New Age Islam
Mon Aug 10 2020, 02:15 PM

Islamic World News ( 23 Jan 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslims Learn Sanskrit While Hindus Study Urdu in This Madrasa in Gonda District, UP







• Be Humane: Refugee Persecution Must Be Assessed On A Case By Case Basis, Not On That Of Religion

• Abrogation of Article 370 Has Now Become Fait Accompli, Should Be Accepted: Centre To SC

• Won't Oppose China Publicly For Oppressing Muslims Because China Helps Us: Imran Khan

• 'Justice Served': Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Hail ICJ Ruling

• This Must Never Happen Again, Says Saudi Cleric as Muslim Group Tours Auschwitz

• Iran: US Threat To Kill Soleimani Successor a Sign of ‘Governmental Terrorism’

• Removing Haftar A Must for Libyan Democracy: Official

• Trump Says Expects To Release Mideast Plan, Invites Netanyahu, Gantz to US

• Rugby’s Muslim Icon ‘Will Not Wear’ Shirt with Betting Logo

• Indonesia Considers Repatriating More Than 600 Citizens with Alleged Terror Ties

 

India

• Muslims Learn Sanskrit While Hindus Study Urdu in This Madrasa in Gonda District, UP

• Be Humane: Refugee Persecution Must Be Assessed On A Case By Case Basis, Not On That Of Religion

• Abrogation of Article 370 Has Now Become Fait Accompli, Should Be Accepted: Centre To SC

• Family of Bengal Muslim Child Worshipped As Durga Moves Supreme Court against CAA

• Their Cases Falling, Muzaffarnagar Police Now Invoke Juvenile Act, Say Anti-CAA Protesters Used Kids

• Pak desperate as world has seen through its double standards: Govt

• Mehbooba Mufti's daughter alleges harassment by special security group

• Naqvi: People of Kashmir want development at a fast pace

• Special court remands Davinder Singh, 4 others in NIA custody for 15 days

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Pakistan

• Won't Oppose China Publicly For Oppressing Muslims Because China Helps Us: Imran Khan

• Hamza to speak about his journey to Islam in Dallas

• Why a Pakistani minister brought army boots to a TV studio

• Pakistani Islamic group now goes after a film on a bearded man and Imran Khan caves

• Imran rejects CPEC’s criticism as ‘nonsense’

• Trump’s visit to India next month won’t include Pakistan: FO

• Pakistan conducts successful training launch of Ghaznavi missile

• Pakistan urges UN to play role in resolving Palestine issue

• Corruption has increased in Pakistan, says Transparency

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South Asia

• 'Justice Served': Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Hail ICJ Ruling

• Afghan Official Says Taliban Killed Intel Officer in Helmand

• Turkish delegation visits Rohingya camps in Bangladesh

• Bangladesh: 22 Rohingya detained before trafficked

• Afghan forces suffer casualties in Taliban attacks

• Afghanistan remains one of the top 10 corrupt countries in the world: Report

• Abdullah and Karzai have no written plan for Afghanistan: Ghani

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Arab World

• This Must Never Happen Again, Says Saudi Cleric as Muslim Group Tours Auschwitz

• Up to 40 Syrian soldiers killed, 80 wounded in Idlib attack: Ifax

• Major crowds convene in streets of Baghdad to denounce US military presence in Iraq

• Militants set off car bombs, storm army positions in Syria's Idlib: state news agency

• In Syria, Captured Islamic State Fighters, Followers Going Home

• No ISIS Surge During Pause in US Operations, General Says

• Saudi Arabia Asks US to Remove Sudan from Terror List

• Lebanon's new government backed by Hezbollah and allies meets for first time

• Senior MP: US Attempting to Reactivate ISIL in 5 Iraqi Provinces

• Footage Shows "Joker Revolutionaries" in Iraq Fabricating Violence Scene in Iraq

• Russian strikes kill eight civilians in Syria’s Idlib: Monitor

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Mideast

• Iran: US Threat To Kill Soleimani Successor a Sign of ‘Governmental Terrorism’

• Palestinian Authority reiterates rejection of US peace initiative

• Car bomb kills several Turkish soldiers in northern Syria: SANA

• Israel prevents gas from entering Gaza and begins selling it to Egypt

• Dozens killed near Sanaa as army targets rebel supply lines

• Spokesman: Iran Lodges Complaint with UN against US Assassination of General Soleimani

• Turkish aid groups building houses in Syria for Idlib’s displaced

• Iran ‘most anti-Semitic regime on the planet’ says Israel’s Netanyahu

• Iranian IRGC officer suggests taking US hostages to make up for sanctions

• Russia condemns US “unacceptable” threats to assassinate new Quds Force commander

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Africa

• Removing Haftar A Must for Libyan Democracy: Official

• Libya's neighbors seek solutions at Algeria peace meet

• Ottoman descendants in South Africa eagerly await Turkish citizenship

• Chaos as Militants Overran Airfield, Killing 3 Americans in Kenya

• Somalia Offers to Take Swedish Islamic State Members from Syria

• Burkina Faso Approves State Backing for Vigilantes Fighting Jihadists

• Tunisia to repatriate extremists’ children from Libya

• Six soldiers killed in central Mali

• Libya: Mitiga airport, threatened by Haftar, reopened

• Berlin Libya summit: A mere ‘gentlemen’s agreement’?

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North America

• Trump Says Expects To Release Mideast Plan, Invites Netanyahu, Gantz to US

• Muslim Awareness Week To Kick Off In Montreal

• Washington says no uptick in violence from ISIS in Syria, Iraq

• Trump courts new controversy with travel ban expansion

• Northeastern Student Was Deported Back to Iran over Family’s Ties to Terroristic Groups

• Trump Says Plans to Release ‘Deal Of the Century’ Plan Next Tuesday

• Trump says more countries to be added to US travel ban soon

• US bars Iranians from trade and investment visas

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Europe

• Rugby’s Muslim Icon ‘Will Not Wear’ Shirt with Betting Logo

• High-Level Muslim World League Delegation Pays Interfaith Visit To Auschwitz

• France to Further Boost Its Anti-Jihad Force In Sahel

• German Defense Chief Warns Islamic State Could Resume ‘Terror’

• Non-violent groups on UK counter-terror list threaten legal action

• Orbán: Chances Good for Cooperation with Moderate Islamic Parties

• Lebanon’s Gebran Bassil grilled on failures at Davos

• Merkel: We should prevent Libya becoming next Syria

• EU urges Syrian regime to stop Idlib offensive

• EU has not fulfilled all its promises: Turkish FM

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Southeast Asia

• Indonesia Considers Repatriating More Than 600 Citizens with Alleged Terror Ties

• Selangor fatwa on SIS temporarily suspended pending appeal

• Pope’s possible visit to Indonesia, East Timor and PNG

• US, Indonesian citizens arrested for allegedly proselytizing for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Jambi

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/muslims-learn-sanskrit-while-hindus-study-urdu-in-this-madrasa-in-gonda-district,-up/d/120881

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Muslims Learn Sanskrit While Hindus Study Urdu in This Madrasa in Gonda District, UP

January 23, 2020

Amid the protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Population Register (NPR), Wazirganj area of Gonda district in Uttar Pradesh is writing a new chapter on Hindu-Muslim unity.

A madarsa, Gulshan-e-Baghdad, situated in Rasulpur development block of Wazirganj is not only giving Sanskrit lessons to Muslim students but a large number of Hindu students are also studying here to learn Urdu.

The madarsa has about 230 students out of which 30 are Hindus and more than 50 Muslim students are learning Sanskrit, according to the Principal.

There are two teachers in Rasulpur madarsa -- Qari Abdul Rashid and Qari Muhammad Shamim -- who impart Urdu and Arabic teaching.

In the same way, four teachers have been appointed for other subjects. They are Naresh Bahadur Srivastava, Ram Sahai Verma, Kamaruddin and Abdul Kaiyum. Srivastava teaches Sanskrit to children.

Kari Muhammad Rashid, the principal of Madarsa, told IANS: "We are trying our best to give the best of education to our children. Muslim children have to be given education in other subjects apart from Sanskrit and Hindi.

"It is up to the non-Muslim students whether they choose to study Urdu or Arabic or not. Some students study both Sanskrit and Urdu here."

While government and other organizations have been promoting the learning of Sanskrit and Urdu, the Gulshan-e-Baghdad Madarsa of Rasulpur is doing just that.

Not only this, Hindu and Muslim students are also getting education in subjects like Persian, Hindi, English, Mathematics and Science besides Urdu and Sanskrit.

The name of madarsa brings forth an image of a school usually associated with the teaching of Urdu and Arabic and the religion Islam in the minds of the people, but Muslim intellectuals here believe that for the growth and prosperity of the community secular education is also very necessary.

https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/muslims-learn-sanskrit-and-hindus-learn-urdu-in-this-madrasa-in-up-2470461.html

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Be Humane: Refugee Persecution Must Be Assessed On A Case By Case Basis, Not On That Of Religion

January 24, 2020

The constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act must be fast decided by Supreme Court in the wake of the widespread protests that it has provoked. Centre has shown no intention of altering CAA provisions and it falls upon SC to restore the primacy of constitutional values. CAA as passed by Parliament has an inherent bias against Muslims. The apex court has given the government four more weeks to respond to the petitions against CAA. The government will use this time to come up with a case that the changes in citizenship law are not violative of the Constitution. Critics have so far not found the arguments in favour of CAA convincing. The chief justification for the controversial law is that it provides relief to minorities of six religions living as illegal migrants in India after fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – where Islam is the state religion. But this has contradictions.

For instance, Buddhism is Sri Lanka’s state religion and thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils are languishing as illegal migrants in India for several years. Their exclusion in this mass citizenship drive is inexplicable.

Perhaps the Centre means to make a distinction between nations that have a state religion and those gripped by religious fundamentalism (such as Pakistan). The notion that it is only the non-Islamic minorities who face persecution in Pakistan is flawed. Arguably, religious fundamentalists target the “apostate” who is considered a deviant from the state religion – like Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan – with even greater fervour than the non-believing “infidel”. Even Baloch nationalists whose cause India espouses, Bangladeshi atheists, or Myanmar’s Rohingyas fleeing various shades of persecution may be living as illegal migrants in our midst but don’t make the cut under CAA. In Bangladesh, secular bloggers have been killed while in Afghanistan Hazra Shias have been targeted by Taliban.

Under the Citizenship Act’s naturalisation process for legally entering aliens 2,830 people from Pakistan, 912 from Afghanistan and 172 from Bangladesh, many of them Muslims, were granted citizenship in the past six years. Extending this naturalisation facility to illegal migrants fleeing persecution, irrespective of country and religion, would be both humane and in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution. This will help mend the CAA-engineered gaping hole in India’s secular fabric, and repair the damage that India’s soft power has suffered because of a law which is deviation from founding fathers’ conception and sense of who we should be as a people.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-editorials/be-humane-refugee-persecution-must-be-assessed-on-a-case-by-case-basis-not-on-that-of-religion/

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Abrogation of Article 370 has now become fait accompli, should be accepted: Centre to SC

Jan 23, 2020

NEW DELHI: The abrogation of the provisions of Article 370, which granted special status to erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, has now become a "fait accompli" leaving sole option to accept the change, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday.

Vehemently opposing the contention that Jammu and Kashmir was not integrated with India, the Centre told the top court if that was the case, then there would not have been a need for Article 370.

It opposed reference of a batch of pleas, challenging the constitutional validity of the Centre's decision of August 5 last year to abrogate provisions of Article 370, to a larger seven-judge bench.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice N V Ramana reserved its verdict on the question of referring the issue to a larger bench and said it would pass a detailed order in this regard.

NGO People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association and an intervenor had sought referring the matter to a larger bench of seven-judges.

They have sought reference on the ground that two judgements of apex court -- Prem Nath Kaul versus Jammu and Kashmir in 1959 and Sampat Prakash versus Jammu and Kashmir in 1970 -- which dealt with the issue of Article 370 are in direct conflict each other and therefore the current bench of five judges could not hear the issue.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre told the bench -- also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant -- that "the abrogation of provisions of Article 370, has now become a "fait accompli" leaving sole option to accept the change".

He said the events which transpired prior to the notification of August 5 and August 6, 2019 are of no significance.

"The arguments of other side that no integration of Jammu and Kashmir had taken place, no standstill agreement or merger documents between Jammu and Kashmir and India were executed, are of no use. If the integration of Jammu and Kashmir had not taken place then there is no place for Article 370," Venugopal said.

He referred to a book, 'The Story of the Integration of the Indian States', written by V P Menon who was secretary to India's first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and said that Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir shows that "sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir was only temporary. We are a union of states".

Venugopal referred to the history of Jammu and Kashmir and said that Hari Singh had signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan, which later violated and sent 300 trucks of tribesman trained by Pakistani Army to attack Kashmir.

It was only after that, to secure himself and the state, he had signed the Instrument of Accession with India and subsequently the Indian army pushed back those tribesman.

He said that long before Jammu and Kashmir had its Constitution, many provisions of Indian Constitution was applied to the state.

"The question of referendum does not arise in light of this permanent declaration of Jammu and Kashmir being an integral part of India," he said, and read out the preamble of J&K's Constitution.

He stated that there is no question of plebiscite in light of the explicit declarations of Jammu and Kashmir to be an integral part of India in their own Constitution.

"Therefore it is wrong to say that total integration of Jammu and Kashmir had not taken place. Today to say that there was no plebiscite or agreement of merger or standstill documents were not executed is not correct and these arguments cannot be raised at this stage," Venugopal said, adding that "Article 370 has now become fait accompli".

He said that after the Instrument of Accession, no question can be raised on the total integration of Jammu and Kashmir and referred to Constitution of the erstwhile state.

Referring to the two earlier judgements, Venugopal said that they were not inconsistent to each other and both dealt with different issues.

He said that 1959 verdict of Prem Nath Kaul did not deal with Article 370, rather it dealt with the question whether the Maharaja had the legislative power or not.

Referring to Sampat Prakash verdict of 1970, Venugopal said though it dealt with some aspects of Article 370, it was not in direct conflict with verdict in the Kaul case and therefore the present issue should not be referred to a larger bench.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir administration said he adopts the arguments of the Attorney General and favours no reference to larger bench.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference said that he is supporting Centre on the question that no reference is needed to a larger bench.

He, however, questioned on the validity of Centre's August 5, last year decision to abrogate provisions of Article 370 saying it completely destroyed constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and the treaty.

"Here is a case where a state has been demoted to Union territories. This has never happened in the country before, If it was a case of security then at best it was a matter of Article 356 (President's Rule). In fact it is a case of glaring illegality," Dhavan said.

A number of petitions have been filed in the matter including those of private individuals, lawyers, activists and political parties and they have also challenged the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, which splits J&K into two union territories -- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/abrogation-of-article-370-has-now-become-fait-accompli-should-be-accepted-centre-to-sc/articleshow/73557368.cms

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Won't Oppose China Publicly For Oppressing Muslims Because China Helps Us: Imran Khan

January 23, 2020

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said his government has decided not to highlight the plight and oppression of Uighur Muslims in China because the Chinese government has helped Pakistan.

Imran Khan said this during an interview to Foreign Policy on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

Asked why he has been silent about China's oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang and elsewhere while he keeps raking Kashmir and India, Imran Khan said, "...China has helped us. China has come to help our government when we were at the rock bottom."

Imran Khan said Pakistan is "really grateful" to the Chinese government. "We have decided that whatever issues we will have with China, we will deal with them privately. We will not go public," Imran Khan was quoted as saying by Foreign Policy.

Besides this, Imran Khan gave another reason for not raising voice against China's oppression of Muslims. He said he "frankly doesn't know much about it".

"One main reason is that the scale of what is going on in China-and frankly, I don't know much about it, I just occasionally read about it-is nothing compared to what is happening in Kashmir," Imran Khan said.

Condition of Uighurs Muslims in China

China has been condemned internationally for cracking down on the Uighur Muslims, who are a religious minority. China has been accused of oppressing the Uighurs by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and sending the community to undergo some form of forceful re-education or indoctrination. However, Pakistan has stayed silent over this issue.

When India abrogated Article 370 in August last year, Pakistan ramped up its rhetoric against New Delhi and expressed concern over the condition of Muslims in Kashmir and elsewhere, and called himself to be an ambassador of the Kashmiri people.

However, when it comes to China's treatment of Muslims, Pakistan has been mum and when asked to comment on it, the Pakistan PM has tried to brush it aside saying that there is a lot going on in its own country.

The United States had also asked Pakistan to express the "same level" of concern about Muslims detentions in Western China as they do for Kashmir.

"...I would like to see the same level of concern expressed about Muslims who are being detained in Western China, literally in concentration-like conditions. And so being concerned about the human rights of Muslims does extend more broadly than Kashmir, and you've seen the administration very involved here during the UN General Assembly and trying to shine a light on the horrific conditions that continue to exist for Muslims throughout China," Alice Wells, US Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia had said in September last year while replying to a question about Pakistan PM's concerns about Kashmir.

https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/won-t-oppose-china-publicly-for-oppressing-muslims-because-china-helps-us-imran-khan-1639528-2020-01-23

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'Justice served': Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh hail ICJ ruling

by Faisal Mahmud

Jan 24, 2020

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh - Nearly a dozen men were glued to a television screen inside a ramshackle shop in southern Bangladesh's Kutupalong refugee camp, home to nearly 40,000 Rohingya refugees.

The men were watching the proceedings at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide.

The United Nations' top court rejected Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's defence last month when she refuted genocide charges but admitted the country's military may have used excessive force against the mainly Muslim minority.

The ICJ case was filed by the Muslim-majority African nation of The Gambia, which had asked the court to impose emergency measures following the Myanmar army's 2017 crackdown that forced around 740,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The ICJ ruling was cheered by refugees as their first major legal victory since they were forced from their homes.

"The ruling has been given. They said a genocide was conducted against us," said an elderly man at the shop in Kutupalong, one of nearly three dozen Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, which has more than one million refugees according to the latest figures released by the UN.

'Justice served to us'

Mohammad Rasel, 26, remembers he was building haystacks in front of his home in Myanmar's Maungdaw District when a mob, including local policemen, entered his village in August 2017.

"They fired gunshots and a bullet hit my father and he immediately fell down," he told Al Jazeera. "All around us were flames and blood-chilling cries of people."

Rasel's home was burned. He fled with his brother and mother, leaving his dying father on the yard of their home.

"They killed my father in front of my eyes and I didn't get any justice for his death," he said. "This ruling feels like justice has been served to us."

Abdur Rahim, a 45-year-old Rohingya "majhi" (community leader), also believed "some sort of justice" has been done with the ICJ ruling.

"We are not going to get back the near and dear ones we have lost in that mindless killing spree. No one is going to compensate us for that," he told Al Jazeera.

"But at least the world has admitted that a heinous crime was conducted against us."

Rahim hoped the court order will force Myanmar to "stop the atrocities upon our brothers and sisters" still living in Myanmar.

'I am stuck and have nowhere to go'

But others at the camp, such as  Khadija Begum, were not so optimistic following the ICJ order.

Standing in front of her makeshift mud dwelling with a tarpaulin cover, Begum was surrounded by open-pit latrines and the smell of sewage was overpowering.

"They killed my husband and raped me. Those people [the Myanmar army] have no remorse. They will do the same if we go back to Myanmar," the 40-year-old told Al Jazeera.

"Many people from different countries have been visiting us since we landed in the camp. They promised a lot of things. But the reality is I am stuck here and [don't] have anywhere to go."

Mahbub Alam Talukder, the refugees' relief and repatriation commissioner appointed by Bangladesh, told Al Jazeera the verdict "boosts the morale of Rohingya refugees".

"For the past two years, they have been telling stories of murders and rapes conducted against them. Now the International Court of Justice stands by their stories and says a genocide had happened," he said.

When asked if the order will facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Talukder said: "Myanmar has already been dilly-dallying and hasn't showed its honest intention to take back the refugees. It's hard to assume at this point what consequence this verdict will create on the repatriation process."

'Moral victory of the humanity'

Imtiaz Ahmed, director of the Centre for Genocide Studies at the University of Dhaka, told Al Jazeera the ICJ ruling was a "landmark".

Ahmed was at The Hague court in December when the hearings on the Rohingya case began.

"So far, it seems the ICJ has paid heed to the provisional measures sought by [The] Gambia. Now it is up to the Myanmar government to take the measures as per the direction of the ICJ."

Ahmed said Myanmar has been given four months to report to the court on steps taken to prevent a Rohingya genocide.

"They will be under immense pressure since the whole world is watching now," he said.

Ali Riaz, distinguished professor of politics and government at Illinois State University in the United States, told Al Jazeera the ICJ order was "a moral victory of the humanity".

"It has practically proved that Myanmar has committed heinous crimes and is continuing a well-orchestrated policy of genocide against Rohingya," he said. "It's also a recognition of the Rohingya community's existence."

Riaz said that while ICJ has no mechanism to enforce its ruling on Myanmar, urges the international community to "act now".

He also asked Bangladesh to launch a "strong diplomatic effort" to convince its "friends like India and China" to pressure Myanmar to ensure the repatriation of refugees "with dignity and safety".

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/served-rohingya-refugees-bangladesh-hail-icj-ruling-200123141538051.html

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This must never happen again, says Saudi cleric as Muslim group tours Auschwitz

Jan 24, 2020

OSWIECIM, Poland —  The head of the Muslim World League, Mohammed al-Issa, along with an entourage of prominent Muslim religious leaders, on Thursday joined counterparts from the American Jewish Committee on a landmark interfaith tour of the Nazi extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The world had to ensure that “these kinds of horrible crimes” will never “happen again,” Issa, the secretary-general of the Mecca-based MWL and a former Saudi justice minister, said at the end of the visit.

