Tunisian parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, narrowly survived a motion of no-confidence on Thursday. Only 133 MPs out of a total of 217 in the parliament attended the session. 97 MPs voted in the secret ballot for the motion and 30 voted against. A request to withdraw confidence from the speaker in the Tunisian parliament requires an absolute majority vote of 109 votes from a total of 217 MPs. The Tunisian parliament had devoted its session today to vote on the motion submitted by dozens of MPs, led by the MPs from the liberal Free Constitutional Party, to withdraw confidence from Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, but the dispute over the method of voting sparked tensions at the start of the session. The chairperson of the session was forced to adjourn this morning session during secret balloting on the confidence withdrawal motion as mayhem broke out in parliament between opposition and Ennahda MPs. The session and secret balloting were resumed shortly after. MPs from smaller opposition parties and recently resigned ruling coalition parties also supported withdrawing confidence from the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Movement, the largest bloc in parliament, charging that he violated rules of procedure and failed to run the sessions in a partial manner.
The United States on Wednesday imposed fresh sanctions aimed at depriving the Syrian government of funds, and warned that Washington would blacklist anyone doing business with President Bashar al-Assad s government until he supports a negotiated end to the country s nearly decade-long war. Among the 14 blacklisted Wednesday were Assad s son, Hafez, a Syrian businessman and nine entities a senior U.S. official accused of helping to fund the Syrian government s "campaign of terror", as well as the Syrian Arab Army s First Division unit, among others. "The steady drumbeat of designations on persons and entities that support the Assad regime will continue until the regime and its associates cease obstructing a peaceful political resolution of the conflict" as called for by the U.N. Security Council, a senior U.S. official told reporters. The sanctions, imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act and other measures, come as the Syrian leader grapples with a deepening economic crisis after a decade of war. It marks the second round of sanctions imposed by the Washington under the Caesar Act, which aims to deter "bad actors who continue to aid and finance the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people while simply enriching themselves." "It is time for Assad s needless, brutal war to end. This, above all, is what our sanctions campaign is meant to bring about," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. Already, U.S. and European Union sanctions have frozen the assets of the Syrian state and hundreds of companies and individuals. Washington has banned American exports to and investment in Syria, as well as transactions involving oil and hydrocarbon products. The new sanctions cover many more sectors, and they can freeze assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality. The measure also targets those dealing with entities from Russia and Iran, Assad’s main backers. Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread hardship among ordinary residents, where the currency collapse has led to soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.
Lebanon s premier condemned Tuesday a "dangerous military escalation" by Israel after a security incident at the border led the Jewish state to fire artillery across the frontier. "Israel has once again violated Lebanon s sovereignty... in a dangerous military escalation," Hassan Diab said on Twitter, in his government s first official response to Monday s shelling. "I call for caution in the coming days because I fear that things will get worse in light of severe tension at the border," he said. The Israeli army had said a group of three to five men armed with rifles crossed the UN-demarcated Blue Line in the disputed Mount Dov area, claimed by Lebanon, Syria and Israel. It said the "terrorists" had fled back to Lebanon after an exchange of gunfire and that Israeli forces had fired artillery into Lebanon "for defensive purposes". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and the Lebanese government "carry responsibility" for the infiltration attempt. But Hezbollah, which has a presence in the area where the incident occurred, denied any involvement. It said that reports of Israel thwarting an infiltration from Lebanon are "completely false." United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL said it had opened an investigation into the incident. Diab on Tuesday accused Israel of trying to "change the rules of engagement," that have existed between the two countries since the end of a month-long 2006 war -- the last direct conflict between the two states. He also said that Israel was pushing to alter the mandate of UNIFIL before it expires late next month. In early May, the US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, called on the world body to "pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL or realign its staffing and resources," because the mission was being "prevented from fulfilling its mandate." Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah swiftly rejected the proposal which he said was an Israeli demand. The latest border incident follows a July 20 Israeli missile attack on Syrian government and allied positions south of Damascus that killed five people. Hezbollah, whose fighters back Damascus in the nine-year-old Syrian civil war, said one of its own was among the dead. Since 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria, targeting government troops and allied Iranian and Hezbollah forces with the stated aim of ending Iran s military presence in Syria.
Iran has moved a mock-up U.S. aircraft carrier to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, satellite images show, suggesting it will use the look-alike vessel for target practice in war games in a Gulf shipping channel vital to world oil exports. The use of dummy American warships has become an occasional feature of training by Iran s Revolutionary Guards and its naval forces, including in 2015 when Iranian missiles hit a mock-up resembling a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Tehran, which opposes the presence of U.S. and Western navies in the Gulf, frequently holds naval war games in the strategic Strait, the conduit for some 30% of all crude and other oil liquids traded by sea. One of the images taken on July 26 by U.S.-based space technology firm Maxar Technologies showed an Iranian fast attack boat moving toward the model U.S. carrier in the strategic waterway. Another image showed model planes lined up on the deck of the fake carrier. Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that has sharply dropped Tehran s oil exports. Iran s Guards in April said Tehran would destroy U.S. warships if its security is threatened in the Gulf. Iranian officials have repeatedly threatened to block Hormuz if Iran is not able to export oil or if its nuclear sites are attacked. There have been periodic confrontations between the Iranian Guards and the U.S. military in the Gulf in recent years. U.S. officials have said closing the Strait would be crossing a "red line" and America would take action to reopen it. Iran cannot legally close the waterway unilaterally because part of it is in Omani territorial waters. However, ships that sail it pass through Iranian waters, which are under the responsibility of the Iran s Guards naval force.
