JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed on Monday in his eleventh hour bid to legislate that cameras be installed in polling stations to prevent what his supporters claim is voting fraud in Arab districts. After a stormy session, a parliamentary committee voted it down before it reached the plenum with Netanyahu s backers deadlocked with his opponents. The deciding, dissenting vote was cast by a representative of former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ally-turned-rival of Netanyahu who forced Israel s unprecedented second election of the year and is poised to be the kingmaker again in the vote. With just a week to go to the repeat election, Netanyahu had sought to pass the controversial legislation amid a scorched earth campaign in which he s accused his opponents of conspiring to “steal” the election. Netanyahu insists the proposal was a matter of transparency but it drew renewed accusations that he was promoting racism and incitement against the country s Arab minority. Critics also said he was preemptively claiming to be a victim of electoral fraud as an alibi, in case he loses. Mordechai Kremnitzer, a constitutional law expert, wrote in the Haaretz daily that the bill amounted to pointing a “gun at Israeli democracy s head.” With his career on the line, Netanyahu has increasingly been embracing some tactics of President Donald Trump. Netanyahu routinely lashes out at the media, the judiciary, the police and his political opponents, claiming there is a conspiracy of “elites” to oust him. In a Facebook video Sunday, Netanyahu hinted that Arab forgery prevented him from winning the April vote. Netanyahu s hard-line Likud Party had sent out campaign workers on election day to videotape Arab voters entering polling stations, claiming they were preventing fraud. A Likud-linked PR agency that spearheaded the campaign later boasted it had helped suppress Arab turnout, while Arab leaders accused Likud of trying to intimidate voters. Israel s Central Election Commission banned the practice this time around and the fast-tracked legislation was supposed to override that ruling. Adalah, a legal rights group for Arab minority rights, said even without passing the proposed bill “has already caused harm by injecting bald-faced lies into the public political discourse under the premise of preserving the purity of elections. ” Stifling Netanyahu once again was his nemesis Lieberman, who said any monitoring should be operated by election officials and not “Netanyahu s private militia.” Lieberman, who was once Netanyahu s chief of staff and a staunch partner, has emerged as his chief rival and critic. He passed up the post of defense minister in Netanyahu s government following April s election, leaving the prime minister without a parliamentary majority and forcing the Sept. 17 do-over vote. Opinion polls show Likud in a neck-and-neck race with the main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party, with neither side able to secure an outright majority without the support of Lieberman s party.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that Taliban “overreached” with their car bomb attack in a diplomatic area near the US Embassy in Kabul, killing an American soldier — and that led President Donald Trump to pull back from planned Afghanistan peace talks at Camp David. Pompeo said it was now up to the Taliban to “change their behavior.” America s top diplomat isn t saying whether or when peace talks would resume. He said he hopes the insurgents “will recommit to the things that we ve been talking to them about for months.” In the end, Pompeo said, “this will be resolved through a series of conversations. I hope the Taliban will agree to meet with the Afghan government.” Trump tweeted on Saturday night that he had canceled a secret meeting, planned for Sunday at the presidential retreat in Maryland, with Taliban and Afghan leaders, and called off talks with the insurgent group. He cited the Thursday attack. Pompeo, who was booked on five Sunday news shows, said the United States and the Taliban were close to a deal. “And then the Taliban failed to live up to a series of commitments that they had made, and when that happened President Trump said, I m not going to take that deal. I m not going to work with someone that can t deliver on their commitments. ” He said Trump “broke it off,” because he did not want to “reward that behavior,” referring to Thursday s attack. The secretary of state said Trump “broke it off” because he did not want to “reward that behavior,” referring to Thursday s attack. Pompeo acknowledged that the attack was not the first during the period in which peace talks have been held. He also said the US has been attacking the Taliban throughout this period. Pompeo said more than 1,000 Taliban have been killed in battle over the past 10 days alone. The Taliban on Sunday said that Trump s abrupt decision to cancel the meet with the group s leaders on a “finalized” deal to end America s longest war would “damage the credibility” of the US, but they believe the US will return to negotiations. “Both sides were preparing for the announcement and signing of the agreement,” the insurgent group said in a statement, saying they had been invited in late August but wanted to wait until the deal s signing. Now, “we will continue the ongoing jihad (against foreign occupation) and we firmly believe in the ultimate victory.” Trump s move puzzled observers, who pointed out that both the Taliban and US and Afghan forces have increased fighting in recent months to strengthen their position in the talks. Civilians have suffered more than anyone in what was the world s deadliest war in 2018. Trump s announcement Saturday evening was surprising because it would mean that the president was ready to host members of the Taliban just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 2,400 US troops have been killed since the US invaded Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which were harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for 9/11. Canceling the talks also goes against Trump s pledge to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 US troops from Afghanistan and end US involvement in a conflict that is closing in on 18 years. Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration s peace envoy in talks with Taliban leaders for months, said less than a week ago that a deal had been reached “in principle” with the group and that it only needed Trump s approval. The president, however, came under increased pressure from the Afghan government and some US lawmakers who mistrust the Taliban and think it s too early to withdraw American forces. “Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump tweeted. “They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote. On Thursday, a Taliban car bomb exploded and killed an American soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the US Embassy in Kabul. The bombing was one of many attacks by the Taliban in recent days. Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, was the fourth US service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan. “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn t, they only made it worse!” Trump tweeted. “If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?” It remains unclear if the US-Taliban talks are over or only paused. Trump said he called off the peace negotiations after the bombing, but Khalilzad, the US envoy negotiating with the Taliban, was meeting with leaders of the insurgent group in Doha, Qatar, on both Thursday and Friday. The Afghan government, sidelined from the negotiations, seemed hesitant to directly respond to Trump s announcement, saying simply that “we have always said that a real peace will come when the Taliban stop killing Afghans and implement a ceasefire and start direct negotiations with the Afghan government” on the country s future — talks that were meant to quickly follow a US-Taliban deal. The Taliban s new statement said those talks had been meant to start on Sept. 23, five days before Afghanistan s presidential election. Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had wanted to go to Washington to speak with Trump about his concerns “but I am not able to go into the details of the particular trip.” The details of the US-Taliban deal that had been shown to Ghani last week “were not convincing,” Sediqqi said. “Let s see the future.” Image: An Army carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. 1st Class Elis Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, past Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Ortiz was killed in action Sept. 5, when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan. Ortiz was supporting Operation Freedom s Sentinel.
Three individuals broke into a mobile phone shop in Kuwait and beat two Egyptians working there. One of the attackers was identified and is being sought by Kuwaiti authorities, according to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai. According to a security source, two Egyptians working in a mobile phone shop reported the assault to Kuwaiti police, Al Rai added. According to the victims, they disagreed with a permanent customer of the shop. He left the shop and returned with two unidentified persons. The customer and the two unidentified persons assaulted the two Egyptian workers and then fled. According to the security source, the complainants provided security officials with the name of the accused person, and legal measures were taken regarding the incident. Assaults on Egyptian expatriates in some Gulf countries spur anger on social media from time to time. Kuwait s Criminal Court sentenced a male citizen in September 2018 to 17 years in prison for brutal physical assault of an Egyptian expatriate during working hours at a motor repair shop in the industrial Shewaykh District.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian officials ratcheted up pressure Wednesday ahead of a weekend nuclear deadline for European nations to come up with a solution for Iran to sell its oil abroad in the aftermath of escalated U.S. sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani reiterated a threat that Tehran would take additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear accord on Friday and accelerate nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide a solution, calling it Iran s third, “most important step” away from the deal. “Iran s third step is of an extraordinarily significant nature,” Rouhani said, without detailing what it would entail, but saying a “decree will be announced today or tomorrow.” Meanwhile, Iran s foreign ministry announced that seven members of the 23-member crew of the seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero held in the Persian Gulf would be released — an apparent good-will gesture meant to defuse tensions. Iran seized the tanker on July, saying it violated Iranian laws, after authorities in the British territory of Gibraltar seized an Iranian tanker said to be to be carrying fuel to Syria in violation of EU sanctions on oil sales to Damascus. The Iranian vessel — the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1 — was released earlier this month and set sail for eastern Mediterranean. It turned off its tracking beacon off the coast of Syria this week, leading to renewed speculation that its oil will end up there, despite earlier assurances to the contrary. Both Rouhani and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi expressed doubts Europe would succeed in salvaging the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. U.S. sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal have curbed Iran s oil exports and sent its economy into freefall while what was left of the deal steadily unraveled. At the same time, tensions have spiked across the Persian Gulf over mysterious tanker explosions, the shooting down of a U.S. military surveillance drone by Iran and America deploying more troops and warplanes to the region. Under the nuclear agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But since Trump s pullout, Iran has already taken steps contrary to the terms of the deal although it insisted they remained within the framework of the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the deal. The U.N. agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal but still far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. French President Emmanuel Macron is leading talks seeking relief for Iran and de-escalation of tensions. This week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif travelled to Moscow while Araghchi went to Paris and elsewhere in Europe to press for a solution. Little seems to have come out of those trips. “I see that it s unlikely a conclusion will be reached with Europe today or tomorrow,” Rouhani said. Araghchi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying “it is unlikely European countries can take an effective step” before the deadline. Meanwhile, the idea of a phased credit line to pre-purchase Iranian oil has been floated amid the diplomatic efforts, something Araghchi reiterated. Europe, he said, needs to compensate Iran in the “amount of $15 billion over a 4-month span” and “after that, Iran is ready for talks.” Rouhani indicated that after Friday s deadline expires and Iran takes the next step, another two-month deadline to Europe will follow with the aim to resume talks. “They know what we want, and we know what they want,” Rouhani said. Later Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state TV that while judicial procedure on the British-flagged oil tanker is still underway, the captain of the ship has been asked — under Iran s “humane policy” — to let seven of the crew return to their country. He said the captain decided seven crew members from India would be the ones to leave. Erik Hanell, CEO of the Swedish shipping group Stena Bulk that owns the Stena Impero, said it wasn t immediately clear when the seven would be freed. The remaining 16 crew members are to stay onboard the vessel. “Their ordeal may soon be over, and they may return to their families, however, we cautiously await official confirmation of their release date,” Hannell said, adding the announcement was “a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern and focus.