Libya s warring rival leaders will hold peace talks in Moscow on Monday alongside representatives from Russia and Turkey, Russian news agencies cited the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying. The talks come after a ceasefire in Libya, initiated by Turkey and Russia, saw a lull in heavy fighting and air strikes on Sunday, though both factions accused each other of violating the truce as skirmishes continued around the capital Tripoli. Monday s Moscow talks will be attended by Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), and by Fayez al-Serraj, who heads the rival Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Russian news agencies reported. Russia and Turkey s foreign and defence ministers would also take part in the talks, the Interfax news agency cited the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying. Lev Dengov, the head of the Russian contact group on Libya, said the warring factions would discuss "the possibility of signing a truce and the details of such a document," Interfax reported. Libya, which has been mired in turmoil since the toppling of strongman Muammar Gaddafi, has had two rival governments since 2014. The conflict between the forces of the two factions has wrecked the country s economy, fuelled migrant smuggling and militancy, and disrupted oil supplies. The Russo-Turkish peace push, the latest international attempt to stem the violence, comes more than nine months into an offensive on Tripoli by the LNA led by Haftar. Turkey backs Haftar s rival, Serraj, who heads the Tripoli-based GNA, while Russian military contractors have been deployed alongside Haftar s LNA forces. Asked about those mercenaries, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that any Russian citizens fighting in Libya were not representing the interests of the Russian state or receiving money from it. During a visit to Moscow on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin wanted to host Libyan peace talks to build on what she said she hoped would be successful joint efforts by Russia and Turkey to stop the conflict.
World and regional leaders, many at odds with one another, met Oman s new ruler on Sunday to offer condolences for the death of Sultan Qaboos whose quiet diplomacy during five decades in power helped calm regional turbulence. The rulers of Qatar and the United Arab Emirate, which are locked in a protracted dispute, were among those who visited the royal palace in Muscat as was the foreign minister of Iran, which is an arch-foe of U.S.-allied Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Oman s new sultan, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, promised after assuming power on Saturday to uphold the foreign policy of his Western-backed predecessor under which Muscat balanced ties between larger neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the United States. "His challenge going forward will be to quickly develop his personal relationships with foreign partners and make clear his likely stance to stay-the-course with Oman s foreign policy," said Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. Qaboos, who died on Friday aged 79, managed to maintain Oman s neutrality, not taking sides in the Gulf dispute with Qatar, and helped to mediate secret U.S.-Iran talks in 2013 that led to an international nuclear pact two years later which Washington then quit in 2018. President Donald Trump called Qaboos a true partner to the United States, working with nine different American presidents. "His unprecedented efforts to engage in dialogue and achieve peace in the region showed us the importance of listening to all viewpoints," Trump said in a statement. The British government said Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles arrived in Muscat for the condolences ceremony for the longest-serving Arab leader, who took power in a palace coup in 1970 with the help of former colonial power Britain. Among other Western dignitaries was former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Other leaders included Kuwait s ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, as well as Bahrain s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the president of Yemen s internationally recognized government, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Haitham assumes power at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States that could destabilise a region vital to global oil supplies. Qaboos death leaves Kuwait s 90-year old Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who was also in Muscat on Sunday, as the last of the old guard leaders in the Gulf. The region has seen the emergence of young hawks in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi who are bent on curtailing Iran s influence.
Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar s capture of the strategic city of Sirte on Monday was a major setback for Tripoli s UN-recognised government, analysts say. The fresh advance by Haftar s self-styled Libyan National Army comes as Turkey deploys troops -- 35 so far, in a training capacity -- to bolster the beleaguered Government of National Accord. Diplomatic efforts to contain the spiralling crisis saw Turkey and Russia on Wednesday call for a ceasefire, despite supporting opposing sides of the conflict. But Libya s rival factions have not yet responded. Sirte was controlled by forces loyal to the GNA after they expelled Islamic State jihadists from the coastal city in 2016. But after a local Salafist militia switched sides, the city fell without fighting to Haftar s Libya Arab Armed Forces (LAAF), which has been fighting to seize Tripoli from the GNA since last April. The hometown of Moamer Kadhafi, Sirte paid a heavy price after the longstanding dictator was ousted in a 2011 NATO-backed rebellion. Many in Sirte welcomed Haftar s forces as they did not support the GNA -- whose forces are mostly former anti-Kadhafi rebels from Misrata, a city between Sirte and Tripoli. - New front? - Along with undermining the morale of GNA forces, "the loss of Sirte will significantly reduce (their) military and strategic position vis-a-vis" the LAAF, said Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute. Since Haftar launched his Tripoli offensive, his troops have also mobilised to block any potential counter attack on Libya s "oil crescent" in the northeast, under Haftar s control since 2016. Haftar feared GNA forces could use Sirte s airbase to carry out strikes on his eastern stronghold, according to Harchaoui. Threats from Sirte against the LAAF, until recently known as the Libyan National Army, "constituted a kind of sword of Damocles hanging over Haftar," he said. The loss of Sirte also puts pressure on the eastern flank of pro-GNA forces defending the capital in Tripoli s southern suburbs, Harchaoui added. According to Emad Badi of the Middle East Institute, Haftar is looking to turn Misratan forces towards Sirte in order to weaken Tripoli s defences. His forces may look to open a new front against Misrata, 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Tripoli, which previously blocked their advance west, according to Hamish Kinnear, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. "Misratan militias will prioritise protecting their home city" if the LAAF advances on it, he said. "This will put enormous pressure on the GNA s war effort in Tripoli itself." - Important setback - "Strategically, the loss of Sirte makes it much more difficult for GNA-affiliated forces to harass Haftar s supply lines," said Wolfram Lacher, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. The loss of Sirte comes as Turkey is sending troops to support the GNA against Haftar, who is supported by Ankara s rivals the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Russia is also accused of sending fighters to support Haftar, something Moscow denies. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made grand pronouncements about supporting Tripoli, in reality he will be forced to proceed slowly, Harchaoui said. Turkey may decide to defend limited territory, such as downtown Tripoli and other enclaves, he said. But "the loss of Sirte makes Turkish support all the more urgent for the GNA," said Lacher. While Turkish drones have resumed attacking pro-Haftar forces in recent days, the GNA still needs greater air capabilities, Lacher told AFP. Advisers are already helping GNA troops fly the drones and jam signals from Haftar s unmanned aircraft, experts say. The Turkish deployment may in large part be a propaganda move aimed at halting Haftar s Tripoli offensive, the analysts believe. Erdogan on Wednesday appeared alongside his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Istanbul to call for a ceasefire in Libya from Sunday. The pair united to issue a joint statement calling for a truce "supported by the necessary measures to be taken for stabilising the situation on the ground". Haftar meanwhile was in Rome Wednesday for talks with Italian premier Giuseppe Conte.