Police said Sunday they arrested more than a dozen Israelis in country-wide protests the previous night that drew thousands of people in a growing and persistent show of force against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Thousands of people demonstrated outside Netanyahu s official residence in Jerusalem and hundreds gathered in a seaside park in Tel Aviv, demanding Netanyahu s resignation and slamming his response to the crisis. For the first time since the wave of protests began weeks ago, hundreds also assembled outside Netanyahu s private home in the upscale coastal town of Caesarea, where heavy security greeted them. Demonstrators across bridges and intersections waved black flags, the symbol of one of the movements behind the protests that is demanding Netanyahu s ouster. The protests are emerging as among the biggest challenges to Netanyahu s lengthy rule since demonstrations over the cost of living in 2011 drew hundreds of thousands to the streets. They come following what critics say is Netanyahu s fumbling of the coronavirus response and in the shadow of Netanyahu s corruption trial, which resumed earlier this month. At a press conference last week that coincided with protests, Netanyahu addressed the surging protests, warning demonstrators: ``Do not drag the country into anarchy, violence, vandalism. Critics say police have been heavy-handed in trying to clear out the protests, using water cannons to drive them out and in some cases causing injury. Police say that protesters who ignore calls to disperse are removed to restore order. Police fired water cannons on protesters at the Jerusalem protest and said 12 people were arrested there for being involved in disturbances. Two other people were arrested in separate locations for attacking protesters with pepper spray and a knife. Israel appeared to have contained its first wave of coronavirus infections in the spring, with Netanyahu boasting that Israel was among the most successful countries in the world in its response with the virus. But what critics say was a hasty and ill thought out reopening sent new cases soaring, with Israel now claiming one of the world s highest infection rates, adjusted for population. The government, formed with the intention of focusing on combating the virus, has moved slowly and haltingly to contain the new outburst. Israel has since reimposed some restrictions after an extended lockdown in the spring paralyzed its economy. Unemployment has since jumped to more than 20%, from around 3.9% before the outbreak, and anger has grown over the government s financial assistance plans, which have been chided for providing those in need with a pittance or nothing at all. The crisis has brought public confidence in Netanyahu and his government to a nadir, at a time when the Israeli leader could use the support. A court decided earlier this month that Netanyahu s corruption trial will resume in January with three hearings a week, a pace that will keep his legal woes firmly in the public consciousness and raise questions about his ability to simultaneously govern and fend off the accusations against him. Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving billionaire associates and media moguls. He denies wrongdoing and accuses the media, judiciary and law enforcement agencies of a conspiracy to topple him against the will of the people.
Greece warned Thursday it will do ``whatever is necessary to defend its sovereign rights in response to plans by neighboring Turkey to proceed with an oil-and-gas research mission south of Greek islands in the Eastern Mediterranean. The dispute over seabed mineral rights has led to increased navy deployments by both NATO members in the region, where a Turkish research vessel, the Oruc Reis, is being prepared for a survey mission. Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas described the mission as a direct violation of Greek sovereignty. ``The government is underlining to all parties that Greece will not accept a violation of its sovereignty and will do whatever is necessary to defend its sovereign rights, Petsas said. Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over sea boundaries but recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the East Mediterranean have exacerbated the dispute. Turkey argues Greek islands should not be included in calculating maritime zones of economic interest - a position that Greece says is a clear violation of international law. Greece has around 6,000 islands and smaller islets in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, more than 200 of them inhabited. The survey ship Oruc Reis remains anchored at the port of Antalya, in southeastern Turkey, but a navigational telex issued by the port says the mission planned through Aug. 2 remains ``valid and effective. In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the country s Supreme Military Council and said he had full confidence in the capability of his country s military. ``Historic successes on different fronts, from Syria to Libya, from the Eastern Mediterranean to the fight against terrorism, demonstrate the strength of our country and the capabilities of our armed forces, Erdogan said. The European Union and the United States have called on Turkey to halt its survey plans. ``I want to echo the clear message from Washington and elsewhere in Europe, urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, said Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Greece. ``This is a complex strategic space. We want our friends and allies in the region to approach resource development in the spirit of cooperation that provides a foundation for durable energy security and shared economic prosperity. Unilateral provocative actions were against this aim. Pyatt spoke in the northeast Greek port of Alexandroupolis, where around 2,000 U.S. service members, dozens of helicopters and hundreds of vehicles disembarked. They were to take part in multinational training exercises and be sent to several NATO countries as part of regular troop rotation.