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened Monday to hit “deep inside” Israel, a day after an exchange of fire on the Lebanese-Israeli border sparked fears of a wider conflict between the arch-foes. Sunday s escalation was brief and followed a week of rising tensions, including what the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement described as an Israeli drone strike on its Beirut stronghold. Israel has not acknowledged that attack, but accused Hezbollah and Tehran of colluding to produce precision-guided missiles on Lebanese soil. Nasrallah on Monday said there were “no more red lines” in Hezbollah s confrontation with Israel. He said Hezbollah would respond to further Israeli attacks with strikes “deep inside Israel” and not just along the border. “If you attack us, your borders, soldiers and settlements — including those on the border and those deep inside (Israel) — will be threatened and targeted,” he said. “If there is any aggression against Lebanon, there will be no such thing as international borders.” He spoke after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was “prepared for any scenario”. “We shall continue to do everything necessary to preserve Israel s security, at sea, on land and in the air, and we will continue to act against the threat of precision missiles,” Netanyahu said on Monday. On both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border, life returned to normal on Monday a day after Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles into the Jewish state, drawing return fire from Israel which caused brush fires. War can start in a minute Schools were open in the Israeli village of Avivim, from which the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras is clearly visible on a nearby hill. “The war can start in a minute. I am worried it could happen,” said Dudu Peretz, 35, as he dropped his son off at kindergarten. In southern Lebanon, farmers returned to their fields and the United Nations force tasked with monitoring the border area resumed its patrols, an AFP journalist said. “We re used to this kind of thing,” said Ali al-Safari, a resident of Bint Jbeil on the Lebanese side of the border. “We remain determined and calm.” Sunday s exchange of fire began when Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at an Israeli army base near the border community of Avivim and at a vehicle Israel said was a military ambulance, destroying it. Israel retaliated with around 100 artillery shells targeting the squad that fired the missiles. Hezbollah said it had destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and killed and wounded those inside — a claim refuted by Israel. Hezbollah s Al-Manar TV on Monday aired footage purporting to show a missile being launched towards a moving armoured vehicle, before an explosion sends large clouds of white smoke into the sky. Al-Manar s presenter said two Kornet anti-tank missiles had been fired at the target, 1.5 kilometres (one mile) from the border. Drone attack After the flare-up, Lebanon s Prime Minister Saad Hariri contacted senior US and French officials to urge their countries and the international community to intervene. The UN called for restraint and France said it had made “multiple contacts” to avert further fire. The United States slammed the “destabilising role” of Iranian allies in the Middle East and said it “fully supports Israel s right to self defence”. The pre-dawn August 25 attack involved two drones — one exploded and caused damage to a Hezbollah-run media centre and another crashed without detonating due to technical failure, Hezbollah said. President Michel Aoun, a former army chief, denounced it as a “declaration of war”. It came hours after Israel launched strikes in Syria to prevent what it said was an impending Iranian drone attack on the Jewish state, in which Hezbollah said two of its fighters were killed. A source connected to Hezbollah called Sunday s fire a response to those deaths, and said a reaction to the alleged drone attack would take place in the air. On Monday the Syrian government threw its support behind Hezbollah, whose fighters have since 2013 been fighting on President Bashar al-Assad s side in Syria s civil war. A source at the ministry of foreign affairs told state news agency SANA that Damascus felt “pride at the… operation” against Israel. Israel has staged hundreds of strikes against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, vowing to prevent its arch-foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the neighbouring country. But a drone attack by Israel inside Lebanon would mark a departure — what Nasrallah labelled the first such “hostile action” since a 2006 war between them. The 33-day war killed 1,200 Lebanese — mostly civilians — and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Sunday s escalation came just over two weeks ahead of Israel s September 17 election. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as wanting to avoid a major conflict before the vote.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will “take a strong step” away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Europe cannot offer the country new terms by a deadline at the end of this week, a government spokesman said Monday as top Iranian diplomats traveled to France and Russia for last-minute talks. The comments from Ali Rabiei reinforced the deadline Iran had set for Friday for Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. Crushing US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal over a year ago have halted those sales. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow, while his deputy was to travel to Paris with a team of economists Monday in a renewed diplomatic push. The developments come after French President Emmanuel Macron surprised the Group of Seven summit in France by inviting Zarif last week. Rabiei described Iran s strategy to journalists at Monday s press conference in Tehran as “commitment for commitment.” “Iran s oil should be bought and its money should be accessible to return to Iran,” Rabiei said. “This is the agenda of our talks.” It s unclear what the terms of negotiation are. In theory, anyone caught buying Iranian crude oil would be subject to US sanctions and potentially locked out of the American financial market. Already, Iran has gone over limits set by the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA as the deal is known. The U.N. agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed. Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits and is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. At the 4.5% level, the uranium can help power Iran s Bushehr reactor, the country s only nuclear power plant. It remains unclear what further step Iran will take, though it could involve restarting advanced centrifuges prohibited by the deal or further bumping up its enrichment of uranium. Iran insists the steps it has taken so far are easily reversible. “We will announce implementation of the third step in a letter to the Europeans if the Europeans do not impalement necessary measures by Thursday,” said Zarif in a Sunday interview with Iran s parliament news agency, ICANA. The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic relief. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal and Washington s increased sanctions on Tehran, which have been taking a toll on the Iranian economy. That has left the other signatories — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China — struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal. Meanwhile Monday, an Iranian oil tanker pursued by the U.S. that has been traveling across the Mediterranean Sea is now off the coast of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya 1 moving slowly just outside the Lebanese territorial waters, after it had stood off the coast of Syria a day earlier. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged the ship is bound for a refinery in Syria, which was the reason that authorities had seized the vessel off the coast of Gibraltar in July. The U.S. has warned countries not to accept the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth some $130 million.
