Friday, December 11, 2015

Gulf leaders decry ‘racist’ rhetoric against Muslims

Gulf Arab leaders condemned “hostile, racist” remarks against Muslims and Syrian refugees in a statement issued on Thursday, days after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States.
“The supreme council expressed its deep concern at the increase of hostile, racist and inhumane rhetoric against refugees in general and Muslims in particular,” the Gulf Cooperation Council said, referring to a GCC heads of state meeting in Riyadh.
Gulf Arab states also called for an international reconstruction conference for Yemen after any peace deal to end the country’s civil war.
The call came in a statement by Gulf Cooperation Council leaders at the conclusion of their summit meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh, which was read out by GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani.
"The council (GCC) members called for an international conference for Yemen reconstruction after the parties reach the aspired political solution," Zayani said in the statement broadcast on Saudi state television.

He said such a programme would be done in accordance with a "practical programme to rehabilitate the Yemeni economy and to ease its merger into the Gulf economies".
Yemeni warring parties are due to gather in Switzerland next week for U.N.-sponsored peace talks to end a civil war that had killed nearly 6,000 people.
The two-day summit in Riyadh brought together Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz said it was imperative for the GCC states to stand united and work together to fortify themselves against foreign threats at a time when the region is passing through tough times.
King Salman reiterated the keenness of the coalition states to achieve security and stability of Yemen under the leadership of its Yemeni President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.
“We, the GCC states, will support a peaceful solution so as to enable Yemen overcome the crisis and restore its march toward development,” he said.
At the conclusion of the summit, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa announced that Manama would host next year's GCC summit.

Over 350,000 petition to ban Trump from UK

More than a quarter of a million Britons have signed an online petition to ban Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump from the country following his proposal to stop Muslims from entering the United States.
Trump, who owns two golf courses in Scotland which he visited earlier this year, called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”. His comments followed last week’s deadly shooting spree by two Muslims in California.
The number of signatories to the petition was growing fast but Britain’s finance minister George Osborne said on Wednesday that Trump should not be banned from the country.
In the past, people have been banned from entering Britain for fostering hatred that might provoke inter-community violence.
The petition says: “If the United Kingdom is to continue applying the ‘unacceptable behavior’ criteria to those who wish to enter its borders, it must be fairly applied to the rich as well as poor, and the weak as well as the powerful.”
It was launched by Suzanne Kelly, a Scottish-based campaigner and longtime critic of Trump’s latest golf course in Aberdeenshire.
Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University said on Twitter on Wednesday it was revoking an honorary degree awarded to Trump in 2010 because he had “made a number of statements that are wholly incompatible with the ethos and values of the university”.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also stripped Trump of his role as a business ambassador for Scotland, a spokeswoman for her Edinburgh-based government said in a statement.

“Simply wrong”

The British government responds to all petitions that gain more than 10,000 signatures, and topics are considered for parliamentary debate if they reach 100,000.
Prime Minister David Cameron said through his spokeswoman on Tuesday that Trump’s comments were “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong”.
But finance minister Osborne went further on Wednesday when he stood in for the absent Cameron at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in parliament.
“Frankly, Donald Trump’s comments fly in the face of the founding principles of the United States,” he said, adding that they should be confronted through robust democratic argument.
“That is the best way to deal with Donald Trump and his views rather than trying to ban presidential candidates.”
In seeking to defend his proposal, Trump said the U.S. needed to be vigilant because parts of London and Paris were now so radicalized they could no longer be policed by officers, who feared for their lives.
London’s Metropolitan Police took the rare step of criticizing Trump.
“We would not normally dignify such comments with a response, however on this occasion we think it’s important to state to Londoners that Mr Trump could not be more wrong,” the police force said in a statement.
The capital’s Mayor Boris Johnson dismissed Trump’s comments as nonsense, adding: “The only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

Iran president decries U.S. ‘terrorism’ after Trump remarks

AFP, Tehran
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani has accused the United States of having “created terrorism” as he reacted to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the country.
During a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Rowhani said “Islam is the religion of goodness and peace”.
“Unfortunately certain people around the world claim that Muslims should be barred from entry in order to fight terrorism,” he said.
“These are particularly bizarre remarks because they (the United States) themselves created terrorism... with their money and their men, and plant the seeds of terrorism in the region.”
On Monday, Republican frontrunner Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, saying the ban should remain in place “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
“We have no choice,” Trump said, speaking days after the massacre in California of 14 people by a Muslim couple believed to have been radicalized by extremists.

Sara's story: Loved and then killed in ISIL's capital

A few months before she died, Sara was courted by a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Sara, who lived with her husband and three children in ISIL's de facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, rejected the advances of Abu al-Muthna al-Iraqi, an ISIL member from Iraq. Her decision set off a chain of events that would ultimately lead to her death.
"In the beginning, [Iraqi] wanted to marry her, thinking she was unwed," said Sara's husband, Samer, who declined to provide the family's last name fearing repercussions against relatives still in Raqqa.
Upset by Iraqi's advances, Samer complained to the local authorities, who issued a warning against Iraqi. But from there, things only got worse for the family.

"The offences increased ... [Iraqi] whipped my son for smoking and cursed at him repeatedly," Samer said. Throughout the territory the group has seized, ISIL has harshly punished smokers and others deemed to be in contravention of the group's many edicts.
"He [Iraqi] also tried to break into our home several times under the pretext that there was contraband inside, despite the neighbours' refutation of this," Samer recalled.

