TUNIS (Reuters) – The United Nations opened talks on Libya s future in Tunisia on Monday aimed at ending nearly a decade of chaos and bloodshed by arranging elections, but obstacles remain despite progress in cementing last month s ceasefire. Acting UN Libya envoy Stephanie Williams has described it as the best opportunity in six years to end the turmoil and warfare that have plagued the North African oil exporting country since 2011. But she warned at Monday s opening ceremony attended by Tunisian President Kais Saied: “The road will not be paved with roses and it will not be easy.” The talks, held among 75 participants chosen by the United Nations to represent an array of political viewpoints, regional interests and social groups, come as the main warring sides discuss how to implement a truce they agreed in Geneva. Libya has been split since 2014 between rival factions in the west, held by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), and the east, home to Khalifa Haftar s Libyan National Army (LNA). However, both sides are made up of sometimes unstable coalitions with their own interests, and contain figures who might seek to sabotage any agreement they regard as a threat. They are also backed by foreign powers with their own concerns that have invested heavily to build up military strength on the ground and strike deals with their local partners. Turkey supports the GNA, helping it this summer to turn back an LNA assault on Tripoli backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt. After frontlines solidified near the central coastal city of Sirte, both sides began UN mediated ceasefire talks. Williams said they had made new progress in implementing the nationwide ceasefire they agreed last month and had set up a headquarters in Sirte to hash out details. She wants the Tunisia political talks to set a roadmap for elections as soon as possible and establish a single, unified authority across the country that can manage the process. Those taking part have pledged not to accept any role in a new transitional government, she said. Nearly a decade after central authority collapsed, repeated bouts of warfare have sapped state resources, damaged the water and power networks and worsened a financial crisis, making life wretched for millions. As Libya sweltered in August and cases of the coronavirus began to rise, protests broke out on both sides of the frontlines over dire living conditions and corruption. “It is necessary to set dates for the elections so that the Libyan people will have the ballot box after the sounds of bullets are silenced,” Saied said.
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey gave an impassive first reaction on Sunday to Joe Biden s presidential win, with Vice President Fuat Oktay saying it would not change relations between the old allies although Ankara will keep pressing Washington on Syria and other policy differences. Turkey stands to lose more than most other countries if Joe Biden is elected president since he is expected to toughen the US stance against President Tayyip Erdogan s foreign military interventions and closer cooperation with Russia. Another major stumbling block is Washington s refusal to extradite US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup in 2016. Speaking at an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7, Oktay said that while the friendship between President Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump had helped the countries tackle several of their issues, communications channels between Ankara and Washington would operate as before. “Nothing will change for Turkey,” Oktay said. “The channels of communication will work as before, but of course there will be a transition period,” he said, adding Ankara would closely monitor Biden s foreign policy approach. He said Turkey would press the next US administration to abandon support for Kurdish militant groups in Syria, and to extradite Gulen. “We experienced a coup attempt. The person who carried this out is in the United States. There is nothing more natural than asking for his extradition,” Oktay said. “This is a process that began earlier and it will continue with this administration. We will increasingly continue our pressure,” he said. “We hope that the United States does not continue working with a terrorist organisation or organisations,” he said, adding that Turkey would not refrain from taking action in Syria again if necessary. Another lingering issue between the allies has been Turkey s purchase of Russian missile defence systems, for which Ankara is facing US sanctions. Trump s administration has so far avoided imposing sanctions, and Oktay said on Sunday that Ankara hoped Biden s administration would also refrain from unilateral steps. “The new administration s approach will surely affect us and interest us. We are following this very closely. Our expectation is that they refrain from unilateral approaches,” he said. Erdogan has not yet commented on Biden s victory. Analysts say Turkey-US ties could suffer under a Biden presidency. The lira, which is already trading at a record low against the dollar, could come under more pressure.
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government on Wednesday shelled the last rebel last enclave in the country s northwest, killing at least seven people, including four children, rescuers and activists reported. An international humanitarian organization, World Vision, gave a higher death toll, saying eight people — four children and four adults — were killed in the attack, including two staff members from its local partner agency. The attack came during a day of heavy rain, and targeted the city of Idlib city and two towns, to the north and south. A child was killed when a shell landed near a weekly market in the city of Idlib, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer rescue team also known as the White Helmets, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor. The shelling in Idlib and surrounding areas wounded 17, according to Ahmed Sheikho, a spokesman for the White Helmets. In the town of Ariha, to the south, four people were killed, including a four-year old child, he said. In Kefraya to the north, two children were killed, the Observatory and the White Helmets said. The shelling comes as an eight-month truce negotiated between Turkey and Russia is unravelling. Government and allied forces resumed operations in recent weeks, including carrying out an airstrike in late October on rebels in the area that killed dozens of Turkey-backed fighters at their training camp. The attack sparked retaliation, restoring a cycle of violence that had previously displaced hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing the fighting and government advances. World Vision said two staff members with its local partner, Ihsan Relief Development, were killed while delivering lifesaving assistance to civilians already struggling with trauma and loss. The northwestern rebel-held enclave is home to more than 3 million people and remains the last area in opposition hands. The international community, including the U.S., are calling for a nationwide cease-fire and resumption of peace talks, saying no military operations would bring about peace to war-torn Syria. The nine-year war has displaced millions, and killed nearly half a million people, leaving Syria torn in rival areas controlled by different groups, backed by regional or international powers. Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition, has reached a cease-fire agreement with Russia, an ally of the government in Damascus. But the two countries are increasingly locked in rivalry over their military involvement in the region.
