DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria s military announced on Monday that its troops have regained control of territories in northwestern Syria “in record time,” vowing to continue to chase armed groups “wherever they are.” The announcement came hours after troops consolidated the government s hold over the key Aleppo province, capturing over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in one day and securing the provincial capital that had for years remained within range of opposition fire. Troops were removing barriers and roadblocks on Monday in villages and districts that were earlier controlled by Syrian rebels, state TV reported. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, reported clashes in Jabal Sheik Akeel, northwest of the city of Aleppo, the provincial capital. The armed opposition was driven out of the city s eastern quarters in late 2016, which they had controlled for years while battling government forces in charge in the western section. However, rebel groups continued to target government forces from outside the city with mortar rounds. They also controlled large parts of western rural Aleppo, territories that linked them to Idlib province, the opposition s last major stronghold. The new advances, along with securing a key highway that ran through rebel territory, are set to facilitate movement between northern and southern Syria, including the city of Aleppo, Syria s commercial center before the war. The Shaam Network, an opposition media platform, said the advances cut the rebels supply line, effectively driving them out of the area. The developments sparked late night celebrations in the city, with state media showing images of residents waving flags and dancing in the streets packed with vehicles. Since December, Syrian troops have been on the offensive, biting bit by bit at the crowded rebel enclave, home to over 3 million people. The offensive displaced more than 800,000 people, sparking one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the nine-year war. Gen. Ali Mayhoub, spokesman for the Syrian Armed Forces, said in a televised speech that Syrian troops were continuing their ground advances to “eradicate what is left of terrorist groups” in Syria, congratulating the soldiers for the swift advances in “record time.” The armed opposition is now squeezed into a shrinking area of nearby Idlib province, where the government is also on the offensive, as well as the sliver of adjacent territory in western Aleppo. Also, parts of northern Aleppo region, which straddles the border with Turkey, is administered by Turkey and allied Syrian factions. Another segment of the province further west is controlled by Kurdish-led forces, allied with the United States. Those two parts have not been part of the government offensive. Turkey, which backs the opposition, has sent thousands of troops and equipment into the opposition enclave, in an attempt to stall the Syrian government s advance. Ankara has also called for an end to the Syrian government offensive. Already home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, Turkey fears a new wave may overwhelm its borders. The United Nations has also called for a cease-fire. Support from Russia and Iran has enabled Syrian troops to regain control of much of the territories they had lost to armed groups who worked to topple Assad. Over 400,000 people have been killed and half of Syria s population displaced since peaceful protests in 2011 turned into a civil war.
The Israeli military on Sunday said it has thwarted an attempt by the Hamas militant group to hack soldiers phones by posing as young, attractive women on social media, striking up friendships and persuading them into downloading malware. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters that the phones of dozens of soldiers had been infected in recent months, although he said the army detected the scam early on and prevented any major secrets from reaching the Islamic militant group. ``We do not assess there is any significant breach of information, the military spokesman said. Conricus said this was the third attempt by Hamas to target male soldiers through fake social media accounts, most recently in July 2018. But he said this latest attempt was by far the most sophisticated. He said Hamas used a number of social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Telegram, to make contact with unsuspecting soldiers. Posing as young women on social media, the group struck up friendships with the soldiers, sending photos, texts and voice messages to them. The ``women claimed to be new immigrants to explain their poor Hebrew, and even claimed to be deaf or hard of hearing as an excuse for texting, instead of speaking directly on the phone, Conricus said. The profiles appeared on multiple platforms, and he said the photos were disguised to make it difficult to ``reverse track them, giving the accounts additional authenticity. ``We see that the level of social engineering is much higher and much more advanced and sophisticated when compared to previous attempts done by Hamas, he said. ``We see that they re of course learning and upping their game. Eventually, they sent the soldiers links to ``seduce them into downloading what they said was a Snapchat-like app to exchange photos that could quickly disappear, Conricus said. In reality, the links were to three malware programs _ Catch&See, ZatuApp and GrixyApp _ that allowed Hamas to gain access to the soldiers phones. He said it was ``very clear that Hamas was behind the effort. He said the malware linked to known Hamas servers and at least one of the profiles had been used in a previous Hamas scam. There was no immediate comment from Hamas Conricus declined to say how many soldiers had been targeted. But he said that dozens had downloaded the malware. He said soldiers had reported the suspicious activity relatively early on, allowing the army and the Shin Bet internal security service to monitor their phones. It is now in the process of removing the malware, he said. Israel and Hamas, an Islamic movement that seeks Israel s destruction, are bitter enemies that have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since the group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The enemy sides have been holding indirect talks through Arab and U.N. mediators aimed at reaching a long-term truce under which Israel would ease a blockade on the Gaza Strip in exchange for Hamas assurances to maintain quiet. But low-level fighting has persisted. Early Sunday, Israel carried out a number of airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza in response to the firing of two projectiles from Gaza into southern Israel. No casualties were reported on either side.
BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon s finance minister said Thursday the country s new government is weighing whether to pay or default on its $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing next month, amid an economic crisis that has sparked months of unrest. Lebanon is facing a deepening liquidity crunch and a soaring public debt. Lebanese banks raised interests rates in a bid to attract foreign investments — but now the influx of foreign currencies has dried up and the Central Bank s foreign currency reserves are shrinking. “It is not easy,” Ghazi Wazni told reporters before the new Cabinet s first meeting. He was speaking after reviewing different options with the government s financial team. “This is an important decision for the country, depositors, banks, the economic sector and international institutions,” he said, adding that the search for the “right decision” was ongoing. The new government, headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, was voted into office earlier this week by Parliament and is facing snowballing political and economic crises. Anti-government protests have targeted the country s entire ruling elite, faulting them for widespread corruption and the failing economy. On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund said Lebanese authorities had requested its technical advice on macroeconomic issues facing the country. “IMF stands ready to assist Lebanon,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice tweeted Wednesday. “Any decisions on debt are the authorities , to be made in consultation with their own legal and financial advisers.” The government is widely expected to form a new committee to deal with the vexing financial crisis, which is the worst since the end of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. But the most immediate question is what to do about a $1.2 billion Eurobond that matures on March 9: default or pay? Lebanon has never defaulted on its debts. Defaulting could be very costly to the national economy and banking system, which until the recent financial crisis, was one of Lebanon s most profitable and reputable sectors. One option that has been floated in the local media is for the government to repay its foreign holders and swap holdings of local banks for longer terms bonds. Banks have already imposed informal capital controls on depositors, limiting their withdrawals of foreign and local currencies as well as transfers abroad. The limits have prompted protests against the financial institutions — including violent attacks on ATM machines and some bank branches. Security has been beefed up around banks while some branches have shut down their offices. On Thursday, Wazni said the government is working to streamline informal and irregular decisions by the banks regarding capital controls. “The banks can t deal with the depositors in an illegal and unclear way,” he said without elaborating. Lebanon s international backers have called on the government to institute swift and comprehensive reforms. Diab, who has vowed to devise an emergency plan to tackle the crisis, has urged the international community and local opponents to give his government a chance.