Organizers said it was “the most senior Islamic leadership delegation” to visit the site of a Nazi death camp. The AJC said that Al-Issa led a delegation of 62 Muslims, including 25 prominent religious leaders, from some 28 countries during the “groundbreaking” visit. At one point, they prayed with their heads pressed on the ground at Birkenau, the largest part of the camp and the most notorious site of Germany’s mass murder of European Jews.

The two groups embarked on the tour amid a flurry of hugs and warm handshakes just days ahead of the 75th anniversary of the camps’ liberation by Soviet troops.

The delegation will continue on to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw on Friday, then visit the city’s Nozyk Synagogue and a local mosque, and share in an interfaith Shabbat meal.

At the death camp, the group was shown the gruesome evidence of the horrors the Nazis inflicted on the camps’ prisoners, who were mostly Jewish but also included significant numbers of Roma, homosexual, and political captives, among others. The trip culminated in a memorial service between the former gas chambers and crematorium, at which both Jewish and Muslim prayers were offered on behalf of the Holocaust victims.

The Nazis murdered 1.1 million people at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945, the vast majority of whom were European Jews. They killed most of the victims in gas chambers.

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris called the trip “groundbreaking,” and said it represented “the most senior delegation of Muslim religious leaders to visit Auschwitz ever” in comments to The Times of Israel prior to the trip.

He believes it will enhance Muslim understanding of the Holocaust.

“To have a major Muslim leader openly saying that the Holocaust happened, that it was horrible, that we have to remember it — this is a huge change,” said Polish chief rabbi Michael Schudrich as the group shuttled between Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau. “It is historic that this level of a Muslim delegation is coming to Auschwitz for the express purpose of mourning and paying homage to the Jewish genocide that happened here.”

Issa’s face reflected feelings of shock and sadness as he looked at piles of used canisters of Zyklon-B, the gas used to suffocate victims, along with mounds of eyeglasses, shoes, prayer shawls, and human hair that the Nazis collected from incoming prisoners.

Many others on the delegation, both Jewish and Muslim, reacted similarly. Some stood lost in the displays long after the group had moved on.

It was not Issa’s first visit to a Holocaust museum. He toured the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, in May 2018, and wrote an opinion article in the Washington Post in January 2019 condemning the Nazis’ “heinous crimes.” He also declared that “Muslims around the world have a responsibility to learn” about the lessons of the Holocaust.

“I urge all Muslims to learn the history of the Holocaust, to visit memorials and museums of this horrific event and to teach its lesson to their children,” wrote Issa, who is considered an ally of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that Issa has had a moderating effect on the Muslim World League, which once propagated “a virulent strain of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic writing, thinking and preaching.”

Under Issa’s leadership, Satloff said, the organization has shifted its approach to curb hardliners and reach out to other faiths.

The league, which was founded in 1962, is subsidized by the Saudi government; it also supports mosques and Islamic centers globally.

“Recently there’s been an interest in taking risks, and let’s be honest, the risks that the Muslims face are far more real than the ones the Jews face. It can be life and death,” American Jewish Committee board member Daniel Pincus told The Times of Israel about this latest push for interfaith cooperation.

“I don’t sense that Jews face this,” Pincus said. “Jews who go out and try to do Muslim-Jewish relations or Arab-Israeli relations don’t face death threats in the way that Muslims might if they go back home.”

At the memorial service concluding the tour, the children of Holocaust survivors spoke about their parents’ experiences, and candles were placed near the former crematorium in honor of the dead. The Kaddish, along with “El Maleh Rachamim,” both Jewish prayers of mourning, were recited. Issa then led the delegation of Muslim personages in prayer. But first, he addressed the crowd.

“According to Islamic faith, we do not have double standards in recognizing these kinds of crimes,” Issa said. “I would like to express to all of you that myself and my colleagues, the Islamic leaders, are deeply touched and affected by these horrible crimes and pictures we’ve seen throughout these monuments.”

“Unfortunately, humanity is still suffering from these kinds of crimes on a large scale today, different human beings [perpetrating] against each other,” he said.” I believe there is a huge responsibility on the international community to do something to deal with these kinds of horrible crimes and to make sure none of this will happen again. Our world will not be able to achieve peace unless we have a strong will together to fight evil.”

Following the ceremony, the media lined up to ask questions. When The Times of Israel identified itself, one of Issa’s assistants said that the cleric would not be able to answer any questions from Israeli media “here, especially with all the cameras.”

“Stay in touch,” he said. “We will speak soon.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/this-must-never-happen-again-says-saudi-cleric-as-muslim-group-tours-auschwitz/

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Iran: US threat to kill Soleimani successor a sign of ‘governmental terrorism’

23 January 2020

The US threat to kill the successor to Iran’s General Qassim Soleimani is a sign of “America’s targeted and governmental terrorism,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Thursday.

The US special representative for Iran Brian Hook said that the successor to Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike on January 3, would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path by killing Americans.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat on Wednesday, Hook said that the death of Soleimani “created a void that the Iranian regime will not be able to fill.”

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/23/Iran-US-threat-to-kill-Soleimani-successor-a-sign-of-governmental-terrorism-.html

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Removing Haftar A Must for Libyan Democracy: Official

Enes Canli 

23.01.2020

TRIPOLI

Removing renegade commander Khalifa Haftar is a must for democracy process and holding elections in Libya, a prominent official said.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Khalid al-Mishri, chairman of the Libyan High Council of State, stressed the need to end the current interim period and hold elections.

But the democratic process cannot move forward while Haftar forces are present as a rebellion military power that would threat any elected legitimate power in the future.

Al-Mishri said: "We will not allow Haftar by any means to remain in the scene because this would mean he has the ability to turn against the legitimate power," and added that "removing those who have a military project and standing against democracy is a must."

On Jan. 12, the Libya's conflicting parties announced a cease-fire in response to a joint call by the Turkish and Russian leaders. But the talks for a permanent cease-fire ended without an agreement after Haftar left Moscow without signing the deal.

Haftar on Jan. 19 accepted in Berlin to designate members to a UN-proposed military commission with five members from each side to monitor implementation of the ceasefire.

Yet, Haftar's militias continue to attack Tripoli and violate the cease-fire. Last of which was Haftar's Wednesday attacks on Mitiga International Airport in the capital Tripoli.

Haftar’s forces, which received backing from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, began a major military offensive in April last year to capture Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), drawing international condemnation.

According to the UN, more than 1,000 people have been killed since the start of the offensive and over 5,000 others injured.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: one in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the UAE, and the other in Tripoli, which enjoys the UN and international recognition.

Fragile cease-fire

"We have the ability to repel violations and our abilities are now better and if violations continue we will shift from defense to attack and end the rebellion," al-Mishri said.

Berlin conference resulted in forming a 5+5 joint military commission to set mechanisms to ensure a permanent cease-fire which is expected to convene soon, according to al-Mishri.

He added that the GNA is currently giving a chance for the commission to carry out its role and political dialogue in the time being.

"We have been resilient in an attempt to reach a cease-fire to save lives of Libyans," al-Mishri said, pointing out that the GNA currently takes a defensive position "but this cannot be forever, and the aggression must end."

Regarding the Russian role in ensuring a cease-fire in Libya, al-Mishri stressed that if Russia had the ability to convince him [Haftar] to adhere to a cease-fire deal this could have happened in Moscow, where Haftar refrained from signing the deal, affirming that this "put Russia in a difficult position" after all preparations for the talks.

Referring to the mechanisms on the ground to avoid violations of the cease-fire, al-Mishri asserted that the GNA does not insist on having peacekeeping UN forces, but insists on receiving military support to government forces to defeat the aggression of Haftar.

After talks in Moscow, the GNA had no high expectations from the Berlin conference as there are still no guarantees against violations of agreements, he said.

"When guarantees are missing, the only guarantee we have is defending ourselves and to prepare the required forces for that," added al-Mishri.

"Without true sanctions, there will be no true deal," he stressed.

No more talks with Haftar

On Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's rejection of holding talks with Haftar, al-Mishri said: "Haftar committed numerous crimes against humanity and war crimes, and therefore he should not be rewarded by sitting with him [on the negotiation table] or give him any position."

"We do not have hostility with anybody but criminals should be held accountable, not rewarded, this is a basic principle" he stressed.

Reacting to the closure of oil ports and some oil wells in Libya by Haftar, al-Mishri asserted that "all Libyans have right to the Libyan oil and it is the country's primary source of income".

He said he believes that this crisis, which affects many countries, would be resolved within a week or two, asserting that Haftar failed to use the oil card to apply pressure in Berlin conference.

Referring to the relations with Turkey, al-Mishri described it as "strategic partnership".

"The recent deals between Turkey and Libya, he said, facilitated holding the Berlin conference and made Europeans pay attention to the importance of Libya because frankly Libya was neglected for a long time.

"We have a huge production of oil and we need also to build infrastructure," al-Mishri said, adding that Turkey has the ability to help Libya with construction and building infrastructure.

Libya for its part can "encourage petroleum exports and tourism in Turkey," he said.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/removing-haftar-a-must-for-libyan-democracy-official/1711158

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Trump says expects to release Mideast plan, invites Netanyahu, Gantz to US

24 January 2020

President Donald Trump, who is expected to release a controversial US plan on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challenger in upcoming elections, Benny Gantz, to Washington next week.

While in Israel, Vice President Mike Pence extended the invitations Thursday, saying, “President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week to discuss regional issues, as well as the prospect of peace here in the Holy Land.”

Speaking alongside Netanyahu at the US Embassy in the Old City of Jerusalem al-Quds, Pence added that Trump had also invited Gantz to come to the White House for a preview of the so-called plan.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, claiming, “I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security it deserves.”

Meanwhile, Trump said Thursday that he planned to release his plan before his meeting with Israeli leaders on Tuesday.

“Sometime prior to that. Probably we’ll release it a little bit prior to that," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One while en route to Florida.

That US plan on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — which is widely reported to be biased towards the Tel Aviv regime — has already been unanimously rejected by all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is leading the so-called effort, which began in the first months of Trump’s presidency.

In December, Trump said, “If Jared Kushner can’t do it, it can’t be done.”

Kushner has claimed the plan would include elements that Israel will not like, however, Trump has taken a series of steps widely seen to tip the scales in favor of Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected the US new move.

“This step only reaffirms our absolute rejection of what the US administration has done so far, particularly the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Abbas’s spokesman said in a statement.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that they "warn Israel and the US administration not to cross any red lines".

Palestinians stopped recognizing the US as a mediator in the conflict with the Tel Aviv regime in 2017, after Trump recognized occupied Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s “capital” in defiance of international law.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/24/616945/US-Israel-Middle-East-Palestine

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Rugby’s Muslim icon ‘will not wear’ shirt with betting logo

January 23, 2020

LONDON: Rugby superstar Sonny Bill Williams is set to refuse to wear the logo of Super League sponsor Betfred due to his religious beliefs, says Toronto Wolfpack chairman Bob Hunter.

The 34-year-old New Zealander, who switched codes for the second time following last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, converted to Islam in 2009.

Betfred have sponsored club rugby league competition Super League since 2017 and last year agreed a two-year contract extension.

“We’re in discussions with Super League about this, but Sonny has been very clear in his stance on the matter,” Hunter told the Daily Telegraph.

“I think Betfred will benefit by taking the position that we respect and honour the player’s religious beliefs.

“In today’s society there are some very sensitive issues but I think the sponsor can say ‘yes, OK, we understand this. He’s a big brand and big name but we get it’.”

In 2017, Williams covered up a Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) logo on his Auckland Blues shirt.

It later emerged that he was exercising a “conscientious objection” clause in his contract, telling New Zealand Rugby he did not want to wear the logos of banks, alcohol brands or gambling sponsors.

He switched to union in 2008 and won back-to-back World Cups, earning 58 caps for the All Blacks.

Williams, who has also tried his hand at boxing, is likely to make his debut for Toronto on Feb 2 against Castleford Tigers.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/sports/2020/01/23/rugbys-muslim-icon-will-not-wear-shirt-with-betting-logo/

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Indonesia Considers Repatriating More Than 600 Citizens With Alleged Terror Ties

By Sasmito Madrim, Rikar Hussein

January 22, 2020

JAKARTA / WASHINGTON - Indonesia is discussing the possible repatriation of 660 citizens with alleged links to terrorism — foreign fighters and dozens of their family members — who have been detained abroad.

Mahfud MD, the country’s coordinating minister for politics, law and security, told VOA that his government had started talks about the future of the fighters and their families, and expects to reach a decision by midyear. He said the citizens in question are being held in a number of countries, with the majority in Syria and Afghanistan. 

"This [repatriation] involves many ministries. The Social Ministry, which, for example, accommodates its social consequences. The Ministry of Political, Legal and Security [Affairs], concerning the law and citizenship. There are also the tourism and investment aspects, which can be impacted if, for example, there is still a perception of terrorism, and so on. Everything will be considered," he said.

The rise in recent years of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria and the Maute militant group in the neighboring Philippines have led to hundreds of Indonesians traveling abroad to join the extremist groups. 

Held by SDF

When IS lost its final enclave in Syria in March 2019, however, dozens of the fighters and their family members there were detained by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. 

Mahfud said officials in Jakarta are concerned that the return of fighters and their family members could spark radicalization in the country and affect the tourism and investment sectors.

“There are pros and cons from the public about the repatriation of former FTFs [foreign terrorist fighters]. Some believe that repatriation is a right as Indonesian citizens. But there are also those who argue that they do not need to return for fear of becoming a new ‘virus’ in Indonesia," he said.

The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia has witnessed a rise in radicalization over the years along with occasional terrorist attacks. A series of bombings by al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiah in 2002 on the tourist island of Bali killed 202 people.

The National Agency for Combating Terrorism, the government body tasked with preventing terrorism and extremism, has taken different approaches in the past to address the issue, including organizing “reconciliation meetings” between former jihadists and their victims. 

Counterterror step

Some experts charge that repatriating the Indonesians with suspected terror affiliation can serve as an effective counterterrorism measure. 

Al Chaidar, a Jakarta-based counterterror analyst, told VOA that government refusal to allow the return of these citizens risks retaliatory attacks by militant groups. He said the government could deradicalize them by addressing their grievances and providing equal economic and health opportunities at home.

"There are many strategies and methods that can change the minds of the former foreign fighter, only the government is too lazy to change their strategy from deradicalization to other programs, such as counter-discourse or humanization or other programs," he said.

https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/indonesia-considers-repatriating-more-600-citizens-alleged-terror-ties

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India

 

Family of Bengal Muslim child worshipped as Durga moves Supreme Court against CAA

Jan 24, 2020

The family of a four-year-old Muslim girl in West Bengal, who was worshipped as the human form of Goddess Durga, has moved the Supreme Court against the amended citizenship law, calling it discriminatory.

Fatima’s maternal uncle, Md Ahmed, filed the petition in the top court on Wednesday.

“The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), as well as the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), will divide the society. We are all citizens of this country. How can people, especially the poor, provide proof of their origin after so many years?” the businessman at Kamarhati in the North 24 Parganas district asked.

“Women across India will be the worst affected by NRC. They are married off early and most of them face discrimination. Few families buy a property or register a business in the name of women. Hence, showing legal documents is a challenge for them,” Ahmed argued.

Ahmed’s petition is one of the more than 140 similar pleas filed before the top court till Wednesday. The Supreme Court had on Wednesday refused to stay the implementation of CAA.

“Ahmed’s petition has been listed for hearing. The court said all the petitions will be heard together by the Constitution bench,” said former advocate general and ex-mayor of Kolkata, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who is representing Ahmed.

Kumari Puja

Fatima, whose father Muhammad Tahir runs a grocery store near Fatehpur Sikri in Agra, was worshipped as the human form of the goddess by Tamal Dutta, an engineer at Kamarhati municipality, and his lawyer wife Moushumi during Durga Puja in October last year.

The couple decided to follow the example set by Swami Vivekananda in 1898, 121 years after he worshipped the daughter of a Muslim boatman in Kashmir. Fatima’s mother Bushra Bibi said she felt honoured.

HT reported the rare incident weeks before the puja took place. The puja was later covered by a wide section of the media.

Kumari or Kanya Puja is the worship of girls who have not attained puberty and is a part of the Navratri celebrations in central and northern India.

Although it is performed in many homes and temples during Durga Puja in Bengal, no family is known to have worshipped a Muslim girl in recent history, priests, HT spoke to, had said.

In 1901, Vivekananda started the ritual during Durga Puja at Belur Math in West Bengal’s Howrah district. It has been continuing since then and draws millions of devotees.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent a night at Belur Math when he was in Kolkata on January 11 and 12.

“Many youths are being misguided. CAA is not about taking away citizenship but to give citizenship. CAA is only an amendment for those persecuted in Pakistan... Should we send these people back to die in Pakistan?... Is this noble work or not?” Modi had asked during his address at Belur Math.

The opposition took jabs at the Prime Minister, alleging that he used the Math and Bengal’s feelings for Vivekananda to propagate his political agenda.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) state unit general secretary, Sayantan Basu, said the state has millions of illegal migrants.

“People who are filing petitions are refusing to admit that neither Hindu refugees nor illegal Muslim migrants are citizens of India,” Basu said.

“There are at least 10 million illegal migrants in Bengal and they are scared of being exposed. The Centre will identify them. They comprise the main vote bank of Trinamool Congress,” he added.

The amended citizenship law will allow the government to fast-track Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from six religions who came to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/family-of-bengal-muslim-child-worshipped-as-durga-moves-supreme-court-against-caa/story-ZWgdjdVCGh2yyX5f7owCpN.html

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Their cases falling, Muzaffarnagar police now invoke Juvenile Act, say anti-CAA protesters used kids

by Kaunain Sheriff M

January 24, 2020

As more and more cases against protesters charged with attempt to murder and rioting during anti-CAA protests in December began failing legal scrutiny and courts started granting bail, police in Muzaffarnagar invoked a stringent provision of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 — almost a month after it booked 107 people — and claimed that protesters used children “for illegal activity”.

Section 83 (2) of the JJ Act was invoked against at least 33 accused named in an FIR lodged on December 21 at the Civil Line police station in Muzaffarnagar — that FIR was also against 3,000 unknown accused. A person found guilty under this charge can end up in prison for seven years. So far, 33 of the 107 accused have been granted bail, 14 of them after being booked under the JJ Act.

The first such bail order was passed on January 17 by Additional Sessions Judge Sanjay Kumar Pachauri when he ordered the release of accused Mohammed Shehzad and Sahib. Earlier, police had moved an application before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, informing the court that it would invoke the JJ Act provision.

Incidentally, while police invoked the additional charge almost a month after the incident, the FIR, based on testimonies of police personnel deployed at the protest site, made no mention of any children indulging in any “illegal activity”. The bail order too made no mention of the accused using children for “illegal activity”.

The FIR stated: “The accused person, present at the Madina Chowk. indulged in rioting. created an atmosphere of terror, forcing everyone to shut their shops. They also destroyed public property and indulged in arson. Police officers were also injured and taken for medical examination. The accused was also involved in stone-pelting with intention to harm police deployed at the spot.”

The sessions court, however, granted bail. It relied on Supreme Court judgments stating that Article 21 of the Constitution, which deals with protection of life and personal liberty, is one of the important factors in deciding grant of bail.

The other accused granted bail include Wasim, Asif, Shavez, Sartaj, Shahnawaz, Waseem, Nouman, Ikram, Raja, Zeeshan, Kalim and Dilshad.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/their-cases-falling-muzaffarnagar-police-now-invoke-juvenile-act-say-protesters-used-kids-6232395/

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Pak desperate as world has seen through its double standards: Govt

Jan 24, 2020

NEW DELHI: The government on Thursday hit out at Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for raising Kashmir in Davos and said Islamabad was acting in a desperate manner that the world could see through its double standards on terrorism.

The reaction came in the wake of Khan’s remarks that India had been taken over by an extremist ideology and though he appeared to be reaching out when he said the world would realise Pakistan’s economic potential when its relations with India normalised, the government did not seem impressed at all.

The external affairs ministry said Islamabad needed to focus on taking irreversible action against terrorists without making misleading and distracting claims, indicating that Khan needed to deliver in a consistent and verifiable manner on curbing terrorism aimed at India.

If Pakistan was indeed serious about a peaceful and normal relationship with India as Khan claimed, the onus was on Islamabad to create a conducive atmosphere, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

“They have to take credible, irreversible and verifiable action against terror groups operating from their soil rather than making misleading and alarmist statements to divert the attention of the international community,’’ he added. Since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Khan and other Pakistani leaders have often spoken of India-Pakistan tensions taking on a nuclear dimension.

The government said it wasn’t surprised by the content and tone of Khan’s remarks on Kashmir, adding that not only were these comments factually inaccurate and contradictory, but also demonstrated a growing sense of frustration.

“Pakistan has to realise that the global community has seen through this double standard of playing the victim card in their fight against terror on the one hand, and supporting terror groups targeting India and other countries on the other,” Kumar said.

