Israel said Sunday its military struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to a rocket attack launched from the Palestinian enclave. The Israeli air force struck two rocket ammunition manufacturing sites, a military compound and "underground infrastructures", the Israel Defence Forces said. A rocket was fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday evening, according to the army, shortly after warning sirens sounded in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. The Israeli occupation army statement gave no further details, but emergency services said they had no notification of anyone wounded and Israeli media said the projectile fell on open ground. The latest reported fire from the Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave came after two rockets were fired from the coastal strip into neighbouring Israel in the early hours of last Sunday. There were no casualties or damage in that attack. Israel struck back with fighter planes, helicopters and tanks, hitting what the army said were Hamas targets. There was no claim of responsibility for the November 15 rocket fire, but Israel routinely holds Islamist group Hamas responsible for all attacks originating from its territory. Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel, seized control of Gaza from the rival Palestinian movement Fatah in 2007 in a near civil war. Since then Hamas has fought three devastating wars with Israel in the coastal territory where about two million Palestinians live. Israel has since maintained a crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip, to isolate Hamas.
Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, with senior commandos reportedly forcing junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to "blood" them for combat, a four year investigation found. Australia said on Thursday that 19 current and former soldiers will be referred for potential criminal prosecution for allegedly killing the 39 Afghan locals. Detailing the findings of a long-awaited inquiry into the conduct of special forces personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, Australia s General Angus John Campbell said there was credible information of 39 unlawful killings by 25 Australian Special Forces personnel in 23 separate incidents. All of those kills were outside the "heat of battle", Campbell said. "These findings allege the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values," Campbell told reporters in Canberra. "The unlawful killing, of civilians and prisoners is never acceptable." The report said the majority of those killed, which included prisoners, farmers and other Afghan locals, were captured when they were killed and therefore protected under international law. Following the recommendations of the report, Campbell said 19 current and former members of Australia s military will be referred to a soon-to-be appointed special investigator to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute. Australia s Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said last week that Canberra had been advised that local prosecution would negate charges at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. BLOODING Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had earlier warned the report would include "difficult and hard news for Australians", but few expected some of the most shocking revelations. While the report was heavily redacted, it included allegations that senior special forces personnel ordered the killing of unarmed Afghans. "There is credible information that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill, in a practice that was known as ‘blooding’," the report read. Once a person had been killed, those allegedly responsible would stage a fight scene with foreign weapons or equipment to justify their action, the report concluded. The actions did not immediately come to light due to what the report concluded was a culture of secrecy and compartmentalisation in which information was kept and controlled within patrols. The veil of secrecy was a key reason that the allegations took so long to come to light. Although it has been the subject of rumour, Australia s official investigation only began after the publication of classified documents about alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. A former military lawyer, David McBride, has been charged with providing the classified papers to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. He admits that he supplied the papers, but says it is in the national interest. The four-year inquiry was conducted by New South Wales state Judge Paul Brereton, who was appointed by the Inspector-General of Defence in 2016 to investigate rumours of war crimes in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2016. The inquiry examined more than 20,000 documents and 25,000 images, and interviewed 423 witnesses under oath. The report recommended Canberra should compensate victims families even without a successful prosecution. Campbell said he would seek to revoke citations for special operations task groups that served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013. The release of the report came after Morrison spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. "The Prime Minister of Australia expressed his deepest sorrow over the misconduct by some Australian troops in Afghanistan," Ghani s office wrote on Twitter. Australia has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002 as part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban militia. Australia has about 1,500 troops remaining in Afghanistan.
Israel and Bahrain will open embassies soon, their foreign ministers said on Wednesday, as the two countries look to broaden cooperation that Washington has promoted as an anti-Iran alliance and potential economic bonanza. On a first official visit by Bahraini officials to Israel, the Gulf kingdom s foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, said his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Asshkenazi, would visit Manama in December. "I was pleased to convey to Minister Ashkenazi the Kingdom of Bahrain s formal request to open an embassy in Israel and to inform him that Israel s reciprocal request for an embassy in Manama has been approved. This is a process which I hope can now move forward relatively quickly," said Al-Zayani. Askenazi, speaking at Israel s foreign ministry with Al-Zayani, said he hoped the opening ceremonies would be held by the end of 2020. Israeli and Bahrani officials signed several memoranda of understanding in October in Manama covering trade, air services, telecommunications, finance, banking and agriculture. Visas and flights By the end of 2020 Bahraini citizens will be able to apply online for a visa to visit Israel, Ashkenazi said, and direct flights would start soon. The Bahraini delegation travelled on Gulf Air flight GF972 - a reference to Israel s telephone country code - on the airline s first commercial flight to Tel Aviv. President Donald Trump s Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, was also on the flight, which flew over Saudi Arabia, an accommodation by the Gulf s powerhouse, which has so far resisted U.S. appeals to normalise ties with Israel. Since September, the Trump administration has brokered agreements with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan toward normalising their relations with Israel in a strategic realignment against Iran. The shift has enraged the Palestinians who have demanded statehood before any such regional rapprochement. Although White House officials have said more countries are considering normalising ties with Israel, further developments appear unlikely before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office and establishes his administration s policy on Iran. Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, speaking on Army Radio, said a commitment towards a tough policy on Iran by the next administration in Washington would determine whether other countries would opt for normalisation deals with Israel.