DUBAI (Reuters) – A Saudi-led military coalition said on Sunday it had launched air strikes on Huthi military targets in southwest Yemen that Huthi-run media said had hit a prison, killing dozens of people. The Sunni Muslim coalition, which has been battling the Iran-aligned Huthi movement for more than four years in Yemen, said in a statement carried on Saudi state television that it destroyed a site storing drones and missiles in Dhamar. Residents told Reuters there had been six air strikes and that a complex in the city being used as a detention center had been hit. The Huthi health ministry spokesman, in comments carried on the group s Al Masirah TV, said 60 bodies had been pulled from rubble at the prison and that the number could rise. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the number of casualties. “The explosions were strong and shook the city,” one resident said. “Afterwards ambulance sirens could be heard until dawn.” The Western-backed alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Huthis after they ousted the internationally recognized government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The movement, which holds most major population centers in the Arabian peninsula nation, has stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months. The Saudi-led alliance has responded with strikes on Huthi targets. The coalition, which has come under criticism by international rights groups for air strikes that have killed civilians, said it had taken measures to protect civilians in Dhamar and the assault complied with international law. Al Masirah quoted the head of the Huthis national committee for prisoner affairs, Abdul Qader al-Mortada, as saying the detention center in Dhamar housed 170 prisoners. The United Nations is trying to ease tension in Yemen to prepare for political negotiations to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the long-impoverished country to the brink of famine. The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis, who deny being puppets of Tehran, say they are fighting a corrupt system. Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Dale Hudson
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Airstrikes hit Yemeni government forces heading to the southern port city of Aden to fight separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, killing at least 30 troops, a government commander said. It was not immediately clear who was behind the airstrikes but the government side blamed the UAE, which has armed and trained separatist militias in southern Yemen. Officials in the UAE declined to immediately comment. Infighting has raged for weeks between Yemeni government forces and the separatists, even though the two are allies in a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Yemen s Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, and most of the country s north since 2015. The UAE is also part of that coalition. The fighting between forces loyal to the internationally recognized government and the separatists has added another layer to the complex civil war in the Arab world s most impoverished country. Col. Mohamed al-Oban, a commander of the special forces in Abyan province, said the troops were on the road, headed from Abyan toward Aden on Thursday, when the strikes took place. He didn t say who carried them out, saying only the planes were from the Saudi-led coalition. The UAE also maintains warplanes as part of the coalition in Yemen. Yemen s foreign ministry tweeted a statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami, saying: “The government condemns the Emirati airstrike on government forces.” “We hold the UAE fully responsible for this explicit extra-judicial targeting” of the government forces, the statement said, adding that the airstrikes also left several civilians dead but without providing a specific death toll. The government statement also urged the UN Security Council to condemn the airstrikes. The attack came a day after government forces pushed into Aden to try and retake the city from UAE-backed separatists. Earlier on Wednesday, government troops wrested back control of Zinjibar, the capital of neighboring Abyan province, from the separatists and headed toward Aden. Information Minister Moammar al-Iryani said Wednesday that government forces also reclaimed Aden s airport, the main hub for the country s south, but the separatists denied that. According to officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter with reporters, forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni President Mansour Abed Rabbo Hadi gained some ground at the Aden airport complex before the separatists forced them to retreat. Videos showing separatist militia in control of the airport were posted on social media on Thursday by the Southern Transitional Council, the separatists commanding body. The push by the government forces into Aden underscored the seesaw nature of the fighting. Only weeks before, the separatists had gained much territory in southern Yemen, pushing government forces out of strategic cities and areas. Though a coalition partner in the war against the Houthis, the UAE never threw its support fully behind President Hadi, allegedly over his ties to Yemen s Muslim Brotherhood, choosing instead to train and support the separatist militias. Yemen was split into two countries, the North and South Yemen, during much of the Cold War before unifying in 1990 but a separatist movement has continued in the south. The Brotherhood is a pan-Arab Islamist movement that has been designated as a terrorist group by several Arab governments, including the UAE. Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Noha ElHennawy in Cairo contributed to this report. By AHMED AL-HAJ and MAGGIE MICHAEL Photo: In this frame grab from video provided by Yemen Today, Yemeni army vehicles enter Zinjibar, Yemen, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Yemeni officials and local residents say forces loyal to the country s internationally recognized government have wrested control of the capital of southern Abyan province from separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates. They say government forces on Wednesday pushed the UAE-backed militia, known as the Security Belt, out of Zinjibar after clasher that left at least one dead and 30 wounded fighters.
