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Islamic World News ( 14 Aug 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Turkey Funding Surrendered ISIS Cadres to Radicalise Indian Muslims With the Help of Preachers Recruited from Within Them

New Age Islam News Bureau

14 Aug 2020 

According to an Indian security report, Turkey has been sponsoring ISIS and its affiliates in Syria, similar to what Pakistan has been doing with IS-KP in Afghanistan.


• 5 Rafales or 500, Pakistan Is 'Absolutely Ready' For India: DG ISPR

• US Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Praises UAE-Israel Peace Deal

• Palestinian Politicians Voice Dismay Over ‘Historic Agreement’

• Libya: UAE-Israel Deal 'Betrayal That Doesn't Surprise'

• School Sets on Fire in Afghanistan’s Northern Takhar Province

• Indonesia Takes Part in Late-Stage China Vaccine Trial

• Egypt’s Sisi Welcomes UAE-Israel Deal and Halt to Annexation

• Lithuania Designates Hezbollah As A Terrorist Organization



• Turkey Funding Surrendered ISIS Cadres to Radicalise Indian Muslims With the Help of Preachers Recruited from Within Them

• Bengaluru Violence: Vlogger Captured Human Chain Protecting A Hanuman Temple

• Pak court allows Sikh girl to go with her Muslim husband or place of her choice

• Setting an example of communal amity, Muslims form human chain to protect temple from mob

• Terrorists attack police party in J-K’s Nowgam, 2 killed

• Terrorists gun down two J&K policemen outside Srinagar

• J&K: Two cops killed, one injured after militants attack police party in Nowgam



• 5 Rafales or 500, Pakistan Is 'Absolutely Ready' For India: DG ISPR

• Pak Court Suspends One-Year Sentence of Two JuD Senior Leaders, Close Aids Of Hafiz Saeed In A Terror-Financing Case

• Sikh Girl Who Embraced Islam Leaves Darul Aman To Live with Muslim Husband

• China angry with Pak over poor security for its CPEC workers

• Celebrations of 73rd Independence Day begin with traditional zeal across the country

• JUI-F chief slams govt for hastily approving FATF-related bills

• Any plan to change Karachi’s status will be ‘attack’ on Sindh, says Bilawal

• Qureshi’s Saudi Criticism On Kashmir Hints Shift In Pakistan’s Strategy For The Islamic World

• Can’t doubt centrality of Saudi, says Pak army ahead of Gen Bajwa’s Riyadh mission


North America

• US Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Praises UAE-Israel Peace Deal

• Trump believes Palestinians will seek peace after US brokers UAE-Israel deal

• US administration seizes ships carrying Iranian oil

• Friends of Israel in Congress wreck US ties with Turkey



• Palestinian Politicians Voice Dismay Over ‘Historic Agreement’

• West Bank Annexation Still ‘On the Table’, Says Netanyahu

• ‘Great News for Peace’: Former Israel, US Officials React To Historic UAE-Israel Deal

• Iran, Iraq Discuss Ways to Facilitate Mutual Trade

• Israel behind Port of Beirut explosions, says former Lebanon interior minister

• UAE’s Jewish community reacts to country’s historic agreement with Israel



• Libya: UAE-Israel Deal 'Betrayal That Doesn't Surprise'

• Jordan: Israel must choose between just peace, conflict

• UN sounds alarm over humanitarian crisis in NE Nigeria

• Turkey, Libya ink deal to boost trade, economic ties


South Asia

• School Sets on Fire in Afghanistan’s Northern Takhar Province

• Afghan authorities release final 400 Taliban prisoners as part of peace deal


Southeast Asia

• Indonesia Takes Part in Late-Stage China Vaccine Trial

• Police Arrest Elderly Indonesian Catholic For Blasphemy

• Indonesia's First Transgender Public Official Breaks Conservative Mould

• Report: Philippines nab Abu Sayyaf leader linked to cross-border abductions in Sabah


Arab world

• Egypt’s Sisi Welcomes UAE-Israel Deal and Halt to Annexation

• Lithuania recognizes Hezbollah as terrorist organization after Beirut explosion

• Egypt: Top Muslim Brotherhood Figure Dies in Government Custody

• Lebanon assembly ratifies state of emergency after deadly blast

• Beirut explosion death toll rises to 178 with 30 people still missing: UN

• Beirut explosion: US State Department official to stress reform during Lebanon trip

• World reacts to UAE’s opening diplomatic ties with Israel

• Yemeni government, STC discuss coalition under Riyadh Agreement



• Lithuania Designates Hezbollah As A Terrorist Organization

• France to bolster military presence in Mediterranean amid tensions with Turkey

• France: Second mosque fire in Lyon within week

• Turkey sends EU leaders letters on East Mediterranean

• Rouhani, Macron discuss nuclear deal, Beirut blast

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



 Turkey Funding Surrendered ISIS Cadres to Radicalise Indian Muslims With the Help of Preachers Recruited from Within Them

August 14, 2020


According to an Indian security report, Turkey has been sponsoring ISIS and its affiliates in Syria, similar to what Pakistan has been doing with IS-KP in Afghanistan.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has allocated huge funds to the Turkish intelligence to radicalize Indian Muslims with the help of preachers recruited from surrendered ISIS cadres.

According to an Indian security report, Turkey has been sponsoring ISIS and its affiliates in Syria, similar to what Pakistan has been doing with IS-KP in Afghanistan. Such proxies have eliminated independent voices on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan, while at the same time, denying their involvement.

Indian security officials are also concerned over reports that Erdogan, in his efforts to bring down the Saudi leadership of the Islamic world, may find a partner in Pakistan. The recent open threat by Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to the Saudi leadership was due to Turkey's push and also the assurance of financial assistance to Pakistan.

“Erdogan has been using the religious institutions as well as terrorism to further his single point agenda of claiming the leadership of the Muslim Ummah. Turkey’s religious institution Diyanet has already made a substantial presence in India through its activities and now Erdogan plans to exploit ISIS Terrorists to trouble India. India shall be prepared to tackle it by adopting proactive measures," said an official aware of these developments.

Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs — Diyanet has become a central Intuition for Erdogan’s plans of becoming the new ‘Caliph’ of the Islamic world. It is mostly copying the functioning religious system in Talabini Madrassas. Erdogan has reorganised the Diyanet and delivered a huge budget the institution, raised salaries and benefits of Imams, and is using them in the mosques as Erdogan’s party operatives, not only in Turkey but also in foreign countries.

Liberal and Gulenist Imams who refused to obey political orders from Erdogan’s party were eliminated from the Diyanet in recent years. Now each Imam across Turkey has become personally loyal to Erdogan.

As part of using Islam to spread Turkey's strategic influence, Erdogan has recently formed a Religious Services Directorate. The formation of the directorate was announced on August 06, 2020, as an institution which will coordinate and deliver commands of the Defence Ministry on religious services in the Turkish Army, in addition to serving as a religious counselling service.

The staff of the directorate will be in military rank and equal to other military officers in the Turkish Army. The staff usually coordinates and carries on religious services within forces, but according to the related law, they may get other military duties also.

Previously, the Turkish Armed forces were using professional imams who were serving their compulsory military services to run religious services in military camps This religious directorate likely serves three main purposes for Erdogan’s party. The first purpose is to create new job opportunities for pro-Erdogan Imams.

Secondly, Erdogan will have the chance to control and profile more secular high-rank military officer with the help of ‘imam’ military officer. The possibility of plotting a coup against the Erdogan government has become less likely. Possibly, the profiling lists of such military officers will be considered for next promotions in the Turkish Army. Third, this is another premeditated step for the Erdogan regime to transfer the system from a secular democracy to religious republic.


5 Rafales or 500, Pakistan is 'absolutely ready' for India: DG ISPR

14 Aug 2020


Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR),


Pakistan is concerned about India's increasing military spending and defence budget, but it remains "absolutely ready" for any aggression despite New Delhi's recent acquisition of five Rafale fighter jets from France, the chief of the Pakistan Army's media wing said on Thursday.

Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), made the statement during a wide-ranging press conference in which he spoke about various issues concerning internal and external security.

Responding to a question about the threat posed to Pakistan by the Rafale jets purchased by India, the DG ISPR noted that India's military spending is the highest in the world and it is also involved in an arms race.

"The way the journey of the five Rafales from France to India was covered shows the level of their insecurities," he said.

"Nonetheless, whether they receive five [Rafales] or 500, we are fine. We are absolutely ready and we have no doubt on our capability and we have proven this so it's (the jets) not going to make much of a difference.

"But yes, their defence spending and their budget compared to ours is affecting the conventional balance of the region. And when this happens, things go into another domain and the international community should also look at this.

"In Pakistan, many say the defence budget is too much; right now we are at 17 per cent [of the budget] distributed between the army, navy and airforce. And in the past 10 years, Pakistan's defence spending has consistently been going down, not up, and in the past two years, we didn't even keep the inflation cushion in the defence budget.

"But this does not mean that it has affected our preparedness. Even with these resources, we are absolutely ready to take on our enemies.

"So bring the Rafales [or] the S-400 [missile system], bring them on. We have our own preparedness and our own answers to everything."

'India's state terrorism in IOK'

At the start of his press conference, Maj Gen Iftikhar spoke about the Indian repression in occupied Kashmir.

"Azaadi (independence) is a huge blessing," he said. "Ask about the importance of freedom from the mother of an occupied Kashmir resident that buries her son with the Pakistan flag."

"In occupied Kashmir, the inhumane siege has continued for one year. Genocide is being done and human rights are being violated through India's state terrorism in the occupied [region].

"Under a pre-planned, thought-out plan, India by changing the demography of the region is trying to evict the Muslims living there," Maj Gen Iftikhar said.

"There is no atrocity left which the Kashmiris have not witnessed. Youths are being martyred and being buried in unnamed places in the name of counter-terrorism."

He noted that the targeting of Kashmiris with pellet guns by the Indian forces has become the norm while the region's local leadership has been kept in detention for one year.

He said Pakistan has "left no stone unturned" in raising Kashmiris' plight before the world.

"The Government of Pakistan at all regional and international forums has raised awareness on the Kashmir issue and voices against the oppression are reverberating through the world's corridors."

Genocide Watch and international media have unmasked India's actions in the occupied valley while the United Nations secretary general has stressed human rights in Kashmir, the DG ISPR said.

"During the past one year, the issue has been raised in the UN three times and this shows that the issue is of cardinal importance in the eyes of the world. And their (Kashmiris') fight for independence will InshAllah be successful."

'India targeting civilians at LoC'

He said the situation at the Line of Control is linked to the Kashmir issue, adding: "Despite the ceasefire appeal by the UN secretary general during the pandemic, India continued their traditional cowardly actions and targeted innocent people."

He said till now, India has committed 1,927 ceasefire violations and has deliberately targeted peaceful people living along the LoC in Azad Kashmir.

"Sixteen innocent people have been martyred while 158 have been injured. In these ceasefire violations, heavy weapons were used indiscriminately.

"Let me also tell you that the Pakistan Army responds to all the ceasefire violations effectively, but being a professional army we make military targets and target those posts that are carrying out [the firing].

"On July 22, international media toured Azad Kashmir. They were allowed access to the people of AJK; they saw and interacted with the people targeted by the ceasefire violations.

"But on the other hand, in occupied Kashmir, neither international media nor the UN group was allowed to go to the LoC. But we have nothing to hide, that is why we have always allowed international media to go wherever they want in Azad Kashmir.

"The government, in light of India's actions, for the protection of the people, has decided to build shelters in the homes of AJK residents. One thousand shelters have been constructed and more are being made."

"The fire of racism and communal hatred that India has started has spread to the whole country. Their move to externalise their internal failures has put them at such a point that the lava can take the whole region in its wake.

"A UN report highlighted terrorist groups in India; they use these groups against Pakistan and to spread instability in the region. The unsuccessful attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange or money laundering to facilitate terrorists, all the clues lead to India."

He said India had seen an increase in its defence budget and it was involved in an arms race. "India is at the top of the list of countries buying arms. Pakistan is completely aware of India's intentions and capabilities.

"Wars are not fought only through the power of weapons; the people's trust and the nation's resolve are the true assets of the army."

Answering a question about Pakistan's new political map introduced by the government which includes Indian-occupied Kashmir, the DG ISPR said the map "is an assertion of our claim and an expression of our intent. We have made Pakistan's territorial claim clear to the world that this is a disputed region ... so this is Pakistan's political map and just a reassertion of our claims."

'We are all sepoys'

The DG ISPR said elements seeking to sow confusion and hostile intelligence agencies through hybrid warfare "want to shift our attention away from the basic issues"

"We will not let enemy forces create a chasm between the army and the nation. We are living in such an age of information where it is an effective tool and hostile intelligence agencies are using it to spread confusion."

In order to do som, elements of national power especially the diplomatic domain, information, military, economy and hybrid warfare applications are used, he added.

He said on Pakistan's social media landscape "the social fabric and the national and military leaderships are being targeted through fake news and an uncertain situation is being created".

"And through this, they are trying to impose on the decision-making process," Maj Gen Iftikhar said, adding that such elements rely on misinformation, disinformation and half-truths to mislead the people through different platforms under a "thought-out campaign".