The World Health Organization s actions during the coronavirus pandemic led to "dead Britons", US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers during a trip to London, British media reported Wednesday. Pompeo told a private meeting of MPs on Tuesday that the WHO had become a "political" body, alleging that its decisions were influenced by a deal struck between chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and China that helped him become its head, according to quotes in the Times and Daily Telegraph. "When push came to shove, when it really mattered most", people died "because of the deal that was made", he said. Pompeo was in Britain for meetings with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab focused on China, and met some Conservative party MPs during a private morning event. The WHO said it rejected "ad hominem attacks and unfounded allegations". "WHO urges countries to remain focused on tackling the pandemic that is causing tragic loss of life and suffering," a spokesperson for the organisation said Tuesday, according to the Telegraph. The US announced earlier this month that it would be withdrawing from the WHO, accusing it of being controlled by China. US President Donald Trump warned Tuesday that the coronavirus crisis in the US is likely to "get worse before it gets better". "Some areas of our country are doing very well," Trump said at his first formal White House virus briefing since the end of April. Trump urged Americans to wear facemasks to help prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus which has left more than 141,000 people dead in the US.
Turkey must stop drilling for natural resources in waters in the eastern Mediterranean if there is to be progress in EU-Turkey ties, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during a visit to Athens on Tuesday. Maas, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, was meeting in Athens with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, as well as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week that Turkey would start seismic research and drilling operations in contested waters that are covered by an agreement between Ankara and Libya s UN-recognised government in Tripoli. "Regarding Turkey s drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, we have a very clear position - international law must be respected so progress in EU-Turkey relations is only possible if Ankara stops provocations in the eastern Mediterranean," Maas said in an effort to head off a potential crisis with neighboring Greece. Late last year, the EU imposed economic sanctions on Turkey for drilling off the coast of Cyprus. NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over drilling rights in the region, with the EU and the United States increasingly critical of Ankara s plans to expand exploration and drilling operations in the coming weeks into areas Athens claims as its own. "At the same time, within the European Union we see the need to engage in dialogue with Turkey," Maas said. Greece is hoping Germany will use its influence with Turkey to press for progress in negotiations. Earlier this month, Germany hosted unannounced talks with Greek and Turkish officials to try and restart discussions. Turkey has accused Greece of trying to exclude it from the benefits of oil and gas finds in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, arguing that sea boundaries for commercial exploitation should be divided between the Greek and Turkish mainland and not include the Greek islands on an equal basis. Athens rejects the argument as being in clear violation of international law. Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare ``crippling sanctions against Turkey if it proceeds with its oil-and-gas exploration plans which are expected to start in September, according to Turkey s state-run oil company, TPAO. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week said he would launch an initiative to engage Turkey in talks, citing ``worrying developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the civil war in Libya.
A United Arab Emirates spacecraft rocketed into blue skies from a Japanese launch center Monday at the start of a seven-month journey to Mars on the Arab world s first interplanetary mission. The liftoff of the Mars orbiter named Amal, or Hope, starts a rush to fly to Earth s neighbor that is scheduled to be followed in the next few days by China and the United States. At the space center in Dubai, people watching were transfixed by the liftoff, then cheered and clapped, with one woman with offering a celebratory cry common for weddings. Amal blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket on time at 6:58 a.m. (2158 GMT Sunday) after being delayed five days by bad weather. Mitsubishi later said the probe successfully separated from the rocket and was now on its solo journey to Mars. The probe was sending signals that would be analyzed later but everything appeared good for now, Omran Sharaf, the UAE Mars mission director told journalists in Dubai about an hour and a half after liftoff. Amal is set to reach Mars in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since the country s formation. In September that year, Amal will start transmitting Martian atmospheric data, which will be made available to the international scientific community, Sharaf said. ``The UAE is now a member of the club and we will learn more and we will engage more and we ll continue developing our space exploration program, UAE Space Agency chief Mohammed Al Ahbabi told a joint online news conference from Tanegashima. At Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, Emirati men in their traditional white kandora robes and women in their black abayas watched the liftoff. As its stages separated, a cheer went out from men seated on the floor. They began clapping, one using his face mask, worn due to the coronavirus pandemic, to wipe away a tear. ``It was great to see everything going according to schedule today. It looks like things are all on track. It s a huge step in terms of space exploration to have a nation like the UAE taking that giant leap to send a spacecraft to Mars, said Fred Watson, Australia s astronomer-at-large. ``Being on route to a planet like Mars is an exceptional achievement. A newcomer in space development, the UAE has successfully put three Earth observation satellites into orbit. Two were developed by South Korea and launched by Russia, and a third _ its own _ was launched by Japan. A successful mission to Mars would be a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a future in space, coming less than a year after the launch of the first UAE astronaut, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. He spent over a week at the International Space Station last fall. The UAE has set a goal to build a human colony on Mars by 2117. ``It sends a very strong message to the Arab youth that if the UAE is able to reach Mars in less than 50 years, they could do much more, Sharaf told The Associated Press on Sunday as his colleagues prepared for the launch. The Emiratis also acknowledged it represented a step forward for the Arab world, the home of mathematicians and scientists for centuries before the wars and chaos that have gripped wide swathes of it in recent times. ``So the region has been going through tough times in the past decades, if not centuries, Sharaf said. ``Now we have the case of the UAE, a country that s moving forward with its plans, looking at the future and the future of region also. For its first Mars mission, the UAE chose partners instead of doing it all on its own. ``Developing a spacecraft is not easy even if there is ample funding, said Junya Terazono, an astronomer at Aizu University. Emirati scientists worked with researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Berkeley, and Arizona State University. The spacecraft was assembled at Boulder and transported to Japan as the two countries looked to expand their ties with the rich and politically stable Middle Eastern nation. The Amal spacecraft, along with its launch, cost $200 million, according to Sharaf. Operation costs at Mars have yet to be divulged. Amal, about the size of a small car, carries three instruments to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change while circling the red planet for at least two years. It is set to follow up on NASA s Maven orbiter sent to Mars in 2014 to study how the planet went from a warm, wet world that may have harbored microbial life during its first billion years, to the cold, barren place of today. Hope also plans to send back images of weather changes. Japan has long collaborated with the U.S. and other partners in defense and space technology, and the resource-poor country has traditionally kept friendly ties with Middle Eastern countries. Japan s launch services are known for accuracy and an on-time record, but the providers are working to cut costs to be more internationally competitive. Two other Mars missions are planned in coming days. China aims to explore the Martian surface with an orbiter and rover and to search for water and ice with a launch expected around Thursday. The U.S. plans to send a rover named Perseverance to search for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for return to Earth. Liftoff is targeted for July 30. Japan has its own Mars mission planned in 2024. It plans to send spacecraft to the Martian moon Phobos to collect samples to bring back to Earth in 2029.