to Malaysia's newly-installed premier Muhyiddin Yassin.

Ms Latheefa was appointed to lead the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in June last year by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Her resignation follows the collapse of Dr Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition on Feb 24, after losing its majority in Parliament.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin, who is backed by Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia in the Perikatan Nasional alliance, was sworn in as Prime Minister on Sunday.

The Straits Times understands that Ms Latheefa's resignation was accepted by Mr Muhyiddin.

"Datuk Seri Azam will temporarily take over her duties before a new chief is appointed," another source said, referring to the commission's deputy chief commissioner (operations) Azam Baki.

During her tenure, Ms Latheefa oversaw several high-profile investigations involving politicians from former ruling party Umno, including ex-prime minister Najib Razak and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

"She decided to resign after getting the assurance that all high-profile cases will remain unaffected. All investigations and court proceedings will go on," the source added.

Earlier Thursday, Ms Latheefa announced that she has ordered the commission to launch an investigation into former Federal Territories minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor after he disclosed during his graft trial that he had assets worth nearly RM1 billion (S$333 million).

Full report at:

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysias-anti-graft-chief-latheefa-koya-has-resigned-sources

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Inmate dreaming of royal pardon after scoring 6As in SPM

06 Mar 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 — A 21-year-old prison inmate at Penjara Marang who received the good news today that he had scored 6As in the 2019 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, is hoping very much that his excellent showing will be good enough to secure him a pardon.

“The six As are very precious for a pardon, although my future is still uncertain,” said Hassan (not his real name) who is serving time at the prison at the 'pleasure of the Ruler', having been convicted in 2016 for an offence under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act.

He scored As in the following subjects: Bahasa Melayu, Science, Mathematics, History, Pendidikan Islam and Tasawwur Islam, and received a D in English.

Hassan told Bernama that he faced a long life behind bars unless he did "something good to appeal for a pardon".

“Last night, I could not sleep. Many things were on my mind. I was really hoping for an excellent result, for it to be an eye-opener for many people," said the youngest of seven siblings.

The story of Hassan who had asked the public to pray for him after sitting for SPM late last year, had gone viral on social media, following a write-up by Bernama.

He believes the prayers might have helped him to succeed and there is now a chance for him to receive a pardon and be freed from prison.

Recalling his mother's visit last year, Hassan said she was so surprised that she cried when she saw his trial examination results of 4As, 2Bs and 1C.

With 6As in hand today, the young man is sure his mother will be proud of him when she gets the news.

“Before I entered prison, I could not make ‘mak’ happy. Only now, I get the chance. I want to leave prison and be part of society. I am doing all this for her,” Hassan said, while explaining that he had committed the offence which landed him in prison because of the influence of friends and also due to poverty. 

“Students are busy now filling university applications. I also wish to study online but it will require my own funds. I am worried that my family cannot afford it,” he added.

Sekolah Integriti Penjara Marang which Hassan attended, recorded excellent results with all of ts 16 students passing the 2019 SPM examination, said the school's administrator Nor Amalia Kasim, who dedicated the school's success to all parties including the Education Ministry which funded the text books used by the inmates.

Apart from Hassan, three other students respectively obtained 5As, 4As, 3As and 2As. The remaining 12 students scored 1A each. All 16 students obtained an A for Science.

Another inmate, Alif (not his real name), 22, was so surprised by the one A he secured (in Science), as he had only attended school until Standard Six. It took him six months to prepare for SPM.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/06/inmate-hoping-for-pardon-after-scoring-6as-in-spm/1843902

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DAP still controls non-Malay vote despite role in PH collapse

Eileen Ng

March 6, 2020

The Democratic Action Party's (DAP) designation as the bogeyman for right-wing Malay politicians contributed to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government last week, but it still controls Malaysia's non-Malay vote and remains the largest party in Parliament.

Both Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) - now members of the country's new ruling coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN) - have for years pushed the narrative that the Chinese-dominated DAP is an anti-Malay party filled with arrogant leaders. This narrative gained ground among the main Malay-Muslim community after DAP was voted in as part of the government for the very first time in the May 2018 General Election, as one of the four member parties of the victorious PH pact.

