New Age Islam
Wed Oct 21 2020, 12:42 PM

Islamic World News ( 17 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Pakistan Ulema Council Fatwa Calls For Postponing Political, Religious Gatherings ‘Immediately’







• Punjab Minister Misquotes Quran, Calls Disabled Children a ‘Punishment of God’

• Covid-19: Perak Sultan Decrees Friday Prayer on March 20, 27 in Perak Replaced By Zuhur Prayer At Home

• Saudi Arabia Suspends Prayers at All Mosques over Coronavirus, Holiest Mecca, Medina Sites Excluded

• USCIRF Commends Sudan’s Disbanding of Former Regime-Appointed Church Councils

• Religious Persecution, Not Religion, Basis for CAA: Govt Tells Supreme Court

• Religious Services in Churches and Mosques Halted, As Worshippers Encouraged To Watch Live-Streamed Sermons in England

• Algeria Closes Its Mosques amid Coronavirus Fears

• The Taliban’s Political Leaders Signed a Peace Deal — But Its Military Commanders Could Put That At Risk

• Judiciary Spokesman: Iran Preparing Lawsuit against US for Assassination of General Soleimani

 

Pakistan

• Pakistan Ulema Council Fatwa Calls For Postponing Political, Religious Gatherings ‘Immediately’

• Punjab Minister Misquotes Quran, Calls Disabled Children a ‘Punishment of God’

• JI offers its hospitals, ambulances to govt for fight against virus

• Abbasi hopes PM Imran has concrete plan against coronavirus

• Shahbaz Sharif paralysed province by hindering welfare work: Pervaiz Elahi

• China will always stand by Pakistan, says President Xi

• Foreign Office adopts social distancing steps amid virus threat

• IHC CJ accuses NAB of blackmailing judges

• Repatriation of Afghan refugees temporarily suspended amid coronavirus

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Southeast Asia

• Covid-19: Perak Sultan Decrees Friday Prayer on March 20, 27 in Perak Replaced By Zuhur Prayer At Home

• Extremist Charities in Indonesia: Proliferation of Extremist Charities Exposes the Families Of Incarcerated

• Indonesian Ulema Council Urges Govt To Map COVID-19 Prone Areas To Support Fatwa On Mass Prayers

• How A Century-Old Indian Muslim Movement Became Malaysia’s Covid-19 Hotspot

• MUI issues fatwa on social distancing for Islamic worship

• How a 16,000-strong religious gathering led Malaysia to lockdown

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Arab World

• Saudi Arabia Suspends Prayers at All Mosques over Coronavirus, Holiest Mecca, Medina Sites Excluded

• Closure Of Mosques Amid Coronavirus A Religious Duty: Muslim World League

• Iraq President Barham Salih names Adnan al-Zurfi as new PM-designate: State TV

• Egypt police say killed 6 militants in northern Sinai

• Senior Iraqi MP: Pompeo’s Remarks Indicate Resumption of US Occupation Era

• New rockets hit near Baghdad’s Green Zone in Iraq: security source

• Saudi Arabia to Convene Virtual G20 Summit to Address Coronavirus Pandemic

• US Treasury slaps sanctions against Syrian defense minister

• Iraqi PM-designate will win confidence vote only if US-led troops’ withdrawal guaranteed: Fatah coalition

• HRW questions grounds for Saudi mass arrests

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North America

• USCIRF Commends Sudan’s Disbanding of Former Regime-Appointed Church Councils

• Marine Under Investigation for Allegedly Sharing White Supremacist Material Online

• Iran weighs releasing detained Americans amid coronavirus pandemic: Pompeo

• US imposes fresh sanctions on Iran amid coronavirus outbreak

• US slaps sanctions on Syrian defines minister

• US designates ISIS leader as ‘Global Terrorist’

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India

• Religious Persecution, Not Religion, Basis for CAA: Govt Tells Supreme Court

• India Rejects Jammu and Kashmir Reference in Pakistan-China Statement

• PM Modi Slams Pak; Hails Bangladesh Policies at Mujib Birth Anniversary Event

• Mother wants daughter back from ISIS, seeks Centre''s help

• NIA raids ‘tainted’ J&K DSP’s house

• G20 talks: PM Modi rings up Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman

• Coronavirus: J-K government bans entry of foreign tourists to Kashmir

• Amid reports of 254 Indians testing positive in Iran: Officials say more flights for Iran, Italy likely

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Europe

• Religious Services in Churches and Mosques Halted, As Worshippers Encouraged To Watch Live-Streamed Sermons in England

• Russia Continues To Conflate Freedom of Religion or Belief and Extremism

• UK's Air War against Isis Ends after Five Years

• French judges order charges against 20 in 2015 Paris attacks

• No, Britain is not on the verge of anti-Muslim pogroms

• Erdogan discusses Syria and migrant crisis with European leaders

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Africa

• Algeria Closes Its Mosques amid Coronavirus Fears

• The Lies And Fake Promises, Kenyans Lured To Join Al-Shabaab

• Niger says army kills 50 Boko Haram extremists after attack

• Somali National Army launches action to oust al-Shabaab from Janaale

• Libya: Haftar spokesman quarantined over virus fears

• Sudan orders arrest of ex-foreign minister over 1989 coup

• Coronavirus: Jordan to deploy army at entrances to major cities

• Some South Africa mosques close as COVID-19 spreads

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South Asia

• The Taliban’s Political Leaders Signed a Peace Deal — But Its Military Commanders Could Put That At Risk

• American pilot reveals how he defeated the Pakistani F-16 during bin Laden mission

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Mideast

• Judiciary Spokesman: Iran Preparing Lawsuit against US for Assassination of General Soleimani

• Iran Announces 135 More Coronavirus Deaths, Official Toll Now 988

• Iran Finds Drug Combination to Treat Pulmonary Harms Created by Coronavirus

• Iran Calls for Global Campaign to Ignore US Sanctions amidst Coronavirus Epidemic

• Iranian FM Asks Kuwait to Join Int’l Campaign against US Sanctions

• Tehran’s Mayor: US Inhuman Sanctions Blocking Iran’s Access to Anti-Coronavirus Materials

• Tehran Urges London to Act Responsibly towards Iran amid COVID-19 Outbreak

• Turkey announces first death from coronavirus: Health ministry

• Iran frees 85,000 prisoners due to coronavirus, says judiciary spokesman

• PM Netanyahu says Israel to fast-track cyber-monitoring of coronavirus cases

• Commander vows to coerce Yemeni tribes to fight alongside Houthis

• US might be complementing Iran sanctions with bioweapon: Expert

• Ansarullah: Saudi-led invaders to blame if virus reaches Yemen

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/pakistan-ulema-council-fatwa-calls-for-postponing-political,-religious-gatherings-‘immediately’/d/121337

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Pakistan Ulema Council Fatwa Calls For Postponing Political, Religious Gatherings ‘Immediately’

March 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) on Tuesday said that in light of the fast-spreading novel coronavirus, all political and religious gatherings should be postponed “immediately”.

The direction was part of a fatwa issued by the PUC after a meeting presided over by Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi.

In the decree, religious scholars have told people to follow the measures issued by the government in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. The decree further says that Urdu sermons during Friday congregations should be discontinued while Arabic sermons should be shortened.

A safe distance should be kept between the rows of worshippers, who should pray on the floor — which should be washed with soap and water — instead of prayer mats. It would be preferable, the fatwa said, to pray in an open space. Furthermore, the elderly and the sick have been advised to pray at home.

The cleanliness of bathrooms and ablution sinks at mosques should be ensured and soaps and sanitisers should be placed for worshippers. Philanthropists have been asked to donate sanitisers, soaps and other cleaning supplies.

The decree further said that people should greet each other by saying Assalam Alaikum instead of shaking hands or hugging, as experts have advised against both practices.

The fatwa strictly forbade the hoarding of hand sanitisers, masks and soaps and directed people to report those who were involved in the practice. It also told people to avoid rumours as they spread fear.

So far, 212 cases of the novel coronavirus have emerged in Pakistan, a majority of which have been detected in Sindh.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/17/fatwa-calls-postponing-political-religious-gatherings-immediately/

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Punjab Minister Misquotes Quran, Calls Disabled Children a ‘Punishment of God’

March 18, 2020

Punjab Minister of Punjab for Information and Culture Fayyazul Hassan Chohan on Tuesday said traders who stock up on illicit and illegal profits by hoarding items in times of need are the kind of people who get ‘punished’ in the shape of disabled children.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader was holding a press conference on the coronavirus situation here in Lahore for appealing to traders to not hoard masks, sanitisers or any other product that is needed during the pandemic.

“Those who do illegal hoarding will face the wrath of God not only on the day of judgment but also during their lives as their children will be born disabled,” Chohan said.

“When such people have disabled children then the whole society knows why they have these kinds of children. They are Allah’s azaab,” he added.

The minister was also rebuked by Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari.

“Special children are not an “azaab” [punishment] but are special human beings to be cared for and loved and allowed to develop their own potential. In fact, no child can ever be an “azaab”, and for anyone to make such a cruel, inhumane statement is absolutely unforgivable and condemnable,” she tweeted.

Shireen Mazari

@ShireenMazari1

Special children are not an "azaab" but are special human beings to be cared for and loved and allowed to develop their own potential. In fact no child can ever be an "azaab" and for anyone to make such a cruel, inhumane statement  is absolutely unforgivable and condemnable.

5,414

16:12 - 17 Mar 2020

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Further, a user on Twitter clarified that the Quran was being misquoted whereas there is a clear difference between azaab and trails.

Mir Mohammad Alikhan

@MirMAKOfficial

Today I realised that being a #Patwari is a state of mind. It has nothing to do with #PMLN or #PTI.

When i saw people defending #FayyazChohan with wrong translation of Surah e Anfaal Ayat no. 28.

Nowhere does Allah use the word “AZAAB” for children & wealth. Word is “TRIAL”.

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17:53 - 17 Mar 2020

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The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan  (HRCP) also condemned the minister.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

@HRCP87

HRCP is deeply concerned by the statement made by the Punjab Information Minister @FayyazulHChohan, who has suggested that children with physical or mental disabilities are born as a result of their parents' sins. This was irresponsible and callous.

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17:13 - 17 Mar 2020

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Another user on Twitter pointed out that Chohan has a history of problematic statements which cause harm to society.

Khurram Qureshi

@qureshik74

Kaptaan appointed Fayyaz Chohan

Fayyaz Chohan makes racist comments about Hindu people

Kaptaan fires Fayyaz Chohan

Kaptaan reappoints Fayyaz Chohan

Fayyaz Chohan makes these disgusting comments 👇🏽

What does it say about Kaptaan? 🤔

Embedded video

215

15:31 - 17 Mar 2020

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It may be noted here that in March 2019, the PTI minister had made derogatory remarks directed against the Hindu community for which he was sacked for some time but was reinstated soon after the matter cooled down.

On another occasion a few months prior to that, Chohan, while talking to reporters in Lahore, had repeatedly used the word “Kashmiri” with the names of Sharif family members, reportedly in a scornful way.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/17/fayazul-hasan-chohan-misquotes-quran-calls-disabled-children-punishment-god/

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Covid-19: Perak Sultan decrees Friday prayer on March 20, 27 in Perak replaced by zuhur prayer at home

17 Mar 2020

IPOH, March 17 — The Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah has decreed that the Friday prayer on March 20 and 27 would be replaced by zuhur prayer in the respective Muslim’s home following the Movement Control Order starting tomorrow.

Perak Islamic Religion and Malay Customs Council (MAIPk) president, Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin said the Sultan had issued the decree after the Perak State Fatwa Committee which met last Saturday presented the matter before the Ruler as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19 infection.

He said Sultan Nazrin also decreed that mosque and suraus located in Covid-19 positive areas would be closed until disinfecting and decontamination works had completed and would only be allowed to reopen after obtaining the written approval of the Health Ministry.

“All religious classes, lectures and lessons in mosque and surau are cancelled to minimise exposure apart from allowing only an imam, a bilal (muezzin) and a siak (mosque/surau caretaker) to be present for the call to prayer (azan).   

“Besides that, the call to prayer would be amended with a phrase (ungkapan) hay’alatain (to pray at your home),” he said in a statement today.

Wan Mohd Zahid added that if a death occurs due to Covid-19, the handling of the body would be conducted in accordance with the rites of the Management of Suspected or Confirmed Muslim Bodies Infected by Ebola Virus based on the decision of the 107th National Fatwa Committee on Islamic Religious Affairs of Malaysia muzakarah (meeting).

Meanwhile, Perak Islamic Religious Department (JAIPk) director Datuk Mohd Yusop Husin said no wedding ceremonies would be allowed at public places such as mosques, suraus or halls.

He said based on the instructions stipulated under the Movement Control Order, marriage solemnisation (akad nikah) should be held at private premises to control the spread of Covid-19.

“Apart from that, the solemnisation should be shortened to not more than 30 minutes,” he said in a statement on JAIPk Facebook page.

Mohd Yusop also said it could only be attended by a marriage official (jurunikah), two witnesses, the bride and groom, and a guardian (wali), but it must be cancelled if any of them is confirmed or suspected of having Covid -19 infection. — Bernama

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/03/17/covid-19-perak-sultan-decrees-friday-prayer-on-march-20-27-in-perak-replace/1847506

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Saudi Arabia suspends prayers at all mosques over coronavirus, holiest Mecca, Medina sites excluded

MAR 17, 2020

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that mosques would no longer accept worshippers for the customary five daily prayers or the weekly Friday prayer, exceptional measures intended to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Prayers will continue only at the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, the most sacred places in Islam, state news agency SPA reported, citing a decision from the Council of Senior Scholars, the kingdom's highest religious body.

Mosques will temporarily close their doors but will continue to issue the ritual call to prayer, which will direct people to pray in their homes rather than come to the mosque, SPA said.

Islamic Affairs Minister Abdulatif al-Sheikh told state television that facilities for washing the dead at mosques that have them would remain open, but access would be restricted to a few people. Praying over the dead will only be permitted at the cemetery, not in the mosques, he added.

Saudi Arabia, with 133 reported infections and no deaths, has taken drastic measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including suspending the Umrah pilgrimage, halting all international flights, and closing most public establishments.

https://www.dailysabah.com/world/mid-east/saudi-arabia-suspends-prayers-at-all-mosques-over-coronavirus-holiest-mecca-medina-sites-excluded

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USCIRF Commends Sudan’s Disbanding of Former Regime-Appointed Church Councils

March 17, 2020

Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commends Sudan’s Transitional Government, and in particular Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments Nasreldin Mofreh, for ordering the dissolution of church councils that the deposed former regime had created to legitimize and obfuscate its persecution of several Christian communities, including the confiscation and destruction of church properties.

USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins said, “We are pleased by the Minister’s decree, given the role these illegitimate church councils played in the former regime’s persecution of Christians and the obstacles they continued to present to churches’ ability to represent their own interests to the government.” He continued, “This decree confirms our sense that while Sudan has many serious challenges ahead, its transitional leadership is sincere in its promise to implement concrete and meaningful measures to improve religious freedom conditions in the country.”

Commissioner Anurima Bhargava stated, “We are encouraged by Minister Nasreldin Mofreh’s decision to demonstrate support for and inclusion of Sudan’s Christian community. By disbanding these church councils, the Sudanese government is returning agency to religious organizations and allowing them to conduct their own affairs.” She added, “We hope this decree serves as an important first step in extending full rights to long-persecuted religious minority communities, including the restoration of property seized by the former regime.”

USCIRF has long described Sudan, under the rule of deposed former president Omar al-Bashir, as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. However, following the overthrow of al-Bashir in April 2019 and the establishment of joint civilian-military rule in August, the Transitional Government expressed its commitment to granting greater religious, social, and other freedoms to the Sudanese people, and has started implementing reforms, including repealing the long-standing public order laws. During USCIRF’s country visit to Khartoum in late February and early March 2020, representatives of the Transitional Government—Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments Nasreldin Mofreh—affirmed this commitment and pledged to continue to engage with the United States and other international partners as they seek to implement additional reforms.

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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or Danielle Ashbahian at dashbahian@uscirf.gov.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=rm&ogbl#inbox/FMfcgxwHMPkDKDmgzDjRjwbhWjgMVBKn

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Religious persecution, not religion, basis for CAA: Govt tells Supreme Court

March 18, 2020

Not religion, but “religious persecution” in neighbouring countries, was the basis of the “reasonable… classification” made by The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, the Centre told the Supreme Court Tuesday, adding the legislation was, however, “not meant to be an omnibus solution to issues across the world”.

In its affidavit filed in response to a clutch of petitions challenging the Act, the Union Home Ministry answered charges that the law — which caters only to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — was arbitrary in nature as it left out persecuted Rohingya’s of Myanmar, Tibetan Buddhists from China and Tamils from Sri Lanka.

The affidavit said, “The said classified communities are persecuted in the particular neighbouring countries as has been acknowledged and recognised by Parliamentary Committees as well as other contemporaneous official record and during the debates in the Indian Parliament”.

The government, however, added that the CAA “is not meant to be an omnibus solution to issues across the world and the Indian Parliament cannot be expected to take note of possible persecutions that may be taking place across various countries in the world”.

The affidavit termed the CAA “a benign piece of legislation which seeks to provide a relaxation, in the nature of an amnesty, to specific communities from the specified countries with a clear cut-off date”.