He stressed the need to create awareness among the masses to counter such misinformation.

"The way the Pakistani media has foiled the propaganda of the Indian media and the way our youth has countered hostile intelligence agencies on digital platforms shows that when it comes to Pakistan, we are all sepoys."

Hopes for Afghan peace

Speaking about the Afghan peace talks, Maj Gen Iftikhar said Pakistan played its part for peace in Afghanistan. "We hope that attempts for the reconciliation process are soon successful," he added.

"Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan [and] peace along our western borders. So if there is anyone who wants peace in Afghanistan after Afghans, it is Pakistan.

"And the way the peace process is going forward, it is also time for a gradual, time-bound and adequately resourced refugee return programme for dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees within the earliest possible time-frame facilitated duly by all stakeholders."

Ehsanullah Ehsan's claims 'baseless'

The DG ISPR was also asked to comment on an audiotape reportedly released by former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan in which he reportedly claimed that he was asked to lead a death squad by Pakistani authorities while he was in their custody. Maj Gen Iftikhar termed the claims made in the alleged audio as "absolutely baseless".

Confirming the information given by the interior minister, the DG ISPR said: "We were using him (Ehsan) during an operation and he escaped and we greatly benefitted from the information he gave us especially in dismantling some terrorist organisations that he had belonged to."

He said disciplinary action is being taken against the persons responsible for his escape.

"I will leave it to your best judgement why he is claiming all that and making those allegations so that should be it," the ISPR chief told reporters.

'No need to raise questions on Pak-Saudi ties'

Answering a question about reported tensions between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over raising a voice for Indian-occupied Kashmir, the DG ISPR said "nobody can doubt the centrality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Islamic world" and the two countries' ties are and will remain historic.

"The hearts of the Pakistani people beat with the Saudi people, so there is no need to raise questions on the relations," he added.

He said the upcoming visit of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to Saudi Arabia was already planned and it is related to the two countries' military-to-military relations.

"There is no need to read too much into it. Everything is fine," he said.

Gains of operation Radd-ul-Fasaad

Sharing statistics from operation Radd-ul-Fasaad during the presser, the DG ISPR said: "the war against terrorism is a hard-earned success."

"46,000 murabba kilometre [of land] has been evacuated from terrorists. More than 18,000 terrorists were killed and 400 tonnes of explosive material was seized," he told the press conference.

Under the operation, more than 194,000 intelligence-based operations were carried out and more than 70,000 weapons and five million ammunition that was in the use of militants were recovered, he added.

Border management bringing crimes down

The DG ISPR said measures are being taken at the Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders as part of border management, which includes border terminals, scanner biometric system, border posts, forts and fencing.

He stressed that people on both sides of the frontier will benefit and terrorism can be stopped through managing the border.

"The capacity enhancement of Front Corps KP and Balochistan is being done for effective border management.

"On the Pak-Afghan border, fencing on more than 1,700km has been completed. In KP, 730km and in Balochistan, 980km have been fenced."

As part of the fencing work, Maj Gen Iftikhar revealed, more than 70 improvised explosive devices were defused under one project.

"Work is also ongoing on Pak-Iran border fencing and this will be completed by 2021. Further, more than 1,000 border posts and forts are also being built; 400 have been completed and the rest are being set up.

"Due to improvement in fencing and border management, IED explosions, illegal movement and smuggling have reduced.

"Through different operations under border management, peace has been brought in tribal areas where the civil administration is now working on the development of these areas. All this would not have been possible without the media; the media played an excellent role in the war against terrorists.

"As far as Balochistan is concerned, some enemy forces have been trying to disrupt the situation. Pakistan Army is working day and night to foil these attempts and some important progress has been made which will be shared with you at the right time.

"Pakistan's civil and military leadership along with the peace of Balochistan is also busy with socio-economic uplift. Balochistan's development is Pakistan's development and a prosperous Balochistan is the guarantee of a stable Pakistan."

According to Maj Gen Iftikhar, the Pakistan Army with assistance from the government and friendly nations is assisting in projects for providing the people with health facilities and education.

"This includes the state-of-the-art cardiac centre in Quetta and a hospital in Gwadar. Also nine cadet colleges, the establishment of the Nust campus and the dates processing plant in Panjgur will prove to be a milestone for development.

"From Balochistan, more than 25,000 soldiers and 1,200 officers are serving in the army while 200 cadets are receiving education from the military."

'Threat of Covid-19 has not gone away'

Speaking about the coronavirus situation, the DG ISPR said Pakistanis battled the virus "as a nation" and country's efforts to contain the disease have been recognised by international leaders.

"There is a reduction is corona positive cases and deaths but we can't stop taking precautions; we need to take them more than ever.

"The people by following measures [to contain Covid-19] showed responsibility but the threat has not gone away. This virus is surging in some countries. Face masks and social distancing are effective steps against the virus and we should follow them."

He said a national emergency was declared to deal with the desert locust attacks situation and due to authorities' steps, locust swarms have been reduced from 61 districts to one district.

The Pakistan Army is also assisting the civil administration in polio campaigns to help reach the goal of making Pakistan polio-free, Maj Gen Iftikhar said.

He said the flood situation is being monitored and all preparations are complete to deal with an adverse scenario.


US Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Praises UAE-Israel Peace Deal

13 August 2020


 US presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden


Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, Thursday praised the peace agreement signed between the United Arab Emirates and Israel

as a “historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East.”

Biden released a statement saying that he would not support Tel Aviv’s annexation plans of the West Bank if he is elected president in November.

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“The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship,” Biden said.

Biden said that the deal had allowed a path toward “a more peaceful, stable Middle East,” adding that he and VP candidate Kamala Harris would seek to challenge all the nations in the region to keep pace if elected.

Biden also said that Israeli annexation would be a “body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president.”


Palestinian politicians voice dismay over ‘historic agreement’

August 14, 2020

AMMAN: Palestinian politicians have reacted with dismay to the US-brokered agreement that will postpone the annexation of the West Bank while the UAE and Israel establish full diplomatic relations.

The deal was reached after talks between US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an urgent meeting of the Arab League after Thursday’s joint announcement by the UAE, Israel and the US.

“The Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the surprising UAE-Israeli-US trilateral announcement,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a senior adviser to Abbas, reading from a statement outside the president’s headquarters in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Abu Rudeineh described the agreement as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause.”

If implemented formally, the deal will pave the way for the UAE to become the third Arab country to have official relations with Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel signed the Oslo accords in 1993 and 1995. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, while Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords in 1978.

A widespread Palestinian fear is that the UAE-Israel agreement could weaken the Arab Peace Initiative, brokered by then Crown Prince (later King) Abdullah in 2002, which called for full Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land in return for full normalization with Israel.

Jamal Dajani, a former spokesman for the Palestinian prime minister, said Palestinians feel betrayed by the UAE, whose move at this critical time undermines their struggle for independence.

“Israel’s so-called plan of annexation is illegal and a non-starter. Netanyahu knew this, so did Trump,” Dajani told Arab News.

“President Trump said that the ‘ice has been broken,’ but in fact trust has been lost.”

Mustafa Barghouti, head of Al-Mubadara (the Initiative), an independent Palestinian political party, issued a statement calling the UAE action a “stab in the back of Palestinians.”

He said the deal endorses Israel’s decision to suspend rather than cancel the planned annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Hamadeh Faraneh, an Amman-based member of Palestine National Council, said the decision is neither historic nor surprising because it has been known for some time that Israel and the UAE have been in regular contact.

He said the decision is at odds with the Arab Peace Initiative and “amounts to a reversal of the order of things.”

“Instead of the end of occupation preceding normalization, we have now normalization without any idea if there will be an end to the occupation,” he told Arab News.

The joint statement by the UAE, Israel and the US said: “Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East’s most dynamic societies and advanced economies will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation and forging closer people-to-people relations.”

However, Aaron David Miller, a former US peace envoy to the Middle East and a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, described the agreement as a “historic decision” that represents three wins and one loss.”

According to Miller, it is a win for the leaders of Israel, the UAE and the US, but a loss for Palestinians.


Libya: UAE-Israel deal 'betrayal that doesn't surprise'

Mucahit Aydemir  



The agreement reached Thursday between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel to normalize relations is a form of betrayal, said a top Libyan official.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV, Mohamed Amari Zayed, a member of the Libyan Presidential Council, said "this is a betrayal of the UAE state that doesn't surprise. With its destructive role in Libya, Syria and Yemen, it is a natural result of the embargo imposed on Qatar, Palestine and the independent nations of the region."

Israel and the UAE have agreed to normalize relations, US President Donald Trump said Thursday, with Tel Aviv agreeing to delay its controversial plans to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank.

Zayed described the UAE's step as "another stab in the back of the [Muslim] Ummah."

"The recent losses of the Islamic Ummah as a result of this policy of the UAE are much higher than the Zionist regime killed and displaced in the last 50 years," he said.

Under the UAE-Israel deal, Israel will "suspend" plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank "and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world," according to a joint statement by the US, UAE and Israel.

The UAE, the foremost financial, political and military supporter of warlord Khalifa Haftar, leader of the illegitimate armed forces in eastern Libya, sent thousands of mercenaries affiliated with the Russian private army Wagner Group as well as Syrian fighters and Sudanese militias to fight in the ranks of Haftar.

Libya has been torn by civil war since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to a military offensive by forces loyal to Haftar.

The UN recognizes the government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj as the country's legitimate authority as it has battled Haftar's militias since April 2019 in a conflict that has taken more than 1,000 lives.


Indonesia Takes Part in Late-Stage China Vaccine Trial

Aug 14, 2020

JAKARTA: More people in Indonesia rolled up their sleeves Friday to test a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by a Chinese company.

The Indonesian government announced the partnership between state-owned enterprise Bio Farma and the Chinese company Sinovac BioTech in early July. As part of the deal, Indonesia recruited 1,620 volunteers for the trial. The first 20 were injected with the candidate vaccine in Bandung, West Java province, on Tuesday, and more followed suit.

``We hope that this third clinical trial will be completed in six months. We hope that in January we can produce it and at the same time, if the production is ready, vaccinate all people in the country,'' President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday.

After passing a medical and PCR test to confirm their health, volunteers were given a first dose of the experimental vaccine or a placebo, then a second dose 14 days later.

``Fifty percent of the volunteers will be injected by the vaccine and the other 50% will be injected with the placebo. We will see the comparison from those who are injected with the vaccine and those who got the placebo in seven months,'' clinical trial research leader Kusnandi Rusmil told The Associated Press by phone.

Bio Farma currently has a production capability of 100 million vaccine doses. The company is building a new facility, expected to be completed in December, that will increase the capacity to 250 million doses. Use of the vaccine will be prioritized for Indonesia, the world's fourth most populated country, Bio Farma CEO Honesti Basyir said.

Called CoronaVac, the potential vaccine uses an inactivated pathogen, meaning the virus is grown in a lab and then deactivated or killed. In June the company announced that no severe adverse side effects had resulted from the phase 1 and 2 trials conducted in volunteers in China. The company is also planning clinical trials with thousands of volunteers in India, Brazil and Bangladesh.

Under normal circumstances, it takes years for a vaccine to be developed. But with many experts believing that a vaccine is the best hope against the virus, clinical trials and development have been rapidly accelerated since Jan. 10, when China shared the virus' genetic sequence.

The trial comes at a time when Indonesia continues to have one of the highest confirmed caseloads in the region, with the actual number of cases suspected to be much higher. As of Thursday, Indonesia had 132,816 confirmed cases with 5,968 deaths.


Egypt’s Sisi welcomes UAE-Israel deal and halt to annexation

13 August 2020

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi welcomed on Thursday an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel on normalizing ties that includes an Israeli agreement to halt further annexation of Palestinian lands.

“I followed with interest and appreciation the joint statement between the United States, United Arab Emirates and Israel to halt the Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands and taking steps to bring peace in the Middle East,” Sisi said on Twitter.

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“I value the efforts of those in charge of the deal to achieve prosperity and stability for our region.”

Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced an agreement on Thursday that will lead to a full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two states, a move that reshapes the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.

Under the accord, which US President Donald Trump helped broker, Israel has agreed to suspend annexing areas of the occupied West Bank as it had been planning to do, White House officials said.


Lithuania designates Hezbollah as a terrorist organization

August 13, 2020

VILNIUS, Lithuania: Lithuania on Thursday designated the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group as a terrorist organization and issued a 10-year ban on all individuals related to the Iran-backed group from entering the Baltic nation’s territory.

“After receiving valuable information from our foreign partners, we can assume that Hezbollah is functioning on the principles of terrorist organization,” Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said.

Linkevicius added, without elaborating, that some persons with the Iran-backed organization also pose threat to Lithuania’s national security.

Hezbollah emerged as a ragtag guerrilla group in the 1980s, funded by Iran to battle Israeli troops occupying southern Lebanon. A protracted guerrilla war, characterized by roadside bombs and sniper attacks, eventually forced Israel to withdraw in May 2000. With the exception of an inconclusive, monthlong war in 2006, the volatile frontier has largely remained calm.

