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Islamic World News (20 Dec 2018 NewAgeIslam.Com)



Islamic State Ideology Dismantled: Observatory of Takfiri Fatwas

















File Photo - Al-Azhar Sheikdom: Observatory of Takfiri Fatwas

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Islamic State Ideology Dismantled: Observatory of Takfiri Fatwas

Islam Promotes Unity, Opposes Divisions in Society On The Basis Of Religious Beliefs, Ethnicity, Caste and Creed: Speakers at Islamic Research Institute

Government’s Move on Triple Talaq Violation of Religious Rights Guaranteed by the Constitution: Maulana Vali Rahmani

Children as Young as 10 Fight, Kill and Die in Yemen’s War

Trump to Pull Troops from Syria: 'We Have Defeated ISIS'

In Locked Compound, Muslims in China Make Clothes for US

 

Arab World

Islamic State Ideology Dismantled: Observatory of Takfiri Fatwas

ISIL Executes over 700 Inmates in Eastern Syria

Terrorists in Northern Syria Continue Plundering Artifacts

'This Is Chaos': Republican Fury, Kurdish Fear at Trump's Pullout Plan

UAE Reports 'Positive' Results from Latest Round of US-Taliban Talks

Another Saudi Commander of Terrorists Killed in Syria

Protests Continue against US-Backed Militia in Eastern Syria

Houthi drone at Sanaa airport was preparing for an attack: Arab coalition

Saudi Arabia participates in forum against terrorism

Organization of Islamic Cooperation pledges to continue supporting UN

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Pakistan

Islam Promotes Unity, Opposes Divisions in Society On The Basis Of Religious Beliefs, Ethnicity, Caste and Creed: Speakers at Islamic Research Institute

With Eye on Taliban, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan Urge Trilateral Cooperation

PTI plans disqualification reference against Zardari

Islamabad’s vote on death penalty at UN corrected

Saudi Military Alliance Not Set Up To Counter Any Country or Sect, Raheel Sharif Tells Senators

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India

Government’s Move on Triple Talaq Violation of Religious Rights Guaranteed by the Constitution: Maulana Vali Rahmani

Naseeruddin Shah Says He Fears for His Children in India of Today

NIA Searches Homes of Islamic State Suspects in Tamil Nadu

Bulandshahr violence: 4 men held for cow slaughter falsely implicated, say police

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Mideast

Children as Young as 10 Fight, Kill and Die in Yemen’s War

Bethlehem Receives Christians From All Over the World- Except Gaza

In Yemen’s Inferno of War, Child Soldiers are The ‘Firewood’

Arab Coalition issues 24 permits for ships to enter Yemeni ports

54 Palestinian kids killed, 900 others arrested by Israeli forces since Jan.: Report

Israel gives go-ahead for forced displacement of Palestinian families

Saudi fighter jets attack international airport, airbase in Yemeni capital city

Israel urges UN action over Hezbollah 'attack tunnels' from Lebanon

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North America

Trump to Pull Troops from Syria: 'We Have Defeated ISIS'

Nation of Islam Receiving Federal Cash to Teach Prisoners

Illinois Accuses 500 More Catholic Clergy of Child Sexual Abuse

Russia slams US illegal presence in Syria as ‘obstacle’ to settlement

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Southeast Asia

In Locked Compound, Muslims in China Make Clothes for US

Penang Official Moots Federal Fund For Non-Muslim Prayer Houses

Malaysia encouraging students to master a third language

MACC denies threats, interference in Tabung Haji probe

Ahead of Friday’s protest, PM says still undecided on Waytha

China responds to Indonesia’s question about alleged abuse of Xinjiang’s Muslims

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South Asia

Do We Need A Ministry For Religious Minorities In Bangladesh?

Taliban Push for Withdrawal of Foreign Troops in Two-Day Talks

A Tour through the ‘Floating Island’ That 100,000 Rohingya Refugees May Have To Call Home

Over 195 BNP-Jamaat Men Held Across Country

Cox's Bazar: Rohingya camp to be hardest hit by climate change

4 Taliban militants killed, 2 wounded in a premature IED blast in Faryab

U.S. says Military presence in Afghanistan remains conditions-based

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Europe

Over 10,000 Citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan Fought for ISIS: Reports

‘Radical Islam’ suspected in grisly murder of Scandinavian backpackers

‘UK anti-terror scheme unfairly targets children’

UK must stop fueling Saudi Arabia’s bloody war on Yemen: Charity group

Human rights court rules against Greece in Sharia law case

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Africa

Jihadists Penetrating Sub-Saharan Africa at An Alarming Rate: Researchers

Yemen's Houthis blast Sudan for planned war deployment

Gunmen kill Nigeria's ex-defence chief

Nigerian soldier killed in latest Boko Haram attack

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/islamic-state-ideology-dismantled--observatory-of-takfiri-fatwas/d/117213

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Islamic State ideology dismantled: Observatory of Takfiri Fatwas

Dec. 19, 2018

CAIRO – 19 December 2018: The Islamic State (IS) ideology has been dismantled, and its members are involved only in gang wars, according to a study issued by the monitoring unit of Dar al-Ifta's Observatory of Takfiri Fatwas and Extremist Views.

The unit analyzed the IS speeches in the past four years as part of its study to dismantle the ideology of terrorist groups.

The study referred that the IS speeches, delivered from 2014 to 2016 on jihad and expansion, have been greatly followed. These speeches have sought to show the growing strength of the military organization.

From 2017 to 2018, IS speeches focused on patience in times of war and discord, referring that its influence declined, according to the study.

The study showed that IS's 2017-2018 speeches forbade its groups from breaking away from the war instead of calling for fighting like in the 2014-2016 speeches.

As for IS attempts to regroup itself in Iraq, the observatory confirmed that its members are just involved in gang wars, and that it lost its members due to internal division, stressing that the IS is currently unable to recruit more members due to its weak media.

The study concluded that the number of IS defectors is expected to increase in the upcoming period, and the rest of the members will either join al-Qaeda or form separate extremist groups.

In the recent period, many efforts have been exerted to combat extremism and terrorist ideology in Egypt.

The Ministry of Awqaf is working at a steady pace to correct concepts and confront extremism, Chairman of the Values Committee at the Ministry of Awqaf, Sheikh JaberTaya, stated on Nov. 24.

He added that the ministry closed all parallel entities spreading the ideology of political Islam, pointing out that the ministry replaced these entities with Islamic cultural centers.

Taya referred that senior professors of Al-Azhar, who are known for their knowledge in Islamic sciences, are teaching in these centers, and that students must be university graduates with the desire and willingness to do Islamic studies.

The Ministry of Endowments launched an initiative to combat extremism and terrorism in Europe where hardliners are increasing.

The ministry will inaugurate soon an international academy for training clerics in foreign languages. These clerics will widen the ministry’s influence across the world.

Egypt is about to renew the religious discourse after all mosques have been placed under the Awqaf’s authority, according to Mohammad Mukhtar Jumaa, the minister of Awqaf (endowments).

The religious discourse can often be brought up in public spheres of life with religious figures commenting on politics and the day-to-day happenings. Whilst this is common in every religion, in recent years, Egypt has been faced with a wave of terrorism and radical, extremist thought.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has repeatedly called for renewing the religious discourse as part of the war against terrorism. In order to curb extremist ideology that was often preached by extremist figures, mosques needed to be put under the Ministry of Awqaf’s jurisdiction.

http://www.egypttoday.com/Article/2/62231/Islamic-State-ideology-dismantled-Observatory-of-Takfiri-Fatwas

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Islam Promotes Unity, Opposes Divisions in Society On The Basis Of Religious Beliefs, Ethnicity, Caste and Creed: Speakers at Islamic Research Institute

December 20, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a seminar here on Wednesday stressed that Islam is the religion of peace, unity and harmony which discourages divisions in a society on the basis of religious beliefs, ethnicity, caste and creed.

The event titled ‘Muslim Unity and Role of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in Promotion of Peace in Society’ was organized by the Islamic Research Institute (IRI) here at the Faisal Mosque Campus.

Religious Affairs Minister Noor ul Haq Qadri was chief guest on the occasion. Islamic International University (IIUI) President Dr Ahmad Yousuf Al Darwesh, who is originally from Saudi Arabia, IIUI Rector Prof Dr Masoom Yasinzai and IRI Director General Dr Ziaul Haq also spoke on the occasion. A large number of students and faculty members from the IIUI participated in the ceremony. In their addresses, the speakers called for promotion of the true message of humanity given in the ‘Madina Charter’ for salvage of the Muslims caught up in the clash of interests in Pakistan as well as different regions of the world, adding that the association of humanity with the ‘Madina Charter’ for the resolution of the issues was because it guaranteed the fundamental rights of economy, justice and education for all.

“Being Muslims, we aspire for peace in the whole world and desire progress, prosperity and welfare for the entire humanity,” Religious Affairs Minister Noor ul Haq Qadri said. “It is only through peace and unity and collective efforts that we can rid the country and the Muslim Ummah of the menaces of extremism, sectarianism and terrorism and build peaceful societies in the light of the teachings of Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him),” he said, and cited recent efforts made by Pakistan for promotion of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and Yemen. IIUI President Dr Ahmad Yousuf Al Darwesh highlighted the role being played by Saudi Arabia in promotion of peace, unity, tolerance, coexistence and diversity in the Muslim Ummah. He also discussed ways to support constructive dialogue among different cultures and religions and emphasized the importance of respecting and upholding the basic principles of justice and human rights.

“Saudi Arabia is focused on peaceful solutions to several conflicts and is undertaking various mediation efforts. The historic peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea facilitated by Saudi Arabia illustrates the role being played by Riyadh for promotion of peace,” he said. Affirming that terrorism and extremism remain a major challenge for the world, including his own country, Darwesh said an assembly of institutions has already been established by Saudi Arabia to strengthen the fight against violent extremism and terrorism.

Addressing the participants, IRI Director General Dr Zial ul Haq said Paigham-e-Pakistan initiative of the government of Pakistan was the best tool to deal with growing extremism and intolerance in the society and to encourage the youth towards positive and constructive activities in order to realise the dream of building a peaceful society. “This initiative can guarantee a safe and peaceful future for our next generations by ridding the society of hatred and prejudices,” he added. —PR

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/408305-islam-promotes-unity-opposes-divisions-in-society-speakers

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Government’s move on triple talaq violation of religious rights guaranteed by the constitution: Maulana Vali Rahmani

by Rasia Hashmi

Dec 19, 2018

Kanpur: Maulana Mohammed Vali Rahmani Ameer-e-Shariah and General Secretary All India Muslim Personal Law Board told that the move taken by the government regarding triple Talaq is the violation of religious rights guaranteed by the constitution.

Maulana Vali Rahmani was answering to a question regarding tabling of triple talaq bill in the Lok Sabha. He had arrived at Kanpur to address a function at Jamiaul Uloom and Jamia Ayesha Siddiqua. He said triple talaq is not good but it cannot be stopped by law instead it can be stopped by counselling the people in the light of religious teachings.

Maulana said presently the bill has been tabled in Lok Sabha, the Board will take the decision on the issue after the situation in Rajya Sabha becomes clear.

https://www.siasat.com/news/governments-move-triple-talaq-violation-religious-rights-guaranteed-constitution-maulana-vali-rahmani-1447669/

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Children as young as 10 fight, kill and die in Yemen’s war

December 20, 2018

MARIB, Yemen (AP) — The number etched on the bracelet around Mohammed’s wrist gave the 13-year-old soldier comfort as missiles fired from enemy warplanes shook the earth beneath him.

For two years Mohammed fought with Yemen’s Houthi rebels against a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States. He says he tortured and killed people and didn’t care whether he lived or died.

But if he died, the bracelet would guarantee his body made it home.

