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Islamic World News (18 Feb 2019 NewAgeIslam.Com)



‘Curious’ Visitors Attend ‘Open Mosque Day’ In Pune To Know More About Islam















Fully veiled women and children fleing from the Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor walk in a field on February 12, 2019 during an operation by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to expel hundreds of Islamic State group (IS) jihadists from the region. Fadel SENNA / AFP

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‘Curious’ Visitors Attend ‘Open Mosque Day’ In Pune To Know More About Islam

The Man Who Interrogated Masood Azhar Remembers When He Sang Like a Canary

Pak Briefed P5 Countries on Fallout of Possible Terror Attack in India, Pakistan was Building up Its Case

Third Of Britons Believe Islam Threatens British Way Of Life, Says Report

Europe Wonders Whether to Bring Back Children Raised Under Islamic State

Yazidis Lose Hope for Captured Loved Ones As End Of Islamic State's Caliphate Nears Without Answers

Hebrew University Professor Says Israel Tests Weapons On Palestinian Children

Trump Wants Europe to Take Back Daesh Captives In Syria

China Surveillance Firm Tracking Millions In Xinjiang

 

India

‘Curious’ Visitors Attend ‘Open Mosque Day’ In Pune To Know More About Islam

The Man Who Interrogated Masood Azhar Remembers When He Sang Like a Canary

Pak Briefed P5 Countries on Fallout of Possible Terror Attack in India, Pakistan was Building up Its Case

Counter-Terrorism, Energy Security To Top Indian Agenda During Saudi Crown Prince Visit

A Muslim Villager Comes To Rescue of Ailing Cow; A Slap On The Face Of Fanatics

Army Major, 3 soldiers among 5 killed in Pulwama encounter with Jaish terrorists

Crackdown after attack: Four separatist leaders lose security

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Europe

Third Of Britons Believe Islam Threatens British Way Of Life, Says Report

Europe Wonders Whether to Bring Back Children Raised Under Islamic State

Muslim Association in Austria's Vienna Provides Hot Meals to Homeless

Iran denies UK claims of ‘commitments’ on Yemen

UN: Deal on first phase of pullback from Hodeidah reached

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Arab World

Yazidis Lose Hope for Captured Loved Ones As End Of Islamic State's Caliphate Nears Without Answers

Kurdish Fighters, Ankara-Backed Militants Resume Clashes in Aleppo

Syrian Army Gives Crushing Response to Terrorists' Attacks in Hama

Syria’s Assad: US will sell out those relying on it

US-backed Syria force says ISIS holding 1,000 civilians

Saudi Crown Prince, Pakistan PM chair joint Supreme Coordination Council session

US-led coalition aircraft transport Syrian gold stashed by Daesh: Report

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Mideast

Hebrew University Professor Says Israel Tests Weapons On Palestinian Children

Yemeni army kills 20 Houthi militants, injures several others in Dhale governate

19 Palestinians injured after clashes on Israel-Gaza border

Pakistan Must Be Accountable For Terror Attack In Iran: Parl. Speaker Larijani

Nineteen Palestinians, Israeli soldier wounded in Gaza clashes

Yemen’s warring parties agree on first phase of redeployment

Israel evicts Palestinian family from house in Jerusalem al-Quds

Israel clears Palestinians from Jerusalem home claimed by settlers

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North America

Trump Wants Europe To Take Back Daesh Captives In Syria

US Man Throws Hot Coffee on Sikh Clerk, Punches Him Thinking He Is Muslim

US ‘Won’t Stand Idly By’ As Turkey Buys S-400: Pence

US: We don’t want regime to come back to N. Syria

Back the SDF not a new international force in Syria says Arab League head

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Southeast Asia

China Surveillance Firm Tracking Millions In Xinjiang

PAS says supporting Dr M as PM ‘alone’ in defending Malay-Muslim interests

A reminder to PAS leaders on truthfulness and Islam

Can PPBM replace Umno to represent Malays and Islam?

Muhammadiyah to mobilize members to fight extremism

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Pakistan

Domestic Violence Bill: KP govt again facing resistance from religio-political parties

Saudi Arabia Inks Agreements worth $20 Billion with Pakistan

Flawed foreign policy leading country to isolation: Fazl

Four Pakistan soldiers killed in Balochistan attack: Report

Pak claims it's fulfilling sanctions obligations against JeM

'Pakistan will be a very important country in coming future,' says Saudi crown prince

Pakistan offers cooperation to Iran over probe into attack

Four FC men martyred in Panjgur attack

US-Taliban meeting in Pakistan cancelled

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South Asia

32 killed, wounded during a clash between Afghan forces and Taliban in Faryab

Steps to be taken for quick hearing on Jamaat petition: AG

U.S. envoy for Afghan peace met with Abdullah in Kabul

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Africa

Al Shabaab Resilience, Diplomatic Row Muddle Troop Withdrawal From Somalia

Muslim clerics demand arrest, prosecution of suspects in Kaduna killings

5 civilians killed in Boko Haram clash with government troops

Libyans, to varying degrees, celebrate 2011 uprising

Nigeria: Fresh Boko Haram attack kills 9

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/‘curious’-visitors-attend-‘open-mosque-day’-in-pune-to-know-more-about-islam/d/117782

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‘Curious’ visitors attend ‘Open Mosque day’ in Pune to know more about Islam

Feb 17, 2019

At least 100 people from different religions visited a mosque during the ‘Open Mosque Day’ held at Azam campus on Saturday.

Alisha Karpe, a second-year law student of New Law College, Bharti Vidyapeeth, said, “I wanted to know more about this religion and so I came to the campus.”

Swati Thory, who hails from Jaipur visited the mosque out of curiosity. “I live in an area where most of my neighbours are Muslims. I was always curious to know about the way the community members worship inside the mosque. It was interesting to see how they pray and why they say namaaz five times.”

“O Lord, forgive my sins and open the doors of mercy for me, you say this dua while entering the mosque,” said Nazneen Shah, a member of the Jamaate-Islami Hind, as she explained the meaning to the visitors.

Sanyogita Tiwari who hails from Jagdalpur, Chattisgarh said, “I always had questions on what is the notion of Allah, or what is Azan and I have got my answers.”

Dhirendra Rajpurohit from Jodhpur, Rajasthan said that many of his misconceptions were clarified. “It is a good platform to seek answers regarding the religion,” he said.

Chandrakant Bhosale, senior police inspector, Lashkar police station who visited the mosque said, “This mosque is in my jurisdiction. I have been to many mosques and it is interesting to see people from all faiths here today.”

https://www.hindustantimes.com/pune-news/curious-visitors-attend-open-mosque-day-in-pune-to-know-more-about-islam/story-gbRQFq6jsCbw1zAeiI8tbN.html

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The man who interrogated Masood Azhar remembers when he sang like a canary

BY ET BUREAU

FEB 18, 2019

Pulwama attack has brought terrorist Maulana Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammad founder who was released following the hijacking of IC-814, back in the spotlight. Former Intelligence Bureau official Avinash Mohananey, who served in J&K and Pakistan, revisits his long interrogatory sessions with ‘Pulwama mastermind’ at Kot Bhalwal Jail, Jammu, from 1994 to 1999

Twenty-five years ago in November 1994, I showed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s photograph to Maulana Masood Azhar to find out more about their relationship. By that time, Azhar had been in detention for about eight months and I had been regularly interacting with him.

Every meeting with him would be an addition to the knowledge about Pak-based ‘jehadi’ groups, their mentors and the role of the ISI. He was always forthcoming with details to  fill any gaps in our understanding of various ‘jehadi’ organisations. Azhar did not recognise Omar Saeed Sheikh.

Azhar was always boastful about his importance. He claimed that when he landed at Heathrow Airport, there was a traffic jam for two hours as many people had come to see and receive him. He would repeatedly tell me “you people will not be able to keep me in custody for long. You don’t know how important I am for Pakistan and the ISI. You are underestimating my popularity. The ISI would ensure that I am back in Pakistan.” There is little doubt that the ISI needed such Maulanas, who had the capacity to generate religious hysteria and spew venom among masses against India to spearhead ‘jehad’ in Kashmir.

By that time, the first attempt by Omar Saeed Sheikh and Illyas Kashmiri, who had kidnapped three British and one American from Delhi in October 1994, had failed. Omar Saeed Sheikh was arrested by the UP Police, but Illyas Kashmiri escaped. Apart from Masood Azhar, they had also demanded release of Sajjad Afghani, chief commander of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), both arrested and detained together. Omar Saeed Sheikh is now in Hyderabad Jail (Pakistan), awaiting execution after having been convicted of killing Daniel Pearl, the reporter of ‘The Wall Street Journal’, in Pakistan, in 2002. Illyas Kashmiri was killed in a US-drone strike in North Waziristan in Pakistan on June 3, 2011.

Masood Azhar was arrested in peculiar circumstances on February 11, 1994, at Khanabal Chowk in Anantnag. He was travelling in an auto rickshaw along with Sajjad Afghani, whom he had met at latter’s hideout in Kapran forests of Anantnag district. The duo tried to run when the auto they were travelling was intercepted by the J&K Police for a routine check. Both were chased by Army personnel deployed at a nearby picket and arrested.

Azhar could not take the pressure of questioning by the Army and soon started singing like a canary. He even divulged the real identity of the man sitting next to him in the auto rickshaw. The Army realised that they had hit a jackpot. Sajjad Afghani never forgave Masood Azhar for the same and both had strained relations even in the jail. The Army officers clearly knew the rank of chief commander, but could not place Azhar’s position of being general secretary of the newly formed Harkat-ul-Ansar. Nevertheless, the Army realised that the duo were a big catch and were dispatched to Jammu for detailed questioning.

“I had never been slapped by my father, but for the first time in my life an Army jawan did so even before asking me any question,” complained Masood Azhar to me. Pointing towards his protruding belly, Azhar said: “I was declared physically unfit for arms training at the training camp of HuM in Kunar Province of Afghanistan and had to be sent back to Karachi.” It was because of his abdominal girth, he got stuck in the tunnel dug by terrorists to escape in Jammu. He saved himself, but Sajjad Afghani was killed by the J&K Police in the same attempt in 1999. About assuming Portuguese identity, he clarified: “I came on a forged Portuguese passport for implementing the merger of HuM and Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI) in the Valley, as it was not possible for me to cross the Line of Control on foot.”

Azhar was highly critical of his organisation in Pakistan for giving him a wrong impression of the ground situation in Kashmir that led to his arrest. He blamed the same on returning ‘mujahids’, called ‘ghazis’ (victors) in Pakistan, who would narrate all kinds of false stories of how Kashmir was about to be liberated and the Indian forces were on retreat. “I had imagined an Afghanistan-like situation, where a liberated belt was created by Mujahideen groups and one could travel to and from Pakistan without much difficulty. On the contrary, I saw Mujahideens on continuous run avoiding Indian security forces,” he added.

Azhar’s ego was hurt in the second attempt to free him. He was not amused when a shadowy group Al Faran had, apart from him, also demanded release of Nasarullah Manzoor Langaryar, chief commander of HuJI, in exchange for four foreign trekkers (two British, one each from the US and Germany) in its custody in July 1995. He claimed that it diluted his position and stature as there was no comparison between him and Langaryar, whom he described as a person of low intellect and a mere foot soldier. He blamed Abdul Hamid al-Turki, a suspected Turkish national and leader of Al Faran, for the same. He disclosed that Turki and Langaryar had moved together from the Afghan theatre in the same group to Kashmir. Turki was subsequently killed in an encounter with the Army on December 4, 1995, in Anantnag district.

Azhar’s words proved to be prophetic. In the third attempt, he was finally released in exchange of passengers of IC-814 on December 31, 1999. There was no stopping Masood Azhar thereafter. His stature in ‘jehadi’ circles in Pakistan skyrocketed. ISI handed over training camps to him and pressurised most of the cadre of HuM to join the newly floated Jaish-e-Mohammad. He became the ultimate ‘ghazi’ against India.

Around that time, in Pakistan, I had a glimpse of the same familiar face in early February 2000. I was on way to my office at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. While I was waiting at a traffic signal, I saw a convoy of Toyota pick-up trucks full of fiercely looking bearded Pakistanis carrying Kalashnikovs heading towards Lal Masjid — about 100 of them. Not an unusual sight in Pakistan at that time. Terrorist groups used to openly flaunt their weaponry, address public meetings, collect funds and sell ‘jehadi’ literature. Fortunately, he didn’t see me.

Azhar has more than paid back to the ISI for getting him released by organising hijacking of IC-814. He has masterminded several devastating and high-profile attacks in J&K and the rest of India after his release — Pulwama being the latest one. He must be hunted down in the rat hole of Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan, where he is being safely guarded by the ISI. China must realise that such terror ideologues have always hurt the hand that feeds them — a fore-warning from history that it must not forget.

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/the-man-who-interrogated-masood-azhar-remembers-when-he-sang-like-a-canary/articleshow/68041543.cms

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Pak Briefed P5 Countries on Fallout of Possible Terror Attack in India, Pakistan was Building up Its Case

Sheela Bhatt

February 16, 2019

New Delhi: Pakistan’s Foreign Office, last month in Islamabad, briefed the ambassadors of the P5 countries—the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France—on a possible terror incident in Kashmir and its likely fallout, including “a possible surgical strike by India in view of Indian media reports”, said a diplomat in the Ministry of External Affairs, who is well-versed in Pakistan affairs. “Pakistan was building up its case by saying, don’t blame us if anything happens in the region,” he said.

The P-5 ambassadors were shown many Indian news reports and a few media assessments of the election prospects of the Narendra Modi government to try and prove the point that the Indian Prime Minister needed to go to war with Pakistan to win a re-election. Before the budget, staunch critics of Modi in the India media were suggesting that only a populist budget and a “limited war” with Pakistan could ensure that he would regain his “lost ground”. These reports were used by the Pakistan establishment to try and prove its “case”.

Talking about the briefing by Islamabad, former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal said, “The P5 diplomats are not so naive that they will believe in any such pre-emptive diplomatic strikes by Pakistan. Pakistan was pleading for ‘benefit of doubt’, by suggesting that some groups in the region may do something in Kashmir, but they weren’t guided by them or supported by them. No one buys this. P5 ambassadors are cynical enough to understand the Pakistani game plan.”

Srikanth Kondapalli, chairman of East Asian Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University concurs with Sibal, while adding another argument: “China wants the US, Russia and Europe out of the India-Pakistan region. China has completed 26 out of 43 infrastructure related projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project and now wants to be a mediator in the unresolved disputes between India and Pakistan. Any counter-action by India after Pulwama has to take into account this factor, too.”

“In Pulwama, Pakistan has covered its tracks better compared to the Uri and Pathankot attacks. In Pulwama, the suicide bomber is an Indian boy, which changes the track of investigation. This is a model used in Afghanistan and is a surprise for India. Pakistan seems to have studied the fallout of the Pathankot and Uri attacks and has improved upon its tactics,” the diplomat in MEA said. He added, “Knowing Pakistani diplomats well, they are trying to sell to the P5 countries the line that Delhi’s actions are election related, that Modi is trying hard to save his image in his domestic constituency. Pakistan is trying to send the message that if any retaliatory action is taken against Pakistan for what a Kashmir born Indian youth has done, it would respond strongly.”