The US and Israel, along with Britain, Germany, the Arab League and Gulf Arab states have also designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The European Union has only designated the group’s military wing as terrorist, in the aftermath of an attack on a tourist bus in Bulgaria in 2012.





Bengaluru Violence: Vlogger Captured Human Chain Protecting A Hanuman Temple

Aug 14, 2020

BENGALURU: Amid the arson and stone pelting in East Bengaluru on Tuesday night, there was one act of harmony that lasted more than three hours. It was captured on a video clip which went viral drawing praise as well as some criticism that it was a cover-up.

Amateur cameraman and vlogger Syed Mohammed Hanif, 27, of Ashok Nagar got a call around 9.30pm on Tuesday about the riots in Kavalbyrasandra. He rushed to the spot and reached the BMTC bus terminus. “As I was running around and filming, I saw an unusual sight of some men forming a human chain and standing still. When I went closer, I realised the men were trying to protect a temple from rioters,” said Hanif, whose video got thousands of hits and shares on the internet.

The men were protecting a Hanuman temple even as protesters vandalised property and burnt vehicles in the area.

A Nadeem (29), a link in the human chain and seen in the video clip, said a few Muslim men got together to protect the temple. “When I went there, there were around 10 men trying hard to protect the shrine. I ran and joined them. Within minutes, more people joined the chain and there was no way the protesters could come near it. We were there till 11.30pm,” he said.

Another local resident Arshad Ahmed recalled: “People were burning vehicles and pelting stones and shouting slogans. Some bystanders like me were scared that this anger would be directed at the temple. The men who protected this place of worship prevented a bad situation from becoming worse.”


Pak court allows Sikh girl to go with her Muslim husband or place of her choice

Aug 13, 2020

Lahore The Lahore High Court on Wednesday allowed Jagit Kaur of Nankana Sahib, who married one Mohammad Hassan in September last against the will of her family, to go with her husband or any place of her choice, saying she was not a ‘minor’.

Since September 2019, Kaur has been living in Darul Aman (shelter house) in Lahore following her family’s allegation that she was kidnapped by Hassan who forcibly married her.

India had voiced its concern with Pakistan over the alleged abduction and forced marriage of the Sikh girl and sought “immediate remedial action” from the Pakistan government.

LHC justice Chaudhry Shehram Sarwar gave the ruling on the petition of Hassan, seeking custody of ‘his wife’ Kaur whom he gave Muslim name Ayesha.

Police brought the Sikh girl to the court amid tight security. Her brother and other family members were also present in the court who expressed their dismay over the decision.

Representing the Sikh family, Khalil Tahir Sindhu, argued that the school-leaving certificate was enough to prove that the girl is minor. He challenged the record of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) regarding her age.

Sindhu also informed the court that as per a settlement reached by Punjab governor Muhammad Sarwar between the two parties, the girl is supposed to be handed over to her family. “Emotions of the Sikh community will be hurt if the girl is allowed to go with the Muslim man,” he contended.

Counsel for the petitioner Sultan Sheikh told the court that as per the record of Nadra, the girl was 19. He said a medical board previously constituted by the court had already declared the girl a major.

The judge rejected the arguments of Sindhu, saying only the documents of Nadra were valid to establish the age of a person. Justice Sarwar further observed that the high court had nothing to do with any decision made by the governor in a private capacity.

“The Constitution of the country safeguards the rights of Kaur and she is free to live with a person of her own choice,” the judge said. The judge also ordered the police to provide “foolproof” security to Kaur.

At the previous hearing, Kaur told the court that she married the petitioner with her free will, after converting to Islam, and did not want to go back to her family.

Tension between Sikh and Muslim communities in Nankana Sahib has risen following the court decision. Nankana police have been put on alert, officials said. PTI


Setting an example of communal amity, Muslims form human chain to protect temple from mob

Aug 13, 2020

Bengaluru: Youth, including those from a minority community, decided to protect a temple when a mob was going on a rampage here after being irked over a social media post on an allegedly communally sensitive issue.

A video of the youth quickly forming the human chain to protect the Hanuman temple on Shampura Main Road has gone viral, even as the mob was indulging in arson.

The human chain was formed on Tuesday night as a result of some quick thinking while violence sent shock waves across DJ Halli, KG Halli and neighbouring areas of Pulakeshinagar.

"We saw the rioters coming in groups towards the temple and their intention seemed to damage it. Then we decided to form a human chain to protect it," a youth who wished not to be named, said.

He expressed fear that any damage to the temple could have complicated things further.

On Tuesday night, a mob had gone on the rampage at Pulakeshinagar irked over the social media post allegedly put out by a Congress legislator's relative, with the government terming the violence as a well-planned act.

Three persons were killed when police opened fire to quell the mob and scores of others, including over 50 police personnel, sustained injuries in the violence that stretched till the wee hours of Wednesday.

The mob had set on fire the DJ Halli Police Station, besides damaging Pulakeshinagar Congress MLA Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy's property for his nephew Naveen had allegedly posted some objectionable content in the social media about a week ago.

State Revenue Minister R Ashoka had dubbed the violence pre-planned with an intention to spread it in other parts of the city. Naveen has also been arrested.


Terrorists attack police party in J-K’s Nowgam, 2 killed

Aug 14, 2020

At least two police personnel have been killed in a terrorists attack that took place on a police party in Jammu and Kashmir’s Nowgam. Another has been injured as per reports. The policemen belonged to the 20th battalion of IRP.

The police personnel were rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment where two of them were declared dead. The area where the attack took place has been cordoned off.

In a tweet, Jammu and Kashmir Police said that the attack took place near the Nowgam Bypass.

“#Terrorists fired #indiscriminately upon police party near #Nowgam Bypass. 03 police personnel injured. They were shifted to hospital for treatment where 02 among them attained #martyrdom. Area cordoned off. Further details shall follow,” the tweet read.

This comes a day after security forces on Thursday busted three hideouts of terrorists in Awantipora in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district during a raid conducted by Jammu and Kashmir Police along with Army’s 50 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and 130 Battalion of CRPF.


Terrorists gun down two J&K policemen outside Srinagar

Aug 14, 2020

SRINAGAR: Terrorists fired indicriminately on a Jammu and Kashmir police party in Nowgam on the outskirts of Srinagar city Friday morning, leaving two personnel dead, officials said.

Police said terrorists opened fire on the police team near Nowgam bypass, injuring three personnel, who were shifted to a hospital for treatment but two of them succumbed to their injuries.

The area has been cordoned off and a hunt has been launched for the terrorists.


J&K: Two cops killed, one injured after militants attack police party in Nowgam

August 14, 2020

At least two Jammu and Kashmir policemen were killed and one injured after militants opened indiscriminate fire on a police party in Nowgam district on Friday morning. Three cops were injured during the attack. They were immediately shifted to a hospital, where two of them succumbed.

“Terrorists fired indiscriminately upon police party near Nowgam Bypass. Three police personnel injured. They were shifted to hospital for treatment where two among them attained martyrdom. Area cordoned off. Further details shall follow,” Kashmir Zone Police tweeted.

While the militants managed to escape after the attacks, police and paramilitary cordoned off the area to trace and nab the militants involved in the attack.

Friday’s militant attack took place despite a security alert and heightened security in the Valley in wake of the Independence day on Saturday.





Pak Court Suspends One-Year Sentence of Two JuD Senior Leaders, Close Aids Of Hafiz Saeed In A Terror-Financing Case

Aug 13, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore high court suspended on Thursday the one-year sentence of two senior leaders of the proscribed extremist militant group Jamaat-ud-Dawah and close aides of 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed in a terror-financing case.

In mid-June, a special anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore had convicted four top leaders of JuD — Zafar Iqbal, Yahya Aziz, Abdul Rehman Makki and Abdus Salam — for collecting funds and unlawfully financing activities of the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Iqbal and Aziz had been each sentenced to five years in prison while Makki and Salam had been given one-year jail terms each.

Makki and Salam had challenged their conviction in the Lahore HC.

During Thursday’s hearing, a two-member bench of the Lahore HC comprising Justice Asjad Javed Gural and Justice Waheed Khan, after hearing arguments from the defence and prosecution, accepted the plea of Makki and Salam and ordered the suspension of their one-year sentence by the ATC. The court also ordered their release on bail. Both militant leaders were serving their sentences in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

Earlier this year, a Lahore-based ATC had handed down two five-and-a-half-year prison sentences to LeT founder Hafiz Saeed for his links with the banned group and for collecting money to fund terrorism. Saeed, designated a global terrorist by both the United States and the UN, founded LeT in the 1990s but had distanced himself from the group since Pakistani authorities outlawed the organisation.

Saeed denies allegations that he masterminded the Mumbai attacks or any other subversive acts in India.

Washington has offered a $10 million reward for bringing Saeed to justice. Several of his aides are also currently on trial in Pakistan in terrorism-related cases.

Pakistan has been under growing international pressure, particularly from the US, to crack down on militant groups operating in the country in the name of Islamic charities.

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Pakistan two years ago on its “grey list” of countries with inadequate controls over money-laundering and terrorism financing. It has been pressing the country to improve its efforts against terrorism and has given Pakistan a 27-point action programme to avoid being placed on FATF’s blacklist, which would make international dealings almost impossible for Islamabad.


Sikh girl who embraced Islam leaves Darul Aman to live with Muslim husband

Aug 13, 2020

AMRITSAR: Jagjit Kaur alias Ayesha Bibi finally went to live with her Muslim husband Muhammad Hassan at his house in Lahore from Darul Aman on Thursday where she had stayed for nearly a year even as her father and brother met Pakistan Punjab’s governor Chaudhary Mohammad Sarwar seeking his intervention to bring back Jagjit to the family.

While talking to TOI over phone from Lahore, Muhammad Sultan Sheikh, counsel for Ayesha and her husband Hassan, said that there was an atmosphere of jubilation and sweets were distributed outside Darul Aman for their victory.

Sultan said he had accompanied Hassan and his family members to Darul Aman to pick Ayesha and dropped all of them at Hassan’s house in his car amid heavy security arrangement.

Notably, on August 12, Lahore High Court had ordered to send Ayesha with her husband after she gave a statement in the court that she didn’t want to go to her parents’ house but wanted to live with Hassan.

Daughter of Bhagwan Singh who is granthi of Gurdwara Tambu Sahib, Nankana Sahib, Ayesha had embraced Islam on August 28 last year and married her Muslim boyfriend Hassan the next day. However, following tension between two communities in Nankana Sahib, a local court had ordered to send Jagjit at Darul Aman where she had been staying for nearly a year.

Pictures of Hassan and his father Zulfiqar Ali sharing sweets and greetings with friends were released on social media.

Kaur’s brother Manmohan Singh said a delegation of Sikhs met Sarwar. However, he didn’t give details of their meetings. Notably earlier also Sarwar had intervened to bring truce between Ayesha and Hassan’s parents and had invited them at Governor House but to no avail.

Meanwhile, Amritsar Lok Sabha Member Parliament (MP) Gurjeet Singh Aujla has written a letter to Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan seeking his intervention in the issue. He has ‘warned’ Khan that he will raise the issue at the international level and Prime Minister Narnedra Modi.

“I strongly condemn the oppression and harassment of the Sikh girls in the hands of persons belonging to the majority religion. I, first of all, request you to resolve this issue in a very peaceful, fair, judicious manner or else this matter shall be taken up by me with Indian prime minister and also at international forums to ensure that speedy justice is delivered and no such oppression, harassment, and coercion shall be tolerated at any cost," Aujla said.


China angry with Pak over poor security for its CPEC workers

Aug 14, 2020

NEW DELHI: Despite China reinvigorating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with a fresh infusion of $11 billion in July, growing discord at the working levels as well as corruption is marring its flagship Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan.

In recent meetings between Chinese and Pakistani officials, reports of which have been leaked and seen by TOI, the Chinese side have expressed anger and frustration with Pakistan regarding lack of security — these complaints are escalating to senior levels of the Pakistan army who are expected to comply with Chinese demands. Pakistan has raised an entire special security division (SSD) to provide protection to Chinese contractors and workers along CPEC.

The discord between the two sides has been sharp regarding the Karot hydropower project in Punjab, as well as at the Azad Pattan project, where the Chinese are unhappy about the progress and lack of security. A similar story is heard from the Kohala hydropower project. Repeated Chinese complaints have led to both the army and civilian government scrambling to accede to these demands. Disputes over design and execution of this project have been going on since 2019. When officials from the two countries attempted to resolve them, China refused to accept the resolution plan given by Pakistan.

In other places, for instance, in the Mattiari-Lahore road project, or even the Peshawar-Karachi road project, the Chinese contractors are chafing against what they call “strict security” by the Pakistani SSD. They want to be able to get around a lot more and have demanded greater “flexibility” of movement, particularly in Lahore.

In a third instance, the two sides are squabbling over the amount of protection the Chinese company, China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC) have demanded at Sukhri Kinari Hydro Power Project. The Pakistan SSD wants to monitor fewer sites, the Chinese want more, and have complained that they are being asked to hire additional security guards.

The agreements at the strategic levels in both countries show a tight relationship where CPEC is key to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). With all its trials, CPEC appears to be moving forward. Recently, Pakistan’s Executive Committee of the National Economic Council approved the strategically important $6.8 billion Mainline-1 (ML-1) railway project—the most expensive project under CPEC.