Sara, who was 28 when she died, demanded that Samer request a meeting with a top official in Raqqa. He was eventually granted a meeting with a local judge, who fined Iraqi for his indiscretions.
But the harassment continued, Samer said. This, combined with heavy bombing in Raqqa during the summer of 2014, prompted the family to decide to leave the city.
But on September 14, 2014, Samer came home from the grocery store to find his wife gone. She had been arrested on charges of obscenity while cleaning their home, neighbours and his crying children told Samer, who maintains the charges were false.
"After this event, I sent the children to Aleppo ... [while] I stayed in Raqqa to follow her case," Samer said.
He would later learn, from another ISIL fighter, that his wife died in prison on November 4, 2014.
"[She] was severely tortured by ISIL members in prison, who undressed and whipped her," Samer said. "After several days, she died of a heart attack, as was told to me by an ISIL member."

After Sara's death, ISIL turned her body over to her family, and she was buried in Raqqa.
Samer misses his wife each day. He remembers her as a brave and hard-working woman who was patient with him even in his moments of anger.
"She was the dearest person I ever knew," he said. "I didn't experience a single bad thing from her over the course of our marriage." 
Samer, who now lives with their children in Aleppo, says she was as good a mother as she was wife: "She gave them the best upbringing." 
Neighbours also had a good relationship with Sara, often remarking "on the simplicity and strong, moral fibre she bestowed," Samer added.
Now working at a meat market in Aleppo, Samer plans to take his three children to Turkey as the family tries to rebuild their shattered lives. 
"[Sara] was the most cherished thing in my life," Samer said, as he sat in a darkened room with his hands folded in prayer. "I ask God to have mercy on her and to accept her as one his martyrs."
Source: Al Jazeera

Iran’s health minister: Swine flu kills 42 across country

Tehran, Iran, AP
Iran’s health minister says an outbreak of swine flu has killed at least 42 people in the country over the past month.
Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi says 33 of the deaths from the H1N1 virus occurred in southeastern Kerman province. He says 600 people who contracted the virus there have been hospitalized, but that the outbreak is now under control.
He says other fatalities occurred in southeastern and southwestern Iran and one person died in Karaj, 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of the capital, Tehran.
Last year, swine flu claimed at least 89 lives in Iran.
The 2009 H1N1 outbreak started a global pandemic that killed as many as half a million people. The strain has been lethal mostly to those with complicating circumstances and is now considered a seasonal flu.

Coalition retakes Yemeni islands from militias

Reuters, Dubai
Arab coalition forces have captured a Yemeni Red Sea archipelago used by Iran-allied Houthi militias for storing and smuggling weapons into Yemen, the Saudi-led alliance and local fishermen said on Thursday.
The Saudi-led coalition has been trying to dislodge the Houthis and forces loyal to their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, from areas captured since September last year and to restore President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
The Houthis control most of the former north Yemen from Taiz in the south to Saada in the north, giving them control of Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
The coalition said its forces “cleansed Greater Hanish”, the biggest island in the archipelago in the Red Sea’s main shipping lanes, Saudi state television said.
The islands, it said, were controlled by Yemeni militias loyal to Saleh and used by the Houthis to store weapons and smuggle them into Hodeida, Yemen’s main Red Sea port.
The archipelago was the subject of a territorial dispute between Yemen and Eritrea, which seized the archipelago in the 1990s, until a London-based international arbitration court granted Yemen sovereignty in 1998.

Germany sends first troops, Tornados to back anti-ISIS battle

The first batch of German troops and aircraft took off Thursday for Turkey as part of a deployment in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Syria.
Forty soldiers and two Tornado reconnaissance jets left from the Jagel military airbase in northern Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein state.
An A310 MRT aerial refueling jet left separately from Cologne-Wahn base for the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey.
German lawmakers last Friday authorized the deployment of up to 1,200 personnel and the aircraft to join international military operations against the ISIS, in support of France after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.
Underlining the significance of the deployment, Schleswig-Holstein's state premier Torsten Albig said at the send-off ceremony that “the future of Europe depends on this friendship” between France and Germany.
Berlin had swiftly answered France’s call for help in the fight against militants, even though post-war Germany has been traditionally reluctant to send troops into military missions abroad.
The six Tornados are fitted with surveillance technology that can take photos and infrared images, even at night and in bad weather, and transmit them in real time to ground stations.
Berlin also said it would send a frigate to help guard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean.
Germany does not plan bombing runs, unlike France, the United States and Britain.

Israel successfully tests ballistic missile interceptor

Israel and the United States on Thursday successfully tested a ballistic missile interceptor as the Jewish state seeks to upgrade its defenses in the face of regional threats, officials said.
The trial from an Israeli test range involved the Arrow 3 interceptor, designed to shoot down missiles above the atmosphere, with Israel concerned over the potential for attacks from enemies including Iran.
A similar test a year ago failed, but Thursday’s trial intercepted a ballistic missile target above the Mediterranean.
“This successful test is a major milestone in the development of the Arrow Weapon System and provides confidence in future Israeli capabilities to defeat the developing threats,” Israel’s defense ministry said.
“Additional Arrow-3 interceptor tests are planned in the future to demonstrate capability prior to becoming operational.”
The Arrow project was first launched in 1988 as part of the then Star Wars program under late U.S. president Ronald Reagan that was abandoned in 1993.
Arrow 3, developed jointly between the United States and Israel, is intended to serve as Israel’s uppermost missile interception system. Lower-altitude interception systems are either already deployed or close to being operational.
Partly financed by the United States, the Arrow system was developed and produced by Israeli Aerospace Industries in partnership with Boeing.
Israel strongly opposed a nuclear deal struck in July between Iran and major powers, arguing it would not block its regional rival’s path to atomic weapons.
It also argues that the lifting of sanctions under the deal will allow Iran to further back and arm proxy militants in the region.
The United States said earlier this month it was conducting a “serious review” into reports that Iran carried out a new round of ballistic missile testing in violation of U.N. resolutions.

