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Islamic World News ( 19 May 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim Doctors, Paramedic Staff Work Through Ramzan, Attending to Covid-19 Patients Win Hearts







• Do Not Perform Eid Prayer Behind A TV Screen, Says Al-Azhar Scholar

• Taliban ‘Won’t Allow Islamic State to Operate in Afghanistan’

• Idul Fitr Comes as Real Test for Jakarta's Fight Against Coronavirus

• Muslim Community Responds to New York City’s Food Insecurity Crisis

• Khashoggi Fiancee Urges UK Gov't To Stop Saudi Prince To Put Himself Above British Law

• Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem To Reopen After Eid Al-Fitr

• Pakistan's Supreme Court Orders Reopening of Shopping Malls, Markets

• Coronavirus: South Sudan’s Vice President, Wife Test Positive For COVID-19

 

India

• Muslim Doctors, Paramedic Staff Work Through Ramzan,Attending to Covid-19 Patients Win Hearts

• Lockdown Miracle: 'Guardian Angel' Clears Rs 10 Lakh Loans of Four Strangers In Mizoram

• Rosario Cathedral In Mangalore Opens Doors To Migrants

• Subramanian Swamy Asks for Source After UN Official Criticises His Muslim ''Comment''

• Top Hizb commander, a separatist’s son, among 2 killed in Srinagar encounter

• Pakistan violates ceasefire along LoC in Rajouri

• Over 300 terrorists in launch pads across LoC, 240 active in hinterland: J&K DGP

• NIA arrests Hizbul militant wanted in killing of RSS man

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Arab world

• Do Not Perform Eid Prayer Behind A TV Screen, Says Al-Azhar Scholar

• Syria Bans Public Eid Al-Fitr Prayers, Urges Muslims To Pray At Home

• Jailed Saudi Royals Hire Trump-Tied Lobbyists to Counter MbS: NYT

• Organization of Islamic Cooperation to pursue response campaign until virus contained

• Security Forces Discover 6 ISIL Terrorists’ Hideouts in Eastern Iraq

• Migrant workers on weeks-long strike in Lebanon close to deal with employer

• Hard choices for the Iraq's new government

• Lebanon says it will honour Sonatrach fuel import contract amid probe

• Syria vows fight against ‘American, Turkish, Israeli occupiers’

• Accusations of Russian war crimes in Syria ‘part of media war’

• Syria finds US-made TOW missiles, Israeli mines in southern region

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South Asia

• Taliban ‘Won’t Allow Islamic State to Operate in Afghanistan’

• Afghan forces repel Taliban attack on key city: officials

• Taliban’s claims regarding the deadly mosque attack in Parwan province

• 19 killed, wounded as gunmen attack mosque in Parwan province

• Magnetic bomb planters arrested with the support of Kote Sangi residents: Kabul Police

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Southeast Asia

• Idul Fitr Comes as Real Test for Jakarta's Fight Against Coronavirus

• Nadhlatul UlamaEncouraging Muslims To Pray at Home: Mass Idul Fitr Prayers, Such as • • Those in Mosques or Public Squares Against Law, Govt Says,

• India Resumes Purchase of Malaysian Palm Oil, Ending Diplomatic Row

• Indonesia seeks clarity as pandemic threatens Hajj

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North America

• Muslim Community Responds to New York City’s Food Insecurity Crisis

• Fired State Department watchdog was 'investigating Trump’s emergency arms sale to Saudi Arabia'

• US must prevent 'slow motion genocide' of Palestinians: Analyst

• Canadian doctor serious concerns for Rohingya refugees

• US blacklists Chinese company for dealings with Iran's Mahan Air

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Europe

• Khashoggi Fiancee Urges UK Gov't To Stop Saudi Prince To Put Himself Above British Law

• Syria Parties Agree To Geneva Talks, UN Envoy Says

• Major Islamic festivities recognized as state holidays in Ukraine

• Turkey, Germany, France, UK hold teleconference meeting

• Suspected Al Qaeda-linked extremist played chess on counter-terror programme

• Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed talks coronavirus with France’s Macron

• Syrian prison head on trial in Germany denies overseeing torture

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Mideast

• Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem To Reopen After Eid Al-Fitr

• Palestinian president declares end to all agreements with Israel and US

• Israel’s Netanyahu must attend trial opening: Justice ministry

• Iran: Palestine’s fate can only be decided by Palestinians

• Hamas: Israelis held in Gaza won’t be released without real swap deal

• Iran-Made Coronavirus-Related Items Popular in More Countries

• VP: Iran No More Needs Imports of Anti-Coronavirus Equipment

• Senior MP Underscores IRGC Aerospace Force’s Plans to Orbit Satellites in 36,000-km Altitude

• Official Underlines Failure of Israel’s Cyberattack against Iranian Port’s Installations

• Top Security Official Stresses “Fruitless” US Attempts to Extend Arms Embargos against Iran

• Judiciary Spokesman: Israel’s Annihilation Closer Every Year

• Against evidence, Israel defense minister claims Iran withdrawing from Syria: Experts

• Iranian proxies to choose winner of award named after slain commander Soleimani

• International Quds Day 2020: An opportunity to support the oppressed

• Gen. Soleimani predicted looming victory against Israel in letter to Palestinian cmdr.

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Pakistan

• Pakistan's Supreme Court Orders Reopening of Shopping Malls, Markets

• Punjab To Implement 2 Per Cent Quota for Minority Students

• NA to hold marathon session to fulfil constitutional requirement

• NAB Opens Probe Against Religious Affairs Minister

• Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia express support for intra-Afghan dialogue

• Seven soldiers killed in militant attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan

• Pakistan reports over 1,800 new Covid-19 cases, 36 deaths: Health Ministry

• Govt considers putting Shahbaz’s name on no-fly list

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Africa

• Coronavirus: South Sudan’s Vice President, Wife Test Positive ForCOVID-19

• UN envoy urges end to foreign support for warring sides in Libya

• UN official says militants from Syria being sent to fight in Libya

• Libyan army destroys missile system used by Haftar

• Libyan war to intensify with devastating outcomes: UN

• Libyan army's retake of Al-Watiya on world media

• Libya: Airstrikes target militia escaping key base

• Libya to document violations of Haftar supporters

• Authorities: Boko Haram attacks Nigerian village, killing 20

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/muslim-doctors,-paramedic-staff-work-through-ramzan,attending-to-covid-19-patients-win-hearts/d/121903

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Muslim Doctors, Paramedic Staff Work Through Ramzan,  Attending To Covid-19 Patients Win Hearts

May 15, 2020

MALERKOTLA: Even as most of them are fasting during the Ramzan, Muslim doctors and paramedical staff at the civil hospital and Covid centre here are attending to Covid-19 patients, mostly pilgrims returning to Sangrur district from Nanded in Maharashtra. The Muslim-majority Malerkotla town though does not have a single active case of its own, as of now.

“We have 35 Covid-19 patients, mostly Nanded Sahib returnees, from various parts of Sangrur district. They have been kept in a separate isolation ward. We have around 15-20 Muslim doctors and paramedical staff members involved in the fight against Covid-19.

Although most of them are fasting, they are taking best care of the patients, both positive and suspected ones,” said Jaswinder Singh, senior medical officer (SMO) at the civil hospital here.

These doctors and paramedical staff members are also part of the team that is screening daily 500-600 persons going out of the state, he said.

On their part, the Muslim doctors and paramedical staff say they would remember this challenging time throughout their lives.

“Since the outbreak of pandemic, I have worked at isolation ward and also doing screening of patients. Being a mother of twin daughters, who are around one-and-half years old, I have to look after them too. My grandmother takes care of them when I am on duty. Work for me is like worship. It is very challenging for me and other staff members, who are fasting during Ramzan,” said Dr Sameen Zahra, a Covid warrior, who heads the team that screens persons wanting to go their states.

“However, there is a satisfaction that I am serving people at a time when they need our services most. I am also given evening duties and we don’t even have time to break fast (Iftar) properly, but then it is part of job,” she added.

“Taking care of patients when we are fasting will earn us blessings from the Allah as Ramzan is the month of blessings. We feel satisfied that we are working for the people in such trying times,” said Dr Bilal, a medical officer at the hospital.

Residents of the town are also appreciating the efforts of Muslim doctors and paramedics. “We are thankful to them for taking care of patients in such testing times, despite fasting in Ramzan. We can only wish that the God showers His blessings on them,” said Zulfikar Ahmed, a resident of town.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ludhiana/punjab-muslim-doctors-paramedic-staff-work-through-ramzan-win-hearts/articleshow/75752303.cms

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Do not perform Eid prayer behind a TV screen, says al-Azhar scholar

19 May 2020

As Ramadan approaches its final days and Muslims worldwide prepare for Eid al-Fitr amid coronavirus lockdowns, a top Egyptian scholar is urging people to not pray directly behind a television or a radio broadcasting the Eid prayers.

Mahmoud Muhanna, a member of al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars, told Al Arabiya’s sister channel Al Hadath that it is not permissible to pray behind a television screen or radio unit while following an imam’s Eid prayers via broadcast.

“Eid prayers will be performed within the home with two rakats [units of prayers] with seven takbeers in the first rakat using the ihram takbeer and five takbeers during the second rakat,” Muhanna told Al Hadath’s Lamees al-Hadidi during her Cairo Now bi-weekly program.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and is expected to begin on Sunday, May 23, pending the sighting of the moon given Islam’s following of the lunar calendar.

Read more: Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia will not allow group prayers until it’s safe, ministry says

The global coronavirus pandemic has forced mosques around the world to close to worshippers as part of measures to stem the spread of the virus. Muslims often perform communal prayers in mosques that require them to stand side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder.

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh earlier this week confirmed people can perform the Eid al-Fitr prayer inside their homes given the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/coronavirus/2020/05/19/Coronavirus-Do-not-perform-Eid-prayer-behind-a-TV-screen-says-al-Azhar-scholar.html

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Taliban ‘won’t allow Islamic State to operate in Afghanistan’

Kallol Bhattacherjee

MAY 19, 2020

“Calling the current Afghan Islamic national liberation movement terrorists or a proxy is an untrue and provocative statement,” Suhail Shaheen, spokesman of the Taliban's Doha-based Political Office, tells The Hindu.

The Taliban is not a proxy of any country and it does not want to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations, the group’s political spokesperson said on Tuesday.

“Calling the current Afghan Islamic national liberation movement terrorists or a proxy is an untrue and provocative statement,” Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of the Taliban's Doha-based Political Office, told The Hindu.

He spoke about India’s policy on Afghanistan soon after the deputy leader of Taliban’s Political Office in Qatar, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, was reported to have accused India of playing a “negative role” inside Afghanistan. Part of India’s concern over the Taliban’s opinions, especially on Kashmir, stems from the fact that South Block still considers it a terror group and has refused to engage it in a dialogue.

Mr. Shaheen also indirectly dismissed social media reports about the outfit’s opinion on the Kashmir issue, vowing to stay away from the domestic affairs of other countries. “The Islamic Emirate has a clear policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”

He also addressed the issues raised by National Security Advisory Board member Amar Sinha, who in an interview to The Hindu had questioned why the Taliban was unwilling to fight ISIS-KP jointly with the Afghan government.

The U.S. had blamed the ISIS-KP for the recent attack on a hospital in Kabul and the Taliban had blamed “malicious elements” for the killings. In response to the Indian official’s doubts, Mr. Shaheen said the Taliban is an independent entity and will not join hands with others to fight ISIS. “Based on Doha Accord with the U.S., we will not allow any one to use the soil of Afghanistan against any one. It is our commitment. We don’t join hands with any one. We are independent people,” he said, adding that those Indian policymakers who oppose exchanges with the Taliban are not realistic.

“Why should India give legitimacy to this kind of force in its own neighbourhood?” Mr. Sinha had asked in the interview where he had criticised the group for not declaring a ceasefire in the month of Ramzan. Mr. Sinha’s remarks had followed the Delhi visit of U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who had urged India to engage the Taliban. Sources familiar with the exchanges with the envoy had said India was yet to decide on whether to engage the Taliban. Mr. Shaheen maintained that the Indian officials who oppose engagement with the Taliban are “following a failed policy”.

“As such they are not speaking for the interests of the people of India while they should, and are in fact, speaking for the interests of a few at the saddle of power in Kabul. Consequently, India could not find a proper place among the masses of Afghanistan despite spending a lot in the country,” said Mr. Shaheen.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/taliban-wont-allow-islamic-state-to-operate-in-afghanistan/article31627428.ece

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Idul Fitr Comes as Real Test for Jakarta's Fight Against Coronavirus

MAY 19, 2020

Jakarta. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has decided to extend the city's large-scale social restriction, or PSBB, until June 4 for what he wished would be the last time before the capital could reopen.

Indonesia's capital city, the epicenter of the outbreak, first imposed the 14-day PSBB on April 10.

However, the real test will come this weekend when Indonesian Muslims celebrate Idul Fitr, the day after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Normally during their biggest holiday, Muslims would hold a congregational prayer in the morning and meet relatives and friends later to ask forgiveness and celebrate the moment.

"We're about to embrace Lebaran, but please stay at home with your families and refrain from outdoor activities so that we can end this PSBB once and for all. The government and law enforcement officials alone can't make this happen, everyone has to make an effort," Anies told reporters at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

He claimed the peak of the Covid-19 transmissions in the city was already past in March, despite the capital remaining among the biggest contributors to daily cases nationwide until today.

"Remember that we once had the highest number [of coronavirus transmissions] in March. We don't want to return to that level again. We want to continue [to progress] from the current condition," Anies said.

Earlier in the day, the National Covid-19 Task Force said 26 provinces had reported new cases in the past 24 hours.

Jakarta had the most cases with 98. The capital city now has a total of 6,155 confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Nationwide there were 489 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 18,496.

This was the eighth consecutive day when the number of daily cases surpassed 480, continuing the country's toughest week since the outbreak began in early March.

East Java, which has emerged as a new breeding ground for the coronavirus since late April, reported 81 new cases to take the province's total to 2,377.

South Sumatra was Tuesday's third-biggest contributor with 60 cases.

The national tally also includes 1,221 deaths, 30 more than a day earlier.

Task Force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said 143 more Covid-19 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of patients who have been discharged from hospitals to 4,467, or 24 percent of the total cases.

Anies said the fourth stage of the social restriction starting on Friday is hopefully the last, but he admitted things might take a turn for the worse if residents didn't honor social distancing guidelines especially during Idul Fitr.

During this critical period, the governor said all Jakarta residents must strictly observe social distancing and follow health protocol such as washing hands frequently, wearing masks and avoiding public gathering and social activities.

"If we do this together, we can reopen Jakarta, of course under what people have been calling the new normal," he said.

"The period between May 22 and June 4 will provide a clue to determine whether or not Covid-19 transmissions in Jakarta can be contained," Anies said.

If the fourth stage of the PSBB is successful, the city government will decide which business sectors can reopen first, he said.

Separately, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the government has not banned people from holding the Idul Fitr prayer, but they must do so in accordance with the health protocol.

"What we are asking is that the prayer has to follow the health protocol and that means it has to be performed at home. We've said this often enough," Jokowi said in a video conference from the State Palace.

On Monday, the Covid-19 Task Force invited the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to brief Muslims that they are allowed to hold the Idul Fitr prayer at home during the pandemic.

https://jakartaglobe.id/news/idul-Fitr-comes-as-real-test-for-jakartas-fight-against-coronavirus

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Muslim Community Responds to New York City’s Food Insecurity Crisis

By Kristen Gianaris -

May 19, 2020

Rabat – With US mosques closed during the holy month of Ramadan, a popular time for community gatherings and a time for fasting from sunrise to sunset, New York City’s Muslim community is stepping up their collaborative efforts to mitigate the city’s food insecurity crisis.

The Muslim Community Center (MCC), based out of Brooklyn, has traditionally supported New York City’s homeless community through their Ramadan charity work and food drive. This year, the organization’s efforts are expanding to support a greater population of those in need while facilitating volunteer work as a new tool to strengthen their faith.

The MCC has seen nearly double the number of beneficiaries at their Ramadan food drive.

“As you see here [filming a long line of people waiting to receive free meals], there are hundreds of people here,” said a member of the community whose video was posted on the MCC Facebook page. The line of people waiting to receive donations stretches approximately six blocks in just one of the four New York City locations set up between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Organizers say that regardless of religion, anyone is welcome to receive the food.

The MCC is providing hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves to volunteers and the local community in an effort to maintain a safe donation process.

Restaurant and food cart owners, shelters, and the New York Police Department’s Muslim Officers Society have teamed up with the MCC by realigning their businesses and organizations to replace the feeling of praying together in a mosque with a common goal to support those in need. 

Adeel Rana, the president of the Muslim Officer Society, told Al Jazeera that approximately 1,000 people benefit from the food carts daily.

“The feeling we’re getting is really reminiscing about being inside a mosque and praying together,” said Mohamed Bahi, director of the MCC.

“Instead of us praying together standing feet to feet, shoulder to shoulder, we’re feeding the homeless together feet to feet, shoulder to shoulder,” he added.

The MCC will also be facilitating a “Drive-Thru Eid El Fitr Feast” on May 24, the date expected to mark the end of Ramadan. The drive-thru event aims to provide families, particularly children, with a safe and fun way to celebrate Eid. Community members will be able to drive their cars up to the MCC’s masjid and receive free candy, balloons, and other gifts with the help of volunteers.

New York City remains the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, with more than 193,000 confirmed cases and 15,786 deaths. Aside from the thousands of lives lost, the novel coronavirus has taken its toll on the economy, putting thousands in need of financial support.

According to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, food insecurity in the city has already doubled due to the pandemic, putting people suffering from homelessness in an especially vulnerable position.

https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/05/303080/muslim-community-responds-to-new-york-citys-food-insecurity-crisis/

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Khashoggi fiancee urges UK gov't to stop Saudi prince to put himself above British law

Rabia Iclal Turan  

19.05.2020

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has urged the British government to block a planned Saudi Arabia-funded takeover of Premier League team Newcastle United.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Cengiz urged the UK government to stop Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to "raise himself above the law of the land" with the proposed takeover.

Khashoggi’s fiancee said the Saudi crown prince has been using this takeover to improve his shaken image on the world stage, although many details of the murder are still unknown.

“He uses this kind of commercial investment initiatives to get his legitimacy back into the world stage,” Cengiz told Anadolu Agency, adding: “In other words, he abuses this takeover to come clean.”