However, Vivek Katju, former Secretary and Pakistan expert, does not think Pakistan’s briefing to the P5 is of any consequence. He said that neither the US nor China could restrict India’s choices. “India has the capacity to handle any pressure which seeks to limit its options,” he added.

https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/news/pak-briefed-p5-countries-fallout-possible-terror-attack-india

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Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

17 Feb 2019

More than a third of people in the UK believe that Islam is a threat to the British way of life, according to a report by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate.

The organisation’s annual “State of Hate” report, which will be launched on Monday, argues that anti-Muslim prejudice has replaced immigration as the key driver of the growth of the far right.

In polling conducted by the group in July last year, 35% of people thought Islam was generally a threat to the British way of life, compared with 30% who thought it was compatible. Forty-nine per cent of those who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election thought it was generally incompatible, and 22% of Labour voters agreed.

Nearly a third (32%) said they thought there were “no-go areas” in Britain where sharia law dominated and non-Muslims could not enter. Almost half of Conservative voters (47%) and those who voted to leave the EU (49%) believed this was true.

The report said that while polling showed that attitudes towards Muslims in Britain had improved between 2011 and 2016, the terror attacks in the UK in 2017 had had a negative impact on perceptions.

In a separate poll of more than 5,000 people in August 2018, 30% said they would support a campaign set up by local residents to stop proposals to build a mosque near where they live. Twenty-one per cent say they would still support the campaign if either side became violent, because the matter was so serious.

Among the issues in the report is that of leftwing antisemitism. Hope not Hate said that while extreme antisemitism and Holocaust denial were less common, there were many examples of “conspiratorial” antisemitism and the use of antisemitic tropes, “especially in relation to supposed Jewish power”.

The report points to research that found an increase in antisemitic Google searches in the UK. It found that 5% of UK adults did not believe the Holocaust happened and 8% said the scale of the Holocaust had been exaggerated.

The report’s authors said a large group was involved in “denying a problem exists and dismissing the issue as a rightwing and Zionist smear”. It concluded that the Labour party was still not doing enough to tackle antisemitism.

“The family history of so many members of the British Jewish community includes first-hand experience of persecution. Many people in the Jewish community therefore identify with a sense of the precariousness of their safety, where material security and educational attainment are not seen as guarantors of security and safety,” it said.

“The inability of the Labour party leadership to understand and acknowledge this experience is particularly chilling when the Labour party and the left in general hold values of equality and antiracism as core to their identity.”

The report also found that while the numbers arrested for terror-related offences in 2018 was down on the previous year, there was a growing threat of far-right terrorism, which came both from organised groups such as National Action and from lone actors who are radicalised over the internet.

The group warned that there could also be a rise in support for Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajiroun following the release of one of its founders, Anjem Choudary, from prison.

“Our latest polling also reveals a disturbing level of anti-Muslim prejudice and discourse running through society, with a third of people saying they believe there are Muslim-run no-go zones, and rising antisemitism on the left, which we have exposed in a new investigation,” said Nick Lowles, the chief executive of Hope not Hate.

“Meanwhile, while the banned terror group National Action has finally been destroyed by the authorities, there is a growing threat of violence from the younger neo-Nazis emerging in their wake. There are justified concerns that the police response to these rising threats, especially against MPs, has fallen short. We believe a very real threat remains from terrorism carried out by lone actors, too, radicalised over the internet.

“Added to this febrile mix is the release of Anjem Choudary and many of his network’s leading figures, likely to regalvanise their supporters and provide yet another seedbed for the far right to grow their support, too. We cannot wait for a traditional, united, far-right umbrella organisation to emerge before we act. We need to start connecting the dots now.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/17/third-of-britons-believe-islam-threatens-british-way-of-life-says-report

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Europe wonders whether to bring back children raised under Islamic State

February 17, 2019

RANST, Belgium – The children’s voices crackled through the phone and into Fatiha’s gray-walled living room.

“When are we going to grandma’s?” one implored in the background, and then into the phone: “Are you coming to get us?”

In the hallway, six coat hooks were fixed in a row at child’s height. A backpack hung on each one. Up a steep stairway, sheets with characters from Pixar’s “Cars” were carefully tucked into bunk beds, awaiting the children’s return.

But Fatiha, a Belgian whose grandparents emigrated from Morocco, didn’t know when her six grandchildren — who range in age from 10 months to 7 years – would be back. They are among the hundreds of children born to European citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State. Now that the caliphate has collapsed, and the planned U.S. withdrawal has compounded regional instability, grandparents across Europe are pushing to save children whom in some cases they’ve seen only in photos, looking up at them from the dusty desert floor.

“We’re waiting for them, everything is ready for them,” Fatiha, 46, said in an interview at her home outside Antwerp, in a bucolic village where backyards give way to hayfields. The children’s fathers are dead, and their mothers – Fatiha’s daughter and daughter-in-law – would face prison sentences if they return to Belgium. So Fatiha has prepared to care for the children herself. To protect her grandchildren, she spoke on the condition that her last name not be published.

For Belgium, France and other countries that saw some of their nationals gravitate toward Islamic State territory as it expanded across Syria and Iraq, the plight of children who have claims to citizenship has ignited questions that would test the most Solomonic of judges.

Governments are grappling with how much responsibility they bear for the safety of these small citizens, most of them younger than 6, in a region where fresh conflict could erupt. Courts are weighing whether the rights of the children extend to returning with their Islamic State parents. And a bitter public debate is underway about whether grandparents whose own children ran away to the Islamic State can be trusted to raise a new generation differently.

The Kurdish authorities who control the territory in northeastern Syria where many of these families ended up estimate they have more than 1,300 children in their refugee and prison camps. Russia repatriated 27 children last week. France is considering bringing back more than 100 fighters – who would face trial – and their families. But until now, most governments have calculated that the political downside of retrieving parents who may pose security risks outweighs any need to bring back the children.

In Fatiha’s case, a judge ruled that Belgium must repatriate her six grandchildren, along with her daughter and her daughter-in-law – Belgian citizens who joined the Islamic State and now want to come back. The two women were convicted in absentia of joining a terrorist organization and would each face a five-year prison sentence upon their arrival on Belgian soil. But the judge ruled that bringing the children home and leaving their mothers in Syria would violate the children’s human rights.

The Dec. 26 ruling has spurred a furious response from Belgian leaders, and the government plans to appeal in court on Wednesday. Authorities expect whatever precedent is set to affect decisions about other Islamic State families. At least 22 Belgian children are in Syrian camps, and more than 160 are believed to be in the conflict zone.

The most vociferous objections relate to the return of the parents.

“We won’t punish young children for their parents’ misdeeds,” Belgium’s migration secretary, Maggie De Block, said in a statement last month. “They have not chosen the Islamic State. That is why we want to make efforts to bring them back to our country. For the parents, the situation is different. They themselves have deliberately chosen to turn their backs on our country and even to fight against it. Repeatedly.

“Solidarity has its limits,” she said. “The freedom you enjoy in our country to make your own decisions also means you bear responsibility for the consequences.”

Spokesmen for De Block, the justice ministry and Belgium’s prime minister all declined to comment for this report. They would not confirm whether the government was paying the judge’s prescribed penalty of 5,000 euros per child per day if they weren’t returned by Feb. 4.

Even for the children, Belgian sympathy goes only so far. Many people are anxious. Belgium contributed the largest number of Islamic State fighters to Syria per capita of any European Union nation, and the country remains scarred by the attacks of 2016, when Belgian citizens with Islamic State connections targeted Brussels with deadly bombings. Discussions on talk shows and in editorial pages have stoked fear about what the children may have learned from their parents or from Islamic State training camps, which targeted children as young as 6 for indoctrination – although little evidence exists that any of the Belgians were exposed.

Belgium needs to protect “these children as well as our children, and to protect the parents of our children,” said Nadia Sminate, a lawmaker in the regional parliament for the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium who has been a vocal critic of plans to bring back the children. “These children have been raised with different values and norms than our children. We don’t have to be silly about that. They’ve seen the cruelest things in the world.”

When Fatiha needs to cheer herself up, she plays a video her daughter sent last summer of her grandchildren raucously singing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Dutch – their first and only language.

Her days are a blur of frustration. A visit from the police, interviewing her yet again to determine whether she would raise the grandchildren in a radicalized home. A phone call with her lawyer, who is battling the Belgian government to carry out the judge’s order. A rattling train trip to Brussels alongside other grandmothers who are pushing policymakers to repatriate their toddlers. An anxious internet search of prison conditions in Deir Ezzour, Syria, where she was worried her daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren had been taken after they dropped out of contact for more than two weeks last month.

When they resurfaced, they reported that Kurdish authorities had blindfolded them and transferred them not to Deir Ezzour, but to a more brutal camp than they’d been in previously. One of Fatiha’s grandsons has chronic diarrhea, and now he has only a single pair of pants, his mother said. Another has asthma, but no medicine.

“Everything keeps getting worse,” Fatiha’s daughter, Bouchra Abouallal, 25, said in an interview with The Washington Post via a messaging service. “I keep telling the children, ‘Don’t be afraid. Nothing is going to happen.’ But they’re not stupid anymore.”

After the December court order, “we told our children, ‘We’re almost home. We’ll be there in a month,’ ” Abouallal said, her voice cracking.

A boy’s voice interrupted. “Why are you crying?”

“It’s now they who are calming me down, not the other way around,” Abouallal told The Post.

By Fatiha’s account, her family’s problems started with her 2009 divorce from her children’s father, which sent them searching elsewhere for support.

The family had worn its faith lightly. Fatiha said they practiced “modern Islam.” But her eldest son, Noureddine Abouallal, fell in with an Antwerp group called Sharia4Belgium — which would later be connected to 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Noureddine Abouallal shaved his head and grew a beard. He and his wife — Tatiana Wielandt, who converted to Islam to marry him in 2010 — marked their son’s birth with an announcement that included images of a fighter and a gun.

Bouchra Abouallal and her husband also joined Sharia4Belgium.

In 2013, when eager adherents of jihadism were streaming toward the fighting, the two couples went with their babies to Syria. The men were killed within a year. Abouallal and Wielandt – each pregnant with her dead husband’s child, and each with an older son in tow – returned to Belgium in 2014. The state didn’t seek to prosecute them then.

Fatiha said she was furious that they had run away, but she let them back in her life. Abouallal and Wielandt crammed into a bunk bed. Two baby boys were born. Their toddler sons settled in at a school two doors down.

Once, at a backyard barbecue, one grandson dived under a table as a plane flew overhead – perhaps a reaction ingrained from bombings. But otherwise the boys showed little evidence of what they had been through, Fatiha said.

Then, one day in 2015, they all disappeared, leaving Fatiha with a house full of toys and a child-size Nutella handprint on the door to the backyard.

“I felt like I was stabbed in my back. I felt like I didn’t want to have anything to do with them,” she said. She left the handprint.

In the end, she said, she decided it was better to keep in touch. The young women made it with their children to the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. They remarried, but their second husbands were killed around the time Wielandt gave birth to her third child. After Western forces bombarded the city into submission in late 2017, they fled into Kurdish-controlled territory and eventually to the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

Her daughter and daughter-in-law ask Fatiha for reminders about what Belgian primary schools teach, so they can try to replicate the lessons. In video clips, the kids show off their somersaults and tumbling. Recently, Abouallal sent a video of Fatiha’s newest granddaughter, born last April, wearing her first headband and plucking at the unfamiliar white elastic as it slipped over her eyes.

“I told them I want to see everything as they grow up,” Fatiha said. “I don’t want to miss a thing.”

But as the Belgian government stalls, and as the security situation in Syria becomes increasingly uncertain, Fatiha and the other grandmothers are growing embittered.

Nabila Mazouz — whose son was caught at the airport as he tried to make his way to Syria – started a support group called Mothers’ Jihad to help fight for the return of Belgians who spent time in the caliphate.

“I understand the government. I understand the security issues,” Mazouz said. “But I guarantee they’re going to come back, and if they come back in 15 to 20 years, what kind of mood are they going to come back in?”

She said that after being repeatedly spurned by Belgian authorities, she now better understands her son’s disaffection.

“I never asked myself, ‘Am I Moroccan or Belgian?’ I said I was Belgian,” she said. “I was born here. I work here. I pay my taxes here. But now I ask myself. Now the parents understand the perspective of the young adults.”

Advocates for the children in Syria have been targeted with bile.

“Normally, everybody likes what we do,” said Heidi De Pauw, the director of Child Focus, a Belgian organization that is modeled on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. But for pressing Belgian authorities on this case, she has received death threats and been told that the children should be “drowned like kittens.”

De Pauw and others say the children should not be condemned because their parents made bad decisions.

One psychologist who traveled to Syria in October to assess Belgian children in the camps, including Fatiha’s grandchildren, said despite everything they have been through, their play and development were relatively normal.

“We were really surprised about how these children were doing,” said Gerrit Loots, a child psychologist at the Free University of Brussels. “Once these children have adapted, they can go to school, they can be with others.”

Loots said his greatest concern was how attached the children were to their mothers. “They’ve never spent a day apart,” he noted.

He said taking the children back to Belgium without their mothers would be “psychologically disastrous.” Bringing them all back together, even assuming the mothers go straight to prison, would be easier to manage, Loots concluded.

The mothers say they want to return, but they are ready to stay behind in Syria if that’s the cost of getting their children back to Belgium and safety.

“I have no problem with that,” Abouallal said. “I just want my children to have a secure life, and have a normal life, and that they don’t punish them for the mistakes we’ve made.”

Fatiha sucked in her breath, then dabbed a tear, as her daughter described conditions in their new camp.

“Try to keep them busy,” Fatiha urged her daughter. “Tell them a story.”

“I love you,” the grandmother told them all, before she hung up the phone and slumped into her couch.

Annabell Van den Berghe in Ranst and Quentin Aries in Brussels contributed to this report.

https://nationalpost.com/news/world/europe-wonders-whether-to-bring-back-children-raised-under-islamic-state

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Yazidis lose hope for captured loved ones as end of Islamic State's caliphate nears without answers

17 FEBRUARY 2019

Khudida Haji has followed news of the battle for Islamic State’s final stronghold more closely than most.

For four and a half years he has been hoping for information on family members captured by the jihadists. Out of the five that went missing the day Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Isil) overran the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014, only one returned.

He had clung to the outside chance that his wife, two daughters and youngest son were still alive and being held in the group’s ever-dwindling territory.

But when it was reduced to less than a square-mile in the Syrian desert, he was forced to confront a more painful possibility.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/17/yazidis-lose-hope-captured-loved-ones-end-islamic-states-caliphate/

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Hebrew University professor says Israel tests weapons on Palestinian children

Feb 18, 2019

An Arab professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem al-Quds says the Israeli military tests various weapons against innocent Palestinians, even children, in order to learn which are the most powerful, a report said Sunday.

Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian said in a lecture last Tuesday at Columbia University that “Israel does weapons tests on Palestinian children” and that “Palestinian spaces are laboratories for the Israeli security industry.”

Shalhoub-Kevorkian, an Arab professor of social work from the Hebrew University, quoted from the testimony of a few children to assert that the Israeli military specifically targets the younger generation for these alleged tests, said a report by Israel’s Army Radio.

“The army checks what bombs to use – gas bombs or stink bombs,” a child named Muhammad said, according to the report. “Whether to put over us plastic bags or cloth bags, whether to hit us with their rifles or kick us with their boots.”

The professor’s speech, titled “Violent Technologies in Palestinian Jerusalem,” was based on the research she did in Israel during her tenure at Hebrew University. It is also presented abroad as a Hebrew University study, Dabush reported.

The university has not condemned the lecture, and has just said that the views expressed by the professor do not represent the Hebrew University’s views.

“These are her personal opinions which express only herself,” it said in a statement.

The new allegations against the Israeli troops come as several media reports had earlier said the regime's military harvest organs from the Palestinian kids it kills.

Robrecht Vanderbeeken, the cultural secretary of Belgium’s ACOD trade union and a philosophy of science scholar, said in August 2018 the population of the Gaza Strip is being “starved to death, poisoned, and children are kidnapped and murdered for their organs.”

In November 2015, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations said Israel harvested the organs of the Palestinians it killed.

In a letter to the UN secretary general, Riyad Mansour said the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces “were returned with missing corneas and other organs, further confirming past reports about organ harvesting by the occupying power.”

The New York Times also said in an August 2014 report that transplant brokers in Israel had pocketed enormous sums of money.

Based on the newspaper's analysis of major organ trafficking cases since 2000, Israelis had played a “disproportionate role” in organ trafficking.

The issue of organ theft by Israel was first brought to the fore in a report published by Sweden’s most highly-circulated daily Aftonbladet in 2009.

Back in 2000, Dr. Yehuda Hiss, the former head of Israel's forensic institute, divulged that Israeli pathologists at the institute would harvest skin, corneas, heart valves, and bones from the bodies of Palestinians and others often without permission from relatives.

The interview was, however, released no later than 2009 by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, who had conducted it as part of her investigation into the institute, in response to a row created between Israel and Sweden over Aftonbladet’s report.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/18/588840/Israel-test-weapons-Palestine-children-human-rights

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Trump wants Europe to take back Daesh captives in Syria

Feb 17, 2019

US President Donald Trump says Europe should take responsibility for those Daesh terrorists from the continent who have been captured by the US in Syria; otherwise, American forces will be “forced” to release them, as he plans to withdraw American forces from the Arab country.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them,” Trump tweeted on Saturday, using an acronym for Daesh.

The US president then posted a follow-up tweet in which he said it was time for European governments to step in and do their share, as Washington was not willing to watch the captured Daesh members to spread throughout the continent.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

 ....The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much - Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!

80.4K

9:31 AM - Feb 17, 2019

Twitter Ads info and privacy

27.2K people are talking about this

The US and a number of its allies have been in Syria without Damascus’ permission since 2014 under the pretext of fighting the Daesh terror group. Last month, Trump declared victory over Daesh, and announced that he would withdraw the roughly 2,000 American troops from the Arab country.

This is while the military victory over Daesh in Syria as well as in neighboring Iraq came as a result of operations by the militaries of the two Arab countries as well as advisory military assistance from their regional allies. US commanders have described Trump’s declaration of complete victory over Daesh as premature.

Reports showed last year that more than 5,000 Europeans — mostly from Britain, France, Germany, and Belgium — had joined Daesh’s ranks since 2014, when the group emerged in Syria and Iraq.

The outfit has already conducted horrific attacks across Europe, including in locations in and around Paris in November 2015 which killed 130 people.

Also on Saturday, Britain’s Justice Secretary David Gauke warned of the “risks” of people returning after voluntarily going to “dangerous parts of the world,” an apparent reference to the European members of Daesh.

He said, however, “we can’t make people stateless.”

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/17/588764/US-Trump-Europe-Daesh-Syria

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China surveillance firm tracking millions in Xinjiang

February 17, 2019

BEIJING: A Chinese surveillance firm is tracking the movements of more than 2.5 million people in the far-western Xinjiang region, according to a data leak flagged by a Dutch internet expert.

An online database containing names, ID card numbers, birth dates and location data was left unprotected for months by Shenzhen-based facial-recognition technology company SenseNets Technology Ltd, according to Victor Gevers, co-founder of non-profit organisation GDI.Foundation, who first noted the vulnerability in a series of social media posts last week.

Exposed data also showed about 6.7 million location data points linked to the people which were gathered within 24 hours, tagged with descriptions such as “mosque”, “hotel,” “internet cafe” and other places where surveillance cameras were likely to be found.

“It was fully open and anyone without authentication had full administrative rights. You could go in the database and create, read, update and delete anything,” said Gevers.

China has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and UN rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

According to its website, SenseNets works with China’s police across several cities. Its Shenzhen-listed parent company NetPosa Technologies Ltd has offices in a majority of Chinese provinces and regions, including Xinjiang.

SenseNets and NetPosa, as well as the Xinjiang regional government, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

The Chinese government has ramped up personal surveillance in Xinjiang over recent years, including the construction of an extensive video surveillance system and smartphone monitoring technology.

Gevers said the foundation directly alerted SenseNets to the vulnerability, in line with GDI.Foundation protocol. He said SenseNets did not respond, but that it has since taken steps to secure the database.

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2019/02/17/china-surveillance-firm-tracking-millions-in-xinjiang/

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India

 

Counter-terrorism, energy security to top Indian agenda during Saudi Crown Prince visit

Feb 17, 2019

New Delhi: Counter-terrorism, including Pakistans role in sponsoring terrorism against India, and energy security are likely to be on top of India’s agenda for discussion during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit starting on Tuesday.

India is expected to take up with the Saudi Crown Prince Pakistan’s role in the Pulwama terror attack that killed at least 49 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Jammu and Kashmir, informed sources said.

India has already started diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan internationally with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale briefing envoys of around two dozen nations including those of P-5 and South Asian nations about Pakistan’s footprint in the Pulwama attack.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to New Delhi Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saty has said that Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to India presents a “historic opportunity” to expand collaboration in all sectors.

Moammed bin Salman is on a three-nation diplomatic tour to Pakistan, India and China.

He will be on a two-day visit to India starting February 19 and will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. He is visiting Pakistan before coming to India.

https://www.siasat.com/news/counter-terrorism-energy-security-top-indian-agenda-during-saudi-crown-prince-visit-1468413/

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A Muslim Villager Comes To Rescue Of Ailing Cow; A Slap On The Face Of Fanatics

Feb 15, 2019

KASHGUNJ: A Muslim villager is hailed as a hero on the social media after a video of him helping an ailing cow, abandoned on roadside by the custodians and caretakers surfaced.

The video is from Bhargain town of Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh state.

According to a report, the stray and ailing cow was lying on the roadside since last few days but none dare to care for the poor animal.

When Rehan Khan noticed the cow, he immediately rushed to the rescue. He provides the cattle relief from chilling cold and also arranged fodder.

“Then I contacted Satish Chandra Gupta, the Principal of RBL College who called the officials of the local veterinary department”, Rehan said.

An official of the local veterinary department said, “What Rehan Khan has done is exemplary and a slap on the face of the people who wants to destroy the communal fabric and unity of the country.”

Full report at:

https://www.siasat.com/news/rehan-comes-rescue-ailing-cow-slap-face-fanatics-1467575/

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Army Major, 3 soldiers among 5 killed in Pulwama encounter with Jaish terrorists

Feb 18, 2019

A major and three soldiers, besides a civilian, were killed in a gunfight in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district barely 10 km away from the suicide attack spot, police said on Monday.

“Five people were killed in the gunfight that took place on Sunday night in Pinglena village,” an officer said. The victims include an Army officer, while the civilian has been identified as Mushtaq Ahmad.

The gunfight started late on Sunday after security forces, including the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), Special Operations Group (SOG) of the state police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), surrounded the village following a tip off that Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) terrorists -- the same group that carried out the February 14 attack leaving a toll 49 troopers -- were hiding in the area.

“As the cordon was tightened, the holed-up terrorists fired triggering the gunfight. Firing exchanges have again started at the encounter site,” the police added.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/army-major-among-5-killed-in-encounter-in-jammu-and-kashmir-s-pulwama-days-after-crpf-attack/story-GX0BMAIo6bWauoxOncG7DJ.html

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Crackdown after attack: Four separatist leaders lose security

by Bashaarat Masood

February 18, 2019

Three days after the terror attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama district in which 40 security personnel were killed, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Sunday decided to withdraw the security cover of some separatist leaders. It also asked police to review and withdraw the security enjoyed by “other separatists”.

“The government is issuing orders withdrawing all security and any government facilities provided to the separatist leaders — Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Bilal Lone, Hashim Qureshi and Shabir Shah,” said a press release issued by the J&K Directorate of Information and Public Relations. “All security and any vehicles provided to them will stand withdrawn by today evening. No security forces or cover should be provided, under any pretext, to them or any other separatists,” it said.

While the government release named Hashim Qureshi, the Ganga hijacker who returned to Kashmir over a decade ago, the order issued by the state home department didn’t name him. When contacted, Principal Secretary (Home) Shaleen Kabra said he had no information about any order other than the one issued by the state home department. “We have issued only one order, which has four names. I don’t know about any other order issued by the government,” he said. The two top separatist leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, don’t have government security. They were offered security after an attack on Hurriyat leader Fazal Haq Qureshi in 2009, but they turned it down.

While jailed separatist leader Shabir Shah has also been named in the order, police sources said he has not been provided any security by the government. “I don’t understand what they (government) are saying and what they will withdraw. He has not enjoyed any security cover ever, at home or at his office,” Shah’s wife, Dr Bilquees Shah, told The Indian Express. “He was offered security, but he had refused,” she said.

During his visit on Friday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had indicated that the government would take this step. “There are some elements here who take money from Pakistan and ISI. I have told the officers that the security provided to such people should be reviewed,” he had said at a press conference in Srinagar.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, whose father Maulvi Mohammad Farooq was killed by militants in 1990, was the first separatist leader to be given security cover. The other separatist leaders were given security after the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference engaged in dialogue with the Centre in 2004. This had led to the killing of Mirwaiz’s uncle, Maulavi Mushtaq Ahmad, thus forcing the government to offer security. The security was strengthened after militants targeted Mirwaiz’s aide, Fazal Haq Qureshi, in 2009.

“Hurriyat leaders had never asked for it (security). In fact, it was the government that insisted on keeping the personnel, based on what they said was their assessment of threat perception,” Mirwaiz said on Sunday. “I have repeatedly said, from the pulpit of Jamia Masjid, that the government can withdraw it,” he said.

He said the withdrawal of security has no bearing on the Kashmir issue. “In no way will it change the reality of the lingering Kashmir dispute, or the situation on the ground, or our principled stand and outlook regarding its resolution… My political, social and religious activities will continue as usual,” he said.

“Hurriyat leaders had never asked for it (security). In fact, it was the government that insisted on keeping the personnel, based on what they said was their assessment of threat perception,” Mirwaiz said on Sunday. “I have repeatedly said, from the pulpit of Jamia Masjid, that the government can withdraw it,” he said.

He said the withdrawal of security has no bearing on the Kashmir issue. “In no way will it change the reality of the lingering Kashmir dispute, or the situation on the ground, or our principled stand and outlook regarding its resolution… My political, social and religious activities will continue as usual,” he said.

She warned that if anything happens to the separatist leaders, it would have a direct impact on the security situation in the state.

“It makes no sense. It will not change anything,” NC spokesman Aga Roohullah said. “The Narendra Modi government has to answer whether the threat perception (to separatists) has vanished or it is a political move”. Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone refused to comment, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate because his brother’s security has also been withdrawn.

According to a PTI report, J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina welcomed the decision. “The Hurriyat people are the real enemies of the Kashmiris and they are the ones who ruined the Valley. (That) their security has been withdrawn is a welcome step and I would like them to be arrested,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Hashim Qureshi’s son, Junaid Qureshi, earlier tweeted: “My father… has suffered torture at the hands of ISI and spent years in jail in Pakistan. In the wake of reports of withdrawing his security, let it be clear that the dispensation in J&K and Delhi will be responsible if anything untoward happens to him or my family.”

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/crackdown-after-attack-four-separatist-leaders-lose-security-5588505/

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Europe

 

Muslim association in Austria's Vienna provides hot meals to homeless

17.02.2019

A Muslim association in the Austrian capital Vienna is distributing hot meals to homeless and needy people, the association told Anadolu Agency on Sunday.

Deputy head of RAHMA Austria association Omer Batur said since three years they provide hot meals to homeless people several days of the week.

Batur said they provide hot meals to around 100 homeless people in a day.

He said both Austrians and the foreigners living in Austria received the project "very positively".

"With projects like this, Muslims can give the message 'we are living in this country and we are in a search of solutions to common problems of this country' to the society they live in," Batur stressed.

Batur said social events like this is an important way of struggling with far-right rhetoric which has risen in the latest period in Austria.

He added that RAHMA Austria association has been providing aid to many needy people around the world for 25 years, including Syrians, Rohingya Muslim, and Palestinian refugees.

https://www.dailysabah.com/europe/2019/02/17/muslim-association-in-austrias-vienna-provides-hot-meals-to-homeless

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Iran denies UK claims of ‘commitments’ on Yemen

Feb 18, 2019

Iran has dismissed claims by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that it has made special commitments to comply with the West’s demands in order to end Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war on Yemen.

“Iran has made no commitments to any party or country about Yemen,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said in a statement on Monday.

He made the remarks a day after Hunt claimed in an interview with London-based Saudi paper Asharq Al-Awsat that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had made certain promises to help end the conflict when they met in Tehran back in November.

Qassemi said Zarif only discussed the ongoing international efforts to end the war and doubled down on Iran’s position that no other country than Yemen should decide what is best for its people.

“Yemen is an independent country and it is up to the Yemenis to make decisions and Iran does in no way interfere in the country’s internal affairs,” Qassemi asserted.

“In this regard, Mr. Zarif has held numerous meetings and diplomatic conversations with his foreign counterparts in order to find a solution… or solutions… that could help ease the crisis and pave the way for the aggression to end and for a lasting ceasefire to take its place,” he said.

Qassemi noted that Iran had been regularly contacting European countries, including France, Germany, Britain and Italy to facilitate peace talks and aid deliveries to the people of Yemen.

The Iranian diplomat said what Hunt meant by “commitment” was the same commitments that Yemen’s warring sides agreed upon during the latest round of UN-brokered peace talks in the Swedish capital Stockholm in December.

Hunt implied in his interview that Zarif had agreed to convince Houthi Ansarullah fighters, who have been pushing back against Saudi aggressors, to evacuate Yemen’s key port city of Hudeydah.

