World leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in Libya s civil war at a Berlin summit Sunday, and to uphold a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the long-running conflict. The presidents of Russia, Turkey and France were among global chiefs signing up to the agreement to stop interfering in the war -- be it through weapons, troops or financing. But the talks failed to deliver "serious dialogue" between the warring parties -- strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj -- or to get both sides to sign up to a permanent truce. "Ensuring that a ceasefire is immediately respected is simply not easy to guarantee," said summit host Chancellor Angela Merkel. "But I hope that through today s conference, we have a chance the truce will hold further." US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged that there are "still some questions on how well and effectively" the commitments can be monitored. But he said he is "optimistic that there will be less violence and... an opportunity to begin the conversation that (UN special envoy) Ghassan Salame has been trying to get going between the Libyan parties". Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi. Most recently, Sarraj s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar s forces. Clashes have killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile ceasefire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on January 12. Although Sarraj s government is recognised by the UN, powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar -- turning a domestic conflict into what some have described as a proxy war in which international powers jostle to secure their own interests. Alarm grew in recent weeks after Turkey ordered in troops to shore up Sarraj s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). - Small step forward - UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world powers had made "a strong commitment to stop" the conflict escalating into a regional confrontation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to some positive takeaways from the talks, but said the summit failed to launch necessary talks between Sarraj and Haftar. "It is clear that we have not yet succeeded in launching a serious and stable dialogue between them," Lavrov told reporters after the conference, where Haftar and Sarraj did not meet face to face. Nevertheless, the Libyan parties had taken "a small step" forward, Lavrov added. Pro-Haftar forces upped the ante on the eve of the talks by blocking oil exports at Libya s key ports, crippling the country s main income source in protest at Turkey s decision to send troops to shore up Sarraj. In afternoon trade on Asian markets Monday, oil prices rose more than one percent on supply concerns following the move. Vested interests The flaring oil crisis underlined the devastating impact of foreign influence in the conflict, in which Sarraj s GNA is backed by Turkey and Qatar while Haftar has the support of Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Ahead of the talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Haftar, saying he needed to drop his "hostile attitude" if Libya is to have any chance at winning peace. Russia has been accused of sending in mercenaries to help Haftar as Moscow seeks to extend its influence in the region -- allegations it denies. For Turkey, the fall of Sarraj s GNA could jeopardise a maritime boundary agreement the parties signed. It gives Ankara extensive rights over the eastern Mediterranean where the recent discovery of undersea gas reserves has triggered a scramble by littoral states. Erdogan has repeatedly urged Europe to stand united behind Sarraj s government, warning that Tripoli s fall could allow jihadist groups like the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda to regroup. Further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for Europe, he has cautioned. Amid the latest apparent ceasefire violation -- according to GNA forces Sunday, Haftar s militia opened fire on them in southern Tripoli -- Sarraj issued a plea for international "protection troops". The call echoed a similar suggestion by the EU s chief diplomat Josep Borrell, who stressed that monitors must be present to check that any ceasefire and weapons embargo are respected. With the idea gathering pace, Britain and Italy had voiced readiness to help, ahead of an EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday that will discuss how the bloc can contribute to implementing Sunday s deal. But as Guterres noted, that discussion remains premature. "First, we need to have a ceasefire -- we cannot monitor something that doesn t exist."