Khan had brought up the alleged human rights violations by Indian forces in J&K in his meetings at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “Kashmir is, you know, it’s a far more serious problem than people realise, (than) the world realises. The problem is that India has been taken over by an extremist ideology, which is called Hindutva or RSS,” Khan was quoted as having said in Davos.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pak-desperate-as-world-has-seen-through-its-double-standards-govt/articleshow/73565236.cms

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Mehbooba Mufti's daughter alleges harassment by special security group

Jan 23, 2020

SRINAGAR: PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti's daughter Iltija Mufti on Thursday alleged that she was being "harassed" by her security detail, SSG, and said the Home Ministry should focus its resources on matters of grave importance rather than "stalking young women like me".

She also alleged that she was constantly being monitored by the SSG, IB and CID in the valley.

"After being manhandled & illegally detained in Kashmir, I am now being harassed by SSG which reports to MHA. My right to freedom cant be curtailed under (the) guise of 'security & safety'. Given that a top cop was caught red handed with militants, I'm certainly safer without them," Iltija Mufti wrote on Twitter.

"I was constantly monitored by SSG, IB and CID in Srinagar. Wish MHA would focus its resources on matters of grave importance as opposed to stalking young women like me. Why waste taxpayers money?" she said.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/mehbooba-muftis-daughter-alleges-harassment-by-special-security-group/articleshow/73562235.cms

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Naqvi: People of Kashmir want development at a fast pace

Jan 23, 2020

NEW DELHI: Emphasising that continued focus on confidence building measures is the need of the hour in Kashmir, minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Thursday said that after the abrogation of Article 370 the people of Kashmir want to see development happen at a fast pace and its effect visible on ground. Back from a two day visit to Srinagar, Naqvi reiterated what he said during his visit that the government will soon bring a “massive developmental package for Kashmir valley.”

Drawing upon his conversations with natives manning the shikaras at Dal lake, street vendors and shopkeepers at Lal Chowk and residents of villages, Naqvi said people want focus on development and revival of tourism. “A common thread in most conversations was about how people have for many, many years struggled with corruption and now they hope the authorities will work on streamlining the system to deal with the problem,” he added.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/naqvi-people-of-kashmir-want-development-at-a-fast-pace/articleshow/73560324.cms

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Special court remands Davinder Singh, 4 others in NIA custody for 15 days

by Arun Sharma

January 24, 2020

A special court on Thursday remanded suspended police officer Davinder Singh and four others in NIA custody for 15 days. The other four included Hizbul Mujahideen commander Syed Naveed Mushtaq Shah alias Naveed Baba, his brother Syed Irfan Ahmed, who has been accused of harbouring militants, Hizbul militant Rafi Ahmed Rather and advocate Irfan Shafi Mir.

The NIA had sought custodial interrogation of the accused for 15 days to unearth the wider conspiracy in the matter. Granting them the custody, Special judge Subash C Gupta observed that “facts and circumstances of the case, gravity and heinousness of the crime as involved in the present case, submissions made by the Chief Investigating Officer and the state of investigation of the case, the court is of the considered view that custodial interrogation of the accused is imperative to facilitate the ongoing investigation’’.

The judge also directed the investigating officer to arrange medical examination of the accused after every 48 hours during the remand period.

According to documents presented before the court by the NIA, Naveed Baba’s brother Irfan has been arrested for his role in the larger conspiracy and for being a harbourer of terrorists. The agency alleged that Irfan was acting as a go-between the Hizbul commander and Singh for facilitating their travel for a specific mission.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/special-court-remands-davinder-singh-4-others-in-nia-custody-for-15-days-6232297/

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Pakistan

 

Hamza to speak about his journey to Islam in Dallas

January 24, 2020

LAHORE-The former actor Hamza Ali Abbasi will be speaking about his ‘Journey from Atheism to Islam’ at the event in Dallas.

Abbasi took to Twitter to announce his presence at an upcoming fundraiser for the Ghamidi Center of Islamic Learning.

“Be kind, Dallas,” wrote Abbasi, addressing the city of Dallas in Texas, where the fundraiser will be held, priced at $50 for admission. Back in November 2019, Actor Abbasi announced that he has decided to quit acting, vowing to spend his life to spread message of Islam.

In a video that went viral on social media, the actor said that he would spend the rest of his life in accordance with Islam.

“I will make films and dramas to give the message of God,” he said, adding that there will be no “inappropriate elements” in them.

He also revealed that one of the reasons he chose to do Alif was because it spreads the message of God. He also clarified that acting is not haram (forbidden) in Islam and that he is leaving acting because he wants to spend his life to just talk about God.

Hamza said he will keep on making more videos and addressing the misconceptions that are present in our society. “Oppose my videos or support them, but don’t question my intentions,” he said, adding that he has no hidden agenda behind his decision.

https://nation.com.pk/24-Jan-2020/hamza-to-speak-about-his-journey-to-islam-in-dallas

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Why a Pakistani minister brought army boots to a TV studio

NAILA INAYAT

23 January, 2020

Primetime debates on Pakistani news channel is truly ‘next level’. Forget the shouting, slamming, slapping that goes on all the time between panellists to win an argument. Now there are boots in the studio. Literally. Pakistan’s water minister Faisal Vawda brought an army boot with him to a TV debate. He placed it next to his glass of water.

The ‘boot’ in Pakistani politics signifies the ‘hidden’ role of the establishment that most people don’t want to utter out loud. But Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Vawda had to score points against his rivals from Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on the extension given to army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority or PEMRA only swings into action when such incidents have already happened on air.

Bootgate

Faisal Vawda’s monologue on an ARY News talk show was about why the opposition parties should respect the boot. He called himself “muhib-e-watan (patriot)” when he was actually muhib-e-boot. The stunt didn’t go down as well as Vawda expected. He was criticised for maligning an ‘institution’ for cheap point-scoring. Did the ruling party concede inadvertently that it was being run by the boots? As a result, Prime Minister Imran Khan banned Vawda from appearing on any talk show for two weeks.

Vawda is no stranger to controversy or rather comedy. He is, after all, a pompous sports car-driving minister, who didn’t mind roaming around with his gun at the scene of 2018 terrorist attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

His obsession with boots is old. When he stood on top of the wreckage of an Indian MIG-21 with the national flag in his hand, it seemed as if it was Vawda who had downed the Indian warplane in the air skirmishes last year. He said he was ready to cross the Line of Control. He would have truly caused much damage to the Indian forces by swinging the gun while driving his yellow car. But PM Khan advised Vawda to focus on his ministry rather than posting photos.

Faisal Vawda

@FaisalVawdaPTI

Visited LOC met our brave soldiers standing tall. We are proud of them.

The whole nation salutes you.

No one can harm our beloved country InshaAllah. As PM Imran Khan said we do not want escalation but we reserve our right of defence. So we retaliated.

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The minister of water is now in hot waters. There is a petition seeking Vawda’s disqualification for allegedly not informing the election commission of his US citizenship. This ‘bootgate’ might end with Vawda’s departure, but that’s the cost you pay for polishing the boot the wrong way.

Lotas, sack of liquor bottles

There have been other Pakistanis like Vawda who used props to make their political point, even if not as convincingly. In 2014, National Assembly member Jamshed Dasti brought a sack full of empty liquor bottles on a news show to back his claims of inappropriate and immoral activities in parliament lodges. He said he collected these bottles from the lodges. One by the one, he took out these bottles while the show host asked him if he knew the brands and whether they were imported. There was no questioning of Dasti’s acts. His evidentiary bottles were blurred during the transmission.

Punjab assembly member from Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Samina Khawar Hayat in 2011 brought two lotas on a news talk show to complain about how Nawaz Sharif was allowing turncoats into his party. The lotas can rollover according to the wishes of their master. Hayat rolled the plastic lota she had brought again and again to show how the MPs switch from one party to another. Then she threw the second mud lota on the floor and broke it, saying: “Humne inn loto ko aise thaa karna hai (this is how we have to break the lotas).” The news host just let her continue. Hayat didn’t face the consequences Vawda is. Why? Because lotas don’t represent an ‘institution’.

Slaps, abusing and goof-ups

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s close confidant and special assistant Naeemul Haque has quite the reputation of giving it back to his opponents in kind on talk shows. He once threw a glass of water at PPP leader Jamil Soomro on air. Then they both abused each other on a live show. Last year, Haque gave a back-handed slap to PML-N minister Daniyal Aziz on a show, and later boasted that PM Khan had praised him for the act.

Recently, a fight broke out between federal Kashmir affairs minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Jamiat Ulema Islam leader Abdul Ghafoor Haideri when Haideri criticised the anchor for inviting someone like Gandapur to his show. To which Gandapur took exception and both ended up abusing each other.

Another PTI senior leader, Masroor Ali Siyal assaulted journalist Imtiaz Khan during a heated debate on a show. The participants continued the recording of the show after the punching and pushing break. Later PTI issued a show cause notice to Siyal for physical assault and suspended his party membership.

In the past, leaders like Firdous Ashiq Awan have accused opposition female politicians of sleeping their way to get into the parliament. A news show host accused Reham Khan of running a “kanjar khana (brothel)” inside Banigala while discussing her breakup with Imran Khan.

Full report at:

https://theprint.in/opinion/letter-from-pakistan/why-a-pakistani-minister-brought-army-boots-to-a-tv-studio/353489/

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Pakistani Islamic group now goes after a film on a bearded man and Imran Khan caves

GUL BUKHARI

24 January, 2020

Making a film about social hypocrisy can turn life into a circus in Pakistan simply because the protagonist sports a beard, and a religious party saw it as an insult to Islam. The Imran Khan government has all but surrendered to the Islamic far-Right group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan by announcing that it has advised the producer of the film Zindagi Tamasha to delay its release. The film won the prestigious Kim Ji-Seok Award at the Busan International Film Festival last year, the first Pakistani film to do so.

Director-producer Sarmad Khoosat has been receiving threat calls ever since the promo of the film was released on YouTube. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) immediately launched a social media campaign against both the film and Sarmad, labelling them as disrespectful of Islamic traditions and values.

Zindagi Tamasha had already been unanimously reviewed and approved for release on 24 January by all three censor boards of Pakistan, but the decision was suddenly reversed Tuesday. This came in the wake of TLP threatening to launch a country-wide protest, in addition to releasing Sarmad’s phone number and national ID card.

Is this new in Pakistan? No, the country has, time and again, shown its double face went it comes to religious extremism.

A manufactured campaign

An important fact is that the TLP’s campaign against Khoosat and the film was a classic campaign of manufactured outrage. Only film celebrities and progressives responded to it.

Unlike the usual Islamist storms whipped up in Pakistan, the vast majority of Pakistanis did not jump on the outrage bandwagon and remained aloof. Those who spoke out, have expressed their exasperation at ‘Mullahs’ being foisted upon their freedoms.

Instead of providing protection to the producer and allowing the release of Zindagi Tamasha on time, the Imran Khan government has chosen to appease and preserve the extremist assets that it may need later. This tragic episode also shows that Pakistan, while showing the ability to crush terrorism when it wants to, still values and nurtures extremism that is the bedrock of terrorism.

A true Zindagi Tamasha

According to Khoosat, and many others I spoke to who have seen the film in private screenings, Zindagi Tamasha does not contain even a hint of disrespect for Islam. The protagonist is a religious ‘good enough Muslim’ man who is also fond of reciting naats (hymns in praise of Prophet Muhammad). A real estate agent by day, with a wife and daughters, he is a hard-working, kind and gentle soul.

Khoosat was shocked that a film unique in depicting the softer and more humane side of a conservative and religious member of society, should be accused of being disrespectful. The film is also a commentary on the hypocrisy of society.

To add insult to his injury, the federal information minister announced that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has decided to consult the obscurantist government body Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) on the film. The Tribune reported that the TLP representatives would also sit in on the screenings. Needless to say, they have no legal right to sit in or dictate decisions to a government body.

This has generated disgust and anger among the public, with some calling the capitulation itself a ‘zindagi tamasha (circus of life)’.

Rafay Mahmood

@Rafay_Mahmood

 • Jan 21, 2020

#Breaking: One representative of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and one representative of information ministry will participate in the second preview  #ZindagiTamasha

 https://tribune.com.pk/story/2141568/4-khoosat-films-files-petition-tlp-interfering-films-release/ …

Najia Z. Nazir

@Najia_Z_N

Keep accommodating them and keep drafting the nemesis of independent thought

13

5:17 PM - Jan 21, 2020

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A double game

Remember how the Imran Khan government came down hard on the TLP when the party challenged its writ over the release from prison of blasphemy accused Asia Bibi, just over a year ago?

At the time, the TLP had called for the resignation of Prime Minister Khan, killing of judges and mutiny within the army to overthrow General Qamar Javed Bajwa. For this and their violent protests, 86 TLP members, including leader Khadim Rizvi’s brother and nephew, were handed 55-year prison sentences last week.

But when it comes to people’s freedom to choose what they want to watch, Imran Khan’s government goes right back to appeasing and allowing extremists to be a nuisance.

According to acclaimed novelist Mohammed Hanif, “On the one hand, we are told that we are past the war on terror, and we have sacrificed tens of thousands of lives in this war, and on the other, the state is allowing the Ulema to tell us what we can watch. Why have the censor boards then, why not just leave it all to the Ulema? Unhin ko dikha kar ijaazat le liya karenge (We will show it to the Ulema only and take permission).”

It is clear that this particular group can be controlled at will, and unleashed when required. In late 2017, the TLP was allowed to hold the Shahid Khaqan Abbasi government hostage through violent protests and blockade of the arterial road between the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad for three weeks. And when the interior minister at the time called the Rangers for help, the army chief refused flatly.

Full report at:

https://theprint.in/opinion/pakistani-islamic-group-now-goes-after-zindagi-tamasha-imran-khan-caves/353920/

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Imran rejects CPEC’s criticism as ‘nonsense’

Anwar Iqbal

January 24, 2020

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan has rejected the criticism of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as ‘nonsense,” insisting that the project “is really helping” the country.

In an interview to a US news channel CNBC, shown on Wednesday night, Mr Khan also urged US President Donald Trump and the United Nations to mediate between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.

“When the Chinese came to help us with this Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and CPEC, we were really at the rock bottom,” said the prime minister when the interviewer, Hadley Gamble, asked if the project was a debt-trap for Pakistan.

“So, we are really grateful to the Chinese that they came and rescued us,” he added.

“They came and pumped in, not just they gave us loans – and the loans, by the way are barely five or six percent of the total portfolio,” said Mr Khan, rejecting the suggestion that the CPEC was a debt-trap. “This is nonsense.”

The Chinese, he said, actually helped Pakistan with investment and because of them the country now “has an opportunity to attract foreign investment”.

The prime minister explained that his government was now creating special economic zones to attract investment. “We just opened two and we are opening more where we are giving special concessions to industries,” he said.

Mr Khan said the CPEC was “beyond BRI as China was also helping Pakistan in technology transfer. They are especially helping us in agriculture because Chinese technology (can boost) development (in this sector) much better than Pakistan’s as “our productivity is very low”.

The CPEC, he said, was also teaching Pakistanis the skills they needed to benefit from the CPEC projects. “They are building skill centers in Pakistan. So, they are helping us and we are grateful,” the prime minister said.

Earlier this week, senior US diplomat Alice Wells once again urged Pakistan to rethink its wholeheartedly embrace of China’s economic initiative. Speaking at a think-tank in Islamabad, she alleged that there was no transparency in the CPEC projects, and warned that the country’s debt burden was growing due to the Chinese financing.

Both Chinese and Pakistani officials have rejected the US criticism as misleading but the prime minister’s remarks further cemented the impression that Islamabad remains committed to the CPEC.

The prime minister spoke with CNBC in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the annual summit conference of the World Economic Forum.

When the interviewer asked how useful could the US president be in settling the Kashmir dispute, Mr Khan said: “I can’t say what would be the outcome but for me it is important to try my best because Kashmir is a far more serious problem than people realise.”

“This is serious because there are two nuclear-armed countries,” the prime minister said. “That’s why I want President Trump, head of the most powerful country in the world — he should intervene right now. United Nations, or President Trump through the UN at least.”

Mr Khan explained that the possibility of an India-Pakistan conflict had increased because “India has been taken over by an extremist ideology, which is called Hindutva or the RSS.”

The prime minister said that the founding fathers of RSS were “inspired by the Nazis” and the Nazi concept of “racial purity” and “believed in ethnic cleansing, of Muslims.”

Mr Khan said that the ideology which was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the group that was declared a terrorist organisation three times by previous Indian governments had now taken over India.

Responding to another question, he said the people of Kashmir, through a referendum could decide whichever country they wanted to join.

“Now, that disputed territory has been annexed by India, and, they are trying to change the demography of (the) people of Kashmir, which according to the fourth Geneva Convention is a war crime,” he added.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1530199/imran-rejects-cpecs-criticism-as-nonsense

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Trump’s visit to India next month won’t include Pakistan: FO

Baqir Sajjad Syed

January 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday confirmed that US President Donald Trump’s visit to India next month would not include Pakistan.

President Trump “wants an exclusive visit to Pakistan which is not linked to any other visit in the region because Pakistan has its own distinct place,” FO Spokesperson Aisha Farooqi said at the weekly media briefing. Mr Trump is expected to visit India in February. The speculated dates are Feb 24 – 25.

The US president was invited to visit Pakistan by Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit to Washington in July last year. The debate about Mr Trump’s visit to Pakistan got renewed during the recent World Economic Forum in Davos when he was asked about his plans to visit Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi increased the expectations by announcing through a statement that Mr Trump would visit Pakistan soon.

Many believe that Mr Trump’s visit to Islamabad would be linked to progress on Afghan peace process.

Ms Farooqi said that she could not give an exact time frame of the visit, as of now, and that it may take place later this year. “The two sides are working on it,” she said.

The spokesperson confirmed that Pakistan was engaged with the US on the issue of review of Pakistan’s grey list status by Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The issue was discussed during a meeting between PM Imran Khan and President Trump in Davos and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, during the PM’s recent visit to Washington.

“Our constant message is that Pakistan has taken a whole range of steps and made huge progress in implementation of the Action Plan,” she said.

The review of Pakistan’s progress on shortcomings in counter-terror financing and anti-money laundering regimes will be undertaken at FATF’s meeting in Paris in February.

Pakistan stay on grey list was extended for four months at the last FATF meeting in October because of inadequate progress for regaining normal status.

Ms Farooqi reiterated concerns about Indian quest for induction of ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems in the region.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1530207/trumps-visit-to-india-next-month-wont-include-pakistan-fo

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Pakistan conducts successful training launch of Ghaznavi missile

Jan 24, 2020

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan on Thursday conducted a successful training launch of the surface-to-surface ballistic missile, Ghaznavi, said a press release from Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

According to the press release, this launch was carried out as part of a training exercise of Army Strategic Forces Command “aimed at rehearsing operational readiness procedures during day and night.”

Strategic Plans Division Director General Lt Gen Nadeem Zaki Manj appreciated the operational preparedness of the Army Strategic Forces Command. He commended them for displaying a very high standard of proficiency in handling and operating the weapon system.

“Troops displayed full confidence in the robust strategic command and control system,” said Director General Strategic Plans Division, was quoted as saying by ISPR.

The president, prime minister, chairman joint chiefs of staff committee and services chiefs have congratulated the nation on this landmark achievement.

As per the military’s media wing, missile Ghaznavi is capable of delivering multiple types of warheads up to a range of 290 kilometers.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/23/pakistan-conducts-successful-training-launch-of-ghaznavi-missile/

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Pakistan urges UN to play role in resolving Palestine issue

Jan 24, 2020

NEW YORK: Pakistan has called on the United Nations to respond to the challenges posed by the unilateral moves to change the status of Jerusalem and the illegitimate settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory that have undermined the prospect of peace in the region.

“The United Nations, including the Security Council, have a central role in responding to these challenges,” Ambassador Munir Akram, permanent representative of Pakistan to the UN, told the 15-member Council on Wednesday.

Speaking in a debate on the Middle East situation, Akram said the “tragedy of Palestine, at the heart of the turmoil in the region, shows no signs of ending amid Israel’s settlement expansion”.

“As illegal Israeli settlements expand into the occupied Palestinian territory, the vision of a two-state solution is being systematically reduced into a one-state reality,” he said.

The principle of land for peace and implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the Madrid Terms of Reference and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2000 are well-known elements for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, he said.

“The international community must continue to promote the aim of creating ‘a viable, democratic sovereign and a contiguous Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security’,” the Pakistani envoy added.

Emphasizing that the situation in the Middle East posed a grave threat to international peace and security, Akram said even as old conflicts fester, new threats have emerged.

Pakistan, he said, has sought to defuse tensions between the United States and Iran. On the personal initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently visited Tehran, Riyadh and Washington, underscoring the need for mutual restraint, including recourse to dialogue.

The positive reaction from all sides is encouraging — and perhaps comprises a first step towards broad regional engagement.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/23/pakistan-urges-un-to-play-role-in-resolving-palestine-issue/

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Corruption has increased in Pakistan, says Transparency

Jan 24, 2020

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Thursday found itself in a tight spot after global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) revealed that corruption increased in Pakistan in 2019, compared to the year before.

The CPI is the leading global indicator of public sector corruption. It scores and ranks countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be by experts and business leaders.

In its 2019 report, CPI has ranked Pakistan 120th out of 180, with a score of 32 out of 100.

It shows that the country has been unable to curb malpractices since the year before. In 2018’s report, Pakistan ranked 117 with a score of 33, meaning that corruption has slightly increased.

The index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption.

It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. More than two-thirds of countries have scored below 50 on this year’s CPI.