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies – including the United Arab Emirates – have long been bombing the city, seeking to cut the impoverished country’s most important lifeline.

In Stockholm, both Houthis and Saudi-backed groups agreed to a ceasefire and an ultimate retreat from the strategic city as the first major step to end the deadly conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis since its onset in March 2015.

Despite the Houthis’ commitment to the truce, however, the Riyadh regime and its mercenaries have stepped up their attacks on Hudaydah in a bid to get the upper hand in negotiations.

'Stop arms deals with Saudi, allies'

During his interview, Hunt accused Iran of using Yemen “as a base to destabilize Yemen’s neighbors,” a claim that the Saudis and the West have repeatedly used to justify the war.

Qassemi advised Hunt and other Western leaders to “come to their senses” and start taking real steps towards peace by stopping their extensive arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the “aggressors.”

The UK has licensed over £4.7 billion worth of arms exports, including missiles and fighter jets, to Riyadh since the deadly conflict began in 2015. May has so far faced down calls for a ban on the weapons sales despite the growing humanitarian disaster.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/18/588851/Iran-UK-Zarif-Hunt-Yemen-commitments-Qassemi

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UN: Deal on first phase of pullback from Hodeidah reached

18 February 2019

Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels have agreed on the first phase of a pullback of forces from the key city of Hodeidah, in a deal the United Nations described Sunday as important progress.

The redeployment from Hodeidah was a key provision of a ceasefire deal reached in December in Sweden, but deadlines to move forces away from the ports and parts of city have been missed.

The Red Sea port is the entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s imported goods and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Following two days of talks in Hodeidah city, the government and Houthis finalized a deal on the first phase of the pullback and also agreed in principle on the second phase, a UN statement said.

The talks were led by Danish General Michael Lollesgaard as chair of a redeployment coordination committee (RCC) that includes the government and the Houthis.

“After lengthy but constructive discussions facilitated by the RCC Chair, the parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” said the UN statement.

The sides made “important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces” but no date was given to begin the demilitarization.

“The parties also agreed, in principle, on Phase 2 of the mutual redeployment, pending additional consultations within their respective leadership.”

The first phase provides for a pullback from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, Ras Issa and from parts of the city where there are humanitarian facilities.

The United Nations is hoping that a de-escalation in Hodeidah will allow desperately-needed food and medical aid to reach millions on the brink of starvation in Yemen.

A new round is planned within a week to finalize details on the second phase of redeployment, the UN statement said.

The ceasefire and a Hodeidah pullback agreed in Stockholm have been hailed as a major step toward ending Yemen’s nearly four-year war.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2019/02/18/Yemen-sides-agree-deal-on-first-pullback-from-Hodeidah-says-UN-.html

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Arab World

 

Kurdish Fighters, Ankara-Backed Militants Resume Clashes in Aleppo

Feb 17, 2019

The Manbij Military Council and the Turkey-backed militants engaged in heavy clashes in Eastern part of al-Bab region in Northeastern Aleppo, the Kurdish-language Hawar news reported.

It noted that the clashes took place after the Ankara-backed terrorists attacked the military positions of the Kurdish Manbij Military Council in Eastern Al-Bab.

The clashes left losses among the Turkey-backed militants.

The report comes as the military positions of Manbij Military Council came under heavy attacks by the militants supported by Ankara in the village of al-Bavij in al-Arimeh region in Eastern Al-Bab.

Meantime, the Kurdish fighter announced that a bomb blasted a car of Ankara-backed al-Hamzeh militants in the outskirts of Hazvan village in Al-Bab region, killing one militant and injuring six others.

In a relevant development earlier this month, the Turkish Army dispatched a large number of Special Forces to Afrin region in Northwestern Aleppo concurrent with intensified infighting among Ankara-backed militants in the region.

The Hawar News reported that a sum of 200 of Special Forces of the Turkish Army arrived in Afrin region in Northwestern Aleppo as some of them have been stationed in Afrin and some others in the villages of Shirva and Jandariseh regions.

The Kurdish media pointed to the rising infighting among Ankara-backed terrorists over their share of assets and properties stolen from the citizens, and said that fierce clashes have erupted between Jeish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sharqieh militants in the center of Afrin and its surrounding areas over their share of war booties.

In a relevant development on Wednesday, several Turkish Army soldiers and their allied militants were killed in two military operations by the Kurdish forces in Afrin in Western Aleppo, media reports said.

The Hawar News reported that military vehicles, carrying Turkish Army soldiers and Ankara-backed terrorists, was destroyed in the village of Koubeleh in the Center of Afrin during the Syrian Democratic Forces' military operations against the Turkish Army and Ankara-backed militants.

It noted that two Turkish soldiers were killed and four others were wounded while a military vehicle and military equipment were also destroyed.

The Kurdish fighters, meantime, pounded and destroyed a military headquarters of Ahrar al-Sham terrorists in the village of Deir Moshamash in the Center of Afrin which resulted in death of two Ahrar al-Sham terrorists and injury of three others.

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13971128000617

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Syrian Army Gives Crushing Response to Terrorists' Attacks in Hama

Feb 17, 2019

The Syrian Army troops fended off the terrorists' attack on their positions in Mahradeh region in Northern Hama from their positions in Latmin, al-Arbaeen and al-Zuka, killing and wounding a large number of militants while forcing others to retreat.

The Syrian Army's missile and artillery units also heavily pounded and destroyed the terrorists' military positions near al-Latamanieh and Kafar Zita in Northern Hama which was used by the terrorists to attack the safe regions.

Meantime, a number of civilians were injured and several residential buildings sustained damage in the terrorists' missile attacks on residential areas in the town of al-Saqilieh in Northern Hama.

In Western Hama, the Syrian Army's units foiled an attack by Islamic Turkistani Party terrorist group from al-Haviz and Sharia on army's military positions in Sahl al-Ghab region.

In a relevant development on Friday, the Syrian army warded off new offensives by Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at and other allied terrorists in the demilitarized zone in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib, inflicting heavy damages and tolls on them.

The Damascus Army units targeted a group of Islamic Turkistani Party terrorists who intended to penetrate to the government forces' military positions in Northwestern Hama from the surrounding areas of al-Haviz and al-Havija towns near Sahl al-Ghab region, killing a large number of terrorists and destroying their military equipment as well as forcing the remaining militants to retreat.

A large number of terrorists were forced to flee the scene after their comrades were killed and wounded in the Syrian Army attacks.

The Syrian Army troops also pounded and destroyed the military positions of Tahrir al-Sham terrorists near the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Southern Idlib.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13971128000495

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Syria’s Assad: US will sell out those relying on it

17 February 2019

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned on Sunday the United States would not protect those depending on it, in reference to Kurdish fighters who control much of the north.

“We say to those groups who are betting on the Americans, the Americans will not protect you,” he said without naming them. “The Americans will put you in their pockets so you can be tools in the barter, and they have started with (it).”

US President Donald Trump declared in December he would pull troops from Syria, raising more questions over the fate of Washington’s Kurdish allies under the threat of Turkish attacks.

US forces have long supplied arms and training to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish YPG militia, the main US partner in the battle against ISIS extremist group.

The US presence helped the SDF seize swathes of north and east Syria, and has also been widely seen as a deterrent against Turkey which has vowed to crush the YPG.

Ankara sees the YPG as a security threat and an extension of the Kurdish PKK movement that has waged an insurgency on Turkish soil for decades.

The US move drove Syrian Kurdish leaders into fresh talks with Damascus and its key ally Moscow, hoping to agree a deal that could protect the SDF region and safeguard at least some of their gains.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/02/17/Syria-s-Assad-US-will-sell-out-those-relying-on-it.html

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US-backed Syria force says ISIS holding 1,000 civilians

17 February 2019

The US-backed Syrian militia fighting ISIS in its last toehold in Syria says there are over 1,000 civilians trapped in the tiny area and that the militant group is preventing them from leaving.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told The Associated Press Sunday that ISIS has closed all the roads in and out.

SDF officials have said the extremists are hiding among civilians in a tented village and using a network of caves and tunnels.

ISIS, which once ruled a proto-state in large parts of Syria and Iraq, is clinging to an area less than a square kilometer in the village of Baghouz, in eastern Syria.

The extremists may include high-level commanders, and could be holding hostages.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/02/17/US-backed-Syria-force-says-ISIS-holding-1-000-civilians.html

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Saudi Crown Prince, Pakistan PM chair joint Supreme Coordination Council session

18 February 2019

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan co-chaired the inaugural session of the joint Supreme Coordination Council between their two countries.

The council was set up to bolster the relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said last Friday, days ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Islamabad.

“The Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council will help the two countries for effective coordination and follow up to achieve mutually agreed objectives,” Foreign Office spokesperson Dr. Mohammad Faisal tweeted on Friday.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan signed a number of memorandums of understandings worth $20 billion across several sectors including oil, mining and energy on Sunday. The deals were signed on Sunday upon the arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad on an official visit.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2019/02/18/Saudi-Crown-Prince-Pakistan-PM-chair-joint-Supreme-Coordination-Council-session.html

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US-led coalition aircraft transport Syrian gold stashed by Daesh: Report

Feb 17, 2019

The US-led coalition purportedly fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group has airlifted to safe sanctuaries several large boxes full of “spoils” that members of the foreign-sponsored terror outfit had claimed in Syria’s eastern provinces of Hasakah and Dayr al-Zawr as well as neighboring Iraq.

Local sources, requesting anonymity, told Syria’s official news agency SANA that US-led military helicopters landed in the Dashisha area of Hasakah as well as Hajin town in Dayr al-Zawr, and transported dozens of Takfiri commanders and militants to unknown locations following a deal.

The sources added that the extremists, in return, directed the US-led forces to their caches of stolen gold east of Shaddadi town.

The report corresponds with earlier reports that Daesh terrorists had transported some 40 tons of gold bullions stolen from the strategic northern Iraqi city of Mosul, located some 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the capital Baghdad, and other areas in Syria to Dashisha.

SANA, citing information received from local residents, reported on October 7 last year that American helicopters had evacuated Daesh commanders from Shaafah town in Abu Kamal district of Dayr al-Zawr to an undisclosed location.

The US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes and operations against what are said to be Daesh targets inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a United Nations mandate.

The military alliance has repeatedly been accused of targeting and killing civilians. It has also been largely incapable of achieving its declared goal of destroying Daesh.

On February 12, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, in two separate letters addressed to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the rotating president of the Security Council, Anatolio Ndong Mba, denounced the coalition strikes conducted against Baghouz town a day earlier, saying the US-led warplanes had pounded a refugee camp.

Local sources told state-run Ikhbariyah Syria television news network that 16 civilians, including seven children, were killed as a result of the raid.

“This new crime is in line with the series of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which the US-led coalition has perpetrated against Syrian people, its continued support for terrorism, and its use of terrorists and separatist militia forces to advance its fiendish plots aimed at Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” said the letters.

The ministry also called on the UN Security Council to stand up against such attacks and crimes.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/17/588817/syria-coalition-aircraft-gold-Daesh

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Mideast

 

Yemeni army kills 20 Houthi militants, injures several others in Dhale governate

February 18, 2019

DUBAI: The Yemeni army killed 20 Houthi militants, including a field commander, in clashes in the southern Dhale governate on Sunday, Saudi state-agency SPA reported.

Yemeni forces advanced towards Al-Mashhad market in Ab governate as the Arab coalition raided Houthi areas, killing several militants and injuring others east of Sanaa.

The attacks targeted Houthi reinforcements on their way to Nahm front, according to civilian reports on Yemeni Minister of Defense’s official website “September Net.”

Meanwhile, Yemeni tribesmen from Hajjah’s Qeshar district destroyed Houthi militia gathering areas in the Darb Al-Maru area.

Field sources revealed that the tribesmen belonged to the Bani Riban tribe, and that they continue to group with other tribes to destroy militia gathering spots across the region.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1453996

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19 Palestinians injured after clashes on Israel-Gaza border

Feb 18, 2019

At least 19 Palestinians were injured on Friday after clashes erupted on the Israel-Gaza border, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, as cited in media reports.

Protesters could be seen hurling objects towards Israeli military vehicles on the other side of the border fence amid tear gas, as several injured Palestinian protesters were carried away on stretchers by paramedics.

The Great March of Return, launched in March last year, form a series of protests along the Israeli-Palestinian border to demand the right for Palestinians to return to their families' pre-1948 homes.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/18/588837/Clashes-at-the-border-between-Israel-Gaza-Strip

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Pakistan must be accountable for terror attack in Iran: Parl. Speaker Larijani

Feb 17, 2019

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani says Islamabad should account for a recent bloody terrorist attack in Iran’s southeast as the assault was plotted on and launched from Pakistani soil.

“The Pakistani government should be accountable for this act involving the grouplet orchestrating and conducting the operation from their (the Pakistanis’) territory,” Larijani said during a parliamentary session on Sunday, referring to the terrorist outfit that has claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Wednesday, an explosives-laden car rammed into a bus carrying members of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on a road in Sistan-and-Baluchestan Province, killing 27 IRGC personnel and injuring 13 others.

The so-called Jaish ul-Adl terrorist group, which is linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the assault.

“The [Iranian] Foreign Ministry and security apparatuses should seriously pursue the incident,” Larijani added. “At the current juncture, Pakistan cannot [be allowed to] act irresponsibly.”

He said that despite the “respect” Iran has for the government in neighboring Pakistani, “such behavior will severely damage the level of cooperation between the two countries.”

Several attacks have in the past targeted Iranian security forces by Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Iranian officials have stepped up their rhetoric against Pakistan in the wake of the Wednesday attack.

On Saturday, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the IRGC’s chief commander, said in unprecedented remarks that Pakistan was responsible for sheltering terrorists and called on Islamabad to change its policy toward Jaish ul-Adl.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Larijani hailed the mass participation of the Iranian nation in the rallies that marked the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

He also condemned the “hasty move” by the United States and Israel to hold an anti-Iran summit in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this week.

“What came of all of that hype was a bunch of repetitive and empty speeches, which showed how the US has turned into an instrument of a terrorist grouplet,” the parliament speaker said.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/17/588770/Iran-Larijnai-Pakistan-terrorist-attack-IRGC

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Nineteen Palestinians, Israeli soldier wounded in Gaza clashes

18 February 2019

Nineteen Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were wounded Sunday during clashes in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli army and Palestinian medical sources said.

“IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldier injured when an explosive device was thrown during Gaza riots on Israel’s border fence,” the army said on Twitter.

It added that Israeli tanks struck “two Hamas military posts in Gaza in response to the explosive device”.

In Gaza, the health ministry of the Hamas movement that runs the enclave said 19 Palestinians were wounded by live ammunition during the clashes.

Palestinians have, for nearly a year, gathered at least weekly in various spots along the Gaza border for often violent protests.

They want to be able to return to the homes their families fled from in the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948, and are calling for an end to the Jewish state’s blockade of Gaza.