“When I become a martyr, they enter my number in the computer, retrieve my picture and my name, then print them with the name ‘Martyr’ underneath,” Mohammed said. It would be pasted to the lid of his coffin for return to his family.

Mohammed was among 18 former child soldiers interviewed by The Associated Press who described the Houthis’ unrelenting efficiency when it comes to the recruitment, deployment and even battlefield deaths of boys as young as 10.

While both sides in the four-year civil war have sent children into combat in violation of international human rights conventions, the Houthis are believed to have recruited many more than the coalition — often forcibly.

The Houthis have inducted 18,000 child soldiers into their rebel army since the beginning of the war in 2014, a senior Houthi military official acknowledged to the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.

That figure is higher than any number previously reported. The United Nations was able to verify 2,721 children recruited to fight for all sides in the conflict, the large majority for the Houthis, but officials say that count is likely low, because many families will not speak about the issue out of fear of reprisals from Houthi militiamen.

The Houthis say officially that they don’t recruit children and send away those who try to enlist.

Some of the children told the AP they joined the rebels willingly, mainly because of promises of money or the chance to carry a weapon. But others described being forced into the service of the Houthis — abducted from schools or homes or coerced into joining in exchange for a family member’s release from detention.

Many can be seen manning checkpoints along main roads across northern and western Yemen, AK-47s dangling from their narrow shoulders. Others are sent to the front lines as foot soldiers.

A 13-year-old named Riyadh said half of the fighters he served with on the front lines in Yemen’s mountainous Sirwah district were children. Rebel officers ordered them to push forward during battles, even as coalition jets zoomed overhead, he said.

He said he pleaded with his commander to let the young fighters take cover during airstrikes: “Sir, the planes are bombing.”

The reply, he said, was always: “Followers of God, you must attack!”

An unknown number of child soldiers have been sent home in coffins.

More than 6,000 children have died or been maimed in Yemen since the beginning of the war, UNICEF reported in October. But the U.N. agency has not been able to determine how many of those minors were combatants and the Houthi-run Defense Ministry does not release its records for casualties.

A former teacher from the city of Dhamar said that at least 14 pupils from his school were recruited and then died in battle. Their pictures were placed on empty classroom seats in 2016 during the Week of the Martyr, which the Houthis celebrate each year in February. Most of them were fifth and sixth graders, he said. An education official from Dhamar confirmed his account. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution.

The teacher said some of the dead children’s parents were Houthi leaders who willingly sent their sons to the front lines. “It’s painful because this is a child and they are all my children because I was their teacher,” he said. “They were taken from the school and returned in coffins.”

The Houthis and the coalition forces began peace talks in Sweden two weeks ago, but an end to the war appears far off. Many worry about what will become of the children who fought in the Middle East’s poorest country once a peace treaty is signed.

Naguib al-Saadi, a Yemeni human rights activist who founded a Saudi-funded counseling center in Marib for child warriors, said “the real problem with Houthi recruitment of the children will be felt in 10 years — when a generation that has been brainwashed with hatred and enmity toward the West comes of age.”

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‘FIREWOOD FOR THIS WAR’

The war began after Houthi rebels swept down from the northern highlands in late 2014, seizing the capital, Sanaa, and then pushing south. Yemen’s internationally recognized government sought help from the Saudis and other oil-rich neighbors, which formed the military coalition opposing the Houthis.

The result has been a proxy war as much as a civil war, with forces backed by the Saudis fighting the Houthis, a Zaidi-Shiite religious and political group with ties to Iran.

A report released in August by a U.N. expert panel said both sides are using child soldiers. The panel said it had information that coalition forces had targeted “particularly vulnerable children” living in displacement camps and “offered significant payments for child recruits.” The report said coalition units “frequently used children in support roles, although they have also been used in combat on the front lines.”

The panel noted that nearly two-thirds of the child soldiers identified by the U.N. in 2017 were deployed by the Houthis and their allies.

The Houthis constantly recruit new fighters because their ranks are smaller and thinned by battlefield losses. The well-funded and well-equipped coalition units have nearly 140,000 troops in the field, experts who study the war say. The Houthi military official told the AP that rebel forces have 60,000 fighters on the front lines. Outside experts estimate the Houthis’ troop strength at between 15,000 and 50,000.

Top Houthi officials heap praise on young soldiers who have died in a conflict they describe as a sacred war against America, Israel and other outside powers they believe are trying to take over the country.

Under the Houthi-controlled Defense Ministry, the rebels have pursued what they call a “national voluntary recruitment campaign.”

Brig. Gen. Yahia Sarie, a spokesman for the Houthis’ armed forces, told the AP “there is no general policy to use the children in the battles,” but he acknowledged that some young people do volunteer to join the fight.

“It’s personal initiative,” the general said. “Some of the children are motivated by the desire to take revenge, thinking it’s better to take action and fight with honor instead of getting killed inside our homes.” When they try to join, he said, Houthi leaders “send them back home.”

He dismissed the accounts from the children who spoke to the AP, saying their claims were coalition propaganda.

Children, parents, educators, social workers and other Yemenis interviewed by the AP described an aggressive campaign that targets children — and is not always completely voluntary. Houthi officials use their access to the Civil Registry Authority and other state records to gather data that allows them to narrow down their target list of the neediest families in villages and displacement camps — the ones most likely to accept offers of cash in return for recruits.

In Sanaa, the Yemeni capital under Houthi control, recruiters go door to door telling parents they must either turn over their sons or pay money for the war effort, according to residents.

The AP interviewed the 18 former child soldiers at displacement camps and a counseling center in the city of Marib, which is controlled by the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition. They had come to Marib after slipping away from rebel forces or being captured by coalition units.

Because of their ages and because some of them acknowledge committing acts of brutality, the AP is only using their first names. Some children gave themselves a nom du guerre after they joined the fighting. One 10-year-old boy, for example, called himself Abu Nasr, Arabic for “Father of Victory.”

A 13-year-old boy named Saleh told the AP that Houthi militiamen stormed his family’s home in the northern district of Bani Matar on a Saturday morning and demanded he and his father come with them to the front lines. He said his father told them, “Not me and my son” and then tried to pull his rifle on them. “They dragged him away,” the boy recalled. “I heard the bullets, then my father collapsing dead.”

Saleh said the militiamen took him with them and forced him to do sentry duty at a checkpoint 12 hours a day.

International relief agencies working on child protection programs in northern Yemen are not allowed to discuss the use of child soldiers, out of fear their agencies will be barred from delivering aid to Houthi-controlled territories, according to four aid workers who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is a taboo,” one said.

“They don’t raise the issue,” said Abdullah al-Hamadi, a former deputy education minister who defected earlier this year from the Houthi-controlled government in the north.

Al-Hamadi said the children who are targeted for recruitment are not the sons of important Houthi families or top commanders. Instead, they are usually kids from poor tribes who are being used “as firewood for this war.”

In villages and small towns, recruiters include teenagers whose brothers or fathers already work for the Houthis. They can be seen hanging around schools, handing out chewing tobacco and trying to persuade the boys to become fighters.

Several residents of Sanaa told the AP that Houthis divide the capital into security blocs, each overseen by a supervisor who must meet rolling quotas for bringing in new recruits. He collects information on the families living in his bloc by knocking on the doors of each house and asking for the number of male members, their names and ages.

“It looks random from the outside, but in reality it’s not,” a Yemeni journalist who worked in Houthi territory said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the risks of talking about the rebels. “There are teams with specific missions and clear structure.”

He and his family fled to Marib, a coalition stronghold, because he feared that the rebels would try to recruit his children.

Houthi recruiters assure families their sons won’t be assigned to battle zones, but instead will be sent to work behind the lines at roadside checkpoints. Once militiamen get hold of the children, they often instead send them to indoctrination and training camps, and then the front lines, according to two children interviewed by the AP and officials from two child protection groups. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns that the Houthis might retaliate by blocking their groups from working in Yemen.

Children interviewed by the AP said they were targeted by recruiters on soccer pitches, farms and, especially, schools.

A 12-year-old named Kahlan said Houthi militiamen drove him and 10 of his classmates away in a pickup truck, telling them they were being taken to a place where they would get new school bags.

It was a lie.

Instead, still in their school uniforms, they found themselves inside a training camp getting instructions on how to hide from airstrikes.

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‘KEY FOR HEAVEN’

New recruits are usually taken first to “culture centers” for religious courses lasting nearly a month. Instructors read aloud to the children from the lectures of the Houthi movement’s founder, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, the late brother of the current leader, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi.

The lectures, dating back to 2002, are circulated in audio and video and transcribed into booklets known as “Malazem.”

They are told they are joining a holy war against Jews and Christians and Arab countries that have succumbed to Western influence — and that if the boys die fighting, they will go to heaven. The instructors fuel the recruits’ anger with accounts of coalition attacks that have killed civilians, including an airstrike in August that hit a bus full of schoolchildren.

“When you get out of the culture center, you don’t want to go home anymore,” said Mohammed, the boy who served with the Houthis from ages 13 to 15. “You want to go to jihad.”

The recruits are then sent to military training camps in the mountains, according to several children who defected from the Houthis. By night, they sleep in tents or huts made of tree branches. By day, they learn how to fire weapons, plant explosives and avoid missiles fired by coalition jets.

From noon to sunset, the young soldiers get a daily share of the green leaves of qat, a mild stimulant that the vast majority of Yemenis chew every day. Coming from poor families, having qat is an incentive for the children, who might not be able to afford it at home.

After less than a month of boot camp, they are sent to war, wearing the bracelets that are supposed to ensure that, if they die, they are returned to their families and honored as martyrs.

The children call the inscription their “jihadi number.” Critics of the Houthis sardonically call the bracelets the children’s “key for heaven.”

Once in the battle zones, some children said, their weapons and their beliefs made them feel powerful. Others just felt frightened.

Mohammed fought in and around the city of Taiz, the scene of the war’s longest running battle.

One day, his comrades captured a coalition fighter and brought him to a bombed-out restaurant for interrogation. Mohammed, 14 at the time, said he fetched an electric generator and hooked it up to the prisoner. He sent electric shocks screaming through the man’s body, he said, as his commander questioned the captive about coalition forces’ positions.

When the questioning was over, he said, his commander gave this order: “Get rid of him.” Mohammed said he took a heavy metal tool, heated it in a flame, then swung it, caving in the back of the man’s head.

“He was my master,” Mohammed recalled. “If he says kill, I would kill.... I would blow myself up for him.”

Riyadh, the 13-year-old who fought in the Sirwah mountains, said he and his 11-year-old brother once shot and killed two enemy soldiers who had refused to lay down their weapons. But more often, he said, he closed his eyes tightly when he fired his rifle. “Honestly, when I am afraid, I don’t know where I am shooting — sometimes in the air and sometimes just randomly,” he said.

The most frightening moment came when his brother disappeared during a firefight.

“I was crying,” Riyadh recalled. “I told the commander that my brother had been martyred.”

He began turning over corpses on the battlefield, searching bloodied faces for his lost brother when he and other fighters came under fire. They fired back. Then, after some yelling back and forth, he realized the shooter was not an enemy fighter but his brother, lost in the fog of battle.

A few weeks later, Riyadh and his brother escaped, paying a truck driver to smuggle them away from the Houthi forces.

Kahlan — the schoolboy who had been lured into combat with the promise of a new book bag — was first assigned to carry boxes of food and ammunition for soldiers. Then he was deployed to fight. He and the other boys had no clothes other than their school uniforms, he said. They were so filthy many sprouted skin rashes.

Coalition aircraft screeched overhead, dropping bombs and firing missiles at Houthi positions. Afterward, trucks rumbled in to collect the dead.

“The sight of the bodies was scary,” Kahlan recalled, using his hands to pantomime how corpses were missing heads or limbs or had their intestines oozing out.