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Wednesday that troops killed a Palestinian man who had shot at soldiers near an army checkpoint in the occupied West Bank. The military said in a statement that the Palestinian gunman opened fire at a military post south of the city of Nablus, and troops returned fire. The military said the gunman was killed. The army said no troops were wounded. Israel has seen a series of shootings, stabbings and car-ramming attacks in recent years, mostly carried out by lone attackers with no apparent links to armed groups. Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups have praised the attacks but have not claimed them. Palestinian and Israeli rights groups have accused Israel of using excessive force in some instances, and of killing some suspected attackers who could have been apprehended.
VIENNA (Reuters) – Hundreds of police fanned out across Vienna on Tuesday, searching for perpetrators of attacks that left five people dead in the city s center, after what a government minister said was an “Islamist terrorist” incident. In an early morning televised news conference, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer repeated calls for the public to stay off the streets. Nehammer said police had shot to death one attacker, a man wearing an explosives belt that turned out to be fake, whom authorities have identified as an Islamic State sympathizer. Police confirmed on Tuesday that three civilians – two men and a woman – were killed in the attacks, with at least 15 others wounded, including a police officer. Broadcaster ORF later said a fourth civilian, a woman, had died. Seven of the injured were in a life-threatening condition, the APA news agency said. A police spokesman said that reinforcements had been called in from neighbouring states and that at least 1,000 officers were involved in the search. “We experienced an attack yesterday evening by at least one Islamist terrorist, a situation that we have not had to live through in Austria for decades,” Nehammer said. “Austria for more than 75 years has been a strong democracy, a mature democracy, a country whose identity is marked by values and basic rights, with freedom of expression, rule of law, but also tolerance in human coexistence,” he said. “Yesterday s attack is an attack on just these values.” The editor of Vienna s Falter newspaper said in Twitter messages that the assailant who was killed was known to domestic intelligence agencies. The 20-year-old had Albanian roots but was born and raised in Vienna, the editor said. He was one of 20 Austrian Islamists who had wanted to travel to Syria, the editor added. The assailant killed by police, and other potential gunmen, attacked six locations in central Vienna on Monday evening, starting outside the main synagogue. Witnesses described the men firing into crowds in bars with automatic rifles, as many people took advantage of the last evening before a nationwide curfew was introduced because of COVID-19. Nehammer said video material had been seized from the home of the known assailant during a search and police were investigating his potential connections. CITY CENTER SEALED OFF APA reported that multiple homes had been searched and arrests made, citing the Interior Ministry. An Interior Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the APA report. Vienna s police chief declined to provide further details on the attacker s identity, citing potential endangerment of the investigation. Police sealed off much of the historic centre of the city overnight, urging the public to shelter in place. Many sought refuge in bars and hotels, while public transport throughout the old town was shut down and police scoured the city. Oskar Deutsch, the head of Vienna s Jewish community, which has offices adjoining the synagogue on a narrow cobbled street dotted with bars, said on Twitter here that it was not clear whether the temple or offices were targeted but that they were closed at the time. Videos circulated on social media of a gunman running down a cobblestone street shooting and shouting. One showed a man gunning down a person outside what appeared to be a bar on the street housing the synagogue. Austria s capital had been spared the kind of deadly militant attacks that have struck Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels, among others, in recent years. Austria is part of the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS formed in 2014. Condolences poured in from around the world, with top officials from the European Union, France, Norway, Greece and the United States expressing their shock at the attacks. US President Donald Trump said in a tweet that “our prayers are with the people of Vienna after yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe.” “These evil attacks against innocent people must stop. The US stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists.” Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned what he called a “horrific terrorist attack,” adding, “We must all stand united against hate and violence.”