At least 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since March 30, the majority during border protests but also by tank fire and air strikes.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed during the same period.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/02/18/Nineteen-Palestinians-Israeli-soldier-wounded-in-Gaza-clashes.html

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Yemen’s warring parties agree on first phase of redeployment

18 February 2019

Yemen’s government and Houthi militias have agreed on the first phase of a pullback of forces from the key city of Hodeidah, in a deal the United Nations described Sunday as important progress.

The redeployment from Hodeidah was a key provision of a ceasefire deal reached in December in Sweden, but deadlines to move forces away from the ports and parts of city have been missed.

The Red Sea port is the entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s imported goods and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions.

Following two days of talks in Hodeidah city, the government and Houthis finalized a deal on the first phase of the pullback and also agreed in principle on the second phase, a UN statement said.

The talks were led by Danish General Michael Lollesgaard as chair of a redeployment coordination committee (RCC) that includes the government and the Houthis.

“After lengthy but constructive discussions facilitated by the RCC Chair, the parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” said the UN statement.

The sides made “important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces” but no date was given to begin the demilitarization.

“The parties also agreed, in principle, on Phase 2 of the mutual redeployment, pending additional consultations within their respective leadership.”

The first phase provides for a pullback from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, Ras Issa and from parts of the city where there are humanitarian facilities.

The United Nations is hoping that a de-escalation in Hodeidah will allow desperately-needed food and medical aid to reach millions.

A new round is planned within a week to finalize details on the second phase of redeployment, the UN statement said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2019/02/18/Yemen-s-warring-parties-agree-on-first-phase-of-redeployment-.html

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Israel evicts Palestinian family from house in Jerusalem al-Quds

Feb 17, 2019

Israeli forces have forcibly evicted a Palestinian family from their home in the Old City of the Israeli-occupied Jerusalem al-Quds, where they had lived for several generations.

Citing sources, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that the Israeli forces raided Hatem Abu Assab’s family house in the Aqabat al-Khalidiya quarter of the Old City near the al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday. 

Witnesses said that the troops also physically assaulted the family’s members after they encircled and broke into the building.

Hatem’s wife, Rania, said that the Israeli forces took away his husband and son to an undisclosed location and the house was given to Israeli settlers.

“They (Israel) took my home, my memories, my dreams. They took my husband and my son. The Israeli settler is inside my home, while I’m thrown out,” Rania said.

“Israeli forces raided my home with no prior notice. We thought they came to deliver a new notice regarding our home; however, to our surprise we were given little time to abandon our home,” she added.

The family, which currently comprises nine people, has been living in this house for more than 56 years and made several appeals to the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem al-Quds and different institutions to help it stand against the Israeli decision to expel it from the house.

The Abu Assab’s family came to the Old City after it was forcibly displaced from al-Baqa’a neighborhood in western Jerusalem al-Quds in 1948 following the Deir Yassin massacre.

The development come as Tel Aviv continues with its land expropriation policies in the occupied territories in blatant defiance of international law.

About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/17/588822/Palestine-Jerusalem-alQuds-Aqabat-alKhalidiya-AlAqsa-Mosque--Hatem-Abu-Assab

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Israel clears Palestinians from Jerusalem home claimed by settlers

February 17, 2019

JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Sunday evicted a Palestinian family from their home in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, after the supreme court ruled Jewish claimants were the rightful owners.

An AFP photographer said residents of the neighborhood in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem scuffled with police, who stood guard as about a dozen Israeli settlers took possession of the large building.

A police spokesman said two people were detained.

“They disturbed police activities,” he told AFP but could not say if they were subsequently released.

Rania Abu Asab, who lived in the house with her husband, their children and his aunt, stood weeping outside as the settlers raised the Israeli flag on the roof.

“We live there, it’s my house, it’s my whole life,” she said. “They took everything.”

She said the family was compelled to leave behind all its furniture and belongings.

Ir Amim, an Israeli watchdog group which monitors settlement activity in Jerusalem, reported on February 3 that the Abu Asab family had been served an eviction notice ordering them to vacate the property by February 12.

It said family members had lived there since the 1960s.

Israeli NGO Peace Now said the home originally belonged to a Jewish family which fled during the 1948 war which accompanied Israel’s foundation.

East Jerusalem was occupied during that conflict by Jordan until the 1967 Six-Day War, when it was seized by Israel and subsequently annexed, moves never recognized by the international community.

The Abu Asab family lived until 1948 in a neighborhood it fled before eventually moving to the home in question.

Peace Now said in a statement Sunday that under an Israeli law passed in 1950 Palestinians cannot return to homes they fled in 1948.

A 1970 act, however, decreed that property in east Jerusalem abandoned by Jewish owners could be reclaimed.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1453711/middle-east

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North America

 

US man throws hot coffee on Sikh clerk, punches him thinking he is Muslim

February 17, 2019

A man was arrested on hate crime charges in the US state of California after he punched a Sikh clerk and threw hot coffee on him as he believed the victim was a Muslim, according to a media report.

The man, identified as John Crain, threw the hot coffee at the clerk then punched him in the face before fleeing just before 2 a.m. on Wednesday in Marysville, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The Sikh clerk told officers that Crain had prepared himself a cup of coffee and attempted to leave without paying, according to a Marysville Police Department press release.

He is seen in the CCTV footage confronting Crain at the front door before being attacked. The victim suffered injuries from the hot coffee, as well as a contusion on his face, police said.

Police said officers were dispatched to the same store later that afternoon for another reported assault and spotted Crain walking away from the area.

Later that day, officers responded to another assault in the area and found a suspect walking away matching the description of the man from the earlier incident. The suspect was arrested.

Crain admitted to the officers that he had assaulted the clerk during the previous night's incident.

He told police he "hated Muslims" and attacked the Sikh clerk because he believed he's Muslim. He was later booked into Yuba County Jail for theft, assault and hate crimes charges.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations and its allies from the Sikh community condemned the attack.

"We condemn this attack on an individual because of his faith. This hate crime represents yet another attack on our Sikh brothers and sisters fuelled by Islamophobia and those emboldened by this administration's xenophobic policies and sentiments," CAIR-SV's Civil Rights Attorney Saad Sweilem said in a statement.

"We welcome the hate crime charges and encourage law enforcement to continue to take these clear incidents of bias seriously."

https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/us-man-throws-hot-coffee-on-sikh-clerk-punches-him-thinking-he-is-muslim-1458353-2019-02-17

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US ‘won’t stand idly by’ as Turkey buys S-400: Pence

Feb 17, 2019

US Vice President Mike Pence has repeated warnings to Turkey against purchasing of Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems, arguing that doing so puts other members of the NATO military alliance in danger.

Pence raised the issue during a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, saying Washington would continue to pressure Ankara to call off the deal.

“We will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries,” he said. “We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East.”

The fiery remarks came a day after Turkey dismissed the first of two US deadlines to cancel the controversial purchase.

Ankara had until February 15 to respond to US requests and signal its intentions to cease with the sale, Military Times reported Sunday, citing an unnamed official.

The official said Washington was going to halt a forthcoming sale of a Patriot missile system to Ankara should the S-400 deal with Moscow proceed as planned.

“We have been clear with Turkey,” the official said. “They will not receive the Patriot if they purchase the S-400."

The Patriot sale, estimated at $3.5 billion, would include the sale of 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced and 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles, as well as the related equipment.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his country’s resolve to proceed with the Russian deal on Saturday, but also said that his country was also interested in completing the Patriot deal as long as its interests were protected.

According to Sergey Viktorovich Chemezov, the Chief Executive Officer of Russian state corporation Rostec which produces the S-400 system, Russia would supply Turkey with four batteries of S-400, worth $2.5 billion each.

The S-400 deal would also impact Turkey role in the development of the fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Turkey sources some of the parts for the program, often touted as the world’s most expensive weapon. The Pentagon has warned the US Congress  that the project could face delays should Turkey drop out.

The S-400 is designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles 400 kilometers away. It has previously been sold only to China and India.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/17/588816/US-Pence-Turkey-S400-F35-Patriot-Russia

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US: We don’t want regime to come back to N. Syria

17.02.2019

The U.S. doesn’t want the regime to control northeast Syria after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a senior official said on Sunday.

Speaking at the Munich Security conference, James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for Syria, said Washington’s goals in northeast Syria have not changed.

“They involve first of all maintaining the security in that region, which means we are not at all in favor of the regime coming back in because the regime does not promote stability, it promotes instability as we have seen in other areas”, he said.

Jeffrey also said the U.S. will not make an abrupt and rapid withdrawal of its troops from northeast Syria.

“It is going to be an orderly, step-by-step withdrawal, and at each point, at each phase, we are going to look at our underlying goals,” he said.

Turkey has long criticized the U.S. for backing the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria, which was controlled by the terrorist PKK/YPG group.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-we-don-t-want-regime-to-come-back-to-n-syria/1395624

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Back the SDF not a new international force in Syria says Arab League head

Damien McElroy

February 17, 2019

The head of the Arab League rejected suggestions that Turkish or European forces could be introduced to northern Syria with the establishment of safe zones after the withdrawal of US ground troops.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary-general, said the Syrian Democratic Forces should be supported to establish control over their own territories. He called on Damascus to “moderate its position” and effectively withdraw its stated ambition to recover the territory it still does not control.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Mr Aboul Gheit said the US troop presence in Syria was uncomfortable for the Arab League, which has a principled stance against foreign military deployments in Arab states, but that it was contributing to the stability of the area.

All sides should act “to ensure the situation would not worsen after their withdrawal”. The best means to achieve this is to rely on the SDF. “They are Syrians, they are indigenous forces inside Syria defending themselves,” he said.

The comments came moments after Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defence minister, vowed to intervene in the region to break up the control of the Kurdish YPG.

“We are there for one purpose, to get rid of terrorists, regardless of who they are, YPG [or ISIS],” he said. “We are providing the security of the people, providing the right condition for the return of the refugees.”

Referring to Turkey’s existing operations, he said Ankara had “avoided another disastrous influx of refugees”.

Geir Pedersen, the UN envoy for Syria, acknowledged that the dynamic had changed since his mandate was set out in Security Council Resolution 2254. But the demands of this “new reality” required all sides to support the relaunch of talks in Geneva as soon as possible.

“I need a new international agreement on how to move this forward based on Security Council Resolution 2254,” he said. “There is a new reality. Is it possible to get together on the Syrian file?”

James Jeffrey, the US special representative on the crisis, said Washington supported the UN efforts as the route to achieving the return of half Syria’s population, which has been displaced. “The underlying problem is the nature of this regime,” he said. “The government in Damascus is the primary reason why the international community has been seized with this issue for seven years. We’re calling for a major change in the behaviour of that regime to bring it in line with a dozen resolutions.

“We need to get on top of this through a political process.”

Elias Bou Saab, the Lebanese defence minister, said the proposed safe zone should not depend on the outcome of a power struggle between the US and Turkey.

“Any zone that is going to be put in place, the Americans are looking at it from one angle, the Turks from another,” Mr Bou Saab said. “This is going to create another problem that the world is going to have to deal with. It requires more talks and the Arabs should be involved in that situation.”

Sergey Vershinin, the Russian deputy foreign minister, endorsed a suggestion from Mr Aboul Gheit that the 1998 Adana accords should be used as a mechanism for the SDF and the Syrian government to address Turkey’s security concerns. Under the deal Turkey agreed not to invade Syria to destroy the Kurdish PKK, a group it deems a terrorist organisation, if Syria stopped backing the militants.

An intervention from Raed Al Salah, a founder of the White Helmets, was one of only two Syrian voices at a morning of discussions in Munich.

Mr Al Salah criticised the continuing failure by the outside world to get a grip on the Syrian conflict.

“We don’t need agreements to preserve human security in the Middle East, we need a change in world order,” he said. “The negative role played by international organisations is that they give the dictator the right to control the aid coming into the country.”

One of the unresolved issues of the conflict is the regime’s use of chemical weapons to shore up its position. A comprehensive report published by Germany’s Global Public Policy Institute found 336 incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria since 2012 and that 98 per cent of those had been carried out by the regime of Bashar Al Assad.

“In order to effectively disrupt the Syrian chemical weapons complex and deter their future use in Syria and other conflicts, the United States and the wider international community should directly target the military formations that would be responsible for any future attacks,” the report read. “The Syrian helicopter fleet, which has played a critical role in the delivery of conventional and chemical barrel bombs, should be a primary target.”

Full report at:

https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/back-the-sdf-not-a-new-international-force-in-syria-says-arab-league-head-1.826880

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Southeast Asia

 

PAS says supporting Dr M as PM ‘alone’ in defending Malay-Muslim interests

18 February 2019

By Zurairi AR

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — PAS said it is supporting Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to remain as prime minister until the next general election since the latter is seemingly “alone” in Pakatan Harapan (PH) in defending Malay-Muslim interests.

In a statement yesterday, party information chief Nasrudin Hassan, alleged that there is a movement to unseat Dr Mahathir as prime minister, which he said may adversely affect Islam and the Malays if successful.

“I believe Tun is stifled and uneasy with the attitudes of PH component parties especially DAP and PKR from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s team that is seen as his rival to take the prime minister post,” he said, referring to Dr Mahathir.

“Tun looks to be alone in PH in defending a few policies that involve the interests of the Muslims and Malays in Malaysian,” he added, giving the examples of the anti-racial discrimination convention ICERD, local council elections and UEC school certification.

“PAS leadership is sensing a planned movement to unseat Tun as prime minister before the upcoming 15th general election,” Nasrudin said, but did not provide any proof to back his accusation.

Yesterday, PAS confirmed it has thrown its support behind the leadership of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad until the next general election.

Its secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan said in a statement, after the party’s central committee meeting in Marang, that PAS had issued a document expressing the party’s commitment to Dr Mahathir.

PAS Election Director Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar also denied that it signed a letter agreeing not to support Umno in the Semenyih by-election, claiming it was merely a form of psychological warfare by Dr Mahathir to try and influence its outcome.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/02/18/pas-says-supporting-dr-m-as-pm-alone-in-defending-malay-muslim-interests/1724032

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A reminder to PAS leaders on truthfulness and Islam

Moaz Nair

February 18, 2019

Psychologists acknowledge that lying can be addictive and destructive, capable of destroying communities and even whole countries. Telling lies, being dishonest and receiving and giving bribes in any form are prohibited in Islam as they are evil acts that can destroy society. All religions, for that matter, are against these negative traits.

The Quran says: “In their hearts is disease, so God has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they used to lie” (2:10).

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang should stop avoiding the question of whether he gave his “blessings” for Nik Abduh Nik Aziz to lie about receiving money from Umno. Being the supreme leader of what he describes as an “Islamic party”, he should be forthright in telling the truth, and nothing but the truth, to gain respect from his followers.

This has nothing to do with being compelled to tell lies to save a victim from a criminal. It is not an issue of telling a “white lie” to prevent someone from getting hurt or to protect oneself. The issue is more serious as it involves the integrity and trustworthiness of a political party and its leaders who claim to champion Islam.