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has taken an increasingly hands-off approach to the coronavirus crisis in recent days even as COVID-19 cases and deaths have surged to record highs in a huge slice of the country, including areas where he has enjoyed strong support. Meanwhile, governors and big city mayors in much of the United States are sending a blunt message to their constituents: Don t expect a federal cavalry to save the day. Throughout the crisis, the president has been quick to convey certitude, with threats to state and local officials who did not heed his warnings. But as the pandemic has continued to ravage the nation, his actions have largely been muted. Large districts in Los Angeles, Houston and suburban Washington are among those to defy Trump s demand that schools fully reopen this fall. They announced this past week that the escalating virus cases will cause them to delay opening their buildings for in-person learning. Others districts, including New York City and Chicago, have laid out initial plans for a combination of in-person and online learning. At the same time, governors and mayors have largely stopped pleading for more federal government help. Instead, they are making it clear that it will be on the shoulders of communities to stem the accelerating spread of the virus. “Our future truly lies in our own hands,” Republican Gov. Mike DeWine told Ohioans this past week. The caution coming from many statehouses and city halls contrasts with the upbeat outlook from Trump. He has limited his comments on the virus recently and shifted his attention to his administration s efforts to revive the economy and attack the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. But with Trump s public approval ratings sinking over his handling of the crisis less than four months before Election Day, administration officials say the president may need to pivot to a more aggressive approach. Kellyanne Conway, a White House senior adviser, noted that polls early in the crisis showed that a majority of Americans approved of his handling of the outbreak. This was when Trump was holding near daily briefings. “I just think the people want to hear from the president of the United States,” Conway said. “It doesn t have to be daily. It doesn t have to be for two hours. But in my view, it has to be.” In the meantime, the crisis continues to worsen. On Thursday, the U.S. reported more than 70,000 new COVID-19 cases, a single day record. The Florida Department of Health reported 156 new coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, the most yet in a 24-hour period. It was one of 10 states to reach a record for deaths in a single day this past week, joining Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. On Thursday, Trump made a brief detour during an event to spotlight his administration s deregulation record to praise himself for his handling of the pandemic. “No administration in history has removed more red tape more quickly to rescue the economy and to protect the health of our people,” Trump said. A day earlier during a visit to a UPS facility in Georgia, a hot spot where confirmed cases have surged, he only mentioned the virus in passing. He instead rehashed old attacks on China. This hands-off approach to the virus contrasts with his words and actions against what he s described derisively as the “left-wing mob,” protesters who have taken to the streets around the country to decry racial injustice following the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Trump deployed militarized federal agents to Portland, Oregon, angering city and state officials when the agents detained people far from the federal property they were sent to protect. Portland s mayor demanded Friday that Trump remove them. Despite Trump s optimistic outlook on the pandemic, some top public health experts on the White House coronavirus task force, most notably infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, are raising red flags. Fauci has warned that the United States could soon see 100,000 infections per day. “We haven t even begun to see the end of it yet,” Fauci said during a talk hosted by Stanford University s School of Medicine. But at this point, elected officials are looking past the White House and confronting the shifting crisis on their own terms. The talk at the local level, particularly in Democratic-run cities, seems disconnected from Trump s assurances that a vaccine will be developed at “warp speed” and that the economy is already “getting back” to where it was before the pandemic. A former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, said the dynamic has led to a series of state-based strategies to head off the virus. “In some respects, it has allowed states to tailor solutions to their individual challenges and their individual resources,” Gottlieb said. “And in other states it would be preferable to have a more coordinated national approach, particularly when it comes, for example, to testing, where we don t really have a surge capacity that we can move around this country to try to get testing into the hot spots.” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat and co-chair of Biden s campaign, laid blame squarely on Trump. “None of us can look at the map of the country right now and have confidence that this administration has done what they need to do to keep us safe,” she said. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, wrote in The Washington Post that the White House failed to issue public warnings, draw up a 50-state strategy or effectively deliver medical gear or lifesaving ventilators from the national stockpile to American hospitals. “It was hopeless, waiting around for him,” wrote Hogan, retelling his frustration with Trump that led him, with the help of his South Korean-born wife, to acquire 500,000 virus test kits from the South Korean government early in the crisis. “Governors were being told that we were on our own. It was sink or swim.” Back in April, weeks into a lockdown of the economy, Trump feuded with governors over whether the president or state leaders had the authority over reopening the economy. With Trump ceding that debate, states have settled into a scattershot approach. Even as Trump pushes for schools to reopen, state leaders have largely ignored his rhetoric, noting that the president s ability to pressure states to do as he says is limited by the reality that states and municipalities largely control the funding and operations of schools. Early on, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, sought to develop a working relationship with the administration, even traveling to the White House in May to meet with the president. But as the crisis has worn on, Polis has expressed frustration with the lack of a national strategy. “We need a coordinated national response to the coronavirus that we currently lack, but that s not something that I, as your governor, can deliver,” Polis said. “We have to live with the president and administration we have rather than the administration that we may want.”