DAMASCUS (AP) — A Syrian was killed and another was wounded in a rare clash Wednesday between American troops and a group of government supporters who tried to block a U.S. convoy driving through a village in northeastern Syria, state media and activists reported. The state-run media said the killed man was a civilian. He was among residents of a village east of the town of Qamishli who had gathered at an army checkpoint, pelting the U.S. convoy with stones and taking down a U.S. flag from one of the vehicles. At that point, U.S. troops fired with live ammunition and smoke bombs at the residents, the reports said. A U.S. military spokesman said coalition forces conducting a patrol near Qamishli encountered a checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian government forces. After coalition troops issued a series of warnings in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, the patrol came under small-arms fire from unknown individuals, coalition spokesman Myles Caggins said. “In self-defense, coalition troops returned fire. The situation was de-escalated and is under investigation,” he added in a statement, which did not refer to any deaths. The reported incident marks a rare confrontation involving U.S. and Syria troops in the crowded region where Russian troops are also deployed — and is sure to further escalate tensions. Hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed in northeastern Syria, working with their local partners from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against the Islamic State group. The U.S. carries out patrols in northeastern Syria, but it was not immediately clear why the convoy drove into a government-controlled area. Syria s state SANA news agency said the incident occurred after Syrian troops stopped a U.S. convoy of four vehicles traveling on the road in the village of Khirbet Ammu, and hundreds of people gathered at the checkpoint to prevent it from continuing on its way. The U.S. troops opened fire and after a civilian was killed and another wounded, the residents attacked the convoy and damaged four vehicles, SANA said. State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV aired a cellphone video showing an armored vehicle flying a U.S. flag standing on a rural road while a car appeared to be blocking its way. Locals are seen walking past the U.S. armored vehicle, with at least two soldiers inside, one of whom steps down as civilians approach. One civilian is seen tearing a U.S. flag as he approaches the soldier. The TV said protests spread, preventing reinforcements from coming to help the U.S. convoy. The report said the wounded civilian and was being treated at the Qamishli hospital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents and armed pro-government militiamen in Khirbet Ammu blocked the path of a U.S. The militia fired in the air, prompting U.S. troops to fire smoke bombs. Tension escalated and U.S. troops killed one person, the Observatory said. The Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground, said it is not clear if the killed was a civilian or a militia member. The Observatory also said that a Russian convoy arrived on the scene to defuse the tension. The Syrian war, now in its ninth year, has pulled in international players including the U.S., Russia and Turkey. Russia has supported President Bashar Assad s government, while Turkey is the rebels main backer. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey will attack government forces anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier is hurt. He added that Turkey is determined to force the Syrian military back from the gains it has made in the north-western province of Idlib by the end of February. “As of today, in the event of any minor harm to our soldiers, I announce that we will strike regime forces everywhere without being bound to Idlib or the boundaries of the Sochi agreement,” Erdogan told a ruling party meeting in Ankara. Forces loyal to Assad, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and nearby Aleppo countryside, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Under a 2018 agreement with Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Turkey established a dozen military observation posts in Idlib, where it backs some opposition groups. Several of these posts have been surrounded by government forces in recent weeks. At least 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed by Syrian artillery fire this month. Erdogan said he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone about the situation in Idlib.
A cabinet committee tasked with legalising the status of unlicensed Christian places of worship on Tuesday approved the legalisation of 82 churches and service buildings that had been operating without a permit, the cabinet said in a statement. This brings to 1,494 the total number of unlicensed Christian places of worship and service buildings that have been granted legal status so far, the cabinet said. Christians make up around 10 percent of the 100 million population of Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country. In 2016, Egypt s parliament approved a long-awaited law regulating the building and renovation of churches. The committee to legalise the status of unlicensed churches was established in 2017 by the prime minister. The 10-member committee comprises one Christian representative, six government officials from several ministries, representatives from the national security apparatus, the intelligence apparatus, and the administrative control body. During its meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet also reviewed the situation of security requirements for legalised churches.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey s defense ministry said five Turkish soldiers were killed and five others were wounded on Monday as a result of “intense” shelling by Syrian government forces in Syria s northern Idlib province. A ministry statement said Turkish artillery immediately responded to the attack, destroying targets. The attack came as a Russian delegation arrived in the Turkish capital of Ankara for a second round of talks to discuss the rising tensions in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in neighboring Syria. Eight Turkish military and civilian personnel and 13 Syrian soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire in Idlib last week. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group, reported that six Turkish soldiers were killed and seven were wounded when government forces shelled the Taftanaz air base in Idlib on Monday. It added that four Syrian rebels were also killed in the shelling. An airstrike in a nearby rebel-held region, meanwhile, killed nine people including children, opposition activists said. Syrian President Bashar Assad s forces, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and nearby Aleppo countryside, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis with some 600,000 people fleeing from their homes toward safer areas near the border with Turkey. Most of the displaced are living in open-air shelters and temporary homes in freezing winter conditions close to the border. Half of the displaced are believed to be children. The fighting led to the collapse of a fragile cease-fire that was brokered by Turkey and Russia in 2018. The two countries back opposing sides in the Syrian war: Turkey supports the Syrian rebels, while Russia has heavily backed the Syrian government s offensive. Turkey sent hundreds of military vehicles and troops into Idlib province in the past week. The buildup and the continued government advances sparked a rare clash on Feb. 3 between Turkish and Syrian soldiers that killed eight Turkish military personnel and 13 Syrian troops. Turkey has warned Syria to retreat to the cease-fire lines that were agreed in 2018. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkish and Russian delegations exchanged proposals over the situation in Idlib during a first meeting in Ankara on Saturday. On Monday, the Russian team returned to Ankara from a visit to Jordan, for further discussions, he said. “If a compromise had been reached there would have been no need for today s meeting,” Cavusoglu told reporters. He said the Turkish and Russian leaders could step in if no compromise is reached. Syria s military has vowed to keep up its campaign. The early morning airstrike on the village of Ibbin in Aleppo province killed nine people, including six children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Step news agency, an activist collective. At least 10 people were also wounded in the airstrike. The Syrian government s campaign appears to be aimed at securing a strategic highway in rebel-controlled territory for now, rather than seizing the entire province and its the densely populated capital, Idlib. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media released a map of the area of fighting showing that Syrian troops only have 15 kilometers (9 miles) left from seizing full control of the strategic highway, know as M5. The highway links the national capital of Damascus with the country s north, which has for years been divided between government and opposition forces. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded Monday in a Syrian town controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters, killing at least four people and wounding 15 others, Turkey s state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The attack was the latest in a series of explosions in Turkish-controlled regions that have killed and wounded scores of people. Turkey has blamed the attacks on on the Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People s Protection Units. The bomb went off on a main street in the town of Afrin, which Turkey took control of following a military incursion in 2018, Anadolu reported. It said some of the wounded were in serious condition, adding that the death toll was likely to rise. The Turkish offensive has aimed at pushing Kurdish fighters away from the border. Those Kurdish fighters had been key U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
CAIRO (AP) — Flights transporting Yemeni medical patients from rebel-held areas continued Saturday when a second plane carrying 24 patients took off from Sanaa bound for Jordan s capital, the UN health agency said. The UN flights, which began Feb. 3, are seen as a humanitarian breakthrough in the more than five-year-old conflict in the Arab world s poorest country. The conflict began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the rebel Huthis, who control much of the country s north. A Saudi-led military coalition allied with Yemen s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Iran-backed Huthis since 2015. The US-backed coalition closed the airspace and prevented any flights from leaving Sanaa, starting in August 2016. The Associated Press reported in November that Saudi Arabia and the Huthis are holding indirect, behind-the-scenes talks to end the war mediated by Oman, quoting officials from both sides. The talks are focused on interim agreements, such as re-opening Yemen s main international airport in Sanaa, which was shut down by the Saudi-led coalition in 2016. There has been no announced explanation for the medical flights but they could be a result of talks between Saudi Arabia and the Huthis. The first such flight since the air blockade carrying eight patients and their families left Sanaa on Feb. 3. Saturday s flight was originally scheduled to depart Sanaa the previous day. However it did not take off “for technical reasons,” the World Health Organization said Friday, without giving details. Twenty-four patients and their family members “have departed on the second flight today from Sanaa to Amman to receive the treatment,” the WHO tweeted. Among those who left Sanaa on Saturday was 30-year-old cancer patient Entisar. WHO said the cancer had spread all over her body. “The physical & psychological pain is unbearable; all I want is to feel better,” she was quoted as saying by the UN agency. Her last name was not given. Welcoming the arrival of the second flight to Jordan s capital, Amman, UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said the two flights transported patients to “receive life-saving medical care currently unavailable in Yemen.” The Huthi rebels criticized the UN for the delay of the second flight and for the small number of patients airlifted out of Sanaa. The rebel-run health ministry has said that 32,000 people are in need of urgent medical and surgical intervention, such as kidney transplants and heart surgeries. The grinding war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people and created the world s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
A Palestinian motorist slammed his car into a group of Israeli soldiers early Thursday, wounding 12 before fleeing the scene, the Israeli military said, while in the West Bank, two Palestinians died after clashes with Israeli troops, according to Palestinian hospital officials. The uptick in violence comes a week after President Donald Trump unveiled his long awaited Mideast plan, which greatly favors Israel and has been rejected by the Palestinians. The plan has sparked calls by Israeli nationalists for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank _ land Palestinians want for their hoped-for state _ and has set off tensions in the region. Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said one of the 12 injured soldiers in Jerusalem was seriously hurt, the others were lightly injured. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the incident was being treated as a ``terror attack,`` and said Israeli forces were searching for the assailant. Palestinian hospital officials said a 19-year-old was killed in clashes in the West Bank city of Jenin. Six others were wounded in the confrontation. In a separate incident also in Jenin, a member of the Palestinian security forces who was shot by Israeli troops later died. That violence came just hours after Israeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian during clashes with demonstrators elsewhere in the West Bank on Wednesday. ``Attacks from Gaza, an attack in Jerusalem, signs of a rise in hostile activity in Jenin. Yesterday friction in Hebron. We are not trying to escalate the situation while understanding the complexity and sensitivity of the situation, Conricus said, stopping short of directly linking the spate of violence to Trump s plan. In the Jerusalem incident, the troops were out on a late-night ``educational heritage tour, walking near a popular entertainment district in Jerusalem when the motorist rammed his car into them and fled. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to have the assailant apprehended. ``It s just a matter of time _ and not much time, he said in a statement. Such acts of violence were common in Jerusalem during a low-level wave of near-daily attacks over the last decade, but they tapered off and car rammings have become infrequent in recent years. Conricus said troops were carrying out the demolition of a home in the West Bank belonging to a militant allegedly involved in a deadly attack. He said there was a ``sizable riot at the scene by Palestinians who threw Molotov cocktails at troops, who then came under sniper fire. Conricus said forces responded to the violence with their own sniper fire, saying a Palestinian shooter was killed. He could not confirm whether the 19-year-old was the sniper. He said there had been an ``uptick in intensity in the means used against Israeli troops in the West Bank. Jenin governor Akram Rajoub said the 19-year-old, a student at an academy that trains budding police officers, was throwing stones at the troops. Additionally, Conricus said an exchange of fire in Jenin wounded a member of the Palestinian security forces. Conricus said he did not know the circumstances behind the confrontation or whether the security forces member had fired on troops. He said the incident was being looked into. Rajoub said the man was not involved in clashes and that he was standing in front of a police station when he was hit by a bullet in the abdomen. Also Thursday, Israel struck Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip after three mortar shells were fired at Israel. There was no immediate report of injuries on either side. Unveiled last week at the White House with much fanfare, Trump s plan envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel. It sides with Israel on key contentious issues that have bedeviled past peace efforts, including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish West Bank settlements, and attaches nearly impossible conditions for granting the Palestinians their hoped-for state. The plan was greeted ecstatically in Israel, with Netanyahu vowing to speed ahead with annexing parts of the West Bank. But under pressure from the U.S. administration he appears to be scaling back on that promise. The Palestinians dismissed the plan as ``nonsense and have promised to resist it. The Palestinians, as well as much of the international community, view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem _ territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war _ as illegal and a major obstacle to peace.