Though details are still emerging, French media have reported that the attacker who killed three people in Nice on Thursday had recently arrived in Europe from Tunisia. That fact will stick in the mind of many in the city, where a truck attack by a Tunisian in 2016 claimed 86 lives. For a country that is held up as a model democracy in the region, Tunisia is still struggling with radicalism, despite its success in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring. Middle East analysts have found Tunisia to be a disproportionate source of recruits for the Islamic State (IS) group and attacks that have occurred from Berlin to Brussels in recent years — as well as multiple high-profile attacks on political leaders and tourists in Tunisia. Why does liberal Tunisia still appear to have such a problem? Element of radicalization The Nice attack came during a moment of international fury about cartoons mocking the Islamic prophet, Muhammad; the beheading of a French teacher; and the stabbing of two Muslim women who were insulted with racial slurs at the Eiffel Tower, as well as what media described as the racist beating of two Jordanians outside Paris. In Tunisia, one lawmaker s statements condoning the beheading were met with protests from activists and academics, but, as international tensions rose, a call to boycott an upcoming Francophone summit gained broader support. Some Tunisians are turning to violence in reaction to acts they see as offensive to Muslims, said Abdellatif Al-Hanashi, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Tunis. For Tunisians in Europe, there is also a sense of marginalization prompted by policies they see as provoking Islamophobia, he said. But those tensions also obscure Tunisian domestic political currents. In September, IS claimed responsibility for the stabbing of two National Guard officers in Sousse, following a lengthy dispute over the formation of a new government and a struggle between President Kais Saied and the Islamist party Ennahda. A suicide attack targeting the French Embassy in June 2019 and one at the US Embassy in March also suggest that the problem lies just as much at home. Poor economic conditions are a main driver, but historic repression has also left its legacy in Tunisian political culture, according to Omar Safi, a researcher focusing on Tunisian security and politics at the UK s University of Portsmouth. “That we have this prevalent element of radicalization is probably due to the fact that Tunisia has not developed the capacity to freely express its ideas,” Safi said. “The types of government that Tunisia has historically experimented with have deprived the population of the chance to freely develop, and above all practice, its political consciousness.” Safi points to continued political killings and threats against politicians since the 2011 revolution as evidence Tunisians are not free to express their opinions. Youth need credible alternatives Deep economic inequality and corruption are part of this, and a source of disaffection among the country s youth. Nearly a decade after Mohamed Bouazizi s self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring, the same horrific act became a more common form of protest among young Tunisians angry at poverty. The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened that pain for a tourism-reliant economy. The sector has seen a 60 percent drop in revenue on last year and while the first wave saw 165,000 job losses in a country of 11 million, the country is now bracing for a second one. With a youth unemployment rate that is now likely more than double the national 16 percent, many place little trust in the political process to provide them with opportunities. “Some of these organizations offer them a much more interesting alternative,” Safi said. “It s a fight for narrative. We face an enemy where we need to tell a more convincing story than theirs. But for the government, providing a credible alternative in this difficult situation is a challenge.” Fragile progress In the meantime, the government s security forces have made significant improvements in challenging violent radical groups in the country. Five years after militant Islamists killed more than 60 tourists in two mass shootings at a Tunisian resort and museum, police in the North African state have grown far better at disrupting plots and responding quickly when attacks take place, according to diplomats quoted by Reuters. Last year, authorities said they had cornered an off-shoot of Al Qaeda along the mountainous border with Algeria and prosecuted a significantly higher number of alleged terrorists than in previous years. Security partnerships with the US, Europeans and regional allies such as Algeria have seen some success in helping Tunisia manage its border with Libya, where arms trafficking and the increasingly internationalized civil war next door threatens stability at home. But, although at a low-ebb, that conflict still raises “a very real risk of destabilizing the entire region,” and Tunisian police still need Western and regional help in containing violent Islamist threats, Safi said. While Europe could indeed help further on the security side, support for development to create jobs will lead “radical change in the region,” Al-Hanashi said.
Churches will put into effect a decision to reduce the number of participants in masses and other religious and educational events starting Sunday. The number of participants may only reach a maximum of 25 percent of the church’s capacity. The the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria issued the decision in a statement on 27 October, as part of preventive measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The statement noted that the percentage can also be reduced based on the health situation of each diocese. The decision will be also applied to funerals and wedding ceremonies as well as all educational centres and institutions related to churches. The Coptic Orthodox Church also decided to suspend all trips and spiritual retreats, third day memorials and baptisms, and to limit priests’ visits to telephone calls. Egypt has urged caution in anticipation of a second wave of coronavirus infections, amid the resurgence in cases in many European countries in parallel with the advent of autumn. So far, the country has reported a total of 107,555 coronavirus cases and 6,266 related deaths, according to official figures by the health ministry. The number of daily cases in Egypt has slightly increased over the past 10 days.
An attacker armed with a knife killed three people at a church Thursday in the Mediterranean city of Nice, French authorities said. It was the third attack in two months in France, which has grown increasingly tense during a furor over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were re-published by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Other confrontations and attacks were reported Thursday in the southern city of Avignon and in the Saudi city of Jeddah, but it was not immediately clear if they were linked to the attack in Nice. Thursday s assailant in Nice was wounded by police and hospitalized after the killings at the Notre Dame Bascilica, less than a kilometer (half-mile) from the site in 2016 where another attacker plowed a truck into a Bastille Day crowd, killing dozens of people. France attack France s anti-terrorism prosecutor s office opened an investigation into the Nice killings, which marked the third attack since the September opening of the trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 killings at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. The gunmen in the 2015 attacks claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. Thursday s attacker was believed to be acting alone and police are not searching for other assailants, said two police officials, who were not authorized to be publicly named. ``He cried `Allah Akbar! over and over, even after he was injured, said Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who told BFM television that two women and a man had died, two inside the church and a third who fled to a nearby bar but was mortally wounded. ``The meaning of his gesture left no doubt. French media showed the Nice neighborhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers exploded suspicious objects. France attack In the southern city of Avignon later in the morning, an armed man was shot to death by police after he refused to drop his weapon and a flash-ball shot failed to stop him, one police official said. And a Saudi state-run news agency said a man stabbed a guard at the French consulate in Jiddah, wounding the guard before he was arrested. The French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the Nice attack and called on French Muslims to refrain from festivities this week marking the birth of Muhammed ``as a sign of mourning and in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones. Islamic State extremists issued a video on Wednesday renewing calls for attacks against France. The lower house of parliament suspended a debate on France s new virus restrictions and held a moment of silence Thursday for the victims. The prime minister rushed from the hall to a crisis center overseeing the aftermath of the Nice attack. French President Emmanuel Macron was headed to Nice later in the day. Less than two weeks ago, an assailant decapitated a French middle school teacher who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a class on free speech. Those caricatures were published by Charlie Hebdo and cited by the men who gunned down the newspaper s editorial meeting in 2015. In September, a man who had sought asylum in France attacked bystanders outside Charlie Hebdo s former offices with a butcher knife.