He slipped away from the Houthi camp early one morning, running from one village to another. “I was afraid to look back. I saw trees and rocks and I got more scared because they used to hide behind the trees.”

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‘LISTENING SESSIONS’

Mohammed, Riyadh and Kahlan all ended up in Marib, at a rehabilitation center for children who served as Houthi soldiers. Since September 2017, nearly 200 boys have come through the center, which was founded by the Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation and funded with Saudi money.

Mayoub al-Makhlafi, the center’s psychiatrist, said the common symptom among all the former child soldiers is extreme aggression. They suffer anxiety, panic attacks and attention deficits. Some describe being beaten by their own commanders, a staffer at the center said. She said she has also heard reports from children on both sides of the fighting about being sexually abused by officers. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of sexual abuse issues.

The center brings the children together for “listening sessions” that help them remember their lives before they were sent to war.

On his first day at the center, Mohammed said, he was terrified. He didn’t know what they would do to him there. “But then I saw the teachers and they gave me a room to stay in. I felt good after that.”

His mother lives in Taiz, in an area under Houthi control, so he can’t live with her. He has other relatives and moves from one house to another. Sometimes, he said, he sleeps in the street.

He no longer has the bracelet with the serial number that the Houthis gave him as part of their promise that he’d get a martyr’s funeral. When he defected, he said, his older brother sent him to be questioned by coalition authorities.

During the interrogation, a security officer took out a pair of scissors and cut the bracelet from Mohammed’s wrist.

https://www.apnews.com/082c0b7b6253468e97da5ee0c3f43066

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Trump to pull troops from Syria: 'We have defeated ISIS'

December 19, 2018

President Trump on Wednesday abruptly declared victory over the Islamic State in Syria and said the 2,000 U.S. troops deployed there will come home, fulfilling a major campaign promise but sparking fear abroad and bipartisan outrage at home — all while doing little to clear up America’s regional mission or the fate of its allies in the war-torn terrorist hotbed.

The unexpected move upends years of U.S. policy in Syria and carries with it serious geopolitical consequences. Skeptics warn that it opens the door for Iran and Russia to seize even more power in the region, or for the Islamic State to reconstitute itself.

Wednesday evening, Mr. Trump posted a video on Twitter reiterating his belief that America has defeated its foe. He praised the U.S. military and called the men and women who fought in Syria “great heroes of the world.”

“We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly,” the president said. “I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country. It’s a great honor. But it’s heartbreaking.

“Now we’ve won,” Mr. Trump continued. “It’s time to come back. They’re getting ready. You’re going to see them soon.”

The move was even more stunning given that Mr. Trump’s recently appointed envoy to the Syrian conflict said just days ago that American special operations forces and military advisers were staying for the long term.

The decision touched off a firestorm of opposition on both the left and the right. Critics likened it to President George W. Bush’s infamous “mission accomplished” claim on Iraq and President Obama’s insistence in 2012 that extremist groups were “on the run” in the Middle East, two years before the Islamic State rose to dominate much of Iraq and Syria. Powerful Republican senators described Mr. Trump’s withdrawal as “Obama-like,” a “retreat” and a blunder that will “haunt this administration and America for years to come.”

“The [Obama] administration showed what happens when arbitrary political deadlines — rather than reality on the ground — dictate policy in war zones,” said retiring House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, California Republican. “We must learn from the mistakes of the past, not repeat them.”

Although White House officials say it’s time for the U.S. to move to the next phase of its war against the Islamic State, military officials are much more cautious. They said Wednesday that the military campaign is not over and that much work remains to fully eradicate the terrorist group.

Other administration officials this month also seemed to warn against such a move. Brett McGurk, the administration’s point man for the international coalition against the Islamic State, said last week that it’s foolhardy to defeat the terrorist group’s “physical space and then leave.” He also said there is no firm date for a withdrawal from Syria.

White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton has said the U.S. military would remain in Syria as long as Iran-backed proxy groups are active there. That position apparently lost out to Mr. Trump’s desire for a quick withdrawal.

Obama-like retreat?

The president has frequently bashed open-ended American military quagmires in the Middle East, but foreign policy hawks in his party said the Syria withdrawal is naive and dangerous. Ultimately, they warned, the president will regret it.

“It will be an Obama-like mistake made by the Trump administration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, a Trump ally who became a chief critic of the Obama administration’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

“While American patience in confronting radical Islam may wane, the radical Islamists’ passion to kill Americans and our allies never wavers,” he said. “An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, [Syrian dictator] Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia. I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, was equally harsh and suggested that the Pentagon was overruled by the White House.

“The president’s generals have no idea where this weak decision came from,” he said. “They believe the high-fiving winners today are Iran, ISIS, and Hezbollah. The losers are Israel, humanitarian victims, and U.S. intelligence-gathering. A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented.”

Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, a longtime critic of open-ended overseas military missions, was a rare supporter of Mr. Trump’s decision among Hill Republicans.

“For the first time in my lifetime, we have a president with the courage to declare victory and bring the troops home,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We haven’t had a president in 20 or 30 years who can figure out how to declare victory.”

Administration officials rejected the accusation that Mr. Trump’s top advisers were blindsided by the presidential tweet. They insisted that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been fully involved in the decision-making process, as has Mr. Bolton.

“The president’s statements on this topic have been 100 percent consistent,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call late Wednesday afternoon. “The notion that anyone in the administration was caught unaware, I would challenge that. I really don’t see this as a surprise.”

But it’s clear there was significant daylight between the Pentagon’s position and the president’s claims of total victory.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in recent weeks that the Islamic State controls just 1 percent of the territory it once held. He stressed, however, that the group remains a potent threat to the U.S. and its allies.

Defense Department assessments have warned that the organization is morphing into a more conventional terrorist group that still boasts tens of thousands of fighters in the region.

Publicly, Pentagon officials tried to walk a fine line between backing up Mr. Trump’s declaration while stressing that the fight isn’t over.

“The coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White. “We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign.”

As Republicans bashed the decision, critics on the left mocked it. The left-wing group Think Progress circulated a piece Wednesday afternoon with the subject line “Mission accomplished,” a reference to Mr. Bush’s claim in May 2003 that the war in Iraq was won. U.S. troops would go on to fight a determined insurgency for years afterward, and the country eventually became the breeding ground for the Islamic State.

Administration officials couldn’t provide answers on how many troops have left Syria, or what the deadline will be for the evacuation. It’s also unclear whether some U.S. special operations forces could remain on the ground to conduct targeted missions.

“They’re working it right now,” an administration official said in reference to the Pentagon. “I don’t think we have those numbers. I know the process has begun.”

Mr. Obama first deployed U.S. forces into Syria to deal with the Islamic State threat, a campaign that gained significant momentum under Mr. Trump. The U.S. and its allies drove the terrorist group from its strongholds in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq. Mr. Trump also authorized direct military strikes on forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2017 after they were accused of using chemical weapons against anti-regime rebel positions.

On the ground

Mr. Trump made his announcement amid a fluid situation on the ground in Syria. The intense U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State, which began under Mr. Obama, has continued throughout the Trump tenure. From Dec. 9-15, the American-coalition conducted more than 200 strikes in Syria, according to the Pentagon.

U.S.-backed Kurdish forces also are on the verge of capturing some of the final key areas held by the Islamic State east of the Euphrates River. Victory there would mark a painful blow against the terrorist group and would nearly complete the job of winning back all physical territory once controlled by the Islamic State.

But the fight against the terrorist group is just one piece of what has become a much more complicated situation. The yearslong civil war in Syria has devastated most of the country, and Mr. Assad has found willing allies in Russia and Iran in the fight to maintain power.

Turkey has been drawn into the fight as U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish forces grew increasingly powerful in Syria’s north. Israel has been drawn into the fight as Iranian advisers and Tehran-backed Hezbollah led the fight against Syrian rebel forces operating near the Golan Heights and the Israeli-Syrian border. Russia and Iran have inserted themselves in the conflict as key supporters of Mr. Assad, and Russian mercenaries have clashed with U.S. forces and their allies on Syria’s chaotic battlefield.

Some regional analysts warn that the withdrawal of U.S. troops could spark a domino effect throughout the broader Middle East. They warn that without the presence of American troops, the Syrian Democratic Forces — a Kurdish-Arab alliance that has been a key U.S. partner in fighting the Islamic State and Mr. Assad’s army — could be overrun. The fallout won’t be limited to the security side.

“Over 90 percent of Syria oil is in area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. If Assad reconquers the country, Iran will no longer have to subsidize Assad’s oil needs, which will in turn undermine current U.S. sanction policy towards Iran,” said David Adesnik, director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Most of the viable agrarian land is in area controlled by SDF. Given Assad’s food shortage, the agricultural land represents a critical economic and political variable.”

If Mr. Trump’s withdrawal is carried out, “the U.S.-trained and -equipped SDF will have little choice but to join the Iran-Russia-Assad axis,” Mr. Adesnik said.

But other analysts said withdrawing U.S. forces is the right move now. They argue that nothing is to be gained from an open-ended mission and that Washington would be committed to an endless task of balancing the region’s hostile powers.

“The goal that got U.S. forces into Syria is essentially achieved,” said Benjamin H. Friedman, senior fellow at Defense Priorities, a think tank that advocates a more restrained foreign policy.

“The fact that none of his top security advisers seem to agree with his decision suggests the president needs better security advice,” he said.

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/dec/19/us-preparing-full-troop-withdrawal-syria-report/

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In locked compound, Muslims in China make clothes for US

Dec 19, 2018

HOTAN: Barbed wire and hundreds of cameras ring a massive compound of more than 30 dormitories, schools, warehouses and workshops in China's far west. Dozens of armed officers and a growling Doberman stand guard outside.

Behind locked gates, men and women are sewing sportswear that can end up on US college campuses and sports teams.

This is one of a growing number of internment camps in the Xinjiang region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are detained, forced to give up their language and their religion and subject to political indoctrination. Now, the Chinese government is also forcing some detainees to work in manufacturing and food industries. Some of them are within the internment camps; others are privately owned, state-subsidized factories where detainees are sent once they are released.

The Associated Press has tracked recent, ongoing shipments from one such factory inside an internment camp to Badger Sportswear, a leading supplier in Statesville, North Carolina. The shipments show how difficult it is to stop products made with forced labor from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the US Badger CEO John Anton said Sunday that the company would source sportswear elsewhere while it investigates.

Chinese authorities say the camps, which they call training centers, offer free vocational training for Uighurs, Kazakhs and others, mostly Muslims, as part of a plan to bring minorities into "a modern civilized" world and eliminate poverty in Xinjiang.

They say that people in the centers have signed agreements to receive vocational training.

The Xinjiang Propaganda Department did not respond to a faxed request for comment. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman accused the foreign media Monday of making "many untrue reports" about the training centers, but did not specify when asked for details.

"Those reports are completely based on hearsay evidence or made out of thin air," the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said at a daily briefing.

However, a dozen people who either had been in a camp or had friends or family in one told the AP that detainees they knew were given no choice but to work at the factories. Most of the Uighurs and Kazakhs, who were interviewed in exile, also said that even people with professional jobs were retrained to do menial work.

Payment varied according to the factory. Some got paid nothing, while others earned up to several hundred dollars a month, they said _ barely above minimum wage for the poorer parts of Xinjiang. A person with firsthand knowledge of the situation in one county estimated that more than 10,000 detainees _ or 10 to 20 percent of the internment population there _ are working in factories, with some earning just a tenth of what they used to earn before. The person declined to be named out of fear of retribution.

A former reporter for Xinjiang TV in exile said that during his monthlong detention last year, young people in his camp were taken away in the mornings to work without compensation in carpentry and a cement factory.