The U.S. administration and Europe need to work jointly on addressing actions led by Turkey in the Middle East over the past few months, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told French daily newspaper Le Figaro. "France s president Emmanuel Macron and I agree that Turkey s recent actions have been very aggressive," Pompeo said, citing Turkey s recent support to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia as well as military moves in Libya and the Mediterranean. "Europe and the U.S. must work together to convince Erdogan such actions are not in the interest of his people," Pompeo said, referring to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Pompeo said increased use of Turkey s military capability was a concern, but he did not say whether the country, which hosts U.S. military forces at its Incirlik Air Base, should stay in or quit the North Atlantic Alliance. Pompeo told Le Figaro the U.S. administration had still work to do to maintain pressure on Iran.
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday will focus on plans for reviving a pandemic-battered U.S. economy as he prepares for his new administration, while President Donald Trump vowed to press ahead with long-shot court challenges to the election results. With the number of coronavirus cases surging across the country, Biden will receive a briefing and give a speech in his home state of Delaware on rebuilding an economy that has suffered millions of job losses as the pandemic has killed more than 245,000 Americans and closed many businesses. Biden’s scientific advisers will meet this week with pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines to battle COVID-19, a top aide to the president-elect said, in preparation for the logistical challenges of widespread vaccination. Trump sent mixed messages on Sunday, briefly appearing to acknowledge defeat in a morning tweet, only to backtrack, saying he concedes “nothing” and repeating his unfounded accusations of voter fraud. He later promised on Twitter to file “big cases showing the unconstitutionality of the 2020 Election,” even though he has made no headway with his legal challenges in multiple states so far. Legal experts have said the Trump litigation stands little chance of altering the election’s outcome, and election officials of both parties have said there is no evidence of major irregularities. In another blow to Trump’s legal strategy, his campaign on Sunday dropped a major part of a lawsuit it brought seeking to halt Pennsylvania from certifying its results, narrowing the case to an issue affecting a small number of ballots. Biden won the state by more than 60,000 votes. More than a week after Biden was declared the victor by major news organizations based on state-by-state vote counts, the General Services Administration has still not recognized him as president-elect, preventing his team from gaining access to government office space and funding normally provided to an incoming administration to ensure a smooth transition. Biden’s top advisers warned that Trump’s refusal to begin a transition could jeopardize the battle against the virus and inhibit vaccine distribution planning. The number of U.S. coronavirus cases passed 11 million on Sunday, a million more new cases than a week ago and the fastest increase since the pandemic began. The number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals also has reached an all-time high. ‘Future’s In Our Hands’ Michigan and Washington state on Sunday imposed sweeping new restrictions on gatherings, including halting indoor restaurant service, to slow the spread of the virus. “We are in a very dangerous period,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Unless action is taken now, “we’re going to see these numbers grow substantially,” Osterholm warned. “Our future’s in our hands.” Biden has promised to make the health crisis a top priority as president. Ron Klain, who will be White House chief of staff when Biden takes office on Jan. 20, said Biden s scientific advisers would meet with Pfizer Inc PFE.N and other drugmakers this week. Pfizer said last week its vaccine candidate proved more than 90% effective in initial trials, giving hope that widespread vaccination in the coming months could help get the pandemic under control. Other companies also are in advanced stages of developing promising vaccines. Biden beat Trump in the Nov. 3 election by the same 306-232 margin in the state-by-state Electoral College that Trump proclaimed a “landslide” when he won in 2016. The Democratic former vice president also won the national popular vote by at least 5.5 million votes, or 3.6 percentage points, with ballots still being counted. A laborious hand recount is under way in Georgia, where Biden has been projected the winner and holds a lead of more than 14,000 votes. Patrick Moore, a Biden campaign legal adviser, said the recount had so far shifted vote totals “almost imperceptibly,” and in Biden’s favor, and there had been no evidence of widespread irregularities. Control of the U.S. Senate will be decided by two January runoff elections in Georgia, which will be important for the fate of Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda. Klain said Biden may campaign in Georgia ahead of the runoffs.
Israel is moving forward on the construction of hundreds of new settler homes in a sensitive east Jerusalem neighborhood, the country s Housing Ministry and a settlement watchdog group said Sunday. The Housing Ministry on Sunday opened up tenders for more than 1,200 new homes in the Givat Hamatos area of Jerusalem. The settlement watchdog group Peace Now and other critics say construction there would seal off the Palestinian city of Bethlehem from east Jerusalem, further cutting off access for the Palestinians to the eastern sector of the city, which they claim as capital of a future state. The move may test the ties with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to take a firmer tack against Israeli settlement expansion after four years of a more lenient policy under President Donald Trump. Brian Reeves, a spokesman for Peace Now, said the move allows contractors to begin bidding on the tenders, a process that will conclude just days before Biden s inauguration. Construction in the area could then begin within months. ``This is a lethal blow to the prospects for peace and the possibility of a two-state solution,`` between Israel and the Palestinians, Peace Now said in a statement, adding that Israel was ``taking advantage of the final weeks of the Trump administration in order to set facts on the ground that will be exceedingly hard to undo in order to achieve peace.
