The UN Security Council endorsed a 55-point road map for ending the war in Libya on Wednesday and condemned the recent increase in violence in the oil-rich North African country. The vote on the British-drafted resolution was 14-0, with Russia abstaining even though Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the 12 leaders who agreed to the plan at a conference in Berlin on Jan. 19. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he abstained because the government has ``serious doubts about whether the resolution can be implemented and end the war between rival governments ``in the way we d like to see it.`` He said the Berlin plan ``has one defect ... and that is a lack of clearly expressed consent from the Libyan sides themselves. ``Events will show us who was right, Nebenzia said. ``And if the resolution will have a positive impact in resolving the conflict, I will be the first to acknowledge I was wrong.`` British Ambassador Karen Pierce countered that ``the resolution is viable, saying all it does ``is give concrete expression to the commitments that leaders adopted at Berlin _ and that included adoption by President Putin. ``We all want to see it implemented, she said. ``But it will be up to the parties on the ground and their foreign backers as to whether or not it gets implemented. So to the Russians and the others who have very close interests in Libya, I would think the remedy is in their hands. Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. In the chaos that followed the country was divided A weak administration that holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country s west is backed by Turkey, which recently sent thousands of soldiers to Libya, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy. On the other side is a rival government in the east that supports the National Libyan Army s commander Khalifa Hafter, whose forces launched an offensive to capture the capital last April and are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as France and Russia. Acting US deputy ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet told the council after the vote that it s ``very unfortunate that foreign mercenaries, including from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, are making an inclusive political solution harder to achieve and making it harder for the two sides to get together. The resolution demands that all countries refrain from interfering in Libya s conflict and its internal affairs and observe a UN arms embargo, ``including by ceasing all support for and withdrawing all armed mercenary personnel. Russia sought unsuccessfully to change references to growing involvement of mercenaries in the initial draft to ``foreign terrorist fighters. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that the Berlin agreement has been repeatedly violated by continuing arms deliveries to the warring parties and escalating fighting. He called the current offensives by rival forces ``a scandal, saying the commitments ``apparently were made without a true intention of respecting them. The resolution welcomes last week s cease-fire talks between Libya s warring sides in Geneva and calls for their continuation ``without further delay in order to agree a permanent cease-fire. It asks Guterres to submit his views on conditions for a cease-fire and proposals for effective monitoring of a truce, with a view to making detailed recommendations when a cease-fire is announced. The African Union, European Union and Arab League have been mentioned as possible participants in cease-fire monitoring along with the UN. Germany s deputy ambassador, Juergen Schulz, said the council was sending ``an important signal for peace in Libya, reaffirming the concrete commitments of all the participants of the Berlin conference. He welcomed the timing _ ahead of a Feb. 16 follow-up ministerial meeting of Berlin conference participants on the sidelines of the Munich security conference. ``The swift implementation of the Berlin conclusions is now crucial in light of the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law and reports of mounting civilian casualties, Schulz said. The resolution threatens sanctions against those supporting acts that threaten peace which Schulz said demonstrates the council s ``resolve to hold violators accountable. South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila, whose country chairs the African Union, stressed Libya s roots in Africa, saying the arms embargo must be observed to prevent the conflict spilling into the Sahel. ``The African Union has been very ready to play a central role, including the issue of monitoring of peace, he said. ``The road ahead is going to be very, very difficult, long. So it really needs all hands on deck, and you couldn t do that without African hands.
Government forces seized control of a highway in northwest Syria for the first time since 2012 on Tuesday as they pressed their campaign to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in Idlib province and the Aleppo countryside, a war monitor said. In Ankara, talks between Turkey and Russia ended without agreement on stopping clashes in which 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria in one week. Relief agencies meanwhile said an exodus of hundreds of thousands of civilians from the afflicted areas was the largest such movement in nine years of war and a new humanitarian crisis was unfolding. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces had seized the entire length of the M5 highway after driving rebels from their last foothold on the road. The M5 runs from Aleppo in the north to the capital Damascus then on to southern Deraa. They took control of the highway after capturing a western suburb of Aleppo from insurgents. The latest advances by President Bashar al-Assad s Russian and Iranian-backed troops came after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in the Idlib region in the past week, prompting some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus of the war. Ankara deployed thousands of soldiers to stem the Syrian offensive. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels downed a helicopter believed to belong to the Syrian government in the town of Nairab, Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber reported on Tuesday. Since the new push began, government forces have recaptured more than 600 square km of territory and in recent days have taken control of dozens of towns and villages. Last week they recaptured the crossroads town of Saraqeb, on the M5. Turkey has several military personnel stationed there to prevent further Syrian advances after eight of its soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling. A Russian delegation arrived in Ankara on Saturday days after the attack to hold talks aimed at stopping clashes. On their final day of talks, a second Syrian attack on Turkish troops in the Taftanaz area killed five more troops. Ankara has said that it retaliated to both attacks, destroying several Syrian targets. It said would drive back Assad s forces unless they withdraw by the end of the month. It also told the Russian team that attacks against Turkish posts must stop immediately. The Russians left Turkey after talks ended on Monday, a Turkish diplomatic source said, with no apparent agreement. The Kremlin said on Tuesday all attacks on Russian and Syrian forces in Idlib had to stop. AIR RAIDS Rescue teams in the region said Russian and Syrian war planes bombed several towns in Idlib, with most air raids on towns in western Aleppo, including a residential area in the city of Daraat Izza. At least 13 civilians were killed overnight in the air strikes, they said. The rapid advances by Assad s forces in Idlib have driven nearly 700,000 people from their homes towards the closed-off Turkish border in the past 10 weeks. Most of those displaced are women and children. "This is, from our initial analysis, the largest number of people in a single period since the Syrian crisis began almost nine years ago," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations OCHA humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva. "So it s the fastest growing displacement we have ever seen in the country. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the harsh winter weather was making their suffering worse and shelter was hard to find. "Even finding a place in an unfinished building is becoming nearly impossible," he said, adding that mosques were full. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more. It said it will halt new migrant waves from Idlib and its military will remain there. One Turkish politician urged President Tayyip Erdogan to go further. "There will be no peace in Turkey until Assad is brought down from his throne. Turkey must start plans to enter Damascus now, and annihilate the cruel ones," said Devlet Bahceli, chairman of Erdogan s nationalist partner party. Witnesses and rebels said on Tuesday a new column of Turkish reinforcements, including tanks, rocket launchers and armoured vehicles, crossed the border into Idlib overnight. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have also begun an new offensive against the government forces near army-controlled Saraqeb and Nairab to push troops away from Idlib city, where more than one million people live. The battle for Idlib is a crucial stage of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians, made millions refugees in their own country or overseas, and fractured the wider Middle East since it broke out amid the Arab Spring in 2011. Forces arrayed against Assad, Syria s ruler for nearly 20 years, have failed to dislodge him but he now presides over a devastated country. Moscow s military intervention in 2015 helped swing the war decisively in Assad s favour. Despite being on opposing sides, Turkey and Russia collaborate for a political solution to the conflict.
Clashes broke out Tuesday between Lebanese protesters and security forces near the parliament building in central Beirut, where the new Cabinet is scheduled to submit its policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence. The meeting is being held amid a crippling economic and financial crisis, Lebanon s worst in decades. Police threw a tight security dragnet around the area, and special forces and riot policemen quickly opened roads that were closed by protesters trying to prevent Cabinet ministers and legislators from reaching parliament. ``No confidence,`` chanted some of the protesters. The meeting is scheduled to begin before noon and last until Wednesday. Lebanon has been gripped by anti-government protests since October. Demonstrators are calling for sweeping reforms and an end to a political class they deem as corrupt and incompetent, blaming it for the rapidly worsening financial crisis. The protests forced the resignation of the former prime minister, Saad Hariri. New Prime Minister Hassan Diab is expected to read new government s policy statement, which includes a rescue plan to try get Lebanon out of its economic and financial crisis, the worst since the end of the country s 1975-90 civil war. A group of protesters surrounded the car of one Cabinet minister, Demianos Kattar, as he was on his way to the nearby government headquarters, pelting it with eggs pounding it with their fists before an army and police force pushed them away. Security forces fired tear gas in another street leading to parliament, where protesters were able to remove part of a giant concrete wall. In other streets, troops forced protesters from the middle of the street to allow traffic to flow. According to a copy of the government policy statement published by local media, it includes an ``emergency rescue plan`` and reforms in the judicial, financial and administrative fields, as well as fighting corruption and fixing the country s finances. Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at more than 150 of the GDP and worsening over the past years with no economic growth and high unemployment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel s center-right party plunged deeper into crisis Monday following a debacle in a regional election, as the long-time German leader s successor unexpectedly announced that she wouldn t stand for the chancellorship. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer informed leading members of Merkel s Christian Democratic Union that she will begin the process of organizing a leadership contest in the summer. Germany is scheduled to hold its next general election in the fall of 2021 and the 65-year-old Merkel, who has led Germany for 15 years, said two years ago that she won t run for a fifth term as chancellor. The move throws German politics into further turmoil, days after Merkel s party was heavily criticized for its handling of a vote for governor in the state of Thuringia that saw both the Christian Democrats and the far-right Alternative for Germany party back a centrist candidate. The vote broke what is widely regarded as a taboo around German political parties cooperating with extremist parties. Kramp-Karrenbauer, often referred to by the acronym AKK, took over the leadership of the Christian Democrats in December 2018 after beating out Health Minister Jens Spahn and Friedrich Merz, a former party veteran sidelined by Merkel before she became chancellor in 2005. Yet Kramp-Karrenbauer, 57, who is also Germany s defense minister, has struggled to boost the party s declining election results amid a stiff challenge from the far-right. The fiasco in Thuringia state further highlighted tensions in the center-right Christian Democrats after the party s regional lawmakers ignored a recommendation from Berlin not to back a centrist candidate against the left-wing incumbent. It was unclear how the latest development would affect Merkel s earlier plans for her succession. Among the names currently being bandied around as possible party leaders are Spahn, Merz and Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany s most populous state. Spahn and Laschet are considered centrists in the Merkel tradition, whereas Merz has tried to appeal to the conservative wing of the party that has flirted with the far-right Alternative for Germany.