Saudi Arabia: Assad must resign or be forced from power

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Abdel Al-Jubeir has issued a fresh call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down through negotiations or else be forcibly removed from power, as Syrian opposition groups held talks in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Jubeir made the statement on Thursday, while Syrian opposition leaders discussed forming a unified front before proposed peace talks with Assad's government in Vienna. 
The Saudi foreign minister said that he hoped the Syrian opposition could come up with a common vision for Syria during the meeting. He urged delegates to prove wrong those who argue that the Syrian opposition is too fragmented to present a unified front at future peace talks.
His comments were echoed by Gulf leaders meeting for the annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the Saudi capital.
The leaders of the GCC - comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - said that they "support a political settlement ... that guarantees the territorial integrity and independence of Syria" as their two-day meeting came to an end on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition figures in Riyadh agreed to set up a body including political and armed factions to lead preparations for the talks with the Syrian government.
They have chosen a new secretary general and a new spokesman, as well as the formation of a supreme commission for negotiation that comprised 23 members.
Monzer Akbik of the Syrian National Coalition, speaking from Dubai where he was in contact with delegates in Saudi Arabia, said the group would include six from the coalition in exile, six from rebel factions, five from a Damascus-based opposition group and eight independent figures.
"They are going to be the decision-makers in terms of the political settlement," Akbik told Reuters news agency, adding that a separate negotiating team of 15 members would also be appointed.
Marwan Kabalan, a Syrian political analyst, told Al Jazeera that the two-day summit in Riyadh was very significant because most of the GCC states were either directly or indirectly involved in the Syrian conflict.
He said that the Syrian opposition "are closer to a united political vision for road map to peace in Syria".
The GCC has endorsed a political solution for the Syria conflict, under an international framework agreed to last month.
The Gulf states said that they back the Vienna agreement, which was made last month and set a January 1 target for peace talks and would see a transitional government set up in six months and elections in 18 months.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Egypt to try 9 policemen for death in custody

Egypt on Thursday ordered nine policemen to stand trial for the beating to death of a man in custody, prosecutors said, after authorities vowed a crackdown on police abuses.
The nine, including three lieutenants and a captain, were arrested last week as part of a probe into the death of the 47-year-old at a police station in the southern city of Luxor in November.
Their arrests came amid at least two investigations into deaths in police custody, and after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week warned that police officers found guilty of "committing mistakes" would be punished.
"The prosecutor general ordered the nine policemen to face a criminal trial," an official at Luxor prosecutor's office told AFP.
He said the start date had yet to be fixed.
The policemen are accused of either participating in the beating, approving it or not preventing it, a judicial official said.
If found guilty, they face a prison term of up to 15 years.
The man had been arrested on November 26 at a cafe in Luxor and taken to the police station where he died an hour later.
A forensic report revealed that he had been beaten on his neck and back, the official MENA news agency reported last week.
Another police officer has been detained in a separate case of a veterinarian who died in police custody last month in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya.
Rights groups regularly accuse Egyptian police and members of the secret police of abusing and torturing detainees.
Police abuses under former president Hosni Mubarak were a key factor for the 2011 uprising that led to his ouster.
One of the triggers of the revolt was the killing of a young man, Khaled Saeed, who was arrested in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and tortured to death by policemen.
Saeed's death galvanized protests against Mubarak after pictures emerged online of the 28-year-old's mangled face.
Egypt was under military rule for 17 months after Mubarak's overthrow and the police kept a low profile.
Islamist Mohamed Mursi then became Egypt's first freely elected leader but was overthrown by then-army chief Sisi in 2013, who has launched a brutal crackdown on Mursi's supporters.

ISIL raises up to $1.5bn from bank looting, oil sales

The United States says the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group has made up to $1.5bn from looting banks in Iraq and Syria, and from black market oil sales.
Speaking at Chatham House in London on Thursday night, senior US Treasury official Adam Szubin said the US was working with the Iraqi government and other allies to prevent ISIL from having access to its funds.
"ISIL has made more than $500m from black market oil sales. It has looted between $500m and $1bn from bank vaults captured in Iraq and Syria," Szubin said.

"And it has extorted many millions more from the populations under its control, often through brutal means."
Szubin said that in 2015 year alone, the US has placed financial sanctions on more than 30 "ISIL-linked senior leaders and financiers".
"ISIL is wealthy. But it has its vulnerabilities. Waging a multi-front war while attempting to essentially act as a proxy-state requires steady and renewable sources of funding," he said.
"ISIL needs funds to pay fighters and procure weapons, to maintain its infrastructure, and to provide basic services to the people living in the territory it controls. And, ISIL needs to access the international financial system - to move money abroad, to transfer funds, and to import needed supplies."
"We are targeting both of these dependencies – ISIL’s ability to generate revenue, and its ability to use that revenue."
Szubin's speech came as the Pentagon said on Thursday that coalition air strikes killed ISIL's financial minister, Abu Salah, in late November.