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Turkey had the legitimate right to act again if militants are not cleared from its border with Syria, where it has carried out several incursions in the last four years. “If the terrorists here are not cleared as we were promised, we have the legitimate right to mobilize once again,” Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party s lawmakers in parliament. In an offensive a year ago, with the support of Syrian rebels, Turkey seized a 120 km (75 mile) stretch of border territory in northeast Syria from the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara views as a terrorist group. That incursion was widely condemned by Ankara s Western allies as the YPG was a the main component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that helped the United States defeat Islamic State. Erdogan also voiced concern about the situation in northwest Syria s Idlib region, which was the scene of heavy fighting between Syrian government forces and Turkey-backed rebels until Ankara and Moscow reached a ceasefire deal in March. On Monday, air strikes on a camp in northwest Syria run by rebel fighters backed by Turkey killed at least 35 people and wounded scores, a war monitor and a rebel source said. “The attack by Russia on (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army forces in the Idlib region shows that lasting peace in the region is not wanted,” Erdogan said.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A powerful bomb blast ripped through an Islamic seminary on the outskirts of the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday morning, killing at least eight students and wounding 136 others, police and a hospital spokesman said. The bombing happened as a prominent religious scholar during a special class was delivering a lecture about the teachings of Islam at the main hall of the Jamia Zubairia madrassa, said police officer Waqar Azim. He said initial investigations suggest the bomb went off minutes after someone left a bag at the madrassa. TV footage showed the damaged main hall of the seminary, where the bombing took place. The hall was littered with broken glass and its carpet was stained with blood. Police said at least 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of explosives were used in the attack. Several of the wounded students were in critical condition, and hospital authorities feared the death toll could climb further. Authorities said some seminary teachers and employees were also wounded in the bombing. Initially police said the bombing killed and wounded children studying at the seminary but later revised their account to say that the students were in their mid-20s. Shortly after the attack, residents rushed to the seminary to check up on their sons or relatives who were studying there. Many relatives were gathering at the city s main Lady Reading Hospital, where the dead and wounded students were brought by police in ambulances and other vehicles. Some Afghan students studying at the seminary were also among the wounded, officials said. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the bombing and asked authorities to ensure the provision of best possible medical aid to the victims. “I want to assure my nation we will ensure the terrorists responsible for this cowardly barbaric attack are brought to justice,” Khan said. The bombing drew condemnation from the country s opposition party, which has been holding rallies meant to force Khan s government to quit. From his hospital bed, a wounded student, Mohammad Saqib, 24, said religious scholar Rahimullah Haqqani was explaining verses from the Quran when suddenly they heard a deafening sound and then cries and saw blood-stained students crying for help. “Someone helped me and put me in an ambulance and I was brought to hospital,” he said. Saqib had bandages on both arms but he was listed in a stable condition. Another witness, Saeed Ullah, 24, said up to 500 students were present at the seminary s main hall at the time of the explosion. He said teachers were also among those who were wounded in the bombing. A video filmed by a student at the scene showed the Islamic scholar Haqqani delivering a lecture when the bomb exploded. It was unclear whether the teacher was among the wounded. Mohammad Asim, a spokesman at the Lady Reading Hospital, said eight students died and they received dozens of wounded people, mostly seminary students. The attack comes days after Pakistani intelligence alerted that militants could target public places and important buildings, including seminaries and mosques across Pakistan, including Peshawar. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Peshawar which is the provincial capital of Pakistan s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. The province has been the scene of such militant attacks in recent years, but sectarian violence has also killed or wounded people at mosques or seminaries across Pakistan. The latest attack comes two days after a bombing in the southwestern city of Quetta killed three people. The Pakistani Taliban have been targeting public places, schools, mosques and the military across the country since 2001, when this Islamic nation joined the U.S.-led war on terror following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, condemned Tuesday s bombing. In a statement, he described the attack as a cowardly act, claiming that the country s institutions were behind it. Since then, the insurgents have declared war on the government of Pakistan and have carried out numerous attacks, including a brutal assault on an army-run school in the city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed 140 children and several teachers.