World leaders gather in Berlin on Sunday to make a fresh push for peace in Libya, in a desperate bid to stop the conflict-wracked nation from turning into a "second Syria". Chancellor Angela Merkel will be joined by the presidents of Russia, Egypt, Turkey and France and other world leaders for talks from around 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) held under the auspices of the United Nations. The summit s main goal is to get foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop interfering in the war -- be it through weapons, troops or financing. Leaders of both warring factions -- strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj -- are also expected at what is the first such gathering since 2018. Speaking to reporters before leaving Istanbul for Berlin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the summit could be "an important step on the way to cementing the ceasefire and a political solution" in Libya. But pro-Haftar forces upped the ante ahead of the talks by blocking oil exports at Libya s key ports, crippling the country s main income source in protest at Turkey s decision to send troops to shore up Sarraj s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). The move underlined the devastating impact of foreign influence in the crisis. "Libya needs all foreign interference to stop," the United Nations special envoy Ghassan Salame told AFP. The UN hopes all sides will sign up to a plan to refrain from interference, and commit to a truce that leads to a lasting end to hostilities, according to a draft of a final communique seen by AFP. That document also urges all parties to re-commit to a much-violated UN arms embargo and raises the prospect of intra-Libyan political talks in Geneva at the end of the month. If all goes to plan, the Berlin participants will hold an evening press conference. But the summit has already ruffled feathers, with several countries in the region fuming at being left out, including Greece, Morocco and Tunisia. Libya Second Syria Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi. Most recently, Sarraj s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar s forces. Clashes killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile ceasefire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on January 12. At follow-up talks in Moscow, Sarraj agreed to a permanent truce but Hafter walked away without signing the deal. Although Sarraj s government is recognised by the UN, powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar -- turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war in which international powers jostle to secure their own interests. Alarm grew internationally after Erdogan ordered troops to Libya early January to bolster Sarraj. Underlining the stakes involved, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said "we have to make sure Libya doesn t become a second Syria." Sarraj meanwhile issued a call for international "protection troops" if Haftar were to keep up his offensive. "Such a protection force must operate under the auspices of the United Nations. Experts will have to advise who should participate, such as the EU or the African Union or the Arab League", he told Die Welt newspaper on Sunday. He also criticised the EU, saying it had not been proactive enough on Libya. "Unfortunately the role of the EU so far has been very modest... even though some EU countries have a special relationship with Libya, we are neighbours and have many interests in common," he said. Lip service? Erdogan has repeatedly urged Europe to stand united behind Sarraj s government, warning that Tripoli s fall could allow jihadist groups like the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda to regroup. He has also warned that further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for Europe. For Turkey, a fall of Sarraj s GNA could jeopardise a maritime boundary agreement the parties signed. It gives Ankara extensive rights over the eastern Mediterranean where the recent discovery of undersea gas reserves has triggered a scramble by littoral states. But Haftar is backed by Turkey s fiercest regional rivals -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Erdogan has also accused Russia of sending in mercenaries to help Haftar, as Moscow seeks to extend its influence in the region. The International Crisis Group s Libya expert Claudia Gazzini said the Berlin conference "could be a modest step forward" on the path to peace. "Yet the risk remains that some participants will merely pay lip service to the diplomatic initiative, even as they continue to fuel a war from which they benefit."
Germanys foreign minister was flying to Libya on Thursday to meet one of the countrys rival leaders, Gen. Khalifa Hifter, in a bid to push forward troubled efforts to secure a cease-fire. Germany will host a conference on Libya in Berlin on Sunday, bringing together many of the countries that have interests in the North African countrys civil war. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas trip to Benghazi comes two days after Libyas rival leaders left Moscow without reaching an agreement. Hifters forces have been on the offensive since April, laying siege in an effort to capture Tripoli and battling with militias aligned with the U.N.-supported government based in the Libyan capital. Since the 2011 ouster and killing of Libyas longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the country has sunk further into chaos and turmoil and is now divided between two rival administrations, the Tripoli one in the west and the one based in the countrys east, supported by Hifters forces. Russia and Turkey proposed a cease-fire last week. Prime Mniister Fayez Sarraj, the head of Libyas U.N.-supported government, and rival Hifter went to Moscow on Monday for talks with Russian and Turkish diplomats and military officials. Sarraj and Hifter, who didnt meet directly, considered a draft document spelling out details of a truce proposed jointly by Russia and Turkey that began Sunday. Sarraj signed the draft before departing, while Hifter requested more time to consider it and then left Moscow without signing. Both Sarraj and Hifter have been invited to the Berlin conference, though it isnt yet clear whether they will come. Maas spoke to Sarraj last week and said he is meeting Hifter on behalf of the European Unions foreign ministers. ``Our message is clear: no one can win this conflict militarily, Maas said before leaving Berlin. ``A window is now opening to free the conflict from international influence and so open the way to a political process and inter-Libyan negotiations on a post-war order under U.N. supervision. ``I hope that the parties will take this opportunity to put the future of Libya back in Libyan hands, Maas added. ``This now requires readiness for a real cease-fire and both parties participation in the dialogue formats proposed by the United Nations.