Saudi Arabia is not a country with a modern law and justice system that is accepted throughout the modern world today, Cengiz said.

Besides, she added: “the Saudi Prince is above any law in his country.”

“If this sale happens, you will have given him the message that he is above the law in your country,” she said, and added: “Do not let him raise himself above the law of your land,” calling on British authorities.

Cengiz asked why the human rights organizations, lawyers and journalists are still waiting for this sale to happen. “It’ll not matter once the sale is closed. They need to act before it’s too late,” she said.

She also urged human rights groups to immediately take action to stop Saudi takeover of Newcastle United FC. She said once the sale happens, they can not take any action beyond “condemning”.

British billionaire Mike Ashley, the current owner of Newcastle United since 2007, put the club up for sale in 2017.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund, chaired by bin Salman, bid some £300 million ($374 million) to take over Newcastle. If the transaction is approved, the fund will own 80% of the club.

Call for international probe into Khashoggi murder

Cengiz also added that the Saudi government has not carried out a proper investigation on the murder of Khashoggi.

“Rather, they either covered up or denied the already revealed facts,” she said.

She also called on the UN to launch an international investigation into Khashoggi murder. “Now it is already time to start an international investigation or mobilize the international institutions in this regard,” she said, and asked: “What is the reason to wait any longer?”

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the country's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

Riyadh offered various, conflicting narratives to explain his disappearance before acknowledging he was murdered in the diplomatic building while seeking to shift blame for his death on a botched rendition operation being carried out by rogue agents.

Khashoggi's body has never been found.

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Agnes Callamard concluded in an earlier report that Khashoggi's murder was a "deliberate, premeditated execution" and encouraged an investigation of bin Salman.

Saudi officials, however, have insisted that the crown prince was not involved in the murder.

Saudi Arabia announced at the end of last year death penalty for five people for taking part in Khashoggi's murder.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/khashoggi-fiancee-urges-uk-govt-to-stop-saudi-prince-to-put-himself-above-british-law-/1846036

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Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem to reopen after Eid al-Fitr

19 May 2020

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque will reopen to worshippers after the Eid holiday, a statement from its governing body said Tuesday, two months after closing due to the coronavirus.

“The council decided to lift the suspension on worshippers entering the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque after the Eid al-Fitr holiday,” a statement from the Waqf organisation said, referring to the holiday expected to begin this weekend.

The statement added that the exact terms of the reopening of Islam’s third holiest site would be announced later.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/coronavirus/2020/05/19/Coronavirus-Al-Aqsa-mosque-in-Jerusalem-to-reopen-after-Eid-al-Fitr-Statement.html

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Pakistan's Supreme Court orders reopening of shopping malls, markets

May 19, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Amid a sharp nationwide spike in Covid-19 cases, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday ordered authorities to reopen all shopping malls and markets across the country days after crowded marketplaces in Punjab and Sindh were sealed by provincial governments for violating social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of the disease.

Hearing a suo motu case, a five-member larger bench of the top court headed by Chief Justice (CJ) Gulzar Ahmed said that if shops weren’t reopened, shopkeepers would "die of hunger rather than corona", a statement echoed by Prime Minister Imran Khan a number of times since the emergence of the corona crisis.

The CJ also directed authorities to allow markets to remain open seven days a week, as opposed to the current practice of four days to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. "Keeping markets closed two days a week violates Articles 4, 18 and 25 of the Constitution, which deal with rights of individuals to be dealt with under law, freedom of impartial trade, and equality of all citizens under law, respectively," the CJ said.

"Coronavirus does not go anywhere on Saturday and Sunday," he remarked.

The bench said that it would be the government’s responsibility to ensure that standard operating procedures (SOPs) were being followed in all aspects of business.

The apex court also slammed a performance report submitted by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a body mandated to deal with the whole spectrum of disasters and their management in the country, on its Covid-19 response, saying the organisation was utilising the country’s resources in "a wrong manner". Despite being a civilian body, NDMA has always been headed by army generals.

On Monday, Pakistan crossed 43,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 910 deaths and 11,922 recoveries.

Meanwhile, the country’s railways minister, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, announced that train operations across Pakistan will resume from Wednesday.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pakistans-supreme-court-orders-reopening-of-shopping-malls-markets/articleshow/75814408.cms

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Coronavirus: South Sudan’s vice president, wife test positive for COVID-19

19 May 2020

South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar and his wife Angelina Teny, who serves as defence minister, have tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said on Monday.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

It said that “a number of his office staff and bodyguards” had also tested positive for COVID-19.

Machar said on state television that he would be in self-isolation for 14 days in his residence.

So far, South Sudan has recorded 347 cases of coronavirus and six deaths.

Last week authorities reported two COVID-19 cases in a camp outside the capital Juba, raising concerns among humanitarians that the infection could devastate the crowded settlement.

“We are particularly concerned that there have been a couple of cases that tested positive in the camp here just outside Juba. There are tens of thousands of internally displaced persons living there, so they live in quite cramped conditions,”

James Reynolds, from the International Committee of the Red Cross in South Sudan, said in a statement.

He added that measures such as social distancing and regular hand washing would not be easily applicable in the camp.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/coronavirus/2020/05/19/Coronavirus-South-Sudan-s-vice-president-wife-test-positive-for-COVID-19.html

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India

 

Lockdown Miracle: 'Guardian Angel' Clears Rs 10 Lakh Loans Of Four Strangers In Mizoram

15th May 2020

GUWAHATI: A man in Mizoram emerged as an angel to clear the bank loans of four people he never knew.

The reason – he derives joy by doing something for people who need help.

The man offered help on the strict condition that his identity must not be revealed. He did not seek any publicity for his act of benevolence.

He helped close the loan accounts of the quartet – three of them women – by transferring Rs 9,96,365. Except for a very few at the State Bank of India’s (SBI) Aizawl branch, nobody knows who he is.

“Three of us at our bank branch have known this gentleman for some time. So, he visited us the other day to tell us about his intention. He said if we select some people who had availed of loan to be self-reliant by mortgaging property but are struggling to repay, he will make the payment. He had limited the help to Rs 10 lakh,” the SBI branch Assistant General Manager Sheryl Vanchhong said.

She said they selected four such people who were doing some petty trades but were suffering in the COVID-19 lockdown. Subsequently, the mysterious man had transferred the money online.

Sheryl said the beneficiaries were called the next day and when they arrived, the land documents they had mortgaged were returned. They were perplexed but when everything was revealed, they lost words to thank the unidentified man.

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At their insistence, the bank had requested the man to visit the branch. However, he refused to come as he stood firm against publicity.

The bank had urged the four beneficiaries not to make public the help that came in for them.

However, the only man, Muana L Fanai, took to social media to thank the "guardian angel". He had availed the loan for poultry farming.

He wrote: "I suffered a series of setbacks, which worsened after the novel coronavirus outbreak. This mysterious man cleared my outstanding amount of Rs 2,46,631."

Sheryl said the man is a businessman based in Aizawl.

"This is the first time that he made the help anonymous. He helped a lot of people in the past,” she said, adding, "He is an important customer of SBI and well known in our bank circles."

https://www.newindianexpress.com/good-news/2020/may/15/lockdown-miracle-guardian-angel-clears-rs-10-lakh-loans-of-four-strangers-in-mizoram-2143833.html

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Rosario Cathedral In Mangalore Opens Doors To Migrants

May 16, 2020

Mangalore, May 16, 2020: When the district administration asked if the cathedral and its schools could accommodate migrant workers, Father J.B. Crasta didn’t have to think twice.

Rosario Cathedral in Mangalore is now putting up in its three schools and auditoriums hundreds of migrant workers who are arriving in the city to catch their train home.

Since May 13, when it opened its doors to them, the church has provided shelter to more than 800 migrant workers in transit and more are on their way.

“The district officials asked if we could accommodate the poor workers who were struggling without proper food and accommodation,” Fr Crasta, parish priest and rector of the cathedral, told The Telegraph on May 15.

“We provide the accommodation and all the basic amenities such as a place to sleep and washrooms, while the district administration feeds them.”

The local administration had decided to move the migrant workers, scattered across Dakshina Kannada and neighbouring districts, to Mangalore city from where they would board their special trains.

“These boys don’t stay here for long. Basically we are just providing a transit home so that they get a few days’ rest before taking the train,” Fr Crasta said.

He said the workers usually arrived extremely tired.

“We are glad we have been of some help to these poor people who need a lot more assistance in times like this. I understand they have been unemployed since the lockdown and their families back home are in distress,” the priest said.

About 400 migrant workers whom the church had accommodated left for Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on May 14 . On May 15, there were “200 to 300” there, Fr Crasta said.

The district administration has been providing buses for the workers to travel to the railway station.

While special trains for the migrant workers in Bangalore began running from May 4, the labourers stranded in Mangalore and its neighbourhood had to wait till May 9.

The May 9 train was run after hundreds of workers agitated at Mangalore railway station on May 8. The same day, 120 workers were stopped while trying to go home in two trucks that were returning to Haryana after unloading their cargo. On May 13, over 1,000 migrant workers were stopped from setting off on foot for their villages, hundreds of kilometres away.

Local people in Bantwal near Mangalore had alerted the officials, who eventually persuaded the labourers to abort their dangerous journey and wait for trains.

http://mattersindia.com/2020/05/church-opens-doors-to-migrants/

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Subramanian Swamy Asks for Source After UN Official Criticises His Muslim ''Comment''

19 MAY 2020

United Nations, May 19 (IANS) After a UN human rights official criticised BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, saying that the latters alleged statements about Muslims were "extremely alarming", the BJP lawmaker sought source clarification.

Earlier, Under-Secretary-General Adama Dieng said on Monday that alleged statements attributed to Swamy like "all people are not equal", and that "Muslims are not in an ''equal category'' as others" were extremely alarming.

Dieng added, "Hate speech and the dehumanisation of others go against international human rights norms and values."

However, the BJP lawmaker, while speaking to IANS, shot back and demanding to know "the source or medium" of the alleged statement attributed to Swamy by Dieng. Swamy asked, "Or is it cut and paste fake news?"

Meanwhile, Dieng, who is also the special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said he was concerned by "reports of increased hate speech and discrimination against minority" since the adoption of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Interestingly, he described the violent attacks on non-Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh as "alleged persecution". Dieng claimed that the expedited citizenship given to non-Muslim minorities should be extended to Muslims in order to be non-discriminatory.

Excluding Muslims "is contrary to India''s obligations under international human rights law, in particular on non-discrimination," he said, without explaining how a measure to explicitly protect religious minorities from Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are officially Islamic countries, and Muslim-majority Bangladesh would apply to the members of the majority religion there.

"While the objective of the act, to provide protection to minority communities, is commendable, it is concerning that this protection is not extended to all groups, including Muslims," Dieng said.

Strikingly, while he called the minorities'' experience in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh "alleged persecution", his statement was silent on the killing of 25 Muslims in Afghanistan in March during an attack on a gurdwara.

He said that he was concerned "over reports that demonstrations against the law, which occurred across some regions of India since its enactment, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, had reportedly resulted in the injury and death of civilians, attacks on religious sites, as well as an increase in expressions of hate against India''s Muslim community."

However, Dieng said that he welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi''s statement that Covid-19 "does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking and that our response and conduct should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood."

The statement said that that he "would continue to follow developments (in India) and expressed his readiness to support initiatives to counter and address hate speech."

"In these extraordinary times brought about by the Covid-19 crisis, it is more important than ever that we stand united as one humanity, demonstrating unity and solidarity rather than division and hate," he added.

However, with Swamy seeking an explanation from him over the source of his alleged comment, the ball is now in Dieng''s court.

https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/swamy-asks-for-source-after-un-official-criticises-his-muslim-comment/1839965

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Top Hizb commander, a separatist’s son, among 2 killed in Srinagar encounter

May 19, 2020

SRINAGAR: Top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Junaid Sehrai, son of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat chairman Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, was among two terrorists killed in an encounter at Nawa Kadal in Srinagar’s downtown area on Tuesday. Three CRPF personnel and a policeman were also injured in the firefight, the first in Srinagar in the past two years.

On August 12, 2018, a cop was killed and four security personnel injured in a similar gunbattle in Batamaloo area. On October 17 the same year, three Lashkar terrorists were gunned down in an anti-insurgency operation in Fateh Kadal, in which a policeman also lost his life.

Unlike the kin of most Kashmiri separatists who prefer joining government jobs or businesses, Junaid (30) chose the path of terrorism and became a member of the proscribed outfit in March 2018. An MBA from Kashmir University, he was Hizbul Mujahideen (HM)’s divisional commander for central Kashmir — Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts — and tasked with recruiting and training youth besides heading terror activities in the region. “A native of Kupwara district, Junaid resided in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area with his father. He would hold meetings with the city youth and lure them into joining militancy,” J&K DGP Dilbagh Singh said while addressing a press conference later in the day.

Before picking up arms, Junaid was a mastermind behind organising stone-pelting attacks on security forces in Srinagar, IGP (Kashmir range) Vijay Kumar said. “He led mobs to create law-and-order disturbances in a bid to disrupt ongoing anti-insurgency operations. He also instigated youth to proceed towards encounter sites to make safe passage for holed-up terrorists’ escape,” Kumar said.

Since joining HM, Junaid was involved in several terror crimes including grenade attacks in south and central Kashmir, attacks on security forces and bank robberies. He even indulged in the distribution of drugs and narcotics among youth and later used them as his overground workers, the IGP added.

The second terrorist slain in Tuesday’s encounter was identified as Tariq Ahmed Sheikh from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, who was active in Pulwama and Shopian districts, DGP Singh added.

Tuesday’s encounter comes two weeks after Hizbul chief Riyaz Naikoo — one of the outfit’s longest-surviving commanders in Kashmir who was on the run for eight years — was killed along with a close aide, Adil Bhat, in a 42-hour-long anti-insurgency operation in Beighpora area of Awantipora, in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district that ended on May 6. Soon after, HM appointed 26-year-old Saifullah Mir, aka Ghazi Haider — who was radicalised by Naikoo — as its new chief.

On Tuesday, upon receiving specific intelligence inputs, a joint team of CRPF and J&K Police’s special operations group launched a cordon-and-search operation in Nawa Kadal’s Kanimazar area around 2am and zeroed-in on two terror hideouts. “The first thing we did in the morning was to evacuate the residents from the area. In the process, a CRPF man and SOG cop were injured. In the final assault, a terrorist hurled a hand grenade in which two more CRPF personnel were wounded,” DGP Singh said.

The hideouts were then bombed, killing the terrorists. DGP Singh said only one residential house caught fire in the operation, which was doused immediately. Local residents, however, claimed that several houses were damaged during the encounter. Mobile internet and telephone services — barring BSNL postpaid connections — were temporarily suspended in Srinagar as a precautionary measure, and restored later in the evening.

There are not more than 240 terrorists active in Kashmir Valley, among which around 14 are in central Kashmir, the DGP said, adding that 73 terrorists have been killed so far in 2020 while 95 terrorists and their associates have been arrested.

Junaid’s father Ashraf Sehrai (72), who is considered more of a hardliner than his predecessor and Tehreek-e-Hurriyat’s founding chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was elected after the latter relinquished his position in 2018. Geelani had been the organisation’s chairman since it was formed in 2004 while Sehrai acted as its general secretary.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/top-hizb-commander-among-2-killed-in-srinagar-encounter/articleshow/75835252.cms

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Pakistan violates ceasefire along LoC in Rajouri

May 19, 2020

JAMMU: Pakistan on Tuesday violated ceasefire and resorted to unprovoked mortar shelling and small arms firing, targeting forward Indian posts and border villages along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K’s Rajouri district.

The breach of truce comes two days after Pak troops violated ceasefire along the LoC in Degwar sector of Poonch district on Sunday.

“Around 7.30am, Pakistan initiated unprovoked and indiscriminate firing of small arms and mortar shelling along the LoC in Rajouri’s Sunderbani sector. Indian troops retaliated befittingly, and no injury or damage was suffered,” Jammu-based defence spokesperson Lt Col Devender Anand said.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pakistan-violates-ceasefire-along-loc-in-rajouri/articleshow/75834897.cms

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Over 300 terrorists in launch pads across LoC, 240 active in hinterland: J&K DGP

May 19, 2020

JAMMU: Over 300 terrorists are present in launch pads across the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (Pok), waiting to infiltrate into the Indian side, Jammu and Kashmir's director general of police (DGP) Dilbag Singh said on Tuesday.

He said that there was a high degree of vigilance by the security grid to foil Pakistan's design of pushing terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir.

"We have a fairly big number of terrorists who are waiting across that side to be pushed into Jammu and Kashmir. There are already around four incidents of infiltration in Kashmir valley and two to three such attempts have been made in Rajouri-Poonch area," he told PTI in an interview at the police headquarters.

Expressing concern over it, DGP said that Pakistan's ISI, Army and other agencies are very active and trained terrorists are ready in launch pads.

"The approximate number (of terrorists in launching pads along LoC in PoK) on Kashmir side is 150 to 200 and on this side (Jammu region), it is between 100 to 125 as per the latest assessment of our agencies", he said.

The police chief said that four groups of terrorists have been able to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir

"Regarding the International Border (IB), two to three terrorist groups have been able to infiltrate so far during the current year. That kind of notorious act by Pakistan continues," he said.

The DGP said that there are reports of infiltration by 30 terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir this year.

"On both sides (Jammu and Kashmir regions) put together, the number could be anywhere around 30 this year," Singh said, adding the number of infiltration attempts has gone up.

"That is one serious cause of concern for us," he added.

Singh said that over 240 terrorists are operating in the hinterland in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The number is going down, consistently. We started with a figure of 270 at the beginning of this year. The number today is around 240, which is as per the list of latest figures," he added.

He said that the security grid is also taking care of the situation in the hinterland and "we have had a large number of successful operations during the last four months".

"We have been able to eliminate 70 plus terrorists so far which includes 21 terror commanders of various outfits. They were active in Kashmir and Jammu region", he added.

On the infiltration attempts, he said, "The summer grid is working actively on both sides. I think we will be watching developments very closely."

He said that the border grid is quite strong.