The White House national security adviser says the U.S. is ``very sympathetic to France in its dispute with Turkey over a naval standoff in the Mediterranean Sea between the two NATO allies. The festering row has exposed NATO s struggle to keep order among its ranks, and its diminished U.S. leadership under President Donald Trump. ``NATO allies shouldn t be turning fire control radars on each other. That s not good, national security adviser Robert O Brien told reporters in Paris on Wednesday. He said Trump is available to help defuse tensions, thanks to his personal relationships with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron. According to French accounts of the June 10 incident, the frigate Courbet was illuminated by the targeting radar of a Turkish warship that was escorting a cargo ship. France said it was acting on intelligence from NATO that the civilian ship could be involved in trafficking arms to Libya. The Courbet was part of the alliance s operation Sea Guardian, which helps provide maritime security in the Mediterranean. Turkey s foreign minister accused France of lying, and Turkey s ambassador to France said the French navy was harassing the Turkish convoy. ``We are very sympathetic to the French concerns, O Brien said, while acknowledging differing accounts of what happened. ``We re taking it very seriously. Macron has also accused Turkey of flouting its commitments by ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in jihadi fighters from Syria. The United States is by far the most influential of the NATO allies, but has played a less prominent role under Trump, who has publicly berated European members and Canada for not spending enough on defense budgets. Trump has threatened to take U.S. troops out of Germany without consulting allies, and has pulled out of multiple international agreements that Europeans regard as important to their security.
Dozens of people were arrested at a protest in Moscow on Wednesday against constitutional reforms that give President Vladimir Putin the option to remain in power for another 16 years, witnesses and a monitoring group said. About 500 demonstrators, many of whom wore face masks branded with the word "no", chanted calls for Putin to resign and held up banners against the reforms. Police surrounded them and began making arrests late in the evening after participants started a march down one of the city s main boulevards, with officers in riot gear forcefully rounding up protesters and placing them in vans. Over a hundred people were detained, according to the rights monitoring group OVD-info. There was no immediate confirmation from police or the government on numbers of arrests. A vote earlier this month amended Russia s constitution, handing Putin the right to run for two more presidential terms, an outcome the Kremlin described as a triumph. Opposition activists say the vote was illegitimate and that it is time for Putin, who has ruled Russia for over two decades as president or prime minister, to step down. "I came here to sign the petition against the constitutional reforms because I am a nationalist," said one 40-year old man in a black t-shirt as protesters chanted "Putin is a thief". Fourteen-year old Vasilisa said she also signed the petition because Putin "is to blame for the poverty in our country". "Gay people are killed here, women are beaten up here, and no one is ever held accountable," she said. Two Russian activists involved in the campaign against the constitutional reforms were detained last week and the homes of five others were searched, ahead of the scheduled protest, which had not been sanctioned by authorities. Mass gatherings are banned in the capital because of COVID-19 restrictions. Even in normal times, protests of more than one person require the authorities advance consent.
Libya s parliament has passed a motion authorising Egypt to intervene militarily if needed to safeguard the "national security" of both countries in light of what it termed a Turkish "occupation". The legislature backs military commander Khalifa Haftar, who fought a year-long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to seize the western capital Tripoli from a United Nations-recognised unity government. Haftar is supported by neighbouring Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, while the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has the backing of their regional rivals Turkey and Qatar. In a resolution passed late Monday, the legislature in the eastern city of Tobruk authorised "Egyptian armed forces to intervene to protect the national security of Libya and Egypt if they see an imminent danger to both our countries". Egypt s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi warned last month that Egypt could send troops into Libya, after the unity government pushed back Haftar s forces from around Tripoli following months of stalemate. El-Sisi explained that any intervention in Libya by Egyptian forces "would be led by the Libyan tribes," and stressed that "we only aspire for stability in Libya." He emphasised that Egypt has no ambitions in Libya, and only wishes to restore security and stability in the country. "We will not be invaders… we only want a stable, safe and developed Libya", he said. Libya has seen years of violence since the ouster of long-time leader Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed 2011 uprising, with the GNA and the parliament in the east, elected in 2014, vying for power. Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to seize the capital, but the GNA took advantage of Turkish military support including drones to re-impose its control over Libya s northwest. In its statement late Monday evening, the parliament said Libya and Egypt should work together "to guarantee the occupier s defeat and preserve our shared national security" in the face of "the dangers posed by the Turkish occupation".