Western powers on Wednesday condemned Iran s missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US and other foreign troops, urging an end to the escalating crisis. Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles in the early hours of Wednesday, officials in Washington and Tehran said. Iran said it was responding to the US killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week, warning it would hit back even harder if Washington responded. All is well "All is well!" US President Donald Trump s tweeted. "Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!" He would be making a statement on Wednesday morning, he added. Refrain from further violence NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said: "I condemn the Iranian missile attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. NATO calls on Iran to refrain from further violence." A NATO official said none of its troops in Iraq had been hurt in the strikes. Resounding blow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has described Soleimani as Iran s "terrorist-in-chief", made it clear Israel would strike back if attacked. "Anyone who attacks us will receive a resounding blow," he warned. Urgent de-escalation Britain s Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament: "Iran should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks but should instead pursue urgent de-escalation." Earlier, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned that another war in the Middle East would only benefit the Islamic State group "and other terrorist groups". No-one s interest The European Union s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the attack was yet another example of "escalation and increased confrontation". "It is in no-one s interest to turn up the spiral of violence even further," he added, warning that the crisis was hampering the fight against Islamic State. EU foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on the Iran crisis Friday to discuss what the bloc can do to reduce tensions. Restraint and responsibility French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement: "The priority is more than ever for a de-escalation. "France remains determined to work to ease tensions and is in contact with all the parties to encourage restraint and responsibility." Violation of sovereignty The Iraqi prime minister s office said it had received an official warning from Iran just before the missile launches. Iran had told premier Adel Abdel Mahdi that "the strike would be limited to where the US military was located in Iraq without specifying the locations", said the statement from his office. "Iraq rejects any violation of its sovereignty and attacks on its territory," the premier s office added. Civilian flights rerouting In the wake of the Iranian attack, a number of airlines said they were avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace. The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was banning US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf. Its Russian counterpart, the Federal Air Transport Agency, recommended airlines avoid the air space over Iran, Iraq and the Persian and Oman Gulfs.
The UN Security Council will meet behind closed doors on Monday about the situation in Libya, as Turkish troops begun deploying to the country in a bid to shore up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, diplomats said Sunday. The meeting, held at Russia s request, is formally focused on an international conference on Libya that Germany hopes to organize by month s end. So far, no date for the meeting has been announced. But Monday s talks will be the first chance for Security Council members to discuss controversial security and maritime deals struck by Libya and Turkey in November -- and Ankara s subsequent decision to send troops to Libya. Turkey s move comes after the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord -- under sustained attack since military strongman general Khalifa Haftar launched his offensive in April -- made a formal request for military support. The maritime agreement reached by Tripoli and Ankara gives Turkey rights to large swathes of the Mediterranean where gas reserves have recently been discovered. That has angered other Mediterranean countries including Greece and Cyprus, who also seek to exploit energy resources in the region. At least 30 people were killed and 33 others wounded in an air strike on a military school in Tripoli on Saturday, according to the government. UN diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP they could not rule out the possibility that a council member could raise the issue of Russian mercenaries working to bolster Haftar. Moscow has denied all responsibility on that front. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire in Libya. "Any foreign support to the warring parties will only deepen the ongoing conflict and further complicate efforts to reach a peaceful and comprehensive political solution," he said in a statement.