New Zealand and Denmark have topped the chart with scores of 87 each, followed by Finland (86), Singapore (85), Sweden (85) and Switzerland (85).

The bottom countries are Somalia, South Sudan and Syria with scores of nine, 12 and 13 respectively.

Except China, none of Pakistan’s neighbouring states have improved their rankings. With an improvement of seven spots, China ranks 80 as it shares the spot with India which declined by two spots.

Afghanistan ranks 173 and Iran 146.

This year’s results paint a discouraging picture of the state of corruption worldwide. Since 2012, only 22 countries have significantly improved their score while 21 have significantly declined. The remaining countries have made little or no progress in the fight against corruption.

“Governments must urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems,” says Delia Ferreira Rubio Chair Transparency International.

‘NAB PERFORMING MUCH BETTER’:

According to Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) Chairman Sohail Muzaffar, on clarification sought against the lowering of Pakistan’s score by one point on CPI 2019, the Transparency International Secretariat explained that many countries have not performed well this year.

Muzaffar said that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under its present chairman has performed much better, and NAB was rejuvenated after it took various initiatives, including adopting the combined investigation team (CIT) system, in order to have collective wisdom in the conduct of inquiries or investigations on merit. NAB has collected Rs153 billion from corrupt elements and filed 530 references and its overall conviction ratio in the accountability courts is about 70 per cent, the statement noted.

Analysis shows that countries that perform well on the CPI also have stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations and broader range of political consultation, a press release issued by Transparency International Pakistan said. Countries where campaign finance regulations are comprehensive and systematically enforced have an average score of 70 on the CPI, whereas countries where such regulations either don’t exist or are poorly enforced score an average of just 34 and 35, respectively.

“The lack of real progress against corruption in most countries is disappointing and has profound negative effects on citizens around the world,” said Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International. “To have any chance of ending corruption and improving peoples’ lives, we must tackle the relationship between politics and big money. All citizens must be represented in decision making.”

To reduce corruption and restore trust in politics, Transparency International has called on governments to control political financing to prevent excessive money and influence in politics in addition to tackling preferential treatment to ensure budgets and public services are not driven by personal connects or bias towards special interests.

Governments should also manage conflicts of interest and address “revolving doors”; regulate lobbying activities by promoting open and meaningful access to decision-making and strengthen electoral integrity; and prevent and sanction misinformation campaigns.

They should empower citizens, protect activists, whistleblowers and journalists, reinforce checks and balances, and promote separation of powers, the watchdog has said.

OPP CRITICISES PTI:

Commenting on the CPI 2019, Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said “Transparency International has awarded PM Imran a medal of further degrading in corruption level”.

She said that the PTI government was “plundering national wealth with both hands, destroying the economy.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader and Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani criticised the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for failing to fulfill its commitments.

“PTI’s claims and slogans have proven to be false and the international body has put a stamp on Imran Khan’s incompetence and ineptness,” he said, adding that the country’s rank has dropped after a period of 10 years.

“The report is a proof that this year corruption increased in Pakistan and inflation and unemployment has unleashed miserable consequences for the public.”

The PPP leader further claimed that the report was prove that the country reversed in all sectors, and also pointed to the state’s lowered position in a report concerning the rule of law.

“In a year, Pakistan has also lagged behind in democratic values.  In a year, attacks on the media and judiciary increased and Pakistan’s rank also lowered in violation of human rights,” he said.

Reacting to the Transparency report, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Senator Sirajul Haq said that reports of the international institutions on corruption and state of democracy in Pakistan have exposed the PTI regime.

Addressing the Ulema Convention at Mansoora, Haq said the reports must be an eye opener for the prime minister who had made tall claims to start a ruthless and across-the-board accountability drive during his election campaign and introduce reforms in governance.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/23/pakistan-dropped-three-ranks-on-corruption-perceptions-index-2019/

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South Asia

 

Afghan Official Says Taliban Killed Intel Officer in Helmand

Jan. 23, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban ambushed and killed an Afghan intelligence official in southern Helmand province as he was walking home from work, an official said Thursday. It was the latest deadly attack by insurgents even as they hold peace talks with a U.S. envoy.

The officer, who headed the intelligence department's press office for the province, was ambushed late on Wednesday, according to the Helmand police chief’s spokesman Zaman Hamdard. Another member of the intelligence department was wounded in the attack, the spokesman said.

An investigation was underway to find the perpetrators, Hamdard added. Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Taliban now control or hold sway over roughly half of Afghanistan and continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, Kabul government officials or those seen as linked to the government — even as they hold peace talks with the U.S. and have given the U.S. envoy a document outlining their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan.

https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/01/23/world/asia/ap-as-afghanistan.html

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Turkish delegation visits Rohingya camps in Bangladesh

Sorwar Alam  

23.01.2020

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh

A delegation from Turkey’s ruling party visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh on Thursday.

The team, led by Mehmet Ozhaseki, former minister and current deputy head of the Ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, examined humanitarian aid activities of Turkey’s governmental and non-government organizations.

“Turkey did and will continue to provide support to Rohingya refugees,” Ozhaseki told Anadolu Agency during the visit.

He highlighted Turkish aid agencies’ activities in the camp, describing it as “a moral and humanitarian duty for Turkey” to help Rohingya Muslims.

Ozhaseki reiterated Turkey’s unconditional support to Rohingya refugees and outlined Turkey-based charity groups’ activities in the camp.

He particularly congratulated Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), Turkish Red Crescent, Turkiye Diyanet Foundation and Turkish Disaster, Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and Istanbul-based IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation along with other Turkish aid agencies for their “wonderful and excellent job.”

The delegation visited a part of the camp where IHH built around 300 makeshift houses for refugees along with two tube wells and drinking water supply facilities, a mosque, a child care center and a women empowerment facility.

“IHH built a total of 9,260 bamboo-made houses that provide housing for around 50,000 people,” said Said Demir, deputy head of the foundation, told Anadolu Agency.

Demir went on to say that the aid body also established 13 tube wells along with a water distribution system, five childcare centers with the capacity of 500 each, a skill development center for 200 women and a mosque in the camp area.

“The foundation has been doing its humanitarian aid activities in the region for more than two decades,” he said, adding that IHH’s aids also includes local Bangladeshis across the countries.

During the visit, the delegation listened to several Rohingya family’s sufferings and brutality they faced in Myanmar.

“Today I called on the world to extend their hands not only to provide material supports but also to solve the refugee crisis,” said Zeynel Abidin Beyzagul, mayor of Turkey’s southeastern Sanliurfa province.

They also inaugurated a steel bridge in Kutupalong camp, built by TIKA. The bridge, which is TIKA’s Bangladesh coordinator Ismail Gundogdu called the best bridge in the area, links two camps, providing communication facilities for around 60,000 Rohingya.

A field hospital, built by Turkey’s Health Ministry and AFAD, was one of the destinations of visit. The hospital, which is about to complete its second year of operation, has been providing medical services for 100 Rohingya per day.

The 50-bed capacity hospital includes a pediatric clinic along with the region's only neonatal unit which welcomes around 100 babies per year. A Rohingya mother gave birth to triplet baby boys last week at the hospital.

The Rohingya family named their newborn boys Recep, Tayyip and Erdogan after Turkey's president.

The visit was accompanied by newly appointed Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh Mustafa Osman Turan, some former deputies of AK Party from Sanliurfa.

Persecuted people

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed to Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

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

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/turkish-delegation-visits-rohingya-camps-in-bangladesh/1711819

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Bangladesh: 22 Rohingya detained before trafficked

SM Najmus Sakib

21.01.2020

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Bangladesh police detained some 22 Muslim Rohingya refugees as they were gathered to be trafficked to Malaysia through Bay of Bengal, a police officer told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.

In a tip off, police in a drive, detained 18 Rohingya women, three men and one child who gathered at the coast area of Bahar Chara village in Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar Monday night to be trafficked to Malaysia illegally through Bay Bengal, Liakat Ali, the police inspector at Bahar Chara police outpost told Anadolu Agency.

Police, however, could not arrest any broker in the incident, he said, adding that they will send back the detained Rohingya refugees to their respective refugee camps on Tuesday.

Some 796 Rohingya were detained in 28 law enforcement drives in Bangladesh last year, while 29 brokers were arrested, according to the local daily Prothom Alo.

Of these drives, at least seven human traffickers were killed in alleged gunfights with law enforcement officers, and three of them were Rohingya, while the other four were Bangladeshi, it added.

Rohingya, described by the UN as one of the most persecuted community in the world, has been facing systematic state persecution in the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar since early 1970s.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/bangladesh-22-rohingya-detained-before-trafficked/1708930

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Afghan forces suffer casualties in Taliban attacks

23 Jan 2020

According to officials, the Taliban insurgents killed six police officers and wounded eight others in an ambush attack in the northern Baghlan and Takhar provinces on Wednesday night.

Khanzada Mazlomyar, the district governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, confirmed the death of six police officers in the hands of Taliban militants on Wednesday night in Baghlan-Kunduz highway.

“Afghan forces were on their way to Baghlan-e-Markazi when they came under attack, as a result of which six policemen died, and least seven security personnel were wounded in the incident,” Mazlomyar added.

Reports say that two civilians were killed and three others injured during the clash between the two sides, but there is no report on the Taliban casualties as of now.

Meanwhile, the Taliban militants stormed a security post in Baharak district of Takhar province, killed two police officers and wounded another officer.

Taliban insurgents’ back-to-back attacks on the Afghan security forces occur as their leadership continues negotiations with the US representatives in Doha on the Afghan peace deal.

Afghan mainstream politicians and leaders describe Taliban “hypocrites” for not being faithful to their commitment to reducing violence as they are fast approach with the US on a peace agreement.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/afghan-forces-suffer-casualties-in-taliban-attack-870980986/

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Afghanistan remains one of the top 10 corrupt countries in the world: Report

23 Jan 2020

According to Transparency International, Afghanistan has remained among the top 10 corrupt countries in the world in 2019.

Afghanistan was scored 15 out of 100 in 2017, 16 in 2018 and remained in the same place in 2019, according to Transparency International report released on Thursday.

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, Afghanistan was scored 11 out of 100 in 2015, 15 in 2016 and 2017, 16 in 2018 and 2019.

Afghanistan is ranked 176 among 180 countries indexed by Transparency International.

Yamen, Syria, South Sudan, and Somalia are ranked 177, 178, 179 and 180 respectively.

The report indicates that there has not been any progress in fighting against corruption since 2018 in Afghanistan.

“The efforts to fight corruption in Afghanistan during the last five years have shown that the campaign has to be revitalized and sustained or it stalls,” said Joy Saunders, chairperson of the board of directors for Transparency in Afghanistan. “Afghanistan had to focus on campaign financing regulation and enforcement after  2017 since it had a parliamentary election in  2018 and a presidential election in  2019,” she added.

The United States withheld 160 million dollars aids to Afghanistan in September 2019 due to corruption.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/afghanistan-remains-one-of-the-top-10-corrupt-countries-in-the-world-report/

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Abdullah and Karzai have no written plan for Afghanistan: Ghani

23 Jan 2020

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani spoke at a side event of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday criticizing Abdullah and Karzai, saying none of them have written plans for the Afghanistan future and peace process.

Ghani used the ‘your hands do not reach to take the grapes and you say it’s sour – not tasty –‘ phrase for Abdullah and Karzai saying they cannot do anything, but criticize.

“If the Taliban are not ready to stop violence, I will not allow them to return to power misusing peace negotiation opportunities with the United States”, Afghan President warned the Taliban.

The Taliban had earlier announced their chief Mullah Haibatullah had agreed to a brief ‘ceasefire’ before signing a deal with the United States, but the Afghan government insists on a complete ‘ceasefire’ plan before Intra-Afghan talks start.

Afghanistan Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai had recently criticized President Ghani accusing the President of the sabotaging the peace negotiations.

In response to a moderator’s question at a side event of the Davos Forum, Ghani praised himself claiming he was successful in starting peace negotiations with the Taliban, but Karzai failed to do it, he said.

“I am busying working with the public, people trust me, I have plans which I am working on them”, Ghani said.

“What’s the plan of President Karzai and CEO Abdullah? Please show me at least one page written plan of them for the country”, he added.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/abdullah-and-karzai-have-no-written-plan-for-afghanistan-ghani-8789769/

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Arab World

 

Up to 40 Syrian soldiers killed, 80 wounded in Idlib attack: Ifax

23 January 2020

Russia’s defense ministry said on Thursday that hundreds of Syrian militants launched multiple attacks in Syria’s Idlib province, killing up to 40 Syrian soldiers and wounding 80, the Interfax news agency reported.

They seized two settlements in one of the offensives, Russia's defense ministry was quoted as saying.

The Syrian militants set off car bombs and used heavy gunfire to storm army positions in Idlib, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.

The militant attack forced the army to redeploy and clashes were ongoing, SANA added.

Idlib is the last rebel-held swathe of territory in the country and hundreds of thousands of people in the area have fled in recent weeks amid heavy airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/23/Up-to-40-Syrian-Soldiers-killed-80-wounded-in-Idlib-attack-IFAX-.html

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Major crowds convene in streets of Baghdad to denounce US military presence in Iraq

24 January 2020

Major crowds have gathered in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to denounce US military presence in the country after the US assassinated Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was second-in-command of the Iraq's PMU, in Baghdad earlier this month.

Iraq's al-Ahd news network reported on Friday that Iraqis from "all of the country's provinces" have gathered in the city.

The protesters were seen carrying banners and chanting slogans calling for the expulsion of US forces.

Press TV

@PressTV

Iraqis hold "million-man march" against U.S. forces presence in their country / #Iraq #IraqMillionManMarch https://www.pscp.tv/w/cPp6AjF6dkVOV0RMQVd5UWV8MXlOR2FwYmRYZ05LaotrRYt6qHQZV6QKX8Iskp1d2I6t9m4GdoIzDI28D34F …

Press TV @PressTV

Iraqis hold "million-man march" against U.S. forces presence in their country / #Iraq #IraqMillionManMarch

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The demonstrators are planned to gather in the intersection of Baghdad University in the Jadriyah neighborhood.

According to Reuters, new checkpoints were installed across the capital by late Thursday afternoon in anticipation of the major rally.

Iraqis in Karbala city, south of Baghdad, were also seen boarding buses heading towards the capital.

The rally comes after Influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqis to stage "a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations" last week.

On January 5, the Iraqi parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling for the expulsion of all US-led forces in the country two days after Washington assassinated Soleimani and Muhandis.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of the planned rallies, Sadr called on Iraqis to mobilize and defend the country's independence and sovereignty.

"Oh women, men and youth of the country, the time is now upon us to defend the country, its sovereignty and dependence," Sadr said in a tweet.

"Spread the word of an independent future Iraq that will be ruled by the righteous; an Iraq which will not know of corruption nor aggression" he added, calling on Iraqis to expel the "tyrants".

Various Iraqi resistance groups affiliated with the country's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have also backed the anti-American rally.

‘Zero hour in face off with US’

Speaking to the Lebanese al-Mayadeen television channel, Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the PMU-affiliated Kata'ib Hezbollah resistance group, said that "other means" will be used against the Americans if they do not leave Iraq.

He added that American presence has led to corruption and instability in the country.

In an interview with Iran's Tasnim News Agency, Firas al-Yasser, member of the political bureau of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba movement, also said that today's rallies marked "a new chapter" in the country's relations with the US.

He added that Iraqi resistance groups support the stance of the country's clerical leadership, which does not tolerate Washington's  “theory of dependence and humiliation" against Iraq.

"We believe we have reached the zero hour in facing off with the US," he said.

Yasser added that Iran's missile attack on the Ain al-Assad base in the western Iraqi province of Anbar earlier this month was a "prelude" to the expulsion of US forces from the country.

Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, which is part of the PMU, has described Friday's rallies as a "second revolution" a century after the Great Iraqi Revolution of 1920.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/24/616953/Baghdad-anti-US-rally

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Militants set off car bombs, storm army positions in Syria's Idlib: state news agency

JANUARY 23, 2020

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Militants in Syria set off car bombs and used heavy gunfire to storm army positions in Idlib on Thursday, state news agency SANA reported.

The militant attack forced the army to redeploy and clashes were ongoing, SANA added.

Idlib is the last rebel-held swathe of territory in the country and hundreds of thousands of people in the area have fled in recent weeks amid heavy airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-security/militants-set-off-car-bombs-storm-army-positions-in-syrias-idlib-state-news-agency-idUSKBN1ZM12C

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In Syria, Captured Islamic State Fighters, Followers Going Home

By Jeff Seldin

January 23, 2020

PENTAGON - A growing number of fighters and followers captured during the final battles to defeat the Islamic State terror group’s self-declared caliphate are being released in Syria, with some facing justice and others being given a chance to restart their lives.

Once held under heavy guard in makeshift prisons or in camps for displaced persons, dozens of fighters and hundreds of so-called IS-affiliated persons have made the journey home since late last year, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

And while the prospect of allowing some former IS fighters and followers to mingle in communities freed from the terror group’s grip has, in some cases, raised tensions, U.S. officials, so far, have been pleased with the results.

“We see these SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] return-and-reintegration initiatives as positive,” a State Department official told VOA, asking for anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the program.

“They have been successful in holding fighters to account and also reintegrating some individuals and a significant number of families back into Syrian communities, usually under tribal and family oversight,” the official added.

Thousands in SDF custody

About 4,000 captured Syrian IS fighters are thought to be in SDF custody, while the number of noncombatants — women and children and others — held in displaced-persons camps still number in the tens of thousands.

U.S. officials were unable to provide any information on exactly how many IS fighters and IS families have been allowed to leave SDF custody.

The SDF also declined to share specifics, but an official speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the matter told VOA, “Their numbers are very small.”

“Our court system releases those who are not involved in committing crimes and terrorist acts,” the SDF official added. “After their release, usually Arab tribal leaders get involved to ensure that the freed individuals won’t pose any terror threats in the region.”

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 49 captured fighters have been released to the Syrian communities of Hasakah, Raqqa and Deir el-Zour since the start of the year.

They join an untold number of captured fighters released starting in July and August of last year, most of whom were held accountable through local or tribal judicial processes.

That judicial process included “sentencing fighters who are proven to have committed crimes,” a State Department official told VOA at the time.

Tribal leaders carry responsibility

But the responsibility of making sure convicted IS fighters face justice and of keeping tabs on the rest has fallen to local Syrian authorities or tribal elders, who are now having to deal with an influx of IS families.

Already, about 1,900 IS-affiliated individuals have left the al-Hol camp in Syria over the past two months to return to Raqqa or Deir el-Zour, according to a United Nations official with knowledge of the displaced person camps in Syria.

The official said more are leaving, with women and children being released weekly.

Tribal elders have been willing but wary.

“For this guarantee we had a lot of problems,” said Muhammad Tirkuswan, a sheikh from Syria’s Sebkha tribe.

Speaking via the Rojava Information Center, a pro-SDF research organization, Tirkuswan said his tribe has taken in 365 women and young children but does not expect to take any more for a while.

“Once, an ISIS woman whom I had taken as a guarantor told some SDF soldiers that she had an explosive, she would explode herself with them,” he said, using another acronym for the terror group. “This ideology has still an impact in these women.”

Tirkuswan said for the same reason, he would not take any children older than 15.

“The youngsters have been more affected by the ideology of ISIS,” he said.

Few resources for deradicalization

U.S., U.N. and SDF officials admit there has been almost no effort to deradicalize the few thousand IS family members, most of them children, who have left the camps. They say, despite the need, there have not been sufficient resources to run such a program.

Even trying to provide the children with a basic education has proven difficult.

“There is a lack of interest from families,” a U.N. official told VOA, citing the nonreligious nature of the curriculum.

But not everyone is concerned about the lack of deradicalization programs and services.

“We know many people who had joined,” said Telal Hilal Alsibat, an official with a tribe near Raqqa that has taken back two groups of families.

“When we asked the widows of ISIS members, they answer that their husbands had joined ISIS to have a job to make a living; therefore, the rest of the family had to go with them,” he said through the Rojava Information Center.

Full report at:

https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/syria-captured-islamic-state-fighters-followers-going-home

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No ISIS Surge During Pause in US Operations, General Says

22 Jan 2020

Islamic State fighters did not capitalize on a recent break in U.S. operations to significantly reconstitute their ranks in Iraq, according to a top general.

After a U.S. airstrike killed Iran's top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the U.S. briefly suspended coalition training activities in Iraq on Jan. 5. The move came during a heightened state of alert to protect facilities housing U.S. troops amid unpredictable retaliations from Iran's proxy forces.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve at U.S. Central Command, told an audience at a Mitchell Institute event outside Washington, D.C., that U.S. and coalition troops have not observed a compelling uptick in ISIS activities throughout Iraq and Syria recently.

He added that targeted strikes on ISIS fighters have waned in recent months to about "two to three airstrikes per week."

"[But] we certainly want to get back to providing that overall pressure" to keep ISIS at bay for the foreseeable future, Grynkewich said Wednesday.

He credited Iraqi forces with keeping the pressure on ISIS during the break. The U.S. announced it was resuming operations against the Islamic State on Jan. 15.

Lower-level training and advising activities with Iraqi partner forces continue, Grynkewich said, but "some of the-higher level advisory efforts have stopped" amid tensions with Iran.

He said the majority of attacks by Iranian proxies in recent days have remained largely unsophisticated, with a reactionary approach versus a well-planned one.

"My personal assessment is, there's more continuity in that approach. … Most of them are a couple of fighters running out of a parking lot and setting up [a rocket launcher] from there," Grynkewich said.