At least six people were killed in clashes in Iraq s southern city of Najaf on Wednesday after supporters of populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed an anti-government protest camp, medical and security sources said. The medical sources said at least 20 more were wounded in the violence but did not provide further details. The security sources said that supporters of Sadr, known as blue hats for the blue caps they often wear, had tried to clear the area of anti-government protesters, who in turn tried to stop them. Fights broke out between both groups, the blue hats threw petrol bombs at protester tents and live gunfire rang out shortly afterwards, wounding and killing six people, they said. Sadr has at different times both supported and abandoned Iraqi protesters who demand a removal of the entire ruling elite. He urged followers last week to help authorities bring "day to day life" back to Iraq s streets by clearing roads blocked by sit-ins and ensuring businesses and schools can reopen after months of protests in which nearly 500 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces. Sadr has also urged the blue hats to allow protests to continue.
GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. envoy to Libya said on Tuesday there was a “genuine will to start negotiating” between rival military factions as they planned to meet for the first time for talks in Geneva aimed at securing a lasting ceasefire. However, Ghassan Salame told reporters that an arms embargo was being violated by both sides and that new mercenaries and arms were still arriving “by air and by sea” in Libya, where forces loyal to eastern based commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to take the capital, Tripoli, for the past 10 months. The talks bring together five senior military officers from Haftar s Libyan National Army and five from forces aligned with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. Fighting has continued on the ground despite a call for a truce by Russia and Turkey starting on Jan. 12 and an international summit on Libya in Berlin on Jan. 19 aimed at reducing international interference. Haftar has had material support from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, and Russia, U.N. experts and diplomats say, while the GNA is backed militarily by Turkey. Salame deplored the presence of more than “20 million pieces of weaponry” in the country and said that he had asked the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution to reaffirm an existing arms embargo and pass measures to ensure it is respected. Talks between the two sides, who did not meet face-to-face in Geneva on Monday, were aiming “to bridge the gaps in their views on how the lasting, sustainable ceasefire can be organized on the ground,” Salame said. “We started yesterday to discuss with them a long list of points on our agenda, starting on an attempt to transform the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side and also to transform that truce into a real agreement on a lasting ceasefire,” he said. Haftar s offensive, which upended a previous U.N. peace plan, deepened the gulf between loose alliances that have competed for power from western and eastern Libya since 2014. The GNA was set up in 2016 from a previous U.N. peace push that Haftar and his backers spurned. The conflict that developed in Libya in the years since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 has given space to militants and migrant smugglers and crippled Libya s oil reliant economy. A blockade of oil ports and fields by groups loyal to Haftar that began just before the Berlin conference has reduced oil output by about one million barrels per day (bpd). Asked if he would press Haftar to end the blockade, Salame said it was mainly an issue being pursued on the ground, urging foreign powers to back a broader U.N. bid to resume production.
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A leaked recording of an exchange between an Iranian air-traffic controller and an Iranian pilot purports to show that authorities immediately knew a missile had downed a Ukrainian jetliner after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, despite days of denials by the Islamic Republic. Ukraine s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy acknowledged the recording s authenticity in a report aired by a Ukrainian television channel on Sunday night. In Tehran on Monday, the head of the Iranian investigation team, Hassan Rezaeifar, acknowledged the recording was legitimate and said that it was handed over to Ukrainian officials. After the Jan. 8 disaster, Iran s civilian government maintained for days that it didn t know the country s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had shot down the aircraft. The downing of the jetliner came just hours after the Guard launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for an earlier American drone strike that killed the Guard s top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad. A transcript of the recording, published by Ukrainian 1+1 TV channel, contains a conversation in Farsi between an air-traffic controller and a pilot reportedly flying a Fokker 100 jet for Iran s Aseman Airlines from Iran s southern city of Shiraz to Tehran. “A series of lights like … yes, it is missile, is there something?” the pilot calls out to the controller. “No, how many miles? Where?” the controller asks. The pilot responds that he saw the light by the Payam airport, near where the Guard s Tor M-1 anti-aircraft missile was launched from. The controller says nothing has been reported to them, but the pilot remains insistent. “It is the light of (a) missile,” the pilot says. “Don t you see anything anymore?” the controller asks. “Dear engineer, it was an explosion. We saw a very big light there, I don t really know what it was,” the pilot responds. The controller then tries to contract the Ukrainian jetliner, but unsuccessfully. Publicly accessible flight-tracking radar information suggests the Aseman Airlines aircraft, flight No. 3768, was close enough to Tehran to see the blast. Iranian civil aviation authorities for days insisted it wasn t a missile that brought down the plane, even after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. officials began saying they believed it had been shot down. Iranian officials should have immediately had access to the air-traffic control recordings and Zelenskiy told 1+1 that “the recording, indeed, shows that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane was shot down by a missile, they were aware of this at the moment of the shooting.” Ukraine s president repeated his demands to decode the plane s flight recorders in Kyiv — something Iranian officials had promised last month but later backtracked on. On Monday, Ukrainian investigators were to travel to Tehran to participate in the decoding effort, but Zelenskiy insisted on bringing the so-called “black boxes” back to Kyiv. “It is very important for us,” he said. Iranian authorities, however, condemned the publication of the recording as “unprofessional,” saying it was part of a confidential report. “This action by the Ukrainians makes us not want to give them any more evidence,” said Rezaifar, the head of the Iranian investigators, according to a report by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinians held demonstrations across the region Friday to protest President Donald Trump s Middle East initiative, while militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, drawing retaliatory strikes. The Palestinians have rejected the Trump plan, which heavily favors Israel and would allow it to annex all of its Jewish settlements, along with the Jordan Valley, in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians were offered limited self-rule in Gaza, parts of the West Bank and some sparsely populated areas of Israel in return for meeting a long list of conditions. Israel launched airstrikes on militant targets in Gaza early Friday, shortly after Palestinians fired three rockets into Israel, two of which were intercepted, the military said. It said that Palestinian militants had also launched “explosive balloons” toward Israel and that a sniper had shot an observation antenna. The military said it struck targets linked to the Hamas militant group in response, including “underground infrastructure used to manufacture weapons.” Throughout the day, Gaza militants fired several rounds of mortars and projectiles. An Israeli tank fired on a Hamas military post, and Israeli aircraft struck additional militant sites in Gaza early Saturday. No one was wounded in either exchange of fire, but an Israeli woman dropped her three-week-old baby while running into a bomb shelter during the rocket attack, according to the United Hatzalah rescue service. The baby was hospitalized and is in moderate condition. Gaza has been relatively calm in recent months as Egyptian and UN mediators have worked to shore up an informal truce between Israel and Hamas, which rules the coastal territory. Hamas has curbed rocket fire and rolled back weekly protests along the frontier that had often turned violent. In return, Israel has eased the blockade it imposed on Gaza after the Islamic militant group seized power from forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Hamas rejected the Trump plan and vowed that “all options are open” in responding to the proposal, but the group is not believed to be seeking another war with Israel. Thousands of people took to the streets after Friday prayers in neighboring Jordan to protest the plan. Jordan, a close US ally and key player in previous peace efforts, has warned Israel against annexing territory. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace agreements with Israel. The protesters waved Jordanian and Palestinian flags and burned Israeli flags despite the rainy weather. They chanted “Trump is a coward” and “Here we are, al-Aqsa,” referring to a Jerusalem mosque on a site sacred to Jews and Muslims. In Lebanon, dozens of Palestinians gathered in the crowded Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp after Friday prayers, carrying Palestinian flags and pictures of the al-Aqsa mosque. They chanted “We would die for Palestine to live” and “Revolution until we set Palestine free.” “Palestine is not for sale, even if it were for millions upon millions. If (Trump) gave all of his money we wouldn t sell to him,” said 58-year-old Fatima al-Khatib. The plan anticipates $50 billion of investment in the future Palestinian state and describes several ambitious development projects, without saying where the money would come from. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have held small, scattered protests in recent days condemning the Trump initiative, and thousands gathered in Gaza on Friday, where they burned U.S. and Israeli flags and portraits of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At least 14 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire in scattered protests along the security fence surrounding Gaza, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent medical service. There were concerns that larger demonstrations and clashes would break out at the compound housing the al-Aqsa mosque, but Friday prayers there concluded peacefully. The Islamic trust that manages the site said an estimated 30,000 worshippers attended the weekly prayers. The site, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, is the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the First and Second Jewish Temples in antiquity. The hilltop shrine is managed by an Islamic trust under Jordanian stewardship, and day-to-day affairs are governed by informal understandings with Israel known as the “status quo.” Non-Muslims are allowed to visit during certain hours, but Jews cannot pray there. In recent years, increasing numbers of religious and ultra-nationalist Jews have visited the site, stoking fears among the Palestinians that Israel intends to one day partition it and igniting clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police. Israel has repeatedly said it has no intention of changing the status quo. The Trump plan, which heavily favors Israel, says the status quo should “continue uninterrupted.” But the plan also says “people of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.” The site is part of the famed Old City in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians view east Jerusalem as their capital and want all three territories to form their future state. Trump s Mideast plan would situate the Palestinian capital on the outskirts of east Jerusalem, beyond the separation barrier built by Israel. The rest of Jerusalem, including the Old City, would remain Israel s capital. “A lot of people are still in a state of shock over the proposal,” said Christian Saunders, the acting head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which provides basic services to some five million Palestinians scattered across the region. “What will happen after that shock wears off, I don t know. We certainly have serious concerns that it will result in an escalation in clashes and in violence. We have contingency plans in place in order to support during such times of unrest.”
BEIRUT (AP) — Warplanes struck a town in a rebel-held enclave in northwestern Syria, killing at least 10 people, including some who were fleeing the attack, opposition activists and a rescue service said Thursday. The attack, believed to have been carried out by Russian warplanes backing a Syrian government offensive, also put a local hospital out of service, they said. The late Wednesday night assault on Ariha, a town in Idlib province, comes as the rebel-held enclave is under intense fire amid Syrian government advances on the area, which had been controlled by the opposition for nearly eight years. The Russian Defense Ministry rejected claims it was behind the attack, calling them a “provocation.” The ministry said Russian warplanes did not fly any combat missions in the area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll from the airstrikes was at least 10 civilians. The rescue Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said 11 people, including a child, were killed when the Russian warplanes hit a road used by displaced people trying to leave Ariha. Both the Observatory and the White Helmets said a local hospital and a bakery were struck. At least 24 people were wounded, including a doctor, a White Helmet volunteer, three women and two children, the rescuers said. An Associated Press video shows the damaged hospital in a residential area, with medical equipment broken, supplies strewn over the floor and windows and doors dislodged from their frames. At least six people, relatives of patients, were killed as they waited outside the hospital, said Zuheir Qarat, a surgeon. An anesthesiologist was critically wounded, Qarat said, and remained at the hospital for over an hour until rescuers were able to evacuate him after the raids ended, along with 15 patients. Hospital generators and one hospital car were burned, he added. No patients were hurt. Qarat described three raids before midnight, within minutes of each other. “It destroyed the hospital and put it out of service,” Qarat told the AP in a voice message from Ariha. “There were also people injured from neighboring buildings.” The Ariha hospital, also know as al-Shami, is the only medical facility in the area with surgical facilities. There are no government-run hospitals in opposition-held areas, where health and education services are based on donations and international aid. Footage from Ariha showed the main road blocked with rubble from destroyed buildings. The raids sparked several fires in residential apartments, said a rescuer, who gave only his nickname, Abdel-Karim, because of concerns for his safety. He added that his team of volunteers were going through the area to ensure no survivors remained buried under the rubble. Qarat said that “striking the hospital is a message … a warning to evacuate,” adding that Ariha residents started fleeing after the raids. The hospital was the third that Qarat had worked in, after the previous two were also bombed. The U.N. Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock described to the Security Council on Wednesday the dire conditions in the rebel-held areas. At least 20,000 people were displaced in the last two days, he said, adding that 115,000 left their homes in the past week, bringing total of those uprooted by the violence since December to 390,000. “Many families are moving multiple times. They arrive in a place thought to be safe, only for the bombs to follow, so they are forced to move again,” he said. “This cycle is all too familiar in northwest Syria.” In the Russian-backed offensive, Syrian troops captured Maaret al-Numan, one of the largest and most strategic rebel-held towns in Idlib province on Wednesday. The town, which had been in rebel hands since 2012, sits on the highway linking Damascus with Aleppo and is considered critical to President Bashar Assad s forces. It was mostly empty after intense bombardment in recent weeks. The government offensive now appears to be eyeing Saraqeb, a town to the north, which if captured, would secure the government s hold on the highway. The fighting in Idlib has driven hundreds of thousands of civilians from their homes, mainly toward the border with Turkey and other rebel-held areas. The push to control the highway has angered Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition and has deployed troops to observation points inside Idlib to monitor an earlier cease-fire negotiated with Russia. Turkey s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russia is not loyal to agreements over Idlib and added that he is in contact with the Russians to urge them to stop the bombing in Idlib “or our patience will run out.” Farther north, government forces began an offensive on the western suburbs of Aleppo in an attempt to push insurgents away from Syria s largest city. Syria s nearly nine-year conflict has killed close to half a million people and displaced half of the population, including more than 5 million who are now refugees, mostly in neighboring countries.