The body of Gen. Qassem Soleimani arrived Sunday in Iran where thousands of mourners thronged his coffin ahead of a grand funeral procession across the Islamic Republic amid soaring tensions between Iran and the US. President Donald Trump has threatened to bomb 52 sites in Iran if it retaliates by attacking Americans. The US drone strike killing Soleimani in Iraq Friday escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that put the wider Middle East on edge. The conflict is rooted in Trump pulling out of Iran s nuclear deal with world powers. The accord is likely to further unravel as Tehran is expected to announce as early as Sunday it will break another set of its limits. Iran has promised ``harsh revenge`` for the US attack. Iranians across all political lines were shocked by the death of a commander widely seen as a pillar of the Islamic Republic, at a moment when it is beset by US sanctions and recent anti-government protests. Retaliation could potentially come through the proxy forces Soleimani oversaw as the head of an elite unit within the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Soleimani s longtime deputy Esmail Ghaani already has taken over as the Quds Force s commander. Late Saturday, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the US Embassy. Trump wrote on Twitter afterward that the US had already ``targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture. Trump did not identify the targets but added that they would be ``HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The 1954 Hague Convention, of which the US is a party, bars any military from ``direct hostilities against cultural property.`` However, such sites can be targeted if they have been re-purposed and turned into a legitimate ``military objective,`` according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Iran, home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites, has in the past reportedly guarded the sprawling tomb complex of the Islamic Republic s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with surface-to-air missiles. After thousands in Baghdad on Saturday mourned Soleimani and others killed in the strike, authorities flew the general s body to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. An honor guard stood by early Sunday as mourners carried the flag-draped coffins of Soleimani and other Guard members off the tarmac. The caskets then moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani s portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally both symbolize the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and call for their deaths to avenged. Officials brought Soleimani s body to Ahvaz, a city that was a focus of fighting during the bloody, 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran in which the general slowly grew to prominence. After that war, Soleimani joined the Guard s newly formed Quds, or Jersualem, Force, an expeditionary force that works with Iranian proxy forces in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Authorities also plan to take Soleimani s body to Mashhad later Sunday, as well as Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, followed by his hometown of Kerman for burial Tuesday. This marks the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Khomeini received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him. Soleimani was the architect of Iran s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on US troops and American allies going back decades. Though it s unclear how or when Iran may respond, any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared in both Iran and Iraq. All eyes were on Iraq, where America and Iran have competed for influence since the 2003 US-led invasion. After the airstrike early Friday, the US-led coalition has scaled back operations and boosted ``security and defensive measures at bases hosting coalition forces in Iraq, a coalition official said on condition of anonymity according to regulations. Meanwhile, the US has dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighboring Kuwait, the latest in a series of deployments in recent months as the standoff with Iran has worsened. Protesters held demonstrations in dozens of US cities Saturday over Trump s decisions to kill Soleimani and deploy more troops to the Mideast. In a thinly veiled threat, one of the Iran-backed militias, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called on Iraqi security forces to stay at least a kilometer (0.6 miles) away from US bases starting Sunday night. However, US troops are invariably based in Iraqi military posts alongside local forces. The Iranian parliament on Sunday opened with lawmakers in unison chanting: ``Death to America! Parliament speaker Ali Larijani compared Soleimani s killing to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented the shah s power and to the US Navy s shootdown of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988 that killed 290 people. He also described American officials as following ``the law of the jungle. ``Mr. Trump! This is the voice of Iranian nation. Listen! Larijani said as lawmakers chanted. A spokesman for Iran s armed forces, Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, likewise threatened the US by saying Iran and the ``resistance front will decide the time, place and way revenge will be carried out. Iraq s government, which is closely allied with Iran, condemned the airstrike that killed Soleimani, calling it an attack on its national sovereignty. Parliament is meeting for an emergency session Sunday, and the government has come under mounting pressure to expel the 5,200 American troops who are based in the country to help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State group. Also Saturday, NATO temporarily suspended all training activities in Iraq due to safety concerns, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said. The US has ordered all citizens to leave Iraq and temporarily closed its embassy in Baghdad, where Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters staged two days of violent protests in which they breached the compound. Britain and France have warned their citizens to avoid or strictly limit travel in Iraq. Oman, long an interlocutor between Iran and the West, urged Tehran and Washington on Sunday to pursue dialogue. No one was hurt in the embassy protests, which came in response to US airstrikes that killed 25 Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq and Syria. The US blamed the militia for a rocket attack that killed a US contractor in northern Iraq.
The Lebanese presidency on Thursday denied reports that President Michel Aoun had welcomed fugitive former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn upon his arrival in the country. The French-Lebanese tycoon, who had been under house arrest in Japan over several counts of financial misconduct, escaped in mysterious circumstances and arrived in Beirut on Monday. Several media outlets reported that he had been greeted by Aoun but a senior presidency official denied the two men had met. "He was not received at the presidency and did not meet the president," the official told AFP. Ghosn flew in from Istanbul on a private jet and has since been reunited with friends and family. Ghosn said he would speak to the media next week. One of his lawyers in Lebanon, Carlos Abou Jaoude, said a date for the press conference had yet to be determined. He entered Lebanon on a French passport, according to airport documents seen by AFP. The public Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that the court in Tokyo had allowed Ghosn to keep a second French passport so long as it were kept "in a locked case" with the key held by his lawyers. The exact circumstances of Ghosn s daring escape from Japan, where he had been released on bail in April pending trial after 130 days in prison, remain unclear, though colourful rumours abound. One claim in the Lebanese media is that the auto mogul, who holds Lebanese, French and Brazilian nationalities, was sprung from his Tokyo residence in a musical instrument case -- a story a source in his entourage denied. How Ghosn was able to jump bail has led to a Japanese investigation into what is seen as an embarrassing security lapse. Ghosn stands accused of deferring part of his salary until after his retirement and concealing this from shareholders, as well as syphoning off millions in Nissan cash for his own purposes. Ghosn has repeatedly denied all charges against him, and said that he fled to Lebanon to escape a "rigged" Japanese justice system. Some Lebanese see Ghosn as a symbol of their country s fabled entrepreneurial genius and a proud representative of its vast diaspora. The mood has changed since his November 2018 arrest, however, and, weeks into an unprecedented wave of protests against corruption and nepotism, activists saw his return as another manifestation of privilege and impunity for the super-rich.