"People deployed on the borders are able to take care of infiltration. But there are still chances that some of them are able to sneak in with a view to foment trouble here to promote and create terror activities in J&K," he added.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/over-300-terrorists-in-launch-pads-across-loc-240-active-in-hinterland-dgp/articleshow/75832279.cms

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NIA arrests Hizbul militant wanted in killing of RSS man

May 20, 2020

In yet another setback to Hizbul Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir’s Chenab Valley region, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Tuesday arrested one of the most wanted militants from Kishtwar who was allegedly involved in the killing of RSS functionary Chander Kant Sharma and his PSO among others.

Identified as Rustam Ali, sources said he was a close associate of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo who was killed in an encounter with security forces earlier this month.

Rustam’s name had also figured in the NIA chargesheet filed into the killing of RSS functinary Sharma and his PSO in Kishtwar district hospital in April 2019.

Significantly, Rustam’s arrest came two days after the killing of a Hizbul Mujahideen militant, Tahir Bhat, by police and security forces in Doda district.

While Tahir was said to have been assigned the task of recruiting local youth into militant ranks in Doda district, Rustam had allegedly been recruiting youth in adjoining Kishtwar district.

Tahir was also allegedly involved in the killing of RSS leader and his PSO. After his killing on Sunday, the police reportedly also seized an AK 47 rifle from him.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/nia-arrests-hizbul-militant-wanted-in-killing-of-rss-man-6418175/

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Arab world

 

Syria bans public Eid al-Fitr prayers, urges Muslims to pray at home

19 May 2020

Syria will not hold public prayers during Eid al-Fitr holidays at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, authorities announced Monday, mirroring restrictions in Egypt and Algeria.

Inviting the faithful to pray at home with family, Damascus announced “the suspension of collective prayer in mosques for Eid,” state news agency SANA reported.

The decision by the legal committee of the ministry of religious endowments was aimed at restricting the spread of the new coronavirus.

Damascus has reported 58 cases and three deaths from the COVID-19 respiratory disease in areas of Syria under government control.

Eid al-Fitr is traditionally celebrated by morning prayers in mosques, family visits and large public gatherings.

Also read: Coronavirus: Egypt tightens measures during Eid al-Fitr holidays

On May 14, Syrian authorities banned public assemblies during the religious holiday, including at fairs popular with children, and imposed a nighttime curfew from 7.30 pm.

Egypt plans to tighten its curfew during Eid to combat the spread of the virus, as businesses and public transport remain closed.

Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s leading institution in Cairo, has authorized the suspension of mass prayers at mosques.

Algeria has also ordered specific virus control measures during Eid al-Fitr.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/coronavirus/2020/05/19/Coronavirus-Syria-bans-public-Eid-al-Fitr-prayers-urges-Muslims-to-pray-at-home-.html

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Jailed Saudi royals hire Trump-tied lobbyists to counter MbS: NYT

19 May 2020

A number of prominent jailed Saudi royals and their allies have reportedly hired influential lobbyists in the US to establish links with President Donald Trump’s circle and push for an end to “political persecution” by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while he is busy dealing with a coronavirus-related economic crisis in the kingdom.

According to a report published by The New York Times newspaper, allies of several jailed Saudis have contacted Washington lawyers and consultants during the past few weeks, and mounted legal, lobbying and public relations campaigns as part of efforts to end what they term as political persecution by the kingdom’s 34-year-old de facto ruler.

The report added that an unnamed former senior associate of jailed Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud signed a $2-million agreement on May 15 to retain Trump-tied lobbyist Robert Stryk to “advocate for the release” of the imprisoned member of the House of Saud.

Last month, Barry Bennett, a Republican political consultant and former senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, signed a client with affiliation to an incarcerated Saudi prince, who had been a top rival of Mohammed bin Salman, also referred to as MbS.

Moreover, representatives of detained Princess Basmah bint Saud — a 56-year-old royal family member long seen as a proponent of women’s rights and a constitutional monarchy — have inconspicuously approached lawyers and consultants in Washington and London to garner support for such an objective.

Despite Saudi crown prince’s close relationship with Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, there is growing uneasiness in the Congress plus among some Pentagon and State Department officials with him, especially in the wake of the Saudi-led bloody war on Yemen and the premeditated murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.

The reported push in Washington comes as the coronavirus outbreak and plummeting oil prices have saddled Saudi Arabia with its worst financial crisis in decades in a blow to MbS.

Allies of imprisoned Saudi dissidents and their Washington representatives hope to pressure MbS through some combination of lobbying and public relations efforts to highlight the dire situation of human rights in Saudi Arabia and possible legal action in international courts in a bid to secure their release.

The New York Times noted that filings submitted by Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act point to the fact that the firm will reach out to the United States, Britain, France as well as the European Union to push for the release of Prince Salman.

Some pundits in Washington and Riyadh have speculated that Prince Salman may have got into a bitter rivalry with MbS by meeting with Rep Adam B Schiff, a leading Trump critic and later the manager of his impeachment, in the weeks before the 2016 US presidential election.

Lebanese American businessman Ahmad Khawaja, who was charged last December with funneling more than $3.5 million in illicit campaign donations to buy access and influence in Washington, was also present during the meeting.

Prince Salman’s allies have also approached Western leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, to rally support for his release.

Officials from the European Parliament have raised concerns about the detention of the Saudi prince and his father in letters to the European Commission and to Crown Prince Mohammed.

Prince Salman was among 11 princes arrested in January 2018 as part of a so-called anti-corruption campaign.

He reportedly spent about a year in the maximum security al-Ha'ir Prison, located approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the Saudi capital Riyadh, before being transferred to home detention at a villa in Riyadh with his father. He was moved again this year.

Earlier this year, bin Salman launched a new campaign of arrests against royals over an alleged coup attempt to unseat him and his father King Salman, sparking yet another outcry from human rights organizations.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625692/Jailed-Saudis-seek-lobby-in-Washington-to-counter-Riyadh%E2%80%99s-de-facto-ruler

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Organization of Islamic Cooperation to pursue response campaign until virus contained

May 19, 2020

RIYADH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Monday said all its institutions are working in different sectors to help overcome the problems caused due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The OIC General Secretariat emphasized that it will pursue its response campaign until the virus is contained, and will continue to support the overall efforts to cushion the impact of the pandemic on member states.

The organization has also launched a campaign on social media to raise awareness about the virus and to highlight its efforts during the health crisis.

OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen has also approved an initiative launched by the Islamic Solidarity Fund (ISF) to defeat the pandemic. The ISF has dedicated a fund to help member states, especially those that are the least developed, battle the coronavirus.

Regarding the health impacts of the pandemic, the OIC in coordination with the UAE, which assumes the chairmanship of the 7th Islamic Conference of Health Ministers, held an extraordinary virtual ministerial meeting of the OIC Steering Health Committee.

A key recommendation of the joint statement issued was the need to increase and accelerate the transparent exchange of information on the pandemic.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1676776/saudi-arabia

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Security Forces Discover 6 ISIL Terrorists’ Hideouts in Eastern Iraq

May 19, 2020

The Arabic-language al-Akhbariyeh news website quoted a security source in Eastern Iraq as saying that the security and intelligence forces in cooperation with counterterrorism units in Diyali province found and destroyed 6 hideouts of the ISIL terrorists in Wadi al-Thalab region and killed four militants.

In another development on Tuesday, the brigade 23 of Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi popular forces) engaged in clashes with the ISIL terrorists in al-Azim region, killing a number of them near the village of Albu Mare’i.

Earlier this month, a senior commander of Hashd al-Shaabi said the ISIL terrorist group planned to repeat its 2014 Mosul occupation scenario in a new move in several Iraqi provinces, but has failed.

“The ISIL planned to implement the plot through recent attacks in Salahuddin, Diyali and other provinces by using modern weapons and logistical support,” Sadiq al-Husseini told the Arabic-language al-Ma’aloumeh news website.

He added that the type of attacks and its targets show that the terrorist group intended to repeat the Mosul scenario in other Iraqi provinces, but failed.

Al-Husseini said that the ISIL was surprised by the rapid reaction shown by Hashd al-Shaabi and other Iraqi security forces and failed to implement its plots.

Another commander of Hashd al-Shaabi had warned early in May that the ISIL terrorist group has been reinvigorated and activated again in a number of provinces in Iraq.

“The Americans and the ISIL terrorists are repeating the same scenario they played during the collapse of Mosul in 2014, in Babel, Salahuddin and Diyali provinces and they are attempting to distort security and stir instability in those regions,” Qasim al-Ma’amouri, the commander of Hashd al-Shaabi’s Division 26, was quoted by al-Ma’aloumeh as saying.

“We have intelligence showing that the terrorist group has resumed its activities in several Iraqi provinces, including Babel, with the US help,” he added.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990230001065

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Migrant workers on weeks-long strike in Lebanon close to deal with employer

20 May 2020

After weeks of striking, migrant workers in Lebanon were close to reaching a deal to end the strike with their employer Tuesday – something unprecedented in Lebanon. An official for waste management company Ramco, Bangladeshi embassy officials and migrant workers confirmed to Al Arabiya English that a deal was close to being reached, but refused to divulge details.

The strike began in late April, and peaked last week with a sit in at the company’s premises close to Beirut, led by mainly Bangladeshi and Indian migrant workers. Their complaints included the payment of their wages in Lebanese lira – which is rapidly deteriorating in value – rather than the US dollars stipulated in their contract, and anger over the detainment and alleged abuse of one of their colleagues.

Last Tuesday, with workers preventing waste collection vehicles from leaving the premises, Ramco officials called security forces to the scene. Footage shared on social media shows riot police beating the grey-suited workers, deploying tear gas and making at least one arrest.

As of this week, while Ramco workers from Lebanon and surrounding countries such as Syria are continuing to work as normal, many of those from Bangladesh and India continue to strike.

Migrant workers in Lebanon have been hit particularly hard by the country’s financial crisis. They are tied to their employer by the kafala system, which was likened by former Lebanese Labor Mminister Camille Abousleiman to “modern day slavery,” and lack the same legal protections in the workforce as Lebanese workers.

According to Lebanese legal NGO the Legal Agenda, the strike by Ramco workers was potentially the first of its kind by migrant workers in the country. Representatives from the NGO said this could mark a “turning point” for migrant workers in the country.

With the value of the Lebanese lira tumbling from its official rate of 1,500 lira to the dollar, to recent lows of 4,500, migrant workers are seeing the value of the money, known as remittances, they send home plummet.

Read more: Food prices in Lebanon spike by 55 pct as locals struggle to feed families: Report

When the financial crisis began to grip last summer, Ramco – which is supposed to receive payment for government contracts in dollars – started paying employees 450,000 lira a month, which equates to the $350 stipulated in their contract at the official rate. Foreign workers have since negotiated an increase in their salary to 600,000 lira, but this figure still falls well below their dollar salary at market rates.

“There’s a prevalence of unpaid wages [for migrant workers],” said George Ghali, executive director at Lebanese human rights NGO ALEF. After the financial crisis, “Even if you were getting paid as a migrant worker … the value of what you were getting paid is completely undermined.”

Ramco workers told Al Arabiya English that they had not been paid for days they had not worked due to government lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, reducing their take-home wages yet further. Ramco denies the charge, saying workers are paid a full salary provided they have not taken part in the ongoing strike action.

Workers said one of their main grievances, beyond payment issues, that triggered their decision to strike was the abusive treatment of a colleague, who was described as “mentally unstable.” The man is alleged to have been held in an isolation room for three days as a result of his condition.

Read more: Economic crisis may pave way for reforms to Lebanon's sponsorship system

Workers say that while he was in isolation, he was beaten. His colleagues say they came to his assistance at one point while he was in isolation after hearing the man’s cries for help.

“He was being beaten so mercilessly that even we were shocked. We were accustomed to beating, but this seemed dangerous even to us,” one colleague told Al Arabiya English.

The man, interviewed on Tuesday, showed Al Arabiya English marks of abuse on his body and said, “The security tied me up and beat me. They locked me up for three days and beat me … My pain knew no limits.”

Ramco officials stringently deny the allegations and say that any physical marks were incurred when his colleagues tried to restrain the man while he was unstable.

The Bangladeshi embassy, which has been negotiating between striking workers and Ramco, told Al Arabiya English that the worker was not tortured and suggested the man’s story was being manipulated by colleagues to strengthen their hand in strike negotiations.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/05/20/Migrant-workers-on-weeks-long-strike-in-Lebanon-close-to-deal-with-employer.html

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Hard choices for the Iraq's new government

19 May 2020

The global oil prices crash has left the new Iraqi government with hard choices to make. Experts say that if oil prices remain low, the government will have to slash salaries of public sector employees – that make up a significant portion of its labor force – or dig deep into its foreign reserves and seek the support of foreign donors.

Iraq has faced compounding crises since the beginning of the year when coronavirus began its lethal spread and oil prices came crashing down. In Iraq, the price per barrel fell from $61 at the end of January to $20 in April.

Ahmad Tabaqchali, senior fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS), expects that Iraqi oil revenues will fall between $35-50 billion this year, compared to $90 billion in 2019.

Last year’s budget, which was $111.8 billion, is expected to increase to $140 billion this year, according to Dr. Abdel Rahman Najm Mshadani from the University of Iraq. With oil prices low, Mshadani said that an increase to state budget would produce an even larger deficit. The 2020 state budget has not yet been passed because of delays in government formation and disagreement with the Kurdistan region ( KRG) share of the budget. In May, Kurds described cuts in KRG salaries by the central government as illegal.

This will carry grave repercussions for Iraq's new government, headed by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, which depends on crude sales for 90 percent of its revenues. In early April, the Financial Times reported that Iraqi Prime Minister designate Adnan Zurfi warned that the oil price collapse meant the government could be unable to pay half of its public sector salaries. In 2011, public employment accounted for nearly 60 percent of fulltime employment in Iraq, according to UN data.

In an attempt to quell popular discontent that has grown since October, the Iraqi government hired an extra 500,000 people, meaning 4 million Iraqis now work in the public sector. Additionally, there are 3 million pensioners and 1 million who benefit from social security, according to Tabaqchali.

To make up for the bloated deficit, the government will have to take tough decisions.” Unlike Gulf countries, Iraq does not have a large investment budget that it can slash to reduce spending, and will have to cut public sector salaries and benefits instead,” said Tabaqchali.

A second option will be to dig deep in the central bank foreign reserves, estimated by Mashadani at round $70 billion, although other estimates put them closer to $65 billion. Low oil prices in the medium to long term would translate in a significant erosion of foreign reserves, necessary to ensure the country’s continued ability to buy imports. Mashadani underlines however that the central bank is already taking measures to mitigate the crisis’s impact by limiting foreign currency spending to food and medical necessities.

Printing money is another option for the government if the crisis extends, but this option would lead to inflation and potentially create more problems than it solves, explained Tabaqchali.

A decline in foreign currency reserves and larger supply of Iraqi dinar could weaken the local currency and erode people’s purchase power.

A last option, one that Nashadani believes to be unavoidable, is for the government to seek the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“We do not have a good track record with the IMF given that we failed to meet our previous commitments in 2016,” says Tabaqchali. The expert warns that this time, the IMF will require real reforms before providing the government with funds.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/05/19/Hard-choices-for-the-new-Iraqi-government.html

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Lebanon says it will honor Sonatrach fuel import contract amid probe

19 May 2020

Lebanon will honor a fuel import contract with Algerian state energy firm Sonatrach until the end of the year, the government said on Tuesday, as a judicial probe continues over tainted fuel shipped to the country.

Sonatrach, which supplies Lebanon with fuel under a 2005 contract, has denied any involvement in shipping tainted fuel. The Algerian presidency described the case last week as a “Lebanese-Lebanese issue” in which Algeria was not involved.

Lebanese Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar said a new tender would be held when the contract ends at the end of 2020. Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he said “non-compliant” fuel had arrived in Lebanon twice.

The fuel is used to power electricity plants run by a state-owned company that has long bled public funds.

Judge Ghada Aoun, the investigating prosecutor, has pressed charges against officials including the electricity company chairman and the oil installations director. She ordered the arrest of 17 people last month.

The state-run National News Agency has described the investigation as a probe into fraud, bribery, money laundering and manipulation.

The Algerian president has also ordered an investigation.

Sonatrach Petroleum Corporation (SPC), a London-based subsidiary in charge of the company’s operations abroad, said in a statement issued on April 26 that it was in contact with Lebanon to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

It also refuted what it described as untrue allegations about the involvement of a senior Sonatrach official, saying that one of the people questioned in Lebanon was an independent maritime agent working for Sonatrach.

Lebanon informed Sonatrach about the bad quality of a fuel cargo shipment in March, SPC said in the April 26 statement.

An energy industry source in Algeria said tests showed the fuel met standards before shipment but authorities ordered more tests upon arrival in Lebanon. SPC obtains cargoes from international trading companies before shipments go to Lebanon.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/business/energy/2020/05/19/Lebanon-says-it-will-honor-Sonatrach-fuel-import-contract-amid-probe.html

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Syria vows fight against ‘American, Turkish, Israeli occupiers’

19 May 2020

Syria’s UN envoy says any presence of foreign forces on Syrian soil without authorization from the Damascus government amounts to “aggression and occupation,” emphasizing the Arab nation’s right to defend its sovereignty and resources.

Addressing a teleconference meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday, Bashar al-Ja’afari said Syria would not abandon its right to safeguard its land and resources.

The Arab country, he added, is determined to keep up the fight against both foreign-backed terrorists and the occupiers, whether they are Americans, Turks or Israelis.

He slammed Turkey for sponsoring the terrorist groups that are active in different regions of northern Syria, describing Ankara’s move as a flagrant violation of its obligations under the agreements in Sochi, Moscow, Kazakhstan and under international law in general.

On the US military intervention in his country, Ja’afari said the American troops had begun to establish a new military base in the countryside of the eastern city of Dayr al-Zawr with the aim of tightening their grip on Syrian oil wells and looting the nation’s resources.

The senior Syrian diplomat further referred to the Israeli regime’s frequent acts of aggression against the country using the airspace over the Tel Aviv-occupied side of the Golan Heights or Syria’s neighbors.

Syria says such hostile practices — which are in flagrant violation of international law — are part of an agenda to prop up the terrorist groups wreaking havoc on the country and prolong the crisis gripping the nation since 2011.

Russia, US must push for Syria peace: UN envoy

Separately, the UN’s Syria envoy Geir Pedersen on Monday urged the US and Russia to make the most of “some calm” in the conflict-stricken country and push for peace amid the threats posed by remnants of the Daesh Takfiri terror group in the country as well as a coronavirus outbreak there.