At the ground level, however, it is a different story, with compounding security worries for China, massive corruption by entities from both countries and a growing debt trap for Pakistan.

China has repeatedly raised concerns in recent weeks at rising violence by Balochistan militants which, according to Pakistani security experts like Muhammad Amir Rana, are expanding their footprint from Balochistan into Sindh, as was seen during the June 29 attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange.

According to media reports, China has been asking Pakistan to get the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) banned by the UNSC, but this movement has not received traction yet.

Recent reports have given glimpses of the scale of corruption in CPEC deals which have been detailed by internal reports which basically show both civilian and military leaders in Pakistan are on the take.

Investigations into poor quality construction of a new airport in Islamabad showed defalcation of funds by a large number of people in the upper reaches of the Pakistan military.

A related problem is that incidents of violence by Chinese workers or contractors against Pakistani security men go unaddressed, with army officers repeatedly asking their men to stand down and not confront the Chinese, affecting the morale of the men.


Celebrations of 73rd Independence Day begin with traditional zeal across the country

14 Aug 2020

The celebrations of the 73rd Independence Day began with traditional zeal and fervour across the country as change of guard ceremonies were held at Mazaar-i-Quaid and Mazaar-i-Iqbal in Karachi and Lahore respectively.

Flag hoisting ceremonies were held at public and private offices across the country and special programmes were scheduled to observe the Independence Day.

Messages were also released by President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan, who recalled the sacrifices of the forefathers and those who fought for and laid down their lives in defence of the country.

The president called upon the nation to "stand firm and work for progress and prosperity" of the country. He urged the people to stay united in order to meet the challenges that are being faced by Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran, whose message was posted in a series of tweets by the PM Office's Twitter account, said that the day was "an occasion to pause and to reflect as to how far we have been able to achieve those ideals that led to creation of an independent state".

He also paid tribute to "all those sons of the soil who laid their lives while defending and protecting territorial as well as ideological frontiers of the motherland" and pledged to "continue pursuing" the ideals of the nation's founder Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

"We have battled against odds both at external as well as internal fronts," the prime minister said. "From the hostility of a neighbouring country, with its known hegemonic intentions, to the scourge of terrorism and from coping with natural calamities to fighting pandemics, our nation has always shown resilience and perseverance. Today, we reiterate our pledge to remain steadfast and embrace every challenge holding the torch of 'Unity, Faith and Discipline'."

The president and the prime minister also directed the nation's attention towards the "gross human rights violations" committed by the Indian forces in Indian occupied Kashmir.

President Arif Alvi, in his message, said that the residents of occupied Kashmir have been suffering at the hands of the Indian forces for the past three decades. He further said that "gross human rights violations" by the Indian forces have intensified since the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party repealed the autonomy of the occupied territory last year. He assured occupied Kashmir's people that "Pakistan will continue to support them in their just struggle for their Right to Self-Determination as enshrined in the United Nations Security Council resolutions".

The prime minister said that the nation's "heart [is] profoundly grieved by the sufferings of our brethren in IIOJK who are facing military siege since past one year". He reaffirmed Pakistan's support for occupied Kashmir's residents' "struggle for their right to self-determination" and promised to raise the issue on every forum.


JUI-F chief slams govt for hastily approving FATF-related bills

Kalbe Ali

14 Aug 2020

ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Thursday condemned the government for hastily getting the FATF-related bills passed through the parliament and said it was due to weak governance and failed foreign policy that the government could not withstand the pressure of the FATF.

Speaking to media after a two-day meeting of JUI-F lawmakers and provincial chiefs, Maulana Fazl said that the JUI-F’s opposition to FATF-related bills was based on principles.

He said it was not for the first time that Pakistan had been put on the grey list as it had happened earlier, too, and Pakistan was cleared from it, but previous governments had not been blackmailed by the FATF.

“The JUI-F took a stand on the legislation passed in parliament and opposed these bills as we consider them anti-Pakistan bills,” the Maulana said, adding that parliamentarians were not even consulted over the matter.

He said the MMA and some other parties were excluded from consultation over these bills and it was against democracy, too.

The JUI-F chief said that Pakistan was making FATF-related laws only under pressure from India and its supporters around the world.

He raised the issue of Kashmir in the FATF laws recently passed by the parliament and said that it was due to the failure of diplomacy that Kashmir issue had been shelved.

“What will happen if the United Nations or the FATF declares Kashmir freedom fighters terrorists?” the Maulana asked, adding that “there is no provision in the law for rehabilitation of Kashmiri freedom fighters”.

The Maulana said that these legislations had been drafted by the incompetent government, adding that the government had failed to maintain a balance in international relations and due to failed diplomacy the government had not only annoyed Saudi Arabia, but also displeased China too over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The JUI-F chief also expressed displeasure over PPP and PML-N attitude, saying that both parties had not responded appropriately to the call for a meeting of Rehbar committee.

“We met Bilawal one day and Shahbaz Sharif the next day and it was decided to hold a meeting of Rehbar Committee after Eidul Azha,” the Maulana said, but the next day both parties voted for the government bills despite the fact that there was no need to get blackmailed by the government.

He said that key opposition parties were still in contact with the JUI-F and a multi-party conference would be held when JUI-F reservations and concerns were removed.


Any plan to change Karachi’s status will be ‘attack’ on Sindh, says Bilawal

Imran Ayub

14 Aug 2020

KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday said that any move to change the administrative status of Karachi under legal cover would be a second such ‘attack’ on the province after the ‘judicial murder’ of former prime minister and founding chief of the party Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

However, in the same breath he expressed the hope that no such move would emerge and the challenges would be met with consensus and national unity instead of playing politics on national issues.

Addressing a press conference along with Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and key members of the Sindh cabinet at the Sindh Assembly auditorium, he also expressed confidence in the judiciary, saying it would play its role and would not support any undemocratic move and would stand by the Constitution and the law.

“God willing, no such thing would happen,” he responded immediately while replying to a question about a proposed plan of the federal government for Karachi which was recently mentioned by the attorney general in the Supreme Court.

Amid worsening situation of the provincial metropolis, the federal government was considering “available constitutional and legal options” in order to fix problems of Karachi, the attorney general had informed the court.

Claims Sindh govt’s response to Covid-19 has been lauded by WHO

“But God forbid anything happens and the PTI government attempts to occupy Sindh capital and make it a colony, it will be solely illegal move. And if they try to give it a judicial cover, then it will be a second such attack after the judicial murder of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. And this would not be acceptable for us. I hope no such thing will happen. It’s most challenging time of our history where we are facing issues from economy to social sector. There is a need for unity and more focus on the main issues.”

About the role of his and other opposition parties in parliament during the recent legislation and passing amendments to some crucial laws, he said the PPP went to all extents to support the government only to save Pakistan from the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). But, he claimed, the government was demanding more than requirements of the FATF, which his party would not support.

“We are against three bills,” said Mr Bhutto-Zardari. “Among them are CrPC Amendment Bill, the Economic Terrorism Bill and the AMLA [Anti-Money Laundering] Bill. They are not only more than the requirement of the FATF, but they would also compromise basic human rights. The PPP has accepted the FATF and constitutional requirements under the democratic process, but not the undemocratic ones through which they are trying to obtain dictatorial powers.”

The PPP chairman looked visibly angry when the performance of his 12-year government in Sindh was questioned along with the role of the provincial administration during the Covid-19 crisis.

He asked media persons: “Please don’t be a tout of the establishment”.

He said: “It doesn’t make sense to insult our intelligence and people on the ground during the coronavirus crisis. Our policy is very clear and that is to save people’s lives. Today every international body including the Bill Gates Foundation and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are lauding the role of the Sindh government. So don’t repeat the establishment’s point.”

The auditorium of the Sindh Assembly burst into roars of laughter when the PPP chairman after a pause told the journalists that he had been advised not to use the word ‘establishment’ during the press conference.

“Now you can imagine how free we are. And definitely we are going to celebrate the Independence Day tomorrow [Aug 14],” he said with a broad smile on his face.


Qureshi’s Saudi criticism on Kashmir hints shift in Pakistan’s strategy for the Islamic world


13 August, 2020

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi seemed hellbent on demolishing one of the pillars of his country’s foreign policy when he openly threatened Saudi Arabia to either lead the Muslim ummah and OIC against India’s constitutional reforms in Jammu and Kashmir, or else he would be left with no choice but to advise his prime minister, who has proclaimed himself as the ‘Ambassador of Kashmir’, that Pakistan must move forward and call a session of all those Islamic countries that are ready to stand with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, “with or without” the Saudis. The unusually harsh tone of Qureshi against the Saudis, and all his dramatics – contorting his face and speaking in his usual affected manner – against a country that has for decades been a benefactor of a basket case that Pakistan has become is likely to hold serious implications, not just on Saudi-Pakistan relations, but also on Qureshi’s own political career.

Although Qureshi was quite clear that his strident stand against the Saudi’s was his personal opinion, it was endorsed by Pakistan’s foreign office which said that the minister’s statement was “a reflection of people’s aspirations and expectations from the OIC to take forward the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir internationally.” A day after his initial outburst, Qureshi softened his tone and tenor on Saudi Arabia. In a subsequent interview, even as he bent over backward to express gratitude for everything the Saudis had done for Pakistan, he clarified that because Pakistan considered Saudi Arabia as their own, a brother country, it felt entitled to remonstrate against them, something they wouldn’t do with any other country. There are reports that efforts were being made on the back channel to ensure that damage was controlled. Later, a meeting took place between the real ruler of Pakistan, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Saudi Ambassador, and it has been revealed that Bajwa might be visiting Riyadh to smoothen ruffled feathers. While he is in Riyadh, it is expected that Bajwa will most likely push the envelope on not just seeking Saudi support in OIC on Kashmir but also a restoration of the $3.2 billion Saudi deferred oil facility which hasn’t been renewed, and appeal the Saudis to not demand the $3 billion they had loaned Pakistan for Balance of Payments support. The Saudis asking the Pakistanis to pay back what they have borrowed is a big deal because until now it has mostly been a free ride for the Pakistanis – the loans they take are never repaid to the Saudis. If now the Saudis are asking their money back, it isn’t because of the Saudi economic crisis but because of some serious strains in the bilateral relationship.

Clearly, there is something happening in the Saudi-Pakistan relationship that doesn’t quite add up. Qureshi is no green horn like many other members of Imran Khan’s cabinet. As a seasoned politician, he isn’t given to making emotional outbursts, unless of course it is with a purpose. All his pretensions of being deeply disturbed about Kashmir are only that. Around 20 years back, during a meeting at the PPP office in Islamabad, Qureshi told this writer that he was from Multan where Kashmir had no resonance and that it was an obsession only in the Raiwind to Rawalpindi belt of Punjab. Now suddenly, if he is pretending to be a bleeding heart on Kashmir, it isn’t out of love for the Kashmiris but more to peddle some agenda. This could be a personal political agenda – positioning himself as a crusader on Kashmir who is pushing for stronger domestic and international action.

Such a strident stand would burnish his ‘patriotic’ credentials and present him as an acceptable alternative to Imran Khan, if and when Imran’s ‘selectors’ decide to replace him. If his gambit succeeds, he will get credit for a robust policy on Kashmir; if he becomes the fall guy, he can present himself as a martyr to the Kashmir ‘cause’. He tried to pull something similar nearly ten years back when he rebelled against his own government on the Raymond Davis case in 2011. At that time too he was said to have been put up to play spoiler by the men in Khaki. And quite like in 2011, this time too there are rumours about the longevity of the Imran Khan government and for months there has been talk of Qureshi trying to manoeuvre himself as a possible replacement of Imran Khan. This is the Bhutto-in-Tashkent model. The problem is that it worked for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto because he was a charismatic leader, something Qureshi isn’t. Qureshi lost his own provincial assembly seat in the 2018 election and at best has a following in a couple of constituencies, and that too because of his Gaddi as a spiritual leader of a shrine.

Of course, his overweening ambitions aside, Qureshi couldn’t have been behaving the loose cannon without someone really powerful – in Pakistan this only means the military – giving him the nod. There are two or three possible explanations.

The first explanation is that this was a trial balloon. The Pakistanis have been trying hard for an year to get the OIC to play a more pro-active role on Kashmir. But the Saudis, along with the UAE and a few other important Arab countries, haven’t shown much interest. They have fobbed off the Pakistanis by getting the OIC Contact Group to issue meaningless statements. While the Saudi’s are a member of this 5 nation group, the other members are Pakistan, Turkey, Niger and Azerbaijan. Needless to say, apart from the Saudis, and to an extent Turkey, all the other countries are quite inconsequential even in the Islamic bloc. The Saudis however have not allowed any mention of Kashmir in the Mecca Declaration of OIC, nor have they allowed an extraordinary session of OIC foreign ministers on Kashmir in Pakistan, something the Pakistanis have been pitching for rather desperately. Worse, the OIC invited the Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj as a guest of honour in UAE – the Pakistanis boycotted that session – in early 2019 after the Balakot attack. The Saudis, Bahrain and UAE have honoured Prime Minister Narendra Modi with their highest award – the last two countries did this after the constitutional reforms in Jammu and Kashmir last August. The Pakistanis were cut to the bone but continued to try for the foreign ministers meeting. It is now believed that through Qureshi, they have tried to rattle the cage. Issuing an ultimatum to the Saudis is a gamble. If it works,  and the Saudis are pressured into doing Pakistan’s bidding, the Pakistanis can crow about their diplomatic success; if the Saudis react strongly, the Pakistanis can go on their knees and apologise profusely and blame it all on Qureshi, whom the Saudis don’t like much anyway because they see him as someone who earns his wealth from a grave – the shrine whose custodian he is.