BEIRUT (AP) — The Lebanese militant Hezbollah group is ruling out a wider war with Israel but says it will carry out a surprise attack in retaliation for an alleged Israeli drone assault south of Beirut over the weekend. Naim Kassem told Russia Today in an interview that aired late on Tuesday that Hezbollah will not be “intimidated by threats of war in order not to retaliate. There was an aggression and we said we will retaliate and this is what will happen.” He refused to elaborate, saying that “we want the strike to be surprising and therefore, it is not in our interest to reveal more details.” Kassem s comments came just days after an alleged Israeli drone crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut while another exploded and crashed nearby. Photo: Lebanese soldiers next to a Hezbollah flag patrol in the southern Lebanese village of Aitaroun, on the Israel-Lebanon border, Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. Israeli forces along the border with Lebanon are on high alert, raising fears of a repeat of the 2006 war. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
BEIRUT (AP) — Airstrikes targeted Syria s last major rebel stronghold in the northwestern province of Idlib on Monday, killing at least four people, including a woman and her child, opposition activists said. The attacks come as Syrian government forces turn their focus on another rebel-held town in Idlib, Maaret al-Numan, following gains they made last week. Syrian troops have been on the offensive since April 30, and have also captured all rebel-held areas in the adjoining Hama province, as well as the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib. From the town, they are now pushing north. The opposition s Syrian Civil Defense rescue group, also known as White Helmets, said the airstrikes and artillery shelling targeted the village of in Basqala and nearby locations. Three people died in Basqala and the fourth, a man, in another village close by, Maaret Harmeh. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a higher toll, saying the airstrikes killed six people in Idlib, including three in the village of Basqala on the southern edge of the province. Among the three killed in Basqala were a woman and her child, it said. The differences between the Observatory s death toll and that of the White Helmets could not immediately be reconciled. State news agency SANA said troops are pounding insurgent positions in the town of Maaret al-Numan and several nearby villages. It said insurgents fired rockets in government-held villages, inflicting casualties among the civilian population. Maaret al-Numan, like Khan Sheikhoun, sits on the highway linking Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria s largest. Government forces are trying to eventually open that highway. The months of fighting have also displaced more than half a million civilians toward northern parts of Idlib, already home to some 3 million people, according to United Nations humanitarian officials. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said 15 people, including four children, were reportedly killed over the weekend. In Idlib, he said people have sought shelter in more than 100 schools, with hundreds of thousands staying in the open air outside overcrowded camps and reception centers. “As the new school year is scheduled to begin soon, access to education will be compromised for many children,” he said. Also Monday, Turkey s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, said Turkish and U.S. troops will soon begin joint patrols as part of a deal for a so-called safe zone in northeastern Syria. He said a joint helicopter flight has already taken place. Akar made the comments days after announcing that a joint U.S.-Turkish operation center for the safe zone had started working under the command of one Turkish and one American general. Turkey has been pressing for a safe zone, running east of the Euphrates River toward the Iraqi border, to push U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish militias away from its frontier. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists linked to an insurgency within Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday renewed a threat of a Turkish military offensive in the region if the safe zone is not established. “If we are forced into a path that we don t desire, if we are kept waiting, all of our preparations have been completed and we will execute our plans,” Erdogan said. Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report. By Bassem Mroue This photo released by the activist-operated Thiqa News Agency, shows smoke rising after airstrikes hit the town of Ihsem, in Idlib province, Syria, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Syrian opposition activists said Monday that airstrikes targeting the country s last major rebel stronghold, the northwestern province of Idlib, have killed three civilians, including a woman and her child (Thiqa News Agency via AP)
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun discussed on Monday the “Israeli assault on the southern suburbs of Beirut” with the country s United Nations Special Coordinator, Aoun s office said. Two Israeli drones crashed early on Sunday in the southern suburbs, which are dominated by Hezbollah, prompting the leader of the Iran-backed movement to warn the Israeli army that his group was preparing an immiment response. Aoun met U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis on Monday to discuss “the latest developments”, the president s office said on Twitter. Separately, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri met Lebanon s interior and defense ministers and with the army chief on Monday to discuss security issues, his office said, though it gave no further details. Hariri, who has said the drones aimed to stir up regional tensions, is also due to meet the ambassadors of the U.N. Security Council s five permanent members, his office said. Israeli drone strikes hit a military position belonging to a Palestinian faction in Lebanon s Bekaa valley early on Monday, the group said. Although Israel has not claimed the Beirut attack, Nasrallah said it was the first Israeli attack inside Lebanon since the two sides fought a deadly month-long war in 2006.