With the help of Iraqi forces, the U.S. has been able to identify the origin points of attacks fairly quickly with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, he said.

In the case of the more elaborate Iranian missile attack on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Jan. 8, Grynkewich credited "lower-level commanders, soldiers and airmen, primarily" who made the right call as they were given advance notice to shelter during the strike, saving lives.

"I just couldn't be more proud. In a time like that, you really don't know what's going on," he said.

Last week, defense officials confirmed that 11 U.S. service members were flown from Iraq to U.S. medical facilities for additional evaluation and treatment of concussion-like symptoms. The Associated Press on Tuesday reported that more troops are now being evaluated in Landstuhl, Germany, for similar injuries.

Grynkewich said officials now estimate that the total number of troops who will need evaluation is “in the teens.”

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, President Donald Trump on Wednesday downplayed the injuries as "headaches."

"I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things," he said during a press conference. "But I would say, and I can report, that it is not very serious."

When asked about possible traumatic brain injuries and whether the president mischaracterized their severity, Grynkewich demurred.

Full report at:

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/01/22/no-isis-surge-during-pause-us-operations-general-says.html

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Saudi Arabia Asks US to Remove Sudan from Terror List

23 January, 2020

Saudi Arabia has asked the United States to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, Saudi state TV said on Wednesday, citing Minister of State for African Affairs Ahmed Kattan.

The US government added Sudan to its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993 over allegations of cooperation with extremist groups, mainly al-Qaeda.

In 2017, the United States lifted trade sanctions imposed on Sudan a decade before but kept Khartoum on its terrorism blacklist alongside Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Saudi media said Kattan met in Riyadh with the US envoy to Sudan, Donald Booth, and "stressed to Washington the necessity of lifting Sudan from the terrorism list".

Full report at:

https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/2095771/saudi-arabia-asks-us-remove-sudan-terror-list

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Lebanon's new government backed by Hezbollah and allies meets for first time

Jan. 22, 2020

Lebanon's new government met for the first time Wednesday as President Michel Aoun said its main task was to win back international confidence that could unlock the funding the crisis-hit country badly needs.

Formed by the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah and its allies without the participation of major Lebanese political parties that enjoy Western backing, it also faces one of the biggest financial crises in the heavily indebted country's history.

A liquidity crunch that has hit the Lebanese pound, fueled inflation and driven banks to impose capital controls.

"Your mission is delicate," Aoun's office cited him as telling the cabinet. "It is necessary to work to tackle the economic situation, restore the confidence of the international community in Lebanese institutions andreassure the Lebanese about their future," Aoun said.

Lebanon, burdened with a public debt equivalent to about 150 percent of GDP, won pledges exceeding $11 billion at an international conference in April 2018 conditional on reforms that it has so far failed to implement.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the government's formation and said he would work with Prime Minister Hassan Diab to support the reform agenda, Guterres' spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday.

Analysts say the new government, being politically aligned with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, would likely have difficulty drumming up international and regional support needed to avoid economic collapse.

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and oil-rich Gulf countries whose support is badly needed for debt-ridden Lebanon.

The premier said on Tuesday his first trip abroad would be to the Arab region, particularly Gulf states that have in the past provided financial aid to Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, deeply concerned for years over Hezbollah's rising influence in Beirut, have appeared to hesitate to extend financial support in this latest crisis.

Lebanon had been without effective government since Saad al-Hariri, the country's main Sunni leader and a traditional ally of the West and Gulf states, quit as premier in October following widespread protests against politicians who have led Lebanon into its worst crisis since the 1975-90 war.

Hariri and his Future Movement have stayed out of the government, along with the staunchly anti-Hezbollah Christian Lebanese Forces party and the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

"The problem resides in the fact that the majority of them (new ministers) gravitate in the camp of the same political forces who have led the country to the current situation," Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, said in remarks published by L'Orient-Le Jour daily on Wednesday.

At the cabinet meeting, Diab called for support for the army and the security forces, who have clashed with protesters over the past week, with hundreds injured.

Even before the cabinet was announced, thousands of people poured into the streets, closing major roads in the capital of Beirut and other parts of the country in protest. The protesters complained that political groups still were involved in the naming of the new ministers, even if they are specialists and academics.

Full report at:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/facing-economic-crisis-lebanon-s-new-government-meets-first-time-n1120111

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Senior MP: US Attempting to Reactivate ISIL in 5 Iraqi Provinces

Jan 23, 2020

"The US is after reactivating the remnants and sleeping cells of the ISIL in 5 Iraqi provinces to escalate crisis and chaos in Iraq to decrease power of Hashd al-Shaabi and other security forces," Karim al-Aliwi said in an interview with the Arabic-language al-Ma'aloumeh news website on Thursday.

He added that Washington wants to make the public opinion believe that the Iraqi forces cannot defend their country and pave the ground for its long-term presence in Iraq.

A senior commander of Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi popular forces) had warned on Wednesday that the US forces were transferring the ISIL terrorists from Syria to safe areas in Iraq as part of a seemingly major plan to trigger security problems for the Arab nation again.

"The security forces are stationed and guarding the Iraqi-Syrian borders, but the airspace of these regions are fully open to the US planes and helicopters, including Chinook cargo helicopters," Kazzem al-Fartousi, a commander of Kata'eb Seyed al-Shohada, told al-Ma'aloumeh.

He warned that the US planes and helicopters are never checked by the Iraqi authorities and they easily transfer the terrorists from Syria to safe zone in Iraq in heliborne operations.

Al-Fartousi joined many other senior military commanders and officials deeply wary of what seems to be a scheme by the US to escalate tensions through a revival of terrorist operations by the remnants of ISIL militants to undermine the central government in Baghdad and justify the US buildup in Iraq.

Also, on Sunday, an official revealed that the US forces in Western Iraq are relocating ISIL ringleaders from Syria to Wadi Houran region in Western al-Anbar province after the area was cleansed by Hashd al-Shaabi.

"After the US forces prevented Iraqi forces from approaching Wadi Houran and the Western desert of al-Anbar, finally, Hashd al-Shaabi could remove the existing obstacles and defeat the ISIL terrorists in the region and cleanse Wadi Houran completely," Head of Badr Organization's Office in al-Anbar Qusai al-Anbari told al-Ma'aloumeh.

"But after the cleansing operations, the US forces stationed near the region facilitated the trafficking of the ISIL terrorists and their transfer to Wadi Houran and the Western desert by reopening a number of roads and heliborne operations," he added.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981103000586

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Footage Shows "Joker Revolutionaries" in Iraq Fabricating Violence Scene in Iraq

Jan 23, 2020

The video displays a group of protestors in Baghdad's al-Tahrir square, the main place of gatherings and protest rallies, who are producing a fabricated video before the eyes of people to accuse the Iraqi security forces of violence against the ralliers.

The White Helmets in Syria who collaborated with Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) terrorists had first produced such fake videos under false-flag chemical operations in Idlib in a bid to accuse the Syrian Army of orchestrating the attack.

Iraqis angry at the government's slow pace of reforms ramped up their protests, sealing the streets of capital Baghdad with burning tyres and threatening further escalation unless their demands are met.

Protesters blocked roads in Iraq's capital and in the holy city of Najaf a day before their deadline to the government on making progress on reform pledges expires.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981103000205

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Russian strikes kill eight civilians in Syria’s Idlib: Monitor

24 January 2020

Russian air strikes in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib on Thursday killed eight civilians, including five children, a war monitor said.

Five civilians from the same family were killed in Saraqeb and three others in the town of Arnaba, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Most of Idlib and parts of Aleppo province are still controlled by factions opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed regime, including a group that includes onetime members of al-Qaeda’s former Syria franchise.

“The region is witnessing very intense bombardment by Russian warplanes,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring group, said.

Idlib province is a dead end for people displaced from other formerly rebel-held parts of the country that government forces have retaken.

The violence in northern Syria is escalating an already dire humanitarian situation, with aid groups warning of displacement on an unprecedented scale.

According to the UN humanitarian coordination agency OCHA, almost 350,000 people have fled their homes since December 1, mainly northwards from southern Idlib, which has borne the brunt of the air strikes.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/24/Russian-strikes-kill-eight-civilians-in-Syria-s-Idlib-Monitor.html

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Mideast

 

Palestinian Authority reiterates rejection of US peace initiative

January 23, 2020

JERUSALEM: US President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House next week to discuss his long-awaited plans for Middle East peace, the White House said.

The Palestinians, who immediately condemned the move, were not invited to the Tuesday meeting.

Vice President Mike Pence first announced the invitation to right-wing Netanyahu and his main election rival, Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party during a visit to Jerusalem to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

Speaking at the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Pence said Trump “asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week to discuss regional issues, as well as the prospect of peace here in the Holy Land.”

The White House said the meeting would be an “opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests,” hailing the “strong” partnership between Israel and the United Sates.

Netanyahu welcomed the invitation, saying Trump “is seeking to give Israel the peace and security it deserves.”

“With such friends in the White House ... we should get as broad a consensus as possible around the efforts to achieve security and peace for the state of Israel,” he said.

Trump, whose team has long been working on the outlines of a secretive peace plan, has repeatedly boasted that he is the most pro-Israeli US president in history.

Trump tweeted later that he looked forward to the talks but that “reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative.”

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, whose administration is boycotting Trump, immediately rejected the US move.

“This step only reaffirms our absolute rejection of what the US administration has done so far, particularly the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Abbas’s spokesman said in a statement.

Abbas cut off all ties with the US in December 2017 after Trump broke with decades of international consensus and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinians see the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state and world powers have long agreed that Jerusalem’s fate should be settled via negotiations.

Trump came to power in 2017 promising to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, which he labelled the “ultimate deal.”

But he has since taken a series of decisions that outraged the Palestinians, including cutting hundreds of millions in aid and declaring that the US no longer considered Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal.

His plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is believed to revolve around encouraging massive economic investment.

After many postponements, the peace initiative was expected in the autumn.

But it was delayed after September elections in Israel proved inconclusive, and it was not expected to be released until after the March 2 elections.

Israeli media discussed what they said were leaked outlines of the deal Thursday, saying the US had acquiesced to many key Israeli demands.

Pence was speaking shortly after visiting the Western Wall, the holiest place in Jerusalem at which Jews can pray, alongside Netanyahu and Gantz.

The Washington meeting comes little more than a month before new Israeli elections, with polls showing Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck-and-neck.

The meeting on Tuesday coincides with an expected session in the Israeli parliament to discuss Netanyahu’s potential immunity from prosecution over a series of corruption charges.

Israeli media speculated that Trump had chosen to announce the event in support of Netanyahu’s election bid — the third in a year.

Husam Zomlot, former head of the Palestinian mission in the US, told AFP that Trump hosting two Israeli leaders and no Palestinians showed the meeting was about influencing domestic Israeli politics, rather than a genuine attempt at peace.

“This is confirmation of their policy from the beginning — it is all about and for Israel.”

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1617376/middle-east

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Car bomb kills several Turkish soldiers in northern Syria: SANA

23 January 2020

Several people have lost their lives when a car bomb explosion struck a northern Syrian village seized by Turkish military forces and their allied militants in the aftermath of a cross-border incursion against militants of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Local sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Syria’s official news agency SANA that a car rigged with explosives went off near Hammam al-Turkman village, which lies in Tal Abyad district of Syria’s northern province of Raqqah, on Thursday, leaving a number of Turkish soldiers and their Syrian proxies dead.

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The sources added that Turkish ambulances rushed to the site of the explosion, and transported dead bodies as well as those injured in the attack to Turkey.

Last week, a car bomb blast  targeted the headquarters of the Turkish-backed and so-called Ahrar al-Sharqiya (Free Men of the East) militant group in the northern Syrian town of Suluk in the Turkish-controlled Tal Abyad border region.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at the time that seven Takfiri militants and three Turkish soldiers were killed in the explosion.

On October 9, Turkish military forces and Ankara-backed militants launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to push YPG militants away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a memorandum of understanding that asserted YPG militants had to withdraw from the Turkish-controlled "safe zone" in northeastern Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow would run joint patrols around the area.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/23/616912/Car-bomb-kills-several-Turkish-soldiers-in-northern-Syria:-SANA

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Israel prevents gas from entering Gaza and begins selling it to Egypt

23 January 2020

By Robert Inlakesh

The severity of Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is currently growing in magnitude, as a result of Israel tightening its 15-year long, illegal siege of the poverty-stricken Palestinian territory. Due to Israel’s restriction of gas, prevented from entering the besieged coastal enclave, the people of Gaza are facing a lack of sufficient heating, lighting, and the ability to properly deal with sewage, all this and more whilst their Arab neighbor, Egypt, is purchasing stolen Israeli gas.

Last February, Egypt signed a 19-billion-dollar gas deal with Israel. A few days ago, Israel officially began pumping that gas into Egypt via an ‘Eastern Mediterranean Gas’ pipeline formerly used to supply Israel with Egyptian gas (during the rule of ex-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak).

Israel restricts the gas it is allowing into Gaza, collectively punishing the Palestinian people — which constitutes a crime against humanity — for what Israel decides is the illegitimate actions of Gaza’s democratically-elected government.

Egypt’s coup leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has not only sold the soul of Egypt by purchasing the Israeli occupying entity, but has also participated in enforcing Egypt’s side of the illegal blockade of Gaza. Sisi has continuously watched on as the two-million-strong population of the besieged Gaza Strip suffers untold misery.

Besides Egypt’s collaboration with Israel’s racist persecution of the Palestinian people in Gaza’s death camp is also the most shameful of deliberate targeting of Gaza’s food and resources by Israel itself.

The Palestinian Agricultural Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Israel had purposely flooded and destroyed roughly 920 acres of farmlands in Eastern Jabalia and Beit Hanoun, Northern Gaza, causing 500,000 dollars worth of damage. On top of this, Israel has also begun spraying dangerous chemicals over farmland to the East of Khan Yunis and Rafah, located in the South of Gaza. The Gaza Strip has very scarce amounts of agricultural land and is already operating in a declared state of emergency, as of February 2018.

Adding to the list of Israeli crimes in Gaza is the fact that the Gaza gas fields, which were discovered in 1999 and belong to the Palestinian people under international law, still have not been excavated. The only reason for the Palestinians not being able to take advantage of their own oil is that Israel’s illegal blockade prohibits them from doing so, meaning that the people of Gaza are living in an area which has been deemed ‘unlivable’ by experts at the United Nations, suffering unimaginable pain, whilst literally sitting right next to a treasure trove of natural gas.

Approximately two weeks ago, Israel decided to cut off the main supply of gas from entering the Gaza Strip. Since then, Egypt has let in 10 trucks, which have entered the besieged territory, but according to Gaza’s residents, this simply has not been enough to supply the people with a sufficient source of gas. Khaled Tabasha, a Palestinian activist living in Gaza’s al-Bureij refugee camp, spoke to me, informing me that his family and many others living in his camp have not been able to cook properly. Khaled even said that things have gotten so bad that he and others have begun looking for wood, in order to start fires from which they can cook their food.

The term “sending Gaza back to the stone age” has been often used by Israeli politicians, referring to the military bombardments of the territory by Israel, but it seems by the blockade alone, Israel is achieving this aim.

In the Gaza Strip, a lack of gas not only means that Palestinians are having to resort to using wood fires to cook, it also affects motor vehicles, hospitals, and of course the heating inside houses. In addition to this, Gaza is again having an electricity crisis, which means that right now the people only have access to roughly four and a half hours of electricity per day. This is during a time where the climate is very cold in Gaza. To give an example of how cold Palestine has been lately, just yesterday, it snowed in al-Khalil (Hebron), located to the North of Gaza, in the West Bank.

Toxic Pesticides have also recently been sprayed along the separation fence, illegally built between Gaza and Israel. The spraying of these potentially lethal substances along the separation fence — a violation of international law — is justified by the Israelis as being a “security” precaution.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/23/616893/Israel-gas-Gaza-Egypt

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Dozens killed near Sanaa as army targets rebel supply lines

January 24, 2020

AL-MUKALLA: Dozens of Houthi militia fighters and loyalist soldiers have been killed in heavy fighting outside the rebel-controlled Yemeni city of Sanaa, local army commanders said.

Brig. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili, a Yemeni army spokesperson, told Arab News on Thursday that a large number of Houthis were killed after army troops resumed an offensive aimed at cutting supply lines and expelling rebel fighters from the city.

“The national army is making major territorial gains on the battlefield. Dozens of Houthi militia fighters have been killed and the national army soldiers are counting the dead,” Majili said by telephone from the city of Marib.

A number of loyalist troops had died in fighting to seize control of several mountain locations in Nehim, he added.

Clashes intensified outside Sanaa on Sunday, a day after a drone and missile strike killed more that 110 government soldiers at a mosque near a military training camp. The army vowed to punish Houthis for the deadly attack.

Nehim is the closest battlefield to Sanaa, but there have been no major territorial gains since 2016 when government forces pushed deeper into Houthi areas and seized control of the Faradhat Nehim military base.

Military commanders say the difficut terrain and thousands of land mines planted by rebels have slowed their advance.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes carried out dozens of airstrikes on Houthi military sites and reinforcements.

“There is a great air support and soldiers’ morale is high,” Majili said.

State television showed footage on Wednesday night of smoke billowing from mountainous areas as tanks and anti-aircraft guns shelled Houthi militants. Government soldiers were also seen storming Houthi outposts. Heavy fighting also broke out in Jawf, Marib’s Serwah and other locations in northern Yemen on Wednesday and Thursday.

In Marib, Yemen’s minister of interior on Wednesday said that a cell linked to the Houthis that gathered information about military movements in the city had been dismantled.

Two Houthi groups are believed to have been responsible for sending the location of the military training site in Marib that was shelled by Houthis on Saturday.

Thousands of government troops and Saudi-led military training officers have been based in Marib since 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of the government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1617441/middle-east

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Spokesman: Iran Lodges Complaint with UN against US Assassination of General Soleimani

Jan 23, 2020

“The US terrorist assassination of Martyr Soleimani was unprecedented both in the region and the world which prompted reaction of jurists, lawyers, politicians, journalists and thinkers throughout the world,” Mousavi said on Wednesday.

“In our first reaction to the US assassination of Iran’s top commander Gen. Soleimani, we penned a letter to the UN and lodged a complaint against the US assassination of Lt. Gen. Soleimani as a terrorist act. Also, we filed a lawsuit against perpetrators of this terrorist act in cooperation and collaboration with the judiciary branch,” he said.

Mousavi pointed to the clear violation of Article 3314 of the UN Charter by the United States, and said, “According to the military agreement, if any military move is conducted against the provisions of the agreement in the host country, the guest country is considered as an aggressor, based on which, Iraqi government can lodge its complaint against the United States from this perspective.”

He termed the US assassination of Gen. Soleimani in Iraq, who played a very constructive role in the fight against terrorism, "a vicious and cowardly act", and said, “Gen. Soleimani was assassinated by the US terrorist forces in Iraq in a cowardly manner as he had been invited by the Iraqi prime minister. So, the US terrorist act in assassinating Gen. Soleimani has both international criminal and penal aspects.”

Lieutenant General Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone strike on Baghdad International Airport in Iraq on January 3.

The airstrike also martyred Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or Hashad al-Shaabi. The two were martyred in an American airstrike that targeted their vehicle on the road to the airport.

Five Iranian and five Iraqi militaries were martyred by missiles fired by the US drone at Baghdad International Airport.

On January 8, the IRGC Aerospace Force started heavy ballistic missile attacks on US Ein Al-Assad airbase in Southwestern Iraq near the border with Syria and a US operated airbase in Erbil in retaliation for the US assassination of General Soleimani.

Ein Al-Assad is an airbase with a 4km runway at 188m altitude from sea levels, which is the main and the largest US airbase in Iraq. Early reports said the radar systems and missile defense shields in Ein Al-Assad failed to operate and intercept the Iranian missiles. Unofficial reports said the US army's central radar systems at Ein Al-Assad had been jammed by electronic warfare.

The second IRGC reprisal attack targeted a US military base near Erbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan Region in the second leg of "Martyr Soleimani" reprisal operation.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13981103000233

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Turkish aid groups building houses in Syria for Idlib’s displaced

24 January 2020

Turkish aid groups have begun building more than 10,000 houses in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib to shelter growing numbers of people displaced by fighting, while Turkey seeks to prevent a new influx of migrants fleeing from Syria.

The houses are being erected near a Syrian village next to the Turkish border, an area so far spared from the air strikes and fighting which have uprooted hundreds of thousands of people.

Syrian and Russian forces have bombarded opposition-controlled targets in Idlib this week despite a deal between Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict, for a January 12 ceasefire. On Thursday Russia said hundreds of Syrian militants launched attacks on Syrian government forces in Idlib.

Turkey already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and fears that the fighting in Idlib - the last notable opposition stronghold in Syria after almost nine years of conflict - could drive millions more across the border.

But last week Ankara suggested it could reach a deal with Moscow to prevent another refugee wave.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the two countries were discussing the establishment of a secure zone in Idlib to host the displaced Syrians over the winter.

Turkish aid group Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said that more than 450,000 people had fled towards the Turkish border over the past five months and that it was aiming to build 10,000 houses around 5 km (3 miles) from the frontier.

“We provide food and clothes to the families on the migrant trail, but we also need to provide them shelter throughout the winter months,” IHH Deputy Chairman Serkan Nergis said.

Nergis said the houses would provide better shelter than the existing tent camps near the border. The houses “will begin hosting their guests in a few days”, with the goal of accommodating 60,000 people, Nergis said.