Dubai-based Emirates airline on Thursday posted a $3.4 billion half-year loss, its first in more than three decades, saying it had been badly hit by the coronavirus lockdown that brought air transport to "a literal standstill". "In this unprecedented situation for the aviation and travel industry, the Emirates Group recorded a half-year loss for the first time in over 30 years," the airline s chairman and chief executive, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said in a statement. The airline, which was forced to temporarily suspend operations earlier this year before building back its vast network, saw revenue fall 75 percent to $3.2 billion. Over the half-year to September, it carried just 1.5 million passengers, down 95 percent from the same period last year. The carrier, the Middle East s largest, said that its bottom line found some support with a "strong cargo business" as it repurposed its fleet to accommodate the need for supplies around the globe, including medical equipment. "As passenger traffic disappeared, Emirates and (air services arm) dnata have been able to rapidly pivot to serve cargo demand and other pockets of opportunity," Sheikh Ahmed said. "This has helped us recover our revenues from zero to 26% of our position same time last year."
Bahrain s Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, one of the world s longest-serving prime ministers who led his island nation s government for decades and survived the 2011 Arab Spring protests that demanded his ouster over corruption allegations, died on Wednesday. He was 84. Bahrain s state-run news agency announced his death, saying he had been receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic, without elaborating. Prince Khalifa s power and wealth could be seen everywhere in this small nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia home to the US Navy s 5th Fleet. His official portrait hung for decades on walls alongside the country s ruler. He had his own private island where he met foreign dignitaries, complete with a marina and a park that had peacocks and gazelle roam its grounds. The prince represented an older style of Gulf leadership, one that granted patronage and favors for support of the Sunni Al Khalifa family. That style would be challenged in the 2011 protests by the island s Shiite majority and others, who demonstrated against him over long-running corruption allegations surrounding his rule. Though less powerful and frailer in recent years, his machinations still drew attention in the kingdom as a new generation now jostles for power. ``Khalifa bin Salman represented the old guard in more ways than just age and seniority, said Kristin Smith Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute. ``He represented an old social understanding rooted in royal privilege and expressed through personal patronage.
Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian spokesman for decades, died on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19, a senior member of his Fatah party said. He was 65. Chief negotiator in U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel that collapsed in 2014, Erekat was also secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a member of its most powerful faction, Fatah. He was a strong advocate of a two-state solution of the conflict with Israel and a sharp critic of its settlement policy on occupied land that he said could destroy prospects for a viable Palestine. Erekat confirmed on Oct. 8 that he had been infected with the coronavirus. In 2017 he underwent a lung transplant in the United States, which suppressed his immune system. He was rushed from his home in the West Bank city of Jericho to Hadassah Medical Center in Israel last week. Doctors placed him on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma after his condition deteriorated. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas mourned his "friend" Erekat on Tuesday, describing the death of the veteran Palestinian negotiator as a "huge loss" for his people. "The departure of a brother and a friend, of the great fighter, Dr. Saeb Erekat, is a great loss for Palestine and our people, and we are deeply saddened," Abbas said in a statement shortly after Erekat s death was announced.
Jordanians vote on Tuesday for a 130-seat parliament, with tribal, centrist and pro-government deputies expected to remain dominant in a system that under-represents the cities where their Islamist and liberal opponents do best. The elections coincide with public discontent as Jordan grapples with its worst economic crisis in many years, with unemployment and poverty aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some facts about the election. * Parliamentary Powers Under the constitution, most powers rest with King Abdullah who appoints governments and can dissolve parliament. The assembly can force a cabinet to resign by a vote of no confidence. But successive governments have sidelined the almost toothless assembly. * Low Turnout Expected Widespread apathy at an assembly viewed as rubber stamp for government policy and activist calls for a boycott in protest at the holding of elections despite an alarming surge in COVID-19 could lead to one of the lowest turnouts in decades, analysts and politicians say. The government, which has mobilised around 45,000 security forces to oversee the nationwide ballot, hopes for a roughly 30 turnout among 4.6 million registered voters in a country with 8 million citizens. There are 1,717 candidates, including 368 women, competing. Twelve seats are reserved for minority Christians and Circassians and fifteen for the top-polling women candidates. Constituencies are structured so that urban areas have far fewer members of parliament per voter than the countryside. Voting by mainly urban Palestinians, who form a large part of the population, is traditionally low. Many of Jordan s citizens are Palestinians, whose families settled after successive Arab-Israeli wars, placing the kingdom - which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 - at the heart of decades of conflict. * Political Parties The elections are a contest between tribal leaders, establishment figures and businessmen, even though there are many more candidates running for recognised parties. Electoral laws that favour tribal areas rather than cities, where Islamists enjoy most support, mean the main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood will remain marginalised. The IAF, which won 16 seats in 2016, when it ended a boycott that had turned parliament into a pro-government talking shop, says it is taking part, even though it is an unfair contest, to avoid being in the political wilderness and ensure vocal opposition to the pro-Western government. It says its participation, as part of a broad civic alliance, will advance demands for democratic reform and a crackdown on corruption.
