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Selfie Un-Islamic For both Men and Women, Says Latest Darul Uloom Deoband Fatwa

New Age Islam News Bureau

19 Jan 2019

Musicians perform at Saznawaz Sufiana Training Institute in Srinagar.



 Selfie Un-Islamic For both Men and Women, Says Latest Darul Uloom Deoband Fatwa

 Kashmiri Artistes Strive To Keep Dying Sufi Music Alive

 Hadi: Muslims Who View Islam as Non-Political Matter Are Deviants

 Kenya's Reminder of the Salafi Jihadis' War with the World

 India, Pakistan Should Engage In ‘Meaningful Dialogue’ To Resolve Issues: UN Chief

 Sheikh Hasina for Solving Problems among Muslim Countries through Dialogue

 Pence Declares ‘ISIS Is Defeated’ Hours after Attack Kills Americans in Syria

 Will Erdogan Wind Up Alone After Alienating Arabs?

 NOC Granted To Raheel for Heading Saudi-Led Military Coalition



 Selfie Un-Islamic For both Men and Women, Says Latest Darul Uloom Deoband Fatwa

 Kashmiri Artistes Strive To Keep Dying Sufi Music Alive

 India hits out Pakistan for saying that New Delhi has no role to play in Afghanistan

 Terrorist throw grenade at police station in Pulwama, a third in a day

 ‘IS module’ case: Delhi court extends theology teacher’s remand

 India hits out at Pakistan for saying New Delhi has no role to play in Afghanistan

 Kartarpur corridor: Access mode for Indian devotees yet to be decided

 Mehbooba calls local terrorists 'sons of soil', asks Centre to engage J&K militant leadership

 Every step Mishal Mohammed takes helps save 74 lives


Southeast Asia

 Hadi: Muslims Who View Islam as Non-Political Matter Are Deviants

 China Invites Islamic Country Envoys to Visit Muslim Internment Camps

 Indonesia to release suspected Bali bomb mastermind from prison

 Indonesia to release suspected Bali bomb mastermind Bashir from prison

 Najib confused over UIAM and UIM, says Guan Eng

 Radical cleric behind Bali bombing to be freed from prison



 Kenya's Reminder of the Salafi Jihadis' War with the World

 Over 100 Nigerian soldiers killed in Takfiri attacks

 Five suspects in court over Nairobi hotel attack

 Kenya: Attack Shows That Al-Shabaab Is Still a Potent Threat to Kenya

 Thousands of Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram forced back by Cameroon

 Boko Haram: Rann not accessible by road, air – UN humanitarian coordinator

 Two days of clashes near Libya capital leave 10 dead



 India, Pakistan Should Engage In ‘Meaningful Dialogue’ To Resolve Issues: UN Chief

 Tony Blair: UK Muslim Activist Groups Promote ‘Extremist World View’

 Police called in after Scout group run from mosque is linked to Islamic extremist and Holocaust denier

 UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh ‘Beatle’ held in Syria

 UK calls for restraint in renewed Myanmar violence

 Anti-Assad activist hacked to death 'with axe' in Hamburg


South Asia

 Sheikh Hasina for Solving Problems among Muslim Countries through Dialogue

 Bangladesh's Rohingya camps face growing chickenpox outbreak

 SE Asian meeting in Thailand to discuss Rohingya return

 Rohingyas held in KSA begin hunger strike

 ‘Myanmar army kills 13 rebels in Rakhine clashes’

 ISIS-K bomb kill Taliban local commander in Kunar province

 2 key Taliban commanders among several dead in Baghlan and Sar-e-Pul operations

 Coalition airstrike target Taliban IED planters in Nangarhar leaving 5 dead

 Scores of Taliban killed in Afghan and Coalition Forces operations in Kandahar


North America

 Pence Declares ‘ISIS Is Defeated’ Hours after Attack Kills Americans in Syria

 Trump’s Unfounded Tweet Stoking Fears about Muslim “Prayer Rugs,” Explained

 Trump giving ‘new life’ to Daesh, former envoy says

 Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

 US has legitimate reasons for leaving Syria: Ex-general

 Former US anti-ISIS envoy: Turkey 'not a reliable partner' in Syria



 Will Erdogan Wind Up Alone After Alienating Arabs?

 UN experts: Fuel from Iran is financing Yemen’s Houthis

 Netanyahu urges Romania to move embassy to Jerusalem

 UN monitors biased toward Saudi Arabia: Yemen's Houthis

 Houthi militia ‘must respect neutrality of aid workers’

 Israeli fire wounds 14 as thousands of Palestinians protest at Gaza border

 Turkey sentences detained judge who won human rights award to 10 years



 NOC Granted To Raheel for Heading Saudi-Led Military Coalition

 Peshawar massacre survivor awarded for anti-extremism work

 Qureshi raises Kashmir issue during talks with UNGA president

 India lodges strong protest with Pakistan over court order on Gilgit-Baltistan

 Religious vocals to replace soft music on Pakistan International Airlines flights

 PIA plane escapes being hit by mysterious drone

 Pakistan likely to host Taliban talks in Islamabad

 PM, Republican Sajid Tarar discuss Muslim community’s role in US

 Military courts needed by nation, not army: ISPR


Arab World

 Saudi Arabia Pumps Money into Restive Shi'ite Quarter of Awamiya It Once Flattened

 Prince Khalid: Saudi Arabia Strongly Condemns Targeting Of UN Team by Houthis

 20 Syrian Civilians Killed As New US-Led Airstrikes Target Dayr Al-Zawr

 Saudi artists draw inspiration from Islam

 Syria’s Manbij attack victims include daughter of US police official

 Divisions overshadow Lebanon’s Arab summit as few leaders come to Beirut

 Bahraini court gives prison sentences to three more anti-regime activists, revokes their citizenship

 Young activist dies in Saudi prison

 Lebanon FM calls on Arab League to restore Syria’s membership

 Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen dominate Arab ministers’ meeting

 Yemen's Houthis imposed war on Arab coalition: Saudi FM Al-Jubeir

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Selfie Un-Islamic For both Men and Women, Says Latest Darul Uloom Deoband Fatwa

Jan 18, 2019

Meerut: Darul Uloom Deoband has said taking selfie is un-Islamic for both men and women. Darul Ifta, the online fatwa department of the renowned seminary, replying to a query by a Pakistani youth, said that since mostly selfies are taken to be posted on social media, it gives rise to ‘behayaee’ (shamelessness).

Maulana Asad Kasmi, a Deoband-based cleric, said, “We fully agree with Darul as every fatwa issued by the seminary is in the light of religious scriptures. Selfie is a new craze among youths which is not only bad in the eyes of Islam but also contributes to a large number of accidents leading to loss of lives.”

This is not the first time that that the seminary has issued such directions. In January last year, the department had in a fatwa had asked Muslims not to marry those working in banking sector as “money earned through interest is illegitimate in the eyes of Islam”.

Just days before that a fatwa had asked women not to wear designer burqas or body-hugging outfits in order to avoid “prying eyes of men”.

Similarly, another fatwa recommended Muslims not to buy insurance policies as, “Life and death are in the hands of Allah and no insurance company can guarantee a man longevity.”

In November last year, the seminary had also stated that applying of nail paint renders namaz incomplete. “It is mandatory to conduct vazu (washing of hands and feet) before offering namaz. And since nail polish leads to the application of a chemical layer on the nail, water is not able to reach where is should and if vazu is incomplete, namaz automatically remains incomplete,” it had stated.



Kashmiri artistes strive to keep dying Sufi music alive

Jan 18, 2019

Once cherished for its divine and soul-stirring mystic tunes, Kashmir valley’s ‘sufiyana mausiqi’ (music of Sufis) does not find many takers nowadays. Though a good number of youngsters get attracted to other forms of music, a small handful of them are striving to keep alive the famed music of the Sufis.

“Other music genres are everywhere, but it is a challenge to keep alive something that is rare and special. Unfortunately, we have only five to six Sufi music groups here at present even as Kashmir has produced many great artistes of this form in the past. Youngsters do not adopt this field anymore,” said Rayees Wathori, an artiste who plays sitar in a ‘sufiyana mausiqi’ troupe.

He said the music was first adopted by Kashmiri ‘Bhand-e-Peather’ (folk theatre) artistes after it was brought to the Valley by Central Asian and Persian Sufis in the 14th century.

“Bhand-e-Peather artistes were the first to adopt it. We have been trying to rope in children to take up Sufi music, but it is hard to attract youth,” said Wathori.

Manzoor-ul-Haq, a Sufi musician and national award winner, said there was a need for setting up a ‘sufiyana mausiqi’ school. He said the government should generate employment opportunities for the purpose.

“We have fine arts and music as subjects in universities, but ‘sufiyana mausiqi’ is nowhere in the curriculum. Late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (former chief minister) had said ‘Shamas Fakeer Sufiyana Mausiqi School’ will be set up in the state, but nothing has been done in this regard. As a young artiste, I would love to see being offered in some schools and colleges,” said Haq.

“Radio Kashmir used to have ‘sufiyana mausiqi’ staff artistes, but after their retirement, nobody was recruited. As there are no employment opportunities available in this form of music, youngsters do not get attracted to it,” he added.



Hadi: Muslims who view Islam as non-political matter are deviants

19 January 2019

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

GOMBAK, Jan 19 — PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang today chastised Muslims who view faith as a private non-political matter as deviants, declaring the aim for Islamic political power as integral of the faith.

Hadi made the assertion at a seminar on the party's history here this morning, where he sought to affirm the founding of PAS as divine sanction and a continuation of the “prophetic” tradition.

The Marang MP said any Islamic movement, like his own party, must be viewed as a continuation of the “prophecy”.

“There cannot be an exercise of Islam that is incomplete or imperfect; the religion is all-encompassing,” Hadi said in his opening speech.

“Therefor Muslims who think Islam is not political is deviant.”

Hadi has in the past dispense similar criticism against Muslims and political rivals who oppose the party's push for an Islamic state.

They were especially aimed at those who support secularism, which he labelled as a failed “man-made ideology” inherited from colonial rule.

Today, the PAS president said Islam does not permit for separation of religion from the political sphere.

“One of Islam's key teachings is do no evil, prevent evil. Establishing (Islamic) political rule is the ultimate manifestation of this teaching.

“If it's not political it's not Islam,” he declared.



Kenya's reminder of the Salafi jihadis' war with the world

by Tom Rogan

January 16, 2019

Tuesday's attack on the DusitD2 hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, reminds us of Salafi jihadis' war with the world. Paying heed to its atrocities matters for two reasons.

First off, these kind of attacks speak volumes about the Salafi jihadis' ideology and intent. In this attack by the Somalia-based al Shabab on a five-star hotel, the terrorists were clearly focused on three targets: international visitors, wealthy or influential Kenyans, and symbols. Mixing wealthier Kenyans and business persons from abroad, top hotels reflect a physical and symbolic center of power in Nairobi.

Targeting them thus gives al Shabab guaranteed media attention and the corollary opportunity to undercut the Kenyan government's policy interest in attracting more foreign investment. And with dark emotion being a constant driver of Salafi jihadi recruitment and propaganda, this attack will be seen by al Shabab followers as a valiant strike at the enemy's heart. The attackers who entered the hotel complex knew they were almost certainly going to die, but they didn't care. They cared only about spreading Kenyan fear and political discomfort as a means of weakening Kenya's broader democratic stability. That question of stability is of instrumental importance here. With Kenya beset by continuing political, religious, and ethnic tensions, attacks such as this one risk overreactions by government security forces that al Shabab hopes will drive Kenyan Muslims into its ranks. That expansion of ranks and relevance is al Shabab's focal goal here. Although the group claims it is resisting Kenyan military operations against its forces in Somalia, its ultimate ambition is that of all transnationally focused Salafi jihadi groups: the destruction of civil society and its replacement by a totalitarian caliphate a la the Islamic State. Innocent people, such as those killed at the hotel on Tuesday, are the tools of this effort.

Of course, that pernicious calculus of innocents as tools of empire is also the great vulnerability of al Shabab and its ideological comrades. Because it shows that, at their core, these terrorists have nothing to offer but totalitarianism via the barrel of a gun.

In that evident evil, we find the rest of the world's motivation to unify against them. That's particularly relevant to Kenya. After all, it is striking that the police response here was more rapid, coordinated, and aggressive than in previous incidents. In large part that is likely a consequence of the years of training that Kenyan SWAT units have received from the British military. Britain operates a number of military facilities in Kenya, and at least one British SBS or SAS operator appears to have been photographed supporting rescue operations at the hotel. Alongside reciprocal intelligence operations and U.S. military pressure on al Shabab in Somalia, Kenya is in a far better position to resist terrorists. While the death toll today was obviously too high — it always is in any terrorist attack — it would likely have been far higher without the alliances that al Shabab now finds arrayed against it.

So yes, our attention to attacks like Tuesday's matter. But not simply for our recognition of the enemy — also for proof of how counterterrorism alliances can save and/or mitigate the loss of life.



India, Pakistan should engage in ‘meaningful dialogue’ to resolve issues: UN chief

January 19, 2019

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday hoped that India and Pakistan will engage in a “meaningful dialogue” to resolve their issues.

The UN chief also said he has been offering his “good offices in relation to the dialogue between the two countries that, until now, had no conditions of success.”

Guterres was speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York.

“I hope that the importance of both India and Pakistan is such in international affairs, I hope that the two countries will be able to engage in a meaningful dialogue,” he said.

The UN chief was responding to a question on his repeated urging of dialogue between the two South Asian neighbours.

“In relation to the human rights situation, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has produced recently a very detailed report. So, the UN has clearly done its job in that regard,” Guterres said to a question by a Pakistan journalist on the situation in Kashmir.



Sheikh Hasina For Solving Problems Among Muslim Countries Through Dialogue

January 16th, 2019

Sheikh Hasina added that the people suffer most from conflict among Muslim countries

Emphasizing the necessity for unity among Muslim countries, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Muslim countries should solve their problems, if any, through dialogue.

The prime minister made the statement when the newly-appointed Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Nafar met with her at her office on Wednesday, reports UNB.

"The Muslim Ummah should remain together…if there is any problem among them, it can be solved through discussion," she said.

Sheikh Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim briefed reporters after the meeting.

He said the prime minister mentioned that the people suffer most when a conflict occurs among Muslim countries.

Sheikh Hasina said the government has reduced the poverty level in Bangladesh to 21% and has a target to reduce it by 4-5% more in the near future.

She said the development policy of her government focuses on rural areas.

Talking about the existing religious harmony of the country, Hasina said people of Bangladesh get along with others, despite their diverse religious faiths, as every person participates in all religious festivals.

Calling Iranian citizens courageous, she praised their economic progress.

Welcoming the new Iranian Ambassador to Bangladesh, she assured him of her all-out cooperation during his tenure in the country.

The prime minister also conveyed her regards to the Iranian President through the Ambassador and recalled her visits to Iran in 1997 and 2012.

Ambassador Mohammad Reza Nafar offered his felicitations to Sheikh Hasina on the landslide victory of Awami League in the recent general election and described her as a wise and prudent prime minister of Bangladesh.

The people of Iran are very fond of her, he added.

Nafar praised the balanced policy in Bangladesh’s socioeconomic areas and congratulated the prime minister for the country’s graduation from the LDC to developing country group of nations.

He mentioned that the religious and cultural bonds between Bangladesh and Iran are outstanding and hoped to enhance the bonds during his tenure in Bangladesh.

"Our cooperation at the regional and international level is very good; cultural relations are excellent, political relations are at a good level," Nafar said.

However, he emphasized the need to increase the level of trade, which is currently at $135 million. He said: “It is not satisfactory at the moment.”

The Ambassador added that Iran is moving forward despite sanctions imposed by western countries. 

He continued that the Iranian government is working to reduce tensions in the region.

"We are not a war-mongering country…we would like to have the best of relations with the countries in the Gulf," he said.

He stated that they will welcome an initiative taken by Bangladesh’s prime minister to reduce tensions in the region.

Principal Secretary to the prime minister M Nojibur Rahman and Secretary of the Prime Minister's office (PMO) Sajjadul Hassan were also present.



Pence declares ‘ISIS is defeated’ hours after attack kills Americans in Syria

By Carol Morello

January 16, 2019

Vice President Pence told U.S. diplomats Wednesday that the Islamic State caliphate has collapsed in Syria, but he made no mention of the U.S. military personnel confirmed killed in the country shortly before he spoke.