Images from the project showed several rows of houses under construction next to the tents currently housing the displaced

Syrians, in Idlib’s Kafr Lusin region, near the Turkish border.

Turkey’s Kizilay aid group also said this week it will build 1,000 emergency housing units in Idlib, which would be completed in 2-3 weeks.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/24/Turkish-aid-groups-building-houses-in-Syria-for-Idlib-s-displaced.html

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Iran ‘most anti-Semitic regime on the planet’ says Israel’s Netanyahu

23 January 2020

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called Iran “the most antisemitic regime on the planet” during an address during a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

“I am concerned that we have yet to see a unified and resolute stance against the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet. A regime that openly seeks to develop nuclear weapons and annihilate the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu told assembled world leaders.

“Israel salutes President Trump and Vice President Pence for confronting the tyrants of Tehran,” he told the audience, which included Pence.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/23/Iran-most-anti-Semitic-regime-on-the-planet-Israel-s-Netanyahu.html

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Iranian IRGC officer suggests taking US hostages to make up for sanctions

23 January 2020

A video surfaced online Wednesday of an official Iranian political strategist suggesting that Iran should take Americans hostage because their lucrative ransoms would make up for sanctions on the country.

“Do you want to solve the sanctions problem? Our naval forces should take 10 or 20 Americans as hostage every month. For each one of them, we should get $1 billion. If we get $1 billion per week, and the year has around 50 weeks. That’s at least $50 billion,” the IRGC officer Hassan Abbasi said.

The widely shared video shows Abbasi, who also heads the IRGC-affiliated think-tank Andishkadeh Yaghin, giving a speech on January 17 reportedly in a mosque in the Iranian city of Nowshahr.

In the video, the strategist makes an example of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American journalist who served as the Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post. He spent a year and a half between trial and Evin Prison until he was released in 2016.

The Obama administration denied any link between the payment, which it said was a settlement to end a dispute over a failed arms deal, and the prisoner exchange at the time.

Abbasi also said that the Iranian government received $3 million from Qatar in blood money for the killing of Qassem Soleimani, in what could be a reference to Doha’s role in housing the base from which the drones used in the attacks were launched.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/23/Iranian-IRGC-officer-suggests-taking-US-hostages-to-make-up-for-sanctions-.html

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Russia condemns US “unacceptable” threats to assassinate new Quds Force commander

23 January 2020

Russia has severely censured US threat to assassinate Brigadier General Esmaeil Qa’ani, the new commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), as “unacceptable.”

“I state once again that such statements are unacceptable for us. Such remarks have been made beyond rights and law, and representatives of world states are not entitled to utter them,” the Arabic service of Russia’s Sputnik news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying at a news briefing in the capital Moscow on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi denounced Washington’s assassination threat against Brig. Gen. Qa’ani, stating that the latest remarks by US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook “are an official publicizing and blatant unveiling of targeted and state terrorism by the United States."

“Now, after the Zionist regime [of Israel], the US is the second regime to officially announce that it has employed the resources of its government and armed forces for terrorist acts and that it will continue them in the future,” Mousavi added.

The Iranian diplomat further noted that Washington’s recourse to terrorist acts is a clear sign of "weakness, desperation, and confusion" among the officials of the American regime.

Mousavi then condemned "brazen remarks and terrorist acts" by US leaders, calling on the international community to also condemn them, "because the continuation of this trend would sooner or later befall everyone."

Hook told the Arabic-language and Saudi-owned daily Asharq al-Awsat that the new Quds Force commander could face the fate of his predecessor, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated along with the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and their companions near Baghdad International Airport on January 3.

In a message addressed to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Khamenei on January 9, Brig. Gen. Qa'ani vowed to continue the path pursued by Lt. Gen. Soleimani “with might.” He said the goal was to drive American forces out of the region.

On January 8, IRGC fired a number of ballistic missiles at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western province of Andar, where more than 1,000 US troops are based, and another American military facility in Kurdistan’s regional capital Erbil.

The attack was in retaliation for US President Donald Trump’s authorization of a drone strike that assassinated Lt. Gen. Soleimani and his companions earlier this month.

Fox News television news network claimed at the time that there was no US missile system in position to shoot down the Iranian missiles.

Last week, eleven US soldiers were flown from Iraq to US medical facilities in Germany and Kuwait for further evaluation of concussion-like symptoms in the wake of the Iranian missile attack.

Navy Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East, confirmed on Tuesday evening the additional evacuations but did not say how many were included.

“As medical treatment and evaluations in theater continue, additional service members have been identified as having potential injuries,” Urban said.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/01/23/616940/Russia-condemns-US-%E2%80%9Cunacceptable%E2%80%9D-threats-to-assassinate-new-Quds-Force-commander

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Africa

 

Libya's neighbors seek solutions at Algeria peace meet

Abbas Maymouni

23.01.2020

Foreign ministers from North Africa on Thursday met to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Libya without any participation from the Libyan side.

Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Chad, Mali and Sudan are participating at the meeting in the capital Algiers.

The meeting which was initiated by Algeria aims to find a political solution for the crisis in Libya in light of the agreement on the Berlin conference held last Sunday.

An Algerian diplomat told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter that the meeting was limited to neighboring countries of Libya.

The diplomat denied what the media reported about Algeria's invitation to East Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar.

Mohamed Al-Tahir, foreign minister of Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), on Wednesday said he turned down an invitation to attend the meeting because representatives from Haftar's side had also been invited.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who is visiting Algeria has joined the meeting.

On Jan. 12, conflicting parties in Libya announced a cease-fire in response to a joint call by the Turkish and Russian leaders. But talks for a permanent cease-fire deal ended without an agreement after Haftar left Moscow without signing the deal.

Last week, Haftar accepted terms in Berlin to designate members to a UN-proposed military commission with five members from each side to monitor implementation of the cease-fire.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: Haftar in eastern Libya, supported mainly by Egypt and the UAE, and the GNA in Tripoli, which enjoys the UN and international recognition.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libyas-neighbors-seek-solutions-at-algeria-peace-meet/1711453

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Ottoman descendants in South Africa eagerly await Turkish citizenship

Hassan Isılow 

24.01.2020

CAPETOWN

Some of the many families of Ottoman origin now residing in South Africa are eager to receive Turkish citizenship years after applying.

"This is my great grandfather's Turkish passport. I hope I can get one like this before I die," Hesham Neamatollah Effendi, 76, the great-grandson to late Ottoman scholar Abu Bakr Effendi said as he displayed his grandfather's now-browned passport emblazoned with the Ottoman tugra, or royal signature.

Abu Bakr Effendi was a prominent Turkish scholar sent to South Africa in the 19th century by Sultan Abdul-Aziz Khan to teach the cape's Muslim community of the Islamic religion.

His legacy and that of other Ottomans who came to reside in the cape can still be felt today after more than 150 years, through their writings, as well as the accounts and activities of their descendants who have lived in South Africa for five generations.

"To be able to get a Turkish passport or citizenship and travel to Turkey to visit or return to the ancestral homeland of my great grandfather would be more than awesome," Faried Manan a great-grandson to Mahmoud Hashim Pasha, told Anadolu Agency.

Some Ottoman descendants are now well-known in South Africa -- among them judges, doctors and even politicians. South Africa's minister of economic development, Ebrahim Patel, is one of the great-grandsons of Abu Bakr Effendi.

Hesham Neamatollah Effendi said families of Ottoman descendants suffered immensely during the many decades of Apartheid rule in South Africa.

He said that since the Effendis were Muslims, they were regarded as Malay (non-whites) and were forcefully relocated from their original homes to colored areas.

"We had to concentrate on survival under a wicked system," Neamatollah Effendi explained, adding that some relatives had to adopt Christian names and live as Christians to be accepted as white by the Apartheid government.

"We lived through injustices of British Colonial and Apartheid laws," he told Anadolu Agency, underlining the importance of Turkish citizenship in protecting and securing the future of their children and grandchildren living in South Africa.

"With the changing political landscape in South Africa and an imminent impasse between rival blacks leading to extremely high crime rates, rising unemployment, the future of our children and our grandchildren is uncertain," he said.

Faried Manan, whose family has also applied for Turkish citizenship, said: "This has been a dream of my 93-year-old mother -- Ayesha Pasha -- since she was a teenager, she wanted to go live in Turkey but the application process in South Africa was at the time nonexistent."

Manan added that his two brothers, sister and mother applied for Turkish citizenship and were currently waiting for a response from the Turkish authorities.

Asked if he would consider permanently relocating to Turkey once receiving citizenship, Manan said: "Some of my family members would certainly want to relocate to Turkey, myself included. However, at 61 years, it may not be feasible for me to relocate, considering I would have to learn a new language and start a business from scratch."

Manan, a real estate agent, has never been to Turkey but said he was inspired to visit many times, "I'm fascinated by the history of Turkey, with the Blue Mosque, with the Bosporus [Strait] and its undersea tunnel subway, the Yuksek Hizli Train.

But for his part, Hesham Neamatollah Effendi, who has visited Turkey on several occasions, said he feels at home whenever he visits his country of origin.

"Ever since I visited Turkey for the first time when [Turkish] President Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister and Abdullah Gul was president, I always felt at home in Turkey. I was accepted very cordially and treated with the utmost respect," He said.

Another Ottoman descendant, Guven Atala said in a video that it was important for Turkish descendants living in South Africa to first be recognized. "Once that's established and recognized, then there will be a feeling of belonging in both countries, having grown up in this country [South Africa] but having originated in Turkey."

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/ottoman-descendants-in-south-africa-eagerly-await-turkish-citizenship/1711926

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Chaos as Militants Overran Airfield, Killing 3 Americans in Kenya

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt, Charlie Savage and Helene Cooper

Jan. 22, 2020

WASHINGTON — Armed with rifles and explosives, about a dozen Shabab fighters destroyed an American surveillance plane as it was taking off and ignited an hourslong gunfight earlier this month on a sprawling military base in Kenya that houses United States troops. By the time the Shabab were done, portions of the airfield were burning and three Americans were dead.

Surprised by the attack, American commandos took around an hour to respond. Many of the local Kenyan forces, assigned to defend the base, hid in the grass while other American troops and support staff were corralled into tents, with little protection, to wait out the battle. It would require hours to evacuate one of the wounded to a military hospital in Djibouti, roughly 1,500 miles away.

The brazen assault at Manda Bay, a sleepy seaside base near the Somali border, on Jan. 5, was largely overshadowed by the crisis with Iran after the killing of that country’s most important general two days earlier, and is only now drawing closer scrutiny from Congress and Pentagon officials.

But the storming of an airfield used by the American military so alarmed the Pentagon that it immediately sent about 100 troops from the 101st Airborne Division to establish security at the base. Army Green Berets from Germany also were shuttled to Djibouti, the Pentagon’s major hub in Africa, in case the entire base was in danger of being taken by the Shabab, an East African terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda.

“The assault represented a serious security lapse given how much of a target the base was and its location near the border with Somalia,” said Murithi Mutiga, the International Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa project director, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Many details of the attack remain murky, and the military’s Africa Command has released only scant particulars pending an investigation. But the deaths of the three Americans — one Army soldier and two Pentagon contractors — marked the largest number of United States military-related fatalities in Africa since four soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in October 2017. The Kenya attack underscores the American military’s limits on the continent, where a lack of intelligence, along with Manda Bay’s reputation as a quiet and unchallenged locale, allowed a lethal attack.

The deaths also signify a grim expansion of the campaign waged by the United States against the Shabab — often confined to Somalia, but in this case spilling over into Kenya despite an escalating American air campaign in the region. Kenya is a new addition to the list of countries where Americans have been killed in combat since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, joining Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Niger, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

The attack is raising new and complex questions about the enduring American military mission on the continent, where more than 5,000 troops now serve, especially as the Pentagon weighs the potential withdrawal of hundreds of forces from West Africa to better counter threats from Russia and China. A Pentagon proposal to reduce the American military footprint in Africa drew sharp criticism last week from senior lawmakers of both parties, including Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is a close adviser to President Trump.

This article is based on interviews with a dozen American military officials or other people who have been briefed on the attack. Several spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss aspects of a security failure that is now under investigation.

Early on the morning of Jan. 5, Dustin Harrison, 47, and Bruce Triplett, 64, two experienced pilots and contractors with L3 Technologies, a Pentagon contractor that helps conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions around the world, were taxiing their Beechcraft King Air 350 on Manda Bay’s tarmac. They throttled down their engines, according to one person familiar with the attack. The two men reported that they saw animals darting across the runway.

They were wrong. The animals were in fact Shabab fighters, who had infiltrated the base’s outer perimeter — a poorly defended fence line — before heading to the base’s airstrip. As the twin-propeller Beechcraft, loaded with sensors and video equipment for surveillance, began to taxi, the Shabab fighters fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the plane, killing Mr. Harrison and Mr. Triplett. With the plane on fire, a third contractor, badly burned in the rear of the aircraft, crawled out to safety.

The Shabab fighters were not done. In the ensuing chaos, they made quick work of a significant portion of the American fleet of aircraft — a mix of six surveillance aircraft and medical evacuation helicopters on the ground at the time. The Shabab fighters also destroyed a fuel storage area, rendering the airfield next to useless. The attack most likely cost the Pentagon millions of dollars in damages.

Specialist Henry Mayfield Jr., 23, of the Army was in a nearby truck acting as an air traffic controller when he was killed in the gunfight, according to a person familiar with the incident. His colleague inside the truck, another American, escaped and hid in the grass to avoid the insurgents. He was found hours later.

Manda Bay is at the southern edge of an archipelago of American outposts used in the fight against the Shabab in East Africa. It took about eight hours to fly the burned contractor to Djibouti for hospital-level care, according to the person familiar with the attack, underscoring a recurring vulnerability for American personnel spread across the continent. Two American service members were also wounded in the attack.

While parts of the airfield burned and some Americans who were there returned fire, roughly a dozen members of a Marine Special Operations team from Third Marine Raider Battalion based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., led the American counterattack, alongside several of the Kenyan Rangers they had been training and accompanying during their deployment. But since the team was at Camp Simba, an American enclave roughly a mile from the airfield, the insurgents had ample time to disperse.

At the center of the hourslong gun battle is the risky dependence of American forces on their local counterparts, especially when it comes to base security. The battle bore striking similarity to an attack in Afghanistan in March 2019 when Taliban fighters managed to slip onto a sprawling base in southern Helmand Province with help from Afghan troops, and quickly threatened a small American Marine base inside the perimeter of the larger Afghan facility.

At Manda Bay, where American forces have a smaller presence, the troops rely largely on the Kenyans to protect the airfield. “Those forces are typically not as capable as U.S. forces, and are easier for terrorist groups to infiltrate,” said Representative Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican who served in Africa while an Army Green Beret.

The performance of the Kenyan security forces during and after the battle frustrated American officials. At one point, the Kenyans announced that they had captured six of the attackers, but they all turned out to be bystanders and were released.

There are about 200 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, as well as about 100 Pentagon civilian employees and contractors, in Kenya helping train and assist local forces. A large majority of them work at Manda Bay, according to military officials. But there were not enough Americans to stand perimeter security on the airfield, one Defense Department official said.

American forces have used Manda Bay for years. Special Operations units — including Green Berets, Navy SEALs and, more recently, Marine Raiders — have helped train and advise Kenyan Rangers there.

The Kenyan Rangers, alongside their American commando counterparts, often operate in the border region pursuing Shabab fighters. Surveillance aircraft, flying from the airstrip at Manda Bay, watch the border between Somalia and Kenya, a region of unforgiving terrain that has hindered ground operations. In recent months, the border missions against the Shabab have dwindled, and military officials have sought to end the American Special Operations presence at Manda Bay.

Why the base was not better protected is unclear. Surveillance aircraft, much like those destroyed in the attack, are valuable assets, especially in Africa, where extremist groups seek to exploit the vast expanses and porous borders to avoid detection. Even to shuttle a single aircraft from one part of the continent to another often requires approval from a four-star general, and losing a surveillance aircraft, one Defense Department official said, means the loss of hundreds of hours of reconnaissance flights until it is replaced.

The Shabab have typically avoided American outposts and the technological superiority of the American military, instead attacking more exposed Kenyan and Somali troops in the hinterlands.

But that may be changing. On Sept. 30, a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives at the gate of a military airfield in Bale Dogle, Somalia, injuring one American service member.

On Nov. 5, the Shabab released a 52-minute video narrated by the group’s leader, Abu Ubaidah, in which he called for attacks against Americans wherever they are, saying the American public is a legitimate target.

“The recent threats and attacks are likely in part a reaction to the U.S. air campaign against the group,” said Tricia Bacon, a Somali specialist at American University in Washington and a former State Department counterterrorism analyst.

The Pentagon carried out 63 drone strikes in Somalia last year — almost all against Shabab militants, with a few against a branch of the Islamic State. That compares with 47 strikes against the Shabab in 2018. There have already been three strikes in Somalia this year. The air campaign has been shrouded in secrecy, and an investigation by Amnesty International last year reported on evidence that these airstrikes had killed or wounded more than two dozen civilians since 2017.

Since March 2017, the Shabab have launched close to 900 attacks on civilians and hundreds more against United States, Somali and Kenyan troops, the Soufan Center, a research organization for global security issues in New York, said in an analysis last week. An Army Special Forces soldier, Staff Sgt. Alex Conrad, died from wounds he received during a firefight with Shabab fighters in June 2018 in Somalia.

The attack in Kenya came about a week after an explosives-laden truck blew up at a busy intersection in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, killing 82 people. The Shabab also claimed responsibility for that attack.

The group’s strength has ebbed and flowed over the past 15 years, weathering a string of territorial losses, defections and the killing of several high-profile leaders. Even so, the Shabab has proved remarkably resilient, even in the face of an intensified campaign of United States airstrikes against its fighters and facilities, the Soufan analysis said.

It remains unclear how the Shabab fighters made their way onto the Manda Bay base, whether by surprise or a vehicle packed with explosives. According to one American official, the group likely had patiently watched the base and had selected their attack based on the Americans’ well-established patterns. Investigators are looking at the possibility the attackers had help from Kenyan staff on the base, said one person briefed on the inquiry.

American officials said five Shabab fighters were killed. Several others fled, most likely slipping back across the border into Somalia, the officials said.

Full report at:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/world/africa/shabab-kenya-terrorism.html

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Somalia Offers to Take Swedish Islamic State Members from Syria

Jan 24, 2020

Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has offered to take in Swedish-Somalian Islamic State members, stating that he will accept them if European countries will not take them.

Kurdish authorities have said that around half of the Swedish woman in the al-Hol prison camp have a Somalian background, a number estimated to be between 30 to 40 people, Swedish broadcaster SVT reports.

“If no one wants them and the Europeans do not take them back, then Somalia’s president has decided that women and children who want to can be taken to Somalia,” said Somalia’s European Union ambassador Ali Said Faqi.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry has refused to comment on the offer, with the ministry’s press spokeswoman Julia Eriksson Pogorzelska saying: “We are aware of the remarks, but there is nothing we can comment on.”

weden has had a mixed history with returning Islamic State members and fighters, with some politicians advocating that returning jihadists should be integrated back into society.

Others, such as terror expert Magnus Ranstorp, have argued that because there are not sufficient laws to prosecute them, Sweden should not allow returning jihadists, including female members of the terror group, to return to the country.

” I do not think the Swedish women and the children will come back. We do not have a good system to take care of them and make sure they are not dangerous,” Ranstorp said last year.

Many fighters and members have already returned to the country over the last few years, including some jihadists in the southern city of Malmo who have allegedly been recruiting in underground mosques, while others have been convicted of serious crimes since their return to Sweden.

Full report at:

https://www.breitbart.com/europe/2020/01/22/somalia-offers-take-swedish-islamic-state-members-syria/

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Burkina Faso Approves State Backing for Vigilantes Fighting Jihadists

Jan. 22, 2020

OUAGADOUGOU — Burkina Faso's parliament has voted to provide funding and training to local vigilantes in response to the growing firepower of jihadist groups who threaten to overrun government forces across large swathes of the West African country.

The move, which is expected to apply mostly to vigilante groups called koglweogo - "guardians of the bush" in the Moore language - has drawn concerns from the United Nations and human rights activists, who fear it could empower fighters accused of ethnic killings in the past.

The vigilantes grew significantly as a response to instability that followed the 2014 revolution that overthrew longtime President Blaise Compaore. There are an estimated 40,000 such groups across Burkina Faso, according to the U.N.

"This law was voted unanimously by the parliament," Defence Minister Moumina Cheriff Sy told reporters after the vote late on Tuesday. "It shows that beyond our differences of opinion... we can be one when it comes to defending the homeland."

Security deteriorated dramatically across Burkina Faso and its neighbors in the semi-arid Sahel region last year, as Islamist militants with ties to Islamic State and al Qaeda stepped up their attacks.

On Monday, militants killed 36 people at a market in a village in northern Burkina Faso.

Collaboration between state security forces and the vigilantes has previously been informal. The government said the new law would help defeat the "terrorist Hydra".

The law, which now goes to President Roch Marc Kabore for his signature, calls for volunteers to receive brief military training, unspecified equipment, healthcare and bonus payments. Recruitment is to be managed by village leaders.

A U.N. committee of experts on torture voiced concerns in November about a lack of oversight of the koglweogo, saying the groups were implicated in a massacre of dozens of Fulani herders in January 2019.