Charging that Iran was ``fully responsible for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, President Donald Trump ordered about 750 U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East as about 3,000 more prepared for possible deployment in the next several days. No U.S. casualties or evacuations were reported after the attack Tuesday by dozens of Iran-supported militiamen. U.S. Marines were sent from Kuwait to reinforce the compound. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday night that ``in response to recent events in Iraq, and at Trump s direction, he authorized the immediate deployment of the infantry battalion from the Army s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He did not specify the soldiers destination, but a U.S. official familiar with the decision said they will go to Kuwait. ``This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today, Esper said in a written statement. Additional soldiers from the 82nd Airborne s quick-deployment brigade, known officially as its Immediate Response Force, were prepared to deploy, Esper said. The U.S. official, who provided unreleased details on condition of anonymity, said the full brigade of about 4,000 soldiers may deploy. The 750 soldiers deploying immediately were in addition to 14,000 U.S. troops who had deployed to the Gulf region since May in response to concerns about Iranian aggression, including its alleged sabotage of commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf. At the time of the attack the U.S. had about 5,200 troops in Iraq, mainly to train Iraqi forces and help them combat Islamic State extremists. The breach of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday was a stark demonstration that Iran can still strike at American interests despite Trump s economic pressure campaign. It also revealed growing strains between Washington and Baghdad, raising questions about the future of the U.S. military mission there. ``They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year! Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon, though it was unclear whether his ``threat meant military retaliation. He thanked top Iraqi government leaders for their ``rapid response upon request. American airstrikes on Sunday killed 25 fighters of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah. The U.S. said those strikes were in retaliation for last week s killing of an American contractor and the wounding of American and Iraqi troops in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the U.S. blamed on the militia. The American strikes angered the Iraqi government, which called them an unjustified violation of its sovereignty. While blaming Iran for the embassy breach, Trump also called on Iraq to protect the diplomatic mission. ``Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,`` he tweeted from his estate in Florida. ``We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified! Even as Trump has argued for removing U.S. troops from Mideast conflicts, he also has singled out Iran as a malign influence in the region. After withdrawing the U.S. in 2018 from an international agreement that exchanged an easing of sanctions for curbs on Iran s nuclear program, Trump ratcheted up sanctions. Those economic penalties, including a virtual shut-off of Iranian oil exports, are aimed at forcing Iran to negotiate a broader nuclear deal. But critics say that pressure has pushed Iranian leaders into countering with a variety of military attacks in the Gulf. Until Sunday s U.S. airstrikes, Trump had been measured in his response to Iranian provocations. In June, he abruptly called off U.S. military strikes on Iranian targets in retaliation for the downing of an American drone. Robert Ford, a retired U.S. diplomat who served five years in Baghdad and then became ambassador in Syria, said Iran s allies in the Iraqi parliament may be able to harness any surge in anger among Iraqis toward the United States to force U.S. troops to leave the country. Ford said Trump miscalculated by approving Sunday s airstrikes on Kataeb Hezbollah positions in Iraq and Syria _ strikes that drew a public rebuke from the Iraqi government and seem to have triggered Tuesday s embassy attack. ``The Americans fell into the Iranian trap, Ford said, with airstrikes that turned some Iraqi anger toward the U.S. and away from Iran and the increasingly unpopular Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The tense situation in Baghdad appeared to upset Trump s vacation routine in Florida, where he is spending the holidays. Trump spent just under an hour at his private golf club in West Palm Beach before returning to his Mar-a-Lago resort in nearby Palm Beach. He had spent nearly six hours at his golf club on each of the previous two days. Trump spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and emphasized the need for Iraq to protect Americans and their facilities in the country, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley. Trump is under pressure from some in Congress to take a hard-line approach to Iranian aggression, which the United States says included an unprecedented drone and missile attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia s oil industry in September. More recently, Iran-backed militias in Iraq have conducted numerous rocket attacks on bases hosting U.S. forces. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and supporter of Trump s Iran policy, called the embassy breach ``yet another reckless escalation by Iran. Tuesday s attack was carried out by members of the Iran-supported Kataeb Hezbollah militia. Dozens of militiamen and their supporters smashed a main door to the compound and set fire to a reception area, but they did not enter the main buildings. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed Iran for the episode and faulted Trump for his ``maximum pressure campaign against Iran. ``The results so far have been more threats against international commerce, emboldened and more violent proxy attacks across the Middle East, and now, the death of an American citizen in Iraq, Menendez said, referring to the rocket attack last week. By early evening Tuesday, the mob had retreated from the compound but set up several tents outside for an intended sit-in. Dozens of yellow flags belonging to Iran-backed Shiite militias fluttered atop the reception area and were plastered along the embassy s concrete wall along with anti-U.S. graffiti. American Apache helicopters flew overhead and dropped flares over the area in what the U.S. military called a ``show of force.`` The embassy breach was seen by some analysts as affirming their view that it is folly for the U.S. to keep forces in Iraq after having eliminated the Islamic State group s territorial hold in the country. A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is also a long-term hope of Iran, noted Paul Salem, president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute. And it s always possible Trump would ``wake up one morning and make that decision to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq, as he announced earlier with the U.S. military presence in neighboring Syria, Salem said. Trump s Syria decision triggered the resignation of his first defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, but the president later amended his decision and about 1,200 U.S. troops remain in Syria. Trump s best weapon with Iran is the one he s already using _ the sanctions, said Salem. He and Ford said Trump would do best to keep resisting Iran s attempt to turn the Iran-U.S. conflict into a full-blown military one. The administration should also make a point of working with the Iraqi government to deal with the militias, Ford said. For the president, Iran s attacks _ directly and now through proxies in Iraq _ have ``been working that nerve,`` Salem said. ``Now they really have Trump s attention.