The second possible explanation is that Qureshi was signalling the beginning of a shift of strategy in Pakistan’s playbook in the Islamic world. Most Pakistanis disparage the OIC as “Oh I see”, an organisation that really delivers nothing on the causes dear to the Islamic Ummah. For some time now, there have been stirrings to build an alternative Islamic bloc which isn’t tied to or tied down by the Arabs. Among the countries that appear keen on this new bloc are Iran, Turkey and Malaysia. Both Iran and Turkey have very strained relations with the Saudis, partly for historical, sectarian, cultural and ethnic reasons, and partly for geo-political reasons. In the Islamic world, the Arabs are the top dogs, the Persians and Turkic people form the second and third rung. Countries like Pakistan and Malaysia are the bureaucratic equivalent of Class IV employees of the Ummah (or in Pakistan’s bureaucratic parlance, the below Grade 10 employees).

Last year, the Pakistanis along with other countries tried to sow the seeds of an alternative OIC when a proposal was floated for a global Islamic TV channel and a summit was organised in Kuala Lumpur, where one of the issues that would be highlighted was Kashmir. The Saudis however were furious. The Saudi Crown Prince, who had given his personal aircraft to Imran Khan to travel to the UN General Assembly, took back his plane, forcing Imran Khan to travel back in a commercial airliner. Later, the Saudis warned the Pakistanis that if they dared to do go ahead with Malaysia, not only would the Saudis cut off all financial support – they gave the Pakistanis $6.2 billion in 2018-19 – but also deport Pakistani workers (who send around $5 billion every year in remittances), and replace them with Bangladeshis. Imran Khan succumbed to the threat and did not go to Malaysia. But the cracks had already appeared in the relationship. The Pakistanis were not just cut up about the lack of support on Kashmir, but also the growing closeness between Saudi Arabia and India, both political and diplomatic, and also in security and economic domain. Over the last few years, the Saudi-India relationship has strengthened – Saudi have deported terrorists and fugitives to India, the economic relationship is burgeoning, the political ties are better than any time in the past. Not just the Saudis, but also with their close allies UAE, India’s relations have become extremely close and strong. This was Pakistan’s playground and now India was crowding them out.

Apart from the India factor, there were other problems that had started to emerge in the Pak-Saudi relationship. Pakistan’s refusal to join the Saudi-UAE forces in the Yemen operations in 2015 didn’t go down well with both the Arab countries. At that time, the Chinese were sinking in money into Pakistan under the CPEC project and Pakistan’s ailing economy was given a boost. With the Chinese keeping their back – Xi Jinping had reportedly assured Nawaz Sharif that  the Pakistanis that China would stand behind them in the event its ties with the Arab world unravelled – the Pakistanis felt bold enough to say no to the Saudis. The Chinese also blocked Saudis becoming a strategic partner in CPEC, something that the Pakistanis had announced after Imran Khan’s visit to Riyadh in September 2018. The Pakistanis were also chary of getting dragged into the Saudi-Iran sectarian conflict because of its repercussions inside Pakistan. Add to this, Pakistan’s growing closeness with Turkey which was emerging as an important security partner for not just Pakistan’s overt but also covert wars especially against India. With the Saudi-Turk relationship, always a little testy, going into a tailspin as a result of the Khashoggi affair, the Saudis were never going to look kindly on any compact with the Turks and Iranians. But the Pakistanis might be feeling that the time had come to break loose from the Saudi strings and exercise strategic autonomy. At the very least, hold this as a threat to make the Saudis address their concerns.

The third explanation is a rather sinister one, but cannot entirely be ruled out given Pakistan’s propensity for adventurism. The Pakistanis have for long developed deep contacts in the Saudi system. Pakistani forces are stationed in Saudi Arabia, ostensibly for training and advisory purposes. Some reports even claim the Pakistanis are there to defend the royal family. Given the divisions inside Saudi Arabia, could the Pakistanis be part of a deeper conspiracy by some other faction of the royal family? Although it sounds a little far-fetched and quite speculative, could the Pakistanis be aware of something, or even be a part of some such plan to topple the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman? Even the slightest possibility of something like this would mean that the presence of Pakistani security personnel in Saudi Arabia constitutes a danger to the royal family which really needs to reconsider using a mercenary army for its protection. For the Pakistanis, despite MbS having arranged Imran Khan’s meeting with US President Donald Trump and promising big investments in Pakistan, his impetuousness and his outreach to India makes him very unreliable and raises questions over the future trajectory of Saudi-Pakistan relations. Clearly, they would prefer someone more conservative at the helm in Riyadh, someone who will stick to the old template in which Pakistan was the ‘most favoured nation’.

It is entirely possible that the Pakistanis will back down from taking on the Saudis. The economic, diplomatic and political implications of going against the Saudis extend to going against virtually the entire Gulf and other Arab states. But the cracks that were already visible have widened and while they might still be papered over for some more time, they are unlikely to be repaired completely. Can India make use of this opportunity to further strengthen its relations with the Saudis and other of its close allies like the UAE?

Sushant Sareen @sushantsareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal.


Can’t doubt centrality of Saudi, says Pak army ahead of Gen Bajwa’s Riyadh mission

Imtiaz Ahmad

Aug 13, 2020

Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will soon travel to Saudi Arabia, a senior military official said on Thursday, confirming the visit that is seen as an effort by the Imran Khan government to mend ties with the kingdom is on the cards.

Major General Babar Iftikhar, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s military, insisted that Gen Bajwa’s visit was a pre-planned tour linked to “military-to-military relations” between the two countries.

“There is no need to read too much into it,” he told reporters at his briefing, describing relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “historic, important and good”. “Nobody can doubt the centrality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to islamic world,” the military spokesperson said in response to a question. A Reuters report quoting military officials said the visit will take place this weekend but there was no independent confirmation from Riyadh.

The visit is widely seen as an effort by Islamabad to repair ties with Saudi Arabia that has been upset at the Imran Khan government badgering Riyadh to convene a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Conference to target India over Kashmir.

Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi crossed the red line last week when he asked OIC to “stop dilly-dallying” and set a deadline for the Saudi-led grouping of 57 Islamic countries. “If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a Pakistani news channel last week.

The remark did not go down well with the Saudi leadership which had made Pakistan pay back $1 billion two weeks ago, forcing Islamabad to borrow from China instead. The Saudis are yet to respond to Pakistan’s request for a $3.2bn oil credit facility, part of a $6.2bn package announced in 2018.

Analysts have said that the Pakistan military leadership enjoys better relations with the Saudi leadership than the country’s political leaders.

Saudi Arabia is also asking for another $1bn back, putting pressure on Pakistan’s fragile foreign exchange reserves. But the bigger blow would be if the Saudi government starts to send back the approximately 2.5 million Pakistanis who live and work in the Kingdom.

If need be, officials have privately said that the Pakistan Foreign Minister may be removed from his position in a bid to normalise relations with the Saudi leadership.

The Pakistan foreign minister has twice postponed his press conference to explain his remarks in a bid to placate Saudi Arabia, the last on Tuesday.



North America


Trump believes Palestinians will seek peace after US brokers UAE-Israel deal

14 August 2020

US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he thinks Palestinians will seek peace with Israel.

"I see ultimately the Palestinians, I see peace between Israel and the Palestinians – I see that happening," he told a news conference.

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Trump on Thursday managed to pull off a rare victory for US diplomacy in the Middle East ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid by helping to broker a deal between American allies Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf monarchy and Israel agreed to a normalization of diplomatic relations. Israel also said it would suspend annexing areas of the occupied West Bank as it had been planning to do.

Soon after he sealed the agreement by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of his strongest supporters, and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Trump called it a "HUGE breakthrough" on Twitter and told reporters other similar Middle East deals are in the works.

The chance to play global statesman was compelling for Trump, who trails in public opinion polls ahead of what is shaping up as a tough election battle against Democratic challenger Joe Biden and has struggled to contain the coronavirus pandemic that has battered the US economy.

Two of the Republican president's primary Middle East endeavors have sputtered in the past year. The new agreement, known as the Abraham Accord, has the potential to impact both.

Trump has been unable to negotiate what has been billed as the "deal of the century" between Israel and the Palestinians, and a peace plan he proposed in January that heavily favored the Israelis has not advanced in any significant way.

Trump, who walked away from the international nuclear deal with Iran, also has been unable to get concessions from Tehran in spite of a "maximum pressure" campaign aimed at isolating the Iranians.

Israel and the UAE, along with the another strong regional US ally in Saudi Arabia, count Iran as an important enemy, bolstering their joint opposition to Tehran.


US administration seizes ships carrying Iranian oil

Jeyhun Aliyev  


The US administration seized tanker ships allegedly carrying Iranian oil on the grounds that it violated the sanctions against Tehran, according to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

The four fuel cargo vessels -- Luna, Pandi, Bering and Bella -- were confiscated in recent days in the open sea for the first time for violating sanctions imposed by the US President Donald Trump administration, and are currently on its way to Houston, it said, citing US officials.

In July, US prosecutors filed a lawsuit to seize the gasoline aboard four tankers that Iran was trying to ship to Venezuela, aiming to prevent the revenues flow from oil sales to Iran.

Iran’s economy, traditionally dependent on oil exports, has withered in recent years with the US government reinstating crippling economic sanctions.

The tensions between Iran and the US escalated after Trump announced a unilateral exit from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and reinstated sanctions that had been eased by his predecessor.

Iran’s oil industry has been hit hard by the sanctions, with many countries cutting down oil imports from Iran, fearing backlash from the US.


Friends of Israel in Congress wreck US ties with Turkey

Vakkas Dogantekin  


US lawmakers with strong ties to Israel have worked for two years to sabotage American relations with NATO ally Turkey and even not transparently worked behind the scenes to block arms sales.

Four key congressmen have clandestinely worked to freeze "all major US arms sales to Turkey for nearly two years in a move to pressure Ankara to abandon its Russian-built S-400 air defense system," according to a report by US-based Defense News.

Turkey decided in 2017 to purchase the anti-missile system following protracted efforts to purchase an American defense system had no success. US President Donald Trump emphasized on multiple occasions it was the fault of the Barack Obama administration to ignore Turkey's request to purchase the US-made Patriots system.

"[The] Obama administration said no, no, no to Turkey when they wanted to purchase Patriots and [Turkey] bought S400," Trump said in June 2019 and called the Obama administration's reluctance and failure to sell Patriots to Turkey a “mess.”

During his second term, Obama turned a blind eye to all national security claims by Turkey and instead of treating Ankara as a NATO ally, it financially and militarily supported the YPG/PKK terror group in northern Syria at the expense of Turkey and provided shelter to key members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) which Ankara accuses of masterminding a defeated military coup in July 2016.

FETO's brutal military coup attempt left 251 Turks dead and more than 2,200 wounded in less than 12 hours July 15. The terror group's leader Fetullah Gulen still lives in the US state of Pennsylvania, with US officials turning a deaf ear to Turkey's extradition requests.

The Defense News report mentions Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs ranking member Mike McCaul as lawmakers who were part of the freeze.

It also reported two other lawmakers who are also part of anti-Turkey efforts in Congress as being House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez, citing multiple Capitol Hill sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Anti-Turkey lawmakers all cite Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 and its alleged proximity to Russia as motive behind the controversial move at a time when never uttering a word about Israel's warm relations with Russia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting serious personal corruption charges, boasts warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting and hosting the Russian leader several times in recent years to discuss various topics.

While Israel and Russia have never confronted each other militarily, Turkey and Russia are at odds in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts.

All staunchest supporters of Israeli interests

According to that assesses the proximity of American senators and representatives to Israeli interests, all four lawmakers who work day and night to disrupt Turkish-American relations are staunch allies of Israel.

When individually checked, each lawmaker has received substantial donations from Israeli lobbies and: opposed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and supported the combating of BDS Act of 2017; opposed the Iran deal; supported controversial US embassy move to Jerusalem; supported the Israel Anti-boycott Act; supported the US Israel security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 and opposed UN Security Council Resolution 2334 which said Israel's illegal settlement activity by stealing Palestinian land constitutes a "flagrant violation" of international law and has "no legal validity."

The Turkish Embassy in Washington said in a statement: "There are a number of arms procurement cases for Turkey, pending approval in Congress. As a staunch member of NATO and an ally of the U.S., we are confident that approval of these requests without further delay will be a natural outcome of our strategic cooperation," as cited by the report.

"The U.S. is our number one trade partner in defense industry and we believe that it is in the strategic interest of both Turkey and the U.S. to further increase our bilateral cooperation in this field."