"He was one of the most senior and experienced members of ISIL's financial network and he was a legacy al-Qaeda member," a Pentagon spokesman said.
According to the US, Abu Salah was the ISIL's third financial leader to be killed in as many months.
Along with its accumulation of vast financial resources, ISIL, which seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq in recent years, has also gained access to a large military arsenal.
Amnesty International said in a report this week that the armed group has been able to seize a large number of the weapons from what it called "poorly secured" Iraqi government stocks.
Source: Al Jazeera

Tunisian Nobel Laureates call for Palestinian state

Representatives of Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet, who on Thursday picked up their Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, called for the creation of a Palestinian state as a way to fight “terrorism.”
“Today, we need to accelerate the elimination of hot spots all over the world, particularly the resolution of the Palestinian issue,” Houcine Abassi, the secretary general of the Tunisian General Labour Union, said in an acceptance speech on behalf of the Quartet.
This would be done by giving “the Palestinian people the right to self-determination on their land and (to) build their independent state,” Abassi said to thunderous applause in Oslo’s City Hall just moments after being handed the prestigious prize.
Abassi said the world was on the one hand “in a great need of dialogue between civilizations, and peaceful coexistence,” and on the other it needed "to make the fight against terrorism an absolute priority.”
He denounced the “barbaric and heinous terrorist acts” in recent months in Tunisia, Paris, Beirut, Sharm el-Sheikh and Bamako.
The Quartet is made up of the Human Rights League, General Labour Union (UGTT), the Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), and the Order of Lawyers.
It was honored with the Nobel Prize for helping to save Tunisia’s transition to democracy at a sensitive moment in 2013 when the process was in danger of collapsing because of widespread social unrest.
The group orchestrated a lengthy and thorny “national dialogue” between the Islamists of the Ennahda party and their opponents.

Syria rebels agree to regime talks but without Assad

Syrian opposition groups say they are ready for UN-sponsored negotiations with representatives from the government, but insist that President Bashar al-Assad has to step down.
"The aim of the political settlement is to create a state based on the principle of citizenship without Bashar al-Assad or figures of his regime having a place in it or any future political arrangements," the group of rebel factions said in a statement issued at the end of two-day talks held in Saudi Arabia's capital city, Riyadh.

 "Participants have insisted that Bashar al-Assad and his aides quit power with the start of the transition period," the statement added.
Hosted by the kingdom, the unprecedented talks between more than 100 representatives from armed and political opposition groups tried to unite the factions fighting against the Syrian government in the bloody conflict which has seen more than 250,000 people killed.

Monzer Akbik, a member of the National Coalition opposition group, said the meeting agreed to set up a 25-strong leadership group, including six coalition members, six from rebel factions, five from the NCB and eight independent figures.
"These are representatives of all the opposition factions, political and military, and they are going to be the decision makers in terms of the political settlement," said Akbik.
He was speaking from the United Arab Emirates after being briefed on Thursday morning's talks. A separate negotiating team of 15 members would also be appointed, he told Reuters.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Paris, said the Riyadh talks had made progress "but we have some tough issues to get over."
A possible December 18 meeting to advance the Syrian peace talks in New York is "not locked in yet", Kerry added.
Major powers agreed in Vienna last month to revive diplomatic efforts to end the war, calling for peace talks to start by January and elections within two years.
Saudi Arabia is a main backer of the rebels along with Turkey and Western countries. Iran and Russia support Assad, and say it is up to the Syrian people to decide when the leader should leave.
Moscow launched air strikes in Syria 10 weeks ago, helping the Syrian army - backed by Iranian troops, Hezbollah fighters and allied militia - to contain rebel advances.

The Riyadh meeting was meant to bring as " broad a cross-section of Syrian opposition groups as possible" to the table, according to Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.
Ahrar al-Sham quits
However, one key Syrian opposition group, Ahrar al-Sham, quit the meeting on Thursday moments before it concluded.
The armed rebel group said it withdrew because the meeting "had given top key roles to the National Coordination Committee and other figures who are considered supporters of the regime."
Ahrar al-Sham, a faction which Russia does not want to negotiate with, said in a statement that the conference "did not consider some of the key issues they, and other groups, wished to include in the discussions and that [the organisers] refused to emphasise the Muslim identity of our Muslim [Syrian] people."
Its statement added: "As we withdraw from the conference, we are calling on other Mujahedeen and revolutionary groups to make a historic stance on the side of their religion, nation and people.
"[Other groups] must take into consideration the sacrifices that were made to achieve their goals."

Al Jazeera correspondent Omar al-Saleh said that Ahrar al-Sham, which has acontroversial record in terms of alleged human rights abuses and links to al-Qaeda, has been described as a "radical" and "sometimes even a terrorism" group by Russian and Iranian officials.
"They could be included again later if negotiations with the Assad regime are seen as serious; their regional backers would force Ahrar al-Sham back to the table," our correspondent said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Friday, December 4, 2015

Palestinian shot dead in West Bank shooting

AFP, Jerusalem
An Israeli soldier and a bystander were wounded in a West Bank shooting attack on Thursday before the alleged assailant was shot dead, the army said in a statement.
It said the violence occurred at the village of Hizmeh, north of Jerusalem.
“A gunman stopped at a checkpoint near Hizmeh, exited his vehicle and shot forces at the site,” the statement said.
“The forces responded, shooting the attacker and resulting in his death.”
It did not say how badly the soldier and bystander were wounded, but Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital said it was treating a seriously-injured man who had been shot in the upper torso in the incident.
It did not say if the man was a soldier or civilian or disclose any other details.
A wave of violence erupted on October 1 and has so far claimed the lives of more than 120 people, including 104 Palestinians and 17 Israelis.
Early on Thursday Israeli troops demolished the home of a Palestinian the army said organized the fatal attack that sparked the current unrest, the shooting of a Jewish settler couple as they drove in the northern West Bank with their young children.