The mediator told the 15-member Security Council that since the outbreak of conflict in the Arab country, too many “fleeting opportunities to turn dynamics towards a political path were lost,” warning that those “missed moments were followed by renewed violence and a hardening of positions.”

“With some calm, with the common threats of COVID and ISIS [Daesh terror group], and with the Syrian people continuing to suffer, I want to stress that renewed and meaningful international cooperation, building trust and confidence between international stakeholders and with Syrians ... is essential,” Pedersen said.

“I believe that Russian-American dialogue has a key role to play here, and I encourage them to pursue it,” he said.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625660/-Syria-UN-envoy-Ja%E2%80%99afari-Turkey-US-Israel-occupation

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Accusations of Russian war crimes in Syria ‘part of media war’

19 May 2020

Russia says allegations that the Russian military has committed war crimes in Syria are part of a “media war” on Moscow and are based on information from unidentified, unreliable sources.

Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations (UN), made the remark in an interview with Russia’s Kommersant business daily on Monday.

“There are many things we are accused of. Not only as concerns Syria. Regretfully, this is part of a war. A media war,” Nebenzya said, referring to accusations against Russian armed forces and alleged rights violations asserted by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

Nebenzya said that the Russian foreign and defense ministries had repeatedly refuted the allegations.

“The evidential base of these accusations is unidentified sources. In fact, these sources are familiar — experts in fakes from the White Helmets organization and others like them,” the Russian envoy said.

The so-called White Helmets, purporting to be civil defense activists in Syria, are known for their coordination with terrorist outfits in Syria to carry out staged chemical attacks to falsely incriminate Syrian government forces and invent pretexts for the United States to attack Syrian government positions.

Back in April 2018, the United States, Britain, and France carried out a string of airstrikes against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack on the city of Douma, located about 10 kilometers northeast of the capital, Damascus.

Washington and its allies blamed Damascus for the Douma attack, an allegation rejected by the Syrian government, which said the White Helmets had staged the false-flag operation to frame the Syrian government.

Syria surrendered its stockpile of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the United States and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry.

The US-backed White Helmets, operating solely in areas controlled by anti-government groups in Syria, are reported to have links to the al-Nusra Front terrorists.

In November last year, a survey by a Russian institution revealed that the White Helmets had been involved in the forcible removal of organs from civilians living in areas controlled by militants.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The government has been able to subdue the militants in almost the entire country.

In 2015, Russia, an ally of Damascus, launched an aerial campaign in support of the Syrian army that helped tilt the fighting in favor of the elected Syrian government.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625690/Russia-Syria-war-crimes-media-war

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Syria finds US-made TOW missiles, Israeli mines in southern region

19 May 2020

Syrian government officials have seized major stocks of Western-made weapons and munitions, including American TOW anti-tank missiles, while conducting clean-up operations in the country’s southwestern provinces of Dara’a, Suwayda and Quneitra.

Syria’s official news agency SANA, citing an informed source speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that the weapons were found as Syrian army troops were combing formerly militant-held areas.

Among the seized weapons were heavy machineguns, submachine guns, US-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missiles, Israeli-built M72 LAW portable anti-tank rockets, landmines, rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, automatic rifles, sniper rifles, hand grenades and ammunition of various calibers.

The source added that it is common for the Syrian army to confiscate large amounts of Israeli and US weapons left behind by foreign-sponsored Takfiri groups as government troops are discovering dozens of tunnels, underground weapons depots, in addition to command and control headquarters once used to attack Syrian army positions and residential neighborhoods.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding the Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country.

The government forces have already managed to undo militant gains across the country and bring back most of Syrian soil under government control.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625705/Syria-finds-US-made-TOW-missiles,-Israeli-mines-in-southern-region

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South Asia

 

Afghan forces repel Taliban attack on key city: officials

May 19, 2020

KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN: Afghan security forces on Tuesday repelled a fierce Taliban attack on Kunduz, officials said, a strategic city in northern Afghanistan that had briefly fallen to the militants twice in the past.

Taliban fighters attacked several outposts of Afghan forces on the outskirts of the city at around 1:00 am, triggering fierce fighting, a defence ministry statement said.

"With the support of air force their attack was repelled. Eleven Taliban were killed and eight wounded," it said, adding that the fighting lasted for several hours.

Both sides have repeatedly clashed in rural areas in recent months, but an attempt to enter a city like Kunduz is seen as a serious escalation.

It follows a declaration by President Ashraf Ghani last week to resume offensive strikes against the insurgents, after a string of brutal attacks.

The Taliban responded to the order by vowing to increase attacks against Afghan security forces.

During Tuesday's fighting, the insurgents managed to briefly capture an Afghan army post, killing one soldier, but it was quickly retaken by security forces, Hadi Jamal, an army spokesman in northern Afghanistan told AFP.

The Taliban were not immediately available for comment.

The insurgent group briefly captured Kunduz, a strategic city not far from the Tajikistan border, twice before -- in September 2015 and again exactly a year later.

The latest attack on the city came a day after the Taliban killed at least seven Afghan intelligence personnel in a car bomb attack in the eastern province of Ghazni.

Last week, gunmen stormed a hospital in Kabul killing 24, including mothers and infants.

That attack, which triggered international outrage, was followed by a suicide bombing at a funeral which killed at least 32 mourners.

The Taliban denied involvement in those attacks, although Ghani blamed the militants and the Islamic State group for the bloodshed.

Officials say the assaults are part of the Taliban's undeclared spring offensive.

Violence has spiked since the Taliban signed a deal with Washington in February, under which Washington said it would pull its troops out of the country.

The Taliban have carried out more than 3,800 attacks and killed 420 civilians and wounded 906 since signing the deal with Washington, officials say.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/afghan-forces-repel-taliban-attack-on-key-city-officials/articleshow/75824467.cms

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Taliban’s claims regarding the deadly mosque attack in Parwan province

19 May 2020

The Taliban group has claimed that the attack on a mosque in Parwan has killed at least 9 people and wounded more than 10 others.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban group, issued a statement claiming that the security forces stormed the mosque in Khala Zayi area of Charikar city earlier tonight.

Meanwhile, the security sources say the area where the attack has place is under the control of Taliban militants.

A source in Parwan Police Headquarters confirmed that the gunmen attacked the mosque in Charikar city earlier tonight, killing 7 and wounding at least 12 others.

No individual or group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

https://www.khaama.com/talibans-claims-regarding-the-deadly-mosque-attack-in-parwan-province-08847/

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19 killed, wounded as gunmen attack mosque in Parwan province

19 May 2020

Unknown gunmen attacked a mosque in Parwan provice of Afghanistan killing at least 7 people, the local security officials said.

A source in Parwan Police Headquarters confirmed that the gunmen attacked the mosque in Charikar city earlier tonight, killing 7 and wounding at least 12 others.

The source further added that the gunmen stormed the mosque in a village located in the outskirts of Charikar city.

No individual or group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, the security sources say the area where the attack has place is under the control of Taliban militants but the group has rejected its involvement in the attack.

https://www.khaama.com/19-killed-wounded-as-gunmen-attack-mosque-in-parwan-province-08846/

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Magnetic bomb planters arrested with the support of Kote Sangi residents: Kabul Police

19 May 2020

The security forces arrested two militants who were planting magnetic improvised explosive devices (bombs) in Kote Sangi area of Kabul city.

The Kabul Police Headquarters in a statement said the security forces arrested the two mine planters with the support of Kote Sangi resdients.

The statement further added that the two mine planters were arrested as they were attempting to plant a magnetic bomb in a vehicle of the Ministry of Defense.

The anti-government armed militants including Taliban have not commented in this regard so far.

Taliban militants and other insurgent and terrorist groups often use improvised explosive devices, particularly magnetic bombs as the weapon of their choice to target the security personnel and government officials.

https://www.khaama.com/magnetic-bomb-planters-arrested-with-the-support-of-kote-sangi-residents-kabul-police-08845/

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Southeast Asia

 

Nadhlatul Ulama Encouraging Muslims To Pray at Home: Mass Idul Fitr Prayers, Such as Those in Mosques or Public Squares Against Law, Govt Says,

May 19, 2020

Mass Idul Fitr prayers, such as those in mosques or public squares, are currently prohibited by public health laws, Coordinating Legal, Political and Human Rights Minister Mahfud MD said on Tuesday.

Mahfud said that all mass religious activities, including congregational prayers, were banned for the time being under the Health Ministry’s regulation on large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) and the 2018 Health Quarantine Law.

“The government strongly asks that [the public] does not violate these provisions,” Mahfud said after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“The government requests and invites religious leaders, organizations and traditional community leaders to convince the community that mass congregational prayers are prohibited by law, not because of the prayer itself but because it is part of the effort to avoid disaster,” he added.

Mahfud said that the country’s largest mass religious organizations, namely the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, were encouraging Muslims to pray at home during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The MUI, chaired by Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, has issued several fatwas on Islamic prayer during the COVID-19 outbreak, including one on how to perform Idul Fitr prayers at home issued on May 13.

Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi said that while the government had initially only advised against mass Idul Fitr prayers, its level of enforcement had changed because the country was still seeing a virus reproduction rate (R0) of 1.11.

Fachrul added that, according to a prediction by the National Intelligence Agency, congregational Idul Fitr prayers would cause COVID-19 transmission to spike.

“So we took out the word ‘advice’, just like the Coordinating Legal, Political and Human Rights Minister. We should follow the laws and regulations,” he said.

As of Tuesday, Indonesia had recorded 18,496 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 1,221 deaths.

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/05/19/mass-idul-Fitr-prayers-against-law-govt-says.html

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India Resumes Purchase of Malaysian Palm Oil, Ending Diplomatic Row

May 19, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: India has resumed purchasing Malaysian palm oil following a four-month gap sparked by a diplomatic row over the former Malaysian government administration's comments on the Jammu-Kashmir issue.

Reuters, quoting trade sources, said the buying was spurred by a fall in domestic inventories and discounted prices.

Malaysia, the world's second-largest palm oil producer after Indonesia, will be shipping out 200,000 tonnes of crude palm oil to leading Indian importers in June and July, said the report.

The purchases come in the wake of warmer trade relations between the two countries after Perikatan Nasional (PN) took over Putrajaya recently.

Putrajaya also signed a deal last week to buy a record 100,000 tonnes of Indian rice.

"Port stocks have dropped sharply in India because of lower imports," a Singapore-based trader who sells Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil was quoted as saying.

The report also stated that with the resumption of purchases, India, the world's largest edible oil importer, could further support Malaysian palm oil prices, FCPOc3, which have gone up from 10-month lows recently.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had previously sparked controversy when he criticised India's controversial new citizenship law, which was deemed discriminatory to its Muslim minority.

At the United Nations General Assembly last September, he said India had "invaded and occupied" Kashmir, a disputed Muslim-majority region also claimed by Pakistan.

In retaliation, India, which had been Malaysia's largest palm oil market for the past five years, effectively ceased all purchases from Malaysia.

An Indian oil refiner was quoted in the report as saying that the renewed buying was spurred by low stocks, while India's relations with Malaysia have been improving since a new government was formed in early March.

"I think the Indian government will allow unloading of upcoming shipments. We can't rely on one seller (Indonesia) indefinitely, especially when you have to build inventory," the buyer was quoted as saying.

A Mumbai-based dealer told Reuters that Malaysian palm oil is now available at a US$15 discount to supplies from Indonesia, which on Monday raised its palm oil export levy by US$5 per tonne.

Indian purchases of palm oil from Malaysia could rise further if discounts remain, he said.

India purchases more than 9 million tonnes of palm oil a year, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its total edible oil imports, and took a record 4.4 million tonnes of Malaysian palm oil in 2019.

https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/05/593924/india-resumes-purchase-malaysian-palm-oil-ending-diplomatic-row

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Indonesia seeks clarity as pandemic threatens Hajj

Pizaro Gozali Idrus  

19.05.2020

JAKARTA

Indonesia on Tuesday urged Saudi Arabia to announce a final decision and end speculation on whether the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage will be canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oman Fathurahman, spokesperson of Ministry of Religion, said Indonesia expected the kingdom to decide before the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting that is now in its last week.

“We hope that the exact information on whether this year's Hajj will be held or canceled can be announced soon by Saudi government. Hopefully before the end of Ramadan,” he said in a statement.

As the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia was given the highest quota for this year’s Hajj and will be sending 221,000 pilgrims to Mecca if it is not canceled.

With this year's Hajj scheduled for late July, the official said countries need to make various preparations for pilgrims and need a final decision to proceed with their plans.

“The Ministry of Religion has coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help communicate this through the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jakarta,” he said.

He said the ministry has prepared for both scenarios and has a plan to follow if Hajj is canceled or not.

“We have prepared the mitigation plan. So, whatever Saudi Arabia’s decision will be, we are ready,” said the spokesperson.

With more than 18,000 cases and over 1,200 deaths to date, Indonesia is taking extensive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Nearly 2.5 million pilgrims -- 75%, or over 1.8 million, of them from abroad -- performed last year’s Hajj, which Muslims are required to perform at least once in their life if possible.

The kingdom, which has reported more than 57,000 cases and 320 deaths so far, suspended the year-round Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, in March.

Last week, Saudi authorities announced a curfew for the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan, starting from May 23.

*Writing by Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo from Anadolu Agency's Indonesian language services in Jakarta.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/indonesia-seeks-clarity-as-pandemic-threatens-hajj/1846264

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North America

 

Fired State Department watchdog was 'investigating Trump’s emergency arms sale to Saudi Arabia'

Joyce Karam

May 18, 2020

Sacked US State Department inspector general Steve Linick was investigating President Donald Trump’s declaration of an emergency that allowed him to hasten a major arms deal to Saudi Arabia, a leading Congressman said.

Congressman Eliot Engel, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, said on Monday that the firing might have been caused by several investigations Mr Linick was pursuing, which involved US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"I have learnt that there may be another reason for Mr Linick's firing," Mr Engel said.

"His office was investigating, at my request, Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.

“It is troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Mr Engel told The Washington Post:

Democrats in Congress are investigating Mr Linick's firing.

On May 2019, Mr Trump declared an emergency because of tension with Iran, and used it to sell $8 billion (Dh29.39bn) of arms to Saudi Arabia, despite Congressional objections.

"These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability,” Mr Pompeo said at the time.

Congress was enforcing a pause on weapons sales in the spring of 2019 because of the war in Yemen.

After the sale, Mr Engel requested an investigation by the State Department inspector general to determine the legality of Mr Trump’s emergency declaration, the congressman said on Monday.

Traditionally, Congress is granted 30 days to assess the any foreign arms sale, but Mr Trump’s declaration hastened the process.

Politico reported on Monday that Mr Linick, who was fired on Friday, had almost finished his investigation and that Congress was briefed of the conclusions.

But the news site said Mr Pompeo “refused to sit for an interview with the inspector general’s office".

Other reports indicated Mr Linick was also investigating Mr Pompeo’s alleged abuse of office by assigning a State Department staffer to run his personal errands, including walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning.

Carol Morello

@CMorelloWP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in interview fired inspector general "wasn't performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to" and was "trying to undermine what it was that we were trying to do."

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Mr Pompeo defended the firing of Mr Linick to the Post on Monday.

He "wasn't performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to" and was "trying to undermine what it was that we were trying to do," he reportedly said.

State Department officials were not immediately available for comment to The National.

https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-americas/fired-state-department-watchdog-was-investigating-trump-s-emergency-arms-sale-to-saudi-arabia-1.1021302

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US must prevent 'slow motion genocide' of Palestinians: Analyst

19 May 2020

The Israeli regime is carrying out a "slow motion genocide" of the Palestinian nation and the onus is upon the world community particularly on the US to take concrete steps to prevent it, an analyst has said.

As we approach the international Quds Day, international law expert and journalist Edward Corrigan, who is based in Canada, said more efforts were needed Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.

He told Press TV on Tuesday that a range of actions needed to be done to prevent Tel Aviv from succeeding in carrying out its devious plan to eliminate the Palestinians.

International Quds Day ceremonies, which are held each year on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, aims to promote the cause of Palestine and pave the way for the restoration of the internationally-recognized inalienable rights of the Palestinians.

Corrigan noted that this year was the 40th anniversary of Al-Quds Day. 

He said, Ayatollah Khomeini [PBUH], designated the last Friday in the month of Ramadan as international Quds Day "back in like 1980 after the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran."

He said the city of Jerusalem al-Quds was a target due to its great significance.

"Jerusalem is very important from a historical and religious point of view to the Jewish community to the Christian community and of course to the Muslim community, but it's also more than that it was the capital of historic Palestine," he said.

He insisted that Muslims needed to form a united front and take concrete actions against the Israeli regime backed by US President Donald Trump.

"The fact that Trump has moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem, which is contradicting, you know, many years of American government foreign policy, not recognizing the situation of Jerusalem al-Quds until it's resolved between the Palestinians and, you know, the Zionist Jews," he said.

"So, this would be an example for, and  a symbol, but also for unity among the Islamic and Arab nations to actually stand up and do something concrete for to support the rights of the Palestinians to Jerusalem al-Quds, and the Jerusalem al-Quds not be an exclusively Jewish city, but a city that represents you know not only the Jews, but the Christians and Muslims and other people, and in particular the Palestinians," he said.

And, if they were to boycott the Americans do not buy arms from them, you know, have trade sanctions to a bunch of other things like Americans like to throw their weight around," he said.

"But if you're 1.5 billion Muslims, or to act in unison, it would put tremendous economic and political pressure on the Americans that we get the attention of the Israelis, and it also would, you know put real pressure upon the Americans that they would have to change their policy," he added.

You know words by themselves have no effect. But, you know, the symbol and the protests and other things are good to a point, but unless you have concrete actions behind them. nothing will really happened and the Americans are, you know, Trump and [Mike] Pompeo and, and the neocons who just want to ram, you know, their own views down the throats of not only the Palestinians, but the Arab world and the entire Islamic world saying that they have no rights, Israel has total control of Jerusalem al-Quds," he said.

"We think annex that they can annex you know land in the West Bank in the Jordan Valley, and basically they're talking about, you know, eradication of the Palestinians as a social, political and cultural entity," he said.

Now this is, you know, slow motion genocide really. But, you know, it's an important day for the the the Islamic world, but also for the Arab world and people tend to forget that, you know, there are Arab Christians in fact there are Jewish, Christian or Jewish Arabs as well, so that you know the Arab world is not strictly a religious definition it's one that encompasses, you know, the three main religions plus people who are of other religions or no religion at all," he said.