Two Israeli drones crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese capital overnight without the militants firing on them, a spokesman for the group said Sunday, saying the first fell on the roof of a building housing Hezbollah s media office while the second landed in a plot behind it. The drones crashed amid heightened tensions between neighboring Israel and Iran, which backs Hezbollah, and shortly after Israeli warplanes attacked targets near the Syrian capital, Damascus. Israeli aircraft buzzed over Beirut on Sunday, hours after the drones crashed, raising fears of a wider conflict. Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Afif said a small, unmanned reconnaissance drone fell on a building housing Hezbollah s media office in the Moawwad neighborhood in Dahyeh, the group s stronghold in southern Beirut. He said a second drone, which appeared to have been sent by Israel to search for the first one less than 45 minutes later, exploded in the air and crashed in an empty plot nearby, causing damage to nearby buildings. He said the second drone was likely armed judging by the damage it caused. Residents said they heard a loud blast that triggered a nighttime fire. ``We did not shoot down or explode any of the drones, Afif told The Associated Press. He said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah will give the official and ``appropriate response in a previously-scheduled televised appearance later Sunday. There was no immediate Israeli comment on Hezbollah s remarks. AP journalists on the scene Sunday said the 11-floor building that houses Hezbollah s media office as well as nearby buildings suffered minor damage and broken glass. On the second floor, where the group has its offices, shattered glass littered the floors and some of the desks were overturned. A portrait of Nasrallah was on a desk littered with glass. A Lebanese army statement said an Israeli drone came down while the other exploded in the sky over Beirut, causing material damage. Israeli warplanes regularly violate Lebanese airspace and have struck inside neighboring Syria from Lebanon on several occasions, angering Hezbollah and Lebanese officials, who have complained to the United Nations. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri described the crash of the two drones as a violation and ``aggression against Lebanese sovereignty. He said the developments overnight constitute a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation toward more escalation. Late Saturday, Israeli warplanes struck targets near the Syrian capital in what the Israeli military said was a successful effort to thwart an imminent Iranian drone strike on Israel. The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, reported that two Hezbollah members and an Iranian militiaman were killed in that attack. But an Iranian general said the Israeli strikes in Syria did not cause any damage or casualties among Iranian forces there. The semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Gen. Mohsen Rezaei on Sunday as calling the Israeli claims a ``lie. Rezaei, a senior commander in Iran s Revolutionary Guard, said ``the defenders of Syria and Iraq will soon give an answer to recent attacks by Israel and the United States. In recent days, U.S. officials have said that Israeli strikes have hit Iranian targets in Iraq, in what would be a significant expansion of Israel s campaign targeting Iranian military entrenchment in the region. Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as an array of government-allied militias in Syria and Iraq. Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks in recent years targeting Hezbollah and other Iranian targets in Syria. Israel views Iran as its greatest threat and has said it will not tolerate a permanent Iranian presence in Syria or the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah are key military allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country s eight-year-old civil war. Hezbollah and Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006. The volatile border between the two countries, which remain technically in a state of war, has been mostly calm since.
Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders, has commended the establishment of a committee to implement the objectives of the Human Fraternity Document, according to a Thursday statement by Al-Azhar, the highest institution of Sunni Islamic learning. The document was signed by Pope Francis and El-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi during the pope s visit to the UAE in February.
Sudanese Court postponed trial of ousted President Omar Al-Bashir to next Saturday, after concluding first session on Monday. During the court session, witnesses have provided testimonies. Al-Bashir told judges he had received millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, and repeated previous testimonies. The former president arrived accompanied by heavy security presence. Bashir has been detained since being ousted from power in April after months of protests. He is facing charges of possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally. Bashir was also charged in May with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters, and prosecutors also want him questioned over suspected money laundering and terrorism financing. On Saturday, pro-democracy activists and the country s military leaders signed a deal paving the way for elections. On 17 July, military generals and protest leaders have already inked a power-sharing agreement which will allow establishment of joint civilian-military ruling council to oversee the formation of a transitional civilian government and parliament to govern for a three-year transition period. The sovereign council was due to be sworn in on Monday. But the spokesman for the Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi, said the formation of the new ruling body would be delayed by 48 hours on the request of the opposition coalition. According to the power-sharing deal, the opposition coalition is allowed to choose five members and the military another five, with the two sides jointly choosing a civilian as an eleventh member. The body, which will replace the Transitional Military Council, will be headed by a general for the first 21 months, and a civilian for the last 18 months of the transitional period.