The jihadist violence in the Sahel has also fueled ethnic conflict, particularly between rival hunting and farming communities, with ethnic self-defense militias targeting civilians in reprisal for militant attacks.

Full report at:

https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/01/22/world/africa/22reuters-burkina-security.html

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Tunisia to repatriate extremists’ children from Libya

23 January 2020

A Tunisian delegation travelled on Thursday to Libya’s third city Misrata to repatriate children of extremists killed in 2016 in the North African country, the Libyan Red Crescent said.

Six Tunisian children, aged three to 12 years old, along with a dozen others of different nationalities, had for three years been cared for by the charity in Misrata, east of the capital Tripoli.

They are the children of extremists who were killed in 2016 in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, a former stronghold of ISIS.

The Red Crescent said they are expected to be repatriated on Thursday.

A year ago, Tunisian forensic police took DNA samples from the children to confirm their nationality before evacuating them out of Libya.

The pace of the procedure was criticized by NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, which accused Tunisian officials of “dragging their feet” on efforts to repatriate children of ISIS members.

In recent years, Tunisia has been one of the key sources of fighters who headed to conflicts around the world to join ranks with extremist groups.

In 2015, the United Nations said that some 5,000 Tunisians had flocked mainly to Syria and Libya to join ISIS, while authorities in Tunis gave a lower figure of 3,000.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/01/23/Tunisia-to-repatriate-extremists-children-from-Libya-.html

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Six soldiers killed in central Mali

James Tasamba 

24.01.2020

KIGALI, Rwanda

Six Malian soldiers were killed and several others wounded in an attack overnight in central Mali, the military said Thursday.

The attack took place overnight in an area near the border with Burkina Faso.

“Malian armed forces were attacked by unidentified gunmen in the Dioungani area located 52 kilometers (32 miles) from Koro in the Mopti region. Six soldiers were killed and others wounded,” the statement said.

The Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have been particularly targeted by recurrent attacks attributed to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Daesh/ISIS.

On Tuesday, two Malian soldiers were killed when their convoy hit a roadside bomb in Mopti.

Roughly 140 Malian soldiers were reportedly killed in attacks between September and December.

At least 36 people were killed in Burkina Faso when terrorists attacked a market in the central-northern province of Sanmatenga late Monday.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced Monday that new military operations are set to be launched in the border zone between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where France and its allies intend to refocus their efforts against extremists.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/six-soldiers-killed-in-central-mali/1711884

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Libya: Mitiga airport, threatened by Haftar, reopened

Enes Canli  

23.01.2020

TRIPOLI, Libya

Libya’s Mitiga International Airport reopened Thursday after flights were suspended when forces loyal to renegade commander Khalifa Haftar declared Tripoli and surrounding areas a "no-fly zone" and threatened to down any aircraft.

The airport’s administration announced on Facebook it reopened and will share flight information after it was closed.

Ahmed Al-Mismari, the spokesman for Haftar’s forces, said Wednesday on social media that the forces declared off-limit an area from Giryan, 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of the capital city, to Terhune city, 90 kilometers (56 miles) southeast and to Tripoli beach, including Mitiga Airport, which militias bombed with six Grad missiles earlier in the day.

Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, had called on the UN to halt Haftar's "no-fly zone" declaration in the region.

On Jan. 12, parties in Libya announced a cease-fire in response to a joint call by the leaders of Turkey and Russia. But talks for a permanent cease-fire ended without an agreement after Haftar left Moscow without signing the deal.

On Sunday, Haftar accepted terms in Berlin to designate members to a UN-proposed military commission with five members from each side to monitor the implementation of the cease-fire.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: one in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the other in Tripoli, which enjoys the UN and international recognition.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libya-mitiga-airport-threatened-by-haftar-reopened/1711733

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Berlin Libya summit: A mere ‘gentlemen’s agreement’?

Ali Murat Alhas and Gozde Bayar  

23.01.2020

Last Sunday's Libya-themed conference held in the German capital Berlin brought a glimpse of hope for the war-weary country with a consensus on a ceasefire plan, but aggression by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar's forces and some vague points of the conference still stand as obstacles to peace.

One of the weakest points of the agreement reached in Berlin is an arms embargo, as it is being breached either by member countries of the UN Security Council or their allies, according to Nebahat Tanriverdi Yasar, an expert in North African studies at the Ankara-based think-tank the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM).

Yasar said the Berlin Conference – where representatives of Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Haftar and leading regional and international actors were present -- highlighted the UN arms embargo in Libya and said the Security Council would impose sanctions on those breaching the resolution.

But the functionality of this proposed mechanism is questionable, as the repeated violations by actors have not been condemned so far in the history of conflict in the oil-rich country.

Yasar argued that if the member countries checked air and sea routes in a bid to disrupt weapon flows, this could mean a bigger role for ground routes used to transfer weapons, adding regional and influential countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France would emerge stronger.

"On the other hand, the subject was limited only to an arms embargo," she said, but pointed out that the UAE and Egypt used airbases, enabling aerial operations in the country.

"At the end of the day, what was reached in Berlin is a 'gentlemen's agreement' for the time being," she said, noting she was not really sure if the UN could take concrete steps in this direction.

"The military strikes on Tripoli and halting production of oil facilities while the Berlin conference was being held suggested that war was still an option for him [Haftar]," she said.

"This also demonstrates the vulnerability of the ceasefire."

She went on to say that the renegade commander would abandon the negotiation table every time he failed to reach his goals and stated that Haftar viewed negotiations as part of the war through which he seeks to dominate the country.

She noted that Haftar has continued to reinforce his forces’ fronts in Tripoli so they could pressure the GNA and return to military options if negotiations fail to bear any fruit.

Referring to the European Union’s possible deployment of a peacekeeping mission in Libya to monitor a ceasefire, which was recently discussed by the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell, Yasar said all actors seeking to play a role in Libya would want to take part in this mission if it was established.

"Issues such as who this peacekeeping force will consist of and determining the ceasefire line can be concluded at the negotiation table," she said.

According to the expert, Nov. 27, 2019 marked a milestone in the history of the conflict, as Turkey’s inclusion in the matter, which came after a request by the UN-recognized administration of Libya, transformed the case into a hot agenda item.

"Until Nov. 27, 2019, Libya was a regional crisis, and it was not a key element on the agenda of international organizations and the media," she said, underscoring that Turkish involvement forced international actors and organizations to take responsibility.

On Jan. 12, the warring parties in Libya announced a ceasefire in response to a joint call by the leaders of Turkey and Russia. But talks for a permanent ceasefire ended without an agreement after Haftar left Moscow without signing the deal.

On Jan. 19, Haftar accepted terms in Berlin to designate members to a UN-proposed military commission with five members from each side to monitor the ceasefire’s implementation.

Notably, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced on Jan. 20 that Germany would organize another conference on Libya in February and participants of the previous conference would be present.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: one in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the other in Tripoli, which enjoys the UN and international recognition.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/berlin-libya-summit-a-mere-gentlemen-s-agreement-/1710944

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North America

 

Muslim awareness week to kick off in Montreal

January 23, 2020

During a ceremony at Montreal City Hall Thursday to launch Muslim Awareness Week, thoughts were focused on a horrific event that took place in a Quebec City mosque three years ago.

“For us, it’s very important this week because it started 29th of January 2017,” Boufeldja Benabdallah, founder of the Quebec City Islamic Centre, said after the launch.

On that day, a gunman entered Benabdallah’s mosque during evening prayers and opened fire. Six people were killed. The murders shocked the province and terrified members of the province’s Muslim communities.

The incident was commemorated the following year, but some people wanted more.

“OK, we are commemorating, we remember, Quebec remembers,” said Ehab Latoyef, coordinator of the Muslim Awareness Week organizing committee. “But how do we build?”

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That’s why he helped to launched the first annual Muslim Awareness Week in 2019 to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim groups.

“It is only by hard work, by reaching out, by, let me say, exposing ourselves so that people would know us, so that they would stop hating us,” he told Global News.

The week runs from Jan. 25 to 31. Activities include conferences, round table discussions and films. Many mosques, including the al-Madinah Centre on Stanley Street in downtown Montreal, will host open houses.

“In order to pass on the message that Muslims are like any other Canadian, any other Quebecois, and they would love to build, they would love to achieve, they would love to contribute, and they would love to succeed,” mosque president Bilal Abdul Kader said.

As the anniversary of the shooting approaches, some Muslims like Sadef Kotwal, who attended the launch event at city hall, say they do wonder.

“Just to see how, or if we’ve changed as a society, if we’ve opened our eyes, if we’ve opened our hearts more,” she said.

But the passing of Bill 21, restricting the right of some public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols has Latoyef concerned.

“In the wake of what happened in Quebec City,” he said, “the last thing anybody would have expected is a bill like Bill 21.”

Still, he and others like Kotwal hope the week’s activities will benefit not only the Muslim community but other visible and cultural minorities as well.

“So we can learn to love and work and live together as one community and not as a very broken up one,” she smiled.

https://globalnews.ca/news/6454239/montreal-muslim-awareness-week/

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Washington says no uptick in violence from ISIS in Syria, Iraq

23 January 2020

The United States has seen no uptick in ISIS activity in Iraq and northeastern Syria, US special representative for Syria James Jeffrey said on Thursday, weeks after a US drone strike killed Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad.

Jeffrey said US-led coalition operations have been on pause in Iraq as the focus has been on force protection and talks with the Baghdad government on the way forward after Iraq’s parliament voted to expel foreign troops.

The lawmakers were furious at the January 3 drone strike on Iraqi soil that killed Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s drive to extend its influence across the region, and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes.

“We have not seen an uptick in violence in Iraq by Daesh in this period,” Jeffrey told reporters at the State Department, using a term for ISIS.

Jeffrey said officials will meet in Copenhagen on Wednesday to discuss the way forward in the US-led operation against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

“The coalition is very, very much committed to this mission,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey acknowledged the pause in Iraq could hamper the fight against ISIS if it continues.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/23/Washington-says-no-uptick-in-violence-from-ISIS-in-Syria-Iraq.html

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Trump courts new controversy with travel ban expansion

BY BRETT SAMUELS

01/23/20

The Trump administration is expected to formally announce the addition of several countries to its travel ban next week, prompting questions about its timing and the rationale for which nations will be added to the list.

President Trump told reporters in Switzerland that he was preparing to roll out the expanded policy in a few days, coinciding with the three-year anniversary of when he first announced his original ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries.

The Supreme Court upheld a version of the administration’s travel ban in a 5-4 ruling in 2018, establishing that the president held substantial leeway over immigration law.

“We’re adding a couple of countries to it. We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe,” Trump said during a press conference at the World Economic Forum. “You see what’s going on in the world. Our country has to be safe. So we have a very strong travel ban, and we’ll be adding a few countries to it.”

Trump would not say which countries will be added, but he is said to be considering Nigeria, Belarus, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania.

The original travel ban — announced a week into Trump’s first term — prompted nationwide protests. The addition of several more countries would likely spark similar demonstrations and swift lawsuits. Trump could also alienate voters by doubling down on one of his most controversial policies at the outset of an election year and in the middle of a Senate impeachment trial.

Specifics of the expanded ban are still unknown, and officials cautioned no decisions were final about which countries to include. That uncertainty has only raised more questions about the rationale behind such a consequential decision.

One former administration official questioned why the government would wait until the anniversary of the original travel ban to announce the new restrictions if it were a matter of national security.

John Campbell, a career foreign service officer who served as ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, called the list of countries “baffling.”

“The collection of states don’t seem to have much in common,” he said. “The one thing that may connect them all are issues of airport security.”

Under the existing travel ban, countries must comply with certain security requirements such as established counterterrorism policies and biometrics standards in order to participate in U.S. immigration programs. Those that don’t comply face the risk of being added to the list, while those that update their practices to meet U.S. requirements could be removed from the ban.

“For a small number of countries that lack either the will or the capability to adhere to these criteria, travel restrictions may become necessary to mitigate threats,” acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf said in a speech last week highlighting the need for foreign countries to help vet those entering the U.S.

DHS did not respond to a request for comment, but officials said it’s possible countries under consideration may have been given advance notice so they could try and come into compliance with U.S. standards.

Embassies in Washington, D.C., of the seven countries under consideration did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill, though former government officials said any restrictions on travel could threaten diplomatic relations.

The potential inclusion of Nigeria was particularly confusing to foreign policy experts and former diplomats. It is Africa’s most populous country, and hundreds of thousands of Nigerian immigrants live in the U.S.

“Were a meaningful travel restriction put in place, the impact on Nigerian opinion of the United States would be very bad,” Campbell said. “The people who actually run Nigeria, the movers and shakers, all value enormously the ability to travel. They want to go to Disney World, they want to go shopping on Rodeo Drive. Many of them have property here. The Nigerian establishment would really resist.”

Politico reported that the new policy might not apply to all citizens of any country added, and could, for example, apply only to certain types of visas. Legal experts questioned how such a selective policy would work, arguing it would be difficult to justify why certain visa categories qualify for a travel restriction but others don’t.

The new policy is certain to draw lawsuits from attorneys general in blue states, just as the original ban did. But the Supreme Court’s decision to narrowly uphold the ban two years ago may lend Trump latitude to build on that policy.

Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law, said the White House could bolster the legitimacy of the policy by showing it reviews which countries to include on a semi-regular basis.

He also noted the inclusion of a country like Belarus could help blunt claims that the policy is rooted in Islamophobia.

“He obviously likes the symbolism of releasing this on the third anniversary of the travel ban, which was not a very successful rollout,” Blackman said. “But Trump thinks this is a good idea and that’s what he wants to do.”

Trump on Jan. 27, 2017 announced a travel ban that blocked nationals of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. The countries included in the original policy were Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The rollout led to mass confusion about its implementation before a lower court issued an injunction in the face of numerous lawsuits. Massive protests spontaneously popped up at airports across the country in opposition to the ban, and lawyers camped out at terminals to offer pro bono assistance for foreigners who were detained upon arrival in the U.S.

The Supreme Court in June 2018 upheld a version of the ban that applied to Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen, delivering a victory for Trump.

“The Travel Ban has been profoundly successful in protecting our Country and raising the security baseline around the world,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “While there are no new announcements at this time, common-sense and national security both dictate that if a country wants to fully participate in U.S. immigration programs, they should also comply with all security and counter-terrorism measures — because we do not want to import terrorism or any other national security threat into the United States.”

The decision to publicize an extension of the ban with Election Day less than 10 months away reflects Trump’s willingness to lean into immigration as his signature issue, even as public polling shows it has been intensely divisive.

The White House has for months pursued stricter asylum rules that force Central American migrants to return to their home countries if they pass through Mexico en route to the U.S. border.

DHS earlier this month held a photo op to tout its 100th mile of border wall built during the Trump administration, a signature promise Trump touts at every campaign rally.

Full report at:

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/479474-trump-courts-new-controversy-with-travel-ban-expansion

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Northeastern Student Was Deported Back To Iran Over Family’s Ties To Terroristic Groups

January 22, 2020

BOSTON (CBS) – Shabab Dehghani, a Northeastern University college student who was detained at Logan Airport and sent back to Iran before an immigration hearing was held, was deported because of his family’s ties to terroristic groups, CBS News reports.

A U.S. official familiar with information reviewed by authorities told CBS News that Dehghani himself does not have ties to terroristic groups, but “some very close to him” do.

Dehghani is studying economics at Northeastern. He’s been studying in Boston for two years, but was stuck at home in Iran in December 2018 after visiting his family as he waited for his student visa to be renewed.

Dehghani’s attorney, Susan Church, told WBZ-TV he was detained starting Sunday night despite having a legal F1 Student Visa, as he tried to get back to school – and said at the time she didn’t know why.

An immigration hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning, but Dehghani was deported before it began.

Judge Richard Stearns said during the brief hearing that there was nothing he could do because Dehghani had already been deported. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey tweeted Wednesday that he still hadn’t heard from U.S. Customs and Border Protection about why Dehghani was turned away.

Ed Markey

@SenMarkey

CBP did not provide me any answers for why it refused entry to Shahab Dehghani. This case is part of a disturbing pattern from the Trump admin of targeting Iranian students. The Trump admin needs to stop any blanket policy denying entry to foreign students without due process. https://twitter.com/BostonGlobe/status/1219968947598000129 …

The Boston Globe

@BostonGlobe

An Iranian student who planned to attend Northeastern University but was flown out of the US Monday on the order of immigration officials is just the latest student from Iran to be denied entry at Logan Airport, lawyers and Boston-area colleges say. http://bos.gl/cuPDO9d

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CBP issued this statement on the situation Tuesday.

Every applicant for admission is subject to inspection upon arrival in the United States. The issuance of a visa or participation in the visa waiver program does not guarantee entry to the United States. Upon arrival at Logan Airport on Sunday, January 19, Mohammadshahad Dehghani Hossein Abadi was deemed inadmissible and processed for expedited removal and return to his place of departure. During today’s hearing, the court ruled that the matter is now moot as the subject was never admitted into the United States, the subject is no longer in custody, and the court does not have jurisdiction to order his return.

Full report at:

https://boston.cbslocal.com/2020/01/22/shabab-dehghani-iran-logan-airport-boston-immigration-northeastern-university/

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Trump says plans to release ‘Deal of the Century’ plan next Tuesday

24 January 2020

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will release his long-awaited peace plan for the Middle East before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington next week.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to Miami for a political event, Trump said Palestinians might react negatively to his plan at first, but that it would benefit them.

“It’s a great plan,” said Trump, who will meet with Netanyahu at the White House on Tuesday. “It’s a plan that really would work.”

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/24/Trump-says-plans-to-release-Deal-of-the-Century-plan-next-Tuesday.html

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Trump says more countries to be added to US travel ban soon

23 January 2020

The United States is moving to add more countries to its travel ban list, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday without giving details but saying the changes would be announced soon.

A source familiar with the draft proposal said the tentative list of nations included Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania.

The move could dampen relations between the US and the countries affected under the expanded ban.

Nigeria, for example, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, is a US anti-terrorism partner and has a large diaspora residing in the US.

A senior Trump administration official said that countries that failed to comply with security requirements, including biometrics, information-sharing and counter-terrorism measures, faced the risk of limitations on US immigration.

Officials from the White House, Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department have declined to comment on the planned expansion of the travel ban.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/23/Trump-says-more-countries-to-be-added-to-US-travel-ban-soon-.html

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US bars Iranians from trade and investment visas

23 January 2020

The United States, locked in a tense confrontation with Iran in the Middle East, has barred Iranians from entering the country on trade and investment visas from Thursday.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services attributed the change to the termination in October 2018 of a treaty of amity with Iran, which is the target of US sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.

The E-1 and E-2 nonimmigrant visas allow citizens of other countries to be admitted into the United States to engage in international trade or to invest a large sum of capital.

Iranians are no longer eligible for such visas, the service said. Those already in the country with these visas must leave once their authorized stay expires, it said. It was not clear how many Iranians will be affected.

The little-known agreement was signed long before Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution that turned the two countries into archenemies.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/01/23/US-bars-Iranians-from-trade-and-investment-visas.html

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Europe

 

High-level Muslim World League delegation pays interfaith visit to Auschwitz

23 January 2020

The Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr. Mohammed al-Issa, led a high delegation interfaith visit of Muslim religious leaders to the site of the Auschwitz Nazi German death camp.

The delegation also visited on Thursday the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which documents the history of the Jews, with the aim of expressing a religious feeling towards the crimes committed by the Nazis.

“The delegation affirms the messages of the Muslim World League against violence, hatred, and extremism,” the group said in a statement.

“Islamic principals are not double-standard. It condemns and denounces every crime and every evil. We are advocates for peace. We believe in peace. This high-level delegation of Muslim scholars from different countries and from different sects has come to say that our religion is one of peace, one of mercy and one which fights evil,” al-Issa said during the visit.

The high-level delegation to Auschwitz comprised of 62 Muslims, including 25 prominent religious leaders, from some 28 countries.

Deena Fisch

@deenafisch

An incredible moment in history. @AJCGlobal @MWLOrg_en https://twitter.com/AJCGlobal/status/1220316299068350465 …

American Jewish Committee

@AJCGlobal

History in the making: The most senior Islamic figure ever to visit @AuschwitzMuseum, Secretary General of @MWLOrg_en Dr. Al-Issa, begins his visit, accompanied by Muslim leaders from around the world and AJC leadership, to mark 75 years since the liberation of the Nazi camp.

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A high-level delegation of Muslim religious leaders visited Auschwitz on Thursday along with a Jewish group in what organizers called “the most senior Islamic leadership delegation" to visit the site of a Nazi German death camp.

The interfaith visit came four days before the 75th anniversary of the Jan. 27, 1945, liberation of the camp by Soviet forces, and as world leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday to commemorate the Holocaust.

The visit also included the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris. The AJC delegation included members of the organization, among them some children of Holocaust survivors.(With the Associated Press)

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/01/23/High-level-Muslim-World-League-delegation-pays-interfaith-visit-to-Auschwitz.html

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France to further boost its anti-jihad force in Sahel

22/01/2020

France will further bolster its anti-jihadist force in the Sahel, on top of 220 reinforcement soldiers already sent recently to try to stem a spiral of violence in the region, the country's top general said Wednesday.

Defence chief of staff Francois Lecointre told reporters in Paris he would detail the "profile and composition" of the proposed troop buildup to President Emmanuel Macron in the coming days.

France has a 4,500-member force in the Sahel region, recently reinforced with a further 220 soldiers, to train and assist local forces fighting an increasingly deadly insurgency in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than a million displaced, with hundreds of troops killed, including dozens of French soldiers.