ISIS militants kill two Yemen tribesmen

AFP, Aden
Militants have killed two members of an influential tribe in southeastern Yemen, tribal sources said Thursday, accusing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group of carrying out the executions.
“Supporters of Daesh on Wednesday executed members of the Awlaki tribe after kidnapping them,” a senior tribesman told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Another tribal source said Hashem and Ahmed Maklam al-Tunssi were killed in Seiyun, the second largest town in Hadramawt province, where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a significant presence.
The men belonged to the same tribe as U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, who Washington alleges was a senior Al-Qaeda operative.
He was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
The pro-government “Popular Resistance” force in Hadramawt confirmed the deaths of the two men in a statement accusing ISIS of the killing.
The announcement comes a day after AQAP fighters drove pro-government forces out of a town in southern Yemen that could potentially open up a supply route between their stronghold of Mukalla, in Hadramawt, and second city Aden.
At least 15 people were killed when AQAP fighters swept into Jaar, in Abyan province, before appearing to withdraw from the town.
AQAP, which has taken advantage of fighting between loyalist and rebel forces across the country, took control Thursday of a checkpoint in Jaar leading to the town of Zinjibar, where the militants already control government buildings.
A Saudi-led coalition launched strikes on Iran-backed militias in March after the insurgents seized the capital Sanaa and swept south towards Aden, forcing the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee temporarily to Riyadh.
The United Nations says more than 5,700 people have been killed in Yemen since then, nearly half of them civilians.

Egypt court orders retrial of brotherhood head, 36 others

Mohamed Badie, head of Muslim Brotherhood, along with thousands of other members have been jailed in a crackdown on the group. (File photo: AP)

AFP, Cairo Thursday, 3 December 2015
Egypt’s top court on Thursday ordered a retrial of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, overturning a death sentence for Islamist protest violence, a judicial official and a lawyer said.
Thirty-six co-defendants who were condemned to death or life in prison by a lower court will be retried along with Badie, who has also been sentenced to death in a different case.
They had been found guilty of plotting unrest from an “operations room” in a Cairo protest camp in the months after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
The convictions were appealed before the Court of Cassation, which on Thursday overturned them and ordered a retrial.
“The ruling concerns all 37 defendants who are behind bars. Twelve of them including Badie had been sentenced to death” by the lower court, defence lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud told AFP.
Badie’s co-defendants include U.S.-Egyptian citizen Mohamed Soltan, who had been sentenced to life in prison.
Soltan was deported in May under a presidential decree stipulating that foreigners convicted in Egypt can be sent back to their home countries.
The lower court had accused the group of organizing unrest and protests backing Morsi, a senior Brotherhood figure who was himself sentenced to death in a separate case.
The sprawling Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp in Cairo was dispersed by police on August 14, 2013 in a 12-hour operation that left hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters and about 10 policemen dead.
The crackdown followed weeks of failed European and U.S.-brokered negotiations with the Brotherhood, which was demanding Morsi’s return to office.
The Islamist was the country’s first freely elected president, but he ruled for only a year before the army toppled him, spurred by massive protests demanding his resignation.
The Brotherhood was later declared a “terrorist organisation” by Egypt.
Badie is facing several trials, and has been sentenced to death in a separate case along with Morsi for plotting jailbreaks and attacks on police during the country’s 2011 uprising that ousted ex-president Hosni Mubarak.
The Brotherhood chief has also been handed life sentences - each amounting to 25 years in prison - in five other cases.

Sisi: Egyptian police who commit mistakes to be punished

The Associated Press, CairoThursday, 3 December 2015
Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi says police officers who commit mistakes will be punished, after rising criticism of police in domestic media following the deaths of three people in police custody last month.
Sisi’s speech at a police academy was broadcast live on national TV.
Police brutality was one of the main grievances of protesters in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The death of Talaat Shabib al-Rashidi in Luxor, while in police custody sparked riots in the southern city, while in the port city of Ismailia, anger erupted following the death of a pharmacist who had quarreled with a police officer.
In the Nile Delta province of Qalyoubiya, police officials are investigating claims that a man was tortured to death by a police officer.
Tarek Khalil, a Muslim Brotherhood member, went missing in June and his body was returned to his family with signs of torture after he was kidnapped by security forces.
Amnesty International has condemned what it termed an “entrenched impunity and a near total lack of accountability for abuses” among Egypt’s security forces.

Female Kurdish militant killed in police raid in Istanbul: reports

By AFP, Istanbul Friday, 4 December 2015
A female suspected member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was killed on Friday in Istanbul in a police operation against militants suspected to be planning suicide attacks, reports said.

Counter-terrorism police raided a home in Istanbul’s Sancaktepe district after receiving a tip-off that PKK militants had arrived in Turkey’s biggest city to carry out suicide attacks, Dogan news agency said.

A female member of the PKK was killed in the ensuing shootout with police while three other militants were detained, Dogan said.

Police also detained 10 suspected members of the radical Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) in a separate operation in several districts of Istanbul, state-run Anatolia news agency said.