"So it's a secular national identity to Palestinian or for that matter for the Arabs. But Israel is a Jewish state and it's an exclusionary state based upon either ethno-cratic or racial or theocratic basis that sets up superior rights for Jews, but no rights for Christians and Muslims and particularly the Palestinians which they are targeting for, you know, basically elimination," he added.

"And this is, you know, so it's an important symbol, the Islamic world the Arab world, even the Palestinians have to take the next step and do something concrete in an economic terms in political terms," he said.

"So, if every Islamic State were to break off relations with the United States not buy weapons from them, you know not engage in an economic commerce, with them, you know, so, you know, sanctions and resolutions at the General Assembly or even Security Council are gonna have no impact on the Americans or ultimately on the Israelis, but if there is, you know, put some sort of meat to it, some take real actions that will do something, it would would shift the political equation in favor of the Palestinians and would punish the Americans for their brazen disregard for Palestinian human rights for the rights of the Christian Arab community and Christians in Jerusalem al-Quds," he said, adding,"And, of course, the Islamic community itself," he said.

"So this is an important symbol initiated by Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, but it needs to be, you know, more concrete in its actions, and not just symbolic or verbal in its in its effect," he noted.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625715/US-must-stop-'slow-motion-genocide'-of-Palestinians

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Canadian doctor serious concerns for Rohingya refugees

Barry Ellsworth  

19.05.2020

TRENTON, Canada

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh will prove to be a cataclysmic disaster, according to a Canadian doctor and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Fozia Alvi, who regularly travels to the crowded and unsanitary Rohingya camps in South Asia, predicted millions of refugees will be decimated after the first case of coronavirus appeared last week.

“It is like a catastrophe waiting to happen,” the Alberta physician told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday. “There is absolutely no way to limit the spread of COVID-19 there.”

Alvi was nominated for the Nobel prize last year for humanitarian work and through her foundation Humanity Auxilium, she sends doctors every other month to the camps to provide medical services to the estimated 1 million Muslim Rohingya.

She has visited the camps regularly since the Rohingya began to flee Myanmar from neighboring Bangladesh when the Buddhist army perpetrated a campaign of terror, rape and widespread murder in 2017.

The conditions in the Bangladeshi camps are squalid and overcrowded, with a shortage of everything, including fresh water.

Given the situation, Alvi called “a joke” the World Health Organization’s directive to wash hands regularly and practice social distancing of six feet to help check the spread of the virus.

Bangladesh is caught in the maw of the virus, with intensive care units choked with patients and only 2,000 ventilators for the population of 160 million. There are no intensive care units in the camps and no ventilators or electricity.

Relief for the Rohingya has taken a back seat as countries are consumed by their own COVID-19 battle.

As of Tuesday, there are almost 5 million cases globally and nearly 322,000 deaths, according to the US-based Johns Hopkins University. Bangladesh has a little more than 25,000 cases and 370 deaths.

The Rohingya in the camps are among the most vulnerable people in the world and they have already suffered psychological trauma as the Myanmar army burned entire villages, raped women and murdered men, women and children. Their mental health is precarious, Alvi said, and they desperately need help.

“I would like to remind people that these people are victims of genocide,” she said.

But rather than relief, there is yet another disaster looming – June is the beginning of monsoon season.

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System warned that Tuesday could see a cyclone reach land, along with flooding and strong winds.

Since doctors cannot enter the camps due to the virus, Alvi’s foundation has improvised and doctors are providing virtual training to health-care workers already there.

Even then, there is a stumbling block. The Bangladeshi government has cut off Internet access in the camps, so aid workers leave each night and hook up to the Internet at their temporary residences to receive training.

Alvi said while the Canadian government has pledged CAN$300 million ($216 million) in three years for aid, it is only 50% of what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special envoy Bob Rae recommended. They need more financial aid.

Hundreds of Rohingya were rescued after two months at sea, as they tried to get into Malaysia but were rebuffed because of fear of the virus.

“More than half of them were children,” Alvi said. “They ran out of food rations five days into their journey and they were in the water for two months. There were lots of dead bodies, they were tossing them into the water.”

When rescued, they were sent back to the camps.

“The Rohingya need hope, they need a vision for themselves for the future,” said Alvi.”It’s the basic human right that every human life deserves.”

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/canadian-doctor-serious-concerns-for-rohingya-refugees/1846856

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US blacklists Chinese company for dealings with Iran's Mahan Air

Joyce Karam

May 19, 2020

The US on Tuesday blacklisted and sanctioned a Chinese company for providing services to Iranian airline Mahan Air, accusing it of "carrying gold from Venezuela’s vaults back to Iran”.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was designating Shanghai Saint Logistics, a China-based company, and the Treasury Department also announced sanctions.

Mr Pompeo accused the company of providing “general sales agent services for the specially designated global terrorist Iranian airline.”

Mahan Air was designated thus in 2011 for “providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force”.

“The People’s Republic of China is one of the rapidly dwindling number of countries that welcomes Mahan Air, which ferries weapons and terrorists around the world for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such co-operation has consequences,” Mr Pompeo said, amid souring relations between China and the US.

The US claims Iran has also used Mahan Air for shipments to Venezuela to boost energy production for President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Five Iranian oil vessels were on their way to Venezuela in breach of US sanctions, Reuters reported last week.

“It is equally troubling that Mahan Air appears to be carrying gold from Venezuela’s vaults back to Iran, depriving the Venezuelan people of resources needed to rebuild their economy,” Mr Pompeo said,

A BBC investigation revealed this month that Mahan Air has sent 157 secret flights to China, overriding coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-americas/us-blacklists-chinese-company-for-dealings-with-iran-s-mahan-air-1.1021814

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Europe

 

Syria parties agree to Geneva talks, UN envoy says

May 19, 2020

Opposing sides in Syria's conflict have agreed to reconvene in Geneva for negotiations on the constitution, United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said on Tuesday, adding that a lull in fighting could provide an opportunity to start healing "deep, deep mistrust" between them.

After nine years of conflict in Syria, Mr Pedersen referred to "relative calm" in the last rebel-held enclave of Idlib as an opportunity for building confidence. He urged the United States and Russia, who support opposing sides, to start talks and back the peace process.

"As soon as the pandemic situation allows, they have agreed to come to Geneva and they have agreed on an agenda for the next meeting," he told journalists.

He did not give a date for the constitutional committee, which struggled to make headway last year, and said that a virtual meeting would not be possible.

In the same briefing, Mr Pedersen also repeated a message made to the UN Security Council on Monday and urged the United States and Russia to talk about a push for peace.

"We need this to start somewhere," he said. "The Constitutional Committee could be that arena where confidence starts to build."

Mr Pedersen is the fourth UN envoy to try to mediate peace in Syria where rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad are holding onto a last piece of territory in the northwest.

Fighting has calmed since March when Turkey, which backs some groups opposed to Mr Al Assad, agreed a ceasefire with Russia.

Mr Pedersen said it was a "great relief" that there had not been more Covid-19 cases in the country, although warned of the risk of a wider spread. He said there had been 64 cases.

https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/syria-parties-agree-to-geneva-talks-un-envoy-says-1.1021567

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Major Islamic festivities recognized as state holidays in Ukraine

MAY 19, 2020

The two biggest holy days on the Islamic calendar, Qurban Bayram, also known as Eid al-Adha, and Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr, will now become official state holidays in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on May 18, the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Crimean Tatar Genocide.

At a meeting held with representatives of the Crimean Tatar people, Zelensky pointed out that he wants to build a state in which everyone felt like citizens of Ukraine.

“I would like everyone to feel like a full-fledged citizen, not forgetting the history and traditions of their own people. We want to support you not only in words but in deed at the legislative level,” he said.

Islam is the second-largest religion in Ukraine after Christianity, given the indigenous people of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula are predominantly Muslim.

Zelensky also initiated the creation of a working group in the Office of the President to address problems faced by the Crimean Tatar people.

According to the president, the group will focus on both legal and economic issues and include Crimean Tatar representatives.

The leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev, thanked the president, saying: “We hope that the topic of Crimea, the topic of returning it to Ukraine and restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine will never disappear from the agenda of the leadership of our state."

Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine after an independence referendum in 2014, following the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as a result of the pro-European Union Euromaidan protests. The U.N. General Assembly later voted to proclaim the Russian action illegal, and along with an overwhelming majority of U.N. member states, Turkey does not recognize Crimea as Russian territory. Since the annexation, Crimean Tatars have cited unjustified detentions and human rights abuses.

https://www.dailysabah.com/world/europe/major-islamic-festivities-recognized-as-state-holidays-in-ukraine

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Turkey, Germany, France, UK hold teleconference meeting

Fahri Aksut 

19.05.2020

Foreign ministers of Turkey, Germany, France and the UK held a teleconference to discuss regional issues and latest developments, an official statement said on Tuesday.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement that Mevlut Cavusoglu, Heiko Maas, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Dominic Raab gathered for a virtual meeting to follow the results of a quartet summit of Turkish, French, German and British leaders in March.

"At the meeting, the current situation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the possible common steps to be taken, and the latest regional developments, especially in Syria, Libya and Iraq, were discussed in detail," the statement said.

The meeting was useful in exchanging views on these issues, it added.

The foreign ministers agreed to meet again within the same framework, the statement concluded without setting a date.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/turkey-germany-france-uk-hold-teleconference-meeting/1846912

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Suspected Al Qaeda-linked extremist played chess on counter-terror programme

Paul Peachey

May 19, 2020

The problems faced by governments in the West dealing with returning foreign fighters have been revealed in the case of an alleged British extremist who snubbed de-radicalisation efforts to play chess with a government-assigned mentor.

The married father-of-three, identified as QX, was banned from the UK for two years in November 2018 because of the risk he posed to national security after he travelled to Syria and joined an Al Qaeda-linked group, according to court documents.

QX, described by the government as a “significant terrorism-related risk”, was arrested in Istanbul and deported to the UK in 2019.

The government, which had to accept the return of QX despite the ban, told him to report every day to a police station as part of conditions imposed on him to ensure that he did not pose a continued threat.

Details of QX’s case emerged after he went to court to try to have some of the conditions lifted, saying they affected his rights under human rights law to a private and family life.

The programme included a two-hour session with a mentor from the government’s Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP) and one with a theologian on alternate weeks.

The programme has proved controversial. It was attended by terrorist Usman Khan before he launched a murderous attack close to London Bridge in December last year, less than a year after his release from prison for plotting terrorist attacks.

QX claimed the sessions served no “useful purpose” and barely took part, saying he feared information he passed on would be used against him during a criminal investigation, the UK’s High Court was told. He faces criminal charges over three alleged breaches of the order, the court was told.

“From March 2019, he spent the mentoring appointments playing chess with the mentor and engaging in minimal conversation,” court documents said.

“The appointments then moved to a library. Since then, he has spent the time reading a book which he brings with him.

“He has never engaged with the theologian: He reads a book during each session.”

The UK government applied for a temporary exclusion order (TEO) in 2018 after QX was assessed to have travelled to Syria and “aligned with a group that is aligned to Al Qaeda” and showed a strong commitment to its ideology.

The government assessment said that “QX poses a significant terrorism-related risk to members of the public”.

“An individual aligning with an Al Qaeda-aligned group will be subject to radicalisation and desensitised to violence, so this ideological commitment is likely to remain, or even grow stronger,” the government said.

It said that the threat included carrying out “violent attacks”, recruiting UK operatives or providing support to Al Qaeda.

The 2015 law which introduced the exclusion orders allowed for the return of the banned individual in a few narrow circumstances, including deportation.

Part of the case was held behind closed doors on national security grounds, with QX also not allowed to know the details.

Judge Justice Judith Farbey said that the “combination of obligations in this particular case amounts to an interference with QX’s right to respect for private life”.

QX was successful in being able to secure information from the closed hearings to challenge the conditions at a later hearing.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We do not routinely comment on individual cases."

The case came as the Irish government was expected to oppose attempts to secure a passport for the seven-year-old son of a suspected ISIS fighter.

The boy is in Belarus with his mother after being deported from Turkey. The whereabouts of his father – from Belarus but a naturalised Irishman through a first marriage – are unknown, according to The Irish Times. The government is seeking to revoke his citizenship.

The boy and his mother want to travel to Ireland because of concerns about the government of Belarus’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/suspected-al-qaeda-linked-extremist-played-chess-on-counter-terror-programme-1.1021761

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Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed talks coronavirus with France’s Macron

May 19, 2020

Leaders in France and the UAE on Monday discussed ways to share resources and expertise to beat the global coronavirus pandemic.

Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss “strategic relations” and “political, economic and cultural” ties.

After the meeting, both officials tweeted about the conversation with Mr Macron saying the two nations will “step up our cooperation to defeat the pandemic and its consequences, and to build the post-pandemic world.”

Emmanuel Macron

@EmmanuelMacron

France and the United Arab Emirates continue to strengthen their strategic partnership. In agreement with @MohamedBinZayed, we will step up our cooperation to defeat the pandemic and its consequences, and to build the post-pandemic world. https://twitter.com/MohamedBinZayed/status/1262480778400759810 …

محمدبنزايد

@MohamedBinZayed

Replying to @MohamedBinZayed

During a call with my friend Emmanuel Macron, President of France, we discussed our growing strategic bilateral relationship and economic cooperation across sectors of mutual priority, as well as sharing our resources and expertise to overcome the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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Sheikh Mohamed added that they discussed, “sharing our resources and expertise to overcome the global Covid-19 pandemic.”

محمدبنزايد

@MohamedBinZayed

Replying to @MohamedBinZayed

During a call with my friend Emmanuel Macron, President of France, we discussed our growing strategic bilateral relationship and economic cooperation across sectors of mutual priority, as well as sharing our resources and expertise to overcome the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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France has been hard hit by the virus that has swept the globe with 143,000 confirmed cases, 28,239 deaths and 61,728 recoveries. The UAE has 24,190 confirmed cases, 224 deaths and 9,577 recoveries.

State-run WAM news agency also reported that the pair discussed developments in the Gulf, the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea. It said they “underscoring the importance of joint action to protect regional stability through political solutions and settlements to the region's crises in a way that ultimately achieves the ambitions of their peoples for stability, peace and coexistence.”

https://www.thenational.ae/world/gcc/sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-talks-coronavirus-with-france-s-macron-1.1021666

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Syrian prison head on trial in Germany denies overseeing torture

May 19, 2020

A Syrian former intelligence officer on Monday denied beating and torturing detainees in prison as he faced trial in a German court for crimes against humanity.

Anwar Raslan, 57, is charged with overseeing the murder of 58 people and the torture of 4,000 others at the Al Khatib detention centre in Damascus.

Mr Raslan said he had "never acted inhumanely" and that rather than torturing prisoners, he had "helped to free" many detainees arrested in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad from March 2011.

He added that he had "neither beaten nor tortured" prisoners.

It is the first time he has spoken publicly about the crimes he is charged with, allegedly committed at the prison between April 29, 2011, and September 7, 2012.

Mr Raslan, wearing glasses and a dark jacket and sweater, appeared in court behind a plexiglass screen because of the coronavirus outbreak. His lawyers Michael Boecker and Yorck Fratzky took about 90 minutes to read his statement.

The trial in Koblenz, which began on April 23, is the first court case worldwide over state-sponsored torture by the Assad regime.

Mr Raslan and fellow defendant Eyad Al Gharib, 43, are being tried on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity.

At the opening of the trial, prosecutors said Mr Raslan had overseen rape and sexual abuse, "electric shocks", beatings with "fists, wires and whips" and "sleep deprivation" at the prison.

Referring to accusations made by witnesses, he repeatedly denied any responsibility, particularly in the case of alleged rape. "It is against our morals, against our religion," he said.

"I distance myself from such acts if they have been committed," he added.

Mr Raslan worked for 18 years in the Syrian intelligence services, where he rose through the ranks to become head of the domestic intelligence "investigation" service, according to a German investigator who testified on the second day of the trial.

Mr Raslan defected and fled Syria at the end of 2012 before arriving in Germany in July 2014 under a programme for Syrian refugees in need of special protection.

He said he "did not and would not condone" the abuses committed by the Syrian regime" and felt "regret and compassion" for all the victims.

The trial could last up to two years with the victims due to begin testifying in July.

According to German investigators, they have reported flogging, electric shocks, cigarette burns and blows to the genitals. Some say they were hung by the wrists, with only the tips of their feet still touching the ground.

Wolfgang Kaleck, secretary general of the German NGO European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, which is supporting 17 victims in the proceedings, said Mr Raslan had issued, not merely received and followed, orders in his department.

"We do not believe he played a minor role," Mr Kaleck said.

Public prosecutor Jasper Klinge said at the opening of the trial that Mr Raslan "knew the extent of the torture" which took place in order to extract "confessions and information about the [Syrian] opposition".

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, at least 60,000 people have been killed under torture or as a result of the terrible conditions in Assad's detention centres.

Fellow defendant Mr Al Gharib is accused of being an accomplice to crimes against humanity, having helped to arrest protesters and deliver them to Al Khatib in the autumn of 2011.

https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/syrian-prison-head-on-trial-in-germany-denies-overseeing-torture-1.1021361

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Mideast

 

Palestinian president declares end to all agreements with Israel and US

May 20, 2020

LONDON: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared on Tuesday an end to all agreements signed with Israel and the United States.

The president made the announcement during an emergency meeting in Ramallah to discuss Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

He said the decision included security agreements with Israel, including those set out in the Oslo Accords signed in 1993.

“The Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine are absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones,” Abbas said.

The dramatic announcement comes as Israel prepares to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in a stance adopted by a new coalition government sworn in Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised in his election campaign to annex the Jordan Valley area of the Palestinian territory.

Abbas said his cutting of the agreements meant Israel would now have to “shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power.”

He also lashed out at the US, which under Donald Trump’s administration has taken a tough line against the Palestinians, including returning the US embassy to Jerusalem.

“We hold the American administration fully responsible for the oppression befalling the Palestinian people and we consider it a primary partner with the Israeli occupation government in all its aggressive and unfair decisions and measures against our people.” Abbas said.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1677066/middle-east

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Israel’s Netanyahu must attend trial opening: Justice ministry

19 May 2020

Israel’s justice ministry said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not be exempted from attending the start of his corruption trial next week.