The defence minister of Libya s Government of National Accord (GNA) said on Monday that the Tripoli-based government will maintain military and security relations with Turkey despite a ceasefire deal that was announced this week during talks in Geneva. On Twitter, Salaheddin Al-Namroush emphasized that the GNA will “enhance cooperation with Turkey as an ally and continue training programs that were received and will continue to be received by those enrolled in the GNA defence ministry s training institutes." “Attention must be given to security and military agreements in the meantime more than ever before, especially if the ceasefire is abided by and peace is established in Libya. Building a Libyan army on reliable foundations and a unifying, national doctrine that is based on youth is one of the most important gains of achieving peace in Libya,” he tweeted. Al-Namroush claimed that the ceasefire agreement signed during the Joint Military Commission talks held last week in Geneva does not include cancelling the 2019 military cooperation agreement between the GNA and Turkey. Last Friday in Geneva, parties to the Libyan conflict accepted a complete and permanent ceasefire. The agreement stipulates a return to camps by all armies and armed groups. They also agreed that foreign fighters and mercenaries must leave the North African state by 23 January. The UN-sponsored deal, moreover, states that military agreements with foreign governments must be stopped until a new government is established. Other measures that were agreed upon include the creation of a joint military committee and police operations room, opening land and air routes, ending hate speech, swapping detainees and rebuilding forces that will protect oil sites. The Geneva meetings represented a new round of UN-backed peace negotiations for Libya after those held in Egypt s Red Sea resort city of Hurghada and Morocco s coastal town of Bouznika, south of the capital Rabat in September. In Morocco, parties to the Libyan conflict agreed on the "criteria, transparent mechanisms, and objectives" for key power positions. Negotiations in Hurghada saw an agreement between the Libyan parties to work on the release of all prisoners, protect the North African state s oil and gas facilities and completely resume production and export activities. Talks in Geneva will be followed with meetings by the so-called Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) in Tunisia in early November, which seeks to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework, and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections in the shortest possible timeframe in order to restore Libya s sovereignty and the democratic legitimacy of Libyan institutions.” The meetings will be both virtual— beginning on 26 October—and face-to-face amid the “ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and online in order to protect the health of the participants.” Libya has been divided between two authorities in Tripoli and Tobruk for six years. While the GNA is based in Tripoli, the capital, Khalifa Haftar s Libyan National Army (LNA) controls the east and is allied to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. The LNA is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, and Russia; while the GNA is backed by Turkey, Qatar, and thousands of Syrian mercenaries. On 22 August, both parties to the conflict declared a ceasefire that ended fears about possible GNA aggression against the port city of Sirte, 370 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli and Jufra, which has a major military airbase. GNA head Al-Sarraj announced on Facebook that he "issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and combat operations in all Libyan territories." Speaker of the Libyan parliament in Tobruk Aguila Saleh also announced a ceasefire that was welcomed by world leaders. The two warring parties agreed to hold elections in March 2021.
KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide bombing at an education center in Afghanistan s capital Kabul killed 24 people including teenage students and wounded dozens more on Saturday, officials said. A Ministry of Interior spokesman, Tariq Arian, said security guards had identified a bomber who detonated explosives in the street outside the Kawsar-e Danish centre. Most of the victims were students aged between 15 and 26, according to the health ministry. Fifty-seven were injured in the attack, the interior ministry said. A Taliban spokesman on Twitter denied responsibility for the attack, which came at a sensitive time as teams representing the insurgents and the government meet in Qatar to seek a peace deal. Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement on Telegram, without providing evidence. Family members gathered at a nearby hospital, searching for missing loved ones among bags containing the remains of those killed, laid out on the hospital floor, while outside orderlies wheeled injured patients on stretchers for treatment, a Reuters witness said. The attack, which was condemned by NATO and the Afghan government, took place in an area of west Kabul that is home to many from the country s Shia community, a religious minority in Afghanistan targeted in the past by groups such as Islamic State. Dozens of students died in the same area of Kabul in an attack on another education centre in 2018. A teacher at the Kawsar-e Danish center, who asked not to be named due to security concerns, said he and other teaching staff were in shock at the targeting of the institution which had provided tutoring to give thousands of children a pathway to higher education. “All the students were full of energy, belonging to poor families but hoping for a brighter future,” he said. The latest attack came on the back of heavy fighting in multiple provinces in recent weeks, which has displaced thousands of civilians. The U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad early on Sunday on Twitter called again for an immediate reduction in violence and an acceleration in the peace process, citing rising violence in the country in recent weeks including a finding by the human rights commission that an Afghan government airstrike had killed 12 children. “How much more can we endure, as individuals and as society? How many times can we rise?” asked Shaharzad Akbar, chair of Afghanistan s Independent Human Rights Commission on Twitter shortly after Saturday s attack, saying the targeting of civilians was a war crime.