"The camp didn't pay any money, not a single cent," he said, asking to be identified only by his first name, Elyar, because he has relatives still in Xinjiang. "Even for necessities, such as things to shower with or sleep at night, they would call our families outside to get them to pay for it."

Rushan Abbas, a Uighur in Washington, D.C., said her sister is among those detained. The sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, was taken to what the government calls a vocational center, although she has no specific information on whether her sister is being forced to work.

"American companies importing from those places should know those products are made by people being treated like slaves," she said. "What are they going to do, train a doctor to be a seamstress?"

Detention camps in Xinjiang

The predominantly Muslim Uighur and Kazakh ethnic minorities in China live mostly in the Xinjiang region bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a legacy dating to ancient traders on the Silk Road. In recent decades, violent attacks by Uighur militants have killed hundreds and prompted the Chinese government to blanket Xinjiang with stifling security.

About two years ago, authorities launched a vast detention and re-education campaign. They also use checkpoints, GPS tracking and face-scanning cameras for surveillance of ethnic minorities in the region. The slightest perceived misstep can land someone in the internment camps.

Men and women in the complex that has shipped products to Badger Sportswear make clothes for privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel in a cluster of 10 workshops within the compound walls. Hetian Taida says it is not affiliated with the internment camps, but its workforce includes detainees.

As China faced growing international pressure about the detention camps, its state broadcaster aired a 15-minute report in October that featured a "vocational skills education and training center" in the southern Xinjiang city of Hotan.

"Terrorism and extremism are the common enemy of human civilization," the China Central Television program began. In response, the report said, the Xinjiang government was using vocational training to solve this "global issue."

Wu Hongbo, the chairman of Hetian Taida, confirmed that the company has a factory inside the same compound as the training center featured in the China Central Television report. Hetian Taida provides employment to those trainees who were deemed by the government to be "unproblematic," he said, adding that the center is government-operated.

"We're making our contribution to eradicating poverty," Wu told the AP over the phone.

The 20 to 30 trainees at the factory are treated like regular employees and make up a small fraction of the hundreds of people in its workforce, he said.

Trainees featured in the state television report praised the Communist Party for saving them from a criminal path.

"I don't dare to imagine what would have happened to me if I didn't come here," one Uighur student said. "The party and government found me in time and saved me. They gave me a chance to reinvent myself."

The segment said that in addition to law and Mandarin-language classes, the training center collaborated with companies to give trainees practical experience. Trainees were shown hunched over sewing machines in a factory whose interior matches that of Hetian Taida's main Hotan branch, as seen in prior Chinese media reports.

Police told the AP journalists who approached the compound earlier this month that they could not take photos or film in the area because it was part of a "military facility." Yet the entrance was marked only by a tall gate that said it was an "apparel employment training base.

Posters line the barbed-wire perimeter, bearing messages such as "Learn to be grateful, learn to be an upright person" and "No need to pay tuition, find a job easily."

Nathan Ruser, a cyber-policy researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), analyzed satellite images for the AP and found that in Hetian Taida's case, the apparel factory and the government-run training camp are connected by a fenced path.

"There are watchtowers throughout," Ruser said. "There are clear fences between the buildings and walls that limit movement.

Detainees can only access the factories area through walkways, and the entire facility is closed."

The AP could not independently determine if any workers were allowed to come and go, or how much if anything they were paid.

At least 10 times this year shipping containers filled with thousands of men's, women's and youth polyester knitted T-shirts and pants were sent to Badger Sportswear, a 47-year-old athletic gear seller. The company mostly manufactures in Nicaragua and the US, and there is no way to tell where the products from Xinjiang specifically end up. But experts say supply chains are considered tainted by forced labor and modern slavery if even one item was produced by someone forced to work.

Sprinkled on the internet are clues that repeatedly tie the company to the detention camp's sewing factory floor.

Shawn Zhang, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, noted an overlooked Hotan city social media post from February about the first batch of some 1.5 million pieces of clothing worth $400,000 heading overseas from the Hetian Taida Factory. In the middle of a photo of young women flashing the peace sign is Badger Sportswear's marketing director Ginny Gasswint, who is quoted as saying she's surprised the workers are "friendly, beautiful, enthusiastic and hardworking."

Badger Sportswear goes to university bookstores and sports teams large and small around the country, places like Charlotte Country Day School squash team in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rhode Island's Coventry Little League and Hansberry College Prep in Chicago, according to its website and advertisements. Dozens of college bookstores advertise their gear printed on Badger Sportswear, including Texas A&M, University of Pennsylvania, Appalachian State University, University of Northern Iowa, University of Evansville and Bates College. However, it's impossible to say if any particular shirt is made with forced labor.

All the teams and schools that responded to the AP condemned forced labor.

Badger chief executive Anton said Sunday that his company has sourced products from an affiliate of Hetian Taida for many years. He said about a year ago, the affiliate opened a new factory in western China. Anton confirmed Badger Sportswear officials visited the factory and have a certificate that the factory is certified by social compliance experts.

"We will voluntarily halt sourcing and will move production elsewhere while we investigate the matters raised," he said.

Badger Sportswear was acquired by New York investment firm CCMP Capital Advisor in August 2016. Since then, CCMP has acquired three more team sportswear companies, which they are managing under the umbrella of Founder Sport Group.

In recent years, Badger imported sportswear _ jerseys, T-shirts, workout pants and more _ from Nicaragua and Pakistan. But in April this year, it began importing 100 percent polyester T-shirts and pants from Hetian Taida Apparel, according to US customs data provided by ImportGenius, which analyzes consumer shipments. The address on the shipping records is the same as for the detention camp.

The US and United Nations say forced labor is a type of modern slavery, and that items made by people being exploited and coerced to work are banned from import to the US.

It's unclear whether other companies also export products made by forced labor in Xinjiang to the US, Europe and Asia. The AP found two companies exporting to the US that share approximately the same coordinates as places experts have identified as internment camps, and Chinese media reports mention "training" there. But the AP could not confirm whether the companies use forced labor.

New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, called on the Trump Administration Monday to ban imports from Chinese companies associated with detention camps.

"Not only is the Chinese government detaining over a million Uyghurs and other Muslims, forcing them to revoke their faith and profess loyalty to the Communist Party, they are now profiting from their labor," said Smith. "US consumers should not be buying and US businesses should not importing goods made in modern-day concentration camps."

Stringent state security under President Xi Jinping The detention camp system is part of China's increasingly stringent state security under President Xi Jinping. Some detainees told AP earlier this year about beating, solitary confinement and other punishments if they do not recite political songs, names and phrases. The AP has not been given access to these facilities despite repeated attempts to get permission to visit.

Not all the camps have forced labor. Many former detainees say they were held in facilities that didn't have any manufacturing equipment and focused solely on political indoctrination.

"They didn't teach me anything. They were brainwashing me, trying to make us believe how great China is, how powerful it is, how developed its economy is," said Kairat Samarkan, a Kazakh citizen who said he was tortured with a metal contraption that contorts your body before being released in February after he tried to kill himself.

Interviewees described a wave of factory openings earlier this year. Ex-detainee Orynbek Koksebek said that shortly before his release in April, the director strode into his class and announced that a factory would be built in the camp. Koksebek, who cannot speak Mandarin, listened to a policeman as he translated the director's words into Kazakh for the roughly 90 women and 15 men in the room.

"We're going to open a factory, you're going to work," Koksebek recalled him as saying. "We'll teach you how to cook, how to sew clothes, how to fix cars."

This fall, months after Koksebek's release, news began trickling into Kazakhstan that the Chinese government was starting forced labor in internment camps and would transfer some detainees out into gated, guarded factories. The workers must live in dormitories on factory grounds. Contact with family ranges from phone calls or in-person visits, to weekends at home under police surveillance.

In October, Chinese authorities acknowledged the existence of what they called vocational training centers. State media published an interview with Shohret Zahir, the governor of Xinjiang, saying that "some trainees" were nearly done with their "courses."

"We will try to achieve a seamless connection between school teaching and social employment, so that after finishing their courses, the trainees will be able to find jobs and earn a well-off life," Zahir said.

The forced labor program goes along with a massive government initiative to develop Xinjiang's economy by constructing enormous factory parks. Another internment camp the AP visited was inside a factory compound called Kunshan Industrial Park, opened under the national anti-poverty push. A local propaganda official, Chen Fang, said workers inside made food and clothes.

A hospital, a police station, smokestacks, dormitories and a building with a sign that read "House of Workers" could be seen from outside the surrounding barbed wire fencing. Another section resembled a prison, with guard towers and high walls. The AP did not track any exports from Kunshan to the US Many of those with relatives in such camps said their loved ones were well-educated with high-paying jobs before their arrest, and did not need a poverty alleviation program. Nurbakyt Kaliaskar, a sheepherder's wife in Kazakhstan, said her daughter, Rezila Nulale, 25, was a college graduate with a well-paid advertising job in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, where she lived a typical urban lifestyle with a computer, a washing machine and an apartment in the city center.

Then last August, after returning from a visit to her family across the border in Kazakhstan, Nulale vanished. She didn't answer phone calls and stopped showing up to work.

Four months later a stranger contacted Kaliaskar online and confirmed her fear: her daughter had been detained for "political training." The next spring, she said she fainted when two cases of her daughter's clothes were delivered to her home in Kazakhstan.

Last month, Kaliaskar got word via a friend who knows the family that Nulale was working in a factory next to the camp where she had been detained. The friend had heard from Kaliaskar's brother, who had visited Nulale, bringing medicine for an injured hand.

Kaliaskar learned her daughter wasn't being paid and had to meet a daily quota of three articles of clothing. She couldn't leave.

Her uncle thought she looked pale and thin.

"They say they're teaching her to weave clothes. But the thing is, she's well educated and had a job," said Kaliaskar. "What's the point of this training?"

A former detainee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect himself and his family members, said other detainees from his camp also had been forced into jobs at factories far away. They were taken to a government office and handed labor contracts for six months to five years in a distant factory, which they were required to sign.

If they ran from the factories, they were warned, they'd be taken straight back to the camps for "further education."

Farmers, herders and manual laborers with little Mandarin and no higher education say they appreciated Beijing's past initiatives to help the poor, including subsidized housing and the installation of electricity and running water. But the camps, the forced education, and the factories, they say, go too far.

"I never asked the government to find work for my husband," said Mainur Medetbek, whose husband did odd repair jobs before vanishing into a camp in February during a visit to China from their home in Kazakhstan.

She has been able to glean a sense of his conditions from monitored exchanges with relatives and from the husband of a woman who is in the same camp. He works in an apparel factory and is allowed to leave and spend the night with relatives every other Saturday. Though she's not certain how much her husband makes, the woman in his camp earns 600 yuan (about $87) a month, less than half the local minimum wage and far less than what Medetbek's husband used to earn.

Since her husband was detained, Medetbek and her children have had no reliable source of income and sometimes go hungry.

The ordeal has driven her to occasionally contemplate suicide.

"They say it's a factory, but it's an excuse for detention. They don't have freedom, there's no time for him to talk with me," she said. "They say they found a job for him. I think it's a concentration camp."

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/in-locked-compound-muslims-in-china-make-clothes-for-us/articleshow/67160056.cms

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Arab World

 

ISIL Executes over 700 Inmates in Eastern Syria

Dec 19, 2018

The London-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) quoted the local population in Eastern Syria as reporting on Wednesday that the ISIL has secretly executed over 700 defected members who had been in prison on different charges.

It added that the execution operations were carried out at ISIL bases and detention centers in the towns of al-Sha'afah, al-Souseh and Baqouz and a number of villages in Eastern Euphrates, noting that tens of other people have fled the regions occupied by the terrorist group.

According to the report, the ISIL has also transferred nearly 350 to 400 of its prisoners to Badiyeh (desert) region in Homs and Deir Ezzur.