In remarks filled with praise for the leadership of President Trump, Pence told the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference at the State Department that some of the most heinous enemies of the United States are in retreat.

“Thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief and the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, we are now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners,” he said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State, prompting applause from the 184 diplomats in the audience. “And we are bringing our troops home. The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.”

Last month, Trump also claimed the military group had been defeated, leading him to announce the withdrawal of about 2,000 U.S. troops there, though the timeline has wavered. Other administration officials have acknowledged that Islamic State fighters remain active in a small area of the country.

At about the same time as Pence arrived on stage in an auditorium at the State Department to military marching music, his press secretary tweeted that Pence had been notified of the troops’ deaths earlier Wednesday. The Islamic State claimed credit for the suicide bombing that took their lives.

“@VP has been briefed on the situation in Syria. He and @POTUS are monitoring the situation. Our hearts go out to the loved ones of the fallen,” tweeted Alyssa Farah.

Hours later, the vice president’s office issued a statement acknowledging the American fatalities and expressing sympathy to the service members’ families.

“President Trump and I condemn the terrorist attack in Syria that claimed American lives and our hearts are with the loved ones of the fallen. We honor their memory and we will never forget their service and sacrifice,” it says.

“Thanks to the courage of our Armed Forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities. As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families, and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever.”

Pence has a son, Michael, who is an officer in the Marine Corps.

U.S. officials told The Washington Post that initial reports suggested four Americans may have died. In addition, at least three Americans are believed to have been wounded, one of them critically, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the still-evolving conditions on the ground.

News of the combat deaths prompted a far different response from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that the troop withdrawal announced by Trump has emboldened the militant group.

“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” Graham said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “So I would hope the president would look long and hard of where he’s headed in Syria.”

Graham compared Syria to Iraq and said the United States needs to maintain its commitment to forces fighting the Islamic State and its ideology, which cannot be as easily wiped out.

“Every American wants our troops to come home, but I now think all of us want to make sure that when they do come home, we’re safe,” he said. “I know people are frustrated. But we’re never going to be safe here unless we’re willing to help people over there who will stand against this radical ideology.”

In the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), urged Trump to reverse the decision to pull troops from Syria.

“Today’s deadly bombing targeting our troops in Syria is a reminder that ISIS still has the capacity to carry out attacks,” he said.

Pence, following several rounds of applause, said the fight against militants in Syria remains a priority for the administration.

“We will stay in the region, and we’ll stay in the fight, to be sure that ISIS does not rear its ugly head,” he said. “We will protect the gains that our soldiers and our coalition partners have secured. This president has often spoken about his desire to bring an end to endless wars. And the ability to bring our troops home. And bring them home in an orderly and effective way.”

The annual conference brought together 184 ambassadors and chiefs of mission from embassies and consulates around the world to discuss foreign-policy issues the envoys are expected to raise. The travel money was spent before the partial government shutdown began. A State Department official said the conference went ahead because it is considered “essential to the conduct of foreign affairs essential to national security.

During Pence’s speech, State Department employees who helped organize the conference but are not receiving pay during the almost four-week-old shutdown stood lining the steps alongside the wall. Pence did not mention the shutdown.



Will Erdogan wind up alone after alienating Arabs?

Pinar Tremblay

January 18, 2019

Since President Donald Trump’s decision Dec. 19 to pull US troops out of Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has intensified his rhetoric against some states that he accuses of supporting terrorist groups. Although Erdogan refrains from naming these states, most pro-government media have interpreted his words to mean the United States.

While US-bashing may be paying off as Turkey's municipal election campaign intensifies, Ankara’s worries extend beyond US support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — which Turkey considers a terrorist group — and other Kurdish militias in Syria. Indeed, Ankara is deeply concerned about its fast-approaching isolation after years of clumsy efforts to be a game-changer in the region. Ankara’s rhetoric had presented Turkey as a main player in the region, and positioned it against Israel and Western powers.

Since Dec. 16, the Arab League has shown signs of re-embracing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Not only states in the Levant, but also Gulf states, are re-establishing relations with Damascus. In the first years of the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were on the same side in supporting the toppling of the Baathist government. For example, between 2014 and 2017, Saudi Arabia was the country Erdogan visited most often.

Currently, the mainstream Turkish press (which is heavily censored) is publishing reports criticizing the role of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in Syria. Most commentators refrain from directly criticizing Saudi Arabia's funding of Syrian reconstruction projects, or the Saudi-led boycott of Turkish goods. The Turkish-Saudi feud, which peaked with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, springs from multiple issues and is likely to worsen in the near future. But Turkish enmity in the region isn't limited to Gulf countries (though it has supported GCC-shunned Qatar), but also includes Egypt, Jordan and others. A senior Western diplomat in Ankara said, “Turkey couldn't even sustain a limited free-trade agreement with Jordan. Its military agreements with Somalia and Qatar are on shaky ground at best. It's not possible to establish good relations with many Arab states if you are quarreling with Saudi Arabia.”

The disappointment in Ankara is deeper than meets the eye. Establishing friendly relations with all Muslim countries, particularly those in the Middle East, and bonding with Sunni Arabs have been among Erdogan’s major foreign policy goals. It's been a tradition for Erdogan to greet several Arab cities during his election victory speeches. Through different agencies, such as the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency and the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), governments under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have spent billions of dollars in different parts of the Arab world. But Erdogan’s policies of embracing Arab Muslims have utterly failed. In the words of a senior Turkish diplomat in Ankara, “We lost the Middle East.”

Erdogan’s New York Times op-ed Jan. 7 also signals that the Turkish government is having a difficult time adjusting to the fast-changing realities of the region.

Why did Turkey’s relations with the Arab world go sour?

First, the government’s efforts to establish friendly relations with Arab states have not found much support in Turkey. The uncontrolled influx of refugees, particularly from Syria, hasn't helped. In addition, the AKP government’s alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party, also known as the Gray Wolves, has brought about a simultaneous rise in nationalistic fervor. Inadequate planning has made Syrian refugees' integration into Turkish society all the more difficult. Anti-Syrian racism is expected to grow along with deepening economic problems in Turkey.

Second, Ankara is concerned that the 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey are possibly being influenced by radical Salafi ideologies. A theology professor from a university in Ankara who asked to remain anonymous told Al-Monitor, “Diyanet has been trying to keep the Syrians in Syria in its orbit, but Syrians inside Turkey rarely attend Diyanet mosques. Some are attending established religious orders' ceremonies, but most are setting up their own religious establishments. Initially, the government thought, 'These are Sunni brothers,' but now there is desperation about how to control their activities. It's an open secret that Turkish intelligence doesn't have sufficient Arabic speakers to monitor their activities. If they fall under the influence of the Saudi version of Islam [strict Sunni Wahhabism], how can the government restrain them?”

Ankara has to carefully handle its relations with the Arab world now that it hosts a sizable Arab diaspora that may not be willing or able to assimilate smoothly.

Next is the Turkish government’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2011, Ankara celebrated Arab Spring uprisings and worked to see the Brotherhood gain more strength in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria. Since then, Turkey has been deeply disappointed. Erdogan’s reluctance to acknowledge the Assad regime’s apparent victory after almost eight years is particularly telling. Erdogan hasn't, at least publicly, accepted the need to normalize relations with Damascus. Other regimes that have been adamantly anti-Assad have adjusted to the new reality, but not Erdogan. Now, the much-anticipated return of Syria to the Arab League will only make Turkish isolation more noticeable.

A retired general told Al-Monitor, “The Erdogan and Assad families were friends vacationing together in 2008. ... Syria minimized its support for the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers Party, which Turkey considers a terrorist group]. We had waived visas [with Syria], increased trade and were conducting joint military exercises.”

Indeed, in 2009-2010, Turkey and Syria even had joint ministerial meetings on a range of issues.

“Then Erdogan single-handedly took a turn, siding with GCC states and positioning Turkey as the archenemy of the Assad regime," added the general. "Other countries have jumped off this boat and one way or another are trying to normalize their relations with Damascus. We are neighbors and still acting as if the Assad regime will end soon. Even [Erdogan's NYT op-ed] is written as if the Assad regime doesn't exist. This is a dangerous game for Turkey."

Turkey's failure to establish better relations with Arab countries is a strong blow to its soft-power dreams. Erdogan’s Rabia hand gesture, which he shows in support of the Arab Spring, was even shunned in Tunisia during his last visit, in December 2017. Yet Erdogan campaigns in Turkey with the sign, indicating he still can't accept the political changes. And as Erdogan continues to express his wishes to deepen relations with Qatar, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears in the news struggling to mend bridges between the GCC and Qatar.

So far, there are no efforts to help Turkey improve relations with the Arab world. To make matters worse, news of increased communications between Israel and Gulf states is contributing to Turkey’s deepening fears of isolation. For instance, an unverified article published Jan. 8 alleged that officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates met secretly last month with Israeli Mossad Director Yossi Cohen. The Middle East Eye story, citing undisclosed sources, said the officials discussed how to "welcome [Assad] back into the Arab League to marginalize the regional influence of Turkey and Iran."

For decades, Turkish Islamists have blamed the secular establishment for being too timid to establish better relations with the Arab world. For example, Turkey's presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, acknowledged in 2017 that for years the republic has fostered enmity toward Arabs. Kalin said that, in turn, the Arab world harbors anti-Turkish sentiment. However, neither Kalin nor others in Erdogan’s 16 years in national government have come up with effective solutions to these bitter perceptions.

So have AKP’s efforts made Turkey’s place in the Arab world any better today? Looking at Ankara’s nervousness about the YPG and other Kurdish militias in Syria, it's difficult to appreciate the AKP’s efforts as effective or even promising. Even the talk of gradual US withdrawal from Syria was sufficient to reveal the long-brewing anti-Turkey anger in the region. Can Erdogan survive his shrinking neo-Ottoman dreams? This is the question now being put on the table by Ankara suits.



NOC granted to Raheel for heading Saudi-led military coalition

January 19, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The government has issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) regarding appointment of former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif as head of a Saudi Arabia-led military alliance comprising personnel from 41 Muslim countries.

The NOC has been issued in view of an approval that was granted by the federal cabinet during its meeting held on Jan 10, according to a source.

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Friday confirmed that the NOC had indeed been issued after approval by the federal cabinet.

“The issue was not on the normal agenda of the federal cabinet’s meeting but it was approved through circulation,” the minister said while talking to Dawn.

Gen Sharif retired in November 2016 and joined the Muslim countries’ counterterrorism coalition in April 2017 amid controversy that he could not go for any job, especially abroad, within two years of his retirement from Pakistan Army.

Initially, it remained unclear whether the-then Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had issued any NOC to the general. But former defence minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif in 2017 revealed that Gen Sharif had applied for an NOC and that it was approved by the Ministry of Defence after due process.

However, the Supreme Court later directed the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to issue a fresh NOC that was needed by the general for employment abroad during the two-year period when he was not supposed to be employed.

The information minister said the government had submitted the NOC to the Supreme Court.

Earlier, the PTI had opposed the issuance of an NOC and questioned the decision to allow Gen Sharif to lead the Muslim countries’ military coalition without knowing its terms of reference, and aims and objectives.

The PTI was one of the parties that remained vocal on the issue in the days of the PML-N government.

Former defence minister Khawaja Asif had informed the National Assembly in April 2017 that the Saudi government would hold a meeting soon in which it would unveil the TOR of the alliance.

Mr Chaudhry had presented the PTI’s point of view on the issue and said: “We strongly oppose this decision and will soon bring the issue to parliament.”

The party was of the view that all parliamentary parties had decided that Pakistan should be neutral in the Middle East crisis. The decision to issue an NOC to Gen Sharif was contrary to the parliament’s decision.

Mr Chaudhry had then said the PML-N government’s decision could widen the schism that already existed between Sunnis and Shias in Pakistan.

The military coalition was reportedly envisaged to serve as a platform for security cooperation, including a provision for training and equipping of troops, and involvement of religious scholars for dealing with extremism.





India hits out Pakistan for saying that New Delhi has no role to play in Afghanistan

Jan 18, 2019

NEW DELHI: India on Friday slammed Pakistan's comments that New Delhi has no role to play in Afghanistan, saying Islamabad cannot decide on behalf of an independent and sovereign country.

Spokesperson in the ministry of external affairs Raveesh Kumar said it was not for Pakistan to decide as to what role another country has in regional or global affairs.

"Pakistan also cannot decide on behalf of an independent and sovereign country Afghanistan and dictate them as to how to conduct their foreign policy," he said.

On Thursday, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said India has no role to play in Afghanistan, adding Islamabad played a key role in arranging direct talks between the Taliban and the US to find a peaceful solution to the Afghan issue.

"Pakistan should first and foremost introspect its own role and responsibility in the precarious situation in Afghanistan; put an end to all kind of support to cross border terrorism from territories under Pakistan's control, and join international efforts to bring inclusive peace to Afghanistan," Kumar said.

Faisal's remarks contradict Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's earlier statement in which he acknowledged that India had stakes in Afghanistan and its cooperation was necessary for the peace process.

India has been a key stakeholder in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and has committed aid worth $3 billion to the war-ravaged country.

India sent two former diplomats in "non official" capacity to a conference on Afghan peace process in Moscow in November which was attended by a high-level Taliban delegation.

New Delhi has been pressing for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace initiative to bring peace and stability in the warravaged country.



Terrorist throw grenade at police station in Pulwama, a third in a day

Jan 18, 2019

SRINAGAR: Terrorist attacked a police station in Pulwama district with a grenade on Friday. This was the third such attack in the Valley today.

The incident took place at Kakapora police station in the evening. "The grenade exploded in the compound of the police station without causing any harm", police said.

The sentry at the guard post fired some shots in the air after the explosion.

Earlier today, terrorist hurled a grenade at a police camp in south Kashmir's Shopian district which also exploded without causing any damage.

In another grenade attack terrorist targeted a paramilitary vehicle at city centre Lal Chowk in Srinagar.

The grenade missed the target exploding on the road near the Clock Tower in the city centre. Window panes of some shops were shattered due to the explosion.

Full report at:



‘IS module’ case: Delhi court extends theology teacher’s remand

January 18, 2019

The Patiala House Court in Delhi Friday extended the remand of Muhammad Absar, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with the ISIS-inspired Harkut-ul-Harb-e-Islam module, reported news agency ANI. The 24-year-old who was arrested from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh last week was produced before the court today after his six-day custody ended.

A theology teacher at Jamia Husania Abul Hassan in Hapur, Absar had travelled to Kashmir thrice to procure weapons and meet militants, according to NIA. The NIA said that the group was led by Delhi preacher Mufti Sohail with civil engineering student Mohammed Anas, Zubair and Zaid — all of them under arrest — being part of the core group.

“Absar’s interrogation revealed that Iftekhar wanted to start a new group and it was in this connection that they had gone to Kashmir and met a Maulvi in Tral. The Maulvi helped them meet another person for contacts with militants who Iftekhar wanted to meet for training of his men. All these people have been questioned. It is from here that the clue about Ludhiana Maulvi being part of the group came,” an NIA officer said.

On December 26, NIA arrested 10 people from Delhi’s Jaffarabad and Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha for allegedly being part of a group called Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam. The agency alleged that the group owed allegiance to the IS and was being handled by an online entity by the name of Abu Malik Peshawari.

The NIA claimed that the ISIS-inspired group was allegedly planning suicide attacks and serial blasts, that would target politicians and government installations in Delhi and other parts of north India.

The group had allegedly also purchased remote control cars and wireless doorbells to use in circuits while assembling remote-controlled improvised explosive devices.

Full report at:



India hits out at Pakistan for saying New Delhi has no role to play in Afghanistan

January 18, 2019

India on Friday slammed Pakistan’s comments that New Delhi has no role to play in Afghanistan, saying Islamabad cannot decide on behalf of an independent and sovereign country.

Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said it was not for Pakistan to decide as to what role another country has in regional or global affairs.

“Pakistan also cannot decide on behalf of an independent and sovereign country Afghanistan and dictate them as to how to conduct their foreign policy,” he said.

On Thursday, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said India has no role to play in Afghanistan, adding Islamabad played a key role in arranging direct talks between the Taliban and the US to find a peaceful solution to the Afghan issue.

“Pakistan should first and foremost introspect its own role and responsibility in the precarious situation in Afghanistan; put an end to all kind of support to cross border terrorism from territories under Pakistan’s control, and join international efforts to bring inclusive peace to Afghanistan,” Kumar said.