The problems of these communities “has been attracting the attention of successive governments but no government took any legislative measure and merely acknowledged the problem”, the ministry said, adding, it “does not violate the cherished principle of secularism” or “the freedom of religion of any person, including illegal migrants for that matter”.

The government also emphasised that CAA “…in no manner whatsoever, seeks to affect the legal, democratic or secular rights of any of the Indian citizens”.

The existing regime for obtaining citizenship of India by foreigners of any country is untouched by the CAA and legal migration, on the basis of valid documents and visa, continues to be permissible from all countries, including from the three specified ones, the government added.

Denying charges that the Act violates the right to equality under Article 14, the affidavit said the SC had held in the past that in matters concerning foreign policy, citizenship, economic policy, etc., a wider latitude for classification is available to the Parliament/Legislature…” Citizenship being an executive policy of the sovereign, the scope of judicial review, even if available, will be very restricted, it said.

The government refuted the charge that the Act violates secularism, and said it “reaffirms India’s faith and commitment to secularism by protecting the minorities in non-secular countries within the neighbourhood”.

The CAA will not lead to expulsion of a person classified as illegal immigrant, the affidavit said, adding the process of determining somebody as illegal immigrant was covered by other statutes.

On the National Register of Citizens (NRC), it said “the legal provisions regarding the National Register of Citizens i.e. Section 14A of the 1955 (Citizenship) Act have been part of said 1955 Act since December, 2004” and that the “said provisions consist merely of the procedure and the authority concerned for the preparation of” NRC. It added that “the preparation of a national register of citizens is a necessary exercise for any sovereign country for mere identification of citizens from non-citizens”.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/religious-persecution-not-religion-basis-for-caa-govt-tells-supreme-court-6319530/

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Religious Services in Churches and Mosques Halted, As Worshippers Encouraged To Watch Live-Streamed Sermons in England

17 March 2020

Religious services in churches and mosques have been halted in an unprecedented move, as worshippers are instead encouraged to watch live-streamed sermons.

Mass public gatherings have been banned under the latest government guidance in what has marked the biggest ever peacetime curb on civil liberties. The move has prompted Archbishops, Imams, Rabbis and Priests to call for prayers as the nation approaches lockdown in a bid to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus.

However the Church of England and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have gone one step further, and have announced a national crackdown on public services.

Today the Archbishops of Canterbury and York made a rallying call to rise to what has become a “defining moment” for the Church of England, as it urged all public workshop to be put on hold. The move came just hours after the MCB announced the same measures for Muslim congregants. Tonight the Chief Rabbi echoed calls for the closure of all synagogues....

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/17/religious-services-churches-mosques-halted-worshippers-encouraged/

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Algeria closes its mosques amid coronavirus fears

17 March 2020

Algeria has closed its mosques amid fears of coronavirus spreading, reported Reuters on Tuesday.

The announcement was made by the religious authorities and comes after the country reported a death from coronavirus in the Bilda province, southwest of the capital Algiers.

The country reported its first case of coronavirus, known technically as COVID-19, on February 25. The man had arrived from Italy, which has been one of the centers of the outbreak globally.

The number has since risen to 60, with 12 recovered.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/03/17/Algeria-closes-its-mosques-amid-coronavirus-fears.html

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The Taliban’s political leaders signed a peace deal — but its military commanders could put that at risk

By Zachary Karabatak

March 16, 2020

On Feb. 29, the United States and the Taliban signed a historic peace agreement, calling for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops in exchange for Taliban guarantees not to use Afghanistan as a base for terrorist attacks against the West. Although there were early snags — including a disagreement over when the Afghan government would release Taliban prisoners — the deal represents a rare chance to reach a negotiated settlement in America’s longest war.

The Taliban’s military council has instructed its commanders and governors to avoid targeting international troops — but the Taliban has resumed fighting Afghan forces in earnest. This puts U.S. forces at risk from accidental attack, but also from a deliberate attempt to spoil the cease-fire or any future agreement.

These risks highlight an important organizational divide within the Taliban between its senior political figures mostly based in Pakistan, who have been responsible for negotiations with the United States, and Taliban military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. How will this divide impact the prospects of a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan?

Understanding the Taliban’s political-military divide

The Taliban’s primary decision-making body is a political, rather than a military, one. But Taliban military commanders are both highly influential and less flexible than the group’s more pragmatic political leadership. During the June 2018 cease-fire, for example, many younger fighters saw the cessation of hostilities as counterproductive.

Most of the Taliban’s current negotiators have never fought on the front lines — or they’ve been out of combat for years. Haibatullah Akhundzada, a former religious teacher without much military exposure, currently leads the Taliban’s organization. The head of the Quetta Shura (a central political body of the Afghan Taliban) and Akhundzada’s deputy, Mohammad Yaqub, shares Akhundzada’s lack of military experience.

Tensions between political and military leaders within an insurgent group are hardly unusual, though. In U.S. history, for instance, even one of the most advanced and institutionalized rebellions, the Confederate States of America, suffered from significant bouts of political-military infighting about appropriate strategies and tactics.

My research suggests insurgent military commanders and fighters often have bureaucratic incentives to continue fighting. Their political power and material well-being may depend on continued conflict — and this makes them potential candidates to become spoilers to cease-fires or negotiated settlements.

Who has more incentive to negotiate? Political leaders.

How does political command and control affect the odds of reaching a negotiated settlement? I collected global data from 1945 to 2011 for my dissertation on political control in active insurgent groups to investigate this question. Here’s what I find: Insurgencies controlled primarily by their senior political figures, rather than military commanders, are more than twice as likely to end in negotiated agreements.

In these groups, political leaders are better positioned to make concessions to which the group can actually commit. In contrast, groups in which military commanders play a larger role in decision-making are less likely to end conflicts through negotiated settlements because political negotiators lack the ability to enforce cease-fires on the battlefield.

The level of political control within insurgent groups can vary considerably — usually depending on who controls the sources of material support flowing into the organization, including arms, resource wealth and taxation.

In governments undergoing political transition, one of the most crucial challenges to civilian control over the military is gaining control over the military’s finances and material supplies. In many countries, militaries have access to vast monetary resources, which allow them to become independent of official defense budgets provided by the state and to finance operations that may not have the approval of civilian authorities.

Insurgent political leaders face a similar challenge when dealing with the distribution of resources in their organizations. Inducing insurgent military commanders and fighters to follow orders is a challenge for senior political figures, who generally cannot rely on third parties, such as a judiciary system, to enforce their rules.

Who controls the Taliban?

In the case of the Taliban, political leaders have attempted to centralize material support tasks under their control. Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the de facto leader of the Afghan Taliban from 2010 until his death in May 2016, began to shift the group into a politically controlled organization by centralizing its finances and cultivating his own networks. Under Mansour’s direction, the Taliban formalized an extensive alternative administration, including public services, a court system and taxes on business and trade activities.

In recent years, Akhundzada further strengthened his control of the group’s material support base. In the narcotics trade, for example, the Taliban has moved from simply taxing the profits of heroin refiners to opening refineries themselves and using the Central Financial Commission of the Quetta Shura to take all of the profits.

Akhundzada also increased the powers of the Taliban’s shadow governors in controlling this revenue, making it easier for him to divert funds directly to himself and his allies. While Akhundzada benefited politically from the largesse of individual Taliban leaders, the Taliban’s military wing feels the lack of these funds, as well as diminished fighter morale and trust in senior political figures.

At the same time, the Taliban’s military leaders have found success on the battlefield against the Afghan government, making them less likely to support concessions that might be required to reach a lasting agreement.

As the Trump administration’s peace efforts move to the next stage, the ability of Taliban political leaders to maintain command and control within the group will become more important. In September, Trump invited Taliban leaders to sign a deal at Camp David but called off the meeting after fighters from the group killed a U.S. service member.

While the Taliban’s leaders believe that Trump is eager to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, this seems unlikely to happen if Taliban field commanders fail to honor commitments made by their political leaders.

Zachary Karabatak is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. His dissertation examines the determinants of insurgent command and control.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/16/talibans-political-leaders-signed-peace-deal-its-military-commanders-could-put-that-risk/

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Judiciary Spokesman: Iran Preparing Lawsuit against US for Assassination of General Soleimani

Mar 17, 2020

“The Judiciary has opened a special case at Tehran prosecutor’s office to prosecute those who have ordered, carried out and collaborated in this inhuman act,” Esmayeeli said in a televised press conference on Tuesday.

He added that an advisory delegation, including representatives of the judiciary, the intelligence ministry, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters and the IRGC Quds Force, has held a meeting with Iraq’s Judiciary officials to coordinate the necessary cooperation to prosecute those behind the crime.

Esmayeeli said that a delegation from Iraq is also due to visit Iran to pursue mutual cooperation on the issue, assuring the nation that efforts will continue until punishing the criminals.

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

The airstrike also martyred Deputy Commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. 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.

Iraq said the attacks had not taken any toll from its army men stationed at these two bases. The US army had blocked entrance into Ein Al-Assad to everyone, including the Iraqi army.

It was the first direct attack on the US army ever since world war two.

The IRGC officials said none of the missiles had been intercepted.

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981227000863

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Pakistan

 

JI offers its hospitals, ambulances to govt for fight against virus

March 18, 2020

LAHORE: Jamaat-i-Islami emir Senator Sirajul Haq on Tuesday offered all the medical facilities and ambulance services of his party in different cities to the federal and provincial governments for assisting their efforts against coronavirus spread.

Talking to party workers at the party headquarters, Mansoora, he announced support to federal and provincial governments in mitigating the threat of coronavirus outbreak. He said the entire nation should demonstrate unity and political forces should put on the back-burner their mutual differences to cope with the pandemic.

He said the masses should not panic and take all the precautionary measures against the virus. He also emphasised that the government teams should focus on preparations to handle the situation instead of issuing statements.

He said the government should take strict action against the hoarders and those selling essential food items at higher prices Senator Siraj demanded the government should waive off gas and electricity bills of the citizens earning below Rs25,000 per month as the virus outbreak had almost closed down businesses, effecting millions of labourers and their families across the country. He reminded the rulers of their responsibility to provide relief to the masses in these testing times.

The JI chief backed the prime minister’s demand that rich countries should waive off the loans of the poor nations in order to help the latter curb spread of the COVID-19.

He welcomed the announcement made by some international financial institutions to cut benchmark interest to almost zero, appealing to the government to take the similar measures to support the economy of the country.

“Pakistan cannot be put on the path to development without getting rid of the interest-based economy,” he added.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541725/ji-offers-its-hospitals-ambulances-to-govt-for-fight-against-virus

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Abbasi hopes PM Imran has concrete plan against coronavirus

March 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Imran Khan should lay out a comprehensive plan regarding official measures being taken to curb the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, which has infected around 193 people in the country.

The PML-N leader was addressing a press conference, during which he criticised the government for failing to manage an influx of returning pilgrims from Iran, who have been the primary group affected by the rising nationwide tally of coronavirus cases.

The former prime minister stated that 500 people had entered Punjab from Taftan, and that the failure to manage them by the government could wreak havoc in the entire country.

While referring to PM Imran’s appeal to the world community to write-off the debt of developing countries, Abbasi said that the PM does not even know where the debts have been taken from.

The PML-N leader said that most of Pakistan’s debts are due to internal debtors and the prime minister’s irresponsible statement can exacerbate the already fragile economy.

Abbasi said that the PML-N has been demanding that the government take timely measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“The steps should include containment, social distancing and managing those already sick,” said Abbasi.

He said that the statements coming from the government are not on the same frequency, as a discrepancy was seen in the statements of federal and provincial ministers.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/17/abbasi-hopes-pm-imran-concrete-plan-coronavirus/

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Shahbaz Sharif paralysed province by hindering welfare work: Pervaiz Elahi

March 18, 2020

LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-N ticket-holder from NA-68 Ch Tanvir Ahmad Gondal and Ch Bashir Ahmad Gondal called on Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and MNA Hussain Elahi at their residence here Tuesday and announced joining Pakistan Muslim League-Q along with their colleagues.

Chaudhry Tanvir contested election twice against Ch Wajahat Hussain. Thanking the personalities joining the party, Ch Pervaiz Elahi said that very soon we will give more surprises of political desertions and defections, more N-League leaders are also in contact with us, Shahbaz Sharif had not done any work other than creating obstructions; he paralysed the province by hindering every welfare work. He said that we all have to start welfare works again together; our party being ally of the government is fully supporting the government on every front. He said that Hussein Elahi had spread network of development works in his constituency, we are starting provision of Sui gas in Gujrat, establishing Rescue 1122 centres in Jalalpur Jattan and starting motorcycle ambulance service in narrow streets. Afterwards, Ch Pervaiz Elahi led collective Dua for protection against coronavirus.

He said that all of us firstly should seek Almighty Allah's forgiveness; Pakistan has also been hit by this virus, scholars of every school of thought and minorities’ religious leaders all should offer collective prayer for riddance from this disease. He prayed that Almighty Allah protect Pakistan and the whole world from this disease.

Chaudhry Amjad Gondal, MPAs Abdullah Yousuf and Shujahat Nawaz Ajnala, former Naib Nazim Saadat Nawaz Ajnala, Khalid Asghar Ghural, Salim Khokhar, Malik Imtiaz Ahmad Goga, Syed Mohsin Ali Khan, Syed Hashim Ali Shah, Syed Abul Hassan Shah, Sahibzada Qurban Afzal, Sajjad Iqbal Butt, Ch Maqsood, Ch Razi Mehr, Ch Munir Ahmad, Ch Arif Lambardar, Ch Arshad Bhatti, Malik Muhammad Naeem, Ch Gul Shehzad Warraich, Mir Saquib and Mirza Usman were among other political leaders were also present on the occasion.

Meanwhile, MNA Ch Salik Hussain has presented a gift of ethanol to Punjab Assembly Speaker Ch Pervaiz Elahi for sanitising the Punjab Assembly on Tuesday.

Full report at:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/630805-shahbaz-sharif-paralysed-province-by-hindering-welfare-work-pervaiz-elahi

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China will always stand by Pakistan, says President Xi

March 18, 2020

BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday special friendship between Pakistan and China was choice of the history as it had deep roots in the hearts of people of the two countries.

“We want to see a united and strong Pakistan with stability and prosperity,” he said during a meeting with President Dr Arif Alvi here at the Great Hall of People.

President Xi said no matter how international landscape might change, China would always stand firmly by Pakistan. “China will stay committed to our ironclad friendship and will expand our strategic cooperation.”

President Xi said China backed Pakistan in stepping up its constructive role in regional and international affairs.

Terming the visit of President Alvi very important, President Xi said the Chinese people were striving for the final victory against the coronavirus.

He said President Alvi’s presence in China was “expression of a firm support to us and this speaks volumes of profound friendship towards the Chinese people and emphasis he put on our bilateral ties”.

He said when China was fighting against the outbreak, the Pakistani government and people did their level best to make donations to China to which he expressed heartfelt thanks.

President Arif Alvi said he was visiting China to show solidarity with the people and the leadership of China while they were successfully fighting the Covid-19 outbreak.

He said China had shown to the world its ability to deal with the challenge and set an example for other countries, which were facing the coronavirus outbreak.

Later, President Alvi and President Xi witnessed the signing ceremony of cooperation documents between China and Pakistan.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on establishing joint technology and agriculture working groups in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Joint Cooperation Committee.

Both the sides signed the certificate of handover of donated vaccine refrigeration equipment, donated emergency humanitarian materials for epidemic response and donated emergency materials of epidemic control between the two governments.

Another MoU was signed on strengthening of cooperation on pest and disease control between the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food Security and Research of Pakistan. There was exchange of notes regarding cash donation for epidemic prevention hospital between China and Pakistan.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541744/china-will-always-stand-by-pakistan-says-president-xi

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Foreign Office adopts social distancing steps amid virus threat

March 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Tuesday set up a special cell for coordination on coronavirus and introduced a number of social distancing measures.

The newly-established cell, headed by Special Secretary (Admin) Moazzam Ahmed Khan, would liaise with diplomatic corps in the country as well as with Pakistani missions abroad, the FO said.

The social distancing measures introduced by the FO included partial suspension of walk-in consular services and a change in the format of the weekly media briefing.

“In order to take necessary precautions to deal with the rising threat of pandemic viral disease (Covid-19), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to suspend all walk-in consular services except attestation of power of attorney,” the FO said.

The walk-in services would stay suspended from March 18 to April 3, after which the situation would be reviewed.

The consular services are provided at the FO headquarters in Islamabad and the camp offices in provincial capitals. Hundreds of people visit the consular facilities daily for legalisation of various documents.

“The facility of the attestation of documents would be continued through the courier companies i.e., Pakistan Post, Gerry’s, Leopard and TCS,” the FO said.

Meanwhile, under the changed format of the weekly media briefing, the opening statement of the spokesperson would be carried live, while journalists have been asked to send their questions through email.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541707/foreign-office-adopts-social-distancing-steps-amid-virus-threat

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IHC CJ accuses NAB of blackmailing judges

Malik Asad

March 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Expressing anger over a report the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has submitted to the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Chief Justice Athar Minallah has accused NAB of attempting to scandalise and blackmail IHC judges.

During the hearing of a petition filed by former federal minister Akram Khan Durrani for a pre-arrest bail on Tuesday, a NAB investigation officer (IO) submitted the report that mentioned names of some IHC judges as well as other judicial officers who had allegedly been given out-of-turn allotment of government accommodations.

Chief Justice Minallah also expressed annoyance over the request of the NAB IO to keep the report confidential. He observed that NAB had included the names of judges in the report in a bid to blackmail them.