African heads of state gather Sunday at the headquarters of the African Union for a summit meeting due to focus on how the body can play a more prominent role in resolving conflicts proliferating across the continent. The two-day summit has taken as its theme "Silencing the Guns", yet AU officials are well aware of their failure to achieve the goal adopted in 2013 of ending "all wars in Africa by 2020". In remarks to African foreign ministers ahead of the summit, AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat painted a bleak picture of the continent s security situation, citing extremist threats stretching from the Sahel to Somalia. The "missed deadline" to silence the guns, he said, "reveals the complexity of the security situation in Africa." The focus on conflicts this year marks a departure from multiple years of summits dedicated to reforming the AU -- including its funding structure -- and the implementation of a continent-wide free trade area. There are multiple hot spots to choose from. Though some progress has been made recently in Central African Republic and Sudan, long-running conflicts in places like Libya and South Sudan have been joined by new crises from Cameroon to Mozambique. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will take over from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as AU chair, appears attuned to these challenges. In a speech to South Africa-based diplomats in late January, he warned that conflict "continues to hamper" development. The AU "must be more proactive" in responding to conflicts instead of leaving the job to outside powers, Naledi Pandor, South Africa s international relations minister, told AFP. "The fact that anyone can step in means a gap has been allowed by us, and so I think we have to act faster, be more responsive when matters are affecting our continent," she said. For his part, Faki encouraged a focus on "root causes" of conflicts and urged African leaders to pursue "innovative solutions that put the military solution into perspective by combining it with measures from other areas, notably development." Frustration The AU will have to overcome internal disputes and insufficient financing for peacekeeping missions if it wants to become a major player in conflict resolution. One priority for Ramaphosa is to have the AU play a bigger role in Libya-related peace processes, which have been led primarily by the UN. A spokeswoman for Faki complained last month that the AU "has consistently been ignored" on Libya. But the AU s attempts to assert itself have been undermined by its own divisions. These date back to 2011, when African members of the UN Security Council endorsed military intervention, even as the AU s Peace and Security Council opposed it. A source from Niger recently explained that the AU remains split on Libya, saying that Egypt, for example, doesn t want the AU to get involved -- a claim Cairo disputes. The AU will also need to convince Europe, which is following Libya closely given its proximity to the conflict, to give it room to operate. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said during a news conference at the AU on Saturday that he understood the AU s "frustration" at having "been put aside" when it comes to Libya, and endorsed a more influential role for the body going forward. In a report released Friday, the International Crisis Group think-tank said the AU should prioritise the finalisation of an agreement that would see the UN finance 75 percent of peacekeeping missions backed by the UN Security Council. "While the AU is willing and able to mount the type of counterterrorism and peace enforcement missions now regularly needed to help stabilise African countries, it lacks the financial resources necessary to provide them steady and predictable support -- something the UN can offer," the report said.
A car-ramming targeting Israeli troops in Jerusalem wounded 14 people early Thursday in an attack that Palestinian Islamist group Hamas hailed as a response to Washington s controversial Middle East peace plan. A manhunt was underway for the driver who fled the scene outside a popular Jerusalem entertainment spot. The attack occurred shortly before 2:00 am (2400 GMT) outside the First Station, an historic Ottoman-era railway terminus that has been turned into a cultural and entertainment centre with bars and restaurants. The attacker struck in the street outside where the soldiers had been marching, the army said. One of then soldiers was "severely injured" and has been evacuated to hospital. Public radio said they were new recruits on their way to an induction ceremony at Jerusalem s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. "During the incident, a terrorist sped his car towards (Israeli) soldiers," the army said. Israeli troops "are currently pursuing the terrorist who escaped the scene." Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said "the incident is being investigated as a terror attack." There have been car-rammings targeting Israeli troops in the past, in the occupied West Bank as well as Jerusalem. The Islamist Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, hailed the car-ramming as a "practical response" to US President Donald Trump s controversial Middle East peace plan. In a statement, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack was part of the "resistance operation" but stopped short of claiming responsibility. It came amid heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, since the release last month of US President Donald Trump s long-awaited peace proposals. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the plan, which unilaterally gives Israel most of what it has sought in previous negotiations. - Sporadic clashes - There have been sporadic clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops since the release of Trump s proposals. In the northern West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli forces shot dead 19-year-old Yazan Abu Tabikh on Thursday, in an incident that left seven others wounded. The army said troops had "identified a number of armed terrorists who hurled explosive devices and fired towards them. The forces responded with riot dispersal means." On Wednesday, a 17-year-old was shot dead by Israeli forces during a protest in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron. Israeli military described the teenager as a "violent rioter" armed with a Molotov cocktail who posed a threat to troops. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli aircraft struck Hamas positions early Thursday, after Palestinians fired rockets or mortar rounds at Israel and launched incendiary balloons. "Fighter jets and (other) aircraft targeted Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip," an army statement said. Since Trump s plan was announced, there has been almost daily fire from Gaza into southern Israel, drawing Israeli retaliation. There have been no reported casualties.