Faisal’s remarks contradict Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s earlier statement in which he acknowledged that India had stakes in Afghanistan and its cooperation was necessary for the peace process.

India has been a key stakeholder in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and has committed aid worth USD 3 billion to the war-ravaged country.

India sent two former diplomats in “non-official” capacity to a conference on Afghan peace process in Moscow in November which was attended by a high-level Taliban delegation.

Full report at:



Kartarpur corridor: Access mode for Indian devotees yet to be decided

January 18, 2019

Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri said Friday the mode of access for Indian devotees headed for Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan, is yet to be decided by the two countries.

“Whether access will be given to them by using passport as a travel document or VISA will be applied, are issues that are to be discussed bilaterally between the two countries. It is yet to be finalised,” Puri told reporters.

He said that a decision has been taken that access from the Indian side — the main road which goes up to Kartarpur Sahib will be completed in a time-bound manner.

After the Cabinet decision on November 22, 2018, a number of steps have been taken and one of them is to open the Kartarpur corridor, he said.

“We have so far decided that the access from our side — the main road which goes up there (Kartarpur Sahib), and the specific corridor, we will complete in a time-bound manner.”

The four-km corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district with Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Narowal in Pakistan. It will provide access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to the historic shrine in the neighbouring country.

Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, is believed to have spent more than 18 years of his life there. The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is located on the banks of Ravi river, about three-four kilometres from the Indo-Pak border.

Puri lamented that the cartographer who drew the boundary between India and Pakistan after separation, must have been “insensitive” as he carved out the place belonging to Guru Nanak from India.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the corridor was performed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, in November last year.

Full report at:



Mehbooba calls local terrorists 'sons of soil', asks Centre to engage J&K militant leadership

Jan 15, 2019

SRINAGAR: Terming local terrorists as "sons of soil", PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti on Tuesday said efforts should be made to save them, adding the Centre should initiate dialogue with the militant leadership in Jammu and Kashmir to end the "gun culture".

"Right now, talks should be held with Pakistan and separatists. Similarly, the militant leadership should also be talked to as it is they who have the guns and only they can end the gun culture," she told reporters in Anantnag after a party function.

"I believe at some stage, talks will have to be held with Hurriyat Conference and terrorists as well," she said.

The former chief minister, however, said it was "too early (for talks with terrorists)".

Mehbooba said local terrorists should be prevented from walking on the path of violence.

"Right from the time I came into politics in 1996, I have been saying that local terrorists are sons of the soil and our maximum efforts should be to save them because they are assets."

"If an encounter breaks out, the two people (terrorists and security forces) come face to face and no one can do anything about it then," she said.

The PDP president had on Monday questioned the timing of filing of chargesheet in the 2016 JNU sedition case, in which seven Kashmiris have been named, saying the students were being used to score political points ahead of Lok Sabha elections.

"No surprises here. We are months away from the 2019 general election and like always, using Kashmiris to score extra political points with the Indian electorate has become somewhat of a pre-requisite," she had said in a series of tweets.

Full report at:



Every step Mishal Mohammed takes helps save 74 lives

09th January 2019

KOCHI: Save more money, travel to new places, wake up early,  eat healthy - while New Year resolutions for the majority of us were about making our own lives better, for Mishal Mohammed, it was about saving the lives of 74 children. So, carrying a collection bucket and a poster with the message ‘Save 74 Lives’, this 19-year-old student of Government Medical College, Kozhikode, walked around 15 km on the second day of the New Year to support children suffering from Thalassemia, Diabetes and Wilson’s disease. The effort taken by the second-year MBBS student has now garnered attention on social media platforms, under the hashtag #newyearrevolution.

According to Mishal, the ‘revolution’ has been launched as part of the Imprints project of the College Union Society under which medical aid and treatment are provided throughout the year to 74 children suffering from the disease. "Nearly a year ago, I had conducted a solo trip to the Western and Northern parts of the country. I was stranded in the Himalayas without cash for a couple of days and had to walk several kilometres for help. However, the experience gave me an impetus to explore my own city on foot, “ said Mishal.

Once back in Kozhikode, Mishal decided to put his walking experiment for a better cause. “The entire cost of medical aid for children under the Imprints project comes up to nearly Rs one lakh per month. Since many are unaware of the initiative, I wondered why not use a novel method, walk around the city and raise funds for these children,” he said.

Over the past one week, Mishal has gained supporters from his college and on online platforms. He has been able to cover a total distance of 38 km on foot to JDT Islam College, Focus Mall and Kozhikode Beach and has raised a sum of Rs 30,000 for the project. “So far I have received only positive responses from people. Around Rs 5,000 was collected from online supporters," said the Kozhikode-native.

Full report at:



Southeast Asia


China Invites Islamic Country Envoys to Visit Muslim Internment Camps

18 Jan 2019

China invited representatives from 12 neighboring, mostly Muslim-majority countries to tour some of the internment camps built in Xinjiang province to indoctrinate, torture, and exploit the labor of Chinese Muslims, a report claimed Friday.

A report in the People’s Daily on Friday, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, claimed that the envoys were extremely impressed by the success of the “vocational centers,” as Beijing calls them, in helping incorporate members of the Uighur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz ethnic minorities into the Chinese economy.

Reports from a variety of news outlets and human rights NGOs suggest that China has built as many as 1,200 internment camps for Muslims, housing between 1 and 2 million people. Those who have survived the camps say they have experienced extreme torture, indoctrination, and been forced to work for free. One woman said in her testimony that Chinese police killed one of her triplet infants and repeatedly subjected her to electroshock torture. Others have said they are forced to learn Mandarin, pledge allegiance to Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, and memorize communist songs or go without food.

The People’s Daily recap of the Xinjiang tour surfaced little more than a week after the Epoch Times, a U.S.-based newspaper affiliated with the persecuted Falun Gong spiritual movement, revealed that Chinese authorities had begun preparing the camps for international “inspections,” hiding evidence of torture and indoctrination and making them look more like the education centers Beijing alleges they are.

According to Chinese state media, which did not quote any of the envoys directly, the representatives were surprised to find that the internment camps were “opposite to some Western media reports” and actually a successful way to combat radical Islamic terrorism and poverty. During their tour, the envoys reportedly witnessed prisoners “learning Putonghua [Mandarin], national laws and regulations, and vocational skills.” Some played ping-pong with the prisoners, the report claims, and watched a dance performance by those interned there.

The diplomats there represented the nations of “Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Thailand, and Kuwait,” the People’s Daily claimed.

“Indonesian Ambassador to China Djauhari Oratmangun said that the education centers in Xinjiang have impressed him and trainees can learn national laws and the Uyghur culture,” the report continued. Another diplomat from Kazakhstan “said that he saw the Chinese government and regional government in Xinjiang have created good conditions for trainees and they have rich food as well as time for sports.”

The visits reportedly occurred in December and also included stops in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which observers have noted has been turned into a near-complete police state with unceasing surveillance of every citizen. China still allows mosques to operate, but has decorated them with large images of Xi Jinping and flooded them with posters carrying pro-communist slogans. Imams must follow a strict regimen in their sermons and teach only loyalty to the Party.

The only other reports on the international visit to Xinjiang that have appeared at press time online appear to rely exclusively on the Chinese interpretation of the visit.

Beijing appears to have chosen to invite representatives from countries that rely heavily on China’s economic support to survive but, given their large Muslim populations, have begun to feel pressure to condemn China’s abuse of its Muslim citizens. Pakistan, for example, is run by an Islamist government that typically bends to the will of radical Islamic groups who threaten to riot and shut down the nation’s major cities if they disagree with any government policy. Pakistani Muslims, particularly men married to Uighur women who have disappeared into China, have increasingly demanded Islamabad take a stand and support freedom for Muslims in China.

Yet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was willing to illegally accept an appeal over a Supreme Court decision to placate Islamists radicals, has refused to stand up for Muslims in China.

“I do not know much about the situation. … The Chinese have been extremely helpful to us… I would never talk about it [Uighurs concentration camps] in public,” Khan said when asked about the Uighur internment camps last week. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal similarly said last month, “some section of foreign media are trying to sensationalize the matter by spreading false information,” without addressing the reality.

Pakistan’s government is economically destitute and has largely relied on China incorporating it into its predatory Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for cash on hand.

Similarly, Indonesia has seen protests attracting thousands of Muslims calling for their government to challenge China on its abuse of Muslims. In December, Jakarta saw about 1,000 people, organized by local Islamic groups, congregate outside of the Chinese embassy in the capital demanding freedom for Uighurs and other Chinese Muslims, chanting slogans like “stop violence and oppression against Uyghurs” and “get rid of communists from Indonesia,” according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Muslim countries whose ethnic relatives in China have been swept into camps along with Uighurs, groups have also demanded action, particularly those who have experienced the disappearances of loved ones into Xinjiang. To placate the concern, China has let about 2,000 ethnic Kazakhs move to Kazakhstan.



Indonesia to release suspected Bali bomb mastermind from prison

JANUARY 19, 2019

“The first reason is humanitarian. He is elderly and his health is also a consideration,” Mr. Widodo told reporters, according to a statement from the social affairs ministry.

Abu Bakar Bashir, the radical Muslim cleric and alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, will be granted early release from jail on humanitarian grounds, Indonesia's president said on Friday.

Bashir (81), who is considered the spiritual leader of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), was convicted in 2010 under anti-terrorism laws for links to militant training camps in Aceh province and jailed for 15 years.

President Joko Widodo, who is seeking re-election in April, has been criticised by opponents who question his Islamic credentials and accuse him of backing the “criminalisation” of clerics.

“The first reason is humanitarian. He is elderly and his health is also a consideration,” Mr. Widodo told reporters, according to a statement from the social affairs ministry.

Mr. Widodo also cited security concerns, but he did not elaborate.

A legal adviser in Mr. Widodo's campaign team, Yusril Mahendra, said he had lobbied the president for Bashir's release.

“This shows to the public that it is not correct that Jokowi persecutes or criminalises clerics,” Mahendra was quoted by Indonesia media as saying. Jokowi is the president's nickname.

Scores of the more than 200 people killed in the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs were Australian and Canberra has previously urged against leniency for Bashir.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday that he has been in contact with the Indonesian government.

“Australia's position on this matter has not changed, we've always expressed the deepest of reservations,” Mr. Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

The Bali attack spurred Indonesia to set up its now elite anti-terrorism squad Densus 88 or Detachment 88, which received funds and training from Australia and the United States.

It was not immediately clear when Bashir would be released from prison in Bogor, a satellite city near the capital Jakarta, or what the terms of his release would be.

Bashir's lawyers said he was eligible for early release because he had served more than a third of his sentence, but he had refused to sign documents detailing the requirements for his probation.

Full report at:



Indonesia to release suspected Bali bomb mastermind Bashir from prison

January 18, 2019

JAKARTA: Abu Bakar Bashir, the radical Muslim cleric and alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, will be granted early release from jail on humanitarian grounds, Indonesia’s president said on Friday.

Bashir, 81, who is considered the spiritual leader of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), was convicted in 2010 under anti-terrorism laws for links to militant training camps in Aceh province and jailed for 15 years.

President Joko Widodo, who is seeking re-election in April, has been criticized by opponents who question his Islamic credentials and accuse him of backing the “criminalisation” of clerics.

“The first reason is humanitarian. He is elderly and his health is also a consideration,” Widodo told reporters, according to a statement from the social affairs ministry.

Widodo also cited security concerns, but he did not elaborate.

A legal adviser in Widodo’s campaign team, Yusril Mahendra, said he had lobbied the president for Bashir’s release.

“This shows to the public that it is not correct that Jokowi persecutes or criminalises clerics,” Mahendra was quoted by Indonesia media as saying. Jokowi is the president’s nickname.

A large number of the more than 200 people killed in the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs were Australian and Canberra has previously urged against leniency for Bashir.

The attack spurred Indonesia to set up its now elite anti-terrorism squad Densus 88 or Detachment 88, which received funds and training from Australia and the United States.

It was not immediately clear when Bashir would be released from prison in Bogor, a satellite city near the capital Jakarta, or what the terms of his release would be.

Bashir’s lawyers said he was eligible for early release because he had served more than a third of his sentence, but he had refused to sign documents detailing the requirements for his probation.

Full report at:



Najib confused over UIAM and UIM, says Guan Eng

19 January 2019

By G. Prakash

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng today described former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak as a confused person for not knowing the difference between University Islam Malaysia (UIM) and University Islam Antarabangsa (UIAM).

Najib had recently criticised Lim’s defence of a RM6 million allocation to New Era College, Southern University College and Han Chiang College.

Najib also questioned Lim’s comparison of those colleges to the RM15 million allocation to UIAM as nonsensical and pointed out that the three were private institutions while UIAM was a public university.

However, Lim said he never referred to UIAM and that the RM15 million was for UIM, which is also a private entity.

“It is regrettable that he (Najib) does not know the difference between UIM and UIAM although he had been in office for so long and served in Putrajaya for more than 20 years.

“It’s impossible for a former Prime Minister not to know about the existence of such a historic institution, or maybe he pretended not to know just to politicise the issue?” he said in a statement.

Guan Eng then questioned whether Najib read carefully his statement before making such allegations.

“Now who is the person that has been making ridiculous statement? Najib should apologise for his mistake but I’m sure he will not do that because he cannot do anything wrong,” he said.

Lim said this was similar to Najib’s insistence that he had not done any wrong in the 1MDB scandal.

“Even Goldman Sachs has apologised but Najib is still being stubborn and insists that he had not done anything wrong and refused to apologise,” he said.

Earlier this week Solomon apologised to Malaysians for former banker Tim Leissner’s role in the 1MDB scandal, but said the bank had conducted due diligence before every transaction.

Full report at:



Radical cleric behind Bali bombing to be freed from prison

18 JANUARY 2019

Jakarta, Jan 18 A radical cleric thought to be the spiritual leader of the Bali bombers will be released from prison on medical grounds, Indonesia's president said Friday.

Abu Bakar Bashir, 80, is believed to have been a key figure in terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which was blamed for the 2002 bombings on the holiday island which killed more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists.

It was Indonesia's deadliest militant attack and prompted Jakarta to beef up anti-terror cooperation with the US and Australia, which has previously opposed clemency for Bashir.

Indonesian leader Joko Widodo said on Friday that he had agreed to order the ailing preacher's release from a prison on the outskirts of the capital.

"The first reason is humanitarian," Widodo told reporters.

"He is old... and his health condition was also part of the consideration." In 2011, the firebrand preacher -- once synonymous with militant Islam in Indonesia -- was sentenced to 15 years in jail for helping fund a paramilitary group training in the conservative Islamic province of Aceh.

Bashir, the co-founder of an infamous Islamic boarding school known for producing militants, was jailed after authorities in the world's biggest Muslim majority country broke up the camp.

Several militants convicted over their involvement in the Bali bombings have been executed while two others, including Malaysian Noordin Mohammed Top, were killed in police raids in 2009 and 2010.

Bashir, who has repeatedly denied involvement in terror attacks, was also previously jailed over the Bali bombings but that conviction was quashed on appeal.

Al-Qaida-linked JI was founded by a handful of exiled Indonesian militants in Malaysia in the 1980s, and grew to include cells across Southeast Asia.

As well as the 2002 Bali bombings, the radical group was blamed for a deadly 2003 car bomb at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta and a suicide car bomb the following year outside the Australian embassy.

An anti-terror crackdown weakened some of Indonesia's most dangerous networks, including Jemaah Islamiyah.

The Islamic State (IS) group proved to be a potent rallying cry for Indonesia's radicals, with hundreds travelling to the Middle East to join the jihadists.

Last year, a wave of deadly suicide bombings at churches and a police post rocked Indonesia's second biggest city Surabaya.

Full report at:





Over 100 Nigerian soldiers killed in Takfiri attacks

Jan 18, 2019

Armed groups have killed more than 100 soldiers and captured a huge stock of weapons in clashes in northeast Nigeria since December 26, a report by a group of aid agencies said on Friday.

Attacks had intensified over the past few weeks and forced thousands of people to flee to safer areas in Nigeria and over the border to neighboring Chad, the report said.

The surge has occurred in the run-up to an election on February 16 in which President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second term, turning security into a campaign issue.

The attacks have mostly been carried out by a Takfiri-allied faction of militant group Boko Haram.

Nigerian defense ministry and military spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests by Reuters for comment.

The report by the Global Protection Cluster in Chad, a group of aid agencies led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "Raids against the Nigerian army have killed more than 100 Nigerian soldiers. According to the information available, the armed groups captured a huge stock of weapons."