West Bank annexation still ‘on the table’, says Netanyahu

14 Aug 2020

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he agreed to delay annexation in the occupied West Bank as part of a normalisation deal with the UAE but the plans remain “on the table”.

Netanyahu said that in agreement with US President Donald Trump he had “delayed” West Bank annexation plans, but that he would “never give up our rights to our land”.

Netanyahu, like many in the Jewish state, refers to the occupied West Bank as Judea and Samaria and claims the territory as part of the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

Agreement removes time-bomb of annexation: UAE

“We will definitely not locate anything in Jerusalem. West or East. Unless there is a final agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Gargash urged the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table but said that the issue was not in the hands of the UAE.

The United Arab Emirates’ Senior official Anwar Gargash said the deal had helped defuse what he called the ticking time-bomb of Israel’s planned annexation of settlements in the occupied West Bank that was threatening a two-state solution to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict.

Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, said the agreement was a bold but necessary step to take in the region.

“The region is very polarised. You will hear the usual noise but I think it is important to move forward,” he told reporters in a briefing.

Delegations from Israel and the UAE, a regional business and investment hub, will meet in coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements on investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications and other issues, the statement said.

Iran calls UAE-Israel deal ‘shameful’

Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated to the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, said Thursday’s deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on normalising ties was “shameful”. Iran’s clerical leaders have yet to react to the deal.

Israel and the UAE reached a deal on Thursday on seeking the full normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern nations, in an agreement that US President Donald Trump helped broker.

Israel-UAE deal ‘does not serve Palestinian cause’: Hamas

The Gaza Strip’s Islamist leaders Hamas on Thursday rejected a historic agreement between Israel and the UAE saying it did not serve the Palestinian cause.

“The agreement with the UAE is a reward for the Israeli occupation and crimes,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem said.

Johnson welcomes deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that will lead to a full normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two states.

“The UAE and Israels decision to normalise relations is hugely good news,” Johnson said on Twitter.

“It was my profound hope that annexation did not go ahead in the West Bank and todays agreement to suspend those plans is a welcome step on the road to a more peaceful Middle East.” Foreign minister Dominic Raab said it was “time for direct talks between the Palestinians and Israel, the only route to lasting peace.”

Sisi praises deal

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday praised the US-brokered deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that would halt Israeli annexation of Palestinian land.

“I read with interest and great appreciation the joint statement between the United States, the brotherly United Arab Emirates and Israel concerning the halt of Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land,” Sisi said in a tweet, adding that this would help bring “peace” to the Middle East. Sisi’s remarks came after US President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement Thursday that the UAE and Israel would normalise ties.

The deal would make the UAE only the third Arab country Israel has diplomatic relations with after Egypt and Jordan.

As part of the deal, Israel has agreed to “suspend” plans to annex Jewish settlements and other territory in the occupied West Bank, according to a joint statement from the US, UAE and Israel tweeted by Trump.

“I appreciate the efforts of the architects of this agreement for the prosperity and stability of our region,” Sisi said.

In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed the first-ever peace treaty between the Jewish state and an Arab nation, upturning Middle East diplomatic and military relations.

Egypt has long served as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip.


‘Great news for peace’: Former Israel, US officials react to historic UAE-Israel deal

13 August 2020

Former Israeli and American officials involved in the Middle East peace process are applauding the landmark UAE-Israel agreement set to normalize relations between the two countries.

On Thursday US President Donald Trump announced the “Abraham Accord,” a diplomatic agreement between the UAE and Israel, which is Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab country in 25 years.

Nadav Tamir, a former policy adviser to Israeli President Shimon Peres, told Al Arabiya English that the agreement, which will halt Israeli annexation of the Palestinian territories, was “great news for peace.”

“No annexation and improved relations with an important Arab country,” said Tamir in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Former US envoy to the Middle East Ambassador Dennis Ross said the UAE’s decision to normalize relations with Israel in return for an annexation freeze is a “huge step.”

“It prevents Israeli annexation which preserves the possibility of two states and the hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Ross, who played a leading role in shaping US involvement in the Middle East peace process for over twelve years, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Ross said that while Palestinians may criticize the agreement, “the reality is annexation has been prevented and that serves Palestinian interests.”

Palestinian lawmaker Bernard Sabella expressed skepticism, telling Al Arabiya English after the announcement that he wasn’t sure that the development “would really change things on the ground with respect to settlements and annexation.”

Former Israeli Parliament member Ksenia Svetlova told Al Arabiya English that Thursday was “truly a historical and happy day for both countries.”

Israeli and Emirati delegations will meet in the coming weeks to establish bilateral agreements on a range of issues including tourism, telecommunications, and healthcare.

Currently there are no direct flights from the UAE to Israel. Phone calls between the two countries are blocked and neither have diplomatic offices in each other’s country.

However collaboration relating to healthcare is underway - relating to the coronavirus pandemic. In June it was announced two UAE private companies paired with Israeli companies to collaborate on COVID-19 research and technology.

Svetlova said both global and regional challenges call for cooperation between the two countries.

“Our countries have maintained good relations for a while and its wonderful that this relationship will not be finally normalized and a peace treaty will be signed,” she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously pledged to annex parts of the occupied West Bank and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had urged the military to hasten preparations for the planned annexation.

In June, UAE ambassador to Washington Youssef Al Otaiba said Israel cannot expect to normalize relations with the Arab world if it pushes ahead with its annexation plans, in an op-ed for Israel’s best-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, published in Hebrew.

Otaiba called the potential move an “illegal takeover” of land Palestinians seek for a state.


Iran, Iraq Discuss Ways to Facilitate Mutual Trade

Aug 13, 2020

Senior Iranian and Iraqi officials held a meeting in the Iraqi capital, and stressed the need to reach the level of 20 billion dollars in their trade exchanges.

The meeting was held between Iran's Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi and the Iraqi minister of commerce in Baghdad late on Wednesday.

The two sides reviewed issues related to Iran's exports of gas and electricity to Iraq.

Also, the two officials underlined the importance of following up mutual agreements reached between the two countries previously, making investment in joint borders, facilitating trade exchanges and holding business exhibitions.

Iran and Iraq stressed enhancement of trade exchanges to the level of 20 billion dollars during the July visit of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Kadhimi to Tehran.

Last month, Iranian First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri reaffirmed the resolve by Iran and Iraq to expand bilateral relations, and said that both sides will achieve their objectives by preparing a comprehensive document on trade cooperation.

"The ties between Tehran and Baghdad in different fields such as oil, gas, and electricity has been expanded significantly, but there are still other various fields for the expansion of economic relations," Jahangiri said, addressing the joint talks of high-level delegations of Iran and Iraq.

He referred to financial and banking relations as a prerequisite of expanding economic ties, calling for the implementation of agreements between Iran and Iraq in the field of finance and banking sector.

Jahangiri also stressed the need for the activation of the Joint Economic Commission of the two countries, and said, "The activation of the commissions could play an important role in resolving issues and remove the obstacles."


Israel behind Port of Beirut explosions, says former Lebanon interior minister

13 August 2020

Lebanon’s former interior minister accused Israel of being behind the Aug. 4 Port of Beirut blasts that killed almost 200 people and injured over 6,000.

Nouhad Machnouk, currently an MP representing Beirut, said Israel was clearly responsible for the explosion, “but it does not have the courage to [say it’s responsible] because it is a crime against humanity.”

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Machnouk held a press conference Wednesday, where he praised the lawmakers who resigned following the blasts. “They are more courageous than my colleagues and me; however, if I resign alone, will this result in anything?” he questioned.

The former minister, previously a close ally of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, called for an international committee to investigate the explosions.

He also lashed out at President Michel Aoun, who said that an international investigation was a “waste of time.”

“Which Lebanese judge would dare announce the finding of remnants of rockets in the debris [at the port],” Machnouk asked, in an apparent reference to Iran-backed Hezbollah’s arsenal of missiles and rockets.


UAE’s Jewish community reacts to country’s historic agreement with Israel

13 August 2020

Elli Kriel, founder of the first Jewish kosher eatery in the UAE, had just exchanged traditional Arabic food with an Emirati client on Thursday when she heard the news: Israel and the UAE signed a landmark peace agreement to normalize relations.

“I was preparing a meal for an Emirati customer and when he took the food, he gave me two boxes of local dates in an exchange very appropriate for this historic day,” Kriel told Al Arabiya English.

“How coincidental that the news broke at that precious moment,” she added.

Kriel, who has been a member of the UAE’s Jewish community for the past seven years, recently made history when she launched the first kosher food service in the Gulf region.

Kriel, who is originally from South Africa, said she was excited by the peace treaty, which she said paves the way for positive developments in the Middle East.

To the news of the setting up of direct flights between UAE and Israel, she said: “I am ready to embrace Israeli visitors into the UAE and share with them the delights of my Emirati-influenced Kosher cuisine and appreciation of my adopted home.”

Kriel’s husband Ross, who is president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates (JCE), said the announcement “reflects the extent to which the UAE has demonstrated sustained courage and pragmatism in seeking opportunities for peace and economic development in the region.”

“Our community members look forward to direct flights to Israel and welcoming Israeli friends and visitors to the UAE,” he told Al Arabiya English.

UAE’s Chief Rabbi says agreement is the futuristic vision of country’s leader

Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna told Al Arabiya English on Thursday that the agreement between Israel and the UAE is forward-looking and the product of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s vision.

“I believe that what we are observing is the unfolding of His Highness’ vision of tolerance, synergy, and the fusion of past and future,” said Rabbi Sarna, adding that the country’s Year of Tolerance last year, which welcomed Pope Francis to capital city Abu Dhabi, was one example.

“What excites me most about the agreement is the potential to collaborate on education and culture,” Rabbi Sarna added.

Israeli and Emirati delegations are set to meet in the coming weeks to establish bilateral agreements on a range of issues including education, culture, tourism, telecommunications, and healthcare.

It is Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab country in 25 years.

Hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace

David Zabinsky, a young American who moved to Dubai five years ago, said he hopes the diplomatic breakthrough would serve as a bridge to “enduring cooperation between Israel and the entire Arab world starting with a symbiotic peace agreement between Israel and Palestine,” he told Al Arabiya English.

In exchange for full diplomatic relations with the UAE, Israel has pledged to halt annexation of Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank.

Zabinsky said some of his closest friends in Dubai are Emirati and Palestinian and that he hopes the new agreement breaks down “walls between communities.”

“I envision Jews and Muslims throughout the UAE and the region having Shabbat dinners and Ramadan iftars together – realizing there is far more that brings us together than pushes us apart,” he said.





Jordan: Israel must choose between just peace, conflict


Israel should choose between a just peace and the option to continue the conflict, a top Jordanian diplomat said Thursday, referring to an agreement between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel to normalize ties. 

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in a statement that the impact of the deal on peace efforts is linked to the actions that Israel will take.

The Jewish state and energy-rich Gulf state have agreed to normalize relations, US President Donald Trump said Thursday, with Tel Aviv agreeing to delay its controversial plans to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank.

"If Israel sees the agreement as an incentive for the end of the occupation and the return of the Palestinian people's right to freedom and to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital, the region will move towards a just peace. However, if Israel does not do this, the conflict will deepen and threaten the whole region," al-Safadi said.

The Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood group, described the deal as "stabbing the Palestinian issue."

In a statement, the political party said the deal meant "betraying the nations who oppose any normalization with the Zionist enemy."

The attitude of Palestine and Jordan against the annexation plan is the reason that pushed Israel to back down from its implementation, the statement said, adding some of the Arab regimes "gave the green light to Israel" in implementing plans to eliminate the Palestinian issue.

Noting that the agreement does not represent the attitude of the UAE people supporting the Palestinian issue, it said the UAE's step was "a dark day in the history of the Arab nations."

The Islamic Action Front also urged the UAE to take a step back from the move, which was a result of the normalization work with Israel "secretly conducted for years."

Israel and the UAE reached a historic deal Thursday that will restore diplomatic ties between them. The Emirates became the third Arab country to recognize Israel after Jordan and Egypt.

The deal was brokered by Trump in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

While the deal has been welcomed by some nations, it has sparked tremendous outrage in most Muslim countries.



UN sounds alarm over humanitarian crisis in NE Nigeria


The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already distressing humanitarian situation in conflict-marred parts of northeast Nigeria, the UN warned on Thursday.

“The ongoing conflict in northeast Nigeria, now entering its eleventh year, and the upsurge in violent attacks over the past year in the crisis-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe have deepened humanitarian needs,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in a report.

It said the virus pandemic “is further exacerbating the situation and risks wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable population.”

“At least 10.6 million people are now in need of life-saving assistance in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states – the highest level recorded since the beginning of the coordinated humanitarian response in 2015,” the report said.

The total population of the states is around 13 million, meaning that four in every five people need some form of help.

The UNOCHA said the figure was at 7.9 million at the start of 2020 but “is now higher because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“At the same time, more than 40% of health facilities in those three states have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the protracted conflict,” the report said.

According to the report, some 1.9 million people remain internally displaced in the BAY states.

“With the upsurge in violence and new waves of displacements in the first half of the year, nearly 60,000 people were forced to flee their homes, some for the second or third time,” it said.