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – A year after Lebanon was rocked by huge protests against its entrenched ruling elite, politicians have picked the same prime minister who was pushed out then to lead it out of crisis now. Saad al-Hariri, a three-time prime minister and heir to a wealthy dynasty, has been Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician since the killing of his father in 2005. He stood down last year when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to rally against a political class that they accuse of milking the state for decades. At the time, Hariri said his efforts to seal agreement on badly needed reforms had hit a dead end, blocked by sectarian divisions and vested interests, and only the “big shock” of his resignation as prime minister could break the deadlock. Nationwide protests persisted, demanding the overthrow of a political class which demonstrators blame for pillaging the state and pushing it into crisis. “All of them means all of them,” they chanted. In the months that followed, a former academic and a diplomat both struggled to lead or even form technocrat governments to steer the country in a new direction. Almost exactly a year later, after escalating catastrophes including a banking crisis and currency crash, a dramatic rise in poverty and a huge explosion at Beirut’s port, Hariri says he is the “natural candidate” to lead Lebanon. On Thursday, he pledged to form a government of specialists “with a mission to enact economic and financial reforms” – reforms that President Emmanuel Macron of France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, set out for unlocking foreign aid. POLITICAL RIVALRIES But rifts that obstructed change during his last term in office look set to plague his efforts to form his fourth government. The two main Christian political blocs, the Free Patriotic Movement led by the president’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, and its rival the Lebanese Forces, refused to back his nomination. The heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah group did not name anyone but said it would work “positively” towards forming a government. Iran-backed Hezbollah and its political allies, including the Shi’ite Amal party and the FPM, won a majority of MPs in 2018 elections. Hariri’s career was built on the patronage of Gulf Arab states, the deployment of his family fortune – spending large amounts of it in Lebanon to finance a political network – and respect among many Lebanese for his father, Rafik al-Hariri. The early years of his political career were defined by his close alliance with Saudi Arabia and confrontations with the Lebanese allies of Syria and Iran, chief among them Hezbollah. A U.N.-backed court in August convicted a Hezbollah member in absentia of conspiring to kill his father Rafik, a former premier who was close to the West and Sunni Gulf allies and had been seen as a threat to Iranian and Syrian sway in Lebanon. Hezbollah denies any role in the 2005 bombing, and Saad al-Hariri has said he was seeking justice, not revenge for the killing. SAUDI TIES SUFFERED Hariri formed his first coalition government in 2009 after the anti-Syria and anti-Hezbollah coalition he led at the time won a parliamentary majority with Saudi backing. That “March 14” alliance gradually disintegrated in the years that followed. His cabinet was toppled in early 2011 when Hezbollah and its allies quit over tensions linked to the Rafik al-Hariri tribunal. In the ensuing few years, Saad remained mostly outside Lebanon on security grounds. As the war in neighbouring Syria escalated, Lebanon became gripped by tensions linked to the conflict. Hariri meanwhile suffered a financial blow from the collapse of his family’s construction business in Saudi Arabia, hitting the finances of his political network in Lebanon. Hariri made a series of political concessions in Lebanon that resulted in him eventually backing Hezbollah’s Christian ally Michel Aoun for the presidency. The deal saw Hariri become premier for a second time in 2016. He remained an opponent of Hezbollah but his focus was largely on Lebanon’s economic troubles. Hariri’s ties with Saudi Arabia, furious at Hezbollah’s expanding role in Lebanon, suffered. They hit a nadir in November 2017 when it was widely acknowledged that Riyadh had forced him to resign and held him in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia and Hariri publicly deny this, though Macron confirmed that Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia.
Pope Francis has said that he thinks same-sex couples should be allowed to have "civil unions". He made the comments, which observers say are his clearest remarks yet on gay relationships, in a documentary directed by Evgeny Afineevsky. "Homosexual people have a right to be in a family," he said in the film, which premiered on Wednesday. "They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it. "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered." He added that he "stood up for that", apparently referring to his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires when, although opposing same-sex marriages in law, he supported some legal protections for same-sex couples. Pope worried about gay clergy How Pope Francis became a movie star Pope tells gay abuse victim God loves you The film Francesco, about the life and work of Pope Francis, premiered as part of the Rome Film Festival. As well as the Pope s comments on civil unions, the film also shows him encouraging two gay men to attend church with their three children. Pope Francis s biographer, Austen Ivereigh, told the BBC he was "not surprised" by the latest comments. "This was his position as Archbishop of Buenos Aires," said Mr Ivereigh. "He was always opposed to marriage being for same-sex couples. But he believed the church should advocate for a civil union law for gay couples to give them legal protection." Under current Catholic doctrine, gay relationships are referred to as "deviant behaviour". In 2003, the Vatican s doctrinal body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that "respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions". Strong words but no sign of doctrinal change The remarks have set tongues wagging among Vatican-watchers - and they mark Francis s clearest support for the issue since becoming Pope. But is this really a fundamental change by the pontiff - or more an off-the-cuff statement by a leader of the Catholic Church who has been known to flirt with liberal sentiments in the past, only to fall back on traditional doctrine when push comes to shove? As archbishop of Buenos Aires before becoming Pope, he was a staunch opponent of gay marriage, which was legalised in Argentina in 2010, and instead advocated civil unions for homosexual couples. This is his first vocal backing as Pope - and will undoubtedly be welcomed by many on the more liberal wing of the church and criticised by the conservatives. But any significant doctrinal change on such an issue would typically be presented in a more formal way and after much internal debate. There is, for now, little sign that either is imminent. Presentational grey line What has he said about homosexuality in the past? The Pope s comments are the latest in a series of sentiments he s expressed about LGBT rights - voicing some support, but not a full endorsement. In 2013, in the book On Heaven and Earth, the Pope said that legally equating same-sex relationships to heterosexual marriages would be "an anthropological regression". He also said then that if same-sex couples were allowed to adopt, "there could be affected children... every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity". That same year, he reaffirmed the Church s position that homosexual acts were sin, but said homosexual orientation was not. "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" he asked. In 2014 it was reported that Pope Francis had expressed support for civil unions for same-sex partners in an interview, but the Holy See s press office denied this. Then in 2018, Pope Francis said he was "worried" about homosexuality in the clergy, and that it was "a serious matter".