A Netanyahu spokesperson told AFP that the premier’s legal team had discussed the possibility of an exemption with the ministry.

But the power to grant such a request would lie with the Jerusalem court set to hear the case, which has said Netanyahu must attend.

In its statement just two days after the swearing-in of a unity government headed by Netanyahu following over a year of political deadlock, the justice ministry pointed to “the importance of justice being seen to be done, and of public trust” in the trial.

Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust had been scheduled to start in March but was postponed to May 24 amid lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a statement, the justice ministry reiterated its previous position that it “does not see reason to deviate from the distinguished court’s decision on the presence of the defendants.”

Netanyahu denies allegations that he accepted improper gifts and sought to illegally trade favors with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.

He is the first prime minister in Israel’s history to be indicted while in office.

Israel’s premier since 2009, Netanyahu extended his record tenure on Sunday when the parliament swore in a new three-year coalition government to end more than 500 days of political deadlock.

Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, will lead the government for 18 months before vacating the premier’s office for his former rival Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu’s trial, including all appeals, could take several years.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/05/19/Israel-s-Netanyahu-must-attend-trial-opening-Justice-ministry.html

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Iran: Palestine’s fate can only be decided by Palestinians

19 May 2020

In the run-up to the International Quds Day events, Iran’s Foreign Ministry reminds the world community that Palestine’s fate is only to be decided by Palestinians, no matter what religion they practice.

“For seven decades, the international community failed to solve the question of Palestine since the plans proposed never corresponded with its (Palestine’s) historical facts and roots,” the Ministry wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

“The Islamic Republic believes that only Palestinians, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, with a national referendum can and should decide for Palestine,” it added.

Every year, millions of Muslims hold demonstrations worldwide to underscore the plight of Palestinians, heeding a call by the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, who designated the last Friday of every Ramadan as the International Quds Day.

Iran Foreign Ministry 🇮🇷

@IRIMFA_EN

For 7 decades the international community failed to solve the question of 🇵🇸 since the plans proposed never corresponded with its historical facts and roots 🇮🇷 believes that only Palestinians whether Muslim, Christian or Jew with a national referendum can and should decide for 🇵🇸

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

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This year’s Quds Day, however, will see no such street marches amid a deadly coronavirus pandemic. The occasion is instead set to be commemorated mainly via online events.

The occasion underlines the Palestinians’ right to return to their homeland after decades of displacement by Israel, which began alleging existence in 1948 after overrunning their lands during a Western-backed war. Still using Western patronage, the regime occupied more Palestinian and other territories in 1967 during a second war, and has ever since been propping up illegal settlements across the usurped areas.

‘People of Palestine to be ultimate victors’

Separately, Iran’s Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution addressed a statement to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei on the occasion, expressing gratitude towards Ayatollah Khamenei for the Leader’s effective promotion of the tradition founded by Imam Khomeini.

The statement reminded that by announcing the occasion, Imam Khomeini dealt a decisive blow to superpowers’ attempts to consign the issue of Palestine to oblivion.

“Struggle against the occupying regime until liberation of the Noble al-Quds (in the now-occupied West Bank) is one of the ideals of the Iranian people’s Islamic Revolution,” the council said.

“The honorable and steadfast people of Palestine will be the ultimate victors of this battle,” it added.

Each year, the occasion helps rally Muslim and freedom-seeking people of the world around the issue of Palestine, the statement noted, calling the issue the “modern barometer for [world people’s] commitment to humanitarian principles.”

The council similarly said the only way out of Palestine’s woes is the return of all displaced Palestinians to their native lands and a referendum on the fate of the territories attended by all of them.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625684/Iran-Palestine-Quds-Day-rallies-Israel

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Hamas: Israelis held in Gaza won’t be released without real swap deal

19 May 2020

The Hamas resistance movement says the Israeli captives held in Gaza since Tel Aviv’s 2014 war on the blockaded Palestinian enclave will not be released until a “real” agreement is reached on exchanging prisoners.

“A real prisoner exchange deal is the best way for the release of the captive Israelis,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told China’s Xinhua news agency on Monday.

“Otherwise, the Zionist leadership (Israel) will be just selling illusions to the Israeli public,” he added, referring to new Israeli minister for military affairs Benny Gantz’s recent talks with the families of two Israeli civilians held by Hamas as well as two Israeli soldiers who were killed in the 2014 war on Gaza and whose remains the Palestinians are willing to swap with their own prisoners.

Following Gantz's conversations with the Israeli families, his office announced that the minister had expressed his dedication to bringing the captives and the soldiers' remains home.

Israel keeps thousands of Palestinians behind bars in dire conditions even despite a new coronavirus outbreak in the occupied territories. Many international rights organizations have been campaigning for the release of the inmates amid the pandemic.

In separate remarks, Qassem denounced the US for attacking the International Criminal Court (ICC) over its plan to open an investigation into Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian territories, calling it an act of “hooliganism” against an international legal tribunal.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would “exact consequences” if the Hague-based court moved ahead with the probe.

It came after the ICC prosecutor decided to consider Palestine as a state with the ability to submit complaints that could trigger probes into Israeli war crimes.

The Hamas spokesman said Washington’s stance is a sign of its continued support for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians and emboldens the Tel Aviv regime to commit even more such atrocities.

Israeli officials, he emphasized, should be brought before international courts and punished for their crimes.

Last December, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that a five-year preliminary examination had provided her with “a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine” as “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem [al-Quds], and the Gaza Strip.”

The ICC’s decision to launch such an investigation has raised alarm among Israeli officials and military personnel, who may face global arrest warrants as a result of the probe.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625670/Hamas-Israel-prisoners-swap-deal

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Iran-Made Coronavirus-Related Items Popular in More Countries

May 19, 2020

"Iran presently has a capacity of producing 1 million serology test kits per day and 1.5 million of C-Creative Protein (CPR) test kits per month," Vice President for Science and Technology Sorena Sattari said on Tuesday.

"Part of the mentioned figure is used inside the country and the rest is exported," he added.

Meanwhile, Head of Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC) Saeed Sarkar said on Tuesday that the country’s researchers have produced a highly-efficient disinfecting solution which remains on the surface for 7 days to kill coronavirus and any other germs.

“Fortunately, at present, nearly 10 to 12 companies are producing nano-based disinfecting solutions which enjoy high durability and they remain on the surface from 12 hours to 7 days, depending on the company which produces them,” Sarkar told FNA.

He added that 200 tons of the nano-based disinfectants are produced in Iran every day.

Sarkar also announced the daily production of 250,000 N95 masks in Iran, noting that the country now enjoys the capacity to export the product to the European states.

“The European, neighboring and Southeast Asian states, including Indonesia, have demanded for our N95 masks and I hope that we can start exports of these masks to some of these countries,” Sarkar said.

The Iranian health ministry announced on Tuesday that 2,111 new cases of coronavirus infection have been identified in the country in the past 24 hours, noting that 10 provinces have reported no deaths from the disease.

“2,111 more patients infected with COVID-19 virus have been identified in the country since yesterday based on confirmed diagnosis criteria,” Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Tuesday.

He explained that 424 new patients were hospitalized and 1,687 others were outpatients.

Jahanpour noted that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 124,603 people.

He said that 7,119 people have lost their lives due to infection to the virus, including 62 in the past 24 hours.

Jahanpour, meantime, stated that 97,173 coronavirus patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals, expressing concern that 2,698 patients infected with COVID-19 virus are in critical conditions.

He also noted that 716,176 coronavirus diagnosis tests have been carried out in the country so far.

“In the past 24 hours, 10 provinces reported zero deaths and 6 provinces had 1 death each,” Jahanpour said, adding that Khuzestan province in Southern Iran is a red zone now considering the increasing number of infection to COVID-19 virus but other provinces enjoy relatively sustainable situation.

Iranian Health Minister Saeed Namaki stressed on April 7 effective measures to control coronavirus epidemic, expressing the hope that the disease would be controlled in Iran by late May.

“At present, the country is in the phase of disease management and we should not imagine that we have reached the harness and control phase. Today is the time for full-fledged combat against the virus. God willing, we will control coronavirus by late May. The virus should be controlled in the minimum possible time,” Namaki said, addressing the Iranian legislators in an open session of the parliament in Tehran.

He noted that at least 30% to 50% of hospital beds are still vacant across Iran and nearly 15,000 beds are ready to keep the patients who are recovering from coronavirus disease.

“We have now moved down to tank 6th in terms of deaths,” Namaki said, adding that the country’s situation in treatment of patients will improve in the next few days.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is affecting approximately all countries and territories around the world. The virus was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has so far killed more than 320,400 people and infected over 4.9 million others globally.

The Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and most universities have been extended until further notice.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s North, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Namaki announced last month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

According to the latest statistics of Health Ministry, the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached over 90 across the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

The World Health Organization has considered priorities in combating coronavirus and Islamic Republic of Iran obeys and follows up priorities as defined by WHO.

The WHO is dispatching separate delegations to all countries.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990230000989

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VP: Iran No More Needs Imports of Anti-Coronavirus Equipment

May 19, 2020

“Now, our country does not need imports of equipment to fight against coronavirus and all the country’s needs are met indigenously,” Sattari told reporters in the Southern city of Bushehr on Tuesday.

He noted that Iran imported a number of equipment to fight against COVID-19 virus on the first days of the virus outbreak but it achieved self-sufficiency in manufacturing the hospital and ICU rooms equipment with the efforts of the knowledge-based companies.

Sattari also said that 8 Iranian knowledge-based companies have received necessary permissions for the exports of kits to diagnose coronavirus infection.

Earlier this month, Sattari had said that the Iranian knowledge-based companies have developed such a capability that they now can export extra equipment needed for treating coronavirus patients to the other countries.

"The Iranian knowledge-based companies made the ICU and the CCU equipment, CT-scan machines, coronavirus diagnostic kits, disinfectants, and 6 million masks a day," Sattari said.

He added that if the Iranian Health Ministry issues the permit to export the medical equipment, the knowledge-based firms can do it.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990230000839

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Senior MP Underscores IRGC Aerospace Force’s Plans to Orbit Satellites in 36,000-km Altitude

May 19, 2020

“The IRGC Aerospace Force is making extensive efforts to reach the 36,000-km altitude,” Rouhollah Motefakker Azad told FNA after IRGC Aerospace Force’s Commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh held a meeting with him and several other lawmakers on Tuesday.

He added that the IRGC Aerospace Force has prepared precise plans to attain this goal, specially given the emphasis of Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, and noted, “Certainly, we will witness their further success in the near future.”

Motefakker Azad said that during the meeting with General Hajizadeh, the Iranian MPs could witness tracking of Noor satellite and its signals closely.

The IRGC launched the Satellite Noor-1 by the domestically-built launcher Qassed (herald) on April 22 and placed it into the orbit at an altitude of 425km.

The Launcher Qassed is a three-stage launcher using compound soild-liquid fuel.

The satellite was sent to the space on the anniversary of the IRGC establishment (April 22, 1979).

IRGC Spokesman Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif said the IRGC’s satellite launch once again proved that the US sanctions have failed to hinder the country’s scientific progress.

“Following the launch, the Americans and Europeans admitted that the embargos have failed to interrupt the Islamic Republic’s scientific advancement,” Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif said late in April.

“When the country is capable of taking such measures under sanctions, it is also able to meet its people’s needs despite the economic terrorism imposed on them,” he added.

Ramezan Sharif thanked the Iranian scientists, officials, political figures, and the noble nation for their positive reactions to the satellite launch, stressing that the IRGC will continue its efforts on the course of developing and empowering Iran.

Earlier this month, Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force’s Space Department Brigadier General Ali Jafarabadi said that Iran has long-term plans to send satellites into the 36,000-km orbit.

Iran has plans to “increase the orbital altitude (of its satellites) and reach the 36,000-km altitude in the next few years”, General Jafarabadi said.

He added that the altitude which is of strategic importance is special to telecommunication and TV satellites.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990230001035

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Official Underlines Failure of Israel’s Cyberattack against Iranian Port’s Installations

May 19, 2020

The official’s remarks came after Washington Post newspaper claimed that on May 9, shipping traffic at Iran’s bustling Shahid Rajaee port terminal came to an abrupt and inexplicable halt due to a substantial cyberattack that US and foreign government officials say appears to have originated with Israel.

“Some [minor] disruptions at the computer systems last week can be the result of a cyberattack,” the official said.

Yet, relevant officials at Shahid Rajaee port stressed that “there has been no disruption in operations” of the port facilities thanks to the full preparedness of the civil defense units and timely and effective confrontation against the problem.

After wide-scale cyberattacks on Iranian facilities, including its nuclear sites in recent years, Iranian officials started planning a proper and well-concerted line of defense against virus attacks.

In March 2012, the Islamic Republic of Iran announced plans to strengthen its cyber power by establishing a Supreme Council of Cyberspace to defend the country against cyberattacks.

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei tasked the Iranian president with the duty of establishing a Supreme Council of Cyberspace.

In January 2013, Iran's mission at the United Nations criticized the US for its involvement in cyberattacks against Tehran, and stressed that Iran respects international laws and regulations against the use of malwares against other nationsˈ economic sectors.

In a statement issued at the time, the mission said Iran condemns any use of malware that target important institutes by violating the national sovereignty of states.

"Unlike the United States, which has, per reports in the media, given itself the license to engage in illegal cyber-warfare against Iran, Iran respects the international law and refrains from targeting other nations' economic or financial institutions," the statement read.

It also rejected claims that Iran has allegedly orchestrated cyberattacks on the US financial institutions, and said, "We believe that raising such groundless accusations are aimed at sullying Iran's image and fabricating pretexts to push ahead with and step up illegal actions against the Iranian nation and government."

In December 2012, Iran announced that it has thwarted a second cyberattack on one of its Culture Ministry institutes.

The cyberattack, originated from the US city of Dallas via switches in Malaysia and Vietnam, had targeted the information center of the Culture Ministry's Headquarters for Supporting and Protecting Works of Art and Culture.

The attack was repelled by the headquartersˈ experts.

In the last few years, various Iranian industrial, nuclear and government bodies have come under growing cyberattacks, widely believed to be designed and staged by the US and Israel.

In April 2012, a similar attack was carried out against Iran's oil ministry. According to the oil ministry, the cyberattack was carried out through a virus penetration that damaged usersˈ hard disks, but failed. Senior Iranian oil ministry officials later announced that their computer systems resumed normal operation.

A few days later hackers failed to penetrate into the Iranian Science Ministry's computer network.

"Despite the frequent efforts made by hackers, the cyberattack has failed to leave any impact on the data system," a statement released by the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology said.

It further praised the proper measures and full preparedness of the relevant departments at the science ministry for repelling the attack.

Wide-scale cyberattacks on Iranian facilities started in 2010 after the US and Israel tried to disrupt the operation of Iran's nuclear facilities through a worm which later came to be known as Stuxnet.

US intelligence officials revealed in April 2012 that the Stuxnet malware was not only designed to disrupt Iran's nuclear program, but was part of a wider campaign directed from Israel that included the assassination of the country's nuclear scientists.

Stuxnet is the first discovered worm that spies on and reprograms industrial systems. It is specifically written to attack SCADA systems which are used to control and monitor industrial processes.

In September 2013, the Islamic Republic said that the computer worm of Stuxnet infected 30,000 IP addresses in Iran, but it denied the reports that the cyber worm had damaged computer systems at the country's nuclear power plants.

Iranian top security officials urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to detect the agents involved in Stuxnet computer worm attack on Iran.

In April 2012, Iran announced that it has discovered the Stars virus that is being used as a tool to commit espionage.

That was the second cyberattack waged by enemies of Iran to undermine the country's nuclear as well as economic and industrial activities.

Security software manufacturer Symantec said parts of the Duqu code base are nearly identical to the infamous Stuxnet worm, ˈbut with a completely different purpose.

Iran announced in November 2011 that it had developed a software program that can control the Duqu spyware.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990230000978

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Top Security Official Stresses “Fruitless” US Attempts to Extend Arms Embargos against Iran

May 19, 2020

“The US fruitless attempts to extend arms embargos against Iran have led to firm reaction by Russia and China and confusion and suspicion of Washington’s allies,” Shamkhani wrote on his twitter page on Tuesday.

He said as a result of efforts made by the freedom-seeking and resistance nations, the world has also come to reject bullying, and added, “The end of this road is nothing but the collapse of unilateralism.”

In defiance of global criticism, the US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, which President Donald Trump called “the worst deal ever,” in May 2018 and re-imposed the anti-Iran sanctions.

Also, reports said in recent weeks that Washington is planning to use a threat to trigger a return of all UN sanctions against Iran as leverage to get the 15-member Security Council to prolong the arms embargo on Tehran.

The removal of Iran's arms embargo is based on the nuclear deal between Tehran and major world powers, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week that Washington’s attempts to approve a resolution to extend arms embargos against Tehran in violation of the nuclear deal would fail.

“The Americans are attempting to prevent removal of arms embargos against Iran based on the nuclear deal which certainly runs counter to international undertakings. They will not succeed in issuing a resolution based on the nuclear deal because the US has withdrawn from it,” Rapporteur of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini quoted Zarif as saying at a session at the parliament.

According to Zarif, Iran is using its utmost efforts to prevent the US troubling under any pretexts, the MP added.

Naqavi Hosseini said elsewhere, the Iranian foreign minister also underlined that Tehran has always wanted the Group 5+1 members to return to the nuclear deal and implement their undertaking which will encourage Iran to reverse its nuclear steps in modifying its Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) undertakings.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990230000926

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Judiciary Spokesman: Israel’s Annihilation Closer Every Year

May 19, 2020

Every year “on Quds day, we come closer to annihilation of Israel”, Esmayeeli told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday.

“This year, the Quds day will further strengthen the Muslim people’s bonds with the oppressed Palestinians and will defeat the Great Satan, the criminal US, and its illegitimate creature,” he added.

Esmayeeli said that although the Iranian people will not hold rallies on this year’s Quds day due to the coronavirus epidemic, their hatred, wrath and “death to Israel” slogans will shake the usurper and child-killer Zionist regime.

In relevant remarks on Monday, Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Rayeesi stressed the US and Israel’s failure in implementation of their plots in the region, warning them of a new large-scale Intifada.