Hundreds of Iraqi mourners tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, following deadly U.S. airstrikes this week that killed 25 fighters from an Iran-backed Shiia militia in Iraq. Shouting ``Down, Down USA! the crowd tried to push inside the embassy grounds, hurling water bottles and smashing security cameras outside. The U.S. military carried out the strikes Sunday against the Iranian-backed Kataeb Hezbollah militia, calling it retaliation for last week s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group. The U.S. attack - the largest targeting an Iraqi state-sanctioned militia in recent years - and the calls for retaliation, represent a new escalation in the proxy war between the U.S. and Iran playing out in the Middle East. Tuesday s attempted embassy storming took place after mourners held funerals for the militia fighters killed in a Baghdad neighborhood, after which they marched on to the heavily fortified Green Zone and kept walking till they reached the sprawling U.S. Embassy there. AP journalists then saw the crowd try to storm the embassy, shouting ``Down, down USA! and ``Death to America and ``Death to Israel. Security guards were seen retreating to the inside of the embassy. Protesters also were seen hanging yellow flags belonging to the Kataeb Hezbollah militia backed by Iran on the walls of the embassy. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the strikes send the message that the U.S. will not tolerate actions by Iran that jeopardize American lives. The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia had vowed Monday to retaliate for the U.S. military strikes in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 of its fighters and wounded dozens. The attack and vows for revenge raised concerns of new attacks that could threaten American interests in the region. The U.S. attack outraged both the militias and the Iraqi government which said it will reconsider its relationship with the U.S.-led coalition - the first time it has said it will do so since an agreement was struck to keep some U.S. troops in the country. It called the attack a ``flagrant violation`` of its sovereignty. In a partly televised meeting Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Cabinet members that he had tried to stop the U.S. operation ``but there was insistence`` from American officials. The U.S. military said ``precision defensive strikes`` were conducted against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq and Syria. The group, which is a separate force from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.
Police in Turkey detained dozens of people suspected of links to the Islamic State group, the state-run news agency reported Monday, in an apparent sweep against the militant group ahead of New Year celebrations. At least 33 foreign nationals were detained in the capital Ankara in a joint operation by anti-terrorism police and the national intelligence agency, according to the Anadolu Agency. Police conducted simultaneous, pre-dawn raids in the city of Batman, in southeast Turkey, where 22 suspects were detained, it said in a separate report. Raids were also conducted in the cities of Adana and Kayseri where 15 people, including six foreign nationals were detained. Anadolu said the IS suspects apprehended in Ankara were from Iraq, Syria and Morocco. Police were searching for some 17 other suspects, the report said. The country was hit by a wave of attacks in 2015 and 2016 blamed on IS and Kurdish militants that killed over 300 people. IS also claimed responsibility for an attack at an Istanbul nightclub during New Year celebrations in the early hours of 2017. The attack killed 39 people, most of them foreigners.
A blast struck a military graduation parade in Yemen s southern town of al-Dhalea, Yemen s Security Belt forces said in a tweet on Sunday, in an attack witnesses said caused dozens of injuries or deaths. No claim of responsibility was made. The Security Belt forces are part of a southern separatist front in south Yemen, and are backed by the Arab Coaltion in a fight against Yemen s Iran-aligned Houthi group. Witnesses told Reuters that a blast occurred near a guest platform during the parade and that dozens were injured or killed. They reported seeing bodies at the scene. Yemen has suffered from almost five years of conflict since the Houthi movement ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi s government in late 2014. The coup drew military intervention in 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition trying to restore Hadi s internationally recognized government. The town of al-Dhalea is controlled by southern separatist forces. It lies on the main south-to-north road linking the southern port of Aden — controlled by Hadi s government — to the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa. A contested frontline runs across al-Dhalea province.