Iran s president called on President-elect Joe Biden to ``compensate for past mistakes and return the U.S. to Tehran s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, a state-run news agency reported Sunday. Hassan Rouhani s comments mark the highest-level response from Iran to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris clinching the Nov. 3 election. ``Now, an opportunity has come up for the next U.S. administration to compensate for past mistakes and return to the path of complying with international agreements through respect of international norms, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted him as saying. Under President Donald Trump, tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated, reaching fever-pitch earlier this year. One of Trump s signature foreign policy moves was unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from Iran s nuclear deal in 2018, which had seen Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The U.S. has since reimposed punishing sanctions on Iran that have crippled its economy, which was further battered by the coronavirus outbreak. In an effort to pressure Europe to find a way around the sanctions, Iran has slowly abandoned the limits of the nuclear deal. ``The people of Iran, though their heroic resistance against the imposed economic war, proved that the U.S. maximum pressure policy was doomed to fail, Rouhani said. He added Iran ``considers constructive engagement with the world as a strategy.
Police in Portland declared riots, arrested 11 people and seized fireworks, hammers and a rifle, as Oregon Governor Kate Brown activated the National Guard in response to protests on the night after voting in the US presidential election. In New York, police said they had made about 50 arrests in protests that spread in the city late on Wednesday. Demonstrations, mostly small and peaceful, were held in cities across the United States by supporters of Democratic nominee Joe Biden. President Donald Trump has claimed victory and called for a halt to the counting of ballots in states that will determine the outcome of Tuesday s election. Biden has said he believes he is on course to win once the votes are counted. Four arrests were made in Denver as protesters clashed with police, the Denver Police Department said. Arrests were also made during demonstrations in Minneapolis after protesters blocked traffic, local police there said. Activists also staged rallies in Atlanta, Detroit and Oakland demanding that vote counts proceed unimpeded. "All of the gatherings that were declared riots were downtown," a Portland Police spokesman told Reuters in an emailed statement. "There have been 11 arrests tonight and we have not received any reports of injuries." Local partners of Protect the Results - a coalition of more than 165 grassroots organizations, advocacy groups and labor unions - have organized more than 100 events planned across the country between Wednesday and Saturday. Earlier on Wednesday, about 100 people gathered for an interfaith event before a planned march through downtown Detroit, in the battleground state of Michigan, to demand a full vote count and a peaceful transition of power. Heading into the Nov. 3 elections, the United States had seen months of protests following the death in May of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Portland has seen months of demonstrations since Floyd s death, particularly in the city s downtown area, with protests occasionally turning into clashes between demonstrators and police as well as between right- and left-wing groups.
President Donald Trump carried the prized battleground of Florida, then he and Democrat Joe Biden shifted their focus early Wednesday to three Northern industrial states _ Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania _ that could prove crucial in determining who wins the White House. However, the intense jockeying for the states was overshadowed by Trump s extraordinary early-morning declaration from the White House calling for outstanding ballots not to be counted. By early Wednesday, neither candidate had the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win. Trump made premature claims of victories in several key states and said he would take the election to the Supreme Court to stop the counting. It was unclear exactly what legal action he might try to pursue. Vote tabulations routinely continue beyond Election Day, and states largely set the rules for when the count has to end. In presidential elections, a key point is the date in December when presidential electors met. That s set by federal law. Several states allow mailed-in votes to be accepted after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday. That includes Pennsylvania, where ballots postmarked by Nov 3 can be accepted if they arrive up to three days after the election. Trump suggested those ballots shouldn t be counted. But Biden, briefly appearing in front of supporters in Delaware, urged patience, saying the election ``ain t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted. ``It s not my place or Donald Trump s place to declare who s won this election, Biden said. ``That s the decision of the American people. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that his state had over 1 million ballots to be counted and that he ``promised Pennsylvanians that we would count every vote and that s what we re going to do.`` Legal experts were dubious of Trump s declaration. ``I do not see a way that he could go directly to the Supreme Court to stop the counting of votes. There could be fights in specific states, and some of those could end up at the Supreme Court. But this is not the way things work, said Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California-Irvine. Trump has appointed three of the high court s nine justices including, most recently, Amy Coney Barrett. Democrats typically outperform Republicans in mail voting, while the GOP looks to make up ground in Election Day turnout. That means the early margins between the candidates could be influenced by which type of votes _ early or Election Day _ were being reported by the states. Throughout the campaign, Trump cast doubt about the integrity of the election and repeatedly suggested that mail-in ballots should not be counted. Both campaigns had teams of lawyers at the ready to move into battleground states if there were legal challenges. The tight overall contest reflected a deeply polarized nation struggling to respond to the worst health crisis in more than a century, with millions of lost jobs, and a reckoning on racial injustice. Trump kept several states, including Texas, Iowa and Ohio, where Biden had made a strong play in the final stages of the campaign. But Biden also picked off states where Trump sought to compete, including New Hampshire and Minnesota. But Florida was the biggest, fiercely contested battleground on the map, with both campaigns battling over the 29 Electoral College votes that went to Trump. The president adopted Florida as his new home state, wooed its Latino community, particularly Cuban-Americans, and held rallies there incessantly. For his part, Biden deployed his top surrogate _ President Barack Obama _ there twice in the campaign s closing days and benefitted from a $100 million pledge in the state from Michael Bloomberg. Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. But Republicans maintained several seats that were considered vulnerable, including in Iowa, Texas and Kansas. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control. The pandemic _ and Trump s handling of it _ was the inescapable focus for 2020. For Trump, the election stood as a judgment on his four years in office, a term in which he bent Washington to his will, challenged faith in its institutions and changed how America was viewed across the globe. Rarely trying to unite a country divided along lines of race and class, he has often acted as an insurgent against the government he led while undermining the nation s scientists, bureaucracy and media. The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Turnout was higher than in 2016 in numerous counties, including all of Florida, nearly every county in North Carolina and more than 100 counties in both Georgia and Texas. That tally seemed sure to increase as more counties reported their turnout figures. Voters braved worries of the coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation and expectations of long lines caused by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago. No major problems arose on Tuesday, outside the typical glitches of a presidential election: Some polling places opened late, robocalls provided false information to voters in Iowa and Michigan, and machines or software malfunctioned in some counties in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas. The cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security said there were no outward signs by midday of any malicious activity. With the coronavirus now surging anew, voters ranked the pandemic and the economy as top concerns in the race between Trump and Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate. Voters were especially likely to call the public health crisis the nation s most important issue, with the economy following close behind. Fewer named health care, racism, law enforcement, immigration or climate change The survey found that Trump s leadership loomed large in voters decision-making. Nearly two-thirds of voters said their vote was about Trump _ either for him or against him.
Americans vote Tuesday in an election amounting to a referendum on Donald Trump and his uniquely brash, bruising presidency that Democratic opponent and frontrunner Joe Biden urged supporters to end, restoring "our democracy." The United States is more divided and angry than at any time since the Vietnam War era of the 1970s -- and fears that Trump could dispute the result of the election are only fueling those tensions. Despite an often startlingly laid-back campaign, Biden, 77, leads in almost every opinion poll, buoyed by his consistent message that America needs to restore its "soul" and get new leadership in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 231,000 people. "I have a feeling we re coming together for a big win tomorrow," Biden said in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a vital electoral battleground where he was joined by pop superstar Lady Gaga. "It s time to stand up and take back our democracy." But Trump was characteristically defiant to the end, campaigning at a frenetic pace with crowded rallies in four states on Monday, and repeating his dark, unprecedented claims for a US president that the polls risk being rigged against him. After almost non-stop speeches in a final three-day sprint, he ended up in the early hours of Tuesday in Grand Rapids, Michigan -- the same place where he concluded his epic against-the-odds campaign in 2016 where he defeated apparent frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Despite the bad poll numbers, the 74-year-old Republican real estate tycoon counted on pulling off another upset. "We re going to have another beautiful victory tomorrow," he told the Michigan crowd, which chanted back: "We love you, we love you!" "We re going to make history once again," he said. - Packing Trump s bags - While Tuesday is formally Election Day, in reality Americans have been voting for weeks. With a huge expansion in mail-in voting to safeguard against the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 100 million people have already made their choice. Biden has the wind in his sails after indications that Democratic enthusiasm in the early voting may be matching the more visible energy at Trump s impressive rallies. In one of US history s great political gambles, Biden stuck to socially distanced gatherings with small crowds right up to the last moment, in stunning contrast to Trump s constant, large rallies where few supporters so much as bothered with masks. But the Democrat, making his third attempt at the presidency, clearly senses that his calmer approach and strict attention to pandemic protocols is what Americans want after four tempestuous years. "It s time for Donald Trump to pack his bags and go home," Biden told supporters in Cleveland. "We re done with the chaos! We re done with the tweets, the anger, the hate, the failure, the irresponsibility." In chilly downtown Pittsburgh, Justine Wolff said she had cast her ballot for Biden already and was cautiously hopeful he would carry Pennsylvania, which along with Florida may be the tightest of all the swing states that decide close national elections. "I hope that people have seen the writing on the wall," said the 35-year-old nurse. "We need some kind of change because this isn t working for anybody." But where many early votes are believed to have been cast by Democrats, Trump s side is hoping for a massive wave of Republican supporters voting in person on Tuesday. "Whether he wins or loses, this is history," said Kolleen Wall, who turned out to cheer Trump in Grand Rapids. But "when you come to one of these rallies, all you think is, how could he not win?" The first polling stations opening were in two New Hampshire villages, Dixville Notch and Millsfield, starting at midnight. Most polling stations on the East Coast were to open at 6:00 am or 7:00 am (1100 or 1200 GMT). A tiny hamlet of 12 residents in the middle of the forest, near the Canadian border, Dixville Notch has traditionally voted "first in the nation" since 1960. The vote took minutes, as did the count: five votes for Biden, and none for Trump. - Warning of violence - Trump himself is planning to visit his campaign headquarters in Virginia on Tuesday, while Biden will travel to his birthplace of Scranton, the scrappy Pennsylvania town where Trump also visited on Monday. There are worries that if the election is close, extended legal chaos and perhaps violent unrest could ensue -- not least because Trump has spent months trying to sap public trust in the voting process in a nation already bitterly divided along political fault lines. He ramped up these warnings in the final days, focusing especially on Pennsylvania s rule allowing absentee ballots received within three days after Tuesday to be counted. In a tweet flagged with a warning label by Twitter on Monday, he said this would "allow rampant and unchecked cheating." "It will also induce violence in the streets. Something must be done!" Trump tweeted.