It may be mentioned that in 2015 the Ministry of Housing and Works made out-of-turn allotment of government houses to judicial officers and staff of the IHC, including a brother of then chief justice Mohammad Anwar Khan Kasi and officials who were brought into the IHC in a non-transparent manner. The Supreme Court in the subsequent year, declared their appointments as illegal.

The allotment was made in violation of the law ministry’s advice that stated that the decision of the apex court on the observance of the General Waiting List was binding on all courts, including the IHC, according to which the allotment is made on a seniority basis to the entitled government officials only.

It added that as per the Accommodation Allocation Rules 2002, the employees of the IHC were not entitled to the allotment of government houses.

It may be noted that the housing ministry also allotted government accommodations to Justice Minallah and Justice Aamer Farooq.

The High Court Judges (Leave, Pension and Privileges) Order, 1997 allows government residence for high court judges. However, NAB included the names of IHC judges in the list of those judicial officers who were given out-of-turn houses.

Under Rule 21 (1) of the said Order, “A Judge shall be entitled, without payment of rent, to the use of a residence throughout his term of office and for a period of thirty days thereafter and no charge shall fall on him personally in respect of its maintenance.”

Chief Justice Minallah clarified that he was allotted the government house on April 18, 2019 since the occupant of the house he was allotted earlier did not vacate the same.

“The list contains names of judges and officials of the Supreme Court and High Court,” observed the IHC chief justice, asking the investigation officer as to why they included name of senior puisne judge of the IHC. “Do you know how and when the allotment was made to learned judge?”

The IO replied that the allotment was made to him under Rule 67 of the Accommodation, Allocation Rules.

“And you want to blackmail the high court,” remarked the IHC chief justice, saying no judge of this court could be blackmailed.

If there was any discrepancy, then why NAB did not file a reference of misconduct against these judges before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), he asked.

He said some other issues had also been brought to the knowledge of the court, but “we try to ignore such peripheral issues”.

Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, another judge in the bench, also expressed annoyance over the NAB report.

“We respect the NAB chairman for being a retired judge of the Supreme Court, but there is a limit of showing restraint. For us he is a public office holder,” he remarked.

Did NAB intend to arrest Mr Durrani on the basis of this report, asked Justice Aurangzeb.

The registrar of the IHC and the then housing and works secretary were also responsible for these allotments, Justice Aurangzeb said, asking the NAB IO if the Bureau arrested them.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541720/ihc-cj-accuses-nab-of-blackmailing-judges

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Repatriation of Afghan refugees temporarily suspended amid coronavirus

March 18, 2020

PESHAWAR: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday suspended the voluntary repatriation of registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the closure of the Torkham and Chaman border crossing points with Afghanistan.

The UNHCR took the decision due to precautionary measures taken by the federal government to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We have temporarily suspended voluntary repatriation due to the extenuating circumstances. UNHCR’s utmost priority is to support global efforts on lessening the spread and impact of COVID-19, and to assist the Government of Pakistan with its comprehensive preparedness and response plans,” said the UNHCR Deputy Representative in Pakistan Iain Hall in a press release.

The statement added that the voluntary repatriation program had resumed on March 2, 2020, after a three-month winter break. Nine families – a total of 28 individuals – have so far returned to Afghanistan this month.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/17/repatriation-of-afghan-refugees-temporarily-suspended-amid-coronavirus/

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Southeast Asia

 

Extremist Charities in Indonesia: Proliferation of Extremist Charities Exposes the Families Of Incarcerated

17 March 2020

The Indonesian government has arrested more than 1100 suspected terrorists since 2015, with still more killed in counter-terrorism operations or during attacks. As of 2018, there were 432 terrorist inmates across 117 prisons. Hundreds are undergoing or awaiting trial. While the Indonesian government is successfully enforcing the anti-terrorism law, the proliferation of extremist charities exposes the families of incarcerated or slain militants to extremist influence.

Providing stipends and financial assistance to militants’ families is part of the organisational expenses of terrorist groups. This is to support the militant — typically male and the sole breadwinner in the family — in focussing on his militant objectives without worrying about the welfare of his family. For example, US$15,000 out of US$100,000 sent by al-Qaeda to Jemaah Islamiyah in 2003 was allocated to support the families of arrested group members.

Many so-called Islamic State (IS) informal charities emerged in recent years — partly due to increased demand as there were more arrests in 2015–2019 than in 2002–2013. These charities facilitate family visits to prison, inmates’ trip to their hometown upon completion of their sentences and provide inmates with meals. They also sponsor the families’ healthcare and education expenses and capital for setting up businesses.

The decentralised pro-IS network in Indonesia — generally consisting of Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD), Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah (JAK) and various independent cells — is accompanied by decentralised charities set up by the groups’ members and sympathisers. JAD’s affiliated charities are Baitul Mal Ummah, Anfiqu Center, Gubuk Sedekah Amal Ummah (GSAU), and RIS Al Amin.

JAK activists run the Aseer Cruee Center (ACC) and Baitul Mal Al Muuqin. One ACC donor was an Indonesian maid working in Singapore recently charged with terrorism financing. Those that have provided financial assistance to families of JAD and MIT members in recent years include the Infak Dakwah Centre and GASHIBU — the most well established extremist charities, having been around since 2011.

Providing an exact number of pro-IS charities is difficult given the multiple and independent fundraising efforts by IS partisans. In 2016–2017 alone, there were at least 15 pro-IS charities including those specialising in educating members’ children. The figure has fluctuated over the years, partly due to arrests of administrators or internal conflicts — including corruption — leading to the splintering of some charities.

There will likely be a further increase in the number of extremist charities due to a number of factors. Such charities play a key role in sustaining the ideological struggle of the jihadist movement by providing financial and other support to both members and their families. This is borne out when the financial ledgers of extremist charities are scrutinised. According to terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, the endurance of terrorist groups is also connected to the level of sustenance and financial support they receive from an existing constituency. These extremist charities also reinforce members’ ideological commitment and introduce their ideology to the families.

A key feature of this is manifested in radical inmates’ rejection of the Indonesian prison’s deradicalisation program. Charities such as GSAU have conducted prison visits by bringing in former convicts who remain radical in an effort to consolidate the pro-IS movement in prison and after the inmates’ release. Outside prison, ACC and Baitul Mal Al Muqiin have sponsored JAK’s religious study sessions in Java and Madura. Charities may also facilitate the return of Indonesian IS fighters — there has been an informal fundraising effort on social media recently to fund the return of an Indonesian pro-IS inmate who was allegedly released from a Malaysian prison.

Indonesia also does not have a law that governs local charities. Its current anti-terrorism financing law does not label extremist charities for inmates’ families under the category of indirect use of financing terrorism. This is further complicated by the fact that most of these charities are careful about their operations to avoid being prosecuted under Indonesia’s anti-terrorism financing law. The majority provide financial assistance to families but stop short of providing assistance for directly terrorism-related expenses such as weapon procurement.

The Indonesian authorities are aware of their quandary in curtailing extremist charities. Indonesia’s financial intelligence unit PPATK (Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center) monitors the extremist charities and provides information to the police.

The anti-terror police force, Detachment 88, is also attempting to mitigate the threat posed by extremist charities by providing shelter and travel expenses to facilitate the families’ prison visits. But extremist charities provide more than the government is able to.

To strengthen its mitigation strategy, the Indonesian authorities should invest in an ‘after-care’ program that specifically looks after the well-being of the inmates’ families, with the aim of safeguarding them from being radicalised or further radicalised by extremist charities. The program should also ensure that the released inmates renounce violence and reintegrate into society. Reintegration can be facilitated by tapping into mainstream Muslim charities and intensifying collaboration with other NGOs operating on the ground.

V Arianti is an Associate Research Fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a constituent unit in the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2020/03/17/extremist-charities-spread-in-indonesia/

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Indonesian Ulema Council urges govt to map COVID-19 prone areas to support fatwa on mass prayers

March 17, 2020

The Indonesian Ulema Council has urged the government to map coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) prone areas following its issuance of a fatwa that advises Muslims to avoid praying in congregations, including for Friday prayers.

On Monday, the MUI issued the fatwa on compulsory Muslim prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The council advised Muslims in areas where COVID-19 had spread “uncontrollably” to not “perform Friday prayers in those areas until the situation returns to normal”.

“The fatwa should be a guide for the government to take actions and map areas where the disease has spread uncontrollably. The government is the one with the competency and authority in this matter,” MUI fatwa commission chairman Hasanuddin Abdul Fatah said during a meeting in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He also said that other religious activities, such as Quran study groups, should be suspended for the meantime in areas with a high risk of COVID-19 contagion.

The meeting at the MUI central headquarters was held to formally give the fatwa to Indonesian Mosque Council chairman Jusuf Kalla. The MUI previously announced the fatwa to the public and issued a circular to mosques.

“What is important is that the council realizes the situation is dangerous [...] pilgrims and Muslims must be vigilant and must prevent [the spread of the virus] in the regions,” said Kalla, who is also a former vice president, adding that government should specify the COVID-19 risk levels in different areas of the country to support the implementation of the fatwa.

Read also: In Jakarta, religious communities adjust traditions to prevent COVID-19

As of Tuesday, there were 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indonesia, with nine patients having recovered and five having died. Cases have been confirmed in eight provinces, namely Jakarta, Central Java, West Java, Banten, Yogyakarta, Bali, West Kalimantan and North Sulawesi.

Members of the council also asked Kalla, as the chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross, to help increase medical capacities across the country, especially isolation chambers.

Despite its status as an independent body for Indonesian clerics, the MUI, whose chairman is Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, has close ties with the administration. The MUI’s deputy chairman, Zainut Tauhid Sa’adi, is also the deputy religious affairs minister.

The MUI fatwa states that Muslims in areas "less affected" by COVID-19 could still perform Friday prayers at mosques. However, people are encouraged to minimize their physical contact by bringing their own prayer mat to the congregation, in addition to washing their hands routinely.

Friday prayers are often seen as obligatory, especially for Muslim men, and need to be performed with a congregation inside a mosque. Eid prayers and tarawih (evening prayers during Ramadan), however, are sunnah, meaning those who perform them are rewarded and not punished if they ignore them.

Read also: Hong Kong church streams mass online to prevent coronavirus spread

The MUI also prohibits Muslims who have tested COVID-19 positive from attending congregation prayer at mosques, including Friday and Eid prayers as well as tarawih. The council has also instructed them to replace the obligatory Friday prayers with zuhr (midday) at home.

"It is haram [forbidden under Islamic law] for a [person with] COVID-19 to carry out sunnah activities that create opportunities for contagion, such as performing the daily prayers in a congregation, the tarawih and the Eid prayer at mosques and other public places, as well as attending public [Quranic] recitations or majelis taklim [Quran study groups],” the fatwa read.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/03/17/indonesian-ulema-council-urges-govt-to-map-covid-19-prone-areas-to-support-fatwa-on-mass-prayers.html

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How a century-old Indian Muslim movement became Malaysia’s Covid-19 hotspot

March 18, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Worshippers slept in packed tents outside the golden-domed mosque, waking before dawn to kneel on rows of prayer mats laid out in its cavernous central hall. All the while, the coronavirus was passing unnoticed among the guests.

The Muslim gathering held at the end of last month at a sprawling mosque complex in Sri Petaling, Kuala Lumpur has emerged as a source of hundreds of new coronavirus infections spanning Southeast Asia.

A 34-year-old Malaysian who attended the event died yesterday, the first death linked to the Feb 27-March 1 event at the mosque compound.

It was attended by 16,000 people, including 1,500 foreigners.

Out of Malaysia’s 673 confirmed coronavirus cases, nearly two-thirds are linked to the four-day meeting, according to Health Minister Dr Adham Baba. It is not clear who brought the virus there in the first place.

Reuters spoke to six attendees and reviewed pictures and posts on social media, and the accounts and evidence showed several ways in which the outbreak could have spread.

The hosts, the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jama’at, which traces its roots back to India a century ago, has suspended missionary activities but did not comment directly on the event.

The group also did not respond to a request for further comment.

The mosque where the event was held was closed and a guest said he was one of dozens of worshippers still there under quarantine. Calls to the mosque went unanswered.

“I was very surprised actually that it went ahead,” said Surachet Wae-asae, a former Thai lawmaker who attended the event but has since tested negative for the virus after returning home.

“But in Malaysia, God is very important. The belief is strong.”

The prime minister’s office and the health ministry declined to comment further about the event.

Holding hands, sharing plates

The packed gathering, where guests had to take shuttle buses to sleep at other venues, was attended by nationals from dozens of countries, including Canada, Nigeria, India and Australia, according to an attendee list posted on social media.

There were also citizens of China and South Korea – two countries with high rates of coronavirus infections.

Social media posts show hundreds of worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder inside the mosque, while some guests posted selfies as they shared food.

It was not clear how many guests were residents of Malaysia, but cases linked to the gathering are popping up daily across Southeast Asia.

“We sat close to each other,” a 30-year-old Cambodian man who attended the event told Reuters from a hospital in Cambodia’s Battambang province, where he was being treated after testing positive for the coronavirus on Monday.

“Holding hands at the religious ceremony was done with people of many countries. When I met people, I held hands, it was normal. I don’t know who I was infected by,” he said, asking not to be named due to fears of discrimination at his mosque.

None of the event leaders talked about washing hands, the coronavirus or health precautions during the event, but most guests washed their hands regularly, two guests said. Washing hands among other parts of the body is part of Muslim worship.

Another attendee from Cambodia said guests from different countries shared plates when meals were served.

Only half of the Malaysian participants who attended have come forward for testing, raising fears that the outbreak from the mosque could be more far-reaching.

Brunei has confirmed 50 cases linked to the mosque gathering, out of a total of 56 cases. Singapore has announced five linked to the event, Cambodia 13 and Thailand at least two.

Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, which had nearly 700 of its citizens attend, are all investigating.

That a large religious pilgrimage should have gone ahead, at a time when the epidemic had killed 2,700 people and was spreading from Italy to Iran, has drawn criticism.

It is not the only religious event to spread the virus on a mass scale. Thousands of cases in South Korea are linked to services of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu.

Some attendees defended the Sri Petaling mosque event, saying that at the time the situation in Malaysia – which had announced 25 known cases by Feb 28 – was not severe.

“We were not worried then as the Covid-19 situation at the time appeared under control,” said Khuzaifah Kamazlan, a 34-year-old religious teacher based in Kuala Lumpur who attended the event but has tested negative for the coronavirus.

Khuzaifah said some of the worshippers who attended the event have since refused to be tested for coronavirus, preferring to rely on God to protect them.

Karim, a 44-year-old Malaysian who attended the gathering and was later tested positive for coronavirus, says the government should have cancelled the event.

Full report at:

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/03/18/how-a-century-old-indian-muslim-movement-became-malaysias-covid-19-hotspot/

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MUI issues fatwa on social distancing for Islamic worship

March 18 2020

Safe worship fatwa: Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) deputy chairman Muhyiddin Junaidi (right) and Indonesian Mosque Council chairman Jusuf Kalla announce an MUI fatwa on worship house operations during the COVID-19 outbreak in Jakarta on Tuesday. Under the fatwa, the MUI suggests that Muslims can substitute Friday prayers with regular dhuhr (noon) prayer to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.(Antara/Aditya Pradana Putra)The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has issued a fatwa on compulsory Muslim prayers specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.MUI Fatwa Council chair Hasanuddin said in a written statement on Monday that Muslims in areas where COVID-19 had spread “uncontrollably” were “not permitted to perform Friday prayers in those areas until the situation returns to normal”.“They are obliged to replace [Friday prayers] with the dhuhr [noon] prayer&n...

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/03/18/mui-issues-fatwa-social-distancing-islamic-worship.html

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How a 16,000-strong religious gathering led Malaysia to lockdown

Yudith Ho and Faris Mokhtar

March 18, 2020

The struggle to contain infections linked to a religious gathering has led Malaysia to resort to sweeping restrictions on people’s movement, underscoring the challenge of upholding religious rights in fighting a pandemic.

More than half of the country’s 673 confirmed cases, the most in Southeast Asia, were linked to an event that ran from Feb. 27 to March 1 attended by about 16,000 people at a mosque near Kuala Lumpur. Neighboring countries Singapore and Brunei have also reported cases that could be traced back to the gathering. A 34-year-old Malaysian man who attended the event died on Tuesday, one of only two fatalities in the country.

Amid a global pandemic where social distancing is a key tool in the fight against its spread, the avoidance of large gatherings is challenging attitudes to religious and other freedoms. While Singapore immediately shut all mosques for cleaning, Malaysia was slower. The Muslim majority country had to secure a series of approvals from Islamic leaders and navigate the authority wielded by its 13 states. Health authorities also struggled to track down those who were at the gathering, echoing the challenge faced by South Korean authorities.

Religion and race are closely linked in Malaysia where one must profess to be Muslim to belong to the Malay majority. Both issues play a central role in the nation’s politics, with the latest power struggle pitting former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s multiracial coalition against Malay Muslim-majority parties backing Muhyiddin Yassin, who insisted that he is prime minister to all in his first televised speech. The country maintains a range of preferential policies, including housing and education quotas, for Malays and indigenous people.

Malaysia’s handling of the outbreak has been complicated by the political upheaval in late February. While former leader Mahathir is a veteran with more than two decades spent as prime minister in two stints, Muhyiddin is only weeks into the role with a cabinet composed of many first-time ministers including for the health portfolio.