Islam clearly rejects lying and deception in all forms. The Quran says: “O you who believe! Fear God, and be with those who are true (in words and deeds)” (9:119).

Nik Abduh has reportedly admitted that he was indeed the person heard in an audio recording released last year, where he spoke about receiving funds from Umno. He said after the recording was leaked, PAS leaders, including Hadi, as reported, told him to deny that it was his voice in the clip.

PAS leaders should be reminded that it is not related to lying to save grace in this context as it involves the “transaction of money for political expediency”, as heard confessed in the video recording. The Prophet said: “Lying is not permitted except in three cases: a man speaking to his wife to make her happy; lying in times of war; and lying in order to reconcile between people” (Tirmidhi).

While these types of lying are tolerated, it is crucial not to overstep the bounds of what is and is not acceptable, what more by invoking the names of others or one’s parents to justify one’s wrong deed. This is absolutely unacceptable in Islam. The Quran is clear on this matter, too: “And when they commit an immorality, they say, ‘We found our fathers doing it, and God has ordered us to do it.’ Say, ‘Indeed, God does not order immorality. Do you say about God that which you do not know?'” (7:28).

There are reportedly speculations that the funds, if any, could be linked to a lawmaker’s allegation in 2017 that large amounts of money originating from SRC International Sdn Bhd were channelled to a former PAS member. SRC International is a former subsidiary of 1MDB, which has been embroiled in an international financial scandal.

In Islam, telling lies is tantamount to hypocrisy. “There are four characteristics, whoever has them all is a pure hypocrite, and whoever has one of them has one of the characteristics of hypocrisy, until he gives it up: when he is entrusted with something, he betrays that trust, when he speaks he lies, when he makes a covenant he betrays it, and when he disputes he resorts to obscene speech” (al-Bukhaari and Muslim).

Lies told to cover up “an act of receiving political bribes” are more evil and salacious. Hiding the truth for fear that a party or person would lose out on position by simply not being more truthful are lies concocted against God. Being truthful and trustworthy is among the greatest virtues a human can possess. Lying leads to corruption and deceit. Just look at the narratives of many politicians who have been elected as props of trust by the denizens only to be sent to jail during and towards the end of their tenure due to corruption and blatant lying. They lied to get elected and those lies swelled into other vices like embezzling government assets or engaging in illicit activities.

The Prophet said: “You must be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man will keep speaking the truth and striving to speak the truth until he will be recorded with God as a siddeeq (speaker of the truth). Beware of telling lies, for lying leads to immorality and immorality leads to hellfire. A man will keep telling lies and striving to tell lies until he is recorded with God as a liar” (Muslim).

Let this be a reminder to PAS leaders that a true Muslim leader should be known as Al Amin, or “the faithful and trustworthy” that can be commended by the community. The consequences of telling lies can cause leaders to lose their self-worth. PAS leaders claiming to represent Islam should not try to be evasive when it comes to telling the truth. They have to be reminded that being truthful is an endearing quality that should be hallowed to attain blessings from God and respect from the voters.

Full report at:

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2019/02/18/a-reminder-to-pas-leaders-on-truthfulness-and-islam/

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Can PPBM replace Umno to represent Malays and Islam?

18 February 2019

by Zainal Epi

PETALING JAYA, Feb 18 — At a time when it needs support, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) has instead come under fire from its allies in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government for accepting lawmakers who defected from Umno and its plan to spread its wings to Sabah.

The Malay-based party chaired by former Umno president of 22 years Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is now seen as attempting to “dominate” the ruling coalition, which is widely perceived to be under DAP control.

With his great experience, Dr Mahathir was given freedom in the selection of his Cabinet members, but now his image and credibility are being slowly chipped away, starting with controversies over the academic qualifications of some ministers and at least one mentri besar.

His decision to expand PPBM to Sabah has also aroused discontent.

The situation is alarming because it puts PPBM on a head-on collision course with rivals Umno and PAS in the run-up to the March 2 by-election for the Selangor state constituency of Semenyih.

The four-way fight involves independent candidate Kuan Chee Heng, who is popularly known as Uncle Kuan in the constituency, 30-year old Muhammad Aiman Zainali from PH, 58-year old Zakaria Hanafi from BN and Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul from Parti Sosialis Malaysia.

However, the real fight is between PH and BN where individual components in both coalitions compete to be recognised as the party that best represent the Malays and Islam, given near to 70 per cent of Semenyih’s 54,000-odd voters are Malays.

While BN’s Umno is aided by Islamist PAS which has considerable followers and considered as the “kingmaker” in this battle, PH’s PPBM cannot do the same with its Islamist partner Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) because the latter has yet to fully accepted by the Malay community in the country.

Still regarded as being in its infancy, PPBM has to depend on the election machinery of another ally PKR, while Chinese-majority DAP bring in the minority votes.

The ground in Semenyih is rough for a new kid on the block, because the situation is much different from a general election and local issues override national ones.

The stakes are high for PPBM despite being part and parcel of the ruling coalition because the party is now seen as attempting to dominate and expand, which worry DAP and some leaders in PKR.

Already voices of objections are raised, sarcastically questioning Dr Mahathir’s wisdom, running down the defecting Umno MPs that joined PPBM as rubbish.

This perception has made PPBM a target of envy and labelled as an untrustworthy partner may affect its campaign in Semenyih as support from its partners in PH may not be whole.

But PPBM has a stalwart ally in PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and his band of loyal followers who have already pitched tents in various locations within Semenyih to ensure the party wins Semenyih.

Whether PKR’s election machinery can match that of BN and PAS is yet to be known, but their itineraries since campaigning officially kicked off two days ago have been packed.

PPBM’s test to be on the same level if not higher than its partners in PH has begun and whether or not it can replace Umno as the party for the Malays is now being scrutinised.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/02/18/can-ppbm-replace-umno-to-represent-malays-and-islam/1724076

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Muhammadiyah to mobilize members to fight extremism

February 18, 2019

Ivany Atina Arbi

Islamic group Muhammadiyah is planning to mobilize its members to campaign for wasatiyyah (religious moderation) in a renewed attempt to stem the tide of religious extremism.

Chairman Haedar Nashir said in Bengkulu on Sunday that major Islamic organizations, including Muhammadiyah, had “neglected” the issue, resulting in the rise of intolerance and hostility toward minorities.

It is the time for major Islamic groups to “pay” for their mistake by engaging the community more and instilling the values of religious moderation, which include fairness, kindness, mutual respect and tolerance, he said. 

Muhammadiyah, which has millions of members nationwide, operates thousands of educational institutions ranging from high schools to universities throughout the country. 

“We now need to disseminate a counternarrative showcasing the tolerant and peaceful aspects of Islam to fight against rampant hoaxes and hate speech,” Haedar said.

Muhammadiyah identified three groups who are vulnerable to radical or extreme values, which will be specially addressed by its mubaligh (preachers).

The first group are the people who are economically deprived and politically marginalized and are therefore looking for a messianic figure to save them. The second group is the upper middle class who are prosperous but spiritually empty. The last group is tech-savvy millennials who have a limited understanding of religion but are heavily exposed to radical ideas on social media.  

“Muhammadiyah has quite a strong network [to instill moderate values in society]. We want to make this movement massive,” Haedar said.

The new antiextremism drive was announced on the sidelines of the Muhammadiyah leadership meeting held from Friday to Sunday in Bengkulu.

The meeting, attended by around 460 participants including executives of Muhammadiyah’s central board and leaders of the organization’s regional boards, produced a set of recommendation named “Enlightenment Treatise” that called on people to--among other things--be moderate, build peace and appreciate pluralism.

It also encouraged people to spread good literacy and avoid intolerance and hatred amid the rising use of digital technology.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who officially closed the meeting on Sunday, said Indonesian Muslims seemed to experience habluminallah (better relations with God), as more and more people go to mosques to perform and take part in pengajian (learning forums).

However, their relations among habluminannas (humans), particularly among those of a different religious or ethnic background, seemed to be deteriorating. 

Kalla noted that according to a 2014 study by George Washington University, Indonesia--as a country with the largest Muslim population--had failed to embrace the values of Islam in various aspects of politics, business, law and society as it ranked 144 out of 208 countries.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/02/17/muhammadiyah-to-mobilize-members-to-fight-extremism.html

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Pakistan

 

Domestic Violence Bill: KP govt again facing resistance from religio-political parties

Akhtar Amin

February 18, 2019

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is once again facing resistance from religio-political parties in getting the much-awaited Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Bill-2019 passed from the assembly.

The bill has been tabled for a debate before making it a law. However, this time the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government seems committed to passing the bill, which had been left by the previous government due to objections by the religio-political parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal and forwarded to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for review as per the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah.

However, the current bill has been drafted after a thorough consultation with the CII, but once again the lawmakers of religious parties opted for changes in it. The bill was tabled in the provincial assembly on February 11 to protect women from sexual, psychological and economic abuse, stalking and other connected matters. After the tabling of the bill, the JI parliamentary leader in the assembly Inayatullah Khan and JUI-F’s Maulana Lutf-ur-Rehman took the floor, asking the speaker KP Assembly Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani to avoid passage of the bill in haste.

“We are going to suggest amendments to the bill in the light of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah,” Inayatullah Khan said on the floor. Maulana Lutf-ur-Rehman called for referring the bill to a parliamentary committee to discuss it in details. He reminded that a similar bill was also introduced in Punjab Assembly, which was later withdrawn. However, Provincial Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Sultan Mohammad Khan defended the bill. He assured that the government would not show any haste in the passage of the bill. The minister invited all members of the house, particularly the opposition and women legislators, to suggest amendments for inclusion in the law if needed.

PTI MPA Asia Khattak told The News that this time the bill would not be delayed unnecessarily and passed. However, she said in the bill, the only woman was declared “victim” and added that children and other house members should also be included in the bill. However, she said the word “aggrieved person” is used for victim of domestic violence in the Sindh Domestic Violence Act-2013, which means any woman, child or any vulnerable person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent.

Furthermore, she added that penalties are linked with the already sentences as per the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), as there should be proper penalties and fines for the offenders in the bill.

“I will also raise the issue of Rs50,000 fine mentioned in the bill against the victim if she did not prove her case,” she said, adding that it should be reduced to Rs10,000 as such provision in the law would restrain the victims from filing or registering the violence case.

Under the proposed law, no person shall commit, aid and abet the commission of the act of domestic violence and any person who commits such an act shall be deemed to have committed an offence under this Act and shall be liable to be punished for such imprisonment and fine as provided for the said offence in the Pakistan Penal Code-1860.

After the commencement of the Act, the provincial government would constitute District Protection Committees at the district levels, with deputy commissioners concerned as chairperson, while executive district health officer, district social welfare officer, district public prosecutor, district police officer, four persons of civil society residing in the district and chairperson of the District Committee on Status of Women (DCSW) district concerned would be their members.

For seeking assistance under the Act, the victim or her guardian would file an application with the committee, which is bound to provide reasonable assistance to the victim.

Surprisingly, there is a penalty of Rs50,000 for a false complaint. “Any person who files or proceeds or allows to proceed a false and frivolous complaint under the Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence and shall be liable to a fine of Rs50,000,” states the proposed bill. However, it was also proposed in the bill that a breach of an order made by the court under this Act shall be deemed to be an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or fine that may extend to Rs30,000. The provincial government also needs to notify the District Committee on the Status of Women (DCSW), to which an important role has been given.

Currently, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commission on the Status of Women (KPCSW) has formed 23 DCSWs in the province years ago, but the government has yet to notify them.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/433405-domestic-violence-bill-kp-govt-again-facing-resistance-from-religio-political-parties

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Saudi Arabia inks agreements worth $20 billion with Pakistan

Feb 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia on Sunday signed eight agreements amounting up to $20 billion agreement to invest in cash-starved Pakistan.

The agreements were signed in the presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, widely known as 'MBS', who is on a two-day visit to the country.

Following the signing of the agreements, Khan said that it was a "great day for Pakistanis", adding that Saudi Arabia "has always been a friend to Pakistan, whenever it needed support," The News International reported.

The cricketer-turned-politician urged the Saudi leadership to consider relaxation for Pakistani pilgrims who go to Haj pilgrimage every year.

Last month, Saudi Arabia had agreed to provide $3 billion to Pakistan as a balance of payment support to stabilise its ailing economy besides providing oil on deferred payment for three years.

Thanking the Pakistani leadership for its hospitality, the Saudi Crown Prince remarked that his country will make investments to support cash-strapped Pakistan. He said that Pakistan has a "great future today with a great leadership".

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other ministers were present at the agreement signing ceremony.

Earlier on Sunday evening, the Saudi Crown Prince was given a red carpet welcome by PM Khan in a break of protocol. He along with his cabinet ministers welcomed the visiting dignitary.

This is Saudi Crown Prince's maiden visit to Pakistan since becoming the heir to the throne in 2017. He is accompanied by a high-level delegation, including members of the royal family, ministers and businessmen.

The Saudi Crown Prince was slated to arrive in Islamabad on Saturday, but the visit was postponed by a day. The Pakistan foreign ministry did not divulge the reason behind the change in schedule, adding that the bilateral engagements "remains unchanged".

The sudden change in the schedule came after Saudi Arabia strongly condemned Thursday's terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district that claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) outfit claimed responsibility for the attack.

Denouncing the deadly assault, Saudi Arabia on Friday reinforced its support to India against terrorism and extremism, wishing for the speedy recovery of the wounded.

After visiting Pakistan, the Saudi Crown Prince will embark on a maiden two-day visit to India beginning from February 19.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/saudi-arabia-inks-agreements-worth-20-billion-with-pakistan/articleshow/68041520.cms

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Flawed foreign policy leading country to isolation: Fazl

February 18, 2019

MARDAN: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has said that the flawed foreign policy of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government is leading the country to isolation in the comity of nations, while its economic policy is increasing poverty and indigence in the country making life harder for the poor.

Addressing the ‘million march rally’ organised by JUI-F here on Sunday, he came down hard on the PTI government and warned the rulers that any move to rollback the 18th Amendment and recognise Israel would be disastrous for the country.

Criticising the government for its failure to improve the economy despite tall claims during the election campaign, the chief of his own faction of JUI said poverty was on the steep rise with the result that life was becoming harder for the poor.

“Those who were claiming to change the very fate of the poor and bringing about revolutionary changes in their lives have now come up with hens and eggs and forgot and consigned to oblivion their glittering promises,” he said

Mr Rehman alleged that the government was conspiring to amend the law that had declared the Ahmadis as a minority and the chain of events and the stance of the government had proved it beyond any shadow of doubt that the rulers were with the enemies of Islam.

“The government is guilty of conspiring to alter the blasphemy law, setting blasphemers free and playing to western tunes, and it was due to this reason that a former elected prime minister and political leaders of the parties were sent to jail before the election,” he continued.

The JUI-F chief said his party would not allow the implementation of any foreign agenda contrary to the teachings of Islam and that his party supporters would not hesitate to render any sacrifice for upholding Khatam-i-Nabuwwat.