The Turkish parliament will in January vote on a motion to send troops to Syria to support the UN-backed government in Tripoli, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday. "We will present the motion to send troops (to Libya) as soon as parliament resumes" on January 7, Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara. "God willing, we will pass it in parliament on January 8-9 and thus respond to an invitation" from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), he said. Erdogan s comments come after the Turkish parliament on Saturday ratified a security and military cooperation deal with the government of Fayez al-Sarraj. But a separate motion is needed to send boots on the grounds. Erdogan on Wednesday paid an unannounced visit to Tunisia with his defence minister and spy chief to discuss ways of reaching a ceasefire in Libya. The conflict plunged Libya into violence and eight years later, pro-GNA militias and strongman Khalifa Haftar s self-styled Libyan National Army are vying for control of the North African country. Erdogan has in recent weeks vowed to increase military support to the GNA if needed as it battles Haftar, who launched an offensive in April to seize the capital. Turkey and Qatar back the GNA, while Haftar has received support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia -- all of whom have tense relations with Turkey. Moscow last month denied reports in the New York Times that it had sent had mercenaries to fight on Haftar s side, while the UN has also accused the strongman s forces of recruiting fighters from Sudan. "They are helping a warlord. We are responding to an invitation from the legitimate government of Libya," Erdogan said Thursday. "That is our difference."
Pilgrims from around the world gathered Tuesday in the biblical city of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land. Palestinians and foreigners began converging on the "little town" in the Israeli-occupied West Bank from early morning, with Christmas Eve festivities taking place in and around the Church of the Nativity. Tourists queued to visit the grotto inside the church, believed to be the exact site where Jesus was born, with Ola, a Nigerian visitor, saying it was a "special day." Outside in the winter sun, hundreds watched as Palestinian scouts paraded to the sound of drums. "I feel really emotional to be here today, it s wonderful," said Germana, an Italian travelling with her husband and two children. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, was due to travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Tuesday morning. He will lead midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity, with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas expected to attend. Bethlehem is close to Jerusalem, but cut off from the holy city by Israel s separation barrier. The first church was built on the site in the fourth century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century. This year celebrations were bolstered by the return of a wooden fragment believed to be from the manger of Jesus. Sent as a gift to Pope Theodore I in 640, the piece had been in Europe for more than 1,300 years before being returned last month, Francesco Patton, chief custodian for the Holy Land, said. "We venerate the relic because (it) reminds us of the mystery of incarnation, to the fact that the son of God was born of Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago," Patton told AFP at the time.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi s Hindu nationalist party has lost a key state legislature election, a setback for the party as it faces massive anti-government protests against a contentious new citizenship law. According to results announced by India s Election Commission late Monday, Modi s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, yielded power to an alliance forged among the opposition Congress party and powerful regional groups in eastern Jharkhand state, where the voting took place this month. The election was held amid protests calling for the revocation of the citizenship law, which critics say is the latest effort by Modi s government to marginalize India s 200 million Muslims. Opposition and civil rights groups plan to hold more protests against the law later Tuesday. BJP leaders said Tuesday that the new citizenship law was not an issue in the Jharkhand election, but Congress party leader R.P.N. Singh said the results were a snub to Modi s party, which won only 25 of 81 state legislature seats. The Congress party and its allies won 47 seats, ending the BJP s five-year rule in the state. Since December 2018, the BJP has lost power in five states: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. But Modi won a major victory for his party in May national elections. The BJP came to power in 2014, defeating the Congress party. Modi has defended the new citizenship law and accused the opposition of pushing the country into a ``fear psychosis. The law allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to India s streets to call for the revocation of the law. Twenty-three people have been killed nationwide since the citizenship law was passed in Parliament earlier this month in protests that represent the first major roadblock for Modi s Hindu nationalist agenda since his party s landslide reelection earlier this year. Most of the deaths have occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20% of the state s 200 million people are Muslim. The state government is controlled by Modi s governing Bharatiya Janata Party. On Monday, nearly 2,000 people joined a silent protest by the Congress party at Raj Ghat, a memorial in New Delhi dedicated to India s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, with the party demanding ``protection for the constitution and the rights of people enshrined in it.`` Authorities across India have taken a hard-line approach to quell the protests. They ve evoked a British colonial-era law banning public gatherings, and internet access has been blocked at times in some states. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has asked broadcasters across the country to refrain from using content that could inflame further violence. The communication shutdown has mostly affected New Delhi, the eastern state of West Bengal, the northern city of Aligarh and the entire northeastern state of Assam
Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death and three more to jail terms totalling 24 years over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October last year. Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan, reading out the verdict in the trial, said the court dismissed charges against the remaining three of the 11 people that had been on trial, finding them not guilty. Khashoggi was a U.S. resident and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom s de facto ruler. He was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, where he had gone to receive papers ahead of his wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found. The killing caused a global uproar. The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, but Saudi officials say he had no role. Eleven Saudi suspects were put on trial over his death in secretive proceedings in Riyadh. In the investigation into the murder, 21 were arrested and 10 were called in for questioning without arrest, Shalaan said. Riyadh s criminal court pronounced the death penalty on five individuals, whose names have not yet been released, "for committing and directly participating in the murder of the victim". The three sentenced to prison were given various sentences totalling 24 years "for their role in covering up this crime and violating the law". Shalaan added that the investigations proved there was no "prior enmity" between those convicted and Khashoggi. The verdicts can still be appealed. Last November the Saudi prosecutor said that Saud al-Qahtani, a former high-profile Saudi royal adviser, had discussed Khashoggi s activities before he entered the Saudi consulate with the team which went on to kill him. The prosecutor said Qahtani acted in coordination with deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who he said had ordered Khashoggi’s repatriation from Turkey and that the lead negotiator on the ground then decided to kill him. Both men were dismissed from their positions but while Asiri went on trial, Qahtani did not. On Monday Shalaan said Asiri has been released due to insufficient evidence, and Qahtani had been investigated but was not charged and had been released. *This story was edited by Ahram Online