Representatives for the prime minister’s office and the health ministry weren’t immediately available for comment.

Border closures

Political sensitivities surrounding closure of places of worship starts to fade as the outbreak becomes a global concern, said Awang Azman Awang Pawi, an associate professor who studies socio-culture in University of Malaya.

“More important is whether the new government is successful in its measures within these two weeks,” he said. “If it fails, it will be blamed for having a weak strategy to counter the virus.”

When Singapore closed its mosques on Thursday, Malaysia stopped short of canceling mass Friday prayers. Mosques were instead asked to shorten sermons and provide face masks while those with symptoms of the illness were exempt, instead of banned, from attending prayers.

It was only on Sunday, after the number of cases surged by 80%, that the government held a special meeting with Islamic leaders. They agreed to call off all activities at mosques for 10 days, then had to seek the approval of Malaysia’s king before announcing the decision the following day.

The order was effective immediately in the country’s federal territories, which includes the capital Kuala Lumpur and offshore financial hub Labuan, but religious leaders in each of the nation’s 13 states retained the prerogative to decide on the implementation.

Late on Monday, Muhyiddin announced sweeping bans on incoming visitors and Malaysians traveling overseas, as well as widespread closures of shops, schools, some public services and all places of worship -- except for mosques and prayer houses known as surau, which must follow the Sunday agreement of Islamic leaders.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/03/18/how-a-16000-strong-religious-gathering-led-malaysia-to-lockdown.html

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Arab World

 

Closure of mosques amid coronavirus a religious duty: Muslim World League

18 March 2020

The temporary closure of mosques in some countries across the Islamic world is considered a “religious duty” in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, according to Mohammed al-Issa, the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League.

“This is considered a religious duty dictated by the Islamic Sharia and its general and specific rules. Everybody knows that this pandemic requires taking every measure of precaution including preventing any form of gathering with no exception,” al-Issa said in a video clip exclusive to Al Arabiya.

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“The temporary closure of places of worship in some Islamic countries is considered a religious duty in light of the #coronavirus becoming a pandemic,” says Muhammad al-Issa, the head of the #Mecca-based Muslim World League (@MWLOrg_en).#COVID_19https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/17/Coronavirus-Saudi-Arabia-to-suspend-prayers-at-mosques.html …

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“The Islamic Sharia advises people whose mouths smell after eating to not go to communal prayer let alone if they were infected with a fatal virus which everybody has been warned about with no exceptions. Everyone is subjected to the dangers of this virus,” al-Issa said.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday confirmed it was suspending all prayers inside mosques across the Kingdom, with the exception of those at the Two Holy Mosques, as a measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/03/18/Closure-of-mosques-amid-coronavirus-a-religious-duty-Muslim-World-League.html

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Iraq President Barham Salih names Adnan al-Zurfi as new PM-designate: State TV

17 March 2020

Iraq's President Barham Salih named on Tuesday Adnan al-Zurfi as the new Prime Minister-designate, reported Iraqi State TV.

Lawmaker al-Zurfi - a former member of the Dawa party, a longtime opposition party to ex-dictator Saddam Hussein - has 30 days to form a cabinet which he must then put to a vote of confidence in Iraq's divided parliament.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Iraq-President-Barham-Salih-names-Adnan-al-Zurfi-as-new-PM-designate-State-TV.html

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Egypt police say killed 6 militants in northern Sinai

March 16, 2020

CAIRO: Egyptian police have killed six militants in a shootout in the restive northern Sinai region, the interior ministry said Monday.

The firefight broke out as police forces raided a hideout of “terrorist elements” intent on carrying out “hostile operations,” it said.

Egypt’s security forces are battling a long-running insurgency in the peninsula, spearheaded by a local affiliate of the Daesh group.

Weapons and explosives were found in the militants’ possession, the ministry added, in a statement released along with gruesome photos of the slain militants.

The date of the raid was not specified.

The Islamist insurgency in North Sinai escalated following the military’s 2013 ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Mursi.

Scores of policemen and soldiers have since been killed in militant attacks.

Last month, Daesh said it had blown up a gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula, saying it was connected to Israel.

Security sources however said the targeted pipeline was a domestic one.

Cairo launched a nationwide operation against militants in February 2018, mainly focusing on North Sinai province.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1642266/middle-east

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Senior Iraqi MP: Pompeo’s Remarks Indicate Resumption of US Occupation Era

Mar 17, 2020

“Pompeo’s comments in talks with Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi show the US disrespect for the Iraqi government,” Jassim al-Bakhati, the representative of Hikmat coalition, told the Arabic-language al-Ma’aloumeh news website on Tuesday.

He voiced regret that the US allows itself to violate Iraq’s airspace without even informing the Iraqi government.

“The US aggression shows that Washington’s hegemony has been imposed on Iraq and the US occupation has revived over the country,” al-Bakhati said.

Pompeo told the Iraqi prime minister in a phone conversation that the United States would continue hostile military moves in the country.

His remarks came as Iraqi military and the presidency have condemned the US recent airstrikes against the security forces, and summoned both the American and UK envoys to the country.

“The Iraqi Presidency condemns airstrikes on several bases in Iraq, including a recently opened airport in the Holy City of Karbala which led to the death of security forces and civilians,” the presidency said in a statement on Friday.

The Iraqi military also denounced the US raids as a targeted aggression against the nation's official armed forces and a violation of its sovereignty.

According to the Iraqi military statement, three soldiers, two police officers and one civilian were killed in the attacks.

The statement added that four soldiers, two police officers, one civilian, and five individuals affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) were also wounded.

The Pentagon had claimed earlier on Friday that the strikes targeted five weapons stores used by Iraqi groups that “targeted US forces”.

Iraqi resistance groups denied such allegations.

The attack came only a day after more than a dozen Iraqi fighters were killed in airstrikes targeting an area in Syria's Eastern province of Deir Ezzur.

The Iraqi parliament has voted to expel American troops, prompting President Donald Trump to threaten that the US would seize Iraq's oil money held in a bank account in New York if it was forced to withdraw.

Spokesperson of Iraq Joint Operations Command Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji announced on Sunday suspension of cooperation with the so-called US-led anti-ISIL coalition after Washington’s recent attacks against Iraqi armed forces.

Al-Khafaji told the Arabic-language al-Ma’aloumeh news website that the Iraq Joint Operations Command condemns aggression against the country’s official military forces as a hostile move and aggression.

He added that cooperation with the US-led coalition will be suspended and halted until a new partnership is declared.

Al-Khafaji also said that no group has yet claimed responsibility for attacks on the US forces in al-Taji base.

Also, Iraqi legislators have warned the US to withdraw its soldiers from the country based on the parliament’s earlier approval or wait for the nation's furious and forceful response.

“If the US insists on remaining in Iraq, there are several ways to expel the US forces and if these ways fail to expel the occupiers who savagely attacked the Iraqi forces last Friday, the military option will be put into effect,” member of the Iraqi legislature’s security and defense committee Karim Aliwi said in an interview with the Arabic-language Baghdad al-Youm on Sunday.

He underlined the necessity for the Iraqi government to take rapid action to enforce the parliament’s approval on the expulsion of foreign forces.

Also, Hassan al-Ka’abi, the representative of Badr fraction at the parliament, warned the US that if the American forces are not pulled out of Iraq, they will come to witness a harsh response.

“Insistence on illegal presence in Iraq will have negative impacts on the US and the coalition forces,” he told Baghdad al-Youm.

Different Iraqi groups and figures have deplored the recent US attacks against the security forces in Babel and Karbala provinces, warning that they will expel the American soldiers by force if faced by the government’s procrastination.

Al-Nahj al-Watani fraction in the parliament condemned violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and attacks against the security forces by Washington, warning of extensive consequences of the aggression for security of Iraq and the region.

Also, Na’eim al-Aboudi, a representative of As’aib Ahl al-Haq in the Iraqi parliament called on the government to accelerate measures for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

Meantime, Seyed al-Shohada Brigades, affiliated to Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi popular forces), reminded the American army of its retaliatory acts in the past, warning of the group’s outrage and wrath.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981227000661

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New rockets hit near Baghdad’s Green Zone in Iraq: security source

18 March 2020

A pair of rockets hit a residential district near the Iraqi capital's high-security Green Zone late Tuesday, a security source told AFP, in the second such attack of the day.

The projectiles hit an apartment building and wounded three people there, the source said. No diplomatic missions in the Green Zone were affected, diplomatic sources said.

Just before dawn Tuesday, rockets hit a military base at Besmaya, where US-led coalition troops and NATO forces are deployed alongside Iraqi troops.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/18/New-rockets-hit-near-Baghdad-s-Green-Zone-in-Iraq-security-source.html

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Saudi Arabia to convene virtual G20 summit to address coronavirus pandemic

18 March 2020

Saudi Arabia will convene a virtual extraordinary summit next week bringing together the leaders from the Group of 20 major economies (G20) to address the coronavirus pandemic.

“In light of its presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) this year, the Kingdom is making continuous contacts with the countries of the group to hold an exceptional summit – virtual – next week with the aim of exploring ways to join efforts to counter the spread of the corona epidemic,” a statement from the Kingdom read.

Saudi Arabia is the host of the next G20 summit – an annual gathering of representatives of the world's largest economies.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/18/Saudi-Arabia-to-convene-virtual-G20-summit-next-week-to-address-coronavirus-pandemic.html

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US Treasury slaps sanctions against Syrian defense minister

17 March 2020

The United States has imposed sanctions against the Syrian defense minister as Washington intensifies measures to deprive the Damascus government of the resources it needs to combat Takfiri terrorists ever since the foreign-sponsored militancy erupted in the country in early 2011.

On Tuesday, the Department of the Treasury took the measures against General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, and added the 67-year-old senior Syrian Arab Army officer to its so-called Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List.

Ayyoub was appointed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on January 1, 2018.

Last year, the US Treasury slapped sanctions against 16 individuals and entities associated with the incumbent Syrian government.

The restrictions prohibited material support to Damascus, including shipments of crude oil to Syrian government-controlled ports.

On December 17, 2019, US Senate lawmakers, in a bipartisan vote, approved a $738 billion Pentagon budget, which included an authorization for punishing new sanctions on the Syrian government.

The 86-6 vote in the GOP-dominated Senate followed a similar bipartisan vote in the Democratic-controlled House a week earlier.

Known as the so-called Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act of 2019, the bill includes legislation authorizing sanctions within six months on Syria government officials, military and civilian leaders.

International energy companies seeking to redevelop Syria's oil sector could be a target as well as any company that provides parts for aircraft, including helicopters. Even entities that loan money to the Syrian government could be sanctioned.

Anti-Assad Syrian groups in the United States played a crucial role in pushing the legislation forward.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/17/621097/US-Treasury-slaps-sanctions-against-Syrian-defense-minister

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Iraqi PM-designate will win confidence vote only if US-led troops’ withdrawal guaranteed: Fatah coalition

17 March 2020

A powerful political coalition in Iraq’s parliament says it will give a vote of confidence to premier-designate Adnan Zurfi and support his efforts to form a government only if the 54-year-old lawmaker and the ex-governor of the holy city of Najaf ensures the withdrawal of US-led forces from the country.

Karim Alaiwi, a legislator from the Fatah (Conquest) alliance and a member of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi legislature, told Arabic-language al-Maalomah news agency on Tuesday that Zurfi has a difficult path ahead of himself as he wants to pick the ministers.

Alaiwi emphasized that his political coalition and all allied factions will endorse the premier-designate provided that he ensures the exit of foreign troops, including American ones, from Iraq in the next government’s vision plan as demanded by parliamentary legislation passed earlier this year.

Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill on January 5, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, along with the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) – better known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and their companions in a US airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport two days earlier.

Later on January 9, former Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on the United States to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the move.

According to a statement released by his office at the time, Abdul-Mahdi “requested that delegates be sent to Iraq to set the mechanisms to implement the parliament's decision for the secure withdrawal of (foreign) forces from Iraq” in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The 78-year-old politician said that Iraq rejects any violation of its sovereignty, particularly the US military's violation of Iraqi airspace in the airstrike that assassinated General Soleimani, Muhandis and their companions.

UN team urged to visit Karbala airport, document US aggression

Separately, the custodianship of the Shrine of Imam Hussein (PBUH) in Karbala has sent out an official invitation to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), calling on the UN body to form an international delegation to visit the airport under construction there, and document the US airstrikes on it.

“The custodianship has posted two identical invitations (one in Arabic and another in English) to the Secretary-General for the UNAMI (Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert) to set a date, and pay a visit to Karbala airport in company of specialists in the matter,” Saaduddin Hashim al-Banna, a member of the Board of Directors at the office, said on Tuesday.

He added, “The attack on the airport is a blatant violation of the Iraqi sovereignty, since the airport is intended for purely civil purposes and is meant to serve the city of Karbala in particular and Iraq in general. Moreover, there are no weapons or military equipment in it as opposed to US allegations.”

Banna underlined that Iraqi-owned companies Khairat al-Sibtain and Taibah Karbala are the sole parties in charge of implementing and overseeing the project, emphasizing that they are both known to all Iraqis.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry's Security Media Cell announced in a statement that “at 01:15 local time on Thursday (2215 Wednesday), an American aerial bombardment struck headquarters of Hashd al-Sha’abi, emergency regiments as well as commandos from the 19th Division of the army.”

The statement added that the airstrikes targeted positions in Jurf al-Nasr town, located about 60 kilometers southwest of the capital Baghdad, Musayyib town in the central province of Babil, the holy shrine city of Najaf as well as the ancient central city of Alexandria.

خلية الإعلام الأمني🇮🇶

@SecMedCell

في تمام الساعة الواحدة والربع فجر هذا اليوم حصل اعتداء امريكي من خلال قصف جوي على مناطق (جرف النصر، المسيب، النجف، الاسكندرية) على مقرات تابعة للحشد  الشعبي وأفواج الطوارئ ومغاوير الفرقة التاسعة عشر  جيش.

وسنوافيكم  بالتفاصيل من خلال بيان يصدر  من قيادة العمليات المشتركة  لاحقًا.

1,145

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The US military did not estimate how many people in Iraq may have been killed in the strikes, which officials said were carried out by piloted aircraft.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in a Pentagon statement detailing the strikes, cautioned that the United States was prepared to respond again, if needed.

We will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region,” Esper said.

Separately, an Iraqi official said an airstrike had hit an airport under construction in Karbala, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Baghdad.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arabic-language al-Sumaria television network on Friday that US military aircraft fired three missiles at the airport building, which is located in al-Haidariya district and near the border with neighboring Najaf province.

He added that the air raid killed a worker, and left great material damage at the site.

Meanwhile, CNN, quoting a US military official, reported that the airstrikes were carried out against five weapons storage facilities.

The early Friday US airstrikes were carried out about 24 hours after at least 18 PMU fighters were killed in air raids targeting an area southeast of the city of al-Bukamal in eastern Syria and near the border with Iraq.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/17/621086/Iraqi-PM-designate-will-win-confidence-vote-only-if-US-led-troops%E2%80%99-withdrawal-guaranteed:-Fatah-coalition

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HRW questions grounds for Saudi mass arrests

17 March 2020

Human Rights Watch has brought into question Saudi Arabia’s recent detention campaign that netted 298 government officials over alleged malpractice, warning Riyadh against violating the arrestees’ rights and urging it to publicize the circumstances of their detentions.

A Saudi anti-corruption body known as Nazaha announced on Sunday that it had arrested the officials for crimes such as bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101 million).

“The fight against corruption is no excuse for flagrant due process violations and preventing people from mounting an adequate defense,” the New York-based body cited Michael Page, its deputy Middle East director, on Tuesday as saying.

“Saudi authorities are declaring that they want to take on the scourge of corruption, but the right way to do that is through diligent and fair judicial investigations against actual wrongdoing, not sensationalistic mass arrests without due process,” Page said.

The organization reminded that the right not to be arbitrarily detained was enshrined in the international human rights law, raising suspicion about the reason for the arrests.

Therefore, it noted, Saudi authorities have to immediately reveal “the legal and evidentiary basis” for each person’s detention.

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman heads the country’s anti-corruption committee, meaning that all such moves must go underway with his approval. Bin Salman, who has ordered group arrests of senior officials and royals on several occasions in the past, is accused of trying to stamp out dissent and pave the way for his accession to power through such measures.

The HRW took serious exception to a similar so-called corruption crackdown in November 2017 that ensnared dozens of prominent businessmen, royal family members, and current and former government officials. It said the detainees’ had been subjected to “flagrant” rights abuses during the push.

They were held for three months at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, during which the authorities pressured them to hand over assets to the state in exchange for their release.

The method of coercion, the body noted, was “outside of any recognizable legal process.” It cited a 2018 New York Times’ report, which had said Saudi authorities used physical abuse to force detainees to give up their assets to the point that at least 17 of them ended up requiring hospitalization.

The HRW said some of those arrested in 2017 remained in detention due to their refusal to agree to the state’s terms. Those who had been released remained under close watch, it added, citing an informed source.

Earlier in March, it was reported that the crown prince had gone on a new purge of Saudi royals to lay the groundwork for his succession.

The London-based Middle East Eye news outlet later reported, citing sources, that bin Salman was trying to become king before a G20 Summit planned for November in the Saudi capital, which he intends to use as a stage for his succession.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/17/621078/Saudi-Arabia-mass-arrests-Human-Rights-Watch

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Marine Under Investigation for Allegedly Sharing White Supremacist Material Online

16 Mar 2020

The Marines are investigating an infantryman based at Camp Pendleton for potential violations of the Pentagon's policy against extremism, according to a Marine Corps spokesman.