Turkey s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) refuses a ceasefire unless the Libyan National Army s (LNA) leader Khalifa Haftar decided to withdraw his troops from central and western regions. Speaking to the Financial Times on Sunday, Cavusoglu said the GNA had the "determination" to resume its attacks on the LNA in case the latter did not retreat from the port city of Sirte and Al-Jufra, which has Libya s largest air base. Cavusoglu noted that Russia offered a ceasefire deal during talks in Istanbul last month with a “concrete date and time.” But, after consultations with the GNA, the Tripoli-based government said it has preconditions on Sirte and Al-Jufra and wants Haftar to “return to the lines” his troops held five years ago. In its report about the interview, the Financial Times stated that Cavusoglu hinted that his country may support any GNA offensive, describing its preconditions as "legitimate and reasonable". “Now it depends on the other side, they should accept these preconditions for a lasting ceasefire,” Cavusoglu stated. Last month, Egypt that is backing the LNA Commander Haftar said it has the legitimacy to intervene in Libya to protect the country s national security with the support of local tribes, stressing that Sirte and Al-Jufra are "red line" for Egyptian national security. Turkey s top diplomat went further by saying that Turkey will respond to the recent air strikes on Al-Watiya air base. He said Turkey had "trainers and technical staff" at the base, though claiming that "none were harmed." Sources told Al-Arabiya last Monday that Turkish intelligence officials were wounded during Sunday s air strikes on Al-Watiya air base, which was recently captured by the GNA and its Turkish backers. The wounded were transferred to hospitals in Tripoli and Turkey. Brigadier-General Khaled Al-Mahgoub, a leading LNA commander, told Al-Arabiya that repeat strikes on western Libya s Al-Watiya air base will take place soon. Al-Mahgoub also said that Turkish radars, military equipment and air defence systems were destroyed during the air strikes. Turkey, according to sources who spoke to Reuters in June, is negotiating the establishment of two bases — including one at Al-Watiya — with the GNA. During past weeks, local and foreign media outlets reported that Turkey is preparing to attack Al-Al-Jufra. Tripoli-based GNA is backed by Turkish troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries in its war against the LNA. Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel-Rahman told Sky News Arabia on Monday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even began transferring non-Syrian mercenaries, in addition to Syrian ones, to Libya despite international condemnations and warnings. Abdel-Rahman revealed that those mercenaries were located in areas under “Turkish occupation” in Syria. Turkey informed its mercenaries that their next battle will be in Sirte, said Abdel-Rahman, adding that they are transferred to Libya by air. Turkish warships transferred other groups of mercenaries to Libya, revealed Abdel-Rahman. According to Sky News Arabia s same report, Syrian mercenaries in Libya have reached 16,000. About 5,600 of them returned to Syria. LNA spokesperson said during an interview with Sky News Arabia last Wednesday that he expects a "Turkish attack at any time." Ahmed Al-Mesmari stated that the LNA "will do everything needed to deter any aggression." "We have evidence that Turkey is moving towards a decisive battle, which is the Sirte-Jufra battle. There are no indicators on the other side that [Turkey] will accept a ceasefire and go into negotiations," Al-Mesmari asserted. The leading LNA figure noted that the Libyan army is only conducting "defensive operations to prevent manoeuvres and advancement by the enemy towards our (LNA) positions." Al-Mesmari explained that the LNA will declare a ceasefire in case other parties to the conflict show commitment to peace, stop sending terrorists to Libya and end the presence of “invaders," referring to Turkey. He emphasised that the LNA wants a peaceful settlement to the conflict. The same position was shared by the Emirati state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, on Monday. “The UAE, in cooperation with its partners, calls for the return of oil production as soon as possible in Libya and stresses that the presence of guarantees that prevent the prolonging and fuelling of the conflict is important. We will continue the political and diplomatic work. The priority goes to a ceasefire and a return to the political process,” tweeted Gargash.
Hundreds of people joined a second day of protest on Sunday in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk over the arrest of a popular governor accused of ordering the murders of several businessmen. Sergei Furgal, 50, was detained Thursday and has been ordered to remain in pre-trial custody for two months over the crimes 15 years ago. The move triggered a mass demonstration on Saturday in Khabarovsk that was joined by between 10,000 and 40,000 people, according to various estimates. On Sunday, several hundred people marched through the city centre to the local government headquarters, according to the TASS news agency. Local supporters of leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny put the turnout at around 2,000. Furgal won the race for Khabarovsk governor by a landslide in 2018, dealing an upset to President Vladimir Putin s United Russia party. The arrest of the former doctor came just days after Putin -- who has been in power for two decades -- won a landslide ballot on constitutional reforms that could allow him to extend his rule until 2036. Furgal, leader of the Kremlin-friendly LDPR opposition party, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. Saturday s demonstrations -- which saw protesters chanting anti-Putin slogans -- were unprecedented for almost any Russian city outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The local government on Sunday denounced the "provocative slogans" and urged people to show "common sense", noting that all gatherings were banned under coronavirus restrictions.