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/dap-still-controls-non-malay-vote-despite-role-in-ph-collapse

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Coronavirus: Indonesia to ban anyone who visited cities in Iran, Italy, S. Korea

5 March 2020

Indonesia will ban entry and transit of foreign visitors who have visited cities hit by coronavirus outbreaks in Iran, Italy, and South Korea in the last 14 days, starting March 8, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Travelers coming from other places in the three countries will need to provide a certificate issued by health authorities to declare that they are healthy, Minister Retno Marsudi said.

The measures follow a similar ban on entry and transit of visitors from mainland China to limit the spread of the virus.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/03/05/Coronavirus-Indonesia-to-ban-anyone-who-visited-cities-in-Iran-Italy-S-Korea.html

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Africa

 

Many killed as Nigerian soldiers repel Boko Haram attack on Damboa

March 5, 2020

Dozens of lives were lost on Wednesday during an attack by Boko Haram militants in Damboa, a town 85 kilometers away from Maiduguri, Borno state capital, officials said.

Governor Babagana Zulum confirmed the attack in a statement he issued in commendation of government troop’s gallantry.

According to the governor, the troops demonstrated unprecedented gallantry when they tackled the insurgents from the ground and air.

Mr Zulum said 19 gun trucks were recovered from the insurgents while an unspecified large number of them were killed.

But sources in Damboa said five civilians were also killed and 47 others sustained bullet wounds.

The sources, mostly operatives of the Civilian-JTF who would not want to be named for security reasons, said casualties from the side of the insurgents were taken away by fleeing terrorists.

In his statement, Governor Zulum applauded the Nigerian military’s “ground and air components for a decisive blow against Boko Haram.”

He said the insurgents attempted to overrun Damboa from different directions in the early hours of Wednesday.

I find it compelling to salute our gallant soldiers of the Nigerian Army and Air Force, under operation Lafiya Dole for a decisive blow against Boko Haram insurgents on Wednesday morning in Damboa town. At about 6 am yesterday, squads of the insurgents cleverly attacked Damboa from different directions, believing their ambush was going to succeed in overrunning the town, ” he said.

“Unfortunately for the insurgents, they met a far more determined and battle-ready military. Soldiers of the army fought from the ground, the Air force quickly deployed fighter jets while volunteers in the Civilian JTF and Vigilantes complimented them.

“At the first stage, they destroyed 13 fighting vehicles after killing scores of insurgents, who drove on them.

“What I find even more impressive, was that after the insurgents retreated due to defeat, the military did not stay back, they remobilized and took the war to the fleeing insurgents and in the process, killed more insurgents and destroyed six more fighting vehicles, bringing to 19, the number of vehicles destroyed.

“The insurgents were deprived of and we know what one vehicle used for fighting means to the Boko Haram, talk more of 19.

“I salute our ground and air forces. I salute our volunteers who supported the military. I salute two volunteers, one each of the Civilian JTF and Vigilantes who paid the supreme price in trying to defend Borno and Nigeria. I commiserate with families of two women who died from stray bullets and wish those who sustained injuries a speedy recovery.

“I assure the people of Borno State that so much is being put in place in the combined and very resolute effort, to bring an end to the Boko Haram insurgency. By the power of God, the insurgency will eventually end and we shall regain our enduring peace and prosperity,” Governor Zulum said.

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/380411-many-killed-as-nigerian-soldiers-repel-boko-haram-attack-on-damboa.html

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FG set to reintegrate 606 rehabilitated Boko Haram fighters

06 March 2020

Ex-insurgents not absorbed into military, army insists

The Nigerian Army has concluded arrangements to reunite another batch of 606 former Boko Haram fighters with their families after undergoing rehabilitation under Federal Government’s Operation Safe Corridor.

Coordinator of the programme, Major General Bamidele Shafa disclosed this at a stakeholders’ meeting to work out modalities for transferring the former terrorists to the authorities for reintegration at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja.

He said 25 Nigerians, including 14 male adults, three female adults and eight children who voluntarily laid down their arms in Niger Republic, were repatriated in February and were awaiting reintegration.