Nine members of a religious order that was abruptly shuttered by the Vatican are under investigation for sex assault, the dioscese confirmed Wednesday, after allegations emerged linking the group to the abuse of two young brothers. Prato Bishop Giovanni Nerbini, who reported allegations against priests and lay members of the now defunct Disciples of the Annunciation community to police, pledged the church s cooperation in the case.
Egypt s Endowments Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed al-Qady has said that the ministry will respect the rulings of the judiciary, following the Supreme Administrative Court s decision yesterday upholding Cairo University s move to ban female faculty from wearing the niqab, or face veil. The court issued a ruling on Monday upholding a 2015 ban for female faculty members at Cairo University from wearing niqab in the classroom, a decision that was also upheld in court in 2016 amid protests likening the ban to religious discrimination. “The Endowments (Ministry) respects all judicial rulings. For the religious aspect, Dar al-Iftaa has to decide on it,” he said. Qady stressed the importance of developing religious discourse and engaging with communities in order to keep pace with modern day developments, adding that the Ministry is concerned with training imams and preachers and is following up on the public s response to ministry-sponsored seminars. Meanwhile, TV host Mohamed al-Baz has called for applying the niqab ban to all educational institutions across Egypt. Baz said during his program “90 Minutes,” which is broadcast on the al-Mehwar satellite channel, that the ruling issued by the Supreme Administrative Court does not apply to female employees at Cairo University, but applies only to female faculty members. He then called for filing a lawsuit to apply the ruling to all workers in educational institutions nationwide. He stressed that banning the wearing of the niqab does not contradict with the teachings of Islam and argued that even Al-Azhar, Egypt s premier Islamic institution, has said that the niqab was not representative of Sharia, or Islamic law. In its ruling on Monday, the court stated that individual choice of dress is among the “personal freedoms” guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, adding that one should not be restricted by any limitations imposed by the administration. However, the court also said that this freedom is not without “limits,” stressing that personal freedoms should not contradict with what it called “public morals.” In 2015, Cairo University decided to ban female staff members donning a type of veil worn by a minority of Muslim women that covers the face entirely, except for the eyes. The university justified the decision to ban the face veil by arguing that niqab negatively impacts the ability of women who wear it to communicate. Other proponents of university campus niqab bans have cited security concerns. The court further explained that allowing the niqab at Cairo University would violate article 96 of the law regulating universities across Egypt, which binds university staff to university rules. In addition, the court asserted that professors should not have their faces hidden while dealing with students during academic lectures, underlining the importance of clear and direct communication between the academic staff and their students. Dozens of students and faculty protested in response to the ban in 2015, and university staff members who wear niqab published a statement that year condemning the step and describing it as “racist,” arguing as well that communication is not limited to facial expressions.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon s parliament passed the 2020 budget on Monday although its budget and finance committee chief said the forecast revenues might be unrealistic as the country wrestles with a major economic and financial crisis. As lawmakers convened to debate the state budget, protesters hurled rocks at police who were deployed in force around parliament. The budget envisages a deficit of around 7% of GDP, the head of parliament s budget and finance committee, Ibrahim Kanaan, told Reuters, wider than the originally hoped-for 0.6% with the economy shrinking and choked by a liquidity crunch. The 2020 budget was first drafted by Saad al-Hariri s government before it resigned in October in the face of protests against the political elite that collectively steered Lebanon into the multi-faceted crisis. Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet took office last week with backing from the Shia Hezbollah movement and its allies, told parliament he would not obstruct the budget. During Monday s parliamentary session, Kanaan said projected revenues might not be realistic because of a contraction in the economy. Some parties boycotted the session, with critics arguing the new government should have won parliament s vote of confidence first and then presented the budget itself. Lebanon s crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and waste that have landed the country with one of the world s heaviest public debt burdens. Foreign donors have said any support to Lebanon will depend on it enacting long-delayed reforms. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that Lebanon s new cabinet must make changes. “The government must put into place indispensable measures,” he said. “It s almost a question of its survival.”