“Freedom of the holy Quds is still the Islamic Ummah’s priority. Today, after 72 years of the miseries brought by the Zionist regime and its violation of deals and crimes against the Palestinian, Lebanese and other regional countries’ people, they are after implementation of the disgraceful Deal of the Century Plot,” Rayeesi said, addressing a meeting of the Judiciary officials in Tehran.

He described the plot to annex the West Bank to the lands occupied by Israel as a prelude to implement the Deal of the Century plan.

“The US and the Zionist regime will never succeed in implementation of the plan and a more massive Intifada compared to the past (Intifadas) will be triggered in Palestine and even across the region,” Rayeesi said.

His remarks came after the Iranian parliament in its meeting on Monday unanimously approved the generalities of a bill to confront the hostile acts of the Zionist regime against peace and security.

The parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission had on Saturday prepared and approved the bill on “confronting the hostile acts of the Zionist regime against peace and security”.

“Based on the first article of the plan, all Iranian bodies are required to use the country’s regional and international capacities to confront the Zionist regime’s measures, specially its warmongering and terrorist moves, siege (of Gaza), settlement construction, displacing the Palestinian people and occupation of countries’ lands, including Golan,” Rapporteur of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini told FNA on Saturday.

He added that the plan also underlines support for Quds city as the Palestinian capital and the Palestinian people.

Naqavi Hosseini said that based on the approval, any cooperation or spying for the Zionist regime is equal to enmity towards God and corruption on earth and activities of the Israeli software platforms in Iran and using its hardware and software products is forbidden.

He noted that another article of the plan requires the foreign ministry to pursue the referendum in the Palestinian territories which has been registered at the UN too.

The new bill also bans transferring the goods produced by the Israeli companies via the Iranian territories as well as participation of the Israeli nationals and firms in the exhibitions held inside Iran.

It also requires the government to pave the ground for the establishment of a virtual embassy in Palestine.

“The foreign ministry is required to make necessary arrangements to form the Islamic Republic of Iran’s virtual embassy or consulate (in Palestine) and submit the results for approval to the cabinet,” one of the paragraphs of the bill said.

“The foreign ministry is required to adopt necessary measures (to this end) in consultations with other countries,” it added.

The plan was approved on the eve of the International Quds Day on May 22.

The International Quds Day is an annual event opposing Israel's occupation of Beitul-Muqaddas. Anti-Zionist rallies and demonstrations are held on the last Friday of Ramadan in Muslim and Arab countries around the world, specially in Iran, as well as a large number of non-Muslim states.

The International Quds Day was started by the late Founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, in 1979 as a way of expressing solidarity with the Palestinians and underscoring importance of the holy Quds to Muslims.

Due to the outbreak of coronavirus in Iran, the International Quds Day will be commemorated differently without holding gatherings and rallies.

Earlier this month, an official with the Coordination Council of Islamic Propagation Organization said Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei will deliver a speech on the occasion of the International Quds Day corresponding with May 22.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13990230000631

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Against evidence, Israel defense minister claims Iran withdrawing from Syria: Experts

19 May 2020

The Israeli defense minister’s claim that Iran is withdrawing its presence from Syria is being undercut by experts and satellite imagery from the ground.

Outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that Iran “is significantly reducing the scope of its forces in Syria,” but didn’t provide details or evidence to back up the claim.

An Israeli defense official under Bennett repeated the same claim two weeks earlier, saying Tehran “has been evacuating military bases” in Syria “since the start of the coronavirus outbreak,” Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported.

‘No change in the Iranian presence’

Bennett’s statement may have neglected to convey the full reality of the situation on the ground, for possible policy reasons, according to expert Walid Phares, who some Iranian forces may have left Syria – but others have taken their place.

“What was not said in public is the fact that other Iran-led units have entered Syria from Iraq. Some Iranian assets have left the Assad controlled territory, but other pro-Iranian militias have entered that territory to replace them,” Phares said in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

“I believe such a scenario is very possible in light of Iranian regime’s current priorities,” he added.

Local Syrian sources contradict Bennett and suggest there has been “no change in the Iranian presence” in the country, according to former Israeli Defense Forces Colonel Miri Eisin.

The timing of Bennett’s statement, made on the day he was leaving his position as defense minister, and after he failed to reach an agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should be taken into consideration, said Eisin.

“I separate political rhetoric on the day a minister is going to be in the opposition, from reality on the ground,” said Eisin, who served in the Israeli intelligence community and was a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israel views Iran's presence in Syria as a threat as Tehran has historically used its resources in Syria to launch rocket attacks against Israel.

Imagery shows Iran building on Syrian military base

Another blow against Bennett’s claim is a recent US media report that signals Iran is starting new military projects in Syria.

Fox News reported on May 13 that Iran is building a new tunnel at the Imam Ali military base in the eastern Syrian city of Albu Kamal. The report provided satellite images captured a day earlier showing bulldozers at the front of the structure.

The imagery was captured by civilian satellite company Image Sat International (ISI), whose intelligence analysis concluded the tunnel is to be used “for the storage of vehicles carrying advanced weapons systems,” according to the Fox News report.

Similar tunnels on the base, located near the border with Iraq, have been dug during the past nine months, according to ISI.

The construction comes just two months after the US struck the base, killing at least 18 fighters from the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Possibility of attack

US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Kenneth McKenzie told Al Arabiya English in November that Iran has the ability to strike Israel and would probably use long-range ballistic missiles if it were to carry out an attack.

Eisin said Iran has had the capability to attack Israel for many years, but that having the capability and having the intention are two distinct issues.

“The issue with Iran is the interpretation of their intentions,” said Eisin, adding that she does not think Iran would directly attack Israel, but indirectly.

“Iran prefers to use its proxies, disputes, and disquiet to achieve their aims,” said Eisin. “They arm Hezbollah and let them fight. They help Assad and let him fight."

Israel has conducted many raids inside Syria, seeing the presence of Lebanese Hezbollah and its ally Iran in the country as a strategic threat.

Less than a month ago Israeli warplanes fired missiles toward areas near Damascus on April 27, the Syrian regime army said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the strikes hit targets belonging to Iran and its regional proxies.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/05/19/Against-evidence-Israel-defense-minister-claims-Iran-withdrawing-from-Syria-Experts.html

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Iranian proxies to choose winner of award named after slain commander Soleimani

19 May 2020

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the formation of a 19-man committee that will decide the winner of a new award named after slain military commander Qassem Soleimani, the official IRNA news agency reported on Monday.

The biennial award, dubbed “the commander Soleimani global award,” will be presented to individuals from “the field of struggle and resistance,” IRNA said. Iran uses the term “resistance axis” to describe its network of proxies, allies, and terrorist organizations in the region.

Some members of the 19-man committee in charge of choosing a winner include the Iranian foreign minister as well as representatives of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthi militia and Palestinian militant groups Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement.

The point of this award is to honor the “struggles and sacrifices” of Soleimani over the years, IRNA said.

Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force – the overseas arms of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – was killed in a US airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport in January.

Earlier this month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Soleimani’s outspoken daughter Zeinab Soleimani as the head of a newly established foundation named after the commander.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/05/19/Iranian-proxies-to-choose-winner-of-award-named-after-slain-commander-Soleimani.html

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International Quds Day 2020: An opportunity to support the oppressed

19 May 2020

With the Quds Day arriving, Muslims, non-Muslims, and all freedom-seeking people across the world are preparing to mark a day that epitomizes the Palestinian people’s valor and heroic resistance over the years against an illegal entity that has no scruples about shedding their blood.

International Quds Day, celebrated on the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan, is seen as the legacy of the late founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Imam Khomeini, who is revered as a spiritual leader by Muslims across the world.

On May 22 every year, people across the world, regardless of their faith, denounce Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinian people and voice their support for the Palestinian cause.

The annual event is an opportunity for people to express their indignation at the apartheid regime of Israel, which has occupied Palestinian territories since 1967.

This year’s Quds Day comes in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far claimed more than 320,000 lives and infected 4.8 million others since it started late last year.

The following are some excerpts from interviews Press TV news channel has conducted with a number of pro-Palestine luminaries and activists in the run-up to the International Quds Day.

Tisetso Magama, a senior board member and spokesperson of Africa for Palestine, from Johannesburg, described the Quds Day as an opportunity to build solidarity across the world.

“It is one of the opportunities that we have to build solidarity across the globe to make people aware of the plight of our brothers and sisters who have been living under the occupation for more than 70 years” Magama said.

“It is one of those significant events on our calendar, which of course the Israeli regime fears because it, like other regimes, apartheid regimes, colonial regimes and imperialist regimes, understands that no regime can oppress innocent people forever. That is a profound lesson of history and the Israeli regime knows that. Now the regime in Tel Aviv understands that it is only human solidarity that will be able to break the chains of bondage and oppression and suppression and indeed the mass murder and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. So they know that their days are numbered,” he added.

Booker Ngesa, a member of Kenya Palestine Solidarity Movement, from Nairobi, said Kenyans would mark the Quds Day to “show enormous friendship to our brothers and sisters in Palestine and communicate with them that we share in their struggles and pain.”

Ngesa underlined that the message from the African continent to Israel is that the Zionist regime will be defeated and the people of Palestine will triumph and reclaim their land, and there will be permanent peace, not with oppression but with justice.

Feroze Mithiborwala, an Indian activist, denounced the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and described the usurpation as the legacy of British imperialism in South Asia.

“Since the early years of the twentieth century, colonial powers have been masters of the so-called ‘divide and rule’ dogma to prolong their rule. The partition of Palestine to create the Zionist entity in the midst of the 20th century — which occurred just one year after British India was partitioned to create Pakistan — is always seen as the legacy of British imperialism in South Asia,” Mithiborwala said.

Laith Marouf, a Lebanese activist and commentator from Beirut, praised the Iranian people for standing with the Palestinians and backing their cause in the face of Israeli aggression.

“It is a very significant day for the Palestinians because it falls in Ramadan, it falls in the last 10 days of the holy month. It is very significant because it was called by the late supreme leader of Iran to show solidarity of Iranian nation for the Palestinian people,” Marouf said.

“So, we are one voice. It is lucky for the Palestinians that Iran is a sovereign state and it’s a country that respects the human rights of its fellow brothers and sisters in the Arab world,” he added.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625714/Palestine-Quds-Day

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Gen. Soleimani predicted looming victory against Israel in letter to Palestinian cmdr.

19 May 2020

In a letter addressed to a Palestinian resistance leader before his martyrdom, Iran’s top anti-terror commander assured the Palestinians that victory against the US-backed Israeli regime was on the horizon, and that the Islamic Republic would never abandon the oppressed nation in its anti-occupation cause.

“By God’s grace, the dawn of the day of victory is near, and the death knell for the invasive Zionists has begun to toll,” General Soleimani had told Mohammed Deif, senior commander of Ezzedine al-Qassam, the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas resistance movement.

The missive was sent to Deif some time before General Soleimani was martyred in a US drone attack in Baghdad in January, reported Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen television channel that published the letter posthumously.

“Defending Palestine is an honor for us, and an obligation that we will not abandon in exchange for nothing,” the letter read.

Everyone should stay assured that Iran will not forsake Palestine no matter how much more pressure and sanctions will be put on the Islamic Republic, General Soleimani told the Palestinian leader.

Defending Palestine exemplifies defending Islam, he had noted, and warned that whoever gets to hear the Palestinians’ outcry for help and withholds assistance was not to be considered a Muslim.

“Palestine’s friends are our friends and Palestine’s enemies are our enemies. This has been and will always be our policy,” he said.

General Soleimani also wished for divine assistance in his efforts to provide support for the Palestinians and hoped that God grant his wish “for martyrdom on the path of al-Quds’ [liberation].”

The commander used to lead the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) before his martyrdom. During his military career, General Soleimani earned reputation as the Middle East’s most effective and respected anti-terror figure due to his indispensible contribution to the defeat of foreign-backed terrorists, including the Daesh group, throughout the region.

The letter was unveiled in the run-up to the International Quds Day.

Every year, millions of Muslims hold demonstrations worldwide to underscore the plight of Palestinians, heeding a call by the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, who designated the last Friday of every Ramadan after the fashion.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625699/Iran-General-Soleimani-prediction-letter-victory-Israel-Palestine-Ezzedine-Qassam-commander

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Pakistan

 

Punjab to implement 2 per cent quota for minority students

by Shafique Khokhar

05/19/2020

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Christian, Hindu and Sikh and other religious minority students will be entitled to 2 per cent quota in Punjab universities as part of the Punjab Minorities Empowerment Package.

A bill to that end was introduced in February 2019 by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), with a 5 per cent quota. Even with a lower percentage, minority students will have the same opportunities in the admission policy by higher educational institutions.

Minorities in Pakistan face many forms of discrimination. Christians and churches have often seen their land and churches seized; Hindus suffer as a result of tensions between India and Pakistan and minority women and girls are often the victims of abductions and forced conversions.

In the name of justice, Pakistan’s central government reserved a 5 per cent share in employment to counter joblessness among minorities. It adopted a law to that effect on 26 May 2009. However, he latter has been applied intermittently by provincial governments. The minority quota often goes unfilled, especially for the most qualified positions.

For Fr Kamran Ghouri Daniel, from the Diocese of Islamabad, the decision by the Punjab government “is the best way to help minorities climb the social ladder through education".

He also thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government calling on them to ensure that "this law is applied and not just remain on paper.”

Asif Aqeel, a journalist and a member of an association that supports minority rights, calls this decision "historic" as it "will enhance the well-being of religious minorities, especially Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.”

In his view, support for the law by Punjab’s Minorities and Human Rights Minster Ejaz Augustine was important.

Cecil Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, describes the decision as "encouraging" and "very positive". However, he would like to see the government ensure that the law is actually applied and that job quotas are enforced as they are often not applied in the "right spirit".

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Punjab-to-implement-2-per-cent-quota-for-minority-students-50122.html

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NA to hold marathon session to fulfil constitutional requirement

Amir Wasim

May 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to hold a marathon session of the National Assembly spread over 10 weeks from June 5 in order to meet the constitutional requirement of remaining in session for a minimum of 130 days during a parliamentary year.

During the session, the government will present the federal budget for the financial year 2020-21, besides taking up pending legislative work.

This was disclosed by Babar Awan, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs, through a video message on Tuesday, a week after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) criticised the government for not complying with the parliamentary calendar and expressed an apprehension that the National Assembly might not be able to fulfil the constitutional requirement of being in session for at least 130 days during a parliamentary year.

The parliamentary year of the present assembly started on Aug 13. The National Assembly has so far held 77 sittings and in order to fulfil the provisions of Article 54(2) of the Constitution, it must be in session for another 53 “working days” by Aug 13 this year.

In fact, the actual number of sittings made by the National Assembly so far is only 51 as the two sandwich days between Friday and Monday are also counted as “working days” of the assembly.

“It will be a marathon session and perhaps the longest one in the country’s history as it will begin on June 5 and continue till Aug 13,” Mr Awan said, adding that his ministry had already prepared a summary in this regard.

The adviser, who had previously served as the law minister in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government under former president Asif Zardari, said it was important “symbolically and constitutionally” that the parliament complete its number of mandatory sittings.

The adviser said that he had already spoken to Prime Minister Imran Khan and NA Speaker Asad Qaiser about the constitutional requirement of mandatory sittings.

The adviser said the opposition would also be consulted about the agenda before start of the session in a meeting of the House Business Advisory Committee.

Besides presentation and passage of the federal budget, Mr Awan said, the assembly would carry out some important legislative business, including amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

He said the government might have to convene a joint sitting of the parliament during the same period to get passed the anti-money laundering bill as it had lapsed after one of the two houses did not adopt it.

Responding to the criticism in some circles that the parliament is being called only to meet the constitutional requirement, Mr Awan said the parliament would not only complete its mandatory sittings but would also be meeting “to complete its work” and take decisions in the interest of the nation.

“There is no question of showing any constitutional negligence or leaving any constitutional vacuum in the working of parliament,” he concluded.

Previously, the government had succeeded in meeting the same constitutional requirement for the Senate when it remained in session continuously for almost two months in January and February. Under the Constitution, the Senate “shall meet for not less than one hundred and ten (110) working days in each year”.

Both the government and the opposition had reached an understanding to drag the Senate session only to fulfil the constitutional requirement despite having no serious business in hand.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1558430/na-to-hold-marathon-session-to-fulfil-constitutional-requirement

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NAB opens probe against religious affairs minister

May 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Nat­ional Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday started process of complaint verification against Minister of Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri for his alleged involvement in renting out a building of his ministry to his alleged business partner in the federal capital.

An informed source told Dawn that NAB took the decision at its Executive Board Meeting (EBM) on a complaint lodged against the minister by someone from his ministry.

A press release issued by the NAB headquarters said: “The EBM authorised conducting of complaint verification against officers/officials and others of the Min­istry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.”

The source said the NAB believed it was a case of “conflict of interest”.

The meeting also app­roved filing of a reference against some officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for “illegally” selling a building of the Pakistan Embassy in Jakarta and holding separate inquiries against a son of Rukhsana Bangash, political secretary to former president Asif Zardari, and former housing minister Akram Khan Durrani.

About the selling of the embassy building in Jakarta, NAB had received information that the foreign affairs ministry had been aware of the fraud, but it did not take any action.

NAB is also investigating a similar case of selling of the embassy building in Tokyo.

According to NAB, officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs caused heavy losses to the national exchequer by selling the embassy building in Jakarta in violation of rules and regulations and by misusing their authority.

The NAB meeting also authorised an investigation against Arif Ibrahim, senior joint secretary in the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination.

The bureau also approved five inquiries against various people, including Umer Manzoor, son of Rukhsana Bangash, former member of the National Assembly and political secretary to former president Zardari, officers/officials of the Ministry of Housing and Works and others; Syed Akhtar Hussain Rizvi, former secretary of Works, Gilgit-Baltistan, and two separate inquiries against Akram Durrani, former minister for housing and works, officers/officials of the ministry, management and others of job testing services.

The meeting decided to refer the ongoing inquiry against officers/officials and others of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to NAB Rawalpindi for further examination as per law.

Speaking at the meeting, NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal urged media, citizens and officials of all government institutions to play their role in identifying illegal housing societies.

“Media should investigate the legal position of housing societies, whether a housing society has sufficient land on the ground and has a layout plan and NOC approved by the regulator concerned as per law before airing/publishing advertisements of such housing schemes,” he said.

“This is essential as some housing societies exist only on paper and vanish from the market after devouring billions of rupees of innocent people,” the NAB chairman said.