The JUI-F chief accused the PTI of stealing the public mandate, alleging that the last general elections were rigged in favour of Imran Khan-led party.

Regarding the Aasia Bibi case, he said it was not the legality of arrest or release of the Christian woman that was bothering the nation, but her release “under a deal” with the west.

He insisted that the PTI supported and appreciated NAB when it arrested the opposition leaders but started criticising the accountability watchdog when it began investigations against Imran Khan’s sister and Aleem Khan.

He announced that the next protest would be held on Feb 24 in Badin district of Sindh province and on Feb 28 at Nasirabad in Balocistan province.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1464484/flawed-foreign-policy-leading-country-to-isolation-fazl

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Four Pakistan soldiers killed in Balochistan attack: Report

Feb 18, 2019

NEW DELHI: Three days after the Pulwama terror strike, at least four members of the Pakistani security forces were killed in an attack on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route in Balgatar area of Balochistan, according to a report in The Balochistan Post. The report said the Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS) had claimed responsibility for the attack.

A BRAS spokesperson was quoted as saying that their fighters had attacked a Pakistani Army patrolling team and a camp at the same time on Sunday morning.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/four-pakistan-soldiers-killed-in-baloch-attack-report/articleshow/68041697.cms

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Pak claims it's fulfilling sanctions obligations against JeM

Feb 17, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday said that Jaish-e-Mohammad, which claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack, was banned in 2002 and Islamabad was fulfilling its obligations on sanctions as per the law.

At least 40 CRPF personnel were killed and five injured on Thursday in one of the deadliest terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir when a Jaish-eMohammad (JeM) suicide bomber rammed a vehicle with explosives into their bus.

Pakistan-based terror group JeM claimed responsibility for the attack on the CRPF convoy.

In a major diplomatic offensive against Islamabad after the attack, India has highlighted Pakistan's role in using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

India has slammed Pakistan for stating that it had no role in the Pulwama attack carried out by Pakistan-based terror group JeM, saying Islamabad could not claim that it was unaware of the presence of terror groups on its soil as the links of such outfits to the country were there for everyone to see.

Ministry of external affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: "JeM has claimed responsibility for the attack. The organisation and its leadership are located in Pakistan."

Pakistani ministers had shared the same podium with UN-proscribed terrorists, Kumar said.

Kumar said India demands that Pakistan should take immediate and verifiable action against terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control to create a conducive atmosphere in the region, free of terror.

But Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal rejected India's allegation that Pakistan was behind the attack.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pak-claims-to-fulfilling-sanctions-obligations-against-jem/articleshow/68039082.cms

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'Pakistan will be a very important country in coming future,' says Saudi crown prince

Sanaullah Khan

February 17, 2019

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Sunday expressed optimism about the economic future of Pakistan, saying his country had been waiting for a leadership like that of Prime Minister Imran Khan to partner with Islamabad in various areas.

Addressing a reception dinner at Prime Minister House hours after arriving in Pakistan, the crown prince — known as MBS for short — said Pakistan is a "dear country" to all Saudis and that the two countries "have walked together in tough and good times".

He said Pakistan today had a great future in store "with a great leadership", and noted that the country's GDP grew by 5 per cent in 2018.

"We believe that Pakistan is going to be a very, very important country in the coming future and we want to be sure we are part of that," the crown prince said.

Turning towards Prime Minister Khan, he said his country had been "waiting for that kind of a leadership" to partner with and "build a lot of things together".

He noted that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan today signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for investment cooperation.

"We believe the amount of that kind of investment is US $20 billion," MBS said. "It's big, for phase one."

He expressed the hope that the investment will grow to bigger numbers in the coming years and be beneficial for both the countries.

The Saudi royal said his country would collaborate with Pakistan economically, politically and in terms of security. "We believe in our region, that is why we are investing in it," he added.

"This is my first trip [to the] east since I became the crown prince and the first country [that I have visited] is Pakistan," the Saudi royal concluded.

Saudi Arabia a 'friend in need': PM

Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech welcomed the Saudi crown prince and his delegation to the country, saying the Kingdom has always been a "friend in need" to Pakistan.

"For Pakistanis, this is a great day," the premier said, adding that Saudi Arabia had always been there when Pakistan needed friends.

"I want to thank you for the way you helped us when we were in [a] bad situation," Khan told MBS, adding that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were now taking their relationship to a new level, where investment agreements would be mutually beneficial for the countries.

The investment would revolve around minerals, tourism, petrochemicals, agriculture, food processing and other areas, he said.

Prime Minister Khan also invited Riyadh to avail opportunities that can arise from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan's close links with Beijing. "It is an exciting future where we have Saudi Arabia participating in what is going to be, in the next 10 years, probably the country with the biggest GDP," he added.

Khan told MBS that if it hadn't been for security concerns, "you would have seen thousands and thousands of people on the streets welcoming you."

The prime minister's speech preceded the address of the Saudi crown prince, but once MBS finished, Khan rose again to speak about two issues.

One, he requested MBS to allow Pakistani Haj pilgrims to undergo immigration at the three major Pakistani airports before leaving for Saudi Arabia for their convenience.

Secondly, Prime Minister Khan requested the Saudi authorities to look into the hardships of the Pakistani labourers working in the Kingdom.

"There are some 3,000 [Pakistani] prisoners there and we just would like you to bear in mind that they are poor people who have left their families behind," Khan said.

Terming it a "special request", the premier asked MBS to "look upon them [Pakistani labourers] as your own people".

In response, MBS told Prime Minister Khan he could consider him the ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia.

"We cannot say no to Pakistan ... whatever we can do, we will deliver that."

MoUs for bilateral cooperation signed

Prior to the dinner, Pakistani and Saudi officials signed MoUs for bilateral cooperation in a number of areas — a process overseen by Prime Minister Khan and MBS. The agreements signed include:

Technical cooperation programme between the Saudi Standards, Metrology And Quality Organisation (SASO) and Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA)

Cooperation agreement between Saudi and Pakistani governments in the field of sports

Financing agreement for the import of Saudi goods between the Saudi Fund for Development and Pakistan

Framework MoU regarding Saudi funds' participation in the financing of power generation projects between the Saudi Fund for Development and Pakistan

MoU between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in refining and petrochemical sectors

MoU between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the field of mineral resource sector

MoU between the government of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on the development of renewable energy projects

One-on-one meeting

Prime Minister Khan also held a one-on-one meeting with the Saudi crown prince at PM House. It was followed by the inaugural session of the Saudi-Pak Supreme Coordination Council.

Co-chaired by Khan and MBS, the council was formed to put in place a high-level institutional mechanism to fast-track decisions in key areas of bilateral cooperation, and for close monitoring of their implementation, a press release issued by the Prime Minister's Office said.

The council which was originally proposed by MBS will cover areas under three pillars: political and security, economic, social and culture.

Under the council, a steering committee and joint working groups have been set up at ministerial and senior officials levels to develop frameworks of cooperation in specific projects and submit recommendations to the respective ministers.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1464413/pakistan-will-be-a-very-important-country-in-coming-future-says-saudi-crown-prince

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Pakistan offers cooperation to Iran over probe into attack

Baqir Sajjad Syed

February 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Sunday offered Iran cooperation in investigations into the deadly bombing of an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) bus.

The offer was made during a telephonic conversation between Foreign Minister Qureshi and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif. A Pakistani delegation would now travel to Tehran to discuss Iranian concerns.

This was the first high-level contact between Pakistan and Iran since the attack on the troops’ bus on Wednesday, which left 27 guards dead and another 13 injured.

The attack occurred when the troops were moving between the cities of Zahedan and Khash. The attack was claimed by Jaish al-Adl, a terrorist group.

Iranian media reported that Mr Qureshi condemned the attack, offered Pakistan government’s sympathies and expressed Islamabad’s readiness for cooperation against the militants who have been targeting Iranian troops in the region bordering the two countries.

The area has in the past witnessed several incidents and Pakistan had last year in October helped Iran recover some of the guards abducted by Jaish al-Adl.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office issued no statement on the conversation.

The Iranian foreign ministry, meanwhile, said Mr Qureshi “strongly condemn(ed) and offer(ed) condolences over the recent terrorist attack in south-eastern Iran”.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had blamed the attack on “the spying agencies of some regional and trans-regional countries”. However, IRGC accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to the group. IRGC Commander Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari alleged that the group had sanctuaries on Pakistani soil. He said Iran would retaliate against the terrorist group if Pakistan did not act.

Tempers have been running high in Tehran after the latest attack on its troops and India has tried to cash in on Iranian grievances. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday made a brief stopover in Tehran while travelling to Bulgaria.

During her meeting there she discussed the attack on IRGC bus and the one on paramilitary forces in Pulwama in India-held Kashmir.

“Iran and India suffered from two heinous terrorist attacks in the past few days [that] resulted in big casualties. Today in my meeting with Sushma Swaraj, the Indian FM, when she had a stopover in Tehran, we agreed on close cooperation to combat terrorism in the region. Enough is enough!” tweeted Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Aragchchi after the meeting.

The matter was also discussed during a meeting of Iran’s parliamentary body on National Security and Foreign Policy. Iranian official newswire IRNA quoted the spokesman for the parliamentary commission Ali Najafi Khoshravi as having said: “One of the issues that was raised in the National Security Commission today was that terrorist groups use the Pakistani territory to take actions against Iran.”

He, however, noted that Tehran understood Islamabad’s problems in controlling its border with Iran.

Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran, Riffat Masood, was summoned to Iran’s foreign ministry to receive Tehran’s protest over the attack.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1464488/pakistan-offers-cooperation-to-iran-over-probe-into-attack

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Four FC men martyred in Panjgur attack

Saleem Shahid

February 18, 2019

QUETTA: Four personnel of Frontier Corps were martyred in an attack in Panjgur district of Makran division on Sunday.

Official sources said unidentified armed men opened fire on FC personnel during the change of shifts at two check-posts located in a mountainous area on the outskirts of Panjgur town.

Confirming the incident, FC Balochistan spokesperson Khan Wasay said the four personnel suffered multiple bullet wounds and died on the spot.

Sources said that attackers took away weapons of the FC men.

Soon after receiving information about the attack security forces rushed to the scenes of the occurrences.

They shifted the bodies to the hospital and launched a search operation in the area to arrest the attackers.

The deceased were identified as Lance Naik Abdul Rehman, Sepoy Nasibullah, Sepoy Noman and Haq Nawaz.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

This is second attack on personnel of the paramilitary force in Balochistan within 24 hours. On Saturday, two FC soldiers were martyred in an attack in the town of Loralai.

Meanwhile, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani condemned the attack and expressed sorrow over the loss of lives.

He described the tragic incident a conspiracy against the peace of Balochistan and development projects in the province.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1464495/four-fc-men-martyred-in-panjgur-attack

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US-Taliban meeting in Pakistan cancelled

February 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD: An upcoming meeting in Pakistan between a delegation of the United States and Taliban representatives has been cancelled, according to information coming from both sides.

A Taliban leader confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting was cancelled, “by the Americans.” A Taliban statement issued later in the day said the talks were postponed because many members of its 14 person negotiating team were unable to go overseas since they are on “the US and UN blacklist.” Several of them are on the U.N. Security Council sanctions list which bars them from international travel.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Zalmay Khalilzad, who was supposed to lead the American delegation, is not planning to visit Islamabad this week.

The U.S. said it had not received an official invitation from the government of Pakistan for this meeting which was first announced by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid a couple of days ago.

Mujahid’s statement had set February 18 as the date of the talks and said a formal invitation had been issued by Pakistan. In addition, he said, the Taliban delegation would also meet the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

“The next round of negotiations with the Taliban will be in Pakistan, and as a result of these negotiations, there is a chance of stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry reacted strongly to the announcement of a meeting in Islamabad, saying it was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“#Afghanistan complains to #UNSecurityCouncil on #Pakistan’s engagements with the Taliban on which #Afg Govenrment is not consulted,” Tweeted Sibghatullah Admadi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign office.

Previously, Afghanistan launched a similar complaint against Russia for allowing Taliban members to travel to Moscow for a conference in which nearly 50 Afghans, including various political leaders, former jihadi commanders, and civil society activists were invited. However, the Afghan government was not invited to that conference because the Taliban have so far refused to engage with the Kabul administration despite pressure from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and others.

President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at those attending the conference saying they had no “executive authority” to make any agreements.

“Let hundreds of such meetings be held,” he said.

Some analysts say Ghani’s statements indicated his frustration at being left out of the negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban that first started last Summer. Since then, the two sides have held several rounds of talks.

The last meeting in Doha early January lasted for six days and Khalilzad said the two sides had agreed “in principle” to a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees that Afghan soil will not be used by any terrorist groups or individuals.

Speaking in a public event at Washington based United States Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said the Taliban do not want to “sit with the government alone” because they did not want to give President Ghani an advantage in the presidential elections scheduled in July.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/02/17/us-taliban-meeting-in-pakistan-cancelled/

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South Asia

 

32 killed, wounded during a clash between Afghan forces and Taliban in Faryab

18 Feb 2019

At least 32 people including Taliban militants and soldiers of the Afghan Local Police were killed or wounded during an overnight clash in Qaisar district of Faryab province.

The 209th Shaheen Corps of the Afghan Military in the North in a statement said the clash took place late on Sunday night in Arkalik Village leaving at least 17 Taliban dead including one of their prominent commanders who has been identified as Esmat Esmatyar.

The statement further added that the clash also left at least 8 Taliban militants wounded.

According to 209th Shaheen Corps, at least three Afghan Local Police soldier also lost their lives during the clash and four others sustained injuries.

The anti-government armed militants including Taliban have not commented regarding the clash so far.

Faryab is among the relatively volatile provinces in the North of the country. The security situation in some of its districts has deteriorated sharply during the recent years.

https://www.khaama.com/32-killed-wounded-during-a-clash-between-afghan-forces-and-taliban-in-faryab-03325/

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Steps to be taken for quick hearing on Jamaat petition: AG

FEBRUARY 17, 2019

Dhaka, Feb 17 (UNB) - Attorney General Mahbubey Alam on Sunday said he will take steps so that hearing on a petition filed by Jamaat-e-Islami challenging a High Court order that had cancelled its registration as a political party is held as soon as possible.

“The registration of Jamaat-e-Islam had been cancelled with the High Court verdict. A case is pending with the Appellate Division in this regard. So, the Prime Minister has rightly said that no executive order can be issued over a sub-judice matter. So, we’ll try to ensure that the matter is heard as soon as possible,” he said while talking to reporters at his office.

About the resignation of Barrister Abdur Razzak from Jamaat, the attorney general said it does not matter whether they offer apology or not for their war crimes. “However, the war crimes trial will continue.”

On Friday, Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary general Barrister Abdur Razzak sent his resignation letter from the UK to Jamaat Ameer Maqbul Ahmed as he said the party failed to apologise for its anti-liberation war role in 1971 and reform the organistion based on reality.