The report said attacks in the Baga-Kawa area of northeast Nigeria on December 26 caused more than 6,357 people to flee into Chad and some 20,000 others to flee to safety within Nigeria.

Last month, a Daesh-related group, which split from Boko Haram in 2016, seized the town of Baga, where a multi-national force fighting the militants is based. Troops later regained Baga.



Five suspects in court over Nairobi hotel attack

January 18, 2019

NAIROBI: Five suspects, including a Canadian citizen, appeared in a Kenyan court Friday in connection with a militant attack on a Nairobi hotel complex that left 21 dead.

A magistrate granted a request from the prosecution to detain the four men and one woman for 30 days while investigations continue.

The suspects are accused of “possible involvement in the almost 20-hour siege of the DusitD2 hotel and office complex by a suicide bomber and four gunmen who were all killed by security forces,” a court document said.

“The investigations into this matter are complex and transnational and would therefore require sufficient time and resources to uncover the entire criminal syndicate,” a statement from Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Hajji said.

A total of 11 suspects were arrested after Tuesday’s attack, however investigations into the others were still ongoing.

Those who appeared in court include Joel Ng’ang’a Wainaina, a taxi driver who ferried the attackers around on several occasions, and Oliver Kanyango Muthee, a taxi driver who drove one of the assailants to the scene of the attack.

Gladys Kaari Justus is being investigated over the transfer of money while Guleid Abdihakim — who holds Canadian citizenship — is being probed over suspicious communication.

The other suspect Osman Ibrahim is alleged to have met with one of the attackers on January 8.

Two suspects yet to appear in court, Ali Salim Gichunge and Violet Kemunto Omwoyo possessed SIM cards that were in “constant communication” with numbers in Somalia, court documents revealed.

The attack was claimed by Somali militant group Al-Shabab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda which has repeatedly targeted Kenya over the presence of its troops in Somalia.

Full report at:



Kenya: Attack Shows That Al-Shabaab Is Still a Potent Threat to Kenya

17 JANUARY 2019

By Stig Jarle Hansen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

The terror attack in Nairobi was a tragedy. But also, to some extent, unexpected. Kenya suffered relatively frequent attacks between 2013 and 2016 - Westgate in 2013, the Mpeketoni attack and the Gikomba attack in 2014, the Garissa university attack in 2016. Since then there's been a break in larger attacks. And since the earlier Gikomba attack, Nairobi has been spared, and Kenyan authorities have scored some successes in dismantling al-Shabaab networks in the country. They also thwarted a larger operation in Nairobi last year.

Kenya has done a great deal to prevent attacks, and to manage post-attack scenarios better. Its successes so far include: improved coordination, dismantling local radical networks in contact with the al-Shabaab and curtailing channels for foreign recruitment.

There have been two other areas of progress that has been, for the most part, spearheaded by civil society. The first is the implementation of deradicalisation programmes. These aim to integrate former al-Shabaab fighters into society. The second has been efforts at countering violent extremism by introducing programmes designed to prevent young people from being radicalised.

But there are still huge problems that need to be addressed. One is the fact that young Muslims have very low trust in the Kenyan police, and many remain sympathetic to al-Shabaab. These problems are hard to address because of high levels of joblessness among young people which has created fertile recruiting grounds for al-Shabaab.

Although Kenya has made considerable progress this week's attack shows that al-Shabaab is still strong, viable and able to take advantage of Kenyan weaknesses.

Kenya's role in Somalia

Kenya's role in Somalia has made it an important target for al-Shabaab.

This type of attack is planned inside Somalia and carried out by people trained by al-Shabaab in Somalia. They believe these units don't draw on older affiliated groups inside Kenya, which is seen as unprofessional, but develop their own well planned ad-hoc support solutions instead, usually based out of Somalia.

Kenya's intervention in Somalia, although slow moving at the start, was a watershed in forcing the al-Shabaab to give up large territories, and crucial for the decline al-Shabaab between 2011 and 2015. Kenya is still crucial on the ground inside Somalia, where its forces serve as a buffer against territories that are still fully controlled by al-Shabaab.

And Kenyan forces will play a crucial role in new plans being made for offensives against these territories.

This means that al-Shabaab will continue to target Kenya.

There are other factors at play too. Traditionally, Kenya, which is a more open society than neighbouring Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, has been an easier target than the other countries in the region, and has, until now, had weaker intelligence capacities than, for example, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

There are areas, however, in which Kenya has upped its game, particularly when it comes to dealing with a post-attack emergency.

Kenya's capabilities

After the most recent attack it soon became clear that Kenya's security forces are more efficient than in the past. Coordination between the services was much better, and, wisely, it appears that the recce squadron (and thus the police) were left in charge. This meant that embarrassing situations, such as fire exchanges between the police and the army during the Westgate attack, were avoided.

There have been complaints that people took a long time to clear the building complex. But it's large and not easy to clear, a situation comparable to the In-Amenas compound attacked in Algeria in 2013, when the Algerians had to clear a large oil refinery. Clearing operations like this will take time. That it happened as quickly as it did this time shows Kenya has developed the professionalism and ability to plan fast.

The death rate also seems less than Westgate, although the casualty rate reported by the al-Shabaab (59) (radio statement) is much higher than the one reported by Kenyan authorities (21).

Disparities were just as great in the Westgate and Mepketoni attacks. In both al-Shabaab's reports proved to be much more accurate than the information provided by the authorities.

This is understandable: Kenyan officials would naturally want to play down the attack in a bid to calm potential tourists thinking about travelling to the country. Tourism is vitally important for the Kenyan economy.

There was one very legitimate criticism of the handling of the attack - the presence of armed non-police and non army/police security personnel at the scene. This made it much harder for the Kenyan police and army to know who to fight.

But an encouraging development is that the Kenyan parliament has announced that it will be reviewing the attack. Hopefully, this will be covered.


Kenya's handling of this attack shows the progress has been made in its anti-terrorist measures. But it also illustrates what problems remain in place. One includes providing erroneous information.

Full report at:



Thousands of Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram forced back by Cameroon

19 Jan 2019

The United Nations said on Friday it was “extremely alarmed” by the forced return by Cameroon of thousands of refugees to north-east Nigeria, where Boko Haram Islamists pose a continuing threat to civilians.

“This action was totally unexpected and puts lives of thousands of refugees at risk,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said in a statement.

Cameroon forced “several thousand” refugees back to Nigeria this week, including 267 on Wednesday, the UN agency said.

“I am appealing to Cameroon to continue its open door and hospitable policy,” Grandi said, while calling on the government to immediately halt any more returns and meet its obligations under international law.

Cameroon has 370,000 refugees, 100,000 of whom are Nigerians, according to the UNHCR.

Earlier this month, more than 9,000 people fled to Cameroon after an attack on a military base and aid buildings in the town of Rann in north-east Nigeria’s Borno state.

The attack was blamed on the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction of Boko Haram, which has carried out similar raids against troops since July last year.

Full report at:



Boko Haram: Rann not accessible by road, air – UN humanitarian coordinator

January 18, 2019

By Maina Maina

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, has expressed grave concern over the interruption of aid delivery to tens of thousands of internally displaced people in Rann.

Rann is a town in eastern Borno State and about 10 kilometres from the border with Cameroon, which had experienced deadly attacks by Boko Haram.

A statement by the UN body reveals that the interruption in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Rann is the direct result of an attack that started at dusk on 14 January, 2019 on the military base, and continued into the next day.

“At the time of the attack, an estimated 76,000 internally displaced people were living in Rann.

“A medical clinic, warehouses with humanitarian supplies and accommodation for aid workers were looted and/or destroyed in the attack, and the market and shelters in the camp were burned down by the attackers.

“Several civilian fatalities have also been reported, although the total number is not yet known, and thousands are reported to have fled to Cameroon.

“In addition, 14 aid workers, who were in Rann during the attack and able to hide, were withdrawn the day after by helicopter. At present, Rann is inaccessible to international humanitarian organisations both by road and by air.

“The attacks on Rann, that are increasingly frequent, are having a devastating impact on the civilians taking refuge in this isolated town and severely affecting our ability to deliver life-saving aid to women, men and children in need,” said Mr. Kallon.

“This attack has spread fear among an already vulnerable population, and humanitarian assets were also targeted. I urge the Government of Nigeria to protect civilians, including aid workers,” Mr. Kallon concluded.

The conflict in north-east Nigeria, now in its tenth year, has triggered massive displacement and caused a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 7 million people in need.

In addition to the attack in Rann, clashes in Kukawa and Monguno local government areas in northern Borno State have forced more than 43,000 people to flee their homes since November, with more than 32,000 taking refuge in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

Full report at:



Two days of clashes near Libya capital leave 10 dead

18 January 2019

Two days of clashes between rival militias near Libya’s capital Tripoli have left 10 people dead and 41 wounded, the health ministry said Thursday. Fighting between armed groups erupted Wednesday despite a truce deal four months ago that had halted deadly battles in the city.

A medical source told AFP that fierce clashes hit an area some 50 kilometers south of Tripoli on Thursday, after fighting around an airport 25 kilometers from the capital the previous day.

The violence has pitted the Tripoli Protection Force, an alliance of militias from the city, against the Seventh Brigade group from the town of Tarhuna. The health ministry said that there were women and children among the wounded.

Tripoli was plagued by militia clashes that killed at least 117 people and wounded more than 400 between late August and late September.

The United Nations mission in Libya on Wednesday condemned a “military mobilization” in southern Tripoli and warned groups not to break a ceasefire agreement it brokered in September.

The Seventh Brigade has maintained its positions around Tripoli since the accord was reached, a move that has angered rival militias. Libya has been torn between rival administrations and a myriad of militias since the overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The main armed groups in Tripoli say they are loyal to the internationally backed Government of National Accord (GNA), but officials have struggled to exert real control over the fighters.

The GNA announced security reforms in the wake of the bloodshed last year, aimed at curbing the power of militias in the capital.

Full report at:





Tony Blair: UK Muslim activist groups promote ‘extremist world view’

January 18, 2019

LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair has accused some Muslim organizations in Britain of spreading views that often mirror those of extremists.

While they are non-violent, such groups stir up resentment by portraying Muslims in Britain as victims, alienated from British society and in constant conflict with the non-Muslim world.

Most disturbingly, they “promote a worldview that significantly overlaps with that of a proscribed Islamist extremist organisation, Al-Muhajiroun” - a banned group which does espouse violence.

The allegations appear in a report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change - the think tank Blair founded after leaving office - and names four groups: CAGE, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK and Islamic Human Rights Commission.

The report identifies six “key themes” shared by all four groups: Victimization, opposition between “good” and “bad” Muslims, opposition between Islam and the West, a delegitimization of the government, making Islam central to national politics and justification of violence.

“There is a range of views on these six themes, with differing degrees of severity from mainstream to extreme,” the report says. Of the four, Hizb ut-Tahrir comes close to sharing Al-Muhajiroun’s stance on violence.

Banned since 2000, Al-Muhajiroun notoriously dubbed those  behind the Sept. 11 attacks “the Magnificent 19” and several of the group’s adherents have perpetrated other atrocities.

The report warns that such a “corrosive narrative” promoting divisiveness between Muslims and non-Muslims can only embolden the far right and calls on the UK government to establish “a working definition of extremism” by identifying the key ideas that would “flag up” potential danger.

“Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion in Britain today,” said the former prime minister, who went on to serve as a special Middle East envoy.

“Countering and recognizing this is an essential part of fighting extremism because - let us be clear - there is nothing incompatible between being British and being Muslim. But too many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, actively push messages that suggest otherwise.”

 The result, he said, was a “skewed discourse” in which fringe views dominate because moderate voices are afraid to speak out. Blair also accused  UK politicians of giving up on the discussion.

“Many Muslims in the UK hear more from divisive groups about how there is a security state set up to oppress them than they hear from our national leaders about how communities and policymakers can work together to build a thriving, inclusive Britain,” he said.

“Often when people think of this challenge, they focus entirely on violent, jihadi groups. Yet, as this report shows, many of the central ideas that British Muslims are hearing today from some activist groups are worryingly similar to the ideology of violent extremist groups.”

The Home Office (interior ministry) of the UK government describes Hizb ut-Tahrir as a “radical, but to date non-violent Islamist group” that “holds anti-semitic, anti-western and homophobic views.” Almost all the articles on the Hizb ut-Tahrir website portray Muslims as oppressed and bullied. Some articles are clearly anti-Saudi in tone and content.

CAGE was founded as an advocacy service to raise awareness of the plight of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay during and after the War on Terror. Its outreach director, Moazzam Beg was himself held in Guantanamo Bay for two years before being released without charge. However critics have labelled CAGE “apologists for terrorism,” a “terrorism advocacy group,” propagators of a “myth of Muslim persecution” and “a front for Taliban enthusiasts and Al-Qaeda devotees that fraudulently presents itself as a human rights group.”

The British-born Daesh extremist Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John, who was filmed beheading hostages had been in contact with CAGE while in the UK, complaining that he was being harassed by British intelligence agencies.

Responding to the Blair Institute report, CAGE called it “an academically flawed attempt to remould Islamic belief and silence Muslim voices that challenge repressive state policies,” and dismissed the former prime minister as “commonly known for being funded by despots.”

CAGE research director Asim Qureshi said: “It’s unsurprising, considering Tony Blair’s penchant for misinformation that his organization would use seriously flawed methodology in order to draw false conclusions.”

Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has held consultative status with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs since 2007. However it has also been described as “a radical Islamist organisation that uses the language of human rights to promote an extremist agenda including the adoption of sharia law” and “neo-Khomeinist.”

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK encourages tactical voting in elections to dislodge members of parliament who support policies which it considers not be in Muslims’ interest. In 2005, the MPACUK targeted Lorna Fitzsimmons, a Labour MP for Rochdale, a town in north-west England with a large Muslim population, printing leaflets that claimed she had done nothing to help the Palestinian cause because she was Jewish. She is not and the group later apologized.

Former home secretary Jack Straw, whose parliamentary seat in Blackburn also has a large Muslim population, called the group “egregious” after it campaigned for Muslims to oust him.

Azmina Siddique, policy adviser at the Tony Blair Institute, said: “The groups studied in this report don’t represent what most British Muslims think…This isn’t about violent extremism but about sowing division. This ‘us versus them’ rhetoric is becomingly increasingly visible across our society, including from the far right. Policymakers and civil society must start to challenge rhetoric that falls into this grey space between activism and extremism so that we can tackle the increasingly toxic climate that is feeding into extremism.”

Arab News asked the three other UK groups to comment on the report but none of them responded.



Police called in after Scout group run from mosque is linked to Islamic extremist and Holocaust denier

Camilla Tominey

18 JANUARY 2019

A scout group run from a mosque is being investigated by police after a Telegraph investigation linked it to an Islamic extremist and a man associated with Holocaust denial.

The Scout Association raised the alarm after the Telegraph found the Lewisham Islamic Centre had been segregating groups by gender, despite the Scout’s own commitment to mixed-sex groups.

The investigation also found girls as young as five in the group have been encouraged to record videos advocating wearing the hijab and that contrary to the Scouts own commitment to ‘British Values', the group’s leader Ahammed Hussain has admitted to encouraging the members to be ‘Muslims first’.



UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh ‘Beatle’ held in Syria

January 18, 2019

LONDON: The mother of one of the British Daesh militants suspected of murdering western hostages, lost a legal challenge on Friday that it was wrong for Britain to assist a US investigation which could lead to them facing the death penalty.

Britons El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey — two of a notorious group of British fighters nicknamed “The Beatles” — are being held by Kurdish militia after being captured in Syria last year.

The United States wants to extradite them and Britain has said it will not stand in the way of any future US prosecution that would seek the death penalty, waiving a long-standing objection to executions.

Elsheikh’s mother, Maha El Gizouli, had sought a judicial review, saying it was unlawful for Britain’s interior minister to provide mutual legal assistance in a case which could lead to prosecutions for offenses which carried the death penalty.

Her lawyers said the minister’s actions were flawed, inconsistent with Britain’s unequivocal opposition to the death penalty and violated her son’s human rights. However, London’s High Court disagreed and dismissed her claim.

“My priority has always been to ensure we deliver justice for the victims’ families and that the individuals suspected of these sickening crimes face prosecution as quickly as possible,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid said.

“Our long-standing opposition to the death penalty has not changed. Any evidence shared with the US in this case must be for the express purpose of progressing a federal prosecution.”