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has for the first time allowed children whose parents were suspected members of Islamic State to return to Germany from northern Syria and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said it will push for more such children to come to the country. Like other western countries, Germany faces a tricky decision on how to deal with citizens who went to the Middle East to join groups like Islamic State, which was driven out of its last territorial enclave in March by US-backed forces. Three of the four repatriated German children are orphans, according to German media, but no further details were available. “We will push for more children to leave Syria,” Maas said on Monday. “These are mostly young children … they cannot be made responsible for the actions of their parents and we want to do something to help,” he added. Thousands of Islamic State members, including foreigners, women and children, are being held by Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria. German intelligence officials say more than 1,000 Germans went to fight in Syria and Iraq where Islamic State once controlled swathes of territory in a self-declared caliphate. Around a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died and the rest are believed to be still in Iraq and Syria. Other western countries including Britain and France are facing decisions on how to handle their citizens who went to join Islamic State. The British government was heavily criticized after it decided to strip a 19-year-old woman of her citizenship in February, leaving her in a refugee camp in Syria where her baby died. Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Frances Kerry
Jordan summoned the Israeli ambassador in Amman, Amir Weissbrod, on Sunday following “Israeli violations” last week at the Jerusalem site known as Temple Mount to Jews and as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. Police had initially barred Jews from visiting the site on August 11 in a bid to ease tensions on a day important to believers in both religions, with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B Av coinciding with the start of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha. Muslims feared Jewish visits would still be allowed, so they staged protests that sparked clashes. Following criticism from far-right Israeli politicians, police opened the site to Jews, leading to further clashes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he had decided in advance “in consultation with all the security bodies” to allow Jewish visits. Decisive message Responding to Israel s closure of the gates of the al-Aqsa Mosque and denial of access to Muslim worshippers, Jordan s Foreign Ministry demanded an immediate halt to attempts to change the legal and historical status of the site. Access to Al-Aqsa and the adjoining Dome of the Rock is controlled by Israeli security forces. Changing the status quo Jordan s diplomatic protest came days after Israel s public security minister, Gilad Erdan, reportedly told a radio station that the country should work toward Jews being allowed to pray at the holy site. Erdan said the change should come through “political agreements and not by force,” reported Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. The ban is condemned by some nationalists, including members of Netanyahu s right-wing coalition. Jordan is the only Arab country apart from Egypt to have a peace agreement with Israel.
The Cairo Criminal Court announced on Sunday that the court would issue sentences against 213 alleged members of the militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis on September 2, on charges of assassinating policemen and bombing security facilities. Egypt s top prosecutor said that 213 alleged militants would be referred to trial in a statement on May 2014. He accused the defendants of carrying out 51 “acts of terrorism,” which have left 40 police personnel and 15 civilians dead. Thirteen more defendants were added to the case in January. Of the defendants, 143 are being tried in session. The rest are tried in absentia. All defendants face charges of “establishing, leading and joining a terrorist group, assaulting citizens rights and freedoms, harming national unity and societal peace, spying for the Palestinian Hamas Movement, vandalizing state institutions, murder and possession of automatic weapons, ammunition and explosives.” The defendants are also accused of complicity in an attempt on Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim s life in September 2013.