He pointed out that President Muhammadu Buhari established the Operation Safe Corridor in 2015 to create avenue for repentant Boko Haram fighters to surrender and undergo de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programme.

He said since inception of the programme, 893 repentant Boko Haram fighters, referred to as ‘clients’ admitted for the programme of which 280, including two Chadians have been transferred to their national and state authorities.

“We are careful in the handling the clients, we do not compromise standards as any client who exhibit any trait of disloyalty is withdrawn from the programme and transferred for further investigation and prosecution when necessary.

“Also the programme is open ended, that is to say, when the handlers believe that a client has not been sufficiently de-radicalised, such client is made to repeat the programme.

“Our purpose is to work out modalities for the smooth transfer of the 606 clients presently in the camp to their national and states authorities for re-integration,” he added.

Speaking, Chairman, Operation Safe Corridor and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, disclosed that over 1,000 Boko Haram and Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) have been captured and investigated, of which 500 have been convicted in courts of competent jurisdiction.

He explained that the President directed the establishment of Operation Safe Corridor to give the terrorists the opportunity to lay down their arms, adding, “Its activities are guided by extant provisions of international humanitarian and human rights laws and the Nigerian constitution.

“Since its establishment, over 2,000 Boko Haram terrorists and ISWAP members have laid down their arms of which about 1,000 have been processed by Operation Safe Corridor.

“Also, over 250 members including two foreign nationals have been successfully reintegrated by their national and state governments.

“The remaining 692 clients are currently undergoing the De-radicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) programme in Gombe and Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Centre in Maiduguri.”

Full report at:

https://guardian.ng/news/fg-set-to-reintegrate-606-rehabilitated-boko-haram-fighters/

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Nigeria: Boko Haram Attacks Dapchi, Kills Six Police Officers, Two Others

5 MARCH 2020

Six police officers were killed on Wednesday after when gunmen believed to be Boko Haram fighters attacked Dapchi, a village in Yobe State, Mohammed Goje, the Executive Secretary of Yobe State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), has said.

Mr Goje told journalists in Damaturu, the Yobe capital, on Thursday that six bodies recovered in the aftermath of the attack were mobile police officers while the identities of two others were yet to be ascertained. The police, military and the vigilantes could not yet lay claim to them.

The SEMA boss and his team were in Dapchi to evacuate the corpses of those slain in the attack.

Dozens of houses were burnt in the attack, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

Dapchi is a town in Yobe State where schoolgirls were in February 2018 abducted from their dormitory by the Boko Haram. The girls were later released in a deal with the government; but one of the girls, Leah Sharibu, was held back because she reportedly refused to denounce her Christian faith.

Mr Goje said he travelled in a small convoy and the team was accompanied by Goni Bukar, the commissioner for sports and youth development, who hails from Dapchi.

"We have just returned from Dapchi as you can see," he told journalists.

"We have evacuated eight dead bodies. Six of them could be easily identified as police personnel because they are wearing police uniform. Most of them are MOPOL. The other two bodies I can't say their identity because either, the soldiers nor vigilante or police could identify them as their members."

Our reporter sighted the convoy of the SEMA boss as they returned from Dapachi Thursday morning and followed them to the General Sani Abacha Specialist Hospital mortuary where the bodies were deposited.

Mr Goje said he has given instructions for the bodies to be properly kept for proper identification from their families so they could be given a befitting burial.

"We have to evaucate the bodies from the scene because we cannot allow the dead bodies to rot away because these people that are killed have families," he said.

"We have therefore given instruction at the mortuary that their corpse should be properly taken care of for identification. They deserve befitting burials from their families."

The Yobe SEMA boss said the insurgents burnt down the military base and a section of the police station in the village. A military vehicle was also torched.

The insurgents made away with one military vehicle, according to reports, and burnt one of the cars belonging to Mr Bukar

The District Head of Dapchi, Yuroma Kamba, who was distraught from the attack called on the government to mobilise massive prayers against the insurgents.

"Prayers should be intensified by all and sundry with government taking the driver's seat," he said.

A resident of Dapchi, who escaped to Damaturu, told PREMIUM TIMES that the mobile police officers who paid the supreme price stood to fight the insurgents as both soldiers and vigilantes ran away when they got wind of the impending attack.