Syrian militants affiliated with groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are currently being sent by Turkey to fight on behalf of the U.N.-supported government in Libya, according to two Libyan militia leaders and a Syrian war monitor. Both sides in Libya s civil war receive equipment and backing from foreign countries. But Turkey, which has long trained and funded opposition fighters in Syria and relaxed its borders so foreign fighters joined IS, has in recent months been airlifting hundreds of them over to a new theater of war in Libya. The U.N.-supported government controls only a shrinking area of western Libya, including the capital, Tripoli. It s facing a months-long offensive by forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter who is allied with a rival government based in Libya s east. The United Nations recognizes the government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, as Libya s legitimate government because it was born out of U.N.-mediated talks in 2015. Sarraj is backed by Turkey, and to a lesser degree, Qatar and Italy. Hifter receives backing from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. Libya has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world, and many of these countries are apparently jockeying for influence in order to control Libya s resources. Libyan militia leaders in Tripoli told The Associated Press that Turkey has brought more than 4,000 foreign fighters into Tripoli, and that ``dozens of them are extremist-affiliated. The two commanders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. The commanders also highlighted differing opinions within the Libyan militias about accepting Syrian extremists into their ranks. One said the fighters backgrounds aren t important, as long as they ve come to help defend the capital. The other said some commanders fear the fighters will ``tarnish the image of the Tripoli-based government. Turkey-backed militias in northern Syria have been known to include fighters that previously fought with al-Qaida, IS and other militant groups, and have committed atrocities against Syrian Kurdish groups and civilians. The U.N. has repeatedly condemned the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Libya. But the organization has not directly responded to reports and accusations by Hifter s side that Sarraj s government and Turkey are apparently using IS- and al-Qaida-linked extremists as mercenaries. Turkey has not confirmed or denied reports of Syrian fighters being sent to Libya to support Sarraj, and the Turkish military did not respond to requests for comment. However, in a televised interview last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: ``As a combat force, we will have a different team there. They won t be from within our soldiers. Those different teams and the combat forces will work together. But our high-ranking soldiers will coordinate.`` He did not elaborate. Rumors of Turkey-backed Syrian fighters in Libya have swirled for weeks. Foreign leaders and commentators have pointed to videos circulated online that appear to show Syrians in Tripoli. In one video, a man with a Syrian accent films the dormitories where he and other fighters are living, saying ``Thank God, we arrived safely in Libya. Another clip shows a plane full of fighters, some wearing fatigues and speaking with Syrian accents. Turkey s Libyan allies and Syrian opposition leaders have denied any organized efforts to send combatants to Libya. But in January, Sarraj told the BBC that his government ``would not hesitate to cooperate with any party to defeat this aggression`` by Hifter s forces. Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AP that his war-monitoring network has determined there are at least 130 former Islamic State or al-Qaida fighters among the approximately 4,700 Turkey-backed Syrian mercenaries sent to fight for Sarraj. He said the IS militants had joined the so-called Syrian National Army, a patchwork alliance formed by Turkey from different factions who battled the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Most of the groups are loyal to Turkey, and the SNA was used as shock troops last year in Turkey s offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria. In theory, a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey remains in place around Tripoli but Libya s warring sides have traded accusations of violations, and the shaky truce is threatened by clashes. Representatives from Sarraj and Hifter began meetings in Geneva on Tuesday to work toward a more permanent cease-fire. The Observatory also quoted a Syrian fighter from Idlib province who applied to go to Libya as saying he was motivated by the financial benefits offered by Turkey. Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute who closely follows Syria s armed groups, said the promise of payment, Turkish citizenship or the prospect of fleeing to Europe were the main motives of Syrian fighters sent to Libya. ``None of them are committed to the fight in Libya due to personal conviction or ideology, she said. A Libyan official at the prime minister s office said Syrian fighters have been in Libya since early August. At first, he said they were only facilitating the work of Turkish military experts. But as the fighting escalated in mid-December, the number of Syrian fighters arriving in Libya increased. These fighters now immediately deploy to the front lines, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn t authorized to talk to reporters on the subject. The Tripoli authorities and U.S. officials have also accused Hifter of relying on hundreds of Russian mercenaries. Sudanese armed groups from the Darfur region recently joined the fighting on both sides, according to a report by U.N. experts. The influx of Syrian, Russian and Sudanese mercenaries has threatened to prolong the war and cripple international efforts to establish a long-term cease-fire. Last month, a summit in Berlin brought together the major international stakeholders in Libya, but with few concrete results. Nicholas Heras, a Syria expert at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said Turkey is focusing on Libya to establish a sphere of influence in the Mediterranean. ``However, the Turks do not want to risk significant casualties to their own forces when the Turkish military has built a proxy force of Syrian fighters that can reinforce the Libyan fighters, he said.