Gunmen traded fire with Afghan security forces in Kabul University s campus following a blast in the area, and at least six people were wounded, Afghan government officials said. The Taliban denied their fighters were involved in the assault, and the identity of the attackers was unknown "Gunshots still can be heard in the area but security forces have blocked it off," Ministry of Interior spokesman Tariq Arian said. "We don t know whether we are dealing with a coordinated attack or something else." he said. He later said that multiple attackers had entered the campus and were fighting with security forces. At least six people were wounded, including a professor and a student, according to Akmal Samsor, the health ministry s spokesman. Witnesses said students had fled from the Kabul University campus. "Almost all students have now left," Nahid, a student who asked that only her first name be used for security reasons, told Reuters by telephone after fleeing from the university. Violence has plagued Afghanistan while government and Taliban negotiators have been meeting in Qatar to try to broker a peace deal that would allow the United States to bring home its troop and end its longest war.
Polls opened in Algeria Sunday for a vote on a revised constitution the regime hopes will neutralise a protest movement which at its peak last year swept long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power. Bouteflika s successor Abdelmadjid Tebboune, currently hospitalised overseas, has pitched the text as meeting the demands of the Hirak, a movement that staged vast weekly demonstrations for more than a year, until the coronavirus pandemic stopped rallies. But despite a determined government media campaign for a resounding "yes" vote to usher in a "new Algeria", observers say the document offers little new. "Nothing has changed. The ultra-presidential regime will stay," said Massena s Cherbi, a constitutional expert at Sciences Po university in Paris. Tebboune has placed Sunday s referendum at the forefront of efforts to turn the page on the Hirak movement. And after a campaign that saw the "yes" camp dominate state-backed media coverage and supporters of a "no" vote banned from holding meetings, few observers doubt that the text will pass. The key question is how many people vote. Tebboune said Saturday that Algerians will once again "have a rendezvous with history" to bring in a "new era capable of fulfilling the hopes of the nation and the aspirations of our people for a strong, modern and democratic state". Seen by opponents as an old-school regime insider, Tebboune came to power following a December 2019 presidential poll marred by record abstentionism. The Hirak movement led calls for a boycott of that election, and even official data put the turnout at less than 40 percent. The 74-year-old president is hospitalised in Germany amid reports of Covid-19 cases among his staff, and few details have been released on his condition. Experts say the referendum is partly a bid for a more convincing validation at the ballot box. Rather than attacking the youth-led Hirak, Tebboune has ostensibly reached out to it, describing it as a "blessed, authentic popular movement" and arguing that the revised constitution meets its demands. But despite his conciliatory language, many observers are sceptical, especially given how the document was written. "The drafting and consultation process was highly controlled by the state," said Zaid al-Ali, an expert on constitutions in the Arab world. "It s hard to argue that the Hirak s demands for a fully inclusive debate on the state s constitution was respected." Regime incantations And while the new text lists purported guarantees of social and economic rights, al-Ali says these promises are hollow. "The constitution s social and economic rights are not directly enforceable, which means that they are only aspirational," he said. The Hirak, for its part, has rejected the document "in substance and form", calling it a "change of facade" and urging voters to boycott the poll. Algeria, with a population of 44 million and vast oil reserves, has been battered by low crude prices and the coronavirus pandemic, further hurting a young population already suffering from spiralling unemployment. While many have expressed apathy over Sunday s vote, government spokesman and Minister of Communications Ammar Belhimer has predicted that people will "flock" to the polls "to lay a new stone in the process of nation-building and check the manoeuvres of Algeria s enemies". That rhetoric has been accompanied by a campaign of arrests against pro-Hirak activists, bloggers and journalists, with around 90 currently behind bars, according to the CNLD, a prisoners support group. Prominent Algerian journalist Akram Belkaid said the regime wanted to prevent Hirak militants "from relaunching the movement in the street once the health situation improves". "The repression currently underway also aims to prevent a large-scale boycott of the referendum," he wrote in a blog post. "That would undermine the credibility of its incantations about a new Algeria ." Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and were set to close at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT).