"I want to tell you that those mopol that died refused to run away," he said.

"They stood their ground to fight. All the soldiers in the town left including vigilantes when the news of the attack filtered the town. But those mopol did not run. They engaged Boko Haram and fought to die. May their souls have rest."

Full report at:

https://allafrica.com/stories/202003060108.html

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Mama Boko Haram arraigned before third judge for fraud

March 6, 2020

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday arraigned Aisha Wakil, popularly called Mama Boko Haram, alongside two others on eight counts, bordering on fraud.

This makes her and other defendants contending with cases of fraud before three judges in the state.

The two other arraigned with her before Justice Umaru Fadawu of the Borno State High Court, Maiduguri, are senior members of her non-governmental organisation, Complete Care and Aid Foundation, Alhaji Saidu Daura and Prince Lawal Shoyode.

Early this week, the trio, with another person at large, were charged before Justice Aisha Kumaliya of another Borno State High Court with N111.7m fraud.

Wakil and Daura are facing corruption charges involving a N66m fraud before Justice Aisha Kumaliya.

Early this year, Wakil, Daura, Shoyode and Mallam Adamu Sani (at large) were arraigned for N42m fraud before Justice Jude Dagat of a Federal High Court, Maiduguri.

While Wakil pleaded “not guilty” to all the charges on Thursday, while the second and third defendants refused to take their pleas.

Justice Fadawu, however, entered a “not guilty” plea for the two defendants. She, thereafter, adjourned until March 12 and 16, 2020.

Full report at:

https://punchng.com/mama-boko-haram-arraigned-before-third-judge-for-fraud/

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Nigeria: U.S. Renews N2.52bn Bounty Offer for Boko Haram Leader, Shekau

5 MARCH 2020

The United States Department of State has renewed its $7 million reward, about N2.52 billion, for information that can lead to the arrest of the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, whose fighters have waged war against Nigeria and other neighbouring countries.

The renewal was made yesterday on the French version of the official Twitter account of the US State Department Rewards for Justice Programme.

The US reward is said to be the biggest placed on all the terrorists declared wanted by the United States government.

In a swift reaction to the bounty placed on Shekau, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said the Nigerian military had also declared the terrorist leader wanted.

The US Department of State had in June 2012, designated Shekau as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" under Executive Order 13224.

In 2013, the Boko Haram leader was declared a wanted man by the US and it went further to place a $7 million bounty on Shekau for anyone who could provide information leading to his arrest or killing.

"Every government and every citizen has a stake in bringing terrorists to justice and in preventing acts of terrorism," the US State Department said.

The notice also provided the contact details for anyone who is interested in collecting the bounty as #Whatsapp: +1 202 975 9195 and #Telegram: @RFJ_Francais_bot.

The involvement of many French-speaking countries in the war against Boko Haram may have accounted for the use of the French version of the US Department of State's Twitter Accounts to declare Shekau wanted.

In the English version of the Twitter account, which was opened February 27, 2020, the Reward for Justice Programme also offered $5 million reward for information on three ISIS leaders and another $6 million on another terror group, AQAP's leaders.

"Up to $5 million for information on ISIS key leaders Hajji 'Abdallah, Hajji Hamid and Hajji Taysir. Justice never sleeps, and never stops looking for ISIS terrorists. If you have information ISIS, please submit a tip. 100% confidential. http://rewardsforjustice.net #RFJ," the tweet said.

Meanwhile, the DHQ yesterday stated that the Nigerian military had since declared Shekau a wanted criminal for committing acts of terrorism against the Nigerian state.

Spokesman of DHQ, Brig. Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, told THISDAY that Shekau has been wasting the lives of his followers in a bid to escape the military onslaught.

"That is the reason he is constantly on the run and callously surrounding himself with innocent and vulnerable people as human shield. He is a coward very much afraid of death, but pushing his senseless followers to die," Nwachukwu added.

Shekau is the leader of Jama'atu Ahl as-Sunnah il-Da'awati wal-Jihad, better known as Boko Haram. The objective of the group is to establish caliphates and overthrow the Nigerian government.