The ISIL terrorist group is infamous for its mass-executions and killing of defected members and civilians.

In a relevant development earlier this month, over 900 bodies were discovered in a mass-grave in Albu Kamal region at the bordering areas between Iraq and Syria, among them a large number of Iraqi opponents of the ISIL terrorist group.

Commander of Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi popular forces) in al-Anbar province Qatari al-Obaidi said last Wednesday that the mass-grave of ISIL victims included more than 900 corpses, most of them Iraqis.

He added that most of the bodies belonged to the people who had been detained and kept in ISIL prisons in al-Qa'em after voicing opposition to the occupation of Western al-Anbar by the terrorists.

He added that the ISIL terrorists had transferred and executed tens of inmates at these prisons before the Iraqi security forces started military operations in Western al-Anbar.

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970928001112

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Terrorists in Northern Syria Continue Plundering Artifacts

Dec 19, 2018

SOHR said that the terrorists are excavating historical sites in Qala Afamiya, Hourtah, Um Nir and Tal Qarqour in al-Ghaab Planin in Northwestern Hama.

It further said that Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) carried out its largest excavation operation in Babsaqa region at Syria's border with Iskandaroun North of Idlib city and in Bab al-Amoud and al-Khatib regions, discovering and stealing artifacts  almost $200 mln in value.

In the meantime, the Turkistani Islamic Party has also been conducting excavations in Jisr al-Shughour, specially in Tal Qarqour West of the town of Jisr al-Shughourm, stealing artifacts over $800 mln in value.

Last week, the Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned what it said were illegal excavation works by US, French and Turkish troops as well as their local allies in areas of Syria under their control, including ancient sites at Manbij, Afrin, Idlib, Hasaka, and Raqqa.

Speaking to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), a ministry official said that there had been an increase in excavation work, looting, and theft of ancient cultural artifacts.

"These actions represent a new war crime added to the crimes committed against the Syrian people and Syrian heritage", the official said. According to Damascus, the looting of Syria's historical treasures is part of a deliberate plot by terrorist organizations and their backers to rob the Syrian people of their past and destroy the country's civilizational and cultural heritage.

The Foreign Ministry called on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to condemn the alleged violations and expose those who stand behind them.

Syria is home to some of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, and contains cultural artifacts from numerous ancient empires. Amid the war in Syria archeologists worldwide have looked on in horror as terrorists looted and destroyed priceless artifacts in areas under their control.

The Foreign Ministry statement follows remarks by Mahmoud Hammoud, director general of Syria's museums and antiquities, alleging that the US, France, and Kurdish militias were carrying out illegal excavations in northern Syria in areas under their control, including "archeological tombs in the eastern side of Manbij".

"We hope that the Syrian Army will return peace and security to all those areas soon because it's the only force capable of protecting our heritage", Hammoud stressed.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970928000668

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'This is chaos': Republican fury, Kurdish fear at Trump's pullout plan

20 December 2018

Washington: Donald Trump has declared victory over Islamic State and ordered a withdrawal of US forces from Syria in a sharp reversal of American policy that appeared to take the Pentagon by surprise and leave America's Kurdish allies in the lurch.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump said on Wednesday morning, Washington time, on Twitter.

The announcement left key details unanswered – such as a timetable for withdrawal, whether all troops would be pulled out and whether airstrikes would continue.

The decision drew bipartisan criticism from US lawmakers who said it leaves Syria's future in the hands of Moscow and Tehran, allies of President Bashar al-Assad whose intervention in the conflict averted his potential defeat in a conflict that started more than seven years ago.

"This is chaos," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said earlier on Twitter that the move would be a "boost to ISIS" and a "huge Obama-like mistake."

Graham, who has served as a key adviser to Trump and plays golf with him frequently, said he'd be meeting Defence Secretary Jim Mattis later in the day to try and understand the situation.

Mattis discussed the potential withdrawal with Trump a week ago, according to one official who declined to say how the defence chief reacted.

In a video posted on Twitter later on Wednesday, Trump said, "I get very saddened when I have to write letters or call parents or wives or husbands of soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country. It's a great honour. We cherish them. But it's heartbreaking," Trump said.

"Now we've won. It's time to come back."

Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has closely advised the Trump administration on Iran policy, said that "pulling US troops out of Syria would be a gift to Putin and to the mullahs in Tehran. And it would be a disastrous gift for the region."

The US military is working to carry out Trump's order quickly, according to one official with knowledge of the plan.

But it wasn't clear what the President's decision would mean for vulnerable Kurdish allies. Turkey – a NATO ally – views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to crush them.

Trump's order was met with silence in Ankara, where the foreign ministry and Erdogan's office refrained from making any immediate public comments on the news. Turkish officials expressed caution as the details of the US plan remained unclear.

In a White House statement after Trump's tweet, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said America has "started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign," although she didn't comment on the pace of that withdrawal.

"The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary," she added.

Taking time

As recently as Tuesday, administration officials disputed the idea that Islamic State is defeated and suggested US involvement would continue.

"If we've learnt one thing over the years, enduring defeat of a group like this means you can't just defeat their physical space and then leave," Brett McGurk, the administration's special envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS, said on December 11. "You have to make sure the internal security forces are in place to ensure that those gains, security gains, are enduring. So that will take some time."

But Trump has long pressed the military to withdraw from Syria, saying in April that he would make a decision "very quickly."

"I want to get out, I want to bring the troops back home, I want to start rebuilding our nation," Trump said at a news conference at the time. He added that "our primary mission" of fighting Islamic State is "almost completed."

Even after Trump's announcement, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said "the campaign against ISIS is not over." But she offered little insight on the withdrawal, saying in a statement that largely repeated White House talking points that "for force protection and operational security reasons we will not provide further details".

Contrasting with the president's declaration of victory, it was less than two weeks ago that Mattis said "there's more work to be done" in Syria.

Referring to veteran Islamic State fighters still holding out in the Syrian conflict, Mattis said, "That hardened core means tough fighting there plus the potential for it to try to become more influential worldwide. Influential meaning inspiring attacks by surrogates, by those who've pledged allegiance to them."

Israel's concern

Behind the scenes, Israel has supported a continuing US presence, arguing that it helps counter pro-Iranian forces such as Hezbollah. Publicly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was supportive, saying on Wednesday that he was informed of the decision by Trump on Monday.

"The American administration told me that it is the President's intention to withdraw their forces from Syria," Netanyahu said in a statement.

"They made it clear that they have other ways of expressing their influence in the area. In any case we will take care to maintain the security of Israel and to defend ourselves in this area."

Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the US plan appears to have resulted at least in part from recent talks between Trump and Erdogan.

The developments followed the State Department's decision late on Tuesday to support the sale of a American missile defense system to Turkey – an effort that had been held up by Ankara's decision to buy a competing Russian system.

Full report at:

https://www.smh.com.au/world/middle-east/this-is-chaos-republican-fury-kurdish-fear-at-trump-s-pullout-plan-20181220-p50ndm.html

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UAE reports 'positive' results from latest round of US-Taliban talks

Dec 19, 2018

The United Arab Emirates has reported tangible and positive results from the latest round of talks between the United States and Afghanistan’s Taliban militant group which was held in the capital Abu Dhabi.

The "US-Taliban reconciliation talks" produced "tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned," state news agency WAM said Wednesday.

A new round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi "to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process," the new agency said, without elaborating.

Officials from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also attended the two days of discussions, which began in the city on Monday.

The meetings are the latest in a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at putting an end to a 17-year-old war in Afghanistan which began with the US invasion in 2001.

The US State Department's special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he held "productive" meetings in Abu Dhabi with Afghan and international partners "to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict."

A peace negotiations team of the Kabul government also traveled to Abu Dhabi “to begin proximity dialogue with the Taliban delegation and to prepare for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides,” the Afghan presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said.

The Taliban, however, has not acknowledged meeting Afghan officials. The group said Tuesday they had held "preliminary talks" with Khalilzad.

The militant group also said they had held "extensive" meetings with delegates from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - the only three countries to recognize the Taliban government during its five-year rule in the late 1990s, reiterating demands for international troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/19/583426/UAE-positive-results-US-Taliban-talks

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Another Saudi Commander of Terrorists Killed in Syria

Dec 19, 2018

Ibrahim al-Adavi nom de guerre Abu Musa was gunned down by unknown raiders near the village of Safouhan in Jabal al-Zawiyah on Tuesday, the sources said.

They added that, meantime, Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) has started storming the positions of rival terrorists from the ISIL in Southern Idlib, arresting a number of them.

The sources said that fresh wave of tension has covered the town of Fua'a North of Idlib city after Tahrir al-Sham expelled the families of tens of terrorists from the town.

Last week, Al-Watan online quoted sources, affiliated to Ahrar al-Sham terrorist group which is supported by the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front, as disclosing that Tahrir al-Sham has rolled down the flag of the Turkey-backed militants from its bases and used a new black flag after a meeting in Bab al-Hawa near the border with Turkey over reforming its command structure known as the Liberation Front.

It went on to say that Tahrir al-Sham's move in defiance of the Turkish Army was considered as declaring war against the Ankara-backed militants in Northern Syria that can trigger tough battle between Tahrir al-Sham and Ankara forces in the region.

Al-Watan said that Tahrir al-Sham's move has enraged the commanders of the Ankara-backed militants, specially commanders of the National Liberation Front, who blame Tahrir al-Sham for thwarting Ankara's attempts to unite all terrorist groups under a flag in occupied regions in Northern Syria.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970928000645

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Protests Continue against US-Backed Militia in Eastern Syria

Dec 19, 2018

Tens of people in the small town of al-Shoheil in Eastern Deir Ezzur took to the main street and protested against the SDF's fuel plundering in the region.

The protestors closed off the streets and engaged in armed clash with the SDF, killing two of them and wounding several more.

The protestors further moved towards al-Umar oilfield, but, the SDF blocked their access to the oilfield, cordoning off the area.

The SFD further sent more gunmen to the regions on the outskirts of the town and kept them on alert.

People in Eastern Deir Ezzur controlled by the SDF are suffering from drinking water, electric power and fuel shortages.

The Arabic-language Moraseloun news website reported that, according to satellite images, the SDF stole Syria's oil and transferred and stored in hundreds of tankers North of Raqqa city.

It further added that the total number of the stolen tankers stands at 1,925, adding that the tankers were trafficking Syria's oil to Iraq and Turkey on a daily base.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970928000495

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Houthi drone at Sanaa airport was preparing for an attack: Arab coalition

December 19, 2018

The Saudi-led Arab coalition destroyed a drone and its launch pad on Wednesday at Sanaa International Airport.

The coalition said that the drone was in the preparation stage for its launch before it was destroyed.

Spokesperson Turki Al-Maliki said that the targeting was consistent with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, especially that all preventive measures had been taken.

The Coalition also pointed out that the Houthi militia, using Sanaa airport as a military barracks, was in violation of international humanitarian law.

Earlier on Wednesday, the coalition also accused the Houthi militia of breaking the Hodeidah agreement, warning that the ceasefire would collapse if the violations continued and the United Nations did not intervene quickly.

“The rebels have broken the agreement on 21 occasions since its entry into force on Monday night,” a coalition source told AFP. “There are indications on the ground that they chose to ignore the agreement.”

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1423016/middle-east

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Saudi Arabia participates in forum against terrorism

December 19, 2018

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia, represented by Mohammed bin Naif Center for Counseling and Care and General Directorate of Combating Extremism of the Ministry of Interior, took part in a workshop organized by the 9th session of the Global Counterterrorism Forum held in Melbourne, Australia.