The most notorious of the four of the so-called Beatles was Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who is believed to have been killed in a US-British missile strike in 2015.

He became a public face of Daesh and appeared in videos showing the murders of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and other hostages.

“This group of terrorists is associated with some of the most barbaric crimes committed during the conflict in Syria,” Graeme Biggar, Director of National Security at Britain’s interior ministry, said in a written statement to the court.

Britain has said it does not want the men repatriated to the United Kingdom and their British citizenship has been withdrawn.

British prosecutors concluded they did not have the evidence to launch their own case against the men but US officials then expressed frustration with the British stance of seeking an assurance that US prosecutors would not call for the death penalty, court documents showed.

However, last June, British ministers and senior officials decided the best way of ensuring a prosecution and to protect US relations was to seek no such assurance in this case.

Full report at:



UK calls for restraint in renewed Myanmar violence


By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal


Britain on Friday raised concerns over the escalation of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Mark Field, minister of state for Asia and the Pacific, said he was “deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in Rakhine State".

Field said in a statement “the U.K. calls on all sides involved in the conflict to show restraint".

“All sides have a duty to ensure that the safety of civilians is guaranteed and to respect international law,” he said.

Myanmar's western Rakhine State is home to Rohingya Muslim community, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people.

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

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the OIDA report said, adding that 17,718 (±780) Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police. Over 115,000 Rohingya houses were also burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

In a report, the UN Refugee Agency said nearly 170,000 people fled Myanmar in 2012 alone.

Full report at:



Anti-Assad activist hacked to death 'with axe' in Hamburg

January 18, 2019

A critic of Syria’s leader Bashar al Assad has died after being attacked with an item thought to be an axe, German newspapers report.

Mohamed Joune, 48, led the organisation Union of Syrians Abroad and lived in Germany. He was seen on Tuesday evening falling out of the doorway of a building in the city of Hamburg before collapsing due to a head and upper body wounds. He died soon after arriving at a local hospital.

The attacker also removed one of Mr Joune’s fingers, local news services reported.

Mr Joune was found on Lüneburger Strasse where he is thought to have owned and let out property although his day job was as a pharmacist. The police have said one thread they are investigating is whether Mr Joune was attacked when entering or trying to enter this property, which some have suggested was being squatted in.

He is thought to be married with two children.

A friend who wished to remain anonymous told the Bild newspaper that he believed the Assad regime was behind the murder, saying he has met Mr Joune earlier in the day to discuss a protest marking the eighth anniversary of the Syrian revolution.

“It is most likely that Mohamed was killed because of his political activities,” he said.

Full report at:



South Asia


Bangladesh's Rohingya camps face growing chickenpox outbreak

January 19, 2019

The spread of a chickenpox outbreak threatens more people in refugee camps in Bangladesh, as the number of infected Rohingya refugees keeps increasing despite efforts to curtail the spread of the disease and prevent any complications.

More than 800 Rohingya refugees living in squalid makeshift camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district have been infected with chickenpox since last December, but residents of the camps expect the figure to surpass 1,000. As of Jan. 13, 832 Rohingya refugees in the camps had been confirmed with chickenpox, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Jan. 15.

A three-year-old Rohingya child with chicken pox reportedly died during that period. The chickenpox outbreak started in some areas of the refugee camp in Ukhiya and Teknaf last month.

"Responding to an outbreak of chickenpox in the Rohingya camps, health sector partners led by the Ministry of Health [in Bangladesh] and the WHO has stepped up surveillance and initiated measures," the statement added. "Surveillance has been further beefed up in the Rohingya camps," said Dr. Bardan Jung Rana, WHO representative to Bangladesh. But Rohingya refugees living in the camps expect the number to rise further.

Ansar Ali, 34, who was chosen by the Bangladesh government to help maintain law and order in his camp, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that mostly women and children are being affected. "I know some in our camp [Kutupalang] who are suffering from this disease and have taken normal medicine," he said, referring to the standard tablet or capsule for fever or headache and saline for dysentery that are normally distributed to the refugees. An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh since an army crackdown was launched in Rakhine State in August. Myanmar blames Rohingya militants for an Aug. 25 strike on security posts in Rakhine State that triggered a fierce army crackdown. At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine State from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24, according to Doctors without Borders. In a report last December, the global humanitarian group said the deaths of 71.7 percent, or 6,700 Rohingya, were caused by violence. The death toll includes 730 children below the age of 5.

The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless. The Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most people in majority-Buddhist Myanmar consider them to be unwanted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.



SE Asian meeting in Thailand to discuss Rohingya return


Foreign ministers of southeast Asian countries meeting in Thailand on Friday are set to discuss the Rohingya issue, local media reported.

The Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting will reportedly endorse a plan to send another needs-assessment mission to Myanmar in the near future to facilitate the repatriation of the oppressed Rohingya.

The meeting, held in the mountainous city of Chiang Mai, follows up on ASEAN’s visit last November to Myanmar, local daily The Bangkok Post reported.

The Indonesia-based ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management sent a joint team to Myanmar late last year.

ASEAN believes that the refugees should be able to return voluntarily and “in a safe, secure, and dignified manner.”

The ASEAN representatives are also supposed to discuss the South China Sea situation, including negotiations between ASEAN and China on “crafting a code of conduct to manage tensions” in the disputed waters.

Also on agenda of the meeting is East Timor's bid to join ASEAN, for which the multi-nation group will send a “fact-finding mission” to Dili, its capital, to “gauge its preparedness.”

A persecuted people

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

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

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."

Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

Full report at:



Rohingyas held in KSA begin hunger strike

January 19, 2019

Scores of Rohingya detainees inside Shumaisi detention centre in Jeddah of Saudi Arabia have begun a hunger strike to stop the Gulf kingdom from deporting them to Bangladesh, reported Middle East Eye, a news outlet published from UK, on Thursday.

The detainees said they had "no alternative" but to start the strike for the second time in the last four months as many of them were forcibly deported to Bangladesh during that period.

Photos and videos sent to the Middle East Eye (MEE) showed detainees were refusing to take their daily food rations in protest of their possible deportation.

Zahid (not his real name), a Rohingya refugee in the detention centre, said they had organised the hunger strike via Whatsapp and other messaging apps.

"When we started the hunger strike, there were three hundred of us, and gradually more people began to join us," he told the MEE via voice notes.

"An old man, who took part in the hunger strike, has already been taken to the hospital," Zahid said.

"We don't know how many more days we can last. They are pressuring us to eat. Please pray for us."

Another detainee, Rafeed (not his real name) said Saudi authorities had promised to set them free if they withdrew their last hunger strike.

“But they didn't keep their promise,” he added.


Meanwhile, Nina Tavakoli, a barrister at Red Lion Chambers, who visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh at the end of 2017, warned on Wednesday that there was little coordination between actors documenting the crimes against the Rohingya.

“There is a risk of repeat interviewing. That's bad for witnesses… [with] survivor fatigue, people might stop talking,” she said, reports Law Gazette, a British legal weekly magazine.

She said prosecutions for crimes committed during the forced displacement of 727,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in Myanmar may fail because of a casual and uncoordinated approach of taking witness statements.

“Criminal lawyers are critical of [the approach] human rights actors,” she said at a panel discussion on 'challenges to international accountability' organised by Red Lion Chambers and hosted by international firm Hogan Lovells.

Full report at:



‘Myanmar army kills 13 rebels in Rakhine clashes’

January 18th, 2019

Fighting between security forces and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group seeking greater autonomy for Rakhine, has forced some 5,000 civilians to flee their homes since early December

Myanmar’s army has killed 13 rebel fighters in the western Rakhine State, a military spokesman said on Friday, as government troops battle to contain a new insurgency in the troubled region.

Fighting between security forces and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group seeking greater autonomy for Rakhine, has forced some 5,000 civilians to flee their homes since early December, according to the United Nations.

The violence has brought fresh turmoil to the region, the site of a massive crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, and represents another setback for the Buddhist-majority country’s embattled peace process.

"Between January 5 and 16, 2019, there were eight clashes and five landmine explosions," said Major General Tun Tun Nyi, speaking at a rare press conference in the capital, Naypyitaw.

"Thirteen enemy bodies and three weapons were seized, and some soldiers died and were injured on our side," he said.

He declined to elaborate on the number of government troops killed, saying it was "not necessary" to give the figures.

The Arakan Army could not be immediately reached for comment, but a spokesman outside Myanmar previously told Reuters five bodies seized by the military did not belong to their fighters.

The recent surge of violence began after insurgents killed 13 police and wounded nine in attacks on four police posts on January 4, as Myanmar celebrated Independence Day, state media reported.

Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, voiced alarm at the "escalating violence" in Rakhine and urged both sides to show restraint and protect civilians.

She condemned the January 4 attack by the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military's "disproportionate response", citing reports that heavy weapons, artillery, and helicopters had been used in civilian areas, leading to civilian casualties.

"I am also seriously concerned about the dangerous rhetoric being used by the government. The ethnic Rakhine population must not be demonized and targeted by the military on suspicion of association with the AA," Lee said in a statement.

There was no immediate response from the Myanmar authorities to her remarks.

Myanmar’s civilian administration last week called on the military to "crush" the rebels, according to a government spokesman.

On Friday, the military said Aung San Suu Kyi, who runs the country as state counsellor, personally ordered the crackdown, stating that the Arakan Army, which recruits from among the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group, should face the same treatment as Rohingya insurgents.

The military onslaught against the Rohingya in 2017, which the UN and Western nations have called ethnic cleansing, was preceded by attacks on security forces by fighters calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The government denies the charge of ethnic cleansing.

"During negotiations at the president’s house on January 9, state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said AA were terrorists and instructed to crack down effectively," Tun Tun Nyi said.

"If not, others would point out that ARSA was cracked down on because it’s from a different religion and AA was not because it is an ethnic group," he said.

A government spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment.

The conflict is the latest crisis facing Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s administration, which swept to power in 2015 promising to bring an end to the country’s myriad civil wars.

Full report at:



ISIS-K bomb kill Taliban local commander in Kunar province

19 Jan 2019

A local commander of the Taliban group was killed in an explosion triggered by an Improvised Explosive Device in eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Military in the East confirmed in a statement that Mawlavi Saeedullah was killed in an explosion in Manogi district on Friday.

The statement further added that the IED was planted was by militants affiliated with the ISIS Khurasan (ISIS-K) militants in Bist area.

The anti-government armed militant groups including Taliban have not commented regarding the incident so far.

Full report at:



2 key Taliban commanders among several dead in Baghlan and Sar-e-Pul operations

18 Jan 2019

Several Taliban militants including two of their key commanders have been killed during separate operations conducted in northern Baghlan and Sar-e-Pul provinces of Afghanistan.

The 209th Shaheen Corps of the Afghan Military in the North in a statement said at least 19 Taliban militants including two of their key commanders were killed during the operations in Sayad district of Sar-e-Pul province during the past two weeks.

The statement further added that the two key Taliban commanders killed during the operations have been identified as Qari Karim and Mawlavi Yaqoub.

The 209th Shaheen Corps in a separate statement said at least 6 Taliban militants have been killed and 4 others have sustained injuries since the launch of Pamir-10 operations in Baghlan province.

Full report at:



Coalition airstrike target Taliban IED planters in Nangarhar leaving 5 dead

18 Jan 2019

A coalition airstrike targeted a group of Taliban insurgents who were planting Improvised Explosive Device on a roadside in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan leaving at least five militants dead.

According to the informed military sources “A coalition air strike killed 5 Taliban fighters as they were attempting to bury an IED in a road in Nangarhar.”

Similarly, Afghan Special Operations Forces conducted a raid in Hisarak district of Nangarhar province killing 11 Taliban fighters and confiscating several weapons.

In another operation of the Afghan Special Operations Forces in Nadir Shah Kot district of Khost province 1 Taliban fighter was killed and bomb-making material was destroyed.

Full report at:



Scores of Taliban killed in Afghan and Coalition Forces operations in Kandahar

18 Jan 2019

The Afghan and Coalition Forces conducted operations against the Taliban militants in southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan leaving scores of militants dead.

According to the informed military sources “In the past 24hrs, 28 Taliban have been killed in combined Afghan and coalition ground operations and airstrikes in Maiwand District and Nesh District in Kandahar.”

The sources further added “Additionally, during ground raids in Maiwand, insurgent vehicles and a weapons cache has been destroyed.”

The latest operations in Kandahar province have been conducted as the anti-government armed elements are attempting to destabilize the security situation in Kandahar province.

Full report at:



North America


Trump’s unfounded tweet stoking fears about Muslim “prayer rugs,” explained

Jan 18, 2019,

President Donald Trump on Friday posted an extremely dubious tweet alleging people from Muslim-majority countries are crossing the border with bad intentions, and leaving prayer rugs behind.

Citing a report that hinged on one anonymous source, Trump tweeted: “Border rancher: ‘We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal.’ Washington Examiner.”

“People coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise,” he added.

That was indeed the headline of a Washington Examiner article published on Wednesday, but the story itself presents no evidence for its central claim beyond one anonymous account — and even if it were true, prayer rugs themselves pose no threat to national security.

It’s clear Trump was using the story to stoke fears about Muslims and shore up support for his proposed wall along the southern border, something he has said he is proud to shut down the government over. The partial shutdown began on December 22, and Trump hasn’t budged from the $5.7 billion for the wall he is demanding.

The flimsy basis of the Examiner’s story

The Washington Examiner’s piece is centered on a single, anonymous rancher who presents no evidence for the claim that prayer rugs are being found along the border.

“There’s a lot of people coming in not just from Mexico,” the woman is quoted as saying in the piece. “People, the general public, just don’t get the terrorist threats of that. That’s what’s really scary. You don’t know what’s coming across. We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal. It’s not just Mexican nationals that are coming across.”

If prayer rugs were indeed found, you might expect the article to include a photo of one of them. But it doesn’t. Instead, the rancher — who admits in a video accompanying the piece that she’s never seen “Middle Easterners” crossing the border — is photographed holding a bottle.

In response to widespread criticism of the article, Susan Ferrechio, the Washington Examiner’s chief congressional correspondent, simply criticized the way others pointed out its flimsy sourcing.

Left unexplained by the article is why Muslims who presumably traveled through Mexico to cross the border would carry their prayer rugs with them for hundreds or thousands of miles, just to leave them behind in Texas.

There’s little evidence would-be terrorists are trying to enter the country through the southern border

Data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) indicates that people from Muslim-majority countries are apprehended crossing the southern border between ports of entry at vanishingly small rates.

In 2017, for instance, six Syrians, 10 Jordanians, and 14 Saudis were apprehended trying to cross the border — compared to 16,000 Guatemalans.

And of course, just because a person is from the Middle East or a Muslim who uses a prayer rug does not mean that they’re a terrorist.

A 2017 State Department report found that there is “no credible evidence terrorist groups sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.” A recent Cato Institute study found that there were zero cases of people being injured or killed on US soil by people who entered the country illegally from 1975 through the end of 2017.

Conservatives have a long history of making unfounded claims about prayer rugs

Conservatives have a storied history of using dubious stories about prayer rugs to stoke fears about Muslims entering the country through the southern border.

In July 2014, Breitbart published a piece with the screaming headline, “MUSLIM PRAYER RUG FOUND ON ARIZONA BORDER BY INDEPENDENT AMERICAN SECURITY CONTRACTORS.” The piece was accompanied with a photo of the purported “prayer rug.” But there was just one problem — close examination revealed that the object in question was in fact an Adidas soccer jersey.

At the 2014 Values Voters Summit a couple months later, then-Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst claimed that “prayer rugs have recently been found on the Texas side of the border in the brush.” But Dewhurst presented no evidence for his claim, which Politifact ultimately rated “Pants on Fire.”

Desperate times, desperate tweets

Last month, Trump decided to shut down the government instead of supporting bipartisan legislation that would’ve kept it open, but not funded his border wall.

Nearly a month later, polling indicates that a majority of Americans don’t like the shutdown and are blaming Trump for it. Separate polling indicates that Trump’s wall remains as unpopular as ever, despite the president’s efforts to convince people that the situation along the border is a crisis.

So far, Trump has shown little willingness to negotiate and has been trying to tweet his way out of it. Tweets like the prayer rug one suggest that Trump — who has a long history of making baseless, fear-mongering claims about Muslims — is resorting to increasingly desperate measures.



Trump giving ‘new life’ to Daesh, former envoy says

January 18, 2019

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops from Syria was made without deliberation, left allies “bewildered” and has rejuvenated Daesh, the official formerly in charge of fighting the militants said Friday.