Sudan s leader Tuesday briefed the country s ruling body after the Israeli prime minister said the two had discussed normalising bilateral ties, a move which surprised the Sudanese cabinet. On Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu s office said he had met General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairman of Sudan s ruling sovereign council, in the Ugandan city of Entebbe in a previously unannounced meeting. Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which for years supported hardline Islamist forces. The statement from Netanyahu s office said the two men had "agreed to start cooperation leading to normalisation of the relationship between the two countries". Sudan s cabinet said it had been unaware of such talks and convened Tuesday to discuss the issue. Sudan s sovereign council, a transitional body of civilians and military officials led by Burhan, also held a meeting on Tuesday where the issue was being discussed, a source told AFP. The source said Burhan, who had now returned from Entebbe, was briefing the council about his meeting with Netanyahu. Netanyahu s office said on Monday that he believed Sudan is headed "in a new positive direction" and that he had expressed this view to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "Burhan is eager to help his country modernise by taking it out of isolation and putting it on the world s map," it said. The Uganda meeting came after Sudan said Pompeo had invited Burhan to Washington for an official visit, the first such invitation to a Sudan ruler in more than three decades. The United States still classifies Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, a legacy from the rule of now ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir who in the 1990s welcomed Osama bin Laden. Late on Monday, Sudan s government spokesman Faisal Mohamed Salih said the cabinet had only learned of the meeting at Entebbe through the media. "We, the members of the cabinet, were not notified or consulted about this meeting," Salih said in a statement. Sudan under Bashir was part of the decades-long Arab boycott of Israel over the Jewish state s treatment of the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership denounced the Sudanese general s talks with Netanyahu. "This meeting is a stab in the back of the Palestinian people... at a time when the administration of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are trying to liquidate the Palestinian cause," Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement carried on official news agency WAFA.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey will continue to retaliate after Syrian government shelling killed four of its troops and wounded nine in Syria s northwest Idlib region, where Turkish forces have bulked up in recent days. Erdogan said initial indications show 30-35 Syrians were "neutralised" in Turkey s response to what the government called intense shelling of its soldiers. He said Turkey has told Russian counterparts "they need to stand aside" in the escalating conflict. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad s forces, backed by Russian air power, have recently made advances in Idlib, prompting Turkey to warn it may launch a military operation there unless the fighting is halted. "We have responded in kind to these attacks and will continue to do so, whether it is with our artillery or mortars," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. "We are determined to continue our operations for the security of our country, people and our brothers in Idlib," he said. "Those who question our determination will soon understand they made a mistake." A Turkish security official told Reuters that the shelling which killed the soldiers occurred in the area of Saraqeb town, 15 km (9 miles) to the east of Idlib city. "Following the developments in Idlib in recent weeks, serious support was provided over the weekend to the troops, equipment and vehicles in the region," the official said. The Idlib region is the last major rebel-held stronghold in Syria s nearly nine-year-old war and Erdogan accuses Russia of violating agreements to reduce the fighting in the region, a charge which Moscow denied on Friday. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria, fears a fresh wave of migrants from Idlib. It has 12 military observation posts around the region, set up under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran. Several of them have since been surrounded by advancing Syrian government forces. REINFORCEMENTS A spokesman for Erdogan s AK Party said Turkey will view Syrian government forces around the observation posts in the region as "targets". The Syrian Observatory, a UK-based war monitor, said some 320 Turkish trucks and military vehicles entered Idlib at Kafr Lusin crossing on Sunday, much more than usual, and went south. Turkey s defence ministry said Syrian shelling was carried out against its reinforcements, which were meant to prevent clashes in Idlib, despite prior coordination of their positions. Erdogan said if talks between diplomats and generals fail to get results he will contact Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to try to resolve the situation. "We told especially Russian counterparts that they are not our counterparts here, that it is the (Syrian) regime directly, and that they need to stand aside," Erdogan said. "This is not okay, we are giving martyrs here, but our armed forces and our artillery... are keeping them under fire." He added F-16s are involved in Turkey s operation against 40 points in Idlib. Russia s TASS news service said no air strikes were carried out in the fighting. The U.S. special envoy for Syria said on Thursday the Idlib fighting raised the spectre of an international crisis.
Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip early Sunday in retaliation for projectiles fired from the Palestinian enclave into southern Israel, the army said. Military jets and helicopters struck targets linked to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, shortly after midnight, with no reported casualties. Israel also suspended cement deliveries to the enclave and cancelled 500 commercial entry permits into Israel "until further notice". The action was taken "due to the continued rocket fire and launchings of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel," said a statement by Major General Kamil Abu Rukun, head of the Israeli military unit responsible for coordination in the Palestinian territories. Since the announcement Tuesday by US President Donald Trump of his plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rockets, shells and explosive balloons have been fired almost daily from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, provoking Israeli retaliation. Palestinians strongly reject the US plan, seen as heavily favouring Israel. The Trump initiative suggests that Israel would retain control of the contested city of Jerusalem as its "undivided capital" and gives the Jewish state the green light to annex settlements in the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967. Rocket fire from Gaza on Saturday night forced Benny Gantz, a leading candidate in Israel s upcoming general election who was campaigning in southern Israel, to take refuge with his team in a shelter, local media reported. Former military general Gantz heads the Blue and White party and is the chief rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March 2 election. The Israeli army said its overnight strikes on Gaza targeted infrastructure belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group that has controlled the enclave since 2007. "Fighter jets and attack helicopters struck a number of Hamas terror targets in the northern Gaza Strip," it said in a statement. Among the targets was "underground infrastructure... used as a situation room," it added. There were no casualties from the strikes, according to Hamas security sources. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008 but over the past year the Islamists have gradually shaped an informal truce with Israel, under which the Jewish state has eased its crippling blockade of Gaza.
Abu Dis, the town earmarked for the Palestinian capital in U.S. President Donald Trump s Middle East peace plan, lies a short distance to the east of Jerusalem s walled Old City. A relatively featureless urban sprawl on the old road to Jericho, it has little of the religious or cultural resonance of the historic city centre, which contains sites sacred to the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abu Dis belongs to the Palestinian governorate of Jerusalem but is just outside the Israeli municipal city limits set by Israel after it captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, later annexing it in a move not recognised by most of the international community. What the neighbourhood does have is a large shuttered building that was constructed in an earlier, more hopeful era to be a site for the parliament of the Palestinian Authority. That hall now lies abandoned and disused after the breakdown of the Oslo peace process and the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, two decades ago. Since then, Palestinians in Abu Dis have been cut off from Jerusalem neighbourhoods to the west by a high concrete wall built by Israel that claimed it built it to stop suicide bombers and gunmen entering the city. Students at a nearby university have used the wall as a backdrop to project movies during warm summer nights when they sit outside. The White House document accompanying the U.S. plan s release said the barrier should "serve as a border between the capitals of the two parties." It said Jerusalem should "remain the sovereign capital of the State of Israel, and it should remain an undivided city." It continued: "The sovereign capital of the State of Palestine should be in the section of East Jerusalem located in all areas east and north of the existing security barrier, including Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis, and could be named Al Quds or another name as determined by the State of Palestine."