The MLKP, an offshoot of the Turkish Communist Party/Marxist-Leninist (TKP-ML) set up in 1994, is a small armed group that seeks to replace Turkey’s political system with a communist regime.

It is considered by the Turkish authorities as close to the PKK, which has over the years narrowed its demands from an independent Kurdish state to greater autonomy and cultural rights.

Germany approves anti-ISIS military action in Syria

Reuters, Berlin Friday, 4 December 2015
Germany's lower house of parliament on Friday approved government plans to join the military campaign against Islamic State in Syria.

Of the 598 lawmakers who took part in the vote, 445 voted for, 146 against and seven abstained.

The mission will include sending six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate to help protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, refueling aircraft and up to 1,200 military personnel.
Germany will not join countries like Britain, France, the United States and Russia in conducting airstrikes.

France’s Hollande to visit aircraft carrier off Syrian coast

Reuters, Paris Friday, 4 December 2015
French President Francois Hollande will visit on Friday military personnel on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier off the Syrian coast, his office said in a statement.

"He will meet the military involved in intensifying the battle against Daesh (Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq," the statement said.

The carrier, which has 38 warplanes on board, was deployed to the east Mediterranean just days after Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris that killed 130 people on Nov. 13.

The two-hour visit, scheduled to start at 1400 GMT, comes just two days before the first round of regional elections in which Hollande's ruling Socialist party is expected to be defeated by the conservatives and far-right parties.

Hollande's popularity rose to its highest level in three years a poll showed on Tuesday, with voters backing his robust handling of the post-attack period.

France was the first country to join US-led air strikes in Iraq and since the Paris attacks it has stepped up its aerial bombing campaign of Islamic State in Syria, focusing especially on its stronghold in Raqqa and oil-related targets.

Over the last week, fighter jets have struck more than 20 times in Iraq supporting local troop advancements in areas near Baiji, Sinjar and around the city of Ramadi, the French army said on Wednesday.

The carrier holds some 1,900 personnel and is accompanied by an attack submarine, several frigates, refueling ships, as well as fighter jets and surveillance aircraft.

Iraq: Sunnis suffer abuse in areas taken from ISIL

Sunni Muslims are facing forced evictions, abductions, and other serious human rights abuses in areas of Iraq freed from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) control, the United Nations said on Friday.
Analysts have warned that Sunni Arabs are being discriminated against in Iraq by either the Shia-led government in Baghdad or Kurdish forces in the north, helping to radicalise communities and setting back efforts to defeat ISIL.
Iraqi and Kurdish troops "have been responsible for looting and destruction of property belonging to the Sunni Arab communities, forced evictions, abductions, illegal detention and, in some cases, extra-judicial killings", according to Cecile Pouilly, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"We have received reports as well about their limited access to basic services and essential goods, such as water, food, shelter and medical care," Pouilly said.
 Sunni tribal leaders pledge allegiance to ISIL in Iraq

Some Sunni Arabs in Syria and Iraq have been accused by Kurdish forces of collaborating with ISIL.
The UN noted that it was especially concerned for some 1,300 Sunnis stuck in a no man's land in the Sinjar region, between Kurdish areas and ISIL-held territory.
In Sinjar, an area recently freed from ISIL control by Kurdish forces, the UN said 16 mass graves were recently discovered.
Inside ISIL territory there were ongoing "gross human rights violations", including reports of kidnappings, burnings and beheadings of civilians, Pouilly said.
ISIL holds vast swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq despite continuing efforts by the United States-led coalition targeting the group with air strikes and mostly-Kurdish and Iraqi forces battling on the ground.

Putin: Turkey will regret jet shooting 'more than once'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Turkey it will "more than once" regret shooting down the Russian bomber jet near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Delivering his annual state-of-the-nation address on Thursday, Putin said Russia would not ignore what he described as Turkey's "aiding of terrorists", adding that the November shooting down of the Sukhoi Su-24 was a "treacherous war crime".
Putin also called for a broad international front against terrorism, an end to what he called double standards and halting any backing of what he called "terror groups".
Marwan Bishara: Putin's Bush moment
"We are not planning to engage in military sabre-rattling [with Turkey]," Putin said.
"But if anyone thinks that having committed this awful war crime, the murder of our people, that they are going to get away with some measures concerning their tomatoes or some limits on construction and other sectors, they are sorely mistaken."
Moscow has already responded with measures including bans on some Turkish fruit and vegetables, and in his icy remarks Putin made clear that would not be the end of it.
"It appears that Allah decided to punish the ruling clique of Turkey by depriving them of wisdom and judgment," Putin said.
He harshly criticised Turkey, accusing it of buying oil from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
"We are fighting for justice, happiness and the entire future of our civilisation. We have to be prepared and we have to defeat them [terrorists] before they get here. That's why we launched this operation in Syria."
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said: "Putin's speech echoed statements by US President George Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"Notably, his emphasis on terrorism and fighting terrorism in a world full of terrorism underlines the attack on Russian values, and makes it clear the likes of Turkey are either with Russia or with the terrorists.
"He didn't give any signal of backing down. He seemed to be escalating the war of words with Turkey and other Russia detractors in Europe and the Middle East."

OPINION: Turkey-Russia - The inevitable clash of the titans

Putin's comments came a day after Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said he was ready to meet his Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of a two-day Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe  conference in Belgrade.
Later on Thursday, Lavrov met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. But he said he heard "nothing new" about the downing of the Russian plane.
Russia has escalated its dispute with Turkey by claiming to have evidence that proves President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from territory held by ISIL.