Brett McGurk, who quit as America’s envoy to the anti-Daesh coalition after Trump declared victory over the group last month, warned a US withdrawal would shore up President Bashar Assad and lessen America’s leverage with Russia and Iran.

And “the Islamic State and other extremist groups will fill the void opened by our departure, regenerating their capacity to threaten our friends in Europe — as they did throughout 2016 — and ultimately our own homeland,” McGurk wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, referring to another name for Daesh.

McGurk, a Barack Obama-era appointee whom Trump kept on, said he was in the US embassy in Baghdad on December 17 when he got an urgent call from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informing him of Trump’s decision.

Two days later, Trump tweeted, “We have defeated Daesh in Syria,” referring to another acronym for Daesh.

“But that was not true, and we have continued to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State,” McGurk said.

The decision came just days after National Security Adviser John Bolton had suggested an indefinite US troop presence in Syria, and as McGurk and then defense secretary Jim Mattis met coalition partners to confirm commitments for at least the next year.

“My counterparts in coalition capitals were bewildered,” McGurk said.

“The president’s decision to leave Syria was made without deliberation, consultation with allies or Congress, assessment of risk, or appreciation of facts.”

Mattis quit after Trump’s decision.

McGurk said Trump had made his decision after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had said Istanbul would lead the fight against Daesh remnants in Syria.

But Turkey has also vowed to take action against US-backed Syrian Kurds who have conducted the fight against Daesh and lost thousands of troops as they slowly wrested territory from the militants.

“The irony is that defeating the Islamic State is what the president said from the beginning was his goal,” McGurk said.

“His recent choices, unfortunately, are already giving the Islamic State — and other American adversaries — new life.”

Just one month after Trump declared victory over Daesh, the militants claimed responsibility for a brutal attack in Syria this week.

Four Americans, including two services personnel, were among those killed when a suicide bomber hit a restaurant in the key city of Manbij in Syria’s north — the deadliest attack against US forces since they first deployed in the war-torn nation four years ago.

The Pentagon on Friday identified three of those killed.

Full report at:



Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

January 18, 2019

WASHINGTON: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday excoriated her political nemesis, President Donald Trump, for “outing” her commercial trip to Afghanistan after barring her from using a military aircraft, forcing her to scrap it entirely over security concerns.

The brawl between the no-nonsense Republican leader and the take-no-prisoners Democrat — who is now just two heartbeats away from the presidency — is the latest round in their shutdown showdown.

The federal government has been shuttered for four weeks over Trump’s insistence that a wider budget measure include billions of dollars for a wall on the border with Mexico — and Pelosi’s refusal to do so.

Their spat spilled into the diplomatic arena on Thursday when, after Pelosi suggested that Trump postpone his State of the Union address until the government reopens, the president grounded her military flight.

Pelosi accused Trump of being “very irresponsible” in breaching security protocol.

“We had a report from Afghanistan that the president outing our trip had made the scene on the ground much more dangerous because it’s just a signal to the bad actors that we’re coming,” she told reporters.

The administration strongly denies that it “leaked” any plans about the trip to a war zone.

“The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat-out lie,” a senior White House official said.

The US government shutdown, which has left about 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck, is now the longest in the country’s history — and there is no sign of a compromise.

The Office of Management and Budget reportedly issued a memorandum saying that “under no circumstance during a government shutdown” can a congressional delegation use government aircraft for travel.

However, Republican Representative Lee Zeldin led a delegation to Iraq and other countries since the shutdown began.

Pelosi’s office sounded off on the administration’s handling of her trip, which had not been announced for security reasons.

The State Department released an updated assessment stressing that Trump’s announcement of the Pelosi travel “had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops,” her spokesman Drew Hammill said.

“This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

Democratic lawmakers have expressed outrage.

“As a former member of the Intelligence Committee who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, disclosing ANY Members’ travel into a war zone is disgraceful and dangerous,” tweeted House Democrat Jan Schakowsky.

“This is unprecedented.”

Trump lashed out at Pelosi once again on Twitter, asking why she and other Democrats would leave the country “on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid.”

And then his re-election campaign team released a tongue-in-cheek shutdown-related campaign fundraising request.

Full report at:



US has legitimate reasons for leaving Syria: Ex-general


By Umar Farooq


The U.S. has legitimate reasons for deciding to withdraw its troops from Syria, a former brigadier general said Friday.

Mark Kimmitt, who also served as a top defense official under former President George W. Bush, spoke at a panel discussion hosted by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

"There remain legitimate reasons, and overwhelmingly positive reasons, for the U.S. to be getting out of Syria rather than staying in it," said Kimmitt.

Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump surprised many, including his own cabinet, when he announced plans to withdraw all American forces from Syria.

The decision came during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which the two leaders agreed on the need for more effective coordination over the civil war-torn country.

Kimmitt laid out the reasons for defending the decision, saying that for one thing, the Daesh terrorist group is no longer a threat to the U.S.

"ISIS may not be defeated. [But] it is certainly degraded. The caliphate is gone," said Kimmitt, using another name for the Daesh. "They are not an existential threat to the United States."

Echoing comments by U.S. Special Representative to Syria James Jeffrey, the former defense official also noted that the nature of the U.S. alliance with the YPG/PKK terrorist group was "temporary, transactional, and tactical".

"This notion that somehow the YPG are brave, democratic-seeking allies of the United States, I think, needs to be questioned," he added.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people. The YPG is the group's Syrian branch.

Kimmitt also said the U.S. did not want to get into a confrontation with Turkey, a NATO ally.

Full report at:



Former US anti-ISIS envoy: Turkey 'not a reliable partner' in Syria

Joyce Karam

January 19, 2019

Only three weeks ago, Brett McGurk was leading US efforts against ISIS as the special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition. But soon after resigning, the former official is accusing Donald Trump of reckless decision making in both its abrupt withdrawal from Syria and depending on Turkey as a “reliable partner”.

Mr McGurk, who resigned on December 22 in protest against Donald Trump’s Syria withdrawal, described in a Washington Post column a callous and chaotic process behind the decision. He details receiving a call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on December 17, three days after Mr Trump called his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and two days before making the decision public.

In that call, and while the former envoy was in Iraq, Mr Pompeo “informed us that there had been a sudden change in plans: President Trump, after a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, planned to declare victory over the Islamic State and direct our forces to withdraw from Syria.”

In his attempt to fix matters with coalition members, Mr McGurk writes he discovered US “counterparts in coalition capitals were bewildered. Our fighting partners in the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), whom I had visited regularly on the ground in Syria, expressed shock and then denial” and hoped that Mr Trump would change his mind.

But that reversal never materialised, leading to Mr McGurk’s exit just days after the resignation of US Secretary of Defence James Mattis. Mr McGurk, who served three US Presidents, said Mr Trump’s decision to leave Syria “was made without deliberation, consultation with allies or Congress, assessment of risk, or appreciation of facts”.

He pointed to inaccuracies in Mr Trump's reasoning behind the withdrawal such as declaring the defeat of ISIS in Syria and claiming that Saudi Arabia had “now agreed to spend the necessary money needed to help rebuild Syria.” CNN reported that US military leaders had informed Mr Trump that ISIS was not defeated in Syria; the group carried out its most vicious attack killing four US troops on Wednesday.

But worst of all, according to Mr McGurk, is that the US President “made this snap decision after a phone call with [the] Turkish President.” “He bought Mr Erdogan’s proposal that Turkey take on the fight against the Islamic State deep inside Syria," he wrote.

The former envoy wrote: “Turkey can’t operate hundreds of miles from its border in hostile territory without substantial US military support.” He also called the 20-mile safe zone that Mr Trump has agreed with Mr Erdogan as another seemingly rushed decision “with no process or analysis.”

Mr McGurk criticised Turkey harshly, writing “the Syrian opposition forces it backs are marbled with extremists and number too few to constitute an effective challenge to Assad or a plausible alternative to the SDF.” Idlib, one area where Turkey enjoys influence in Northern Syria, has in recent weeks seen a rise in Al Qaeda (HTS) influence against the more moderate groups.

The former envoy also warned that the more “Turkey expands its reach in Syria, the faster our Arab partners in the region move toward Damascus."

In a damning conclusion, Mr McGurk. who is now a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, said Mr Trump’s decisions “are already giving the Islamic State - and other American adversaries - new life.”

Faysal Itani, a scholar who studies Syria at the Atlantic Council, called Mr McGurk’s op-ed “well-argued and is right in outlining that ISIS has not been defeated yet, Assad is staying, and a US withdrawal would bring a great deal of uncertainty and competition to northeast Syria that may undermine the gains against ISIS.” But Mr Itani also singled out problems with Mr McGurk's analysis, beginning with its sympathy to the controversial Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

“It is not self-evident that the PYD is clearly preferable to all other candidates for controlling this territory, and therefore not self-evident that the US should remain in Syria to ensure its dominance” Mr Itani told The National.

Full report at:





UN experts: Fuel from Iran is financing Yemen’s Houthis

19 January 2019

Fuel is being shipped illegally from Iran to Houthi militias in Yemen to finance their war against the government, according to a report by a UN panel of experts seen by AFP.

The findings are expected to again raise questions about Iran's support for the Houthis in the war.

In its final report for 2018, the panel said it had "identified a small number of companies, both within Yemen and outside, which operated as front companies," using fake documents to conceal fuel donations.

The fuel was "for the benefit of a listed individual" who is on a UN sanctions blacklist, it added.

"The revenue from the sale of this fuel was used to finance the Houthi war effort," said the 85-page report sent to the Security Council.

The panel found that the "fuel was loaded from ports in the Islamic Republic of Iran under false documentation" to avoid UN inspections of the cargo, it added.

The experts have in past reports pointed to a possible Iranian link to missiles fired by Houthi rebels at Saudi Arabia, after they traveled to Riyadh to examine weapons debris.

In a previous report, the experts said they were investigating monthly fuel donations from Iran valued at $30 million.

Iran has repeatedly denied that it is providing military support to the Houthis.

The experts also said the Arab Coalition backing Yemen’s government made “significant progress” against the Houthis in 2018.

At the same time, the experts said “the Houthi leadership has continued to consolidate its hold over government and non-government institutions.”



Netanyahu urges Romania to move embassy to Jerusalem

19 January 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Romania and other EU countries on Friday to follow Washington’s lead and move their embassies to the disputed city of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu made the call during talks in Jerusalem with Romanian Prime Minister, Viorica Dancila, who took this month over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.

“I hope you will act to stop the bad resolutions against Israel in the EU, and also of course to move your embassy and other embassies to Jerusalem,” Netanyahu told Dancila in comments relayed by the Israeli premier’s office. “We wait for you in Jerusalem.”

Last year the Romanian government, supported by the speaker of its parliament, adopted a draft proposal to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That came after US President Donald Trump recognized the city as capital of Israel in May and moved Washington’s embassy there, breaking with decades of diplomatic convention that the final status of the city should be the outcome of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

But Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who has frequently clashed with the government, opposed the Romanian move in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and called for Dancila’s resignation.

During a visit to Jerusalem in April 2018, Dancila said she favored moving the embassy but had insufficient domestic support to do so.

Guatemala was the first country to follow in America’s footsteps, and Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1, has said his country will also move its embassy to Jerusalem.

In December, Australia recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but said it would not shift its embassy from Tel Aviv until a peace settlement is signed.

The status of the city, holy to Muslims, Christians, and Jews is one of the thorniest of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Full report at:



UN monitors biased toward Saudi Arabia: Yemen's Houthis

Jan 18, 2019

Yemeni officials have voiced concern over a UN mission’s ignorance of Saudi violations of the Hudaydah truce deal.

Yemen's Supreme Revolutionary Committee head Mohammed Ali al-Houthi highlighted the failure of the UN mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) to hold the Saudis accountable after one of its own vehicles was targeted in the port city of Hudaydah. The attack, which happened earlier on Thursday, caused no casualties. The UN declined to identify the party behind the shooting.

Al-Houthi believes Saudi-led forces were responsible for the attack and the UN's silence may indicate the monitoring mission is not prepared to carry out its duties correctly.

Al-Houthi suggested that the silence was more probably a case of the UN's intentional bias in favor of the Saudi-led forces.

Supreme Political Council member Mohammed al-Bukhaiti also echoed al-Houthi's comments, adding that the UNMHA chief monitor Patrick Cammaert has "sought to see the Stockholm agreement fail" ever since he was appointed to the mission.

"We will not accept dialogue around increasing the number of international monitors until the problem of Patrick Cammaert is resolved," said al-Bukhaiti.

Also on Thursday, seven Yemeni army personnel were killed following two Saudi airstrikes north of Hudaydah, according to Yemen's Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree.

Saree described the attacks as a blatant violation of the truce and urged UN monitors to hold the coalition accountable for the attack.

He further highlighted that vague responses from the UN only impeded the Yemeni military's right to retaliate.

Yemen’s warring parting withdrew forces from strategic port city of Hudaydah following a peace deal signed in the Swedish capital of Stockholm on December 13.

Hudaydah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, has seen some of the heaviest fighting in the Saudi-led war, which Riyadh began in March 2015.

The war initially consisted of an aerial campaign, but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground mercenaries to Yemen.

Since the onset of the aggression, Yemeni forces, backed by Popular Committees fighters, have defended the impoverished nation.

Full report at:



Houthi militia ‘must respect neutrality of aid workers’

January 19, 2019

NEW YORK: UN experts monitoring sanctions against Yemen are recommending that the Security Council urge the Houthis to respect the neutrality and independence of humanitarian workers.

The Associated Press has obtained the nine recommendations the panel of experts made in their latest report to the council.

The recommendations came as UN monitors try to strengthen a cease-fire in the port of Hodeidah, key to the delivery of 70 percent of Yemen’s imports and humanitarian aid, and arrange a withdrawal of rival forces from the area agreed to by the government and the Houthis on Dec. 13.

While the agreement in Stockholm was limited, if fully implemented it could offer a potential breakthrough in Yemen’s four-year civil war.

The experts asked the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Yemen to engage with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office, Yemen’s government and donors to “enhance” the UN mission inspecting vessels heading to ports in Yemen for illegal arms so it can “identify networks using false documentation to evade inspection.”

They also suggested that Guterres organize a conference with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank as well as other “key actors to best manage cash flows and imports of goods,” using the principles of the UN Global Compact on how companies should conduct business.

And the experts recommended that the secretary-general ask the UN inspection mission and monitors at the port of Hodeidah “to share information on potential cases of acts that threaten the peace, stability and security of Yemen,” including violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the UN arms embargo, and obstructions of humanitarian assistance.

The experts also asked the sanctions committee to consider sending three letters. One would be to Abu Al-Abbas, a militia commander in the flashpoint city of Taiz, asking him to transfer artifacts and items from the Taiz National Museum in his custody to Yemen’s government.

A second would be to alert the International Maritime Organization to “the risks posed by anti-ship cruise missiles and water-borne improvised explosive devices in the Red Sea and to encourage it to discuss these threats with the commercial shipping industry with the aim of developing suitable precautions and countermeasures.”

Full report at:



Israeli fire wounds 14 as thousands of Palestinians protest at Gaza border

January 18, 2019

GAZA CITY: Thousands of Palestinians have gathered for a weekly protest along the fence between Gaza and Israel.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says that Israeli gunfire wounded 14 Palestinians and that three medics suffered from a barrage of tear gas that targeted their ambulance.

The protest appeared subdued compared to last week’s violence, in which one woman was killed and more than two dozen Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were wounded, prompting retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel would decide whether to allow the latest delivery of economic aid from Qatar to flow into Gaza based on the level of escalation Friday.

Israel has been allowing Qatar to transfer batches of $15 million in aid, intended for the salaries of Gaza’s civil servants, directly to Hamas since November. But the shipment was delayed earlier this month after a rocket was fired from Gaza that caused no casualties but threatened to spike tensions between the bitter enemies.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers have orchestrated the weekly protests, in part to call for the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed when the group seized power in 2007. The blockade has devastated the local economy in Gaza, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent.

Israeli forces have killed more than 185 Palestinians and wounded thousands since the demonstrations began last spring. An Israeli soldier was killed in July.

Earlier Friday, Israeli forces demolished the family home of a Palestinian charged with fatally stabbing an American-Israeli settler several months ago.

Israeli soldiers surrounded Khalil Jabarin’s home in the southern West Bank village of Yatta and destroyed the apartment with explosives after his family cleared out.