Lance Cpl. Thomas Cade Martin, 23, posted what some experts called "white supremacist" material across at least two social media accounts over the last two years.

The material includes a flyer with the white supremacist slogan "not stolen, conquered" over a map of the continental U.S. That flyer has been associated with the white nationalist "Patriot Front" organization. Identical flyers were anonymously distributed at San Diego State University in 2018.

His pages also include stylized patriotic graphics and photo illustrations of early 20th Century nationalistic propaganda which experts say are similar to those affiliated with the American Identity Movement, a white supremacist organization that changed its name from Identity Evropa after its involvement in planning the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd and killed an anti-racist activist.

Martin describes himself on his Twitter account as a "nationalist" and says he is the chairman of a group called the "U.S. Nationalist Initiative." Its Facebook page has more than 1,400 followers.

Related: Lawmaker Wants More Tools to Confront White Supremacy in the Military

Experts who reviewed the page said it displayed indicators of white supremacist messaging, but one said Martin's is a "borderline" case because older posts on the page featured race-inclusive messaging.

Reached via Facebook, Martin, who is deployed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit on the Navy amphibious ship Green Bay, told the Union-Tribune that, due to his deployment, he's "barely able to communicate with the outside world by voice out here."

He declined to answer questions about his beliefs or his organization. He also stopped responding to requests for comment over Facebook Messenger.

In a post on his personal Facebook page dated Dec. 2, 2019, Martin called the organizations that marched in Charlottesville "nationalist," the same word he used to describe his beliefs.

Martin wrote that he has problems with the way the groups at the Charlottesville rally "carried themselves."

"Nationalists should have discipline, class, civility, and a consciousness for good aesthetic," Martin wrote in the post. "Instead of engaging in pointless temper tantrums; we should be strengthening our minds, bodies, and spirits."

Martin, who does not mention the protestor's death, added, "the stature they carried themselves with was no different than the communist scum they were rallying against. They represent Nationalism in a way I don't appreciate. They make us appear like savages and creatures of brutality."

Recently Martin has defended his writings on social media. In a tweet on Feb. 26, Martin told his Twitter audience that activists were defaming him.

"I've violated no articles of the UCMJ," he wrote, referencing the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which provides the legal framework of the military justice system.

According to Pentagon regulations, military members are not allowed to advocate "supremacist, extremist .... doctrine, ideology, or causes .... or otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights."

Martin is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton — the same unit in which several Marines were arrested in July for allegedly transporting illegal immigrants and for drug offenses. Martin was not among those arrested.

He is deployed with the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan. A spokesman for the Marine Expeditionary Force confirmed the Corps is investigating Martin.

"III MEF takes all allegations of misconduct seriously, whether on duty, off duty, or online," said 1st Lt. Ryan Bruce in an email.

"Any form of racism or discrimination undermines the core values of the Marine Corps and is not tolerated. The command is thoroughly investigating this situation."

The spokesman did not say how Martin and his social media posts came to their attention.

The Union-Tribune reviewed Martin's Facebook account and the Facebook page and web site of the U.S. Nationalist Initiative with Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. Pitcavage in February testified before a House Armed Services subcommittee on white supremacy in the military.

Pitcavage said in an interview he has never seen a case like Martin's before because, while Martin's latest posts contain "clearly racist things," his older posts on the U.S. Nationalist Initiative page suggest a more race-inclusive brand of nationalism.

"No white supremacist group I'm aware of has done memes featuring people of color in a positive way," Pitcavage said during a phone interview Friday.

"It's unusual.... This may be a case of someone evolving from a civic nationalist to a white nationalist. Early in the alt-right (movement), not everyone was a white supremacist. After the alt-right got so much publicity as a white supremacist movement, these people began dropping out of (it)."

People in the "alt-light" prefer the term "civic nationalist," Pitcavage said.

"Some of (Martin's) earlier stuff looked like an alt-light, civic nationalist thing," he said. "But his later stuff — like the post about Charlottesville, talking about aesthetics, talking about fighting for your own people, are more white nationalism. This is a difficult, borderline case; there's certainly enough to make you suspicious."

Emily Gorcenski, an anti-fascist researcher who created First Vigil, a website that tracks neo-Nazi criminality, was among those on Twitter trying to draw attention to Martin's activity. To Gorcenski, Martin's ideology is obvious.

"He does espouse out-and-out white nationalist beliefs," she told the Union-Tribune in a direct message. "Patriot Front is an explicitly white nationalist organization and he is quite clearly using their propaganda ... he even describes himself as a nationalist."

Gorcenski also pointed to Martin's photos of himself.

"'Conquered, not stolen' is a white nationalist belief, and despite the fancy window dressing and sharp suits, his messaging is indistinguishable from the messaging of orgs like Patriot Front, Identity Evropa (now known as the American Identity Movement) or the Rise Above Movement," she said.

Martin's own comments are suggestive of ideology as well, experts said.

In one post on his personal page, a photo of himself in uniform with a rifle, Martin says he's "dreaming about my future blue eyed blonde haired mistress."

In the comments on the post, he explains "I'd just like to help contribute to the preservation of my lineage."

In a comment thread on the group's page, Martin "liked" a comment from another user that alludes to a slogan called the 14 words: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."

The Anti-Defamation League describes the 14 words as "the most popular white supremacist slogan in the world."

Peter Simi, a professor at Chapman University who has studied extremist groups for 20 years, said that although Martin appears to go to great lengths to avoid overt references to white supremacy online, his approval of the 14 words is a "giveaway" to the ideology underlining his activities.

"(White supremacist ideology) is pretty camouflaged for the most part but there are a couple of giveaways," Simi said while reviewing Martin's Facebook account and and page.

"The reference to the 14 words is one of them," he said.

The other, Simi said, is a post on Martin's personal account where he says the word "racist" is "made up."

"That kind of denial is consistent with white supremacist ideology," Simi said.

Martin says in the post the word "racist" is among several "made up" words used by the left. Another, he says, is "anti-Semite."

"Sacrifice what you believe in ... or get called racist," Martin wrote. "I know what my choice is gonna be."

Martin has had one run-in with authorities before.

In 2016, as a senior at Magnolia West High School in Magnolia, Texas, Martin was captured on video describing how he would commit a mass shooting at the school. He was criminally charged with making terroristic threats but the charge was dropped.

According to a story on Houston's KPRC news channel, Martin explained in a Facebook post he was just describing how a shooting could happen at the school, not saying he would do it.

Pitcavage said the Anti-Defamation League is not tracking the U.S. Nationalist Initiative, which Martin chairs, because it appears to be a small operation.

A review of the nationalist organization's website shows only one other person in leadership — Everett Corley, listed as the group's vice chairman.

Corley is a realtor who ran for Congress in Kentucky in 2016 and became embroiled in controversy around the removal of a Confederate monument at the University of Louisville. Corley called a professor a "damn dirty black bastard" in a Facebook post he later deleted, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Corley also has appeared on a white nationalist YouTube show called "The Ethno State" in 2014, the newspaper reported.

In a November 2018 Facebook post, Martin called Corley an "unsung hero ... an amazing friend and very wise man."

Corley did not respond to an email sent to his U.S. Nationalist Initiative address, to texts to a number associated with him nor to private messages sent via Facebook.

The Marines have taken a hard stance against members of white supremacist organizations within its ranks.

In 2018 it court-martialed a Marine who participated in the Charlottesville rally and had joined a neo-Nazi group, and in 2019 it discharged a Marine who included Nazi images in an Instagram account. In February, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger announced a ban on Confederate paraphernalia on the Corps' bases, telling Military.com "things that divide us are not good."

Pitcavage said during his Congressional testimony that the unchecked presence of extremists in the military leads to "serious negative consequences for the services ... and the country."

Among the most dangerous extremists, Pitcavage said, are those with white supremacist beliefs.

"While there are many extreme right-wing causes in the United States, white supremacists have posed the greatest challenges to the U.S. military," Pitcavage said.

Simi said knowing Martin is currently armed and deployed with the Marines is worrisome.

"It makes me nervous, knowing he endorses the 14 words and is walking around with a firearm overseas," Simi said.

The Marine Corps did not say when the investigation into Martin might conclude.

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/03/16/marine-under-investigation-allegedly-sharing-white-supremacist-material-online.html

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Iran weighs releasing detained Americans amid coronavirus pandemic: Pompeo

17 March 2020

Iran is considering releasing some Americans it has detained, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, as he urged the Islamic Republic to free them as a humanitarian gesture because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are aware that they are thinking about whether to release them or not,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.

“Everyone should know that we are working it, we are communicating with them, and we are urging them, as we have done publicly many times, to release every American that is being wrongfully held there as a humanitarian gesture, given the risk that is posed to them given what is taking place inside of Iran.”

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Iran-weighs-releasing-detained-Americans-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-Pompeo.html

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US imposes fresh sanctions on Iran amid coronavirus outbreak

18 March 2020

The United States has announced a new round of sanctions against Iran as part of its so-called "maximum pressure" campaign against the Islamic Republic.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Washington had blacklisted three Iranian entities for engaging in what he called “significant transactions” to trade in Iranian petrochemicals.

While he did not name any firms or individuals, Pompeo said the measure included blacklisting Iran’s armed forces social security investment company and its director for investing in the sanctioned entities.

In a separate statement, the US Commerce Department also said it would boycott a number of entities, including five Iranian nuclear scientists, for aiding Tehran’s nuclear program.

President Donald Trump reinstated US sanctions on Iran in May 2018 after he unilaterally left the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and major world powers.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) — known as the World Court — has ordered the US to lift the sanctions it has illegally re-imposed on humanitarian supplies to Iran.

Over the past weeks, calls have been growing on the world stage for the US to lift its illegal sanctions, which have severely affected Iran’s healthcare systems at a time when all countries are trying to join forces against the pandemic.

The new sanctions come as China and Russia, in particular, have urged the US to remove its sanctions on Tehran since the restrictions could interfere with Iran’s efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The coronavirus, which causes a respiratory disease known as covid-19, emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei Province late last year and is currently affecting more than 160 countries and territories across the globe. It has so far infected over 180,000 people and killed more than 7,400 others.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/18/621105/US-fresh-sanctions-Iran-coronavirus-outbreak

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US slaps sanctions on Syrian defense minister

Michael Hernandez

17.03.2020

WASHINGTON

The U.S. sanctioned Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced Thursday.

Ayoub has been added to the department's Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List, and any of his assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction have been frozen. Americans are now generally prohibited from conducting business with him.

The designation comes amid a halt to the Syrian regime's offensive on Idlib, in the country's northwest, that has displaced some 900,000 people according to UN estimates.

Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018. The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire, launching frequent attacks inside the zone.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and over 10 million others displaced during the course of the Syrian conflict, now in its tenth year.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-slaps-sanctions-on-syrian-defense-minister/1769542

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US designates ISIS leader as ‘Global Terrorist’

March 18, 2020

The US government on Tuesday named the new leader of ISIS, Muhammad Al Mawla, as a specially designated global terrorist.

“We remain committed to ISIS’s enduring defeat, no matter who they name as their leader,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said while announcing the decision.

Al Mawla, of Iraqi-Turkmen descent, was appointed leader of the group after the killing of Abubakr Al Baghdadi last October.

He is also known as Abu Ibrahim Al Qurashi, Hajji Abdallah, Abdul Amir Salbi, and Abu Umar Al Turkmani.

The State Department said Al Mawla was “active in ISIS’s predecessor organisation, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and steadily rose through the ranks of ISIS to become the deputy amir.”

“Al Mawla helped to drive and attempt to justify the abduction, slaughter, and trafficking of Yazidi religious minorities in north-west Iraq and oversees the group’s global operations,” the department said.

Last November, the US put a bounty of $5 million (Dh18.3m) for Al Mawla’s capture through its “rewards for justice” programme.

The US also sanctioned the Syrian Defence Minister, Lt Gen Ali Ayoub, for “his deliberate actions since December 2019 to prevent a ceasefire from taking hold in northern Syria”.

It said that obstruction “resulted in almost a million people being displaced and in dire need of humanitarian aid in the middle of a cold winter in Idlib".

Secretary Pompeo

@SecPompeo

The U.S. is taking action to sanction Assad regime Lt. General Ayoub for the violence perpetuated against the people of northern #Syria. Such violence that impacts civilians, humanitarian workers, and hospitals must not be tolerated. We stand on the side of the Syrian people.

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“We stand on the side of the Syrian people while the Assad regime and its Iranian and Russian enablers continue their illusory quest for a military solution in Syria,” Mr Pompeo said.

https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-americas/us-designates-isis-leader-as-global-terrorist-1.994028

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India

 

India rejects Jammu and Kashmir reference in Pakistan-China statement

Mar 18, 2020

China on Tuesday assured Pakistan it is paying “close attention” to the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and that it opposes any unilateral actions in the region, prompting New Delhi to say that it expects Beijing not to comment on India’s internal affairs.

The reference to Kashmir was included in a joint statement issued at the end of Pakistan President Arif Alvi’s maiden visit to China amid the coronavirus pandemic. The two sides also spoke about making the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a “high-quality demonstration project” of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

“The Chinese side underscored that it was paying close attention to the current situation and reiterated that the Kashmir issue was a dispute left from history, and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements,” the joint statement added.

It added that China “opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation” in Kashmir. The statement further said both sides had exchanged views on the situation in Kashmir, and the Pakistan side had briefed the Chinese side on the “latest developments, including its concerns, position, and current urgent issues”.

Pakistan and China also said the new phase of development of CPEC will promote industrialisation and socio-economic development. “Both sides hoped that the 10th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting of CPEC, to be held soon, will further contribute to making CPEC a High-Quality Demonstration Project of BRI,” the statement said.

In a terse response soon after, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India rejects the reference to Jammu & Kashmir in the joint statement. “The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Issues related to J&K are [an] internal matter of India,” he said.

“We expect other countries, including China, not to comment on matters that are internal affairs of India and also to respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity just as India refrains from commenting on internal issues of other countries,” he said.

India also strongly objected to and reiterated its concerns to China and Pakistan on projects in the “so-called illegal ‘China Pakistan Economic Corridor’, which is in the territory of India that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947,” Kumar said.

“India is resolutely opposed to any actions by other countries to change the status quo in Pakistan-occupied J&K. We call on parties concerned to cease such actions. Such illegal activities will never be accepted by India,” he said.

India has consistently opposed CPEC because a key part of it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The reference to Kashmir in the joint statement was in line with China’s strong opposition to India’s decision to revoke Jammu & Kashmir’s special status last August. New Delhi had dismissed Beijing’s criticism, saying this was an internal matter that did not impact international boundaries.

Alvi met President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and the chairperson of China’s parliament, Li Zhanshu. Alvi’s visit is being as seen Pakistan’s show of solidarity with China at a time when it is grappling with the worst public health crisis since the country’s formation under Communist rule in 1949.

During the meetings, China acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism and combat terror financing. Beijing also expressed its solidarity with Islamabad in “safeguarding its territorial sovereignty, independence, and security”, and both sides reaffirmed their support on issues concerning each other’s core national interests.

Xi personally thanked Alvi for visiting China at a critical time and expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s gesture of support and solidarity. Pakistan continued its support to China in Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of serious human rights violations against Muslim minorities.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-rejects-j-k-reference-in-pakistan-china-statement/story-2kqFdXfrZRMfJiCheVpm9N.html

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PM Modi Slams Pak; Hails Bangladesh Policies at Mujib Birth Anniversary Event

Mar 18, 2020

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday took a swipe at Pakistan for using terror as an instrument of state policy while praising Bangladesh for the progress it has made due to its inclusive and development-oriented policies.

In a video message delivered during celebrations in Dhaka to mark the birth anniversary of the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Modi said the country is setting new benchmarks in economy and social indices. Without naming Pakistan, he said: “We are all witnessing how making terror and violence weapons of politics and diplomacy, destroys a society and a nation. The world is also watching where the supporters of terror and violence are currently placed and in what state they are, while Bangladesh is scaling new heights.”

Modi’s speech made no reference to recent irritants in India-Bangladesh ties, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s questioning of the necessity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and widespread protests in the neighbouring country against the violence in Delhi. Modi was expected to be one of the key speakers at the birth centenary celebrations, but deferred his visit after Bangladesh scaled down and postponed several events because of COVID-19.

Modi played up the improvement in ties between the two sides in various fields in recent years.