Lebanon and Israel, still technically at war, were to press on with a second round of maritime border talks Thursday under UN and US auspices to allow for offshore energy exploration. The delegations were to meet for a second day in a row from 10:00 am (0800 GMT) at a base of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in the Lebanese border town of Naqura. A first round of talks held on October 14 was described as "positive" by a Lebanese source familiar with the negotiations. After years of quiet US shuttle diplomacy, Lebanon and Israel this month said they had agreed to begin the negotiations in what Washington hailed as a "historic" agreement. The announcement came weeks after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab nations to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. But Lebanon has insisted the negotiations are purely technical and do not involve any political normalisation with Israel. Lebanon, reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades, is hoping to settle the maritime border dispute so it can continue exploring for hydrocarbon reserves in the Mediterranean. Exploration is on hold in an area off its coast named Block 9, as a section of it is located in an 860-square-kilometre (330-square-mile) area claimed by both Israel and Lebanon. In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling for oil and gas in Block 9 and Block 4 with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek. Lebanon in April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves. While the US-brokered talks look at the maritime border, a UNIFIL-sponsored track is also due to address outstanding land border disputes. UNIFIL head Major General Stefano Del Col welcomed Tuesday what he called "a unique opportunity to make substantial progress on contentious issues along" the land frontier.
Lebanon and Israel, still technically at war and with no diplomatic ties, launched a second round of maritime border talks Wednesday under UN and US auspices to allow for offshore energy exploration. The talks, expected to last for two days, were held at the headquarters of UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in the Lebanese border town of Naqura, guarded by army roadblocks and with UN helicopters circling above. After years of quiet US shuttle diplomacy, Lebanon and Israel this month said they had agreed to begin the negotiations in what Washington hailed as a "historic" agreement. The announcement came weeks after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab nations to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Lebanon -- which last saw military clashes with Israel in 2006 -- insists that the negotiations are purely technical and don t involve any soft political normalisation with Israel. "Today s session is the first technical session," said Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese energy expert. "Detailed discussions on demarcation should begin." Lebanon, mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, is looking to settle the maritime border dispute so it can press on with its offshore quest for oil and gas. The search for hydrocarbons has already heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean following repeated Turkish exploration and drilling operations in waters claimed by both Cyprus and Greece. Maximalist approach In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for drilling in two blocks in the Mediterranean with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek. Exploration of one of the blocks is more controversial as part of it is located in an 860-square-kilometre (330-square-mile) area claimed by both Israel and Lebanon. Lebanon is expected to adopt a "maximalist approach" to maritime border negotiations, said Haytayan. The energy expert explained that Lebanese negotiators will likely try to claim areas that fall beyond the disputed 860 square kilometres zone, including the Karish gas field currently operated by Israel, she told AFP. "We have to wait to see the reaction of the Israelis," she said. While the US-brokered talks look at the maritime border, a UNIFIL-sponsored track is also due to address outstanding land border disputes. "We have a unique opportunity to make substantial progress on contentious issues along" the border, UNIFIL head Major General Stefano Del Col said in a statement on Tuesday. Positive voices The meetings have raised faint hopes for a thaw between the neighbours who have repeatedly clashed on the battlefield. The Israeli defence minister and alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz, said on Tuesday he was "hearing positive voices coming out of Lebanon, who are even talking about peace with Israel". Gantz, speaking during a tour of northern Israel, did not specify which Lebanese comments he was referring to. But they came a day after Claudine Aoun, daughter of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, told Al Jadeed TV that peace with Israel would be conceivable if outstanding issues were resolved. "We have the maritime border dispute, the issue of Palestinian refugees, and another topic which is more important, which is the issue of natural resources: water, oil and natural gas which Lebanon is depending on to advance its economy," she said. When asked directly if she would object to a peace treaty with Israel, she responded: "Why would I object?" "Are we supposed to stay in a state of war? ... I don t have doctrinal differences with anyone ... I have political differences." The Shia Muslim armed movement Hezbollah, a major force in Lebanese politics, has criticised the maritime talks. Israel and Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006, and both sides still exchange sporadic cross-border fire.