The number of Jews and Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River is at or near parity, figures cited by Israeli officials show, raising questions whether Israel can remain a democracy if it keeps territory where Palestinians seek a state. The population statistics were mentioned in an Israeli parliamentary statement on Monday summing up legislators’ questioning of an official of Israel’s military-run civil administration (COGAT) that coordinates government activities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Demography is studied closely on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of its potential implications for both societies as they weigh possible solutions as Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary next month. With over a “two-state solution” frozen since 2014, some argue that if Israel becomes a binational state through annexation of land seized 51 years ago, it could one day be forced to choose between remaining a democracy or securing a Jewish majority by denying Palestinians the vote. “We estimate the (Palestinian) population in Judea and Samaria at between 2.5 million and 2.7 million,” Colonel Uri Mendes, COGAT’s deputy director, using Israel’s term for the West Bank, told a session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. He noted that a Palestinian census put the figure even higher, at 3 million. Avi Dichter, the committee’s chairman and a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, responded that with the addition of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians, that meant there was now a total of about five million Palestinians living in the two territories that fell to Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Taking the higher end of the Israeli figures cited and adding them to the 1.84 million Arabs living inside Israel, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), would bring the total number of Arabs in Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories to around 6.5 million. This is around the same number of Jews living between the Jordan Valley and Mediterranean, according to the CBS. Jewish settlements in occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state have also dimmed Palestinian hopes of a viable and contiguous country of their own with East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians also fear their quest for statehood suffered another blow when U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. SETTLERS DISPUTE DATA Israeli settlers immediately disputed the population figures, citing one study that put the number of Palestinians in the West Bank at 1.8 million. “The slanted publication about Arab demography in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley relies on data from the Palestinian statistics bureau which are not true or accurate. They (Palestinians) have an interest in inflating the numbers,” settler spokesman Yigal Dilmoni said. But Ahmed Tibi, an Arab legislator in the Israeli parliament, described the figures as accurate and “well known to us for a long time”. Without the creation of a Palestinian state, Tibi said, Israel will be headed toward a “one-state solution” embracing either “apartheid or an Arab-Palestinian prime minister”. Ofer Shelah, a committee member from the opposition centrist Yesh Atid party, said it is clear the Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean is “precarious”. “From a demographic perspective, if Israel does not part with the Palestinians then there is real danger to realizing the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic Israel,” Shelah told Reuters. Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer and professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said one state taking in two nations was not viable. “The answer is separation, the answer is manifestly separation. Two countries for two people, which of course has to be negotiated,” said DellaPergola. Underlying political dynamics, he said, are more important than exact population percentages.
The Israeli army said Tuesday it was beefing up forces in the Jordan Valley, a swathe of the occupied West Bank expected to feature in US President Donald Trump s long-awaited peace plan. "Following the ongoing situation assessment conducted in the IDF, it has been decided to reinforce the Jordan Valley area with infantry troops," the military said in a statement. Trump was due to release his plan, years in the works, at the White House later Tuesday together with his close ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinians, who accuse Trump of pro-Israel bias, were not taking part in the Washington event and have rejected the plan and any US role as peacemaker. While details of the US proposal remain secret, it may seek to give Israel the green light to annex the Jordan Valley, a strategic area along the border with Jordan that constitutes around 30 percent of the West Bank. During a tour of the valley on Monday, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said they were taking steps towards the move -- a central election promise of right-winger Netanyahu. "As interior minister I d like to tell you, we ve started to prepare for an annexation -- we are getting the paperwork ready," Deri said. Palestinians were planning protests in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday and Wednesday.
One protester was killed early Monday in Iraq s flashpoint city of Nasiriyah, a medic told AFP, as gunmen stormed the square where anti-government demonstrators had been camped out for months. The men arrived in Habbubi Square just after midnight, torching the tents where protesters had been sleeping and leaving nothing but charred shreds of fabric and metal frames, an AFP correspondent there said. The unidentified gunmen fired on protesters, killing one and wounding four others, a medical source said. Hours later, determined protesters had rallied again and shut down two main bridges in the city, some 350 kilometres (200 miles) south of the capital Baghdad. The main protest camp in the holy city of Najaf was also burned down overnight by unidentified gunmen, AFP s correspondent there said on Monday. Mass protests erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and across Iraq s Shiite-majority south in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and corruption. They spiralled into calls for a total government overhaul and are now specifically demanding snap polls, an independent prime minister and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed. Protesters tried to ramp up pressure on the government starting a week ago by sealing streets with burning tyres and metal barricades, but riot police responded with force. They fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse clusters of young demonstrators, and 21 protesters have been killed and hundreds wounded in the last week. That brought the toll from the last four months of rallies close to 480 dead, according to an AFP rally. On Friday, security forces began moving in on the main protest camps across the country after influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr said he would drop support for the youth-dominated reform campaign. Sadr supporters swiftly began dismantling their own tents, prompting fears by the remaining activists that they had lost their political cover and would face a crackdown. But thousands of students turned out Sunday across Iraqi cities to insist on their movement s resilience and political independence. Demonstrators have feared that their movement may be eclipsed by tensions between neighbouring Iran and the US, which spiralled after the killing early this month of a senior Iranian commander in a US drone strike in Baghdad. On Sunday evening, three Katyusha rockets slammed into the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, a security source said. A senior Iraqi official and US diplomatic sources said one person was wounded, but no details were immediately available on whether it was a US national or an Iraqi member of staff at the mission.