Lebanon s new prime minister held consultations Saturday with parliamentary blocs in which they discussed the shape of the future government and said afterward that legislators all had one concern: To get the country out of its ``strangling`` economic crisis. Hassan Diab, a university professor and former education minister, will have to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. He s also taking office against the backdrop of ongoing nationwide protests against the country s ruling elite. ``Lebanon is in the intensive care unit and needs efforts by all sides, from political groups to protesters, Diab said. Consultations began a day after scuffles broke out in Beirut and other areas between supporters of outgoing prime minister Saad Hariri and Lebanese troops and riot police. The ex-premier s supporters were protesting Diab s nomination. At least seven soldiers were injured. Diab told reporters later that all members of parliament encouraged him to form a Cabinet ``as soon as possible.`` Cabinets usually take months to form in Lebanon because of bargaining between rival groups. Diab said he hopes to form a government of about 20 ministers made up of independents and technocrats within few weeks. ``It s time to work and we ask God to make us successful. He added that the situation in Lebanon cannot stand any delays amid its worst economic and financial crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. Lebanese banks have imposed unprecedented capital controls in recent weeks. Thousands have lost their jobs and the economy is expected to contract in 2020. Diab began his meetings Saturday at Parliament with Speaker Nabih Berri, then held talks with former prime ministers, including caretaker premier Hariri. He later met with blocs at the legislature. Militant Hezbollah and its allies had previously insisted that a new government consist of politicians and experts but on Saturday, Diab said ``all parties agree with me regarding a government made up of independents and experts, including Hezbollah. Legislator Paula Yacoubian, who backs the protest movement, said Diab told her ``the government will be fully made up of independents and that he will step down if there is going to be members of the state s political parties. She added: ``I heard very nice talk similar to what the people have been demanding. The protesters have been demanding a government that does not include members of political parties whom they blame for widespread corruption. Diab said he will meet with the protesters in the coming days without elaborating. Earlier on Saturday, Hariri cautioned supporters after meeting Diab against violent protests, saying: ``The army is ours and police forces are for all Lebanese. Shortly before sunset Saturday, scores of protesters including Hariri supporters, closed two major intersections in Beirut demanding that Diab step aside, saying he failed to win wide support from Sunni legislators. Saturday s protests were peaceful unlike those of the night before when stones and firecrackers were hurled at security forces. The new prime minister won a majority of lawmakers votes after receiving backing from powerful Hezbollah and its allies, which have a majority of seats in parliament. However, he lacks the support of major Sunni figures, including the largest Sunni party headed by Hariri. That s particularly problematic for Diab, who, as a Sunni, doesn t have the backing of his own community. And under Lebanon s sectarian power-sharing agreement, the prime minister must be Sunni. The head of Hezbollah s 12-member bloc, Mohammad Raad, said the group wants a government that preserves what the Lebanese have achieved in ``victories during the confrontation with the Israeli enemy and to maintain our national sovereignty, our maritime (oil and gas) wealth and land and to prevent the enemy from undermining its sovereignty and the national dignity. A lawmaker from the bloc led by the Shiite Amal group _ headed by parliament speaker Berri _ said the incoming government should focus on fighting corruption. ``It should be an emergency government that works on solving the economic, financial, social and banking crisis,`` said Anwar al-Khalil after the meeting with Diab. Samir al-Jisr of Hariri s bloc said they will not take part in Diab s government. Hezbollah s ally, Gebran Bassil, who heads the largest bloc in parliament, said the future government ``is not Hezbollah s Cabinet but of all Lebanese and it is not against anyone. Michel Moawad, a harsh critic of the militant group, said Diab told him the new government will not be controlled by ``Hezbollah and will not be confrontational. Hezbollah had backed Hariri for prime minister from the start, but the group differed with him over the shape of the new government. Lebanon s sustained, leaderless protests erupted in mid-October, and forced Hariri s resignation within days. But politicians were later unable to agree on a new prime minister. The ongoing protests and paralysis have worsened the economic crisis.
Former education minister Hassan Diab looks set to be named Lebanon s new prime minister on Thursday, senior political sources said, a move that would thrust a little-known engineer to the forefront of efforts to tackle an acute economic crisis. President Michel Aoun is due to hold formal consultations with Lebanon s 128 lawmakers on their choice for prime minister throughout the day, and must designate the candidate with the greatest support. Diab emerged as a candidate for the position at the last minute when Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri withdrew his candidacy for a job that must be filled by a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon s sectarian system. As things stood on Thursday morning, Shi ite groups Hezbollah and Amal, in addition to Hezbollah s biggest Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), will all nominate Diab, three senior sources familiar with each group s position said. With the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its political allies holding more than 70 of the seats in parliament, Diab should emerge with the largest amount of support. Hariri, resigned on Oct. 29, prompted by protests against a ruling elite accused of overseeing rampant state corruption. *This story was edited by Ahram Online
Donald Trump is expected to become only the third US president in history to be impeached later by the House of Representatives. Democratic lawmakers are ready to approve two impeachment charges against the Republican president on Wednesday. Mr Trump would then face a Senate trial next month, but members of his party control that chamber and it is unlikely to remove him from office.