The group also seeks to establish a government based on Islamic law.

Boko Haram has links with al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Shabaab and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Until 2010, when he claimed leadership of the group, Shekau was the group's second-in-command.

In July 2010, Shekau publicly claimed leadership of Boko Haram and threatened to attack Western interests in Nigeria.

He had threatened the United States.

It gained global influence when on August 26, 2011, it attacked the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, killing over 20 people and injuring several others.

The military had claimed on many occasions that it had killed Shekau but he disproved these claims by appearing in videos.

In his latest video, Shekau issued a threat to the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Mr. Isa Pantami.

The insurgent leader directed his men to go after Pantami for threatening to block the communication lines of the sect members.

Shekau also threatened journalists, warning them to be cautious about how they report the activities of his group.

He told the minister that his group killed a famous Kano cleric in 2007, saying a similar fate could befall Pantami if he did not repent.

In another video released earlier last month, Shekau threatened President Muhammadu Buhari and also gave a condition for the release of the remaining Chibok schoolgirls in captivity.

In the video, which was released a day after Buhari visited Borno State, Shekau said the schoolgirls would be freed if the federal government should release the sect members in detention.

Shekau also asked Buhari not to return to Borno, saying the sect is fully on the ground in the North-east.

He stated that the insurgents would attack the president if he returns to Borno.

Full report at:

https://allafrica.com/stories/202003050408.html

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Kenya, Somalia agree to ease border tensions

05.03.2020

Kenya’s president and his Somali counterpart agreed to appoint joint committees to resolve recent tensions between the two nations, the Somalian presidency said on Thursday.

In a phone conversation, Uhuru Kenyatta and Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo "discussed a range of bilateral issues, underlining the significance of their joint cooperation in strengthening security along the borders and across the region," the statement said.

They also exchanged views on strengthening the bilateral relations between the two nations and the citizens and "agreed to form a working committee involving Somalia and Kenya to further the vision of the two leaders in enhancing relations without delays," it added.

The two presidents also "stressed the need to unite in countering insecurity and guard against all factors that could destabilize their joint efforts," according to the statement.

The committees’ mission will be to treat a number of issues, including border security which led to tensions between Nairobi and Mogadishu on Monday, after armed clashes between Somalia's so-called Jubbaland forces and the troops Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) which Nairobi said spread to neighboring Kenya’s Mandera town, according to an earlier report by Kenya’s the Daily Nation newspaper.

On Wednesday, the Kenyan presidency said that Somali "soldiers in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera."

The Jubbaland forces is a militia loyal to Abdirashid Janan, fugitive former Somali security minister in Jubaland state.

Last week, Somalia issued a warning accusing Kenya of interfering in its internal affairs, including encroachment in the border areas between the two countries.

It called on its neighbor Kenya to "halt its ongoing violations" of Somalia's sovereignty.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/kenya-somalia-agree-to-ease-border-tensions/1756070

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Libya: Airport evacuated after attacks by Haftar forces

Aydogan Kalabalik 

05.03.2020

TRIPOLI, Libya

Mitiga Airport, the only civilian airport currently operating in the Libyan capital Tripoli, has been evacuated after attacks by militia groups loyal to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar. 

All flights at the airport have been halted, according to the Transport Ministry of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.

Flights were directed to Misrata Airport, some 200 kilometers east of the capital.

Since the beginning of February, militias loyal to Haftar have repeatedly targeted the Mitiga International Airport.

Rocket attacks to the airport on Tuesday had destroyed 2 civilian planes of Libyan airway companies. Flights resumed the same day after a brief halt.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: Haftar in eastern Libya, supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.

On Jan. 12, the parties to the conflict announced a cease-fire.

But talks for a permanent cease-fire proved inconclusive after Haftar left without signing a deal.

The first round of political talks on the Libya peace process started last Wednesday in Geneva.

The talks followed the completion of a second round of UN-sponsored military talks on Libya in Geneva between the warring sides that ended on Feb. 23.

The Libyan Joint Military Commission (JMC) talks were in a 5+5 format with five representatives of the GNA and five from Haftar’s forces.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libya-airport-evacuated-after-attacks-by-haftar-forces/1755785

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