The governments of Indonesia and Australia co-chaired the event. Saudi officials highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts in combating terrorism and the strategies the country has adopted to fight the menace.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1423211/saudi-arabia

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Organization of Islamic Cooperation pledges to continue supporting UN

December 19, 2018

JEDDAH: The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) welcomes the adoption of a resolution on cooperation between the UN and the OIC at the plenary session of the UN General Assembly on Dec. 13.

The resolution urges the UN system to cooperate with the OIC in areas of mutual interest and invites the UN to consider providing increased technical assistance to the OIC and its subsidiary organs.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1423191/saudi-arabia

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Pakistan

 

With eye on Taliban, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan urge trilateral cooperation

19 December 2018

Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani of Afghanistan, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, and Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi of Pakistan held the 2nd Afghanistan-China-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue in Kabul on 15 December 2018.

This is being seen as a significant development considering the prospects of US engaging in direct dialogue with the Taliban. On this occasion, China and Pakistan congratulated Afghanistan on the completion of the parliamentary elections and welcomed the efforts of the Afghan government for holding the presidential elections in 2019.

However, what transpired during this meeting has larger ramifications beyond mere pleasantries. A statement released on the occasion said that the three sides reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthening their relations, deepening cooperation, and advancing connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) and other regional economic initiatives.

“The three sides agreed to promote China-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral cooperation under the framework of jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative. The three sides reiterated their strong resolve to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and without any distinction,” said the statement.

Mutual trust

The three Foreign Ministers agreed to jointly continue their efforts for building political mutual trust and support reconciliation, development cooperation and connectivity, security cooperation and counter-terrorism as the three areas of the trilateral cooperation, said the statement.

“The three sides reiterated their support to the Afghan-owned, and Afghan led inclusive peace process that is fully supported regionally and internationally, as the most viable way to bring peace in Afghanistan,” it said.

China and Pakistan appreciated the efforts of President Ghani especially for the comprehensive peace plans that came out of the second Kabul Process and the Geneva Conferences on Afghanistan, and therefore called on the Afghan Taliban to join the peace process at an early date.

“While efforts are underway to start the peace process, the three sides call upon the parties concerned to end violence and the loss of innocent lives in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

Potential for cooperation

The three sides agreed to continue economic development cooperation in areas of mutual interest and promised to continue to implement and expand the “soft” projects such as exchange and capacity building programs and explore “hard” projects of livelihood facilities and connectivity.

“China supports enhanced coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan on major energy and connectivity projects including the construction of Quetta-Kandahar railway and Kabul-Peshawar Motorway and Railway. The three sides reiterated their firm commitment to implement the activities and projects agreed to under practical cooperation,” said the statement.

The three sides took stock of trilateral cooperation in their fight against terrorism and underlined the need to further strengthen counter-terrorism coordination and cooperation in an effort to combat all terrorist groups and individuals without any discrimination.

Countering terror

They also agreed to counter terrorist’ logistical capabilities including financing, recruitment, training, and strengthen trilateral cooperation for counter-terrorism capacity building.

All the sides expressed determination to deny terrorist use of the internet and to take joint steps for de-radicalization, as well as work together to break the nexus between narco-trade and terror financing.

To advance their cooperation in the fields of Counter-Terrorism, the three sides signed the MoU on Counter-Terrorism. The 3rd Afghanistan-China-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue would be held in Islamabad in 2019.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2018/12/19/With-eye-on-Taliban-China-Afghanistan-and-Pakistan-urge-trilateral-cooperation.html

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PTI plans disqualification reference against Zardari

Kalbe Ali

December 20, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Wednes­day that the Pakistan Teh­reek-i-Insaf (PTI) planned to file a disqualification reference in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari for concealing his assets.

“Mr Zardari has an apartment in the US but he failed to mention it in the statement of assets filed with the ECP and, therefore, is liable to be disqualified under Articles 62, 63 of the constitution,” Mr Chaudhry said at a press conference outside the Parliament House.

“The PTI has given the responsibility to Khurram Sherzaman, an MPA from Sindh, to file a reference in the ECP against Mr Zardari in a day or two.”

The PPP leader is a member of the National Assem­bly from NA-213, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sindh.

“Mr Zardari was required to declare that property under Articles 62 and 63, which he did not, therefore, he is not eligible to be a lawmaker,” the information minister said as he read out the address of the property. “Considering his reputation it is hard to believe that there would be only one apartment not acknowledged,” he added. “Scrutiny is under way in Sindh too to unearth his undeclared wealth.”

Mr Chaudhry said the PTI government was delivering on its promise of a ‘corruption-free Pakistan’ and reiterated that there was no future for Mr Zardari and Nawaz Sharif in politics.

“Investigation agencies have been given a free hand to investigate any politician, regardless of party affiliation, if their activities are suspicious,” he said.

In an apparent reference to PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, the minister said corruption investigations were initiated against some political leaders at a time when their own parties were in power. “Only that the relevant departments were stopped from further inquiries,” he added.

“We have only provided independence to the relevant departments, and all these corrupt elements are becoming zero as cases are appearing against them,” the minister said.

In reply to a question about the property owned by Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda in the UK, he said Mr Vawda had declared the property in his statement of assets filed with the ECP.

“This fuss has been created by Abid Sher Ali of the PML-N through social media and one mainstream newspaper even carried the story without confirming it,” Mr Chaudhry said.

Asked about an ongoing inquiry against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, he said the National Accountability Bureau was investigating the matter.

He said the overall perception about Pakistan was changing and the world could see that the country’s system was becoming more transparent due to the PTI’s anti-corruption stance and, as a result, foreign companies were again putting their confidence in the country.

Fawad Chaudhry said, “The difference between Prime Minister Imran Khan and previous rulers is that the current policies are based on compassion on the pattern of the state of Madina.”

Referring to repatriation of Indian spy Hamid Nehal Ansari, he said his return was an example of the government’s compassion, and recalled that the premier had asked Indian journalists who visited Pakistan to attend the Kartarpur border crossing opening ceremony to urge their government to put an end to offences committed by the state forces against Kashmiri citizens in occupied Kashmir.

“We [Pakistan and India] can talk about the Kashmir issue but the injustices being committed against Kashmiri citizens must stop,” Mr Chaudhry said.

PPP reaction

In a rejoinder to the minister’s claim about Mr Zardari owning an apartment in the US, PPP Deputy Information Secretary Munawar Anjum said, “There was a character named Saif-ur-Rehman who used to claim similar things, but later he had to kneel down before Asif Ali Zardari and seek pardon”.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1452466/pti-plans-disqualification-reference-against-zardari

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Islamabad’s vote on death penalty at UN corrected

December 20, 2018

ISLAMABAD: A senior Pakistani diplomat on Wednesday said that the United Nations had corrected Pakistan’s vote on the death penalty by including it among the votes cast against the resolution calling for a moratorium on executions.

A vote count at the UN General Assembly’s plenary session on a draft resolution calling for a moratorium on executions by all states still retaining the death penalty created a stir when Pakistan was shown as having voted for the first time in favour of the resolution.

At the voting held in New York on Monday, 121 UN member states were shown to have voted in favour of the seventh resolution calling for a moratorium on capital punishment, whereas 35 countries were said to have voted against the resolution and 32 as having abstained. This was the highest number of countries to date to have voted in favour of the moratorium resolutions since 2007.

The Foreign Office, however, clarified that Pakistan’s vote had been erroneously recorded by the UN.

FO spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal emphasised that the country had actually voted against the resolution and there was no change in Pakistan’s position on the issue.

“Pakistan, in accordance with its consistent policy, voted against the General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on execution,” Dr Faisal said.

An unofficial moratorium on the death penalty remained in place in Pakistan from 2008 till 2014.

Since the lifting of moratorium, Pakistani authorities have executed 496 convicts, accounting for 13 per cent of all global executions from 2015 to 2017, according to Justice Project Pakistan, a non-governmental organisation working for prisoners’ rights. While explaining the voting episode, the Pakistani diplomat said: “Votes on various draft resolutions at the UN General Assembly and in its main committees are recorded electronically. At times, due to technical reasons, the transmitting machines do not relay the intended vote correctly on the screen displayed in the UNGA Chamber and the meeting rooms”.

The rules of procedure allow member states to approach the department of general assembly and conference management and make necessary corrections, the diplomat said, adding that “it is a procedural matter and happens routinely. The Secretariat then records the vote change, and reflects it also in the verbatim record of the meeting”.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1452485/islamabads-vote-on-death-penalty-at-un-corrected

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Saudi military alliance not set up to counter any country or sect, Raheel Sharif tells senators

Nadir Guramani

December 19, 2018

Former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif on Wednesday denied the impression that the 41-nation Saudi-led military coalition that he heads was established to counter a specific country or sect, according to a statement issued by the Senate Secretariat.

Sharif made these remarks during the visit of a Senate delegation led by Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to the Islamic Military Counterterrorism Coalition (IMCTC) headquarters in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh.

The Senate delegation was welcomed to the IMCTC headquarters by Sharif, the coalition's commander, and General Abdul Rehman, the deputy commander.

During the visit, the former army chief briefed the Senate delegation about the performance and aims and objectives of the military alliance.

"The Islamic military coalition was not formed to take action against any country, nation or sect," Sharif was quoted as saying.

"The primary objective of this institution is to counter terrorism and eliminate it," Sharif was quoted as saying by the Senate Secretariat.

The senators during the meeting lauded the resolve and efforts of the Saudi king and government to end terrorism.

Concerns about the Saudi military alliance

The appointment of Raheel Sharif as the leader of the Saudi military alliance last year had sparked a debate over how the move will impact Pakistan's foreign policy, and whether it was fully sanctioned by the parliament.

The 41-nation armed coalition was initially proposed as a platform for security cooperation among Muslim countries and included provisions for training, equipment and troops, and the involvement of religious scholars for devising a counter-terrorism narrative.

Various quarters subsequently raised concerns about the nature of the alliance and how it may affect a pre-existing parliamentary resolution on Yemen passed unanimously by lawmakers calling for "neutrality in the conflict" in 2015.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1452379/saudi-military-alliance-not-set-up-to-counter-any-country-or-sect-raheel-sharif-tells-senators

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India

 

Naseeruddin Shah says he fears for his children in India of today

December 20, 2018

Actor Naseeruddin Shah says that he is worried for children in today's India. He's worried because he imagines a situation where his children may be surrounded by an angry mob and asked: "Are you Hindu or Muslim?"

"My children will have no answer," Naseeruddin Shah says, "Because we chose not to give a religious education to our children."

Naseeruddin Shah also says that there is a "poison" that has spread in the Indian society. "It will be very difficult to capture this djinn [genie] back into the bottle."

"There is complete impunity for those who take the law into their own hands," Naseeruddin says. "We have already witnessed that the death of a cow has more significance [in today's India] than that of a police officer."

Naseeruddin was referring to the recent Bulandshahr violence in which a police officer was killed by a mob. The violence was sparked by the discovery of cow carcasses.

The Uttar Pradesh Police has arrested three people in connection with the alleged cow slaughter. The policeman's killers remain free.

Naseeruddin Shah's comments were put online by Karwan-e-Mohabbat India (Caravan of Love), a travelling activist collective that is focussed on highlight and combating instances of hate crimes and lynching.

In a short YouTube video (you can watch the full video at the end of this story) put up by Karwan-e-Mohabbat India, Naseeruddin Shah says that he worries for his children.

"I was given a religious education...But Ratna [Pathak Shah, Naseeruddin's wife] did not get any religious education...[And] we chose not to give a religious education to our children," Naseeruddin says.

Naseeruddin adds that he believes "good and evil have nothing to do with religion" and so his children were not brought up in a religious environment.

"So I fear for my children...Because if a mob gathers around them and asks them are you a Hindu or Muslim, they will not have any answer...Because they have no religion," Naseeruddin says, before signing off with: "I am angry and I believe every right-thinking man must be angry and must not fear."