Jabarin, 17, was accused of killing the US-born settler activist Ari Fuld at a mall near a West Bank settlement in September. Footage showed Fuld firing at his attacker before collapsing.

The military says dozens of Palestinians protesting the demolition hurled rocks toward the forces, who responded with “riot dispersal means,” which usually refers to rubber-tipped bullets and tear gas.

Full report at:



Turkey sentences detained judge who won human rights award to 10 years

January 18, 2019

ANKARA: A Turkish court sentenced a judge who previously won an award for human rights to 10 years in prison over links to the network Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday.

Murat Arslan, who has been detained for 22 months, was convicted of membership in an armed terrorist organization, after prosecutors charged him with use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock, Anadolu said.

Arslan has denied the charges and said any evidence that he had used the app was “fabricated,” Anadolu said.

The government says the outlawed app was widely used by followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the attempted coup that saw rogue soldiers commandeer tanks and aircraft, attacking parliament and killing some 250 unarmed civilians.

Gulen, a former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has condemned the coup and denied any involvement with it.

The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, a decision that prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body.

Arslan was the former head of Turkey’s Judges and Prosecutors Union, a civil legal association that was shut down by government decree in the wide crackdown that followed the coup attempt.

Since the failed coup, authorities have formally arrested some 77,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 150,000 soldiers, civil servants and more over alleged links to the coup attempt, including alleged users of ByLock.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown, saying President Tayyip Erdogan was using the putsch as a pretext to quash dissent.

Full report at:





Peshawar massacre survivor awarded for anti-extremism work

January 18, 2019

A Pakistani youth activist who survived the brutal 2014 attack on Peshawar that killed 132 schoolchildren is to be given a UK award recognising his “outstanding” anti-radicalisation work.

Ahmad Nawaz has spoken to thousands of UK students where he has urged local communities to collectively tackle extremism. He is currently working with the UK’s home office and will become only the third Pakistani to receive a Point of Light distinction.

In a letter commending Mr Nawaz’s work, prime minister Theresa May said: “The work that you do to educate young people about extremism and radicalisation is invaluable – and the fact that it comes from your own experience is testament to your incredible personal strength and resolve.”

He was recently appointed to the board of a UK counter-extremism board.

“I am deeply honoured to be recognised as a ‘Point of Light’ by the Prime Minister. It has propelled me to do more of the positive work that I do for the society. I would like to encourage other young people to do the same in order to have a society free of extremism and violence,” said Mr Nawaz.

In December 2014 six Taliban gunmen, all foreigners, stormed an Army public school in Peshawar killing 149 including 132 children.

The Points of Lights are daily awards that recognise volunteers who make a difference to their community and “whose story can inspire others to creative innovative solutions to social challenge.”

It originally began in the US under president George H.W Bush and today more than 6,000 US Points of Lights awards have been given.



Qureshi raises Kashmir issue during talks with UNGA president

Jan 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday raised the Kashmir issue during his meeting with the visiting UN General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espionosa.

Espionosa arrived in Islamabad on her first official trip to the Asia-Pacific region since assuming office in September last year. She met Qureshi in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the two sides also held talks on different issues.

Qureshi said that he discussed the regional and international issues.

including Kashmir with the UNGA chief and "apprised her of Pakistan's grave concern over the gross human rights violations" in Kashmir.

He called for implementing the UN Security Council's resolutions on Kashmir in letter and spirit to resolve this longstanding issue.

Qureshi alleged that India was continuously violating the ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) and urged the international community to help resolve the issue.

He said Pakistan agreed with the UNGA president that a strong and vibrant UN was vital for lasting peace and stability in the world.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that the two sides had useful discussions on the on-going process of UN Security Council reform and "the need for this process to be led by Member States and consensus-based way forward”.

Qureshi also briefed her about Pakistan hosting more than three million Afghan refugees for the last four decades.

He said Pakistan is actively engaged with Afghanistan for a long and durable solution to the Afghan conflict as it believes peace in the neighbouring country is also in its own best interest.

Espinosa appreciated Pakistan for hosting the Afghan refugees.

Espionosa will be in Islamabad till January 22 and will call on President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Full report at:



India lodges strong protest with Pakistan over court order on Gilgit-Baltistan

Jan 18, 2019

NEW DELHI: India on Friday summoned the deputy high commissioner of Pakistan and lodged a strong protest on a recent order by Pakistan Supreme Court extending its jurisdiction over Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Pakistani official was conveyed that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which also includes the so-called 'GilgitBaltistan', "has been, is and shall remain an integral part of India", the ministry of external affairs said.

In an order, the Pakistan Supreme Court has said that its jurisdiction and power extend to Gilgit-Baltistan.

"The deputy high commissioner of Pakistan was summoned today and a strong protest was lodged on recent order by Supreme Court of Pakistan on the so-called 'Gilgit-Baltistan' which is an interference in India's internal affairs," the MEA said.

It also said Pakistan was asked to immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation.

"Pakistan government or judiciary have no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it. Any action to alter the status of these occupied territories by Pakistan has no legal basis whatsoever," the MEA said in a statement.

It said India rejected such continued attempts by Pakistan to bring material change in these "occupied territories and to camouflage grave human rights violations, exploitation and sufferings of the people living there".

Full report at:



Religious vocals to replace soft music on Pakistan International Airlines flights

January 16, 2019

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national flag carrier of Pakistan, will stop playing soft music or muzak during flights.

Pakistani news channel ARY News reported that the airline’s Chief Operating Officer Air Marshal Arshad Malik has ordered that the music be replaced by Qaseeda Burda Shareef (religious praise for the prophet of Islam).

It’s not clear whether the decision has been influenced by the Wahhabi Islam’s sense of piety. Hardline Islamists consider music as haraam (sinful) and denounce music as a vice that leads people astray.

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What is clear is that decision is part of PIA’s revamp plan. In deep debt and suffering recurring losses, PIA has been asked to shape up and soon after taking over Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked the PIA chairman to submit a detailed plan to revive the ailing airline. At the time, PIA’s total losses had ballooned to over Rs 400 billion.

PIA has been in news recently for negative reasons. Its staffers have been caught smuggling drugs to the UK. Nearly 200 of its officers were dispatched home for being in the job after submitting bogus certificates. This included at least seven flying officers who were not even graduates, five of them had not even gone to college.

Last year, a pilot and a crew member were engaged in a public brawl over smuggling. The flight from Lahore to London took off 3 hours past departure time because the pilot refused to allow a crew member to fly, openly accusing the latter of smuggling.

A flight steward of PIA was caught by the French police in Paris for smuggling heroin. That staffer is in French prison after being sentenced for 2 years in jail.

Full report at:



PIA plane escapes being hit by mysterious drone

January 19, 2019

KARACHI: A drone was sighted hovering over a Sukkur-bound commercial aircraft of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) only minutes after it took off from the Karachi airport on Friday.

Sources said the PIA flight PK-536, an ATR aircraft, was at an altitude of 4,300 feet when the drone emerged 100 feet above it for a brief period at 5.27pm. They said the drone was a three-foot dark purple object. It was also seen on the radar screen of the air traffic control that immediately communicated the information to the Pakistan Air Force as per the standard operating procedure.

A PIA spokesperson confirmed the incident and said the pilot of PK-536 witnessed the drone at a very close distance. He said the plane landed at Sukkur safely and returned to Karachi the same evening as per schedule.

He said the incident had been reported to the Civil Aviation Authority and other authorities concerned but so far the PIA was not communicated anything about it.

Full report at:



Pakistan likely to host Taliban talks in Islamabad

January 19, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday decided to host the next round of talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban in Islamabad during a meeting between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the visiting US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad at the Foreign Office (FO).

According to reports, during the meeting, the US envoy informed the foreign minister that the Afghan Taliban did not want to sit with the Afghan government nor were they agreeing to a ceasefire. The envoy requested Pakistan’s assistance in this matter. Reportedly, the foreign minister agreed to invite the Afghan Taliban to hold talks with the US in Islamabad. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar are also likely to be part of the talks.

The foreign minister assured the special US representative that Pakistan will continue its sincere efforts to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process to bring peace and stability to the region. He said that establishing peace in Afghanistan is a shared responsibility of all the stakeholders.

“We have a shared responsibility to work towards bringing peace in Afghanistan,” he said.

Khalilzad, who is currently on his fifth visit to the country since assuming the post, thanked the foreign minister for Pakistan’s continued efforts for arranging talks between the US and the Taliban. He said that the US leadership values Pakistan’s endeavours for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. A US delegation comprising the representatives of American State Department and Defence and National Security Council also attended the meeting.

Khalilzad also called on Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday who reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. He briefed the prime minister on his recent visits to the region to muster support for the Afghan reconciliation process. PM Khan reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Khalilzad held meetings with Pakistan’s civil and military leadership. During a meeting with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Khalilzad discussed his recent engagements in the region. He lauded Pakistan’s efforts in facilitating direct talks between the Taliban and the US in Abu Dhabi last month. The foreign secretary reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process to realise the shared goal of peace and stability in the region. It was noted that taking the Afghan peace process forward remained a shared responsibility. Both sides agreed that ultimately the intra-Afghan dialogue would be vital to agree upon the contours of a future Afghan polity where Afghanistan becomes a stable and prosperous country and at peace with its neighbours.

The US delegation headed by Khalilzad and Commander Resolute Support Mission General Austin Scott Miller also met Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters (GHQ). Regional security environment and Afghan peace and reconciliation process was discussed.

The delegation appreciated Pakistan’s efforts towards the peace process. The army chief reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured continued efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region.

Full report at:



PM, Republican Sajid Tarar discuss Muslim community’s role in US

January 19, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani-American Republican Party activist and worker Sajid Tarar, along with American cricketer Jessy Singh, called on Prime Minister Imran Khan at his office on Friday.

During the meeting, Jessy Singh expressed gratitude to the premier over the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor on behalf of the Sikh community.

The role of the Muslim community in the United States (US) also came under discussion.

Sindh Governor Imran Ismail and Special Assistant to PM on Political Affairs Naeemul Haq were present on the occasion as well.



Military courts needed by nation, not army: ISPR

JANUARY 19, 2019

Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor Friday said the military courts have not been set up on the army’s wish but were needed by the nation and approved by the parliament following a national and political consensus.

“There was a wave of terrorism in the country. After the 2008 military operations gained momentum, many terrorists were arrested,” the ISPR DG told a private TV channel. “Country’s criminal justice system at that time was not quite effective in dealing with the terrorism cases, hence the military courts were established after a unanimous approval from the parliament,” he said. “It was decided through national consensus that military courts should be established and death penalty be revived,” he said.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said 717 cases were referred to the military courts in the last four years, 646 of which have already been disposed of. He said there is a transparent system through which the cases are transferred to the military courts. “The accused are also provided an opportunity to defend themselves” he revealed. “These cases have no link with the missing persons,” he asserted.

The ISPR chief said terrorism incidents have decreased after the establishment of the military courts which have also created a sense of fear among the terrorists. “Military courts have sent a clear message to the terror outfits, militants and their handlers that they will be punished,” he said.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said it is up to parliament to decide if an extension should be granted to the military courts. “The decision on extension to military courts rests with the parliament,” he said, adding that the lawmakers will decide the fate of the military courts “keeping in view the current security situation, and the impact produced by these courts”. “We will do what parliament tells us to,” he said, adding that the previous extension to the military courts was also given by the public representatives. “The decision has to be taken with consensus,” he said. “However, it needs to be seen whether the country’s criminal justice system has now become effective enough to deal with the terrorism cases,” he added.

Full report at:



Arab World


Saudi Arabia Pumps Money into Restive Shi'ite Quarter of Awamiya It Once Flattened

JANUARY 17, 2019

AWAMIYA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - The old quarter of Awamiya, a town on Saudi Arabia’s oil-producing eastern shore that was once the centre of Shi’ite protests, was levelled in 2017 following a security campaign against gunmen the authorities accuse of having links to Iran.

The district’s maze of mud brick homes and narrow alleyways, which militants used for years to launch surprise attacks against police, have now been replaced by a shopping complex, events hall and expansive plazas dotted with palm trees.

The Riyadh government, supportive of a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam that considers Shi’ite Muslims heretics, hopes investing in the broader area of Qatif after decades of alleged neglect will finally snuff out the violence.

These efforts are a test for the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has struck a conciliatory tone toward the kingdom’s Shi’ite minority while confronting arch-rival Iran in a decades-long struggle for influence across the Middle East.

Shi’ites have long complained of discrimination they say keeps them from senior government jobs, reduces state investment in their areas and leads to closures of centers of worship.

Security forces have repeatedly quashed mass protests in Qatif, starting with a 1979 uprising inspired by the Iranian revolution of the same year. At the time, another district in Awamiya was destroyed and turned into a parking lot.

In 2011, Arab Spring uprisings in other Arab countries sparked more fighting, drawing Qatif deeper into Saudi Arabia’s regional contest with Iran and ultimately leading to the demolition of a district in Awamiya known as al-Musawara.

The government has spent more than $60 million to rebuild the 18-hectare (45-acre) al-Musawara and another $230 million to compensate residents for hundreds of razed homes. More money is being pumped in to rehabilitate schools, hospitals and malls as well as beaches, a fish market, and an old fort.


Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, won Western plaudits for social and economic reforms that include committing the country to a more moderate form of Islam than the semi-official Wahhabi school, which has often been criticized as the ideology of radical Islamists worldwide.

But the reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent and a purge of top princes and businessmen on corruption charges. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last October has further raised doubts about whether MbS is serious about real change.

Following decades of repression, any attempt to improve sectarian relations will take time. And it is likely to face suspicion from Shi’ites, say Western diplomats and analysts.

“If the government is going after people like Khashoggi and the business elite in that harsh way, then just imagine how they would go after some Shia who makes trouble,” said Toby Matthiesen, a research fellow of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Since becoming defense minister in 2015, the crown prince has taken a more assertive stance against Tehran, launching a war against Yemen’s Iranian-aligned Houthis and cutting ties with Qatar in part over accusations it is cozying up to Iran.

He has tried to distance that from domestic unrest, telling an American magazine last year that Riyadh’s problem was with the ideology of the Iranian regime, not Shi’ites. But critics say the government’s heavy-handed tactics have not changed.

Five human rights activists from Qatif, including a woman, are facing the death penalty in a trial condemned by rights groups and the United Nations.


A military vehicle sitting at the edge of al-Musawara, now rebranded Wasat (Central) Awamiya, is a reminder of street battles that left buildings pockmarked with bullet holes.

A day before Reuters visited the quarter on a government media tour last week, six people were killed in a security operation in another part of Qatif, raising concerns that militants quashed in one area will pop up in others.

Fahad Jubeir, mayor of Eastern Province, said he is confident that residents will embrace the government initiative.

“I expect it will have the magical effect of changing the area from a shelter for terrorists into a beacon of civilization,” Jubeir said, voicing hope that all traces of violence would disappear “very soon”.

A project manager said designers consulted with locals to faithfully replicate historical architecture amid concerns over the demolition of centuries-old buildings in a region where heritage is rarely preserved.

Gone are the covered passageways too tight for vehicles to pass, replaced by more than 5.5 hectares of green spaces.

Matthiesen, the scholar who has written a book about sectarianism in the Gulf, said even if residents are unsatisfied they are unlikely to resist amid growing repression.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s somehow going well or that it’s a new approach to the Shi’a. There’s just a general sense of frustration and fatigue,” he said.



Prince Khalid: Saudi Arabia strongly condemns targeting of UN team by Houthis

18 January 2019

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, said on Friday that the kingdom strongly condemns the targeting of United Nations personnel by the pro-Iranian Houthi militias in Yemen.

In a tweet, Prince Khalid said: “Houthi militias violated their signed commitments in Stockholm and continue to flout International Law and escalate their aggression against the Yemeni people.”

On Thursday, the Houthi militias fired at the convoy of Patrick Cammaert, the UN’s head of ceasefire monitor group in Hodeidah, while he was on his way back to Hodeidah’s downtown following a meeting with the legitimate government’s delegation.

Following the attack, the UN spokesperson tweeted confirming that the UN team was safe.



20 Syrian civilians killed as new US-led airstrikes target Dayr al-Zawr

Jan 18, 2019

Nearly two dozen civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed after the US-led coalition purportedly fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group carried out a series of aerial assaults in Syria’s troubled eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr.

Local sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Syria’s official news agency SANA on Friday that 20 people were killed when US-led warplanes bombarded residential buildings in al-Baghuz al-Tahtani village.