Further reinforcements will be accompanied by "additional logistical and intelligence tools," said Lecointre, with efforts concentrated on the Liptako-Gourma region where the Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger borders meet.

"Today in this extremely vast zone, the means at Operation Barkhane's disposal are not sufficient for us to have soldiers deployed 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said, using the official name for France's Sahel mission.

A locally raised G5 Sahel force is also focusing its efforts in the three-border area recently targeted by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group for a number of deadly attacks.

France has been working on creating a new European special forces operation dubbed Takuba, which Lecointre said "will be fully operational by this autumn."

- 'Not there yet' -

"From a tactical point of view, this is what gives us hope that we will reach a tipping point," Lecointre said, while conceding he foresaw a "long engagement."

"I do not think, despite this boost, we will be able to claim victory by year's end," he said.

Macron hosted his counterparts from the five Sahel countries in southwest France earlier this month, when he announced the deployment of the 220 extra troops for the Barkhane operation and urged the United States to keep its own soldiers engaged in the anti-terror fight in Africa.

Lecointre also said the French and Russian armies have been in talks for several months to try to find common ground on some the world's major crises, in a bid to "avoid confrontations that would be unfortunate for them as for us".

Perhaps in the future, "we could envisage the possibility of joint operational preparations," he said, though "we are not there yet."

Macron said last November that it was crucial to seek a rapprochement with Russia, in an interview in which he said NATO was suffering from "brain death," drawing criticism from many of France's allies.

Lecointre on Wednesday singled out the unrest-plagued Central African Republic, where Moscow is training and arming troops seeking to stem violence by armed groups fighting over mineral resources.

Full report at:

http://www.rfi.fr/en/wires/20200122-france-further-boost-its-anti-jihad-force-sahel

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German Defense Chief Warns Islamic State Could Resume ‘Terror’

By Patrick Donahue and Chad Thomas

January 23, 2020

Germany’s defense minister warned that Islamic State fighters could return in force in the Middle East if an international coalition is unable to continue its work against the militant organization.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, speaking in an interview at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, said that Germany aims to keep its forces in Iraq, but can only do so at the behest of the government in Baghdad.

“We need to keep in mind that in Iraq, IS is not yet defeated,“ Kramp-Karrenbauer told Bloomberg Television in Davos, Switzerland. “If the pressure is reduced, then the danger is great that it resumes its regime of terror.”

The concerns by a key U.S. ally underscore how the mission has been shaken since the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, which prompted the Iraqis to demand the departure of 5,000 American troops from the country. The self-declared caliphate was largely subdued by early last year in Syria and Iraq, where it once controlled territory the size of Iceland.

Germany, which has some 120 troops in Iraq as part of an anti-ISIS campaign, suspended its operations amid the crisis. Thirty-two German troops were transferred to Jordan and three to Kuwait.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who visited German troops in the region last week, said that the European nation had made progress in training Iraqi forces to fend off the militants.

The German defense chief, who is also Chancellor Angela Merkel’s presumptive heir as leader of her Christian Democratic Union, said that her country is doing more to take on global responsibility in the face of public skepticism about troop presence in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali.

Full report at:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-01-23/german-defense-chief-warns-islamic-state-could-resume-terror

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Non-violent groups on UK counter-terror list threaten legal action

22 Jan 2020

Peaceful protest groups listed in a counter-terrorism guide used as part of anti-extremism briefings are threatening legal action unless it is withdrawn.

The Guardian revealed on Friday that Greenpeace, Peta and other non-violent groups were listed alongside neo-Nazis in the document used as part of training for Prevent, the anti-radicalisation scheme designed to catch those at risk of committing terrorist violence.

The guide, from June 2019, bears the logo “Counter Terrorism Policing” on every page, and was presented in briefings to public sector workers such as medical staff and teachers. Police said the document was provided to Prevent partners as “a guide to help them identify and understand the range of organisations they might come across”.

The groups listed say their rights have been violated and their inclusion in the guidance is “unlawful” and open to legal challenge.

The groups behind the legal threat include Animal Aid, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and Extinction Rebellion.

The letter sent by solicitors acting for the groups says: “Our clients are non-violent organisations focused on lawful protest and engagement to pursue their legitimate aims.

“Their inclusion in a Counter Terrorism Policing document, and the inference that they are involved in unlawful activities, and the targeting of their members and/or activists for referral … plainly amount to an unlawful interference with the rights of their members and/or activists.”

The groups, via their solicitors Bindmans, say they want the guidance withdrawn and an apology issued.

Police so far have stood by their actions. “Our focus is definitely not on lawful protest, or legitimate causes taken up by activists across the country,” Counter Terrorism Policing’s senior national coordinator, deputy assistant commissioner Dean Haydon, said last week.

A fortnight ago, police said they were recalling a separate document that listed Extinction Rebellion (XR), the climate emergency activist group, as extremist alongside banned far-right groups and an Islamist group linked to violence.

On Wednesday, the security minister told parliament the government does not consider Extinction Rebellion to be an extremist organisation.

Brandon Lewis was forced to clarify the government’s stance on XR and a wide range of non-violent protest groups in response to an urgent question tabled in the House of Commons.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, who was granted the urgent question, said the move to list XR was a “very serious error of judgment”, while the Conservative MP and former secretary of state, David Davis, accused the agencies of acting like “thought police”.

Lewis said: “Counter-terrorism policing in this country is operationally independent. This is an important principle. The operational independence of our police from government is integral to our democracy.

“The Home Office does, however, carry oversight of the police on behalf of the home secretary. We are clear that the right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our just society and an indispensable channel of political and social expression.

“Counter-terrorism policing South-East have for example stated categorically that they do not classify Extinction Rebellion as an extremist organisation and the inclusion of Extinction Rebellion in their guidance to frontline officers was an error of judgment. The police have recalled the guidance and are reviewing it.

“I want to reiterate that Extinction Rebellion is in no way considered an extremist group under the 2015 definition of extremism and the home secretary has been clear on this point.”

The government’s counter-extremism strategy, published in 2015, defined extremism as the “vocal or active opposition to our shared values. These include democracy and the rule of law, mutual respect and tolerance of other faiths and beliefs. We also consider calling for the death of our armed forces either in the UK or overseas to be extremism.”

Both anti-terror documents revealed by the Guardian encouraged anyone with concerns identified by the content to consider a referral to Prevent or report suspicious activity through the Action Counter Terrorism anonymous online form.

Abbott said: “He (Lewis) is telling the house now it was an error of judgment but on this side of the house we would argue it was a very serious error of judgment.”

Full report at:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/22/minister-denies-government-considers-extinction-rebellion-extremist

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Orbán: Chances Good for Cooperation with Moderate Islamic Parties

Jan 24, 2020

Christian democratic parties have a good chance of establishing cooperation with moderate Islamic parties on a common ground that they all insist on maintaining their identity, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said in Yogyakarta on Thursday.

Viktor Orbán, who is leader of ruling Fidesz, attended an executive meeting of the Centrist Democrat International (CDI), a Christian democratic political formation. Orbán is also one of the vice presidents of CDI.

“When I was here for a visit a few years ago, I discovered a party that thinks along the same lines as Fidesz. It was very inspiring,” Orbán said after the meeting, making reference to the National Awakening Party (PKB), the host of the event.

“I became curious to learn what it means, how it works in terms of political philosophy if you are not Christian but Muslim,” Orbán told a press conference.

“It is very instructive and interesting that an Islamic movement like yours is presenting itself on the political scene. For me, this raises two questions. One is what the future of Christianity and the future of Islam will be? The other is whether we can live side by side, as we used to, which worked excellently,” Orbán said.

He said it was important for politicians and decision-makers to maintain relations on the highest, political level, whereas building relations on a more “philosophical level” among parties was also important.

Orbán said the main question in Europe was how national and Christian identity could be preserved when “so-called European progressive, liberal political forces try to exert pressure on us” and seek to steer a society into a “post-Christian, post-national” era.

Full report at:

https://hungarytoday.hu/orban-islam-cdi-cooperation/

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Lebanon’s Gebran Bassil grilled on failures at Davos

23 January 2020

Lebanon’s Gebran Bassil was grilled on his government’s record by fellow panelists at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.

Fellow panelists Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag and CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble challenged Bassil’s former role as electricity minister and the Lebanese government’s continued failures to provide basic goods including electricity.

When asked by Gamble what had happened to Bassil’s plan to provide 24-hour electricity, Bassil said that the Lebanese system was hampered by immigration and confessionalism.

“Unfortunately … we have a malfunctioning system because of confessionalism,” he said, prompting Gamble to ask: “Don’t you think you’re supporting confessionalism?”

“When we came to the government … there was no electricity and no plan for electricity,” he said, but added that “We presented a plan … we are against the fiscal and monetary policy that was adopted in Lebanon, but we were not able to change it until now.”

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The exchange was sometimes tense, with Bassil telling anchor Gamble “You did not get it!” at one point.

When asked if he thought that the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which Bassil leads, still has a mandate, Bassil replied “Of course … We are representing the people of Lebanon as of the last elections.”

Lebanese protesters continue to take to the streets to reject the current government, formed by Hassan Diab, and call for an end to corruption and for new elections.

Asked if this is a historic opportunity to diminish the influence of Hezbollah due to US Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Hezbollah’s patron Iran.

“You touched on a very sensitive issue, which is very important. It is our responsibility to fix this, but we do it internally and politically by our system … our system does not allow politically, whether its Hezbollah or any other party in Lebanon, to have the say in our politics. No one can withhold everything in the country, because of our consensual democracy,” he said.

Bassil’s FPM is allied with Hezbollah, with both parties forming two of the main pillars of the new government under Diab.

“When we use what’s happening in Lebanon for regional or international benefits … we deviate the energy from the protesters into division … the problem becomes the position of the United Sates,” he said.

“I’m not saying this [Hezbollah’s position in Lebanon] isn’t considered as a problem … but if you deviate what is happening now in the streets for an issue that is called Hezbollah, then the Lebanese will be divided on this issue, when they are united on fighting corruption.”

Bassil also denied that protesters had a united political cause, other than anti-corruption.

“They are protesting because they lost their money, they are losing their job opportunities, they are not united on any political issue ... this is why we are with them,” he said.

On corruption and the failure of democratic systems, Bassil said that what was missing in the Middle East was a civil sate.

“We complain about corruption. Each one has to look at himself and say: ‘Am I corrupt?’“ said DAMAC Chairman Hussain Sajwani, who was also on the panel.

Bassil was also pressed on unemployment in the final question of the panel.

Bassil answered by saying he had increased rights for the Lebanese diaspora while foreign minister, adding that “they have to believe in the country again.” When pressed on whether he had failed, he said “that’s why the government resigned.”

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/01/23/Lebanon-s-Gebran-Bassil-grilled-on-failures-at-Davos.html

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Merkel: We should prevent Libya becoming next Syria

Ayhan Simsek  

23.01.2020

BERLIN

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday called on the international community to make stronger efforts for peace in Libya to prevent the country from descending into a proxy war between regional actors.

“We have to be very careful that what happened in Syria, would not happen again in Libya,” Merkel said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, warning against the devastating consequences of a deepening proxy war.

The German Chancellor said Libya peace conference hosted by her government on Sunday was an attempt to contribute to a political solution, and stressed that its success was dependent on the continued support by world powers and regional actors to this process.

“We have to be vigilant about these peace processes, we have to care for them, despite all the difficulties,” she stressed.

Merkel criticized countries that sent mercenaries and weapons into the country despite a UN arms embargo on Libya.

On Sunday, major world powers and regional actors gathered in Berlin and pledged support for UN efforts for a ceasefire and a political solution to the conflict.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: warlord Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya, supported mainly by Egypt and the UAE, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which enjoys the UN and international recognition.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/merkel-we-should-prevent-libya-becoming-next-syria/1711666

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EU urges Syrian regime to stop Idlib offensive

Agnes Szucs

23.01.2020

BRUSSELS

The EU in a statement on Thursday called the Syrian regime and its allies to stop a new offensive hurting civilians near Idlib in northwestern Syria, the second time in a month.

“The renewal of the offensive in Idlib, including repeated airstrikes and shelling targeting civilians are unacceptable and must cease”, the European External Action’s Service spokesperson Peter Stano said in the statement.

Airstrikes by the Syrian regime and its backers have killed at least 35 people in the last few days in north west Syria. More than 350,000 civilians have been displaced.

The EU’s foreign and security policy service reaffirmed its commitment to keeping the sanctions against the Assad regime as long as the “brutal attacks” continue, and urged them to give safe access for humanitarian organizations that deliver help for the civilians in need.

The statement warned that fighting the UN-listed terrorist groups in the region does “not permit international humanitarian law to be ignored”, despite the fact that the EU shared the concerns about the security threat these terrorist groups pose.

The EU communication did not precise, but the recent airstrikes have been carried out by Russian airplanes despite the fact that Turkey and Russia agreed in September 2018 to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression is expressly prohibited.

Since then, more than 1,300 civilians have been killed in attacks by the regime and Russian forces as the cease-fire continued to be violated.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/eu-urges-syrian-regime-to-stop-idlib-offensive/1711377

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EU has not fulfilled all its promises: Turkish FM

Cuneyt Karadag and Erbil Basay  

23.01.2020

BERLIN

Turkey’s foreign minister said Thursday that the European Union has not even paid half of the 6 billion euros (US$6.65 billion) it had promised Ankara to tackle the issue of refugees following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

Mevlut Cavusoglu was speaking to the German daily Bild, commenting on Turkey’s relations with the EU and its moves in Syria and Libya.

Cavusoglu said the EU did not completely fulfill its promises as part of a 2015 agreement where both sides reached a deal on the refugee crisis and said the union has not even paid the initial 3 billion euros, which should have been delivered by the end of 2016.

Turkey's top diplomat said German Chancellor Angela Merkel played a significant role in the signing of the refugee deal and this triggered jealousy among some EU member countries.

Hailing Germany for being supportive and courageous in the sense of supporting the refugee deal, Cavusoglu said the agreement significantly reduced the number of people illegally crossing into Europe.

"Before striking the deal, up to 7,000 refugees left Turkey for Greece on a daily basis," he said, adding around 57 refugees per day have entered Greek islands since the deal was signed.

He went on to say that some central and eastern European countries did not want to embrace refugees and put Germany in a spot.

However, the promises on the Customs Union and discussions on Turkey's ascension to the EU were also not fulfilled, according to Cavusoglu.

He said although promises were not fulfilled, Turkey remains committed to continuing the migration agreement with the EU.

Referring to some 3.5 million Turks living in Germany, Cavusoglu said Turkey viewed these people as a bridge connecting both countries and Ankara supported the integration of Turks into the German community.

On the other hand, he expressed discomfort over supporters of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) and PKK terror group taking shelter in Germany and said senior members of the former sought asylum there, whereas the latter collected money to finance terrorism.

Berlin summit on Libya

The Turkish diplomat welcomed the German initiative to host the Berlin Conference, where a ceasefire in war-weary Libya was discussed in an effort to bring peace there. Forces of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and those linked to renegade commander Khalifa Haftar are battling for control of key terrain and critical infrastructure.

Cavusoglu noted that the GNA said it would adhere to the joint declaration issued following the meeting whereas Haftar’s side did not provide a positive or negative response.

Asked what Turkey’s interest in Libya was, Cavusoglu said peace and stability were the main motivations for the Ankara administration, adding it had reached a security agreement with the UN-recognized government as well. He noted that Turkey deployed a limited number of military advisors to Tripoli.

Syria and refugees

As the Syrian regime and its allies continue their aggression in the northwestern city of Idlib, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homes and taking shelter near the Turkish border.

Cavusoglu, for his part, said Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime preferred a military solution over a political one whereas Turkey believed in the importance of political negotiations to resolve the conflict.

Recalling German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's statements regarding the establishment of an international safe zone in Syria, Cavusoglu said Turkey did not raise any objections to this suggestion but pointed to the challenges.

He noted that some 372,000 Syrians had returned home following Turkey’s anti-terror operations in northern Syria against the YPG terror group, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK terror group in Turkey.

According to Cavusoglu, Turkey hosts 3.6 million displaced Syrians, and some 350,000 of them were of Kurdish origin.

"Have you ever asked yourself why these Kurds do not want to return to the area controlled by the YPG terror group? The West has double standards in this context," he said.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/eu-has-not-fulfilled-all-its-promises-turkish-fm/1710836

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Southeast Asia

 

Selangor fatwa on SIS temporarily suspended pending appeal

Ainaa Aiman

January 23, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court has granted women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) a stay on the enforcement of a 2014 fatwa by the Selangor state religious authorities that ruled the group as deviant.

The fatwa is temporarily suspended pending SIS’ application in the Court of Appeal last September.

The stay of execution on the enforcement of the fatwa was granted by Judge Nordin Hassan.

The ruling meant that there would be no enforcement action by the Selangor Fatwa Committee and the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) against SIS for the time being.

The 2014 fatwa issued by Mais had stated that the rights group subscribed to liberalism and religious pluralism and deviates from the teachings of Islam.

SIS had sought to challenge the fatwa but the High Court in August last year dismissed their application on the grounds that the civil court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter, as it was under the Shariah state laws.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, the group’s executive director Rozana Isa said the decision showed that the court recognised their rights under the Federal Constitution.

“I’m very happy with this decision because it means that our work can continue in terms of fighting for Muslim women’s rights and children in Malaysia without having to worry too much about the risks.

“In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the trial. We hope that whatever it is we get our day in court and justice will prevail.”

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/01/23/selangor-fatwa-on-sis-temporarily-suspended-pending-appeal/

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Pope’s possible visit to Indonesia, East Timor and PNG

By Guest Contributor

January 20, 2020

A visit from Pope Francis to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor may happen in September, according to an Indonesian Muslim leader who met with the Pope this week.

Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf leads the 50 million member Nahdlatul Ulama movement, which calls for a reformed ‘humanitarian Islam’ and has developed a theological framework for Islam that rejects the concepts of caliphate, Sharia law, and ‘kafir’ (infidels).

Staquf met with the Pope this week, while in Rome for a meeting of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, which gathers Christians, Muslim and Jewish leaders to discuss the promotion of peace and fraternity. US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback attended the meetings.

Pope Francis met with the group on 15 January. After that meeting, Staquf told CNA that the Pope said he plans to visit Indonesia, East Timor, and New Guinea in September.

The Vatican has not yet confirmed such a trip. Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world. The country’s 229 million Muslims make up more than 12 percent of the global Muslim population. Nearly all of Indonesia’s Muslims are Sunni.

There are 24 million Christians living in Indonesia, 7 million of them are Catholic. Pope St Paul VI visited the country in 1970, and Pope St John Paul II traveled there in 1989. East Timor is a small country on the island of Timor. It gained independence from Indonesia in 1999, following decades of bloody conflict as the region vied for national sovereignty.

The country’s second president, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta, shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with East Timorese Bishop Ximenes Bolo, for their efforts to reach a peaceful and just end to fighting in the country. Bishop Belo is now a missionary in Mozambique.

More than 1 million people live in East Timor; more than 98 percent of them are Catholic. It is one of few majority Catholic countries in Southeast Asia. Pope St John Paul II visited East Timor in 1989.

Papua New Guinea is a country of nearly nine million people on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. The other side of island consists of two Indonesian provinces. Papua New Guinea is a nation of considerable cultural diversity, comprised of small traditional communities of various groups, some of which remain uncontacted by Westerners.

Full report at:

https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/popes-possible-visit-to-indonesia-east-timor-and-png/

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US, Indonesian citizens arrested for allegedly proselytizing for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Jambi

January 23, 2020

A citizen of the United States and an Indonesian national have been arrested by the Telanaipura Police in Jambi for allegedly spreading the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Simpang Empat Sipin subdistrict of Jambi city.

“The arrest was made based on reports from residents who were concerned by the individuals’ activities in the neighborhood,” Telanaipura Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Yumika Putra said on Wednesday.

Both the US and the Indonesian citizens, identified only by the initials J and L, respectively, were currently detained and being questioned regarding their religious activities, he said. The Jambi Police had also assisted in making sure whether the detainees had actually violated any existing laws, he added.

During the preliminary questioning, J admitted to having lived in Jambi city for three years. The police had cooperated with the Jambi Immigration Office to look into J's stay permit.

Waluyo, a local, said the J and L had given out pamphlets, brochures and books on the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses from door to door in the neighborhood. They also recommended residents visit the official website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at jw.org.

“Of course we grew concerned. This is a Muslim-majority neighborhood. What if there’s a conflict with local residents?” Waluyo said to The Jakarta Post.

Residents of Kasang Pudak village in Muarojambi regency of Jambi had had similar visitors purportedly spreading the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in February last year, when two Koreans, accompanied by an Indonesian, reportedly handed out reading materials about the faith in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood.

The authorities received reports from locals about the activities and proceeded to question them. However, the two foreigners could not show their citizenship documents and later escaped.

Following the incident, a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses had reportedly made a pact with residents of Kasang Pudak village to submit reports of their activities to village officials in an effort to maintain order and religious harmony in the area.

In the past, Jehovah's Witnesses -- a minority religious group in the country -- was banned in Indonesia under Attorney General Decree No. 129/1976 because of a series of legal violations the congregations had been accused of committing over the years, such as their refusal to salute the national flag.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/01/23/us-indonesian-citizens-arrested-for-allegedly-proselytizing-for-jehovahs-witnesses-in-jambi.html

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