GREEN VILLAGE MILITARY OUTPOST (AP) — US troops at military outposts ín eastern Syria asked variations of the same question to their top commander Saturday: What is our future here? What are the goals we need to think about? Gen. Frank McKenzie, the US Middle East commander, knows the future is not certain. But at least for today, he said, “this is an area where we made a commitment. I think we’re going to be here for a while.” In an unannounced tour of five military bases in Syria stretching from the northeastern part of the country to the Middle Euphrates River Valley, McKenzie offered reassurances that the US remains committed to its mission in Syria. And he said that operations against Islamic State militants are on the rise again, after the US cut back due to the increased tensions with Iran and the need to concentrate on increasing security. But these are uncertain times. And America’s mission to train and partner with Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against the Islamic State group has been tested. Just last year President Donald Trump ordered US troops to withdraw from Syria – part of his vow to bring forces home and halt the endless wars. Over time, his military commanders, members of Congress and other leaders convinced Trump to keep a scaled-back force in Syria to protect an expanse of Kurdish-controlled oil fields and facilities from falling into IS hands. So while some troops did leave Syria, the Pentagon ordered others to move into the east, with armored vehicles and security forces to help the SDF guard the oil. McKenzie, who met with the SDF’s commander, Mazloum Abdi, at an undisclosed military base in eastern Syria Saturday morning, said the Kurdish leader wanted assurances that the US would continue to help his fighters. His answer, McKenzie said, was that the US will continue to conduct anti-IS missions, partner with the rebel forces and help protect the oil fields. But, he said, he did not put a deadline on it. “He knows, and I agree, that we’re not going to be here for 100 years,” McKenzie said during a stop at Green Village military outpost, east of Deir el-Zour. “I frankly don’t know how long we’re going to be here and I have no instructions other than to continue to work with our partner here.” McKenzie criss-crossed the east, flying by helicopter over long stretches of desert flecked with intermittent patches of green and scattered villages. It was his first trip to the five bases. The US declared an end to the Islamic State’s physical caliphate last March. But in recent months there have been growing concerns that the insurgents are regrouping, particularly in the west where US forces are not present. Operations against IS, however, were interrupted in recent weeks, in the aftermath of the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Iraq. Fearing reprisals by Iran and Iranian-backed proxy forces, the US paused or slowed operations to beef up security in Iraq and Syria. Iran, after several days, launched ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq where US troops are stationed. Several dozen were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, but no one was killed in the attacks. According to officials, US operations against the Islamic State group in Syria were reduced by half over that time. But as McKenzie took stock of the situation during his day-long sprint across eastern Syria he said that has now changed. “Certainly, the pace of operations went down earlier in the year, based on events in Iraq” McKenzie told two reporters from The Associated Press and The Washington Post traveling with him into Syria. “We’re now back up to, I think, probably three or four operations a week with our partners here — so that pace is beginning to pick up and we are very pleased with that.” Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, commander of the special operations forces in Iraq and Syria, was with McKenzie for most of the day. He said his forces continue to train and conduct operations with the SDF to root out IS insurgents who are “hiding in the valleys, in the caves, in the desserts, trying to regroup.” Hill spoke to reporters at the military base located at the Conoco gas field near Deir el-Zour, where military trucks and aircraft sit alongside looming plant buildings and old homes that have been turned into high-tech operations centers and barracks. According to officials, there are now about 750 US troops in eastern Syria, spread across a swath of land that stretches more than 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Deir al-Zour to the border region east of al-Hassakeh. The US-Syrian Kurdish relationship, which dates back to 2014, was strained after Trump last month ordered American troops out of northern Syria, making way for a Turkish invasion of Kurdish-held towns and villages along a stretch of the border. Kurdish and American forces are now operating in a region that is more complicated and crowded with troops since the Turks began their attack on northeast Syria in early October, aimed at pushing the Kurdish fighters away from the border. While talking to troops on Saturday, McKenzie warned that Iranian proxy forces in Syria continue to be a significant risk to them. He said that while Iran appears to be deterred right now from launching another attack against the US, “you always worry about their ability to command and control their proxy elements which they have equipped very well.”
El-Aqbat fi Misr El-Hadithah (Copts in Modern Egypt – Part I), by Ghada Mohamed, (Cairo: El-Maraya), 2018. In one of the most detailed accounts of the history of Coptic grievance, researcher Ghada Mohamed brings to the limelight the failure of the subsequent regimes of Modern Egypt -- from the rule of Mohamed Ali in 1805 to the end of the rule of Gamal Abdel-Nasser in 1970 -- to address the roots of the "Coptic issue". In the first volume that essentially looks at citizenship issues of Egyptian Copts in the past 200 years, Mohamed argues that despite the accumulated gains that the Copts made since the rule of Mohamed Ali, on the socio-economic level or within the executive system, they had never truly overcome their status as Dhimmis -- those who were under Muslim rule or the oppressed Egyptians under Roman rule. Throughout the subsequent centuries, Mohamed detailed, Copts had to pay for being Copts – sometimes literally and metaphorically. There were varying degrees of marginalisation, discrimination and persecution; and there were moments of deliberate sectarian targeting and moments of peaceful coexistence, Mohamed argued. This was the case under and after subsequent Muslim rulers until the advent of Mohamed Ali to Egypt and Said Pasha, who lifted the Dhimmis regulations. The rule of Gamal Abdel-Nasser, from the mid-1950s to the 1970s saw a particular decline of active anti-Coptic sentiments. Mohamed is even willing to contest what she finds to be an exaggerated assessment of a total state of fairness among all Egyptians in the "liberal decades", from the early 1920s and until 1952. In these decades, she argued, Copts could speak up and protest against unfairness but they still were not fully treated like Muslims. The only brief moment in history when Copts and Muslims were almost equal was during 1919 Revolution, Mohamed argues. The decade that followed, she wrote, was one when all Egyptians worked to secure a common goal: national independence. However, she further added, as this goal was defeated, this rare moment of almost uncontested unity among all Egyptians receded. The first volume of Copts in Modern Egypt also examines the impact of the beginning of political Islamism, with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1920s, on the state of Copts, including the creation of radical Coptic entities and the expanding role of the Church at the expense of secular Coptic bodies. It also examines the impact of the rise of pan-Arabism, something that Copts would not necessarily immediately subscribe to, unlike the Christians of the Levant, on the "Coptic issue". In many ways, Mohamed s book, in 170 pages, is an interesting read on the concerns of Copts, who were estimated to constitute six percent of the Egyptian population according to a 1986 survey.