Security forces shot live rounds to clear protest hotspots in Baghdad and southern Iraq for a second day Sunday, sparking skirmishes with demonstrators determined to keep up their movement. The anti-government protesters had feared their campaign would be squashed when riot police Saturday moved in on their tent camps in the capital, the southern port city of Basra, the holy city of Najaf and other cities. But the demonstrators returned in large numbers in the evening and on Sunday morning, with security forces trying to clear them out again. In the capital, they used live rounds in an attempt to disperse small anti-government rallies in Khallani and Wathba squares, near the main protest camp of Tahrir Square, according to a police source. At least 17 protesters were wounded, including six with bullet wounds, the source said. The young demonstrators have mostly thrown rocks at riot police but some have tossed Molotov cocktails. In Nasiriyah to the south, security forces also fired live rounds but there was no immediate word on casualties. Protesters had gathered there in large numbers after police reopened main thoroughfares in Nasiriyah leading to the central protest camp in Habbubi Square. The youth-dominated protests erupted in Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south on October 1 in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption. Met with violence, they quickly spiralled into calls for a total government overhaul. Rallies are now specifically demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent premier and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or the recent bloodshed. But activists worry they could face a wider crackdown after firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr dropped his support for the movement on Friday. The notoriously fickle militia leader-turned-politician backed the protests when they first started and even called on the government to resign. His supporters had widely been recognised as the most organised and well-stocked protesters in Tahrir. But after holding an anti-US rally in Baghdad that was attended by thousands, Sadr said he no longer wanted to be involved in the regime change movement. Within hours, his supporters were dismantling their tents in protest camps across the country and riot police began moving in on demonstrations. But activists issued an urgent call for help, and young demonstrators flooded Tahrir and other areas.
Chinese face mask manufacturers are reopening factories shut for a national holiday, promising workers up to four times their normal wages as consumers emptied out stock in stores in a race to protect themselves from the new coronavirus infection. The flu-like virus, which has killed 17 and infected nearly 600, is expected to spread further as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel domestically and abroad during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, a time when factories across China usually close. Worried about the potential for a global pandemic, China is putting Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak and a city of 11 million, on lockdown. The decision was praised by the World Health Organization as a strong one that could limit contagion but has also heightened fears about the virus. "From what I have heard, the mask shortage is much, much more severe than what the public knows," said Cao Jun, general manager of mask manufacturer Lanhine, which has a factory in east China s Ningbo city. "Almost all hospital workers nationwide are facing a huge shortage of masks, not just in Wuhan. That s very terrible." Cao said the firm s clients are demanding a combined 200 million masks per day compared to its normal production rate of 400,000 a day. "At the moment, we have 20-plus people in the factory, working 24 hours. We re offering them quadruple their wages per day," Cao told Reuters. "We aim to ramp up output on Jan. 27 and be at full capacity on Feb. 1, when we’d have nearly 200 workers." Another manufacturer, CMmask, in eastern China s Jiande city, told Reuters it was offering workers triple their wages if they came back. "Our factory is out of stock now, but we have extended our working hours by four hours to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m," said Hu Qinghui, CMmask s deputy general manager. U.S. firms 3M and Honeywell International issued statements saying that they would make every effort to ensure a continuous supply of masks during the holiday and that their official stores would not raise prices. China s industry ministry on Wednesday launched an "emergency coordination effort", asking local authorities to work with factories "to overcome labour difficulties during the Spring Festival, accelerate production and do their utmost to increase supply to the market," state media reported. Firms from drugmakers to makers of thermometers have also said they would step up production. Xinlong Holding, a manufacturer of filters and fabrics for masks, said some of its factories had "abandoned the Spring Festival holiday." Tech giant Alibaba Group told the state-backed China News Service it was working with 92 mask manufacturers, which currently have a combined supply of 42 million masks. Another 1.57 million more will be made before the week-long holiday officially starts on Friday, it said. E-commerce platforms, including Alibaba s Taobao, JD.com and Pinduoduo Inc have also pledged to crack down on any vendors who might try to raise prices of masks and disinfectant products.