“The aim of a political party is to come to state power through election. How will a party join the election if it has no licence? And those who do politics without registration are called underground parties which the general people of the country don’t accept,” Mahbubey Alam said.

If any political party wants to do politics, it must have a ‘licence’ from the Election Commission, he said, adding that the case over cancelling that ‘licence’ is pending with the Appellate Division. “Hope, we’ll able to take steps as soon as possible for its hearing.”

About doing politics by Jamaat with a new name, the attorney general cited the example of Adolf Hitler, saying, “Hitler is no more. Will German people face any difficulty to understand if anyone starts politics with the ideology of Hitler? The same is applicable for Jamaat here.”

On August 1, 2013, the High Court cancelled the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami which opposed the independence of the country during the 1971 Liberation War.

Full report at:

http://unb.com.bd/category/Bangladesh/steps-to-be-taken-for-quick-hearing-on-jamaat-petition-ag/12888

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U.S. envoy for Afghan peace met with Abdullah in Kabul

17 Feb 2019

The U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Khalilzad met with the Chief Executive of the Government of National Unity Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.

According to a statement released by the Office of Chief Executive, Ambassador Khalilzad briefed Chief Executive Abdullah regarding his trips to the region and other countries as well as progress in peace talks.

The statement further added that Cheif Executive Abdullah hailed Ambassador Khalilzad and the U.S. government for their efforts in maintaining peace in Afghanistan emphasizing that peace is one of the longtime demands of the Afghan people and nothing can have more priority than to put an end to the ongoing conflict.

The U.S. Ambassador to Kabul John Bass had also attended the meeting, the Office of the Chief Executive said, adding that Mr. Abdullah also emphasized on an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and dignified peace process.

The meeting between the U.S. envoy and Chief Executive Abdullah has taken place a day before the scheduled meeting of Ambassador Khalilzad with the Taliban representatives and Pakistani officials in Islamabad.

The Taliban group had earlier confirmed that a meeting regarding peace efforts would be organized in Islamabad based on formal invitation of the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/u-s-envoy-for-afghan-peace-met-with-abdullah-in-kabul-03321/

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Africa

 

Al Shabaab resilience, diplomatic row muddle troop withdrawal from Somalia

Feb. 18, 2019

The ongoing withdrawal of troops from Somalia is raising concerns of a security vacuum that a resurgent al Shabaab will exploit.

The African Union Mission in Somalia was initially meant to deploy with 8,000 troops for just six months in 2007. However, it has had its mandate consistently renewed and expanded.

Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti and Burundi have since jointly contributed 22,000 troops. Now they are trying to scale back and hand control to a fledgling Somali government and ill-equipped military.

The first reduction of troops was done in December 2017. In line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2431 (2018), 1,000 troops will withdraw this month in the second phase.

However, recent terror attacks in Somalia have put to question the strategy. An October 2017 attack killed 587 people in Mogadishu. This month there were two attacks, with one killing nine and the second killing a military commander.

Kenya, too, continues to suffer deadly attacks, which al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for. The dusitD2 attack that killed 21 was a show of resilience by the militant group.

To make matters worse, a diplomatic row broke out on Saturday after Kenya declared Somalia an enemy state and summoned its envoy in a dramatic escalation of a long-running maritime dispute. Somalia denied offering oil and gas blocs in Kenyan territory for auction, but relations are yet to be normalised. It was not immediately clear how this would affect Kenya’s involvement with Amisom.

Last week, senior commanders of Amisom met in Mogadishu to chart the way forward ahead of the next phase of withdrawal.

AUC chairman Mousa Faki sounded the alarm in a communiqué calling for the country to be stabilised first.

“A premature withdrawal is likely to undermine the gains made over the last decade, at a great human and financial cost,” he said.

“Central to this will be predictable financing for Amisom that will make it possible for the Somali national security forces to take over primary security responsibility from Amisom.”

BURUNDI TROOPS EXIT

The latest withdrawal of troops will affect Burundian troops, who are based in Jowhar, HirShabelle State.

That they picked on Burundi forces was not a coincidence. The EU Council had in March 2016 sanctioned Burundi over human rights violations, which in effect meant they would not pay their soldiers' allowances. If they were to stay, the AU had to get donors to pay them.

This was communicated by the AU Commission to UN Support Office for Somalia in a letter dated December 19, 2018.

Recalling a meeting with the Military Operations Coordination Committee on November 18, 2018, AUC wrote: "It has been decided that Burundi National Defence Forces draw down by 1,000 troops by February 2019. The Commission would appreciate it if UNSOS, in coordination with Amisom, could facilitate the drawdown of BNDF accordingly."

Simon Mulongo, the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AUC for Somalia, said on Monday: “We need to make do with the little resources we have and implement the new ConOps [Concept of Operations] to help Amisom fulfil its mandate of securing Somalia.”

FEARS AND CONCERNS

While Western countries are pushing for a systematic withdrawal, Somalia and the region are opposed to the move.

Hirshabelle President Mohamed Abdi Waare said on February 3 if hurriedly implemented, the drawdown would leave his state vulnerable to attacks. He said there is still work to be done to ensure successful implementation of the Transition Plan.

Head of Amisom Amb Fransisco Madeira told him the transition would be systematic.

“Late last year, the Chiefs of Defence Staff of the Troop and Police Contributing Countries met and approved Amisom’s ConOps for the transition period. The document is important, as it will guide how the transition plan will be implemented,” Madeira said. Elders and chiefs, however, want the process delayed, saying Somalia's security forces cannot contain the threat from al Shabaab.

Ilya Gridneff, an international journalist covering the Horn of Africa, says the move "doesn’t sound confidence-inspiring for the 400 local police planned to be trained then deployed in Jowhar and supported by EU/UK".

Waare last Wednesday insisted the withdrawal would create a “burden” on his region’s security.

The TCCs (Troop Contributing Countries) and the Somali government also want the drawdown stopped to allow recovery of territories under control of al Shabaab and other terror groups. There is already a supremacy battle between al Qaeda-affiliated groups and Isis in some parts of Somalia.

President Mohamed Farmaajo acknowledges Somalia still has "a long way to go".

Speaking at a meeting convened by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala, he said: “I believe if we continue to collaborate with the help of the EU and the international community continues funding this operation, we will defeat al Shabaab in very short order.”

KENYA AGAINST WITHDRAWAL

President Uhuru Kenyatta is on record calling for more troops in Somalia to cushion the Kenya Defence Forces and the country from al Shabaab attacks.

“Of particular concern to us in Kenya is the curious absence of Amisom in the Gedo region. This region has now become a safe haven for al Shabaab and a launching pad for attacks against our troops and people along our common border with Somalia. It has become a critical soft belly for Kenya,” he told the Heads of State Summit for Amisom TCCs in Djibouti in February 2017.

And on BBC Hardtalk last week, Deputy President William Ruto reiterated Kenya’s commitment to the cause. Stephen Sackur asked him: “If I may shorthand it, you are telling me that your military commitment in Somalia is open-ended, indefinite?”

Ruto said: “It is indefinite until we are certain that Somalia is safe. Before then, it will be reckless for us to walk away from a threat that threatens our country.”

Patrick Gathara, who worked with Amisom until 2015, said the number being withdrawn is "only a small, partial drawdown, as happened last year".

"Amisom still retains the better part of 20,000 troops, and although there is talk of a full withdrawal by next year, this is unlikely to happen, as the Somali National Security Forces are, and will be, in no position to secure the whole country. It wouldn't be the first time such a withdrawal is contemplated but never realised," he said.

Hassan Mohamed, a former war correspondent based outside Mogadishu, also says the withdrawal of 1,000 peacekeepers will not pose a major risk to Somalia "because there will still be a strong force of 21,000 armed personnel on the ground in Somalia”.

"The withdrawal represents a 4.5 per cent drawback. This is an insignificant percentage that will not be felt on the ground, only if the 1,000 forces are equally shared among the five contingents,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that the Somalia National Army is not ready to fully secure a spot without Amisom support “because they are ill-equipped".

In May 2017 at the London Conference, Uhuru called for more soldiers rather than withdrawals.

"I urge this conference to endorse the call by the TCCs and the AU for urgent measures to support and strengthen Amisom," he said.

"This should include the upsurge of Amisom by an additional 4,000 troops to liberate areas still under the control of terrorists."

He also pushed for the provision of predictable and sustainable funding, including from the UN-assessed contributions. Uhuru in January last year criticised the withdrawal when he met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He said the best way to stabilise Somalia would be through more support for Amisom.

“I would like to call on the UN and the AU to ensure practical and realistic Amisom exit timelines that should be subjected to regular reviews,” Uhuru said in Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the 30th Ordinary Session of the AU Heads of State Summit.

In July, Guterres, wrote to the Security Council advising that the drawdown was not realistic, especially after the Mogadishu attack on October 17. That position remains.

Commanders of the African peacekeeping force have also warned that withdrawal of their troops will be premature.

The US is also opposed to the withdrawal. However, there are questions on its honesty, given UNSC resolutions are decisions taken by the countries on the Security Council (on the recommendation of the Secretary General).

Why, then, would veto-wielding permanent members such as the US agree to a resolution mandating the withdrawal if they were opposed to it?

Uganda is also not keen on leaving. Instead, it has issued a proposal to donors that would enable its troops to remain in Somalia under a new arrangement, provided they are funded.

Funding is also a key challenge in the peace process.

Djibouti President Ismail Gueleh struck a different tone. He commended the Somali government for its efforts to rebuild the Somali military and said it is now able to take care of itself.

“I think this is the time right time that Somalia could be given the responsibility. The country could not have depended on troops from foreign countries forever,” he said.

IMPACT ON REFUGEES

Many refugees who voluntarily returned say they are in a far worse position than they had been in the Daadab refugee camp, with no access to food, shelter or medicine.

And with them losing their legal refugee status, they are no longer entitled to donor or UNHCR help.

Reached for comment, UNHCR-Kenya spokesperson Yvonne Ndege said: "Safety and security in the country is paramount as is UNHCR’s access to refugee returnees and internally displaced people. Refugees may wish to return voluntarily to Somalia, and if they do, UNHCR is there to support this and ensure they are able to make an informed decision."

She further noted that all civilians, including returnees and displaced people, should never be targets of conflict and have the right to live in safety.

It, therefore, emerges that the withdrawal poses a risk that it might offer an opportunity to al Shabaab to regroup.

https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2019/02/18/al-shabaab-resilience-diplomatic-row-muddle-troop-withdrawal-from_c1889322

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Muslim clerics demand arrest, prosecution of suspects in Kaduna killings

February 17, 2019

Ibrahim Mohammed

The Council of Imams and Ulamas ‎on Sunday called on the Kaduna State Government to immediately apprehend and prosecute the masterminds of the Killings of 66 persons in Kajuru Local Government Area of the state.

The religious leaders also urged Governor Nasir El-Rufai to ensure those who carried out the killings are brought to justice

The State Chairman of the council, Ibrahim Nakaka, at a news briefing at the group’s secretariat in ‎Kaduna, said it is the responsibility of the state government to protect the lives of Muslims and other indigenes as enshrined in the Constitution.

The council alleged that attacks on Muslims communities in Southern Kaduna had become routine.

Mr Nakaka said the killing of “more than 600 persons in Zonkwa in 2011 in cold blood” remained fresh in the minds of Muslims in the state.

He said the council discouraged Muslims from revenge because Islam does not allow the taking of human lives without just cause.

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“We urge the state government to stand on its feet as the onus of securing the lives and properties of all Muslims in Kaduna State lies on the government of the state as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The chairman said the council appreciated the quick intervention of the state government to save lives and property.

He said the council supports the appeal for calm and refrain from reprisal attacks.

The Killings

Benjamin Maigari, a local who said he travelled to the area ahead of the elections, said there were two attacks: the first on the Adara people of Maro and a second, a reprisal on the Fulani in the community.

He said the reprisal claimed more lives than the initial attack.

“Towards the early hours of Monday, around 1 a.m., there was an attack on a community called Ungwar Bardi in Maro, Kajuru Local Government. The people there are predominantly Adara. So, there was an attack on them and 11 people were killed,” he said.

Full report at:

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/regional/nwest/313420-muslim-clerics-demand-arrest-prosecution-of-suspects-in-kaduna-killings.html

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5 civilians killed in Boko Haram clash with government troops

Feb 17, 2019

Five civilians were killed in fighting between government troops and Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria, locals and civilian militia said Sunday.

The deaths happened in the town of Buni Yadi, in Yobe State, on Saturday, in an attack that the military said also killed five militants and four soldiers.

Army spokesman Sagir Musa said five militants "met their Waterloo" as they attempted to overrun a military base at about 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Saturday.

At about the same time, there were attacks on military positions in Gajibo and Gajiganna, north of the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, security sources in the city said.

In Buni Yadi, local resident Aisami Lawan told AFP, "The attackers came around 5:30 pm. The fighting lasted more than two hours. A stray projectile hit one of the houses nearby, killing all five occupants. Eleven people were also injured from stray bullets and shrapnel."

The five civilians who were killed were buried on Sunday morning, he added.

A member of the Civilian Joint Task Force militia assisting the military with security confirmed the account and said Boko Haram militants were killed after the attack.

"When the terrorists turned back, a detachment of CJTF was waiting and laid ambush to them," he added.

"An officer and three soldiers have lost their lives during the encounter," he said, adding that five others were wounded.

Musa said the heavily-armed militants were in four gun trucks and two armored vehicles.

Troops seized weapons and ammunition, he added.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/02/17/588809/Nigeria-Boko-Haram-militants-soldiers-clash-collateral-damage

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Libyans, to varying degrees, celebrate 2011 uprising

February 17, 2019

BENGHAZI: Libyans are celebrating the eighth anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and killing of longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi, with the varying intensity of festivities underscoring the split between the country’s east and west.

Hundreds of people reveled Sunday in the western cities of Tripoli, Misrata and Zawiya, where bands played national songs and flags lined the streets.

But festivities were much more subdued in the country’s east, with only a few people gathering at the central courthouse in Benghazi, a city that has billed itself as the birthplace of Libya’s uprising.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1453666/middle-east

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Nigeria: Fresh Boko Haram attack kills 9

17.02.2019

At least nine people were killed as the Nigerian army repelled a Boko Haram attempt to overrun troops’ position in northeastern Buni Yadi town, officials said Sunday.

Army spokesman Sagir Musa said in a statement that the militants launched an attack on the military base in the town on Saturday evening.

“Though the terrorists appeared prepared for the attack as they approached the military location with four gun trucks, a mine resistant ambush protection, a MOWAC and assorted arms and ammunitions, they, however, suffered heavy losses as five of the bandits/terrorists were effectively deleted,” according to Musa.

He said the troops also captured heavy weapons and a motor cycle.

Musa said one officer and three soldiers were also killed in the encounter while five soldiers were wounded and are being treated.

The attack came one day after 11 persons including three suicide bombers were killed in an attack on a mosque in Maiduguri, capital city of Borno State.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/nigeria-fresh-boko-haram-attack-kills-9/1395564

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