Turkey should not meddle in France s domestic affairs, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Tuesday, after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for a boycott of French goods, citing French leader Emmanuel Macron s "anti-Islam" agenda. Erdogan s comments on Monday were the latest expression of anger in the Muslim world over images being displayed in France of the Prophet Mohammad, which some Muslims consider blasphemous. Erdogan also questioned Macron s mental health, prompting Paris to recall its ambassador in Ankara. "It should shock each one of us that foreign powers are meddling with what is going on in France," Darmanin told France Inter radio, adding he was referring to Turkey and Pakistan, where parliament passed a resolution urging the government to recall its envoy from Paris. "Turkey should not meddle with France s domestic affairs," Darmanin added. The row has its roots in a knife attack outside a French school on Oct. 16 in which a man of Chechen origin beheaded Samuel Paty, a teacher who had shown pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a civics lesson on freedom of speech. President Emmanuel Macron, who met representatives of France s Muslim community on Monday, has pledged to fight "Islamist separatism", saying it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France.
A third attempt at halting weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh collapsed quickly on Monday with Armenia and Azerbaijan trading accusations of violating the US-brokered ceasefire within minutes. As fighting over the disputed region enters its second month, international mediators are scrambling to bring a stop to frontline clashes and shelling of civilian areas that have left hundreds dead. The latest "humanitarian ceasefire" was announced by Washington on Sunday, after truces brokered by Russia and France fell apart over previous weekends. It took less than an hour after the ceasefire was due to begin at 8:00 am (0400 GMT) for the first accusations to be made. Azerbaijan s foreign ministry said Armenian forces had shelled the town of Terter and nearby villages in "gross violation" of the truce. Armenia s defence ministry said Azerbaijani forces had "grossly violated" the ceasefire with artillery fire on combat positions in various parts of the frontline. Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a bitter conflict over Karabakh since Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous province in a 1990s war that left 30,000 people dead. Karabakh s self-declared independence has not been recognised internationally, even by Armenia, and it remains a part of Azerbaijan under international law. The current fighting broke out on September 27. Armenia and Azerbaijan accuse each other of having targeted civilians and of breaking the previous truces. Repeated calls for calm do seem to have had any effect. After coming under heavy shelling at the start of the fighting, Nagorno-Karabakh s main city Stepanakert has been quieter in recent days. AFP journalists in the city on Monday said the night had been calm. Ten minutes before the ceasefire took effect an explosion was heard and a plume of smoke seen on a nearby hill. There were fewer sounds of fighting coming from the frontline on Monday morning than in previous days, though rounds of shelling could be heard in the distance. - Intensive negotiations - More than 1,000 people have been reported dead in the fighting, mainly Armenian separatist fighters but also dozens of civilians. Azerbaijan has not released any figures on its military casualties and the death toll is believed to be substantially higher, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying last week that close to 5,000 people had been killed. Russia, France and the United States are leaders of the "Minsk Group" which has failed since the 1990s to bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict. This year s fighting is the heaviest since a 1994 ceasefire, raising fears that Azerbaijan s ally Turkey and Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia, could be further drawn into the conflict. The latest ceasefire push came after US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun met in Washington Saturday with Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and the co-chairs of the Minsk Group. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the negotiations had been "intensive". The State Department said the Minsk co-chairs and the foreign ministers "agreed to meet again in Geneva on October 29" to seek "all steps necessary to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict". Azerbaijan has claimed to be making significant gains since the fighting began by retaking areas it lost in the 1990s war, in particular in a buffer zone outside Karabakh seized by the Armenians. Armenia has admitted to suffering losses and called on volunteers to join the fighting at the front.
Thousands of Iraqis headed Sunday to Baghdad s iconic Tahrir Square and its high-security Green Zone to mark the first anniversary of a protest movement against the country s stagnant political class. "This is an important day, we are here to keep the movement going," student Mohamed Ali said in the square, epicentre of the revolt. The renewed mobilisation has retained protesters key demand of the ouster of the entire ruling class accused of corruption and being beholden to neighbouring Iran. Iraq is the second largest oil exporter in the world but has struggled to pay salaries for its bloated public sector. "We have the same demands as last year," Ali told AFP. In a months-long revolt launched in October 2019, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators camped out in Baghdad and southern cities to demand a total overhaul of a political system failing to deliver basic services and salaries. About 600 protesters were killed and 30,000 wounded in clashes with security forces before the movement lost momentum then ground to a halt in the spring due to the coronavirus crisis and rising US-Iran tensions. Since Saturday, military checkpoints and roadblocks have been erected around the square and the Green Zone, which is off-limits to Iraqi citizens. The fortified Green Zone -- site of parliament, government offices and the US embassy -- is separated by a bridge from the square. Riot police stationed around major thoroughfares have barred demonstrators waving Iraqi flags from trying to cross. Other parallel bridges have also been sealed off. With no central leadership behind the protests, activists are divided over whether to stay put in Tahrir or head to the Green Zone at the risk of violence breaking out.
Although my parents refused to allow me to join the Muslim Brotherhood group, my father used to deal with the matter rationally and calmly. I was surprised by his his cool reaction until I knew the reason, as he knew I was going to leave this group sooner or later. At the time my mother was trying to force me to move away from them in a violent confrontational way, even by preventing me from leaving the house, wh