Military strongman Khalifa Haftar s reluctance to sign up to a Turkish-Russian orchestrated ceasefire accord underlines the complexity of Libya s conflict and pressures exerted by key foreign players, analysts say. He left Moscow on Tuesday without signing a permanent truce aimed at ending nine months of fighting against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Sarraj. His abrupt departure was a setback for an international diplomatic push, after Sarraj had signed up to halting Haftar s offensive to seize Tripoli from the GNA. For Emad Badi of the Washington-based Middle East Institute, there are two plausible explanations for Haftar walking away. "Either he didn t sign because he personally decided not regardless of the consequences, or... one of his backers guaranteed him support even if he did not sign". Abdelqader el-Rehebi, a Libyan political analyst, said the motivation for Haftar to hold off on signing a definitive ceasefire deal was clear. "Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Cairo and Paris, the direct or indirect supporters of his military campaign... were not agreed" on the deal. "This makes his refusal logical." Rehebi said Haftar s foreign backers had pressed him to keep up the Tripoli offensive "and, in return, (they pledged) to keep up their political and military support". Egypt, for example, a regional rival of Turkey which opposes Ankara s support for the GNA, "rejects any consensus or reconciliation between the two camps that would permit a Turkish presence on the Libyan scene", Rehebi said. Peter Millett, a former British ambassador to Libya, tweeted that Haftar s stand was a signal that the general and his backers "still think he can win militarily". - Very expensive price - But Mohamed Eljarh, another Libyan analyst, tweeted that Haftar had come under "enormous pressure" to sign. "Once again, Haftar proves he is not bound by the wishes of his backers & those that sympathize with him. Not #Cairo, not #AbuDhabi, and not #Moscow. #Libya," Eljarh wrote. A former US special envoy to Libya, Jonathan M. Winer, said the strongman s actions were true to form. "That has been what I have both observed & been told by senior foreign officials of states that supported him in the past. A dictator is beholden to no one," he tweeted. Critics accuse Haftar of aiming to install a new dictatorship in Libya, which has been in chaos ever since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime ruler Moamer Kadhafi. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted with fury to Haftar s walkout. "We will not hesitate to teach a deserved lesson to the putschist Haftar if he continues his attacks on the country s legitimate administration and our brothers in Libya," he said. The general, who supports an administration based in eastern Libya, set his sights on Tripoli last April after conquering much of the south, in part by rallying powerful local tribes. For Federica Saini Fasanotti of the Brookings Institution, "the price of this siege (of Tripoli) is also very expensive for Haftar." He "sees himself indebted to foreign countries that have supported him, but above all to the inhabitants" of eastern Libya. "Families who lost their children in this war operation await a clear response from Haftar that can only end with victory, at least on paper. Without that, it will be very difficult" for him, she said. Other analysts speculated that a secret annex to the ceasefire accord between Moscow and Ankara could explain Haftar s opposition. "Possibly, the two countries might have some under the table deal for a possible new political lineup in Libya," Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group told AFP.
Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar left Moscow on Tuesday without signing a ceasefire agreement aimed at ending nine months of fighting, leaving the future of a fragile truce uncertain. The commander s abrupt departure in the early hours of Tuesday was a setback for an international diplomatic push in recent days, though Moscow insisted it would continue mediation efforts. Haftar and his allies were in Moscow on Monday for talks with the UN-recognised government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj and based in Tripoli. Sarraj s government has been under attack since last April from forces loyal to Haftar, who is based in the east of the oil-rich North African country with his own loyalist politicians. The two sides agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey that took effect at the weekend and were in Moscow to sign a long-term agreement. The talks raised hopes of an end to the latest fighting to wrack Libya since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi. But after seven hours of negotiations, only Sarraj had signed on to the agreement and Russian officials confirmed to AFP that Haftar s delegation had left without signing the deal. "We will pursue our efforts in this direction. For now, a definitive result has not been achieved," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Sri Lanka. Russia, European powers and Libya s neighbours "are working in the same vein and motivating all Libyan sides to agree rather than continue sorting things out by force", Lavrov said. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a source in Haftar s stronghold Benghazi as saying he did not sign because the agreement did not spell out a timeline for disbanding groups allied with Sarraj s Government of National Accord (GNA). Opposing sides Western powers are keen to stabilise Libya -- home to Africa s largest proven crude reserves -- following years of turbulence since the 2011 killing of Kadhafi. Since the start of the offensive against Tripoli, more than 280 civilians and about 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced, according to the United Nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a joint call for a ceasefire, which started at midnight Sunday and was welcomed by the United Nations. The leaders of Turkey and France on Monday called for a more permanent truce which would pave the way for a political process, while Germany was preparing a summit on Libya this month. Putin late on Monday discussed the talks in Moscow with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said, following her visit to Moscow Saturday. Turkey and Russia s diplomatic initiative came despite the countries being seen as supporting opposing sides. Ankara dispatched troops -- in a training capacity, it said -- to support the GNA in January in a move criticised by European powers and US President Donald Trump. The GNA has signed agreements with Ankara assigning Turkey rights over a vast area of the eastern Mediterranean, in a deal denounced by France, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus. Russia has been accused of backing pro-Haftar forces, which are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- all regional rivals of Turkey. Several hundred Russian mercenaries are reported to be in Libya supporting Haftar. Putin said any Russians in the country are not in Moscow s pay.
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.
A few days ago, Egypt witnessed a major historical military achievement as President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi opened the South Bernese military base, in the presence of a number of Arab and foreign heads of state and defense ministers and high-ranking diplomatic figures. The South Bernice Military Base was built in a record time, as it took only one year to build one of the giant military fortresses on the southern strat