The Libyan National Army s (LNA) spokesperson said during an interview with Sky News Arabia on Wednesday that he expects a "Turkish attack at any time." Ahmed Al-Mesmari stated that the LNA "will do everything needed to deter any aggression." "We have evidence that Turkey is moving towards a decisive battle, which is the Sirte-Al-Jafra battle. There are no indicators on the other side that [Turkey] will accept a ceasefire and go into negotiations," Al-Mesmari asserted. The leading LNA figure noted that the Libyan army is only conducting "defensive operations to prevent manoeuvres and advancement by the enemy towards our (LNA) positions." He emphasised that the LNA wants a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Al-Mesmari explained that the LNA will declare a ceasefire in case other parties to the conflict show commitment to peace, stop sending terrorists to Libya and end the presence of “invaders," referring to Turkey. Concerning Wednesday s UN Security Council meeting on Libya, Al-Mesmari said attending delegations and UN chief Antonio Guterres should have referred to the "obvious Turkish role" in the conflict and support for militias. “[It is] as if they don t want to make an escalation against Turkey. Turkish objectives do not serve international peace and Libyan interests. Turkey is challenging the will of the international community and the Libyans," said Al-Mesmari. The Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli, is backed by Turkish troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries in its war against the eastern-based LNA and its leader General Khalifa Haftar. During the past week, local and foreign media outlets reported that Turkey is preparing to attack Al-Jafra. Sources told Al-Arabiya Monday that Turkish intelligence officials were wounded during Sunday s LNA s air strikes on Al-Watiya Airbase, which was recently captured by the GNA and its Turkish backers. The wounded were transferred to hospitals in Tripoli and Turkey. Brigadier-General Khaled Al-Mahgoub, a leading LNA commander, told Al-Arabiya that repeat strikes on Al-Watiya — western Libya s most significant airbase — will take place soon. Al-Mahgoub also said that Turkish radars, military equipment and air defence systems were destroyed during the air strikes. Turkey, according to sources who spoke to Reuters in June, is negotiating the establishment of two bases — including one at Al-Watiya — with the GNA.
Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended authorization for cross-border humanitarian aid in Syria for a year, though Moscow swiftly proposed a more limited extension. Germany and Belgium, two of the council s non-permanent members, had drafted the resolution, which would have allowed aid to continue to pass through two points on the Turkish border without interference from Damascus. Beyond Russia and China, the other 13 council members voted to approve the draft, the diplomats said. During negotiations, Moscow had asked that the extension be limited to six months, rather than a year, and that it only be allowed at one border crossing, not two, they said. "The draft resolution has not been adopted," Germany s UN ambassador Christoph Heusgen, the acting president of the body in July, confirmed in a letter to Council members. Immediately after the vote, Russia proposed its own draft resolution. Obtained by AFP, it repeats the call for a six-month extension, underlines the improvement in the delivery of humanitarian aid under the control of the Syrian regime, and excludes one of the two entry points into Syria -- Bab al-Salam -- from the mechanism. The results of a vote on that resolution will be known on Wednesday. Authorization for cross-border humanitarian aid has existed since 2014, with periodic extensions. The latest extension expires on Friday. Tuesday s vote was the 15th time that Russia has used its veto since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, and the ninth for China. They argue that the UN authorization violates Syria s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channelled through Syrian authorities. Western nations and the UN secretariat however insist that cross-border aid is the only credible option, and that relief supplies would face multiple obstacles if they had to pass through Damascus control. The veto was an "extremely negative development," one European diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "They want to strangle the population even more," the diplomat said, adding that aid "cannot reach the population from one" crossing point. "Insisting on only one crossing point is cynical and it doesn t meet the needs of the people," the source said. The Bab al-Hawa crossing point allows for shipments of humanitarian aid to the three to four million people living in the opposition-held Idlib region. The International Rescue Committee quickly condemned the veto. "Blocking access to food, health care supplies, vaccines, and ventilators is unacceptable anytime but in the year of COVID-19, it is even more reprehensible," said IRC president David Miliband in a statement. - People are suffering - After the vote, China explained that it too was in favor of maintaining the cross-border authorization. Its veto is due to the refusal of Germany and Belgium to take into account its request for a statement condemning the unilateral US sanctions imposed on Syria, Chinese diplomats said. In January, Moscow, Syria s closest ally, succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year, as had been done previously. In a report in late June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a one-year extension of the use of the two crossing points. Guterres said that since 2014, 4,774 trucks have used the Bab al-Salam crossing and 28,574 have used Bab al-Hawa. According to a report published by the UN in Geneva on Tuesday, the humanitarian situation in Idlib province is disastrous. "Syria s economy is devastated," said Hanny Megally, one of the authors of the report. "The country has been in a nine-year conflict. People are suffering."
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday he had undergone another test for the novel coronavirus, after local media reported he had symptoms associated with the COVID-19 respiratory disease, including a fever. Bolsonaro told supporters outside the presidential palace that he had just visited the hospital and been tested for the virus, adding that an exam had shown his lungs "clean." CNN Brasil and newspaper Estado de S.Paulo reported that he had symptoms of the disease, such as a fever. The president s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the impact of the virus, even as Brazil has suffered one of the world s worst outbreaks, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and 65,000 related deaths, according to official data on Monday. The right-wing populist has often defied local guidelines to wear a mask in public, even after a judge ordered him to do so in late June. Over the weekend, Bolsonaro attended multiple events and was in close contact with the U.S. ambassador to Brazil during July 4 celebrations. The U.S. embassy in Brasilia did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bolsonaro previously tested negative for the coronavirus after several aides were diagnosed following a visit to U.S. President Donald Trump s Mar-a-Lago, Florida, estate in March.