The agency called for urgent assistance to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria, especially in the overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons.

The UNOCHA warned that failure to address the situation would “have far-reaching implications in terms of human suffering, as well as on regional stability and prospects for development.”


Turkey, Libya ink deal to boost trade, economic ties

Tuba Sahin  


Turkey and Libya have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to boost trade and economic ties, the Turkish trade minister said Thursday.

The deal will lay the groundwork for resolving ongoing issues between Turkish firms and Libyan employers, making new investments, and undertaking new projects, Ruhsar Pekcan told a meeting held in Turkey's capital Ankara.

Pekcan told how some construction projects begun by Turkish companies in Libya had recently been interrupted.

"There were uncertainties regarding completion of these projects and Turkish companies had remaining receivables in these projects," she said.

Pointing to the brotherly ties between the two countries, Pekcan said this is also reflected in their bilateral economic and trade ties.

Turkish companies set to begin new projects to meet Libya’s needs will support the country’s stability and development process besides helping raise the general welfare, she stressed.

"This process will be a new opportunity to show the whole world Turkish-Libyan cooperation," Pekcan underlined.

Large share of contracting pie

For his part, Al-Hadi Al-Taher Al-Juhaimi, Libya’s planning minister, also stressed the importance of the deal for clearing up pending issues between Turkey and Libya.

Praising Turkish contractors’ works in Libya, Al-Juhaimi said Turkish firms are behind 20% of the investment projects in the country.

"We may call this the lion’s share," he stressed.

After Libya ends its domestic crises, the country will focus on new development plans, he noted, adding:

"We trust Turkish companies and are willing to partner with them under this development plan."

With strong ties dating back to the Ottoman era, Turkey and Libya last November also signed agreements on maritime boundaries as well as security and military cooperation.

Libya’s government, formed in 2015, in the wake of the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has faced a number of challenges, including attacks by warlord Khalifa Haftar.

In recent months, however, the UN-recognized government has turned the tide against Haftar’s forces.

Turkey supports the government based in the capital Tripoli and a non-military resolution of the crisis.



South Asia


Afghan authorities release final 400 Taliban prisoners as part of peace deal

14 August 2020

Afghan authorities said Friday they had started to release 400 Taliban prisoners, the final hurdle in launching long-delayed peace talks between the two warring sides.

A group of 80 prisoners were released on Thursday, said National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal, tweeting that it would “speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire”.

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Their release was approved at the weekend by a gathering of thousands of prominent Afghans called by President Ashraf Ghani after the authorities initially refused to free the militants, accused of serious crimes including brutal attacks that killed Afghans and foreigners.

Both sides have said they are ready to begin talks in Doha, Qatar, within days of the prisoners being freed.

The prisoners include some 44 insurgents of particular concern to the United States and other countries for their role in high-profile attacks.

Ghani warned on Thursday that their release was a “danger” to the world.

“Until this issue, there was a consensus on the desirability of peace but not on the cost of it,” Ghani said in a videoconference organized by a US think tank.

“We have now paid the major instalment on cost and that means peace will have consequences,” he added, noting that the release of “hardened criminals” and drug dealers was “likely to pose a danger both to us and to (America) and to the world”.



Southeast Asia


Police arrest elderly Indonesian Catholic for blasphemy

Konradus Epa

August 13, 2020

Police in Indonesia’s West Java province have arrested a Catholic man accused of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad on social media.

Apollinaris Darmawan, 70, from Bandung, is alleged to have made the insulting comments on Twitter, including one that claims “Islam is not a religion but a heretical teaching that silences and uncivilizes its people.”

He also allegedly posted an anti-Islamic video on YouTube.

The posts drew anger from local Muslims who stormed his home on Aug 8, dragged him into the street and stripped him before police came to his rescue and took him into custody.

“He is being kept in custody for his own safety,“ said Galih Indragiri, head of the Bandung Criminal Investigation Bureau.

Darmawan was a Muslim but converted to Catholicism with his family.

In 2015, he was sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam and was freed in March this year.

Blasphemy is punishable by law in Indonesia and Darmawan could also be charged under a computer crime law. He could face a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a fine of 1 billion rupiah (US$72,000).

Indragiri said police were collecting more evidence, including a book that he allegedly wrote criticizing Islam, while a video titled "Throw Islam away from Indonesia” has been removed from YouTube.

Anwar Abas, general secretary of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top clerical body, said Darmawan was an intolerant man who does not accept diversity.

"Anyone who insults other religions is a person who can’t accept freedom of religion,” he told UCA News.

He called on Indonesian people to respect one another and stop insulting other religions.

Stefanus Mariyanto, a Catholic from Jakarta, said Darmawan’s alleged actions were regrettable and could only undermine interfaith relations in Indonesia.

“I am a Catholic but I don’t insult or hurt other religions. We must respect those different from us,” he told UCA News.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said Darmawan was well known for criticizing Islamic teachings.

“In a democracy, views expressed by Darmawan are natural. In religious life, if people are criticizing our religion, we [should] see it as a challenge, not an insult,” he told UCA News.

According to him, dialogue is important to settle differences. In conservative societies like Indonesia, where people claim to be religious, Darmawan’s criticism is seen as an insult, he said.

Tigor said police should act wisely in handling this case and must not submit to public pressure. “The police must act fairly with alleged perpetrators including Darmawan,” he said.


Indonesia's First Transgender Public Official Breaks Conservative Mould


As the mayor of a small village in Indonesia, Hendrika Mayora Kelan celebrated her 34th birthday last week by giving out vegetables to her community.

Kelan is the first openly trans woman to become a public official in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

"I am grateful for the support of the people to me as a trans woman. They entrusted the leadership of the village council to me," Kelan told DW.

She said at times during the election, she felt inferior because of her sexual orientation. But it seems her reputation as a hard worker mattered more to the village.

Read more: Indonesian society splinters under conservative draft laws

"As soon as I was elected, I was immediately confronted with the hardships brought on by the pandemic. So, I immediately created a food security program, planted crops and distributed them to the community," said Kelan.

The Habi Village Consultative Body has important functions, including drawing up village regulations, overseeing the use of village funds and monitoring the performance of village officials.

With the authority she has for the next six years, Kelan will also try to enact inclusive policies, including empowering marginalized groups such as transgender people.

Habi village in Sikka district is part of a Catholic-majority region in Indonesia's southernmost province, East Nusa Tenggara. There are around 320,000 people in Sikka, of which Muslims make up 9%.

Before transitioning to a woman, Kelan had been a religious brother in the Catholic Church. As a devout Catholic, she has contended with a struggle between her sexual identity and her faith.

A long transition

Born in August 1986, she was given the male name Henderikus. She said she had felt like a girl since elementary school; wearing make-up and playing with girl's toys.

"I already felt different from boys. But due to family pressure, I continued to survive as a boy."

When she was a child, her family moved to the larger island of Papua and in high school, Kelan entered a Catholic seminary school and became a religious brother.

"I had the spirit to serve others," she said.

But during that time, she also struggled with accepting her identity and reconciling her faith with the feeling that being transgender was a sin prohibited by her religion.

Meanwhile, the feeling that she was a woman trapped in a male body grew stronger, and she began battling depression.

"I did not tell my bosses about my self-identity, but I think all people could see my femininity," she said.

After two years, she decided to leave the service of the church. Slowly she started coming out as transgender and began wearing women's clothes.

She moved to the city of Yogyakarta on Java. She volunteered to help victims of HIV-AIDS, but she soon ran out of money. She worked as a street performer and a sex worker, facing beatings and harassment from officials.

In 2018, following the death of her cousin, Kelan decided to leave the city and return to the village in Sikka where she was born.


Report: Philippines nab Abu Sayyaf leader linked to cross-border abductions in Sabah

14 Aug 2020

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — Notorious Abu Sayyaf sub-commander “Idang” Susukan who is wanted by both Malaysia and the Philippines has been arrested in Davao City on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Philippines police caught Idang yesterday at the house of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari, The Star reported.

“Misuari brought Idang to Davao to have him fitted with a prosthetic limb, after he lost his left arm during a gun battle with the Philippines Armed Forces in Jolo island early last year,” a regional intelligence source was quoted saying in The Star report.

According to the news report, Idang will be taken to Camp Quintin Merecido Hospital for a medical check before being turned over to the Philippines Armed Forces in Quezon City.

The Abu Sayyaf gunman has a total of 34 warrants of arrest against him for killings and kidnappings in southern Philippines and the east coast of Sabah since 2013.

Idang was reported to be involved in the abduction and beheading of Sarawakian tourist Bernard Then on November 17, 2015.

He has also been linked to the abductions of Sabahan restaurant owner Thien Nyuk Fan from Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan on May 14, 2015; Sabah tourist from China, Gao Huayun and Filipina Marcy Darawan at the Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna waters on April 2, 2014; Chinese national Yang Zai Lin from Wonderful Terrace fish farm in Lahad Datu on May 6, 2014 and Malaysian Chan Sai Chun from his fish farm in Kampung Sapang in Kunak on June 16, 2014.

The Abu Sayyaf is notoriously known as a violent Muslim terrorist group operating in the southern Philippines that have made several cross-border incursions into Sabah to kidnap Malaysians and tourists for money to fund its operations.



Arab world


Lithuania recognizes Hezbollah as terrorist organization after Beirut explosion

13 August 2020

Lithuania has recognized Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and banned its members from entering the country, according to a statement by the Lithuanian foreign minister on Thursday.

The move against the Iranian-backed Lebanese organization comes nine days after a deadly blast shattered much of the Lebanese capital Beirut, killing at least 171 people.

"Based on information obtained by our institutions and partners, we can conclude that Hezbollah uses terrorist means that pose a threat to the security of a large number of countries, including Lithuania," announced the foreign ministry.

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"We stand alongside the United States, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and other countries that reached the same conclusion," it added.

Before Lithuania, Germany was the most recent country to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Opinion: We banned Hezbollah activities in Germany. Now it’s the EU’s turn.

The Ministry of Immigration in the country also said it had decided to ban anyone associated with Hezbollah from entering Lithuania for the next ten years, "based on information about their activities within the party that represent a threat to the interests of Lithuania."


Egypt: Top Muslim Brotherhood figure dies in government custody


Essam Al-Aryan, a prominent figure in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, died on Thursday while serving a prison sentence in the Egyptian capital Cairo, according to local media.

Abdel-Mon'em Abdel-Maqsoud, a lawyer for Muslim Brotherhood leaders, told Anadolu Agency: "Security officials informed me of the death of Essam Al-Aryan without giving any reasons for his death."

"I don't know whether he died in prison or in hospital... I informed his family of his death and started procedures after his death," Abdel-Maqsoud added.

Egyptian pro-government media sources, including Al-Masri Al-Youm, said Al-Aryan's death was from natural causes or a sudden heart attack.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry has yet to comment on Al-Aryan's death.

Al-Aryan, 66, was arrested following the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi in the summer of 2013. In the years since he has served sentences of 25 years for various alleged offenses.

Al-Aryan was a prominent figure and took several positions in the Muslim Brotherhood, a group outlawed following the military coup led by the current President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in 2013.


Lebanon assembly ratifies state of emergency after deadly blast

14 Aug 2020

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament on Thursday approved a two-week state of emergency in Beirut, declared after last week’s gigantic portside explosion, giving the army greater powers to suppress resurgent protests.

Top diplomats jetted in to show solidarity and contribute to the massive ongoing aid effort, but also to weigh in on political developments following a blast widely blamed on state corruption.

A senior US envoy said the FBI would join the probe into the colossal blast that killed 171 people, injured thousands and reignited street protests demanding the ouster of the entire political elite.

Dozens of demonstrators shouted as lawmakers arrived at parliament to ratify the emergency measure, but protesters, outnumbered by security forces, failed to block the MPs’ cars.

Lebanese are furious at a political leadership that allowed a massive shipment of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, a powerful explosive, to languish for years in a port warehouse despite repeated safety warnings.

“You have destroyed us! Leave!” demanded one social media post, calling for more street protests.

An investigation found that right up until the eve of the blast, officials had exchanged warnings over the cargo, but did nothing — despite experts’ warnings it could cause a major disaster.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet resigned Monday, but he still leads a transitional administration.

The state of emergency approved by parliament allows the army to close down assembly points and prohibit gatherings deemed threats to national security.

The move has worried Lebanon’s 10-month-old anti-government protest movement, which had faded amid the coronavirus pandemic and deepening economic hardship, but had returned to the streets in force since the August 4 disaster.

Human Rights Watch said it was “very concerned” the state of emergency would serve “as a pretext to crack down on protests and snuff out the very legitimate grievances of a large segment of the Lebanese population”.

A military official said the now formalised state of emergency would place all security forces under the command of the army, which would oversee the “post-explosion phase”.

The official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak on the issue, stressed that it would not lead to “a crackdown” on civil freedoms.


Beirut explosion death toll rises to 178 with 30 people still missing: UN

14 August 2020

The death toll from last week’s massive explosion in Lebanon’s capital has risen to nearly 180, with an estimated 6,000 people injured and at least 30 missing, the United Nations said Friday.