Q&A: Debate about Syria is missing one thing - Syrians

"Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we've received, the senior political leadership of the country - President Erdogan and his family - are involved in this criminal business," Anatoly Antonov, Russia's deputy defence minister, said on Wednesday.
Turkey has vehemently denied Russia's claims, with Erdogan saying again on Wednesday that he would resign from his post if they could be proved.
"Turkey has not lost its moral values as to buy oil from a terror organisation... Those who make such slanderous claims are obliged to prove them. If they do, I would not remain on the presidential seat for one minute," Erdogan said.
"But those who make the claim must also give up their seat if they can't prove it."
Meanwhile, Serko Cevdet, head of the energy commission of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government, dismissed Russia's claim, telling Anadolu news agency that recently published Russian satellite images showed tankers carrying oil from the Kurdish region to Turkey’s Port of Ceyhan.
Cevdet said it was impossible to transport oil from the ISIL-held areas to Turkey via the Kurdish region.

Israel draft law allows jail for Palestinians aged 12

An Israeli ministerial committee has approved a law sharply criticised by human rights groups as it would allow the imprisonment of Palestinian children as young as 12.
Authorised by Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, the bill could enable Israel to impose jail terms for children aged 12 years or above, who are found guilty of "nationalistic-motivated" violent offences - including murder, attempted murder and manslaughter.
The bill still needs to be passed by Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in order to become a law.
 Israeli army under fire over arrests of Palestinian children

According to rights groups, the proposed law will in effect impact Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem and those who carry Israeli citizenship and live in cities, towns and villages across the country.
Until now, Palestinian children in East Jerusalem could not be imprisoned unless they are 14 or older.
"Israel's [civilian] penal laws are becoming more and more similar to military laws in the occupied West Bank," Rafat Sub Laban, advocacy unit coordinator at the Addameer Prisoner Support Network, told Al Jazeera.
While Israel has placed occupied East Jerusalem under its civilian law, the rest of the occupied West Bank is under military rule.
Israeli military courts are already able to try and imprison Palestinian children 12 years and older in the West Bank, as long as they do not carry Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency permits. 

New apps help Palestinians navigate Israeli checkpoints

A pair of new mobile apps hope to help Palestinians navigate snarled traffic at Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, offering a hi-tech response to constant and burdensome restrictions on movement.
"Azmeh", which means traffic jam in Arabic, and "Qalandiya", the name of a major Israeli checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem, join a slew of other global traffic apps, including the Israeli-developed Waze.
What sets the two Palestinian apps apart is how they go beyond daily rush-hour traffic and touch at the heart of a central Palestinian criticism of Israeli occupation. They are designed to run on slow local networks - a necessity because Israel has not granted Palestinian telecommunication companies swifter 3G access.
The free apps, launched over the past month, have been downloaded a few thousand times each. As they grow in popularity, their developers say the crowdsourced apps present a partial solution to the traffic jams that checkpoints cause, and they hope they will catch on with drivers

Friday, October 9, 2015

UN proposes unity government to end Libya conflict

The UN special envoy, Bernardino Leon, presented the proposed government in Morocco [Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP]

The UN envoy for Libya has announced a national unity government for Libya after months of talks between the North African country's two rival governments.
Bernardino Leon told reporters late on Thursday that the names of candidates for the national unity government have been decided.
Leon said the prime minister for the new government is Fayez Sarraj, a member of the Tripoli-based administration.
"We believe this list can work," Leon said of the names, which include three deputies for the prime minister - representing the country's east, west and south - and two ministers to complete a presidential council.
"All of them will work as a team," Leon said. He added, "This was not an easy task."

Negotiators who attended the peace talks representing the rival governments approved the names of candidates, but the parliaments for both sides must approve them, too.
Mohamed Eljarh, an analyst at the Atlantic Council's Hariri Centre for the Middle East, said this seemed "very unlikely" as there had been a lot of negative reaction on both sides.
Rival administrations
Libya has had rival administrations since August last year, when an alliance of militias from the city of Misrata known as Libya Dawn took over the capital, Tripoli.
The group drove out the internationally-recognised government, which now operates in the eastern city of Tobruk.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the proposal of a unity government in a statement issued by his media office, while urging the parties to accept and sign the agreement.
The statement said Ban "urges Libyan leaders not to squander this opportunity to put the country back on the path to building a state that reflects the spirit and ambitions of the 2011 revolution".
The foreign policy chief of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, also welcomed the announcement.

Stumbling blocks in the process have been the disbanding of militias as well as the removal of former general Khalifa Haftar - the military commander for the Tobruk parliament, which is recognised by the UN and the Arab League.
Al Jazeera's Diplomatic Editor James Bays said the new government, if approved, would face "immense challenges" in governing the country, which has been in turmoil since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in 2011.
"The two main factions only reluctantly agreed to the deal, and there has been so much bloodshed and political bad blood that there are many across the political spectrum who oppose it," he said.
"There are fighters and militias who are unlikely to obey the new government."
The government will also have to deal with the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, which has gained a foothold in Gaddafi's former hometown, Sirte.
The country has porous borders and is awash with arms. It has also become a hub for smugglers who prey and refugees trying to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Putin declares checkmate on Syria