Indian student protests that turned into violent clashes with police galvanized nationwide opposition on Tuesday to a new law that provides a path to citizenship for non-Muslim migrants who entered the country illegally from several neighboring countries. Police fired tear gas in the Seelampur area of New Delhi to push back protesters who burned a police booth and two motorbikes after throwing stones and swarming barricades.
The Lebanese presidency said it had delayed consultations to designate a new prime minister until Thursday in response to a request from caretaker leader Saad al-Hariri, who had been expected to be named premier again. Hariri had requested the delay to the consultations, which had been scheduled for Monday, in a phone call with President Michel Aoun to allow "more consultation on the subject of the government formation", the presidency said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from Hariri s office. Lebanon is in urgent need of a new government to tackle the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29 in response to mass protests against the ruling elite over decades of state corruption and bad governance. He has said he would only return as prime minister of a cabinet of specialist ministers, believing this would satisfy protesters and allow the government to address the crisis and attract foreign aid. His political adversaries, including Aoun and the powerful, Iran-backed Shi ite group Hezbollah, say the new cabinet should include politicians alongside technocrats. Lebanon s prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim, is appointed in binding consultations convened by the head of state with lawmakers. The president must designate the candidate with the greatest support among the 128 lawmakers. Hariri has been seen as the only candidate for the position since the failure of efforts to form a consensus on several other Sunni figures, and he enjoys the backing of the Sunni religious establishment.
Lebanese security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and used water cannons to disperse anti-government protesters from central Beirut in clashes that lasted for hours into early Sunday. The violence around the epicenter of the protest in Beirut was some of the worst since the demonstrations began two months ago. More than 40 protesters were injured, including some beaten repeatedly with batons by security forces. The clashes brought the downtown area to a standstill for over eight hours as security forces fired a stream of tear gas canisters at the hundreds of protesters, who set fires in trash cans on the main streets, in part to mitigate the effects of tear gas. The protesters chanted slogans against security forces and government officials, and pelted police with stones in scenes not seen in the capital since the demonstrations began on Oct. 17. At one point, the scuffles reached the headquarters of one of the main Lebanese political parties, the Kataeb, where many protesters were taking cover. The head of the party, Samy Gemayel, appeared on local TV stations as he tried to separate the protesters from advancing security forces. Lebanon is facing one of its worst economic crises in decades, and the protesters accuse the ruling political class in place for three decades of mismanagement and corruption. The violence comes just two days before the president is due to hold talks with different parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister. The government headed by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Oct. 29, two weeks after the nationwide protests began. Political groups have been unable to agree on a new candidate while protesters have been calling for a government unaffiliated with established political parties. Local TV station LBC showed dozens chanting against Hariri, who is emerging as the favorite candidate despite all the political bickering. The protesters also shouted ``The people want to bring down the regime and accused government forces of excessive force. The Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense said at least 46 people were injured and transported to hospitals. More protests are expected later Sunday. The trouble started Saturday when dozens of men, some wearing masks, threw stones and firecrackers at security forces on one edge of the protest camp in central Beirut. They were supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups, angered by some of the criticism of their leaders by anti-government protesters. It was the second time this week the groups tried to attack the protest camp. The National News Agency said one member of security forces was injured. Local leaders, including a mosque preacher, appealed to calm. Hours later, hundreds of anti-government protesters, including women, gathered outside parliament, hundreds of meters (yards) away from the protest camp. Chaos ensued with reports of an attack on the anti-government rally, leading to a confrontation with security forces who tried to disperse the protesters. For the first time since the protests erupted in Beirut, anti-riot police fired rubber bullets as they chased the demonstrators away from the area. It was not clear what caused the crackdown. The parliament speaker is the head of the Shiite Amal group. The clashes spread to streets surrounding the protest camp, engulfing the area in thick white smoke and the odor of tear gas. Security forces chased protesters around central Beirut, some firing rubber bullets and several volleys of tear gas from armored vehicles. Dozens of protesters had traveled to Beirut from the northern city of Tripoli to take part in the rally outside the parliament building. The National News Agency reported that some shop windows in the commercial part of central Beirut were smashed by vandals. One officer was injured in the eye when a protester hit him with a stone, according to an Associated Press reporter. Early Sunday, nearly a dozen riot police stood over two protesters and beat them with batons, according to an AP reporter on the scene. The two were later taken away to be treated by medics. Tension has been building up in the protest camp. Some accused activists who organize discussions in the camp under the name ``the Hub of hosting critics of Hezbollah and calling for normalization of ties with Israel. The tent was attacked earlier in the week with firecrackers, burning it down. On Saturday, a rally to support the Hub was canceled shortly before the attempted attack on the protest camp.
A Coptic woman called Catharine Ramzy survived slay attempt in Warraq, Cairo, after a fanatic called Mamdouh Ramadan has dragged her in the street and attacked her with white weapon saying this is what she get for walking without wearing a hijab. She has hardly survived the attack by a man who don’t even know her! The man was arrested by police and the matter is currently under investigation that revealed he su