Lebanon s newly-unveiled cabinet met Wednesday for the first time to start tackling the twin challenges posed by a tenacious protest movement and a nosediving economy. Hassan Diab, who replaced Saad Hariri as prime minister, vowed to meet the demands from the street but demonstrators were unconvinced and scuffled with police overnight. The 61-year-old academic, was thrown in at the deep end for his first experience on the political big stage and admitted that Lebanon was experiencing "a difficult time in its history". "Government of last resort," was the headline on the front page of Al-Akhbar, a daily newspaper close to the powerful Hezbollah movement that gave its blessing to Diab s designation last month. The Shiite group and its allies dominated the talks that produced the new government, from which outgoing premier Saad Hariri and some of his allies were absent. The millionaire was one of the symbols of the kind of hereditary and sectarian-driven politics that protesters who have been in the streets since mid-October want to end. He and his government resigned less than two weeks into the non-sectarian protests demanding the complete overhaul of the political system and celebrating the emergence of a new national civic identity. Protesters from across Lebanon s geographical and confessional divides had demanded a cabinet of independent technocrats as a first step to root out endemic government corruption and incompetence. Diab is a career academic from the prestigious American University of Beirut and he insisted Tuesday in his first comments that the government just unveiled was a technocratic one. "This is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilised nationwide for more than three months," he said. Technocratic? Yet the horsetrading between traditional political factions during lengthy government formation talks was all too familiar to many Lebanese who met the breakthrough with distrust at best. "Instead of the corrupt politicians, we got the corrupt politicians friends," said Ahmad Zaid, a 21-year-old student who joined a few hundred protesters in central Beirut after the announcement. Clusters of demonstrators burned tyres and briefly blocked roads to express their displeasure at the new line-up but clashes with riot police were on a smaller scale than weekend violence that left dozens wounded. Similar rallies took place in Tripoli -- a hotbed of the protest movement -- in Sidon, Byblos and other cities. The new cabinet is mostly made up of new faces, many of them academics and former ministry advisers. It comprises 20 ministers and among its six women is Zeina Akar, Lebanon s first-ever female defence minister. To downsize the cabinet, some portfolios were merged, resulting in at times baffling combinations such as a single ministry for culture and agriculture. Anger at what protesters see as a kleptocratic oligarchy was initially fuelled by youth unemployment that stands at more than 30 percent and the abysmal delivery of public services such as water and electricity. The long-brewing discontent was compounded by fears of a total economic collapse in recent weeks, with a liquidity crunch leading banks to impose crippling capital controls. Lebanon has one of the world s highest debt-to-GDP ratios and economists have argued it is hard to see how the near bankrupt country could repay its foreign debt. - A little time - "Regarding the economic situation, I repeat that this is one of our priorities," Diab said Tuesday night, pledging to find solutions "as fast as possible". "We need to be given a little time," he said. A looming default on Lebanon s debt, which has been steadily downgraded deeper into junk status by rating agencies, has sent the dollar soaring on the parallel exchange market. In a country where many transactions are carried out in dollars and most goods are imported, consumers and business alike have been hit hard by the national currency s free fall. Money changers announced on Tuesday the rate would be capped at 2,000 pounds to the dollar -- still above the official peg of 1,500 -- but the move is only likely to create a fully illegal black market of unlicensed changers applying different rates. Every morning, queues of people hoping to withdraw their weekly cap of 100 or 200 dollars form outside banks. With Hariri and his Sunni bloc staying out of the fray, the national unity government he led for three years is being replaced by a lopsided cabinet dominated by Hezbollah. Western sanctions on the Iranian-backed organisation are stacking up and economists have argued the new government might struggle to secure the aid it so badly needs.
Iran acknowledged on Tuesday that its armed forces fired two Russian anti-aircraft missiles at a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed after taking off from Tehran s main airport earlier this month, killing all 176 people on board. The new preliminary report by Iran s Civil Aviation Organization however stopped short of blaming the TOR-M1 for the crash of the Boeing 737-800, flown by Ukraine International Airways. For days after the Jan. 8 shootdown, Iran denied that it fired missiles at the plane, initially blaming a technical malfunction and engine fire for the crash. However, after the U.S. and Canada blamed missile fire for the crash, Iran s armed forces said anti-aircraft fire from the country s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard had downed the flight. The new report identified the missiles fired at the aircraft as coming from the TOR-M1. In 2017, Iran received the delivery of 29 TOR-M1 units from Russia under a contract worth an estimated $700 million. However, the report said ``the impact of these missiles on the accident and the analysis of this action under is under investigation. Surveillance footage earlier obtained by The Associated Press showed two missiles were fired at the plane. The two minutes of black-and-white footage purportedly shows one missile streaking across the sky and exploding near the plane. Ten seconds later, another missile is fired. Some 20 seconds after the first explosion, another strikes near the plane. A ball of flames then falls from the sky out of frame. The footage corresponded with AP reporting, appeared genuine and matched geographic features of the area. It also explained how so many people filmed the shoot down: the first explosion drew their attention so they turned their mobile phone cameras to the predawn sky. The Tor short-range air defense system, code-named the SA-15 by NATO, was designed during Soviet times to shoot down aircraft and precision guided weapons. It is mounted on a tracked vehicle and carries a radar and a pack of eight missiles. Each vehicle can operate independently. Tor has a range of up to 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) and can hit aerial targets at altitudes of up to 6 kilometers (about 19,700 feet). Tor missiles explode near their target, taking it down with shrapnel that devastates engines, fuel tanks and other vital components. In other developments on Tuesday, South Korea Defense Ministry announced its anti-piracy unit operating in the Gulf of Aden was temporarily expanding its mission to the Strait of Hormuz. A ministry statement said the decision was meant to help ensure the safe passage of South Korean vessels and nationals through the waterway. It said the unit s expanded operation will include the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The ministry said the unit will conduct an independent operation but will cooperate with a U.S.-led coalition if necessary. Already, a U.S.-led operation is surveilling the strait, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all the world s oil passes. A French-led naval coalition is also being created. The missions began after mysterious explosions last summer targeted oil tankers near the strait, attacks the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied being involved, though it did seize tankers amid wider tensions with the West over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
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.
Mina M. Azer
Egyptians have made several achievements in fencing and many of them won international competitions. In that account, we may hear about champions like Adham Moataz, the European gold medal for the fencing for young men, and Medhat Moataz, owner of the world bronze medal for the fencing. Now, there is a new generation of Egyptians who is not satisfied with achieving local titles, but works hard to win international