BEIRUT (AP) — A new Cabinet was announced in crisis-hit Lebanon late Tuesday, breaking a months-long impasse amid mass protests against the country s ruling elite and a crippling financial crisis, but demonstrations and violence continued. Hassan Diab, a 60-year-old former professor at the American University of Beirut, announced a Cabinet of 20 members — mostly specialists supported by the Shiite group Hezbollah and allied political parties. The new government, which comes three months after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, was rejected by protesters who have been calling for sweeping reforms and a government made up of independent technocrats that can deal with the country s economic and financial crisis, the worst since the 1975-90 civil war. Even before the Cabinet was announced, thousands of people poured into the streets, closing major roads in the capital of Beirut and other parts of the country in protest. The protesters complained that political groups still were involved in the naming of the new ministers, even if they are specialists and academics. Later, a group of protesters near Parliament threw stones, firecrackers and sticks at security forces, who responded with tear gas and pepper spray. “We want a government of experts … who are they kidding?” said one protester, Fadi Zakour. “We have been protesting for 90 days and we are not happy to close roads,” he added. Diab saluted the protesters in the street and vowed to “work to fulfill your demands.” In a speech addressing the country following the government announcement, he added that his Cabinet is the first government in the history of Lebanon to be made up entirely of technocrats and insisted the 20 ministers are specialists who have no political loyalties and are not partisan. He appealed to citizens to help the government implement a “rescue program” and said this Cabinet has the “capability and qualifications, will and commitment” to carry it through. “It s time to get to work,” Diab said. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomes the formation of a new government and looks forward to working with Diab and the incoming Council of Ministers, “including in support of Lebanon s reform agenda and to address the pressing needs of its people,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “The secretary-general reiterates the United Nations commitment to support Lebanon s strengthening of its sovereignty, stability and political independence,” Dujarric said. For three months, the leaderless protests have been calling for a government made up of specialists that can work on dealing with the economic crisis. The protests have recently turned violent, with around 500 people injured in confrontations between protesters and security forces over the weekend. Although the government announced Tuesday is technically made up of specialists, the ministers were named by political parties in a process involving horse trading and bickering with little regard for the demands of protesters for a transparent process and independent candidates. Still, among the ministers named were accomplished academics and six women, including the minister of defense and deputy prime minister. The number is a record for Lebanon, with women now holding more than quarter of the Cabinet posts, including those of defense, justice, labor, youth and sports and the displaced. “The independence of justice will be among our top priorities and I will put all my efforts to move in this direction,” Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm told local LBC TV. Analysts said the new government, being politically aligned with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, would likely have difficulty drumming up international and regional support needed to avoid economic collapse. “The Cabinet includes a fair number of capable technocrats, but it does not have any political independence to speak of,” wrote Paul Salem, president of the Middle East Institute. “This government is likely to be short lived, to preside over a steep decline in the economy, a dangerous swerve in the state s security relationships, and growing social and political unrest in the country,” he predicted. The heads of the main ministries include career diplomat Naseef Hitti for the Foreign Ministry. Economist Ghazi Wazni was named finance minister and former army Gen. Mohammed Fahmi was named minister of the interior. Zeina Akar was named minister of defense and deputy prime minister. Lebanon has been without a government since Hariri resigned Oct. 29, two weeks into the unprecedented nationwide protest movement. Diab dismissed accusations that his was a government made up of one political camp consisting of Hezbollah and its allies, insisting it was the government of all of Lebanon. He also said it was natural to consult with political parties on the names of ministers, because in the end they are the ones that will decide the vote of confidence in Parliament needed for the Cabinet. Diab said his first visit as prime minister will be to the Arab region, particularly to the Gulf Arab countries — a nod to Saudi Arabia, which was the main backer of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Backing from oil-rich Gulf countries is badly needed in Lebanon that has one of the highest debt ratios in the world. He said the government would get to work immediately and hold its first meeting Wednesday. Panic and anger have gripped the public as the Lebanese pound, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted in value. It fell more than 60% in recent weeks on the black market. The economy has seen no growth and flows of foreign currency dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most basic goods. Shortly before the Cabinet was announced Tuesday night, the Syndicate of Money Changers in Lebanon issued a statement saying it had agreed to set the exchange rate at a maximum of 2,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, after it reached 2,500 pounds to the dollar last week. The official price still stands at 1,507 to the dollar.
BEIRUT (AP) — An airstrike on a rebel-held village in northern Syria on Tuesday killed at least nine people, including an entire family, Syrian opposition activists said. The strike on Kfar Taal comes amid a government offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country, and rebel-held parts of nearby Aleppo province. A new cessation of hostilities agreement between Russia and Turkey, who support opposite sides in the conflict, went into effect earlier this month. But the violence has continued. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Step news agency, an activist collective, said the nine were killed in Kfar Taal before noon. They said the dead included a family of eight consisting of parents and their six children. The Observatory and Step blamed Russian warplanes for the strike. The government offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom fled to areas closer to the border with Turkey. Dozens of fighters have been killed on both sides in recent days as clashes intensified. Idlib province is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked militants. It s also home to 3 million civilians and the United Nations has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and live rounds during clashes with anti-government protesters overnight and on Monday morning in Baghdad, killing one and wounding dozens of demonstrators, officials said. The clashes prompted authorities to close key streets and thoroughfares leading to the Iraqi capital s center. The violence is the latest since protests in Iraq reignited last week after a brief lull amid soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran following a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month. Anti-government protests have similarly resumed in Lebanon after a brief hiatus, entering a new, violent phase as anger against a worsening economic crisis and politicians inaction mounts. Hundreds of people were injured over the weekend as security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes in downtown Beirut. In Baghdad, the tear gas and live rounds were fired near Sinak Bridge and also the nearby Tayaran Square, which have been the scene of violence in recent days, medical and security officials said. One protester, identified as Yousef Abdel Sattar al-Fartosi, was killed due to a gunshot wound, a medical official said. A statement from the Baghdad Operations Command said fourteen officers were wounded by a group of rock-throwing “inciters of violence ” while trying to secure the entrance to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest movement. “Despite these actions our forces continued to exercise restraint and follow up on the security duties assigned to them,” said the statement. A security official said at least nine arrests have been made so far after the National Security Council authorized security forces to arrest demonstrators seen blocking main thoroughfares and roundabouts. The U.N. envoy to Iraq, meanwhile, urged Iraqi political elites to resume pushing for reforms and for protests to remain peaceful. “Any steps taken so far to address the people s concerns will remain hollow, if they are not completed,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert in a statement issued by the U.N. “Violent suppression of peaceful protesters is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs.” In the southern city of Nasiriyah, protesters blocked the highway linking the city to the southern oil-rich province of Basra. At least six protesters were wounded when an unknown gunmen fired at them from a speeding car, a medical official said. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations. On Sunday, protesters in Baghdad and southern Iraq burned tires, blocking main streets. Clashes in Baghdad wounded at least 27 people. Iraqi activists gave the government a week s deadline to act on their demands for sweeping political reforms or said they would up the pressure with new demonstrations. The uprising began on Oct. 1 when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to decry rampant government corruption, poor public services and a scarcity of jobs. Protesters are demanding an end to Iraq s sectarian political system, alongside early elections and the stepping aside of its ruling elite. The anti-government movement had scored several successes before the U.S. strike diverted public attention. In December, pressure from demonstrations lead Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq s most revered Shiite cleric, to withdraw support for the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, prompting the prime minister s resignation. Later that month, lawmakers passed a key new electoral law that would give voters more say in who s elected to office. But bickering between rival political factions has set back talks over the selection of a new premier. Abdul-Mahdi s appointment was the product of a provisional agreement between rival parliamentary blocs led by the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and another led by Hadi al-Ameri. Since the protests first erupted in October, at least 500 have died under fire from security forces.
Many people in Egypt attacked the Singer Hassan Shakoush and his song, just like they should attack all negative scenes and attitudes in our streets. They should have strongly rejected sexual abuse of young girls, raping children by religious scholars, kidnapping children and trading their organs, extremism that invaded the minds and souls of our youth, corruption and bribery, drug and antiquities smuggling and high