About the Author

Ibrahim Al-Marashi

Ibrahim al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of "Iraq’s Armed Forces: An Analytical History."
Policymakers and media analysts alike often invoke the term of the Cold War, declaring a Cold War II or Cold War Redux, when discussing the re-emergence of tensions between Moscow and the US-NATO alliance. It has been employed during the Russia-Georgia war of 2008, and during the recent conflict in Ukraine. This metaphor has been used for describing conflicts raging in the independent states of the former USSR, but recent events in the Middle East are beginning to resonate with the Cold War, as well.
While history does not repeat itself and does not determine the future, it does provide clarity for current events and helps to situate them within a greater historical context.
In the 1950s, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt forged an alliance with Nikita Khrushchev of the USSR, allowing the Soviet Union to project its power into the heart of the Arab Middle East. The agreement between Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin to deploy Russian forces to Syria essentially serves as a replay from the Cold War game book.
Syria war dominates UN summit

The Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), the"Baghdad Pact" was formed in 1955, modelled after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The alliance included Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, which served as a northern tier of states to contain Soviet influence in the Middle East.
The Soviet invitation
The USSR perceived this alliance as a threat, and in a statement on April 16, 1955, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared:
"Striving for the development of peaceful cooperation among all countries, the Soviet government is prepared to support and develop cooperation with the countries of the Near and Middle East, in the interests of strengthening peace in this area."

Also read: State of the world: In search of leadership

In 1955, Nasser would accept the Soviets' invitation.
Nasser, the leader of Egypt after a military coup in 1952, had adopted a policy of "positive neutralism", seeking to maximise Egypt's position by playing off both the US and USSR to finance the Aswan High Dam, for example. Egypt was also an active player in the Non-Aligned Movement, consisting of states such as Indonesia, India, and Yugoslavia, which sought to avoid aligning with either superpower during the Cold War.
Today, the Russian arms shipments to Syria, along with the Russian advisers and military forces to accompany them, has similarly allowed Putin to leapfrog onto the Mediterranean.
However, the formation of the CENTO, in Nasser's view, was an attempt to undermine the Egyptian leader's pan-Arabist project, which sought to unify the Arabs against the ambitions of the UK and US in the region. Combined with the US' refusal to finance the Aswan Dam, Nasser lurched towards the Soviet Union. In 1955, the same year as the formation of CENTO, the Soviets authorised a shipment of arms to Egypt.
Soviet arms would require its advisers to come to Egypt to train them on how to use and maintain the weapons, giving the USSR a foothold in the region. Nasser had allowed Khrushchev and the USSR to leapfrog over the northern tier states of CENTO, giving it a presence in the Mediterranean.
A win-win deal
It was a win-win deal for Egypt and the USSR. Today, the Russian arms shipments to Syria, along with the Russian advisers and military forces to accompany them, has similarly allowed Putin to leapfrog onto the Mediterranean.
In a statement to the Egyptian National Assembly in May 1967, Nasser declared: "I wish to tell you today that the Soviet Union is a friendly power and stands by us as a friend. In all our dealings with the Soviet Union … it has not made a single request of us. The USSR has never interfered with our policy or internal affairs ... When I also asked for all kinds of arms, they gave them to us."

Also read: Could Syria be Putin's Afghanistan?

Assad most likely thinks the same of the USSR's successor, Russia. It does not interfere in its internal affairs and provides them with arms. Russia is, by his calculations, the "friend" that saved him in his moment of crisis.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Gamal Abdul Nasser attending Bolshoi Ballet performance [Getty]
Recent analyses of a move into Syria has generated debates about whether the aircraft and forces provided to Assad will have an impact on the military dynamics of the Syrian civil war, or how this deployment is a Russian way of influencing the transition of the civil war to a negotiated process in Syria.
Regardless of whether Russian military forces will turn the tide in the civil war or have an impact on the political negotiations ending the Syrian civil war, comparing the present with the historical precedent of Egypt in 1955, demonstrates that Russia has already won a tactical victory the same way the USSR won a tactical victory in establishing a foothold in Egypt.
A foothold in the region
By declaring solidarity with Egypt and providing it with weapons in an arms race against Israel, the Soviets had postured themselves as an ally of the Arabs, leading to arms agreements later with Syria, and Iraq, after officers there overthrew the monarchy in 1958 and withdrew from CENTO. The weapons the Soviets provided and the training of Egyptian, Syria, and even Iraqi militaries proved insufficient when countering Israel on the battlefield in 1967 and 1973, but regardless of the effectiveness of their military supplies, the Soviets could communicate to the US that they had gained a foothold in the region to counter America's Middle East ambitions. 
Eventually, Soviet influence began to wane in the Middle East, with Egypt expelling Soviet military advisers prior to the 1973 war and losing relevance once the USSR had collapsed. Russia, however, maintained arms sales to Middle Eastern states because its arms industry needed revenues, and it was Soviet-cum-Russian weapons that most Arab armies knew how to use. It even developed a robust arms trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  
Post-Cold War Russia had maintained a naval refuelling base in Tartous, Syria, even before the civil war erupted there. However, Putin's recent moves have generated a lot more publicity and fears and consternation among policy elites in NATO. It has symbolically leapfrogged once again into the region. Russia has essentially jumped over NATO-member Turkey (which was also part of CENTO before it disbanded in 1979).
By positioning forces in Syria, Russia has demonstrated that it could project its power and presence to NATO and the US in a new arena beyond Ukraine. Moscow's recent move is reminiscent of geopolitical posturing of the 1950s in the Middle East, bringing up the cliched image of various regional countries serving as a chessboard between the US and Russia, with Putin having declared "checkmate".
Ibrahim al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of "Iraq's Armed Forces: An Analytical History".
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy. 
Source: Al Jazeera