He directed all NAB officers to conduct complaint verification, inquiries and investigations and pursue NAB cases in all accountability courts with complete preparation, including solid and concrete evidence as per law.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1558419/nab-opens-probe-against-religious-affairs-minister

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Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia express support for intra-Afghan dialogue

May 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Four regional countries, including Pakistan, on Tuesday urged all stakeholders in Afghanistan to declare a comprehensive ceasefire, as they welcomed the power-sharing agreement between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah.

Special representatives of Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia held a virtual conference to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan against the backdrop of recent power-sharing deal in Afghanistan, ending the months-long deadlock between Ghani and Abdullah and also the recent spike in violence in the war-torn country.

A joint statement issued simultaneously by the four countries voiced serious concerns over the terrorism threat existing in Afghanistan.

The statement said the quartet supported UN Secretary General António Guterres’ initiative for a universal ceasefire and called for a simultaneous declaration of a comprehensive ceasefire throughout Afghanistan as agreed among parties to the conflict.

Concerned with the serious terrorism threat existing in Afghanistan, they urged all sides in Afghanistan to take decisive action against al Qaeda, ISIL, ETIM, TTP and other international terrorist organisations operating against regional countries, and to completely eradicate the production and trafficking of narcotics in the country.

“Pay close attention to the follow-up developments resulting in exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan, call on foreign troops to withdraw in an orderly and responsible way so that the situation in Afghanistan will experience a steady transition,” the joint statement read.

The joint statement reiterated their respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, and the decision of its people on their future and development path.

They welcomed the agreement between two main political leaders and hoped that this important event will expedite the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.

They also supported the “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” peace and reconciliation process, and said that the inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations are the only way to realise the Afghan national reconciliation, leading to prompt end of the prolonged conflict.

The joint statement called on all Afghan ethnic groups and parties, including the Taliban, to act upon the opportunities preparing the situation to launch the intra-Afghan negotiations as soon as possible. They supported the release of prisoners and detainees held by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, a key phase of the peace process leading to the intra-Afghan dialogue.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/05/19/pakistan-china-iran-russia-express-support-intra-afghan-dialogue/

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Seven soldiers killed in militant attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan

19 May 2020

Militants killed seven Pakistani soldiers in two attacks in the country’s mineral-rich southwestern province of Balochistan, the military said on Tuesday.

Balochistan is at the center of the $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of Beijing’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure project.

But separatist, extremist and ethnic violence afflicts the impoverished province, fueling concern about the security of projects such as a planned energy link from western China to Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar.

Six of the soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device as they were returning late on Monday night from a routine patrol to their camp in Pir Ghaib in the Mach district of Balochistan, the military’s media wing said in a statement.

Another soldier was killed during an exchange of fire with militants in the Mand area of Kech district, it said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Balochistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/05/19/Seven-soldiers-killed-in-militant-attacks-in-Pakistan-s.html

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Pakistan reports over 1,800 new Covid-19 cases, 36 deaths: Health Ministry

May 19, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reported 1,841 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 36 fatalities during the last 24 hours, taking the total infections in the country to nearly 44,000 with 939 deaths, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

As the coronavirus cases in the national capital Islamabad crossed the 1,000-mark, other parts of Pakistan also continued to witness a surge in the infections.

Till now, 17,241 cases have been detected in Sindh, 15,976 in Punjab, 6,230 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 2,820 in Balochistan, 1,034 in Islamabad, 550 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 115 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

"So far 400,292 tests have been done including 12,957 in the last 24 hours," the ministry said in a statement.

As the numbers go up, Prime Minister Imran Khan was scheduled to chair a Cabinet meeting to review the COVID-19 situation, especially in the wake of easing the restrictions.

Pakistan has started easing in phases the lockdown and partially resumed its domestic air services.

The health ministry said that a total of 12,489 patients have so far recovered from the virus while the death toll stood at 939 with 36 new lives lost in the last 24 hours.

To add to the woes of the government, leading clerics announced on Monday to resume five-time congregational prayers at mosques across the country.

They said prevailing uncertainty about the end of coronavirus could not stop people from activities of daily life and regular business.

The congregations were banned when the countrywide lockdown was imposed in March to contain the spread of coronavirus.

However, prayers were allowed under strict social distancing with the beginning of Ramzan in April.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pakistan-reports-over-1800-new-covid-19-cases-36-deaths-health-ministry/articleshow/75822371.cms

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Govt considers putting Shahbaz’s name on no-fly list

Syed Irfan Raza

May 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The government seems to be determined to place the name of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif on the no-fly list “so that he could not escape and face fresh corruption cases being made against him”.

“It is under consideration, and it should happen that the name of Shahbaz Sharif should be placed on the ECL (Exit Control List),” said Information Minister Shibli Faraz at a post-cabinet meeting press conference on Tuesday.

He said the PML-N president came up with a novel idea in a TV talk show on Monday that fresh elections should be held in the country but did not talk about evidence of corruption made public by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Accoun­tability Shahzad Akbar in his recent presser. “Shahbaz Sharif is trying to hide his corruption by creating another controversy of fresh polls,” he added.

The minister said the country was passing through a difficult time, but the opposition leader was asking for fresh elections. “Does he [Shahbaz Sharif] have the moral strength to demand fresh elections?” he asked.

At a recent press conference, Shahzad Akbar claimed to have unearthed fresh corruption evidence against Mr Sharif and said the opposition leader and his family had formed more than 10 front companies to get kickbacks and corruption money. He said some close aides to Mr Sharif, who were employees of his companies, were under custody and had confessed to illegal businesses of the opposition leader.

Meanwhile, reacting to Shibli Faraz’s statement, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb asked why the names of Prime Minister Imran Khan and those involved in sugar and wheat scandals should also not be placed on the ECL. “Pakistanis are troubled by the coronavirus while the government is troubled by how to find a way to put Shahbaz Sharif on the Exit Control List,” she added.

She said the raging Covid-19 pandemic in the country was not on the cabinet meeting’s agenda as political victimisation took centrestage at the meeting. “Shibli Faraz should start caring more about the test of the nation’s patience against this failed government rather than any test of Shahbaz Sharif,” she added.

Ms Aurangzeb said Prime Minister Khan’s name should be on top of the ECL as he was guilty of illegal foreign funding through 23 illegal bank accounts, compromising Pakistan’s sovereignty. “BRT 100 billion [rupees] corruption criminals, helicopter case culprits and Malam Jabba case convicts should be on the ECL. Those who buried the country under Rs12,000 billion foreign debt should be on ECL,” she added.

At the press conference, Mr Faraz said the government had decided to outsource or privatise airports of the country. He said a committee headed by Aviation Minister Sarwar Khan had been formed to separate the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) from the corporate side of airports before June 30 so that tendering process could be initiated.

He said some international firms were interested in running Pakistan’s airports. “We want to meet international standard in our airports,” he added.

Responding to a question, he said no employee of the airports would be laid off, rather more jobs would be created.

The minister said that 27 ministries had provided lists of 638 government employees who had been appointed “illegally” since August 2016. “Action will be taken against them and those who had appointed them,” he added.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1558422/govt-considers-putting-shahbazs-name-on-no-fly-list

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Africa

 

UN envoy urges end to foreign support for warring sides in Libya

20 May 2020

The United Nations (UN)’s acting envoy for Libya has called on the Security Council to press countries to end their sponsorship of warring sides in the North African country, warning that the influx of arms and mercenaries will aggravate the conflict.

“From what we are witnessing in terms of the massive influx of weaponry, equipment, and mercenaries to the two sides, the only conclusion that we can draw is that this war will intensify, broaden, and deepen,” said Acting UN Envoy Stephanie Williams before the Security Council.

“We must not let Libya slip away,” she insisted. “This council can ensure the collective security it is mandated to maintain by applying consistent and credible pressure on those regional and international actors that are fueling the conflict.”

Libya descended into turmoil following the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, its long-time ruler, in 2011. For the past six years, the country has been split between two rival camps, namely the UN-recognized government based in the capital, Tripoli, and another camp based in the eastern city of Tobruk, backed militarily by rebel forces led by strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The Libyan government receives major backing from Turkey, and the rebels from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Jordan.

The rebels launched a deadly offensive to capture Tripoli in April last year but have so far failed to advance past the city’s outskirts.

The remarks by Williams came just a day after the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen also informed the UNSC that militants from Syria were being dispatched to Libya to fight on both sides of the conflict there.

UAE calls for truce, diplomacy to end Libya war

Meanwhile, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash proclaimed that the Persian Gulf country believed the only viable path forward in the Libyan crisis would be “an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire and a return to the political process.”

“The UAE’s position on the Libyan crisis has been firm and clear & shared by the majority of the international community,” Gargash claimed in a Twitter post on Tuesday.

The assertion was made despite the UAE’s persistent interference in the Libyan conflict by way of supplying Haftar with weaponry despite a UN arms embargo on Libya and conducting drone operations in support of his forces.

Rebels declare retreat from Tripoli fronts

Separately, a rebel spokesman announced early on Wednesday that the rebels were withdrawing two to three kilometers from all front-lines around Tripoli from midday.

Ahmed al-Mismari claimed the retreat was meant to allow citizens to move more freely during the end of Ramadan and in the run-up to the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Mismari also called on government forces to do the same but did not state whether the rebel’s own pull-back was contingent on it doing so.

The development came after the government’s biggest advance in the past year on Monday, when it captured the Watiya airbase, a significant rebel stronghold and the only major airbase near Tripoli, along with an abandoned Pantsir air defense system.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/20/625735/Libya-foreign-support-warring-sides

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UN official says militants from Syria being sent to fight in Libya

19 May 2020

United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen says militants from the Arab country are being sent to Libya to fight on both sides of the conflict there.

“Let us… remember that Syria’s instability reverberates elsewhere, too — including as far as Libya, given reports of fighters being recruited in Syria in large numbers and sent to fight on both sides of that conflict,” Pedersen said in an online UN Security Council meeting on Monday, Russia’s TASS reported.

For the past six years, Libya has been split between two rival camps, namely the UN-recognized government, and another camp based in the eastern city of Tobruk, supported militarily by rebel forces under the command of a military strongman named Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar is supported by the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan, and launched a deadly offensive to capture Tripoli, the seat of the government, in April last year. His forces haven’t been able to advance past the city’s outskirts.

Turkey has previously been reported to recruit and dispatch allied militants from Syria to fight on behalf of the Libyan government.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed the presence of those militants in Libya.

Last week, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkey-backed militant groups in Syria had sent teenage militants to Libya.

Libyan army defeats rebels near Tunisia border

On Tuesday, the Libyan army announced that it had retaken two towns from the rebels under Haftar’s command near the Tunisian border.

According to a Libyan army statement carried by Turkey’s state Anadolu news agency, the towns of Badr and Tij were liberated.

Footage from local media also showed Libyan military vehicles purportedly entering Badr.

A day earlier, government forces had retaken the strategic al-Watiya airbase, south of Tripoli.

Watiya was seized by Haftar’s rebels in August 2014 and had been used as the strongman’s headquarters ever since.

Libya plunged into chaos in 2011 when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/05/19/625691/Libya-Syria-militants-both-sides

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Libyan army destroys missile system used by Haftar

Enes Canli  

20.05.2020

The Libyan army on Wednesday destroyed a Russian-made air defense system used by forces loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar in the city of Terhune.

Abdul-Malik Al-Madani, spokesman for the government-led Volcano of Rage Operation, told Anadolu Agency that the Pantsir missile system, which was supplied to Haftar’s militias by the United Arab Emirates, has been demolished.

Images of an unmanned aerial vehicle of the Libyan army targeting a hangar were also shared on social media and in the local press.

The Libyan army had announced that after capturing the strategic Al-Watiya airbase in the western part of the country from Haftar’s militias, they had captured an air defense system of the same type as the UAE had provided to the militia.

Haftar, the leader of illegal armed forces in eastern Libya, has intensified attacks on civilians since the beginning of May as the Libyan army recently gained an advantage and inflicted severe losses on his militants.

The government has been under attack by Haftar's forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence. It launched Operation Peace Storm on March 26 to counter attacks on the capital.

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libyan-army-destroys-missile-system-used-by-haftar/1847048

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Libyan war to intensify with devastating outcomes: UN

Servet Günerigök  

19.05.2020

The war in Libya will deepen, further increasing negative results for Libyans, acting UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams warned Tuesday.

"From what we are witnessing in terms of the massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries to the two sides, the only conclusion that we can draw is that this war will intensify, broaden and deepen with devastating consequences for the Libyan people," Williams told the Security Council.

She said Libyans are "getting lost in the mix" as foreign intervention in the North African country's conflict increases.

Armed conflict has been raging in Libya since renegade commander Khalifa Haftar launched an attack against the Libya government in 2019.

"We must not let Libya slip away," said Williams. "By coming together now, this Council can ensure the collective security it is mandated to maintain by applying consistent and credible pressure on those regional and international actors that are fueling the conflict."

She said an "alarming military build-up" is taking place in the conflict-hit country because foreign backers continue to deploy weapons as well as recruiting more mercenaries to both sides.

"We can collectively write a different ending to this so far sad tale but only if we demonstrate a collective will to do so," she added.

On Monday, Libya’s army retook Al-Watiya airbase occupied by Haftar's militias, a key airbase now back under government control after some six years under putschist forces.

Following Monday’s victory, the Libyan army said it will move to liberate the city of Tarhouna, located 140 kilometers (87 miles) southwest of Tripoli.

"Military operations in and around Tarhouna caused new displacement and negatively impacted humanitarian access to the city," the UN envoy warned.

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libyan-war-to-intensify-with-devastating-outcomes-un/1846879

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Libyan army's retake of Al-Watiya on world media

19.05.2020

News outlets around the world widely covered the Libyan army taking control of the key military Al-Watiya airbase.

On Monday morning, the Libyan army announced that they were fully in control of Al-Watiya airbase after forces loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar fled the base.

The international media allocated a wide coverage to this development.

The Guardian covered the news with the headline: “UN-backed Libyan forces take key airbase from rebel general.”

“Loss of al-Watiya airbase south of Tripoli deals major blow to renegade general Khalifa Haftar,” the newspaper reported.

The Independent reported: “‘A game-changer in every sense’: Libya warlord Khalifa Haftar loses key airbase to forces allied with Turkey.”

The story by Borzou Daragahi said “forces loyal to the internationally recognised government in Libya, backed by Turkey, seized control of strategic airbase.”

The Middle East Eye website reported that Libyan forces captured a Russian-made Pantsir air defense system mounted on a truck at the base.

“A separate video circulating online and in Turkey's media purported to show a Turkish drone, which support the GNA [Libyan government] from the air, targeting a Pantsir system as it was being transported by road in the early hours of Monday,” the website reported.

The Libyan army announced Monday that it regained the control of the strategically important Al-Watiya airbase, which had been under Haftar’s control for about six years and was used for multiple operations.

The government has been under attack by Haftar's forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence. It launched Operation Peace Storm on March 26 to counter attacks on the capital.

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libyan-armys-retake-of-al-watiya-on-world-media/1846771

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Libya: Airstrikes target militia escaping key base

Aydogan Kalabalik  

19.05.2020

TRIPOLI, Libya

Libyan aerial elements struck forces loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar after they fled a key military airbase retaken by the government, local reports said Monday.  

Two military vehicles driven by members of Haftar’s militia, which had escaped Al-Watiya airbase, were reportedly struck near the 53rd military camp in the Tiji region located near Libya’s border with Tunisia. 

In addition, a Russian-made Krasukha electronic warfare system was heavily damaged and became unserviceable. 

The moment capturing the airstrike on the system was shared on social media, but the Libyan army has not yet shared any data on the whereabouts of the airstrike. 

The Libyan army announced Monday that it had regained control over the strategically important Al-Watiya airbase, which had been under Haftar’s control for about six years and was used for multiple operations. 

The government has been under attack by Haftar's forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence. It launched Operation Peace Storm on March 26 to counter attacks on the capital. 

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal. 

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libya-airstrikes-target-militia-escaping-key-base/1845850

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Libya to document violations of Haftar supporters

Walid Abdullah  

19.05.2020

TRIPOLI

Libya on Monday pledged to document violations of countries that provide support to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar. 

"All violations will be brought to the UN Security Council along with the sanctions committee," Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala said in a statement on Facebook.

He stated that Libya will cooperate with all peace supporting international powers to ensure building a democratic civilian state for all the Libyan people. 

Also, Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Muhammad al-Qiblawi, said that his country's government would provide evidence of the United Arab Emirate's involvement in the bloodshed of Libyans and the breach of international resolutions. 

"We will provide the Security Council with what has been found in Al-Watiya airbase as evidence of violation by several countries of the arms embargo resolution to Libya, especially the Russian Pantsir missile system that Abu Dhabi provided." 

On Monday, Libya's army retook strategic Al-Watiya airbase from Haftar's militias.

Al-Watiya is seen as a key airbase, second only to Mitiga Airport. It was captured in 2014 by Haftar, the leader of illegally armed forces in eastern Libya, who used it as his headquarters for attacks on legitimate government. 

The government has been under attack by Haftar's forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence. It launched Operation Peace Storm on March 26 to counter attacks on the capital.

Following the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya's government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led political deal.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libya-to-document-violations-of-haftar-supporters/1845734

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Authorities: Boko Haram attacks Nigerian village, killing 20

May 19, 2020

Islamic extremists stormed a village just as people were preparing to break their Ramadan fast after sundown, killing at least 20 people in the first attack of its kind in northeastern Nigeria since the Muslim holy month began, authorities said Monday.

Witnesses said fighters from the extremist group Boko Haram carried out the attack in Gajigana, where they entered the opposite side of the village from where Nigerian soldiers were posted.

“The shootings were sudden and intense; people began to flee in all directions,” said Ba’an Bukar, a member of a local civilian defense group.

Many of the victims were too weak to flee after several weeks of fasting, and temperatures had soared to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday, he added.

Audu Mustapha, a member of the Borno state House of Assembly, said 25 others were wounded in the attack about 47 kilometers (29 miles) north of the state capital, Maiduguri. Boko Haram has now been waging its insurgency for more than a decade in northeastern Nigeria.

Their rebellion has claimed more than 20,000 lives and left more than 7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

https://indianexpress.com/article/world/authorities-boko-haram-attacks-nigerian-village-killing-20-6417478/

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