'LOW THINKING'

Expectedly, sharp reactions came in from political quarters to Naseeruddin Shah's comments.

Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant called Naseeruddin's statement "a blunder" and said that he "deplores" the actor's comments.

"If his kids are caught in a mob they should say they are Hindustani (Indians) Why are they scared?" Sawant questioned.

Rajya Sabha MP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Rakesh Sinha too reacted to Naseeruddin Shah's comments.

"Nasiruddin Shah [sic] should first ask Rohingyas to leave Hindustan as according to him India is unsafe for him and his family," Sinha said in a tweet before suggesting that Shah was becoming part of a "sinister design of anti cil [civil] society propaganda".

"His statement shows his low thinking," Sinha also said.

https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/naseeruddin-shah-children-poison-hindu-muslim-video-1413485-2018-12-20

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NIA searches homes of Islamic State suspects in Tamil Nadu

December 20, 2018

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday conducted searches at seven locations in Tamil Nadu in connection with the arrest of seven suspected Islamic State recruits from Chennai in September this year. The agency claimed the searches were conducted at the residences (three places in Chennai, three in Coimbatore and one in Trivandrum, District Villupuram) of the seven arrested accused in the case.

“During the searches conducted, a large number of digital devices including mobile phones, SIM cards, memory cards, CDs/ DVDs with religious speeches and pen drives besides unaccounted cash, books and publications with incriminating content have been seized from the residences of accused persons,” an NIA statement said.

The case was originally registered by the Coimbatore police and later transferred to NIA. According to NIA, a “criminal conspiracy” was “hatched by the accused with the intention of furthering the objectives of the proscribed terrorist organization ISIS/ Daish by targeting prominent persons from other faiths”.

The case began with the arrest of five youth from Coimbatore by the local police. These included Ashiq (25), Ismail (25) from Dindivanam, Salavuddin (25) from Otteri, Jafar Sadiq Ali (29) from Vyasarpadi near Chennai and Shamsuddin (20) from Pallavaram in Chennai.

The police statement had then said all of them were “active in defending radical Islam and posted on social media against those who criticise Islam and Prophet”.

Citing Ismail’s alleged confession, the statement had then said Ashiq had promised them help from more people for their “operation” and that Ismail had links with the Islamic State. The statement said some of the accused were members of the Indian National League (INL) — an outfit found 10 years ago with the objective of preventing Muslim youths from joining radical groups — and they also supported Islamic State’s ideology.

Asserting that the alleged conspiracy was to be carried out during the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, the police statement had said the arrests were also significant in view of the two murders in Coimbatore — that of Hindu Munnani spokesperson C Sasikumar in 2016 and of atheist H Farook in 2017. The role of radical Muslim groups is suspected in both cases.

The police had then said Ashiq, who worked at a mutton shop, was being watched for over six months since he was linked to a case under the POCSO Act for allegedly abusing schoolchildren. Among the five, the officer said, two had completed their Bachelor’s degree, one had a diploma in a technical course and others had completed school.

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/nia-searches-homes-of-islamic-state-suspects-in-tamil-nadu-5501454/

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Bulandshahr violence: 4 men held for cow slaughter falsely implicated, say police

Dec 19, 2018

Four men arrested on charges of slaughtering cows, which led to the mob violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr earlier this month that had resulted in the death of a police inspector and another person, were falsely implicated by district convener of Bajrang Dal, Yogesh Raj, police said on Wednesday.

Sarfuddin, Sajid, Asif and Nanhe, who were arrested on December 4 on the basis of a complaint lodged by Raj on December 3, will be released soon, officials said.

Raj is a key accused in the violence in Syana area of Bulandshahr during which police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a villager Sumit Kumar were killed. He is yet to be arrested.

Bulandshahr’s senior superintendent of police (SSP) Prabhakar Chowdhary said their innocence was established after three people, Kala, Nadeem and Raees, were arrested on Tuesday.

“These three men, along with four others (still on the run), were involved in cow slaughter in Mahaw village. Recovery of the carcasses dumped by them led to the violence resulting in the death of inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and Sumit,” he said.

Chowdhary said efforts were on to arrest the four absconding men, including the main accused Harun.

“We have ample evidence against the people arrested on Tuesday. A four-wheeler, knives, rope and a licensed double-barrel gun, which belonged to Nadeem, have been recovered. Nadeem’s gun was used to shoot stray cows in the jungle before slaughtering them,” he said.

“We will submit a report under Section 169 of the CrPC (release of accused due to deficient evidence) for their release,” the SSP said.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/lucknow/bulandshahr-violence-4-muslim-men-held-for-cow-slaughter-falsely-implicated-say-police/story-27ox68jDggyYrTBibRIf9M.html

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Mideast

 

Bethlehem receives Christians from all over the world- except Gaza

19 December 2018

Bethlehem announced that it was done with preparations for Christmas celebrations, and was ready to receive tourists and visitors on Monday. However, the Israeli authorities will not grant Christians in the Gaza Strip travel permits to visit the holy city this year, nor will they allow them to visit their relatives in Jerusalem or anywhere in the West Bank, according to a human rights organization.

The Middle East Concern organization, which is concerned with defending the rights of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, said that Israel rejected all requests by the Christians of Gaza for permits to enter Bethlehem, except for ‘people over 55 years of age,’ which constituted only 400 permits.

However, it pointed out that Israel had accepted many permit requests by Christians from Gaza before Christmas in the past years. Especially the ones that were presented by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, which in 2016 received more than 600 permits during Christmas celebrations.

A few days ago, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities confirmed that Bethlehem is witnessing an unprecedented number of tourists before Christmas; which it considered “the most prosperous in the history of the city” that Christians believe witnessed the birth of Jesus. They confirmed that “all hotels in Bethlehem are fully booked.”

This year’s celebrations occur amid a harsh humanitarian situation for the Palestinians. On Monday, the UN and the Palestinian authorities had launched an appeal to raise 350 million dollars to provide humanitarian aid supplies to Palestinians for 2019. However, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Wednesday cuts in food aid affecting about 190,000 impoverished Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank - half of all its recipients there, citing a severe funding shortfall.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2018/12/19/Bethlehem-receives-Christians-from-all-over-the-world-except-Gaza.html

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In Yemen’s inferno of war, child soldiers are the ‘firewood’

December 19, 2018

MARIB: The number etched on the bracelet around Mohammed’s wrist gave the 13-year-old soldier comfort as missiles fired from enemy warplanes shook the earth beneath him.

For two years Mohammed fought with Yemen’s Houthi militias against a military coalition backed by the US. He says he tortured and killed people and didn’t care whether he lived or died.

But if he died, the bracelet would guarantee his body made it home.

“When I become a martyr, they enter my number in the computer, retrieve my picture and my name, then print them with the name ‘Martyr’ underneath,” Mohammed said. It would be pasted to the lid of his coffin for return to his family.

Mohammed was among 18 former child soldiers interviewed by The Associated Press who described the Houthis’ unrelenting efficiency when it comes to the recruitment, deployment and even battlefield deaths of boys as young as 10.

The Houthis have inducted 18,000 child soldiers into their militia since the beginning of the war in 2014, a senior Houthi military official acknowledged to the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.

That figure is higher than any number previously reported. The UN was able to verify 2,721 children recruited to fight for all sides in the conflict, the large majority for the Houthis, but officials say that count is likely low, because many families will not speak about the issue out of fear of reprisals from Houthi militiamen.

Abdullah Al-Hamadi, a former deputy education minister who defected earlier this year from the Houthi-controlled government in the north, said the children who are targeted for recruitment are not the sons of important Houthi families or top commanders. Instead, they are usually kids from poor tribes who are being used “as firewood for this war.”

In villages and small towns, recruiters include teenagers whose brothers or fathers already work for the Houthis. They can be seen hanging around schools, handing out chewing tobacco and trying to persuade the boys to become fighters.

Some of the children told the AP they joined the terrorists willingly, mainly because of promises of money or the chance to carry a weapon. But others described being forced into the service of the Houthis — abducted from schools or homes or coerced into joining in exchange for a family member’s release from detention.

Many can be seen manning checkpoints along main roads across northern and western Yemen, AK-47s dangling from their narrow shoulders. Others are sent to the front lines as foot soldiers.

A 13-year-old named Riyadh said half of the fighters he served with on the front lines in Yemen’s mountainous Sirwah district were children. Rebel officers ordered them to push forward during battles, even as coalition jets zoomed overhead, he said.

He said he pleaded with his commander to let the young fighters take cover during airstrikes: “Sir, the planes are bombing.”

The reply, he said, was always: “Followers of God, you must attack!”

An unknown number of child soldiers have been sent home in coffins.

More than 6,000 children have died or been maimed in Yemen since the beginning of the war, UNICEF reported in October. But the UN agency has not been able to determine how many of those minors were combatants and the Houthi-run Defense Ministry does not release its records for casualties.

A former teacher from the city of Dhamar said that at least 14 pupils from his school were recruited and then died in battle. Their pictures were placed on empty classroom seats in 2016 during the Week of the Martyr, which the Houthis celebrate each year in February. Most of them were fifth and sixth graders, he said. An education official from Dhamar confirmed his account. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution.

The teacher said some of the dead children’s parents were Houthi leaders who willingly sent their sons to the front lines. “It’s painful because this is a child and they are all my children because I was their teacher,” he said. “They were taken from the school and returned in coffins.”

Naguib Al-Saadi, a Yemeni human rights activist who founded a Saudi-funded counseling center in Marib for child warriors, said “the real problem with Houthi recruitment of the children will be felt in 10 years — when a generation that has been brainwashed with hatred and enmity toward the West comes of age.”

The Houthis constantly recruit new fighters because their ranks are smaller and thinned by battlefield losses. The well-funded and well-equipped coalition units have nearly 140,000 troops in the field, experts who study the war say. The Houthi military official told the AP that rebel forces have 60,000 fighters on the front lines. Outside experts estimate the Houthis’ troop strength at between 15,000 and 50,000.

Top Houthi officials heap praise on young soldiers who have died in a conflict they describe as a sacred war against America, Israel and other outside powers they believe are trying to take over the country.

Under the Houthi-controlled Defense Ministry, the rebels have pursued what they call a “national voluntary recruitment campaign.”

Brig. Gen. Yahia Sarie, a spokesman for the Houthis’ armed forces, told the AP “there is no general policy to use the children in the battles,” but he acknowledged that some young people do volunteer to join the fight.

“It’s personal initiative,” the general said. “Some of the children are motivated by the desire to take revenge, thinking it’s better to take action and fight with honor instead of getting killed inside our homes.” When they try to join, he said, Houthi leaders “send them back home.”

He dismissed the accounts from the children who spoke to the AP, saying their claims were coalition propaganda.

Children, parents, educators, social workers and other Yemenis interviewed by the AP described an aggressive campaign that targets children — and is not always completely voluntary. Houthi officials use their access to the Civil Registry Authority and other state records to gather data that allows them to narrow down their target list of the neediest families in villages and displacement camps — the ones most likely to accept offers of cash in return for recruits.

In Sanaa, the Yemeni capital under Houthi control, recruiters go door to door telling parents they must either turn over their sons or pay money for the war effort, according to residents.

The AP interviewed the 18 former child soldiers at displacement camps and a counselling center in the city of Marib, which is controlled by the Arab coalition. They had come to Marib after slipping away from rebel forces or being captured by coalition units.

Because of their ages and because some of them acknowledge committing acts of brutality, the AP is only using their first names. Some children gave themselves a nom du guerre after they joined the fighting. One 10-year-old boy, for example, called himself Abu Nasr, Arabic for “Father of Victory.”