The explosion has affected operations at six hospitals, up from an initial three, and damaged more than 20 clinics in the parts of Beirut worst hit by the blast, the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency said in its report.

“A preliminary rapid assessment within a 15-kilometre radius of the explosions, has revealed that, out of 55 medical facilities, only half are fully operational and around 40 per cent have suffered moderate to serious damage and need rehabilitation,” the report said.

It still wasn’t known what caused the Aug. 4 fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port. But documents have emerged in the wake of the explosion that show the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the chemicals being stored in the city port.

The blast has changed the face of the capital and forced the government to resign. Lebanon’s Parliament on Thursday approved a state of emergency in Beirut in its first session since the tragic explosion last week, granting the military sweeping powers amid rising popular anger and political uncertainty.

Read more: Beirut explosion: Lebanese community ships 138 tonnes of glass to Beirut from UAE

Some 120 schools, used by 50,000 students, have been damaged. More than 1,000 of nearly 50,000 residential units were severely damaged, the UN report said.

At east 13 refugees, including at least two Palestinians, were among those killed and more than 170,000 residents’ apartments were damaged, according to the UN report.

Despite damage to the silos in the Beirut port, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said food shortages are not expected.

The blast struck Beirut in the midst of a crippling financial and economic crisis, and the UN predicted people may have difficulties restoring or fixing their homes. But at least 55 percent of buildings assessed were rented, which may allow people to move elsewhere, the UN said.

According to the world body the Beirut port is operating at 30 percent capacity and the Tripoli port in the country’s north, at 70 percent . That is allowing for food and goods to continue to flow. The World Food Program is bringing in a three-month supply of wheat flour and grains.

The agency said however it is concerned about a surge in coronavirus cases, particularly as social distancing is relaxed during the widespread volunteering to help those affected by the blast and protests against the government and political elite.

The government resigned on Aug. 10 and the Cabinet remains in caretaker capacity. Protesters are demanding officials be held accountable for the blast.


Beirut explosion: US State Department official to stress reform during Lebanon trip

13 August 2020

The US State Department said its No. 3 diplomat will head to Lebanon on Thursday and stress the ‘urgent need’ for Lebanon to embrace fundamental reform, in the aftermath of a devastating warehouse blast that killed 172 people and injured thousands.

In planned meetings with political leaders, civil society, and youth groups, Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale will also underscore America’s willingness to support any government that is “genuinely committed” to and acting upon such a reform agenda, the agency said in a statement.

The FBI will join also Lebanese and international investigators in a probe into the explosion, Hale added.

Hale, previously the US ambassador to Lebanon from 2013 to 2015, is one of two senior US officials that have traveled to Beirut following a deadly explosion at the city's port.

US Agency for International Development (USAID) acting administrator, John Barsa, arrived in Beirut on Sunday.


World reacts to UAE’s opening diplomatic ties with Israel

August 13, 2020

DUBAI: A deal between the UAE and Israel that will lead to normalized ties has been welcomed across the Middle East and beyond.

US President Donald Trump, who helped broker the deal, hailed the agreement as big breakthrough.

“HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the agreement describing it as "hugely good news".

"The UAE and Israel’s decision to normalise relations is hugely good news," Johnson said on Twitter.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said UAE becomes one of the US closest allies in the region after the deal with Israel.

US Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden hailed the deal as an historic step toward a more stable Middle East, warning he would not support Israel's annexation of Jewish settlements if he wins the White House in November.

"The UAE’s offer to publicly recognize the State of Israel is a welcome, brave, and badly-needed act of statesmanship," the former Vice President said in a statement. "Annexation would be a body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi praised the deal, saying it would halt Israeli annexation of Palestinian land.

“I read with interest and great appreciation the joint statement between the United States, the brotherly United Arab Emirates and Israel concerning the halt of Israel's annexation of Palestinian land,” El-Sisi said in a tweet, adding that this would help bring “peace” to the Middle East.

Bahrain welcomed the accord between the UAE and Israel which stops Israeli annexation plans and raises the chances of peace, state news agency BNA said.

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s minister of foreign affairs and expatriates said Israel must choose between a just and comprehensive solution that ends the occupation of Palestinian land or the continuation of a conflict that violates the rights of the Palestinian people.

Safadi said that if Israel views the agreement as an incentive to end the occupation and accept the rights of Palestinians to freedom and an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, it will be a step toward peace in the region. If not, he warned that the conflict will escalate and increase the threat to the security of the entire Middle East.

He added that a just and comprehensive peace, which is a strategic choice for the Arab world and a necessity for regional and international peace and security, will not be achieved while the occupation continues and Israel persists with policies and procedures that threaten the two-state solution and undermine the foundations on which the peace process is based.

The minister said Amman supports any genuine effort to achieve a just and comprehensive peace that ends the Israeli occupation and ensures rights of the Palestinian people. Jordan will continue to work with others to achieve this, he added, but any peace will not be permanent unless accepted by all peoples.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed “any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East region,” a spokesman said.

As part of the deal, Israel had agreed "to suspend" plans to annex Jewish settlements and other territory in the occupied West Bank, according to a joint statement from the US, UAE and Israel tweeted by Trump.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “This is a momentous agreement which has taken courage, imagination and leadership. It preserves the possibility of the Two State solution by halting the annexation plan which would have made such a solution a near impossibility.

“By deepening the relationships between Israel and Arab nations, it helps create conditions which offer Israelis the prospect of security and the Palestinians the chance to pursue Statehood with credibility.

“And it shows how the modern dividing line in the Middle East is not between different faiths and cultures but between those who wish for peaceful co-existence across the boundaries of faith and culture; and those who want violent confrontation.”


Yemeni government, STC discuss coalition under Riyadh Agreement

August 14, 2020

DUBAI: The Saudi-backed government of Yemen met with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to discuss the political components to form the new government as part of a power-sharing deal.

Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed met on Thursday with STC representatives in Riyadh to outline reforms to unite national ranks between the anti-Houthi coalition, according to state news agency Saba New.

Both sides discussed the priorities of the new government to face existing challenges in the political, military, security, service and economic sectors. Sustainable reforms and addressing corruption, were also on the agenda.

The discussions between the two sides come under the Riyadh Agreement signed in November last year.

The new government will look to face current economic challenges in the war-torn country with the aim to stop the deterioration of the national currency exchange rate, as well as the humanitarian situation.

Meanwhile, President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi left Saudi Arabia and headed to the United States for medical treatment

The head of the country’s internationally-recognised government, who has lived in exile in Riyadh since the Iranian-aligned Houthi group captured the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2015, has been treated for a heart condition since 2011.





France to bolster military presence in Mediterranean amid tensions with Turkey

13 August 2020

France has planned to increase military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, amid rising tensions between Turkey and European Union (EU) member Greece over Turkish oil and gas exploration in disputed waters in the sea.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the plan in a phone conversation with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday, also voicing concern about the “unilateral” exploration by Turkey in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean.

France will “temporarily reinforce” its military presence to “monitor the situation in the region and mark its determination to uphold international law,” Macron’s office said in a statement.

The statement also underlined that prospecting had to “cease in order to allow a peaceful dialog” between Greece and Turkey.

Last month, Macron called for EU sanctions against Ankara for what he described as “violations” of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over their territorial waters.

Ties between Turkey and Greece are in tumult over competing claims to natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus and Turkey have argued for years regarding the ownership of fossil fuels in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara says Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the resources.

The standoff between Ankara and Athens deepened on Monday after Turkey launched naval drills off two Greek islands and announced the resumption of its energy exploration research activity in the disputed area.

Turkey has dispatched a seismic research vessel, accompanied by warships, off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, where Ankara contests Greek maritime rights.

Turkey had paused the research activities after a request from Germany but restarted them after an agreement signed between Greece and Egypt that designated an exclusive economic zone for oil and gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean between the two countries. Turkey views the agreement as an attempt to keep it out of the region.

The Turkish defense minister said on Wednesday that his country was interested in resolving the dispute with Greece through dialog.

Greece and Turkey almost went to war in 1974 over Cyprus, which has since been divided, with the northern third run by a Turkish Cypriot administration recognized only by Turkey and the southern two thirds governed by the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government.


France: Second mosque fire in Lyon within week

Cindi Cook  



A fire broke out at the Essalam Prayer Hall in Lyon early Thursday, damaging a door, entrance and the prayer room of the mosque.

Mayor Pierre Oliver of the 2nd arrondissement where the hall is located said the fire appeared to be an act of arson. "This is the second mosque that has burnt in ten days," he said on Twitter. "People deplore the fact that places of worship are vandalized."

He added: "The fire would seem to be criminal, according to the first information given to me by the firefighters and the police. We are awaiting the first elements of the investigation.”

Oliver applauded the quick work of firefighters in dousing the blaze that started at 2.16 a.m. (0015GMT) in a series of recently renovated housing. It includes several apartments, none of which were damaged.

"I condemn the attempted fire that night in the Essalam mosque in Lyon, the second this week. Anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian acts: These stupid and hateful acts are contrary to everything that is France. I will protect freedom of worship," said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Twitter.

The Secretary General of the mosque, Abderrazak Chenini, said he will file a complaint with authorities.

Last Friday, a fire also started in an annex to the prayer room of a mosque in Bron, a suburb of Lyon. The incident was most likely arson, according to prosecutors investigating.

Farouk Korichi, who heads inquiries into anti-Muslim acts for the Rhone Mosques Council, told franceinfo radio he is well aware of the situation and is alarmed.

"They want to terrorize us. There is no doubt that these are organized crimes. Because there are a lot of extreme right-wing groups in the region. On facebook, there are groups calling for the burning of mosques," he said.


Turkey sends EU leaders letters on East Mediterranean

Zuhal Demirci  


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu sent letters Thursday to European Union foreign ministers and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey's approach on the issue. 

The letters came ahead of a EU Foreign Relations Council meeting Friday at Greece's request.

In his letter, Cavusoglu stressed that Greece and Greek Cyprus's unilateral steps and alliances excluded Turkey, in spite of calls for collaboration and dialogue by Ankara and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

He also noted that the so-called maritime agreement between Greece and Egypt, which violates Turkey and Lebanon's continental shelves, demonstrates Greece's reluctance to start an honest dialogue with Turkey.

Turkey-EU relations should not suffer further due to whims and fantasies of Greece and Greek Cypriots, he added.

Cavusoglu invited EU countries to stand against any unjust decision that might be taken against Turkey, which has proven its good intentions until now many times.

He also held phone talks with some EU foreign ministers, including from Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Hungary and Romania, and with EU foreign policy chief Borrell discussing these issues.

Similar letters are also being sent to UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, UN Security Council permanent members' foreign ministers and NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

Earlier this week, Turkey resumed energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean region after Greece and Egypt signed a controversial maritime delimitation deal.

The agreement came only a day after Ankara said it would postpone its oil and gas exploration as a goodwill gesture.

But after declaring the Greek-Egyptian deal "null and void," Turkey authorized the Oruc Reis seismic research vessel to continue its activities in an area within the country's continental shelf.

The ship will continue the two-week mission until Aug. 23 along with the Cengiz Han and Ataman.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the only solution to the dispute was through dialogue and negotiation and urged Athens to respect Turkey’s rights.

Turkey has consistently opposed Greece's efforts to declare an exclusive economic zone based on small islands near Turkish shores, violating the interests of Turkey, the country with the longest coastline in the Mediterranean.


Rouhani, Macron discuss nuclear deal, Beirut blast

Zehra Nur Düz 


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked his French counterpart Wednesday to oppose a draft resolution the US proposed to the UN Security Council to maintain an arms embargo against Tehran, according to a statement by Iranian presidency.  

Rouhani said the draft resolution is a "violation of Security Council Resolution 2231” during a telephone call with Emmanuel Macron.

The Iranian president urged all countries, especially the P4+1 -- China, France, Russia, UK and Germany, to strongly reject the resolution.

“The preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is a fundamental commitment of all countries that have remained in the JCPOA”, he said. 

The statement stressed the importance of consultation and cooperation between Iran, the three European countries as well as Russia and China to hinder the “opponents” of the JCPOA from accomplishing their purposes. 

Macron underlined that France does not approve of the resolution proposed by the US. 

"Our views on the extension of the arms embargo on Iran are quite different from that of the United States, and we have made this clear to them," Macron said. 

Signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries -- US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – the JCPOA, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, curbed Iran's nuclear activities in return for lifting of sanctions. 

In May 2018, the US withdrew from the agreement, igniting gradual cutting of the obligations by Iran, who accused European signatories of delaying implementation of their responsibilities under the deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the UN Security Council (UNSC) in June to extend an arms embargo against Iran and warned ending it would risk stability in the Middle East. 

After a massive deadly blast last week in Beirut, Rouhani stressed the importance of “more unity” among political groups in Lebanon and called on all countries to provide their supports for the creation of this unity.

Macron urged Iran to support the resolution on Lebanese political crisis and to join the international action group to achieve this goal.

A powerful blast shook the Lebanese capital and its environs after 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse caught fire. 

The shockwave flattened nearby buildings and caused extensive material damage in Beirut, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents homeless. 

It came as Lebanon deals with a severe financial crisis in addition to the coronavirus pandemic.



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