Delegations of the Declaration of Freedom and Change (DFC) and the Sudanese Revolutionary Front agreed to continue Cairo dialogue on the outstanding points to reach an agreement on the peace document attached to the constitutional document. The Revolutionary Front confirmed at a joint press conference on Thursday held at the end of Cairo talks that Egypt was keen on peace in Sudan. The front also thanked Egypt for its support to Sudanese people, adding that Cairo s initiative complemented the African mediation and the meetings in Addis Ababa and Juba. Revolutionary Front leader Yasser Arman pledged their presence to participate in the celebration on 17 August, which will take place after the return of the delegation of freedom and change to Khartoum, and explain what was discussed in Cairo to the leadership of the forces of change, saying "If the issues are resolved, a delegation from the front will attend to Khartoum." Arman said the meeting with the forces of freedom and change was a continuation of attention to issues of peace and citizenship in Sudan. The Transitional Military Council and DFC forces agreed earlier this month on a constitutional declaration to govern the transitional period following months of political instability. The armed movements -- operating under the Revolutionary Front -- expressed reservations over the document signed with the military council, noting that it failed to include the “peace paper” that was approved in Addis Ababa. Current meetings in Cairo are aimed at resolving this matter. In return, Omar Al-Dukair, a prominent member of the DFC, said the transitional phase in Sudan was necessary to strengthen the state s national identity, end conflicts and build a solid democracy and balanced external relations. The DFC spokesman confirmed that Egypt has made great efforts to achieve the objectives of the Sudanese revolution by hosting DFC meetings with the delegation of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front. "We are keen in the coming period to complete the peace process in Sudan," said Abbas Madani. He added that all parties are serious and eager to achieve peace as soon as possible and to complete the talks in the coming period. The leader of the DFC, Wajdi Saleh, confirmed the existence of a number of outstanding issues during the meetings in Cairo. Saleh said during the press conference that talks between the two sides are continuing to reach a permanent peace agreement. Egypt hosted talks between the forces of freedom and change and the Revolutionary Front after the latter announced its reservation concerning a number of central issues in the constitutional declaration, which was signed on 4 August.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian government forces on Wednesday closed in on a rebel-held town in Idlib that was bombed with sarin in 2017, sources on both sides said, building on their Russian-backed gains since the collapse of a ceasefire this month. The advance toward Khan Sheikhoun threatens to encircle the last remaining pocket of rebel-held territory in neighboring Hama province, including the towns of Morek, Kafr Zeita and Latamneh. Russian-backed Syrian government forces seized new positions from rebels to the west of the town of Khan Sheihkoun, rebel sources and state media said. A rebel commander said the town, in opposition hands since 2014, was in “great danger”. Government forces were now 4 km (2.5 miles) from Khan Sheikhoun, Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said. The sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 killed dozens of people and prompted President Donald Trump to order a missile strike against the Syrian air base from where the United States said the attack had been launched. An investigation conducted by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the Syrian government was responsible for releasing sarin on the town on April 4, 2017. Damascus denies using such weapons. The northwestern Idlib region is part of the last major stronghold of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. The rebels that control it include the powerful jihadist group Tahrir al-Sham and Turkey-backed factions. Assad s side had struggled to make any gains in the area in an offensive that got under way in late April. But since the collapse of a brief ceasefire this month, it has managed to take several significant positions, including the town of al-Habeet on Saturday. The humanitarian adviser to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria said the new surge in violence in the northwest threatened the lives of millions after more than 500 civilians were killed since late April.
LONDON (Reuters) – A highly placed Gibraltarian government source denied on Tuesday an Iranian news agency report which said the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 would be leaving the British overseas territory on Tuesday. British Royal Marines seized the tanker on July 4 off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria, which Tehran denies. Iran s semi-official Fars news agency quoted unidentified Gibraltar authorities as saying the tanker would bee freed on Tuesday evening. A senior Gibraltarian government source said that report was not correct. Earlier, Gibraltar said it was seeking to de-escalate the situation.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the PLO, accused Israel of provoking religious and political tension after Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters Israeli police fired sound grenades to disperse Palestinians during confrontations on Sunday outside Jerusalem s al-Aqsa mosque where tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered for the Eid al-Adha holiday, witnesses said. A Palestinian ambulance service said that at least 14 Palestinians were taken to hospitals for treatment. Israel s Kan public radio said four police officers were injured. Facing off with police in the packed compound outside Islam s third-holiest site, Palestinians chanted "With our soul and blood we will redeem you, Aqsa". Scuffles ensued and the crowd fled as the sound grenades exploded and smoke wafted through the compound, witnesses said. Revered by Jews as Temple Mount, the site of two biblical Jewish temples, and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the area is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions had mounted at the flashpoint complex at the start of Eid al-Adha as the holiday overlapped this year with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B Av, amid calls by Jewish nationalist and religious politicians for Jews to visit the holy compound. In a statement, police said they had deployed forces at the site in anticipation of disturbances and "dispersed rioters". It put the number of Muslim worshippers at the site at some 60,000. Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Israel of provoking religious and political tension. "The storming of al-Aqsa mosque compound by Israeli occupation forces this Eid morning is an act of recklessness and aggression," she said in a statement. The compound is situated in a part of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that has not been recognised internationally. In an effort to avoid friction at the site, police barred the entry of non-Muslim visitors, including Jews, before the clashes erupted. After the confrontations died down, Jerusalem District Police Chief Doron Yedid said on Kan radio that he had lifted the ban. Jewish visitors then entered the area under heavy police guard and no serious violence was reported. Eid al-Adha commemorates God s testing of Abraham s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son. Tisha B Av marks the destruction of the two temples.
Dr. Awad Shafik
On the 15th anniversary on the founding of the Coptic United website, I remember the situation happened with those working at the website. Eng. Adly Abadir invited me from Geneva to attend an important meeting with an Egyptian official in Zurich who was able to help the Coptic cause at that time. Abadir asked me and my colleagues to give the official a warm welcome in order to take the opportunity to show him all