Israeli aircraft attacked Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip on Sunday night, a Palestinian security source told AFP after Israel reported three rockets fired at its territory. The Israeli occupation army said that its aircraft attacked "underground infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terror organisation" in response to the rocket fire. "Earlier tonight, three rockets were fired from the Gaza strip at Israel," it said in an English-language statement. "In response... attack helicopters and fighter jets targeted Hamas terror targets." There were no immediate reports of casualties from either side. An earlier army statement gave no indication of where the first two rockets fell, but Israeli media said they hit open ground. The Israeli occupation army said that the Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted a third rocket. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket launches from the Hamas-run strip. The Islamist organisation warned Israel in late June that its planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank amounted to a "declaration of war". Two rockets were fired the next day at the Jewish state from Gaza, triggering a punitive Israeli air raid on Hamas installations in the Palestinian enclave. On July 1, Hamas fired a volley of rockets into the sea as a warning to Israel not to go ahead with annexation, sources in the Islamist organisation told AFP. Israel s proposal to annex its settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley forms part of a broader US peace plan released in January. The proposals foresee the ultimate creation of a Palestinian state on the remaining West Bank territory and the Gaza Strip. But the plan falls far short of Palestinian aspirations, with a state on reduced territory and without east Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars, with the latest conflict in 2014 killing 2,251 Palestinians and 74 people on the Israeli side.
Italy on Sunday authorised charity vessel Ocean Viking to transfer 180 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to a ship in Sicily for quarantine, the ship s operator and the government said. "We have received instructions from the Italian maritime authorities to disembark those on board in Porto Empedocle," a spokesman for the charity SOS Mediterranee told AFP, which has a correspondent on board. The Ocean Viking is now heading for the port where the migrants will be transferred to government-chartered ship the Moby Zaza for 14 days of quarantine. "I can confirm that they re authorised to move to the Moby Zaza, likely tomorrow morning," Interior Ministry spokesman Dino Martirano told AFP. They have been on the Ocean Viking for over a week, with fights and suicide attempts on board prompting the charity to declare a state of emergency on Friday. The Ocean Viking, which has been in limbo in the Mediterranean south of Sicily, has been waiting for permission from Italy or Malta to offload the migrants at a safe port. Tensions have risen in the past week, as witnessed by an AFP reporter, with the migrants increasingly desperate to reach land. Others have become distraught at not being able to telephone their families to let them know they were safe. A member of the crew, Ludovic, told AFP he had never witnessed such violence on board a rescue vessel, after a spate of fights between migrants and threats of suicide. The migrants, who include Pakistanis, North Africans, Eritreans, Nigerians and others, were picked up after fleeing Libya in four separate rescues by the Ocean Viking on June 25 and 30. The migrants include 25 children, most of whom are unaccompanied by adults, and two women, one of whom is pregnant. At times, all the members of the SOS Mediterranee rescue team have been on deck in order to calm tense situations. Some of the threats were directed at the rescuers themselves. Rumours abounded among the groups of migrants, including that the NGO is in cahoots with Italian authorities, earning money each day the migrants are kept on board. On Thursday, two migrants threw themselves into the Mediterranean, but were rescued. More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration. The arrival of summer and more favourable conditions at sea may lead to an increase of attempts to cross the Mediterranean with the hope of arriving in Europe.
The Saudi-led military coalition Thursday confirmed it has launched a major operation against Yemen s Houthis and warned it would target the rebel leadership following missile and drone attacks on the kingdom. Residents of rebel-held capital Sanaa told AFP they heard loud explosions and saw plumes of smoke Wednesday after at least a dozen air strikes on the international airport, which is close to an air force base. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels said on their Al-Masirah television that the coalition had launched 57 air strikes on Sanaa and their northern stronghold of Saada. There were no official reports of casualties, but the rebels said a woman and a girl were killed in Saada while a number of children were wounded. "The operation came in response to the threat of the Houthi militia after they launched ballistic missiles as well as drones from the occupied capital Sanaa, as well as Saada," coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told reporters in Riyadh. "The terrorist leaders of the Houthi militia... will be pursued and held accountable. Targeting civilians and civilian facilities is a red line." The coalition strike effectively ends a unilateral ceasefire it declared in April, announced as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, the coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed drones and ballistic missiles launched into the kingdom by the Houthis, including one fired towards Riyadh. At the venue of Maliki s press conference, Saudi officials displayed remnants of intercepted missiles and drones they said were supplied by Iran to Yemen s Houthi rebels. Iran denies arming the rebels. Yemen has been locked in conflict since the Houthis took control of Sanaa in 2014 and went on to seize much of the north. The crisis escalated when the Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year to support Yemen s internationally-recognised government. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in what the United Nations has called the world s worst humanitarian disaster. The Arab world s poorest country, already devastated by conflict and malnutrition, Yemen also faces the coronavirus pandemic that its decrepit health system is ill-equipped to handle.
In his last speech, president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called on the Egyptian people to be as brave and powerful as lions and work hard each in his position. He added that this way Egypt would be so powerful as great lion that nobody can threaten. I remembered this story that my mother used to tell me. The story says a great lion woke up to see a small mouse falling on his leg. The lion grew angry and decided to kill