“In the past five to six years, India and Bangladesh have scripted a golden chapter of bilateral ties... It is because of increasing trust ... that we have been able to amicably resolve complex issues like land boundary and maritime boundary.” Bangladesh is now India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia and “electricity generated in India is lighting up lakhs of houses and factories in Bangladesh”, he said.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/pm-modi-takes-swipe-at-pak-in-speech-for-mujibur-rahman-s-birth-anniversary-celebrations/story-cCJLesdOu6D7tNePvmrW1L.html

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Mother wants daughter back from ISIS, seeks Centre''s help

17 MARCH 2020

Thiruvananthapuram, Mar 17 (PTI) The mother of Nimisha Fatima, who embraced Islam and is suspected to have joined the Islamic State (ISIS) four years ago, has sought the intervention of the Central government to bring her daughter back. Bindhu met the media after a video was released by a Delhi-based website on March 15 which showed Nimisha and two other Keralite women - Rafeela and Soniya Sebastian - expressing their interest and hope to return to India. "I am seeing my daughter after four years, in that video. I want my child to return. Only the Central government can help me. I know she will have to undergo lengthy legal procedures. But I hope she will come," Bindhu told the media. Nimisha Fatima and her husband were among the 22 Keralites who were reported missing from Kasaragod and Palakkad in June 2016 and had reached the bastion of ISIS terror operations in Afghanistan. Nimisha gave birth there. The NIA has been probing into the case of the missing Keralites. Four years after they fled India to join the terrorist outfit Islamic state (ISIS), the website has come out with a video in which the three Malayalee women speak about their life under a caliphate. The three Malayalee women had fled between 2016 and 2018 with their husbands to join the ISIS. In the video, the women were seen saying they were living among the several fighters and other families who had surrendered to the Afghanistan government in 2019, after their husbands were killed. "The reason we moved was to live an Islamic life under a Caliphate, Muslim rule. But once we reached there, many of our expectations were not met," Soniya was seen telling the website. Sonia also said she was looking forward to return to India and join her husbands family. Now, I want to return to India to my husbands family and I want to cut myself off from everything that has happened. My husband is also no more and what I have left is only my husband''s family and now I wish to return to India, she said. Nimisha also was seen in the video saying things were not as it was when they reached ISIS. "...Now the situation is different. And I have no idea what is happening. So I dont know, is there any place at all, or nothing. At this point, theres no point in doing hijrah. But at the same time, I cant say that when there is a khilafa, we shouldnt do hijrah, that I cant say, Nimisha said. Bindhu had, in November last year, identified her son- in-law and granddaughter from among those who had surrendered recently in Afghanistan. Bindu then told television channels that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had sent her a few photographs of people who had surrendered. PTI RRT NVG NVG

https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/mother-wants-daughter-back-from-isis-seeks-centres-help/1771386

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NIA raids ‘tainted’ J&K DSP’s house

Mar 17, 2020

SRINAGAR: A National Investigation Agency team on Tuesday evening raided the house of suspended J&K Police DSP Davinder Singh in Indranagar area of Srinagar and seized a Santro car from there. This was the second NIA raid on Singh’s house after his arrest in January.

An NIA official said the team, accompanied by police and CRPF personnel, conducted searches inside Singh’s house around 6.30pm. The team seized the Santro car, which was parked in the courtyard of the house.

J&K police had arrested Davinder Singh on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway on January 11 when he was transporting three Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists — Naveed, Rafi and Irfan — to Jammu. After initial investigations by the J&K Police, the case was handed over to NIA.

Singh was posted at the Srinagar International Airport as the second-in-command of the anti-hijacking squad of J&K Police before he was arrested and suspended.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/nia-raids-tainted-jk-dsps-house/articleshow/74680097.cms

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G20 talks: PM Modi rings up Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman

by Shubhajit Roy

March 18, 2020

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday and the two leaders agreed that a video conference between G20 leaders should take place, as it would be useful to discuss special measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had said that Modi had mooted the proposal for a video conference between the G-20 leaders.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had spoken to US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo on March 14 and they had discussed the developments pertaining to Covid-19, including ways in which India and the United States can cooperate to address this global challenge.

Modi’s phone call to Salman is important since Saudi Arabia is the Chair for the G-20 summit this year. On Tuesday, a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that Modi and Salman discussed the global situation regarding the pandemic.

“(The) Prime Minister emphasised the need for coordinated efforts to adequately address this global challenge, which has impacted not only the health and well-being of several hundred thousand people but also threatens to adversely affect the economy in many parts of the world,” the MEA statement said.

In this context, Modi mentioned India’s recent initiative to organise a video conference among SAARC countries. “The two leaders agreed that a similar exercise at the level of G20 leaders, under the aegis of Saudi Arabia as the Chair of G20, would be useful at a global scale, both for discussing specific measures to address the challenges posed by the global outbreak of COVID-19 and also to instil confidence in the global populace,” it said.

“The Prime Minister and the Crown Prince decided that their officials would remain in close contact in this regard,” it said.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/coronavirus-g20-talks-pm-modi-rings-up-saudi-crown-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-6319459/

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Coronavirus: J-K government bans entry of foreign tourists to Kashmir

Mar 17, 2020

The Jammu and Kashmir government on Tuesday has banned entry of foreign tourists to Kashmir as a precautionary measure in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

Baseer Ahmad Khan, advisor to the Lt. Governor issued orders in this regard late Tuesday.

Secretary Tourism, Director Tourism and DCs have been asked to ensure implementation of the order with immediate effect.

Earlier in the day, the administration ordered the closure of hotels, restaurants, community kitchens and banned home delivery of food in Srinagar as part of additional steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The ban on foreign tourists came four states in the Northeast, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram and Nagaland had banned entry of foreigners as precautionary measure against the spread of coronavirus.

Three people have tested positive for coronavirus in Jammu so far.

Almost 2500 people including travelers and people who were in contact with suspected cases have been put under surveillance while 2095 people are under home quarantine in the union territory.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/coronavirus-j-k-government-bans-entry-of-foreign-tourists-to-kashmir/story-8SngT3qcFRG2XVrA1AC2OL.html

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Amid reports of 254 Indians testing positive in Iran: Officials say more flights for Iran, Italy likely

Mar 17, 2020

Rezaul H Laskar and Mir Ehsan

New Delhi/Srinagar: More evacuation flights will be operated to Iran and Italy, the two countries worst affected by Covid-19, people familiar with developments said on Tuesday against the backdrop of reports that some 250 Indians had tested positive for Coronavirus in Iranian cities of Qom and Tehran.

The flights, to be operated from Wednesday, will focus on bringing back students and pilgrims in Iran, who have tested negative, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity. Those who tested positive will be treated in hospitals in Qom or Tehran, the people added.

India will also operate at least one or two flights in the coming days to bring back students who have tested negative in Italy, the people said. There are no plans currently to operate evacuation flights to other Covid-19-affected regions, they said.

According to a list shared by pilgrims stranded in Qom with others in Kashmir, 254 pilgrims and students have purportedly tested positive for Covid-19. The list includes details such as names, passport numbers and PNR numbers for flights.

Faced with questions about the list at a news briefing, additional secretary Dammu Ravi, the external affairs ministry’s pointperson for all Covid-19-related issues, said: “I cannot confirm whether it [the list] is authentic or not or the veracity of facts that are there. But we have to expect, given the situation in Iran where the virus is widespread, that there can be some cases.”

Ravi insisted Indians in Iran are being “very well looked after” by the embassy in coordination with the Iranian government. “All Indian pilgrims in Iran are safe and they are in the good care of the mission, the ambassador is showing personal interest and the mission is taking care of all their needs,” he said.

The Indians who reportedly tested positive are from a group of around 840 pilgrims from Kargil and Leh districts. According to the list, some 170 of them are in 15 hotels in Qom and the rest in Tehran. Their samples were collected by a team of Indian doctors currently in Iran and the results were delivered on March 15, their relatives said.

Sajjad Kargili, a social worker from Ladakh, told HT he had been informed 254 people from Ladakh had tested positive. “The pilgrims are staying in hotels of Qom and in the absence of any facilities. They are going for self-isolation as they wait to be evacuated. Unfortunately, the Indian embassy in Tehran is not doing anything for them and they have been left at the mercy of the almighty,” he said.

Most of the stranded pilgrims were booked on flights between February 28 and March 10. “After the Indian government cancelled flights from Iran, they had nowhere to go. Their visas have expired and they have no money left,” he added.

A delegation from Ladakh comprising religious scholars, leaders and civil society activists is camping in Delhi to press for their evacuation. The delegation met external affairs minister S Jaishankar and it was decided pilgrims who tested negative will be evacuated in batches, members of the delegation said.

“It’s unfortunate that after some people tested positive, the Indian embassy did nothing to segregate them. From today [Tuesday], they have started segregating them,” said Feroz Khan, chief executive councillor of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.

People familiar with the thinking in New Delhi and Tehran acknowledged that authorities in both countries were operating in challenging circumstances as the Iranian healthcare facilities had been stretched by the outbreak. According to WHO, Iran has reported nearly 15,000 infections and 853 deaths, making it the third worst-affected country after China and Italy.

“An evacuation flight by Mahan Air will bring back some of the Indians on Wednesday. We are trying to arrange requisite clearances for more flights,” said a person who declined to be named.

A second person said flights could also be operated by Air India if needed, and all tickets booked with Mahan Air would be honoured, including for flights cancelled when India suspended air travel from Iran on February 27.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/amid-reports-of-254-indians-testing-positive-in-iran-officials-say-more-flights-for-iran-italy-likely/story-UiCbaw9lU6ZoVKYEZtHYeK.html

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Europe

 

Russia Continues To Conflate Freedom Of Religion Or Belief And Extremism

March 18, 2020

On March 4, 2020, Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, presented her new report on human rights impact of policies and practices aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism. In the report, the Special Rapporteur stressed that any laws based on the broad concept of extremism cannot be seen as human rights compliant. She emphasized that: “The category of ‘extremist’ crimes is particularly vague and problematic. Absent the qualifier of ‘violent extremism conducive to terrorism’, the term remains broad and overly vague and may encroach on human rights in profound and far-reaching ways… The term ‘extremism’ has no purchase in binding international legal standards and, when operative as a criminal legal category, is irreconcilable with the principle of legal certainty; it is therefore per se incompatible with the exercise of certain fundamental human rights.”

The Special Rapporteur further added that “legislation that criminalizes ‘extremist’ thought, belief and content or ‘hate speech’ on the basis that it is a precursor to terrorism, because it is often used as a placeholder for silencing non-established or minority religious groups or non-majority opinions.”

This is a message that is yet to be delivered to Russia. Over recent years, in Russia, one after another Jehovah’s Witness has been arrested and/or prosecuted for not ceasing to practice their faith. The arrests come as a result of a ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, handed down on April 20, 2017, which liquidated the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Solnechnoye and 395 Local Religious Organizations (LROs) used by Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Russia. In doing so, the Russian Supreme Court opened the doors to charges under the Russian Criminal Code against (virtually) any members of the LROs (used by over 175,000 practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia). Furthermore, the ruling pronounced that the “property of the liquidated religious organization remaining once creditors’ demands have been satisfied” to be turned over to the Russian Federation.

Since the ruling, at least 313 members of the Jehovah's Witnesses have been placed under investigation and face criminal charges. This includes 35 held in prison (26 in pretrial detention; 9 convicted and serving time in prison), 25 under house arrest, 29 convicted (9 imprisoned, 8 fined, 12 others with restrictions) (as of February 24, 2020). Furthermore, in 2020 alone, Russian law enforcement has raided over 70 homes of Jehovah's Witnesses.

All of the charges that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses face relate to Article 280 and 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. Article 282.2 criminalizes the act of organizing the activity of an extremist community with subsection (1) concerning “organizing the activity of a non-governmental or religious association or other organization that due to its extremist activity was liquidated or had its activity banned by a court decision that has entered legal force, with the exception of organizations declared terrorist under Russian Federation legislation”, and subsection (2) “Participating in the activity of a non-governmental or religious association or other organization that due to its extremist activity was liquidated or had its activity banned by a court decision that has entered legal force, with the exception of organizations declared terrorist under Russian Federation legislation.” Furthermore, Article 282.2, Subsection (1.1.) criminalizes the act of “persuading, recruiting, or otherwise inducing a person to participate in the activity of an extremist organization.”

Russia’s violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief has started to move beyond its own boarders. On February 21, 2020, Nikolai Makhalichev, a Jehovah's Witnesses from Russia, was arrested in Belarus while on holiday visiting friends. He had reportedly been placed on an interstate wanted list for allegedly practicing a forbidden religion. He has been detained indefinitely and is facing the possibility of extradition.

While countering terrorism and protecting people from its effects is an important role of the state, Russia must re-evaluate its position and distinguish between countering terrorism and using and abusing the very broad concept of extremism to curtail human rights of all. The case of Jehovah’s Witness in Russia shows the danger that laws based on such a concept can have on the right to freedom of religion or belief. It should be a warning to any states considering taking an approach focused on the concept of “extremism” in all its forms and without any link to terrorism. It should be a warning to anyone championing human rights.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2020/03/16/russia-continues-to-conflate-freedom-of-religion-or-belief-and-extremism/#2f443c76bd67

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UK's air war against Isis ends after five years

16 Mar 2020

Britain’s five-year air war against Isis has quietly come to an end, with official figures revealing no bombs have been dropped since September – yet the MoD still acknowledges only one civilian casualty in the entire conflict.

The data shows that over a period longer than the first world war, 4,215 bombs and missiles were launched from Reaper drones or RAF jets in Syria and Iraq, and a wide discrepancy has emerged between UK and US estimates of the number of civilians killed.

The US-led coalition against Isis estimates that all air raids caused 1,370 civilian casualties, and a fresh analysis by Airwars, an NGO, of “problem strikes”, in which it believed noncombatants were killed, has highlighted three involving the RAF.

Fifteen civilians were killed by the RAF in the strikes in 2017 and 2018, based on evidence from local reports. In the worst incident, 12 civilians were killed as a result of a blast at a building housing Isis fighters in Raqqa in Syria in August 2017.

Chris Woods, director of Airwars, said the UK was “one of several of the US’s key European allies in the war against so-called Islamic State to routinely deny civilian harm from their own actions”, listing France and Belgium as other nations that refused to acknowledge the deaths of noncombatants.

Airwars also puts the true figure for civilian casualties far higher, at between 8,269 and 13,176, because coalition forces could not make a proper assessment on the ground.

The RAF conducted on average more than two strikes a day over the five-year period, on 8,400 missions, and killed, it is believed, 3,964 Isis fighters, often using heavy, 200kg-plus munitions. The missiles and bombs cost an estimated £312m.

Chris Coles, director of Drone Wars, which also collects data about RAF operations, accused the MoD of engaging in “obfuscation, secrecy and – as these revelations show – a kind of internal structural self-denial, where it has become seemingly impossible for the MoD even to accept that civilian casualties have occurred”.

The UK says it wants “hard proof” that civilians have been killed, while the US-led coalition uses a different “balance of probabilities” approach. An MoD spokesperson added: “The MoD examines all the evidence available to us, including a comprehensive assessment of all available mission data, and have seen nothing that indicates civilian casualties were caused.”

But critics say the UK’s methodology is is not credible. Martin Docherty-Hughes, an SNP member of the House of Commons defence select committee, said he would be asking in parliament for the MoD to explain the “obvious discrepancy” in the figures. “It is essential for public trust that we are given an accurate picture of the consequences of these operations,” he added.

Justin Bronk, an air power analyst with defence thinktank Rusi, said that while the war against Isis was arguably “a success on the terms laid out, to defeat the caliphate as a state”, the single acknowledged civilian casualty “encourages the myth that war can be clean”.

Remotely piloted Reaper drones fired a quarter of all missiles – twice as many as in Afghanistan – and accounted for nearly half of the mission hours flown, highlighting, Coles said, “the stress and workload on Reaper aircrews” based at sites such as RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Bombings peaked in January 2016, when RAF pilots released seven weapons a day, largely to suppress the spread of Isis in Iraq, but continued at the rate of two or three a day through 2018 almost to the terror group’s last stand in Baghouz last March. By the time Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died following a US special forces raid in October, they had stopped.

The last mission took place on 25 September, when Typhoon jets flying from the Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus bombed two deserted buildings housing Isis fighters who had been fighting Iraqi security forces in the north of the country.

Six months later, the figure dropped to zero, and the MoD now acknowledges that the air campaign appears over. An MOD spokesperson said: “The RAF continues to provide capabilities including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights, as well as the continued availability of strike and air defence assets.”

No British personnel were killed in operations.

The UK joined the war against Isis after two successive votes in the Commons. Parliament was recalled in September 2014 a fortnight after Isis released a video showing the beheading of the British aid worker David Haines. A majority of 481 approved the strikes in Iraq.

The second vote, in December 2015, approving strikes in Syria, was more fraught. It split the Labour party as it was carried by 397 votes to 223 – with all three of the current crop of leadership candidates, Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, voting against.

Full report at:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/16/uk-air-war-isis-ends-five-years

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French judges order charges against 20 in 2015 Paris attacks

16 March 2020

PARIS -- French judges investigating the 2015 Islamic State attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris have ordered charges against 20 people, including a Belgian accused of masterminding the attacks who was held for years in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being freed and returned home.

Three of the group, including the alleged mastermind, Oussama Atar, are believed to have died in the group's final months of fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Also accused is the only survivor of the Paris cell, Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested near his home in Brussels after months on the run. Abdeslam's brother, Brahim, blew himself up in Paris.

Of the 20, 11 are jailed, three are under house arrest and six face international arrest warrants.

All are charged with terrorism offenses. Atar is charged as the leader.

Full report at:

https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/french-judges-order-charges-20-2015-paris-attacks-69617698

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No, Britain is not on the verge of anti-Muslim pogroms

18th March 2020

Musician and actor Riz Ahmed’s new short film, The Long Goodbye, has been released to accompany his new album of the same name. The film depicts an Asian family – in the midst of preparing for a wedding – being dragged from their homes and executed.

The killers are a gang of armed white men who arrive in a black van. The police, also white, stand by and do nothing. The family’s white neighbours then watch from their window as the Asian family members are shot in the head. The film ends with Ahmed rapping about how he doesn’t feel at home in the UK. The message? Presumably that Ahmed’s own feelings of disillusionment is rooted in his foreknowledge of an impending fascist slide in British society.