AMMAN/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is withdrawing troops from a military post in northwest Syria that was surrounded by Syrian government forces last year, but is consolidating its presence elsewhere in the region, sources familiar with the operation said on Monday. The observation post at Morek was one of a dozen set up by Turkish soldiers in 2018 under an ill-fated deal to calm fighting between Syrian government troops and Turkey-backed rebels controlling the northwestern Idlib region. Morek and several other Turkish posts were surrounded last year by advancing Syrian government forces. Ankara has kept them manned and re-supplied since then, while reinforcing the remaining rebel-held territory to hold back government forces and prevent millions of refugees streaming towards Turkey. Turkish officials have in the past ruled out pulling back from a single observation post, but the sources said there was no longer any military value in staying at Morek. “The dismantling of the base has begun,” a senior Syrian opposition figure close to Turkey told Reuters. The withdrawal from the exposed position would take several days, he said, describing it as part of Turkish efforts to “consolidate ceasefire lines” reached in a March agreement with Russia which halted the heaviest fighting in years around Idlib. Two other sources familiar with the operation, who asked not to be named, said the withdrawal started early on Monday. “The Turkish armed forces are not considering evacuating another observation post at this stage,” one of them said. Syrian rebels say Turkey retains between 10,000 and 15,000 troops in the pocket of northwest Syria, alongside rebel fighters backed by Ankara and jihadist forces it has committed to disarm and contain. Already home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Turkey is determined to prevent a further influx of people fleeing fighting. The United Nations says there are around four million people in north-west Syria, of which 2.7 million have been displaced during the nine-year-old conflict. Turkey has backed rebels who sought to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. But the Syrian president, supported by Russia and Iran, has driven back the rebel fighters who once threatened to encircle Damascus and are now confined to their small pocket in the northwest of the county.
A cabinet committee in charge of licensing churches operating without a permit has legalised the status of 45 churches and 55 service buildings since May, the cabinet s spokesman, Nader Saad, said. This brings the total number of churches and related service buildings legalised by the committee since its establishment in 2017 to 1,738, Saad added. The announcement came during a meeting headed by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and attended by a number of state officials, including Minister of Justice Omar Marwan and Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawy. The officials have reviewed the status of churches and related buildings which have submitted requests for legalisation since the committee s last meeting on 18 May, Saad said. In 2016, Egypt s parliament approved a long-awaited law regulating the building and renovation of churches. In 2017, the committee was established 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. Egypt s Copts make up about 10-14 percent of the country s 100 million-plus population, according to unofficial statistics, with the vast majority of Christians in Egypt belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Lebanon s top Christian cleric urged Lebanese leaders to stop delaying talks on forming a government in a scathing Sunday sermon in which he blamed them for the country s financial crisis and political deadlock. Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, was speaking a day after demonstrators marched through Beirut to mark the first anniversary of a protest movement which erupted last October against corruption and mismanagement. In the year since, Lebanon s problems have been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and a devastating explosion in Beirut in August. "Take your hands off the government and liberate it. You are responsible for the crime of plunging the country into total paralysis in addition to the implications of the corona pandemic," the patriarch said in his sermon. His remarks came after two main Christian parties, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Lebanese Forces, said this week they would not back the nomination of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to lead a new government to tackle the deep economic crisis, further complicating efforts to agree a new premier. "The responsibility and accountability is collective. Who among you officials has the leisure of time to delay consultations to form a government?" he said. "No one is innocent of Lebanon s (financial) bleeding." In another Sunday sermon, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi also lambasted the political elite. "The number of ministries and the names of ministers and quotas is still more important (to politicians) than the fate of Lebanon and the Lebanese," he said. "Return to your conscience, leaders ... be humble and listen to the pain of your people." Hariri, who quit as prime minister last October in the face of the nationwide protests, has said he is ready to lead a government to implement reforms proposed by France as a way to unlock badly needed international aid. Parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister were due to be held last Thursday, but President Michel Aoun postponed the discussions after receiving requests for a delay from some parliamentary blocs.
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s military exports to its ally Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year, with sales of drones and other military equipment rising to US$77 million last month alone before fighting broke out over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to exports data. The figures compiled by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, which groups more than 95,000 exporting companies in 61 sectors, show Azerbaijan bought US$123 million in defence and aviation equipment from Turkey in the first nine months of 2020. Most of the purchases of drones, rocket launchers, ammunition and other weapons arrived were after July, when border clashes between Armenian and Azeri forces prompted Turkey and Azerbaijan to conduct joint military exercises. Sales jumped from US$278,880 in the month of July to US$36 million in the month of August, and US$77.1 million in just September, the data showed. Military sales to Azerbaijan in the first nine months of 2019 totalled US$20.7 million. Fighting between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces broke out on September 27 over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave which is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan but is governed and populated by ethnic Armenians. “Azerbaijan clearly turned to Turkey for help … and wasted no time realising that the threat would grow,” said Istanbul-based defence analyst Turan Oguz. “Ankara is very determined in providing Baku with its needs,” he said. “The strong defence cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey is getting stronger by the day.” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has backed Azerbaijan and said Armenians must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara, which wants a role in ceasefire talks, says it is not directly involved in the fighting. But Azeri officials have touted their use of Turkish armed drones, which have spearheaded Ankara’s military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya. The surge in arms sales reflects Turkey’s growing cross-border influence in the region, and is one measure of how quickly Azerbaijan embraced Ankara before the flare-up of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. MILITARY MIGHT Asked about the data, a Turkish defence ministry representative referred to statements by Minister Hulusi Akar, who said late last month Turkey will support Azerbaijan “with all our means.” Russia has long been the chief weapons supplier to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, with which it has a defence pact. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Reuters on Tuesday that only a change in Turkey’s stance could prompt Azeris to halt military action in Nagorno-Karabakh, but he gave no indication he saw any sign of a shift. In September, Azerbaijan jumped to the top of the list of Turkish arms buyers, followed by Oman and the United States with US$63 million each, the exports data shows. Authorities in Turkey say the country has become the world’s fourth largest drone producer since Erdogan increased domestic production to reduce reliance on Western arms. Oguz, the analyst, said drones being used in Nagorno-Karabakh included the Bayraktar TB2, produced by a company launched by Selcuk Bayraktar, an aerospace engineer who in 2016 married Erdogan’s daughter. Turkish-made smart ammunition is also apparent in battlefield videos released by Azerbaijan’s defence ministry, Oguz said.
BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon announced on Monday the names of its delegation that will hold indirect talks later this week with Israel over the disputed maritime border between the two countries. The announcement by President Michel Aoun’s office comes two weeks after Lebanon and Israel reached an agreement on a framework for the US-mediated talks. The talks are scheduled to begin Wednesday at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura. Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones. Aoun’s office said the four-member Lebanese delegation will be headed by air force Brig. General Bassam Yassin. The three other members are navy Colonel Mazen Basbous, Lebanese oil official Wissam Chbat and border expert Najib Massihi. Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will lead the Israeli delegation, according to Israeli officials. Lebanese officials have made sure to send a team of experts to show that this week’s talks with Israel are purely technical and don’t mean any kind of normalization between the two countries. Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said last week that the talks don’t mean reconciliation with Israel. A statement by Hezbollah’s bloc in parliament said last week that defining the border of “national sovereignty” is the job of the Lebanese state. The talks will see the Lebanese delegation speaking through UN and US officials to the Israelis. US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker, the top American diplomat for the Middle East, will be in Lebanon ahead of the talks to attend the opening session, the State Department said. It added that Schenker will be joined by Ambassador John Desrocher, who will serve as the US mediator for these negotiations. The agreement to commence discussions on the maritime boundary “is a vital step forward that offers the potential to yield greater stability, security, and prosperity for Lebanese and Israeli citizens alike,” the State Department said in its statement Monday. The talks come as Lebanon is passing through the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. Beirut hopes that oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it come out of the crisis. Lebanon began offshore drilling earlier this year and is expected to start drilling for gas in the disputed area with Israel in the coming months. Lebanon and Israel hold monthly tripartite indirect meetings in Naqoura to discuss violations along their border. The countries also held indirect negotiations in the 1990s when Arab states and Israel were working on reaching peace agreements. Although the Palestinians and Jordan signed agreements with Israel, Lebanon and Syria did not.
Twelve civilians were killed in volatile central Mali on Tuesday morning in addition to 12 soldiers who died in a twin attack that began overnight, police and humanitarian officials said. The group was travelling in a minibus following a military convoy sent to reinforce an army outpost which was attacked in the early hours of Tuesday, when it fell into an ambush, according to a police official. The civilians were on their way to a weekly market in Bankass, a town in central Mali s Mopti region, when the attack occurred. The police official said that two women and a baby were among the civilian dead. A humanitarian official working nearby confirmed the account. Three Malian soldiers were killed in the convoy ambush, the army said, offering a provisional tally. Nine soldiers were killed in the earlier outpost attack. Mali has been struggling to contain a jihadist insurgency that first emerged in the north of the country in 2012, and which has since spread to the centre of the country and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the fighting to date, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. In Mali, the centre of the vast country has become the epicentre of the violence, with jihadist attacks and ethnic violence commonplace. Anger at the brutal conflict contributed to protests against president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita this year, which culminated in his ouster in a military coup on August 18.
Turkey s move to carry out a seismic survey in the eastern Mediterranean south of Greek island Kastellorizo is a major escalation of tensions, threatening peace and security in the area, Greece s foreign ministry said on Monday. Late on Sunday Turkey s navy issued an advisory, saying the Oruc Reis ship would conduct a seismic survey in the eastern Mediterranean over the next 10 days. "The new Turkish NAVTEX on surveys south of Kastellorizo within the Greek continental shelf, at a distance of just 6.5 nautical miles from Greek shores, is a major escalation," Greece s foreign ministry said. Coming a few days after a meeting of Greek and Turkish foreign ministers, where Turkey committed on proposing a date for exploratory talks, the move showed Turkey is "unreliable" and "does not really truly want a dialogue," it said. "We call on Turkey to recall its decision," NATO ally Greece said. The foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece met last week and agreed to hold bilateral talks on the disputes. According to Turkey s maritime notice, two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han along with the Oruc Reis exploration ship, will continue works in an area including the south of Kastellorizo until Oct. 22. Last month, Ankara withdrew Oruc Reis from contested waters to "allow for diplomacy" ahead of a European Union summit. After the summit the bloc said it would punish Turkey if it continued its operations in the region, in a move Ankara said further strained Turkey-EU ties.
Mina M. Azer
It was amazing to hear Egypt s Minister of Environment, Dr. Yasmine Fouad, saying that converting rice straw into fertilizer and fodder resulted in saving one billion pounds and provided 26,000 direct and indirect job opportunities for workers for a period of two and a half months. This system helped reducing the pollutants that caused the emergence of the black clouds each year from August to November as a result