The US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against what are said to be Daesh targets inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

The military alliance has repeatedly been accused of targeting and killing civilians. It has also been largely incapable of achieving its declared goal of destroying Daesh.

Syria has on numerous occasions condemned airstrikes by the US-led coalition, asking the UN to force Washington and its allies to put an end to their military intervention in the Arab country.    

On November 13, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates stated that continued airstrikes by the US-led coalition against ordinary people and civilian targets show the alliance’s reckless disregard for the UN Charter as well as international law.

The ministry, in two separate letters addressed to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the rotating president of the Security Council Francisco Antonio Cortorreal, said that the crimes being perpetrated by the US-led coalition attested to the fact that the alliance had only sought to nurture Daesh and help it expand.

The ministry then called on the UN Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities, and adopt immediate and effective measure to stop US-led airstrikes, mass killings and systematic destruction of Syria’s infrastructure.

It also demanded the establishment of an independent and impartial international mechanism to investigate the crimes, punish the perpetrators and compensate the families of victims.

Full report at:



Saudi artists draw inspiration from Islam

January 18, 2019

JEDDAH: The work of Saudi sculptor Wafa Alqunibit is on display in a Jeddah art gallery. A small glass box holds objects that have the appearance, shape and texture of dates. Only they are wrought from metal and glint silver and gold.

Alqunibit concedes that art can sometimes be a taboo subject in Saudi society, but says her work has its place.

“I do this to promote and represent our culture and religion as I belong to a very religious family. We have our freedom and we have open minds and I just wanted to portray this image to the world,” she told Arab News.

Her Instagram feed shows other examples of her art, including sculptures featuring the distinctive ringed and slightly curled horns of the Arabian oryx, and videos of her carving, sanding and sawing using machinery that can be seen in any carpentry or masonry workshop.

But her journey toward the arts — specifically sculpture — has not been straightforward.

“I went to Portland (in the US) to complete my doctorate in human resources. But I ended up changing my major to arts and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and they accepted me as a painter.”

But her professors thought she had different strengths — with one telling her she was born to be a tough person.

“At first I thought he was referring to me as an aggressive person, but later when I started sculpting I found out what he meant.”

She uses her work to communicate with people, especially those who misunderstand Islam, and recalled living in the US at a difficult time for Muslims.

“I took support from the arts, to tell people what we really are and now my artwork is displayed in so many galleries and I have been given the title of religious artist.”

Another artist taking inspiration from culture and religion is 26-year-old author Allaa Awad, who has taken the 99 names of Allah and turned them into poetry.

Her debut work, “Ninety-Nine: The Higher Power,” includes poems about purity, mercy, blessings and peace.

“I have encountered many people in life. They have a negative concept about life and God and I just wanted to turn that around and put my own perceptions of what I think God is, who He really is and how we should perceive Him,” she told Arab News.

She also experienced a struggle in her artistic journey, like Alqunibit did, but in a different way.

Full report at:



Syria’s Manbij attack victims include daughter of US police official

19 January 2019

One of the four Americans killed in a suicide bomb attack in Syria this week was a Navy sailor and married mother of two whose father is a high-ranking officer in the New York State Police, officials said Friday.

The attack targeted US-led coalition forces in the northern Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday. Manbij has been held by US-backed fighters allied to the Kurdish YPG militia since they took it from ISIS in 2016. It is located near areas held by Russian-backed Syrian government forces and by anti-Assad fighters backed by Turkey.

The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in Wednesday’s attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij.

They are Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, of Pine Plains, New York, and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.

The attack, claimed by ISIS, also wounded three US troops and was the deadliest assault on US troops in Syria since American forces went into the country in 2015.

The Pentagon’s statement said Kent was from upstate New York but didn’t give a hometown. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Friday that she was from Pine Plains and was the daughter of state police field commander Col. Stephen Smith, the agency’s third-highest position.

Full report at:



Divisions overshadow Lebanon’s Arab summit as few leaders come to Beirut

18 January 2019

Divisions among Arab states over Syria, and internal Lebanese disputes, have overshadowed a summit to be held in Beirut this weekend, with several leaders who had planned to come now staying away.

At least eight heads of state were originally expected in Beirut, said a source in the organising committee, but only the Somali and Mauritanian presidents will now join Lebanese President Michel Aoun in attending.

A big point of contention, in a region plagued by bellicose politics, is whether to welcome Syria back into the Arab fold now that President Bashar al-Assad has restored control over most of his country.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, at a pre-summit meeting on Friday, called for Syria to return to “our embrace” in the Arab League after being suspended for seven years.

The group’s secretary general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, was cited by Lebanese state media on Thursday as saying there was “no Arab agreement over the return of Syria”.

The issue has played into divisions inside Lebanon, as has a row over Libya’s attendance, harking back to the disappearance of a Lebanese cleric there in the 1970s.

Lebanese leaders had hoped to agree a new government before the summit to showcase a fresh political dynamic after months of gridlock. But government formation talks drag on amid fears for the Lebanese economy.

Having closed down many Beirut streets, shutting schools and businesses in the city centre, the summit was on Friday portrayed in Lebanese media as a let down.

“The summit of excuses and Arab disappointment,” was the headline in al-Jumhuriya daily newspaper. That of another daily, al-Nahar, was: “Beirut’s shock... a summit without presidents”.

Still, some of the 20 countries taking part in the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit are sending prime ministers, foreign ministers or finance ministers, and officials played down the notion that the meeting would be poorly attended.

“It doesn’t take away from the importance of the issues (to be decided at the meeting),” said the Arab League assistant secretary general Hussam Zaki.

Syria and Libya disputes

Although the economic summit has a lower profile than the Arab League summit, to be held in Tunisia in March, it still attracted numerous leaders when it was last held, in Saudi Arabia, in 2013.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011, but some members are pushing for its reinstatement and others have reopened shuttered embassies in Damascus.

In Lebanon, where Syrian forces were present for about three decades, the extent of relations with Damascus remains controversial.

Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah fought alongside Assad in Syria and wants Arab states to normalize ties with Damascus. Some other Lebanese parties are wary of Damascus’ role.

“No Arabs without Damascus,” was the headline on Friday in the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper.

Meanwhile, members of the Amal party, a Hezbollah ally, on Sunday tore down a Libyan flag near the summit venue and burned it. They are angry over the disappearance of Shi’ite cleric Imam Musa al-Sadr while visiting Libya in 1978.

Libya was then ruled by Muammar Gaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011, but Amal politicians accuse the internationally recognized government in Tripoli of not cooperating with investigations into Sadr’s disappearance.

The Libyan government has boycotted the summit in protest and pointed out that thousands of Libyans also disappeared under Gaddafi’s four decades of autocratic rule.

“I don’t think this was necessary. It’s just two or three presidents,” said chocolate shop employee Mustafa Shatila in Beirut, bemoaning the closure of streets.

Full report at:



Bahraini court gives prison sentences to three more anti-regime activists, revokes their citizenship

Jan 18, 2019

A court in Bahrain has handed down prison sentences to three anti-regime protesters and stripped them of their citizenship as the ruling Al Khalifah regime does not shy away from its heavy clampdown on political dissidents and pro-democracy activists in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

The court sentenced the first two defendants to ten years in jail each, while the third received a seven-year prison sentence after the trio was found guilty of “joining a terrorist group and traveling to Iraq in 2017 to receive military training.”

The three convicts were later stripped of their Bahraini citizenship.

Female inmate goes on hunger strike at Bahraini jail over ill-treatment

Meanwhile, a female dissident has launched an open-ended hunger strike at a detention center in Bahrain to protest her dire situation and mistreatment by prison authorities.

Her son-in-law and London-based Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, who is the founder of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said high-profile activist Hajer Mansoor Hassan could no longer tolerate inhumane conditions and degrading treatment, which include being denied phone calls, at the Women’s Detention Center in Isa Town.

Earlier this month, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described Mansoor Hassan’s imprisonment and that of two other members of Alwadaei’s family as unlawful.

The body of independent human rights experts stated that Alwadaei’s relatives were “deprived of their liberty, interrogated and prosecuted for their family ties with him and that these were acts of reprisals.”

Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011.

They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.

Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.

On March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.

Full report at:



Young activist dies in Saudi prison

Jan 18, 2019

A young activist who had been detained in a Saudi jail since March 2011 has died in prison.

Nayef Ahmed al-Omran, an activist from the Shia-populated region of Qatif in Eastern Province, was buried on Friday morning amid media blackout enforced by the Saudi regime.

There were no further details available on how he passed away.

According to Saudi activists, Nayef had been imprisoned since March 17, 2011 and was subjected to torture.

The activists said the number of deaths among the detainees in Saudi prisons has increased over the past two years.

Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region.

The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime. Regime forces have increased security measures across the province.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the policies of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif in 2012.

Full report at:



Lebanon FM calls on Arab League to restore Syria’s membership

Jan 18, 2019

Lebanon’s Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has called on the Arab League to restore Syria’s membership in the regional organization, describing attempts to block the move as a “historic mistake.”

“We Arab nations don’t know how to look out for each other. Arab states continue to trade blame for suffering across the region rather than assembling plans to alleviate it,” Bassil said as he opened the first session of an Arab economic summit in Beirut on Friday.

Among the biggest challenges facing Arab nations, the top Lebanese diplomat said, are war, malnutrition and poverty, in addition to extremism and the denial of women’s basic rights.

“Let’s build a united Arab economic vision, based on the political principle of not attacking each other,” Bassil said.

“Syria should return to us... Syria should be in our embrace instead of throwing it into the embrace of terrorism," he pointed out.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hakim recently said the Baghdad government supports the restoration of Syria's membership in the Arab League.

“We discussed solutions to eliminate terrorism in Syria and support the Syrian government, its territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Hakim said at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad on Monday.

“We also discussed supporting Iraq's efforts to restore Syria's (membership) to the Arab League,” he added.

On January 8, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the incumbent Damascus government needs to implement a number of measures toward the political settlement of the ongoing Syrian crisis in order for the conflict-plagued country to reinstate its membership in the Arab League.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita in Cairo, Shoukry said such measures are required "in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254," which endorses a road map for a peace process in Syria, and sets out the outlines of a nationwide ceasefire.

“There's a need to get out of the current crisis in Syria within the political framework sponsored by the UN envoy in Geneva,” the top Egyptian diplomat pointed out.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership in November 2011, citing alleged crackdown by Damascus on opposition protests. Syria has denounced the move as "illegal and a violation of the organization’s charter.”

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry announced in a statement on December 28, 2018 that work at the kingdom’s embassy “in the Syrian Arab Republic was going on whilst the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic to the Kingdom of Bahrain was carrying out its duties and flights connecting the two countries were operational without interruption.”

It came a day after the United Arab Emirates officially reopened its embassy in Damascus.

The Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the reopening of its embassy “reaffirms the keenness of the United Arab Emirates to restore relations between the two friendly countries to their normal course.”

The move “will strengthen and activate the Arab role in supporting the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and to prevent the dangers of regional interference in Syrian Arab affairs,” the ministry pointed out.

On December 16 last year, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab League leader to visit Damascus.

Syria's official news agency SANA said Bashir was greeted by his Syrian counterpart upon arrival at Damascus International Airport, before they both headed to the presidential palace.

The two leaders discussed bilateral ties and the "situations and crises faced by many Arab countries," the Syrian presidency said in a statement.

SANA quoted the Sudanese leader as saying during the meeting that he hoped Syria will recover its important role in the region as soon as possible.

He also affirmed Khartoum’s readiness to provide all it can to support Syria's territorial integrity.

Full report at:



Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen dominate Arab ministers’ meeting

January 18, 2019

BEIRUT: The concerns of the people of Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Yemen were the main topic of the opening session of a meeting of Arab ministers held in preparation for the Arab development summit on Sunday in Beirut.

The meeting in the Lebanese capital’s Phoenicia Hotel saw unprecedented security measures covering a large area, including the summit’s venues and the accommodation of guests and journalists.

Only three presidents have so far confirmed their attendance at the summit — those of Lebanon, Somalia and Mauritania.

However, the Arab League’s Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki called for “separating between the attendance and the summit itself, and the importance of its topics and the resolutions it will produce.”

During a media briefing, Zaki said: “The attendance of Arab leaders will undoubtedly increase the importance of the summit, but their absence, which has spurred media commentary, does not diminish the importance of the topics addressed by the summit — and many summits are not attended by presidents.”

The summit’s media spokesman Rafic Chlala told Arab News: “The presidents who decided not to attend the summit have sent their delegates, which means the summit hasn’t failed, as some are trying to portray it.”

He said Lebanese President Michel Aoun will propose at the summit “a funding project for the reconstruction of all Arab countries devastated by war.” Chlala added: “We’re waiting for states that requested amendments to the initiative.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Friday conveyed President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s apology for not being able to attend the summit “due to commitments that obliged him to stay in Cairo.”

On whether Egypt will support Aoun’s initiative at the summit, Shoukry said: “Egypt supports all that would achieve the common Arab interest.”

Zaki said: “The Syrian displacement issue is on the agenda but the visions are dissimilar.” At the meeting, Syria’s seat was empty due to its suspension from the Arab League, and Libya’s seat was empty because it is boycotting the summit after supporters of the Lebanese Amal Movement tore down the Libyan flag in Beirut.

“Syria’s return to the Arab League requires an Arab consensus, as in the case of the suspension of its membership,” said Zaki.

“Syria’s return to the Arab League is natural and normal, as it has not lost its seat and has not been expelled, but its membership was suspended.”

Prior to the ministerial session, Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury said: “Most of the agenda items have been approved... but there are some matters that are being discussed.”

He added: “A discussion is being held on the safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees, and the mechanism for financing countries that have suffered from armed conflicts.”

Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for African affairs, handed over the chairmanship of the ministerial meeting to Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Bassil invited all delegates to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and all Lebanese killed while fighting terrorism.

In his opening speech, Bassil called on Arabs “to embrace Lebanon and not abandon it.” He thanked Saudi Arabia for presiding over the previous summit and for its efforts.

Bassil spoke of “big challenges in the Arab world, including wars, hunger and poverty as well as intolerance, extremism, terrorism, and women and child abuse.”

He asked: “If we have caused wars for each other, is it not time to end them? Shouldn’t we consider construction instead of destruction?”

He said: “Let us put a unified Arab economic vision that is based on a political principal that ensures we do not attack one another or intervene in each other’s affairs.”

He added: “Syria is the biggest gap today in our conference, and we feel the weight of its absence instead of the lightness of its attendance. Syria must return to us so that we end the loss for ourselves before we end it for Syria.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “The enormous challenges facing the Arab region compel us to develop new visions and come up with innovative ideas for the future.”

He added: “No Arab country can cope with the developments on its own. Economic integration and policy coordination are a necessity, not a luxury.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki stressed the need to end the Israeli occupation, implement UN resolutions and intervene to bring justice to his people.

“Jerusalem is facing the worst Judaization scheme that aims to change its legal, political and religious features,” he said.

“We need our Arab brothers to support the promising economy of Palestine, which has investment opportunities in many areas.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: “Jerusalem is the key to peace.” He highlighted the need to ensure the continuation of the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and to reach a political solution to the Syrian war that is accepted by Syrians, preserves their country’s unity and allows the voluntary return of the displaced.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Al-Hakim urged Arab states to “fulfil their commitments in accordance with the Iraq reconstruction conference,” highlighting the importance of food security as a pillar for stability.

Full report at:



Yemen's Houthis imposed war on Arab coalition: Saudi FM Al-Jubeir

January 18, 2019

JEDDAH: The Arab coalition supporting Yemen’s internationally recognized government did not want the war in that country, said the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs.

The coalition’s priority is Yemen’s security and stability, and the war was imposed on it by the Houthi coup, said Adel Al-Jubeir, who is also a Cabinet member.

During a visit to the UAE, he toured the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, where he met with its staff and students, and was briefed on the programs taught there.

Al-Jubeir praised Saudi and Emirati efforts to ensure the success of Sweden’s consultations between Yemeni parties and the resulting agreement reached. He said he looks forward to its implementation.

He described Saudi-Emirati ties as strong and unique, and stressed both sides’ efforts to promote their relations to an unprecedented level, especially as the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council is working to enhance ties in various fields.

In June 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan chaired the first meeting of the council.

The council seeks to develop a joint vision to deepen bilateral relations in line with the objectives set by the GCC to strengthen economic integration between the two sides and develop innovative solutions for optimum use of resources.

Full report at:




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