The film has already received much acclaim. He gave an interview to Radio 4 in which he argued that there are many people in Britain who would not consider him to be British. When asked whether racial divides are more pronounced in America than in the UK, he replied ‘pick your poison’. In other words, British Muslims are in a comparable position to blacks in the US. Or possibly worse. The Holocaust also came up in the interview.

Art should be provocative. It should challenge preconceived ideas and received wisdom. But Ahmed’s film reinforces received wisdom. After all, most of his luvvie Guardianista fans lap up the idea that Britain is a racist hellhole. He is one of a growing number of young creatives who receive almost unqualified veneration for producing work that presents the working classes of Britain – depicted here as armed white thugs – as being on the cusp of fascism.

Now, art has often been a powerful vehicle to make political points about racism and state violence. Many have compared Ahmed’s short film to MIA’s video for ‘Born Free’, in which ginger-haired people are violently rounded up by the state. But MIA used ginger-haired people to highlight the real-life plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Art will always be a vehicle to portray injustices that are actually occurring in the world.

But this is not what The Long Goodbye is about. Ahmed’s film seeks to trade off the message that British Muslims are in a comparable position to European Jews prior to the Holocaust. This is the message of his film. His own feelings about ‘not being at home’ in Britain, which may be explained by the fact that he spends a lot of time making films in the US, is somehow reflective of the precarious situation all British Muslims apparently find themselves in.

It is worth asking why there is such a significant audience for Ahmed’s brand of massacre porn. Of course, art does not have to be moral, nor does it have to reflect or speak to reality. It has no responsibility to be politically coherent or even politically persuasive. It should be judged on its artistic merit. But this is difficult in the case of The Long Goodbye, because the sole point of it is to deliver a message – to wake people up to the fact that British Muslims are at risk of being massacred in Britain by mass state-sponsored racial violence, meted out by the white working class.

But of course British Muslims are not at risk of being massacred in Britain. Consider the evidence regarding Islamophobia in Britain. The Independent claimed in 2019 to have uncovered evidence that Islamophobia is ‘thriving in all parts of British society’. It cited statistics suggesting that 31 per cent of the population believe that Islam poses a threat to the British way of life, and only 32 per cent believe that Islam and the British way of life are compatible.

But these numbers do not reveal widespread anti-Muslim bigotry. For instance, 41 per cent of those who suggest that Islam and Western life are incompatible believe that ‘Islam breeds intolerance for free speech and calls for violent actions against those who mock, criticise or depict the religion in ways they believe are offensive’. This is not reflective of a generalised hatred of Muslims. Rather, it expresses concern about the impact of certain sections of Islam on important aspects of Western life.

Islam does encourage ‘intolerance of free speech’. It has ‘called for violent actions’ on those who ‘mock the religion’. Those who point this out do not necessarily have a hostile attitude to Muslims; they are simply criticising strains of thought within Islam. These are entirely legitimate concerns to hold. To equate these statistics to a generalised hostility towards Muslims in the UK is completely wrong.

The tragedy of Ahmed’s film is that it shows that the Holocaust is no longer treated as historically distinct. It is no longer seen as worthy of understanding in all its complexity. Instead, it is fertile ground to plunder for visuals about alleged prejudice today. The position of the Jews in 1939 is seen by some to be comparable to any minority in contemporary Britain whose members do not feel ‘at home’. It is as if the historical specificity of what befell the Jews is irrelevant. It’s all part of the same picture. Nothing has changed.

This is what is ‘offensive’ about Ahmed’s video. It ends up undermining the specificity of the Holocaust by pretending we are on the brink of the same thing today. By all means, make art about the form that racism takes in contemporary British society. But don’t pretend that any minority in Britain today, one of the most tolerant and diverse countries in the Western world, is in a comparable position to that of European Jews in the mid-20th century.

Full report at:

https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/03/18/no-britain-is-not-on-the-verge-of-anti-muslim-pogroms/

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Erdogan discusses Syria and migrant crisis with European leaders

Jack Dutton

March 17, 2020

The leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey on Tuesday discussed the European migration crisis and the situation in Syria.

The call between the four nations came after a Turkish decision last month to reopen its border for refugees trying to reach Europe.

That led to about 13,000 migrants becoming stuck on the border with Greece and Bulgaria in Turkey’s Edirne province, the UN estimates. Many of the refugees are Syrian.

Greece has taken a hard line on the migrants, using tear gas to stop them crossing the border. Athens also suspended asylum applications for a month.

“The leaders welcomed the recent ceasefire in Idlib,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

“They also condemned the regime and its backers for causing the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the mass displacement of people from and within Syria.”

Clarifications were requested by the European countries from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on migration, Nato and EU relations “to achieve clearer and peaceful relations, the French presidential office said.

The leaders were originally due to meet in Istanbul but instead spoke by phone because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

In 2016, the EU tried to end the surge of refugees coming into the bloc by promising Turkey €6 billion to help house the migrants there.

Only about €3.2bn of that sum has been paid.

Turkey hosts 4 million refugees, most of whom are Syrian.

Ankara is demanding more financial assistance from the EU but critics say Mr Erdogan is trying to politicise migrants to gain more concessions from Brussels.

On Sunday, Syria’s civil war, which has displaced 11 million people and killed more than 384,000, entered its 10th year.

This month, Mr Erdogan visited Moscow to try to make progress on Syria, but left only with a limited ceasefire, which was quickly broken.

A few days later, on March 9, he met EU leaders to discuss his demands for extra financial support but no agreement was reached.

During Tuesday’s call, the four leaders also discussed the coronavirus, which has infected 47 people in Turkey so far but has not killed anyone.

After the call, Mrs Merkel said people who were not EU citizens could no longer enter the bloc for at least 30 days, in a bid to contain the virus.

Full report at:

https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/erdogan-discusses-syria-and-migrant-crisis-with-european-leaders-1.994016

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Africa

 

The lies and fake promises, Kenyans lured to join Al-Shabaab

MARCH 17 2020

A paltry Sh14,000 lunch allowance split among nine unemployed youth, a pledge to serve in the Somali National Army and a promise of Sh10 million payout. This is all it took a man labelled Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the United States to convince nine Kenyan youth to join Al-Shabaab.

Ahmad Iman Ali alias Abu Zinira is the founder of Al Hijra, the terror group’s radicalisation wing. He served as the head of Al-Shabaab in Kenya. The recruitment took place in 2008 inside Majengo Mosque in Nairobi.

UNEMPLOYED YOUTH

His target: young unemployed youth, too desperate to shun a job and hard cash pledge. The promises were too enticing, but in the end, they turned out to be lies.

Joe (not his real name) is one of the youth who was talked into joining the terrorist group. He managed to escape and returned to his native home in Nyeri.

Joe spoke to the Nation and this is his story: “It does not take much to convince a Kenyan youth to join Al-Shabaab.

https://www.nation.co.ke/news/The-lies-fake-promises-Kenyans-lured-to-join-Al-Shabaab/1056-5493394-12rhp5a/index.html

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Niger says army kills 50 Boko Haram extremists after attack

17 March 2020

NIAMEY, Niger -- Niger says its army has killed at least 50 Boko Haram extremists after an attack on a military post.

The West African nation says the heavily armed Boko Haram fighters attacked the eastern Toumour post overnight into Sunday.

The government says the army used air and ground forces to fight back, killing at least 50 fighters and destroying a large number of vehicles. One soldier was injured.

Boko Haram is based in neighboring Nigeria. Its decade-long insurgency has focused on attacks inside that country, but the extremists also have staged attacks in Niger and Cameroon.

https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/niger-army-kills-50-boko-haram-extremists-attack-69638184

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Somali National Army launches action to oust al-Shabaab from Janaale

JARED SZUBA  

MARCH 17, 2020

Somalia’s Federal Government said elements of the Somali National Army and elite Danab forces launched an operation to capture the town of Janaale from al-Shabaab militants at dawn on Monday.

“Government forces have successfully taken over the Janaale bridge and drive[n] al-Shabaab from their strongholds in the city,” the information ministry said in a Tuesday, March 17 statement.

“Ongoing military operations continue inside the city to completely rid the terrorist al-Shabaab from Janaale and surrounding areas. The initial assessment from commanders is that several militants have been killed thus far,” the statement said.

The ministry encouraged people with relatives in Janaale to “inform them of this operation and encourage them to stay in their homes.”

Pro-government media outlet Somali National Television reported that the SNA had captured the town after al-Shabaab militants fled on Monday. A spokesperson for Somalia’s information ministry also said Janaale is under government control as of Tuesday.

Major Karl Wiest, a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command, declined to comment on ongoing operations.

SNA RADIO

@SNA_radio

Ciidanka Xoogga ayaa Maleeshiyaadka Al-shabaab kasaaray degaanka Janaale ee gobolka Shabeelaha hoose @SNAForce  @TheVillaSomalia @M_Farmaajo @HassanAKhaire  @HarunMaruf

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Janaale, a farming town some 75 km (46 miles) southwest of Mogadishu in the Lower Shabelle region, has been under al-Shabaab control for years. It lies on an inland road linking the port of Merca and town of Afgooye.

Al-Shabaab has fought to establish an Islamic state in Somalia since 2006. The militants were largely routed from Mogadishu in 2011 by the African Union’s Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) but they still control significant rural areas.

The SNA’s assault on the town comes as part of Operation Badbaado, a joint effort to secure areas south of the capital.

Full report at:

https://thedefensepost.com/2020/03/17/somalia-janaale-al-shabaab/

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Libya: Haftar spokesman quarantined over virus fears

Aydogan Kalabalik  

18.03.2020

TRIPOLI

The spokesperson for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar was put under quarantine on suspicion of coronavirus, a Dubai-based TV station reported on Wednesday.

According to Al-Arabiya, Ahmed Al-Mismari’s quarantine came after he visited Egypt, which has supported the renegade warlord.

Mismari confirmed this on social media, saying he would be under quarantine for two weeks along with an accompanying delegation.

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

Worldwide, out of over 197,000 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 7,900, while more than 81,000 patients have recovered, according to Worldometer, a website that compiles new case numbers.

The number of active cases is more than 107,000 – 93% mild and 7% in critical condition, according to the website.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/libya-haftar-spokesman-quarantined-over-virus-fears/1769983

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Sudan orders arrest of ex-foreign minister over 1989 coup

18 March 2020

The Sudanese prosecutor’s office on Tuesday ordered the arrest of former foreign minister Ali Karti for his role in the 1989 coup which brought Omar al-Bashir to power.

It also said in a statement that his assets would be frozen and that arrest warrants had been issued for five other people.

On March 10, Sudan’s ruling council said it would step up its drive to remove loyalists of former president al-Bashir, a day after the prime minister of the transitional government escaped an assassination attempt unscathed.

A branch of Sudan’s security services that was closely linked to al-Bashir will be brought under control of the civilian government and a committee tasked with dismantling the old regime will be given additional powers, sovereign council spokesman Mohamed al-Faki said in a statement.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/18/Sudan-orders-arrest-of-ex-foreign-minister-over-1989-coup-.html

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Coronavirus: Jordan to deploy army at entrances to major cities

17 March 2020

Jordan's army will be deployed at entrances and exits to main cities in the kingdom to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to a statement quoted by Reuters.

On Monday, Jordan confirmed six new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 18, according to the official Jordan News Agency (JNA).

On the same day, Jordan's King Abdullah discussed the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Jordan's King Abdullah later on Tuesday approved a law that gives the government sweeping powers to enforce a state of emergency to help it combat the spread of coronavirus, state media said.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Coronavirus-Jordan-to-deploy-army-at-entrances-to-major-cities.html

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Some South Africa mosques close as COVID-19 spreads

Hassan Isilow  

18.03.2020

PRETORIA, South Africa

Some mosques in South Africa’s tourism city of Cape Town will temporarily close their doors to worshipers in a bid to curtail the spread of the coronavirus that has infected 62 people in the country.

The resident imam, or religious leader, of Masjidul Quds in Cape Town, Sheikh Abdurahmaan Alexander, said the mosque would temporarily close beginning Tuesday.

“On behalf of masjid Quds imamat (leadership), board of trustees and the executive committee, we have unanimously decided that Masjidul Quds in Cape Town will regrettably remain closed from Tuesday morning March 17, 2020,” the imam said Monday in a video statement flanked by mosque officials.

Alexander said the closure will affect daily prayers and weekly Friday prayers as well as other programs that were scheduled at the facility.

He said the decision was made after much deep deliberation in conformity with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent decree barring more than 100 people from gathering at one spot to avoid the possible spread of the virus known as COVID-19.

Ramaphosa announced a “national state of disaster” March15, to enable the government to introduce measures to combat the spread of the virus.

The measures include, social distancing and temporarily closing schools and other institutions.

Masjidul Quds is one of the largest mosques in Cape Town. Alexander, however, clarified that the five daily calls for prayers known as the adhan will still be made to remind worshipers it is time to pray so they can perform their duties at home or workplace.

According to a news website run by a Muslim radio station, Voice of the Cape, two mosques also reportedly closed temporarily in Cape Town.

It said the Claremont Main Road Mosque and Shukrul Mubeen mosque in Lansdowne temporarily closed their doors to worshipers Monday as a precautionary measure to prevent the virus from spreading.

The virus known as COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has spread to at least 163 countries and territories. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Out of over 197,000 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 7,900, while more than 81,000 patients have recovered, according to Worldometer, a website that compiles new case numbers.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/some-south-africa-mosques-close-as-covid-19-spreads/1769874

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South Asia

 

American pilot reveals how he defeated the Pakistani F-16 during bin Laden mission

18 Mar 2020

The legendary American pilot who participated in the mission to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, has revealed how he defeated and evaded the Pakistani F-16 fighter jet during the mission.

The pilot, Douglas Englen was on his way back after completing the mission when his Chinook helicopter was engaged three times by a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet.

However, he managed to defeat and evade the fighter jet because of the anticipation and plans he had for the scenario.

“It was as an electronic fight. A missile never left the rail. So I was able to evade him electronically. That’s all I’ll say. But, he was searching and hunting for me, and three times came very close to actually launching a missile,” Englen told The Military Times.

He’d done that before with other fighter jets on other missions. “That’s why we were picked for this mission. And, I was one of the few who trained 160th crews how to do that,” he added.

“We pulled every technique and tactic out of the book. And it worked,” he said.

Bin Laden was killed in an operation of the US Navy Seal forces in May 2011 in Abbottabad, a military township located close to Islamabad city.

https://www.khaama.com/american-pilot-reveals-how-he-defeated-the-pakistani-f-16-during-bin-laden-mission-04526/

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Mideast

 

Iran announces 135 more coronavirus deaths, official toll now 988

17 March 2020

Iran announced on Tuesday another 135 deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the overall toll to 988 in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.

“Reports by more than 56 laboratories indicated that we have had 1,178 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the past 24 hours,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

“This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 16,169 as of today noon,” he added.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Iran-announces-135-more-coronavirus-deaths-official-toll-now-988.html

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Iran Finds Drug Combination to Treat Pulmonary Harms Created by Coronavirus

Mar 17, 2020

“The new medicinal compound is not special to the coronavirus patients, but it treats respiratory and pulmonary diseases,” Chairman of the Biotechnology Development Council of Iran Mostafa Qaneyee said in a press conference on Tuesday.

He added that the new medicinal compound can decrease the time a coronavirus patient needs to stay at hospital to 4 days, noting that 40% of Iranian patients who received the combination of three drugs have been discharged from hospital in less than 4 days.

“In this treatment method, in addition to the protocols of the health ministry, the three drugs of Azithromycin, Prednisolone and Naproxen have been used as a compound,” Qaneyee said.

“We have observed that the compound rapidly decreases the CRP and the hospitalization period is reduced significantly and of course, this is the start of our research and we will inform you of other researches too after receiving license from the Coronavirus Campaign Headquarters,” he added.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected over 185,000 people in the world, claiming more than 7,300 lives.

The Iranian health ministry announced on Tuesday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 16,169, while the death toll rose to 988 people. A sum of 5,389 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

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

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

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

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

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981227000969

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Iran Calls for Global Campaign to Ignore US Sanctions Amidst Coronavirus Epidemic

Mar 17, 2020

“Unlawful US sanctions drained Iran's economic resources, impairing ability to fight COVID-19. They literally kill innocents,” Zarif wrote on his twitter page on Tuesday.

He reminded the world states that observing the death of innocent people is “immoral”, saying that no country has ever been saved from the future US wrath by doing so.

“Join the growing global campaign to disregard US sanctions on Iran,” Zarif underlined.

Last week, Zarif in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the US sanctions on legal trade and hampering sales of medicine and medical equipment have created serious obstacles for Iran's fight against coronavirus.

In his letter to Guterres, Zarif called for an end to the sanctions imposed by the US government, which he slammed as a major obstacle to Iran’s battle with the coronavirus outbreak.

"Excellency, I am writing to you concerning a matter of the greatest urgency. As you—and my counterparts across the world—are painfully aware, we are now officially amid a pandemic. Most of us have been affected by the spread of the highly contagious Covid-19 viral disease, with my country among the worst impacted so far," Zarif wrote in his letter.

He went on to say that while the virus ravages "our cities and towns, our population—unlike thoseof other countries affected—suffer under the most severe and indiscriminate campaign of economic terrorism in history, imposed illegally and extra-territorially by the Government of the United States since it reneged on its commitments under Security Council Resolution 2231in May 2018".

"Although our medical facilities, doctors, nurses and other health practitioners are among the very finest in the world, we are stymied in our efforts to identify and treat our patients; in combatting the spread of the virus; and, ultimately, in defeating it, by the campaign of economic terrorism perpetrated by the Government of the United States," Zarif added.

The Iranian foreign minister said that beyond targeting "our lawful trade with others, the illegal US sanctions regime has impacted every sector of our economy, all while our people are told by the US Secretary of State that their government must submit to outrageous outside diktat “if they want to eat”.

"Now, the same shameless U.S. official has gone as far as publicly holding medicine for Iranians to ransom, conditioning such trade on extraneous and extra-judicial demands," he added.

Zarif further said that the Government of the United States’ general collective punishment of the Iranian people—including by depriving them from humanitarian trade, in contravention of repeated sloganeering to the contrary—is clear.

"What has hitherto, and unfortunately, been less clear to the international community is how US economic terrorism is specifically–and directly—undermining our efforts to fight the Covid-19 epidemic in Iran, including as follows: Illegal US secondary sanctions have made it increasingly difficult for Iran to export its oil as well as manufactured items, thereby targeting not only the public sector—which must provide subsidized food, medicine and other necessities for the Iranian people, and particularly the most vulnerable segments of the population—but our entire private sector which provides goods, services and employment for the Iranian people."

The Iranian health ministry announced on Tuesday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 16,169, while the death toll rose to 988 people. A sum of 5,389 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

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

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

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

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

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981227000921

--------

 

Iranian FM Asks Kuwait to Join Int’l Campaign against US Sanctions

Mar 17, 2020

During the phone talks, Zarif described battle against coronavirus as a global issue which needs regional and international cooperation, blasting the US unilateral and illegal sanctions against Iran.

He also called on Kuwait to join the international campaign to end and ignore the US anti-humane sanctions.

Zarif, meantime, appreciated Kuwait’s $10mln humanitarian aid to Iran to help the anti-coronavirus battle.

Last week, Zarif in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the US sanctions on legal trade and hampering sales of medicine and medical equipment have created serious obstacles for Iran's fight against coronavirus.

In his letter to Guterres, Zarif called for an end to the sanctions imposed by the US government, which he slammed as a major obstacle to Iran’s battle with the coronavirus outbreak.

"Excellency, I am writing to you concerning a matter of the greatest urgency. As you—and my counterparts across the world—are painfully aware, we are now officially amid a pandemic. Most of us have been affected by the spread of the highly contagious Covid-19 viral disease, with my country among the worst impacted so far," Zarif wrote in his letter.

He went on to say that while the virus ravages "our cities and towns, our population—unlike thoseof other countries affected—suffer under the most severe and indiscriminate campaign of economic terrorism in history, imposed illegally and extra-territorially by the Government of the United States since it reneged on its commitments under Security Council Resolution 2231in May 2018".

"Although our medical facilities, doctors, nurses and other health practitioners are among the very finest in the world, we are stymied in our efforts to identify and treat our patients; in combatting the spread of the virus; and, ultimately, in defeating it, by the campaign of economic terrorism perpetrated by the Government of the United States," Zarif added.

The Iranian foreign minister said that beyond targeting "our lawful trade with others, the illegal US sanctions regime has impacted every sector of our economy, all while our people are told by the US Secretary of State that their government must submit to outrageous outside diktat “if they want to eat”.

"Now, the same shameless U.S. official has gone as far as publicly holding medicine for Iranians to ransom, conditioning such trade on extraneous and extra-judicial demands," he added.

Zarif further said that the Government of the United States’ general collective punishment of the Iranian people—including by depriving them from humanitarian trade, in contravention of repeated sloganeering to the contrary—is clear.

"What has hitherto, and unfortunately, been less clear to the international community is how US economic terrorism is specifically–and directly—undermining our efforts to fight the Covid-19 epidemic in Iran, including as follows: Illegal US secondary sanctions have made it increasingly difficult for Iran to export its oil as well as manufactured items, thereby targeting not only the public sector—which must provide subsidized food, medicine and other necessities for the Iranian people, and particularly the most vulnerable segments of the population—but our entire private sector which provides goods, services and employment for the Iranian people."

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected nearly 183,000 people in the world, claiming more than 7,200 lives.

The Iranian health ministry announced on Monday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 14,991, while the death toll rose to 853 people. A sum of 4,996 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

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

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

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

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

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981227000572

--------

 

Tehran’s Mayor: US Inhuman Sanctions Blocking Iran’s Access to Anti-Coronavirus Materials

Mar 17, 2020

“One of the cruelties of the US is that while countries are countering the coronavirus issue with difficulty, it does not understand any language and does not allow us to buy goods and it does not understand any human rule or principle,” Hanachi told FNA on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, he elaborated on the measures adopted by Tehran municipality in battle against coronavirus, and said a home-made system has been developed since a few days ago which can disinfect the streets with a radius of 30 meters.

“We have sterilized 181 public crowded centers in Tehran, including subway stations, fruit shops, bus stations, taxi stations and places where workers-crowded centers and neighborhoods,” Hanachi said.

He added that over 1,600 metro wagons as well as 5,000 buses have been sterilized in the past few days, noting that the operation continues.

Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the US sanctions on legal trade and hampering sales of medicine and medical equipment have created serious obstacles for Iran's fight against coronavirus.

In his letter to Guterres, Zarif called for an end to the sanctions imposed by the US government, which he slammed as a major obstacle to Iran’s battle with the coronavirus outbreak.

"Excellency, I am writing to you concerning a matter of the greatest urgency. As you—and my counterparts across the world—are painfully aware, we are now officially amid a pandemic. Most of us have been affected by the spread of the highly contagious Covid-19 viral disease, with my country among the worst impacted so far," Zarif wrote in his letter.

He went on to say that while the virus ravages "our cities and towns, our population—unlike thoseof other countries affected—suffer under the most severe and indiscriminate campaign of economic terrorism in history, imposed illegally and extra-territorially by the Government of the United States since it reneged on its commitments under Security Council Resolution 2231in May 2018".

"Although our medical facilities, doctors, nurses and other health practitioners are among the very finest in the world, we are stymied in our efforts to identify and treat our patients; in combatting the spread of the virus; and, ultimately, in defeating it, by the campaign of economic terrorism perpetrated by the Government of the United States," Zarif added.

The Iranian foreign minister said that beyond targeting "our lawful trade with others, the illegal US sanctions regime has impacted every sector of our economy, all while our people are told by the US Secretary of State that their government must submit to outrageous outside diktat “if they want to eat”.

"Now, the same shameless U.S. official has gone as far as publicly holding medicine for Iranians to ransom, conditioning such trade on extraneous and extra-judicial demands," he added.

Zarif further said that the Government of the United States’ general collective punishment of the Iranian people—including by depriving them from humanitarian trade, in contravention of repeated sloganeering to the contrary—is clear.

"What has hitherto, and unfortunately, been less clear to the international community is how US economic terrorism is specifically–and directly—undermining our efforts to fight the Covid-19 epidemic in Iran, including as follows: Illegal US secondary sanctions have made it increasingly difficult for Iran to export its oil as well as manufactured items, thereby targeting not only the public sector—which must provide subsidized food, medicine and other necessities for the Iranian people, and particularly the most vulnerable segments of the population—but our entire private sector which provides goods, services and employment for the Iranian people."

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected nearly 183,000 people in the world, claiming more than 7,200 lives.

The Iranian health ministry announced on Monday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 14,991, while the death toll rose to 853 people. A sum of 4,996 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

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

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

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

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

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981227000538

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Tehran Urges London to Act Responsibly towards Iran amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Mar 17, 2020

In a Monday phone conversation with his British counterpart Dominic Raab, Zarif denounced the US’ illegal and unilateral sanctions against Iran as an obstacle to the battle with the global pandemic.

He called on the UK to defy the US’ cruel sanctions against the Iranian nation under such circumstances, both on the basis of London’s commitments under the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and for human considerations.

He also praised the European Union and the three EU parties to the JCPOA – the UK, France and Germany - for sending aid to Iran for the fight against coronavirus.

The phone conversation came shortly after the Iranian ambassador to the UK announced Britain has agreed to pay an outstanding £400 million debt it owes to Iran plus the interest.

“The legal process of this long-running case, which has been going on for more than 50 years, is nearing its end,” Hamid Baeidinejad said earlier on the day.

 “The court has ordered the British government to pay the Iranian debt plus interest, and this cannot be changed. At the same time, the opposing lawyers have tried to use every legal opportunity to delay the practical execution of the court’s decision,” Baeidinejad added.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Zarif also raised the issue of US sanctions in a separate phone conversation with the foreign minister of Croatia, the rotating president of the European Union.

In his phone talk with his Croatian counterpart Gordan Grlić-Radman, Zarif emphasized that the EU must not abide by the US unilateral and unlawful sanctions.

He said the EU should do this not only as a JCPOA obligation, but also to prevent the deaths of innocent Iranians due to the cruel US sanctions.

The Croatian foreign minister, in turn, expressed solidarity with the Iranian government and nation in their fight against the epidemic, and offered his condolences to the families of the victims.

Hit by the US’ sanctions, Iran has been trying to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which so far has infected some 14,000 people and killed 853 until Monday.

The virus has infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,800. More than 70,000 people worldwide have recovered after being infected.

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

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

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

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

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

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981227000299

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Turkey announces first death from coronavirus: Health ministry

18 March 2020

Turkey confirmed early on Wednesday its first death related to the coronavir1us and the country more than doubled its confirmed cases to 98, from 47 a day earlier.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told a press conference that an 89-year old died after contracting the virus from someone who had contact with China, the epicentre of the global outbreak.

Turkey diagnosed 51 more cases on Tuesday, he said.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/18/Turkey-announces-first-death-from-coronavirus-Health-ministry.html

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Iran frees 85,000 prisoners due to coronavirus, says judiciary spokesman

17 March 2020

Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, a spokesman for its judiciary said on Tuesday, in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

“Some 50 percent of those released are security-related prisoners ... Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,” said Gholamhossein Esmaili.

On March 10, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran said he had asked Tehran to free all political prisoners temporarily from its overcrowded and disease-ridden jails to help stem the spread of coronavirus.

UN Special Procedures

@UN_SPExperts

🇮🇷#Iran: Individuals detained in detention facilities are suffering from serious rights violations – UN expert Javaid Rehman at #HR43. He is also concerned about overcrowding, poor nutrition, lack of hygiene & #COVID2019 spreading inside Iranian prisons: http://ow.ly/7Mqc50yGLDz

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Iran’s response criticized

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

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

On Thursday, the head of US Central Command accused Iran of underreporting numbers of coronavirus cases in the country.

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

Regime urges people to stay at home

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously provoked criticism when he described the outbreak as “not that big of a deal.”

However, the regime has since changed its tone and sought to tackle the crisis with measures including establishing checkpoints between cities. On Monday, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to stay at home to avoid spreading the disease.

“We advise all people to avoid leaving their homes and traveling as much as possible,” said Rouhani.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Iran-frees-85-000-prisoners-due-to-coronavirus-says-judiciary-spokesman.html

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PM Netanyahu says Israel to fast-track cyber-monitoring of coronavirus cases

17 March 2020

Israel’s government will invoke emergency regulations to speed up the deployment of cyber monitoring in the fight against the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.

The plan to use anti-terrorist technology to track infected people and anyone with whom they have come in contact drew criticism from civil rights groups when Netanyahu first proposed it over the weekend.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

Such a move would normally require parliamentary consent. Netanyahu moved to circumvent that process when he said in a nationally televised address on Monday night that his cabinet would invoke emergency regulations overnight to put the order into effect, for 30 days only.

“Israel is a democracy and we must maintain the balance between civil rights and the public’s needs,” Netanyahu said. “These tools will very much assist us in locating the sick and stopping the virus from spreading.”

The Association for Civil Right in Israel called the move, “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope.”

Further measures announced by Netanyahu on Monday included putting most the country’s public sector workforce on a one-month leave and reducing private sector employees to 30 percent attendance at their workplaces.

There are nearly 300 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness that can cause pneumonia in Israel and no fatalities reported so far.

Israel has taken stringent steps to contain coronavirus - closing schools, malls, restaurants and most places of leisure, as well as limiting gatherings to 10 people.

Israel’s defense minister said on Monday that some empty hotels would be converted to isolation centers for patients and would begin operating this week.

The measures even affected the swearing-in of The Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Lawmakers on Monday took the oath in groups of three at a time to comply with the social distancing instructions, instead of the usual ceremony attended by all 120 parliamentarians.

The March 2 election, the third in less than a year, has left the country in political deadlock with Netanyahu’s caretaker government running the country on a version of the 2019 budget.

The Finance Ministry’s chief economist said on Monday that Israel’s economy will likely grow between zero and one percent in 2020, if the impact of the coronavirus subsides by June. A recession would be inevitable if the health crisis continues for a longer period, she said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/PM-Netanyahu-says-Israel-to-fast-track-cyber-monitoring-of-coronavirus-cases.html

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Commander vows to coerce Yemeni tribes to fight alongside Houthis

17 March 2020

A prominent Houthi commander vowed in a television interview to coerce all tribes in Yemen to fight alongside the Iran-backed militia, threatening to use them as human shields if they refuse recruitment.

“We will forcefully recruit them … and those who refuse to fight will be used as human shields,” Daifallah Rassam said in an interview with al-Lahtha television aired in mid-February.

The leader of the Houthi Tribal Cohesion Council was reported to have died in 2018 but re-appeared in this February 13 interview.

Social media users were appalled by the shockingly harsh statement the leader made.

“It’s mind-boggling how these people turned 180 degrees against their country,” Abdulmuhsen al-Ajaji said.

“No tribe would ever succumb to this,” Dafaf al-Madi said.

Fatima al-Asrar, a non-resident scholar at Middle East Institute told Al Arabiya English that “tribes that are in areas under Houthis’ control find it difficult to confront the Houthis because they are not equipped with the same level of sophisticated artillery that Houthis have, such as the anti-guided tank missiles, the ballistic missiles or drones.”

Al-Asrar also explained that “if they [tribes] do not share a common purpose and goal with the Houthis, they are most likely either enticed or coerced” – something Rassam confirmed as a regular technique in the interview.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/17/Commander-vows-to-coerce-Yemeni-tribes-to-flight-alongside-Houthis.html

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US might be complementing Iran sanctions with bioweapon: Expert

17 March 2020

An American pundit speculates that the United States is keeping its sanctions against Iran in order to complement the bans’ effect with the scourge of the new coronavirus that he believes might be a US-made bioweapon.

“There are too many indications now that the virus has been leaked from a bioweapons lab in the United States,” Dr. E. Michael Jones, writer and editor of the Culture Wars magazine, told Press TV on Tuesday.

The United States should lift the sanctions, but “if it’s a weapon, then, they would not want to do that. If it’s a weapon, then, they are going to want to use the sanctions as part of the other weapon to force Iran into submission.”

Jones also commented on the existing worldwide confusion concerning the possible way to contain the virus.

Currently, “no one can get to the heart of the matter,” he said. The reason behind the confusion, he added, might be that the virus is “a form of warfare that has to remain secret in order for it to be successful.”

The US reinstated its sanctions against Iran in May 2018 after leaving aUN-endorsed nuclear agreement with Iran and five other countries.

Tehran sued Washington at the International Court of Justice afterwards. The tribunal ruled that the US should lift its sanctions on humanitarian supplies.

Washington, meanwhile, claims that it has exempted foodstuffs and medicine from the bans. Tehran roundly rejects the claim as a “brazen” lie.

The Islamic Republic has written to the United Nations and all international organizations, urging removal of the draconian measures that has come in the way of the country’s fight against the outbreak.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/17/621088/Iran-United-States-coronavirus-bioweapon-sanctions

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Ansarullah: Saudi-led invaders to blame if virus reaches Yemen

17 March 2020

Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement says the Saudi-led coalition of aggressors — which has imposed an all-out blockade on the war-torn country — will be responsible for the possible spread to Yemen of a coronavirus that is plaguing many world states.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee of Yemen, said Monday that the aggressors in the occupied Yemeni territories deliberately ignore precautionary measures that should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus that has infected and killed tens of thousands of people across the globe, Yemen’s al-Masirah reported.

He censured the Saudi regime and its coalition allies for allowing flights into the areas under their occupation at a time when many world states have suspended all flights to contain the pandemic.

Allowing four commercial planes to reach Yemen with a total of 1,000 passengers amid the pandemic is a dirty US-Saudi aggression tactic, he said.

He said those who have been killing the Yemenis with their weapons do not hesitate to take their lives through less costly means.

The US-Saudi coalition is responsible for the consequences, al-Houthi said.

In addition to the siege and the massacre of Yemeni citizens, he added, the aggressors are blocking international humanitarian aid delivery to the war-wracked country.

As of March 16, the virus has infected nearly 183,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7,165 others, according to Reuters tallies.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a deadly military aggression against Yemen in an attempt to reinstall a Riyadh-backed former regime and eliminate the Houthi movement, which has been defending the country along with the armed forces.

The Western-backed offensive, coupled with the blockade, has destroyed the country’s infrastructure.

In particular, the closure of the airport in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a has made it impossible for food and medical supplies to reach the poor.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/17/621058/Yemen-coronavirus-Houthi-Ansarullah-Saudi-blockade

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