A 13-year-old boy named Saleh told the AP that Houthi militiamen stormed his family’s home in the northern district of Bani Matar on a Saturday morning and demanded he and his father come with them to the front lines. He said his father told them, “Not me and my son” and then tried to pull his rifle on them. “They dragged him away,” the boy recalled. “I heard the bullets, then my father collapsing dead.”

Saleh said the militiamen took him with them and forced him to do sentry duty at a checkpoint 12 hours a day.

International relief agencies working on child protection programs in northern Yemen are not allowed to discuss the use of child soldiers, out of fear their agencies will be barred from delivering aid to Houthi-controlled territories, according to four aid workers who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is a taboo,” one said.

Several residents of Sanaa told the AP that Houthis divide the capital into security blocs, each overseen by a supervisor who must meet rolling quotas for bringing in new recruits. He collects information on the families living in his bloc by knocking on the doors of each house and asking for the number of male members, their names and ages.

“It looks random from the outside, but in reality it’s not,” a Yemeni journalist who worked in Houthi territory said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the risks of talking about the rebels. “There are teams with specific missions and clear structure.”

He and his family fled to Marib, a coalition stronghold, because he feared that the rebels would try to recruit his children.

Houthi recruiters assure families their sons won’t be assigned to battle zones, but instead will be sent to work behind the lines at roadside checkpoints. Once militiamen get hold of the children, they often instead send them to indoctrination and training camps, and then the front lines, according to two children interviewed by the AP and officials from two child protection groups. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns that the Houthis might retaliate by blocking their groups from working in Yemen.

Children interviewed by the AP said they were targeted by recruiters on soccer pitches, farms and, especially, schools.

A 12-year-old named Kahlan said Houthi militiamen drove him and 10 of his classmates away in a pickup truck, telling them they were being taken to a place where they would get new school bags.

It was a lie.

Instead, still in their school uniforms, they found themselves inside a training camp getting instructions on how to hide from airstrikes.

New recruits are usually taken first to “culture centers” for religious courses lasting nearly a month. Instructors read aloud to the children from the lectures of the Houthi movement’s founder, Hussein Badr Eddin Al-Houthi, the late brother of the current leader, Abdul-Malek Al-Houthi.

The lectures, dating back to 2002, are circulated in audio and video and transcribed into booklets known as “Malazem.”

They are told they are joining a holy war against Jews and Christians and Arab countries that have succumbed to Western influence — and that if the boys die fighting, they will go to heaven.

“When you get out of the culture center, you don’t want to go home anymore,” said Mohammed, the boy who served with the Houthis from ages 13 to 15. “You want to go to jihad.”

The recruits are then sent to military training camps in the mountains, according to several children who defected from the Houthis. By night, they sleep in tents or huts made of tree branches. By day, they learn how to fire weapons, plant explosives and avoid missiles fired by coalition jets.

From noon to sunset, the young soldiers get a daily share of the green leaves of qat, a mild stimulant that the vast majority of Yemenis chew every day. Coming from poor families, having qat is an incentive for the children, who might not be able to afford it at home.

After less than a month of boot camp, they are sent to war, wearing the bracelets that are supposed to ensure that, if they die, they are returned to their families and honored as martyrs.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1423136/middle-east

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Arab Coalition issues 24 permits for ships to enter Yemeni ports

19 December 2018

The Arab Coalition supporting the legitimate Yemeni government announced that it has issued 24 permits for ships headed to Yemeni ports on Wednesday.

The coalition said that those ships are carrying oil derivatives and foodstuffs.

Their statement added that they also issued 35 air permits, four land permits, and 169 permits for the protection of convoys.

The total number of permits reached 232 within four days.

They stated that one ship has been waiting to enter Hodeidah’s port for the past five days.

Meanwhile, the coalition said it struck a Houthi air base next to Sanaa’s international airport earlier on Wednesday, destroying a rocket launcher and a drone that was preparing to carry out an attack.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2018/12/19/Arab-Coalition-issues-24-permits-for-ships-to-enter-Yemeni-ports-.html

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54 Palestinian kids killed, 900 others arrested by Israeli forces since Jan.: Report

Dec 20, 2018

A report by a Palestinian human rights center reveals that Israeli forces have killed at least 54 Palestinian children and arrested over 900 others since the beginning of 2018.

The human rights center reported that 80 percent of the children were killed during demonstrations in the so-called buffer zone in the Gaza strip.

The report also condemned what it described as Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian children’s rights.

According to the group’s investigation, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Study and Documentation, Israel's rights violation is not limited to trial of children in military courts, but it starts from the moment of arrest.

The report said Israelis carry out interrogation sessions in which children are often handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and insulted.

The latest child victim, from Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, was only four years old.

Since the beginning of 2018, more than 310 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, almost all unarmed civilians, the report added.

The report almost confirms an earlier toll announced by renowned children rights NGO Defense for Children International – Palestine, which said last month the Israeli military troopers had shot and killed more than 50 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip so far this year.

https://www.presstv.com/detail/2018/11/19/580531/palestine-israel-children-defense-for-children-gaza-west-bank

In late October, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said the occupying Israeli army “has been deliberately targeting and killing Palestinian children.”

"This is a clear war crime in violation of international law and international humanitarian law,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO's executive committee, said on Oct. 29.

“Israel's continuous campaign of excessive and indiscriminate violence against the people of Gaza has persisted with impunity and has been emboldened by the US administration's strategic alliance with Israel,” she added.

Nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces ever since anti-occupation protest rallies began in the Gaza Strip on March 30. Over 22,000 Palestinians have also sustained injuries.

The Gaza clashes reached their peak on May 14, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), which coincided this year with the US embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/20/583437/Israel-children-Palestine-human-rights-Gaza

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Israel gives go-ahead for forced displacement of Palestinian families

Dec 19, 2018

Israeli lawmakers have initially approved a piece of legislation that gives the go-ahead for the forced displacement of the family members of Palestinians accused of launching anti-Israel attacks.

The Wednesday approval is expected to enable the forced displacement within the West Bank of the family members of the Palestinians allegedly attacking Israeli forces.

A statement from the Israeli parliament noted the bill was voted 69-38 in a stormy session, during which Arab lawmakers were expelled from the chamber for “disrupting procedures”.

The bill would enable the Israeli regime to expel family members from one West Bank location to another within seven days of an attack, or attempted attack, by their relative.

It will now be debated and voted upon in the parliament's foreign and defense committee, before returning to the chamber for final readings by lawmakers.

The move was initiated by Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s rightist party Jewish Home, which described Wednesday's vote "a huge step in the right direction" aimed at "ensuring the security of Israel".

The regime's ministry of judicial affairs, however, said such legislation would violate both Israeli and international law.

"There is legal prevention from advancing this proposed legislation," the ministry said in a statement on Monday. "In addition, this proposal creates significant difficulties in the international arena."

Even if passed, the legislation could subsequently be blocked if a legal challenge is launched successfully at the regime’s high court.

Another disputed bill, also tabled by the Jewish Home party, was on Wednesday approved in a preliminary reading by 61 votes to 47.

The bill is aimed at legalizing unauthorized housing within settlements recognized as lawful by Israel.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/19/583430/Palestine-Israel-West-Bank-displacement

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Saudi fighter jets attack international airport, airbase in Yemeni capital city

Dec 19, 2018

Saudi military aircraft have carried out a string of airstrikes against the Sana'a International Airport and al-Dailami airbase in the Yemeni capital city as the Riyadh regime presses ahead with its atrocious aerial bombardment campaign against its impoverished southern neighbor.

An unnamed military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Yemen’s Arabic-language al-Masirah television network that the Saudi jets launched three attacks against the strategic sites on Wednesday afternoon, without providing any information about the extent of damage caused.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi claimed in a statement, carried by Saudi Arabia’s state-run al-Ekhbariya television news network, that it had targeted an unmanned aerial vehicle, and “destroyed the aircraft that was in the process of preparing to be launched.”

The airstrikes are the first of their kind ever since delegates from the Houthi Ansarullah movement and Saudi-backed Hadi loyalists agreed on a truce for the port city of Hudaydah following UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden last week.

Also on Wednesday, a Saudi reconnaissance drone was seen hovering in the skies over al-Tuhayat district in Yemen’s western coastal province of Hudaydah.

Separately, Saudi warplanes mounted four airstrikes against al-Mazraq area in the Harad district of the northwestern Yemeni province of Hajjah. There were no immediate reports about possible casualties and the extent of damage caused.

Furthermore, Yemeni army soldiers and allied fighters from Popular Committees carried out an offensive against several positions of Saudi mercenaries in the Nihm district of Sana’a province, leaving scores of the militiamen dead and injured.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating military campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the aim of bringing the government of Hadi back to power and crushing Ansarullah movement.

According to a new report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, the Saudi-led war has so far claimed the lives of around 56,000 Yemenis.

The Saudi-led war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN has already said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger. According to the world body, Yemen is suffering from the most severe famine in more than 100 years.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/19/583394/Saudi-fighter-jets-attack-international-airport-airbase-in-Yemeni-capital-city

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Israel urges UN action over Hezbollah 'attack tunnels' from Lebanon

December 19, 2018

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday Hezbollah had shut down plants to develop precision-guided missiles but was imperiling Lebanon with a cross-border tunnel network he deemed "an act of war".

Netanyahu spoke hours before the UN Security Council was due to discuss Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese group, and appeared aimed at swaying world powers to order stronger intervention by UN peacekeepers.

Israel deems Hezbollah, against which it fought an inconclusive war in 2006, its most potent foe. Israeli forces have repeatedly struck suspected Hezbollah arms transfers via Syria during its civil war, but avoid such action in Lebanon.

Israel and the United States believe Hezbollah has sought homegrown production of precision-guided missiles that could paralyse Israeli civilian infrastructure.

Addressing the United Nations on Sept. 7, Netanyahu identified three such plants around Beirut airport - a disclosure that Lebanon's foreign minister, a political ally of Hezbollah, dismissed at the time as fabricated.

"The underground sites for precision conversion of missiles, which (Israeli) military intelligence gave me, to expose, those sites were closed," Netanyahu told a conference on Wednesday.

"They are trying to open other sites," he said, without elaborating. Hezbollah hoped to have thousands of precision-guided missiles by now but instead had "at most, a few dozen", according to Netanyahu.

In a separate speech to parliament, Netanyahu focused on four tunnels uncovered this month, whose presence were confirmed by UNIFIL peacekeepers and which Israel says were to be used for infiltrations of its northern villages.

Hezbollah has not commented on the tunnels.

"This is not merely an act of aggression. It is an act of war," Netanyahu said.

Lebanon is fully committed to the UN resolution that ended the 2006 war, its Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry called on the Lebanese army "to take all necessary measures to ensure (the resolution) is well implemented in coordination with UNIFIL forces, especially in light of the tensions at the border in recent days."

It added that it had not seen any "engineering works" being done on its side of the border.

Netanyahu accused UNIFIL of inaction, saying Hezbollah's rocket arsenal has grown tenfold since 2006 and that every third home in southern Lebanon was being used by the guerrillas.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1423081/middle-east

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North America

 

Nation of Islam receiving federal cash to teach prisoners

December 20, 2018

The Nation of Islam and its leaders have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. government since 2008 to teach religious study programs for federal prison inmates, according to records reviewed by the Washington Examiner.

A black nationalist group led by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam preaches that white people are “blue-eyed devils” and Jews are “the synagogue of Satan." Its leaders have received at least $364,500 in contracts and awards from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2019.

The funding was designed to provide "Nation of Islam religious services," "Nation of Islam spiritual guide services," "Nation of Islam study services," and other related programming led by the organization’s leaders, according to Bureau of Prison records. The Nation of Islam has been labeled a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

New York Republican Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told the Washington Examiner the funding was "beyond the pale."

He said: "Categorically, no group or entity or individual associated any way with Farrakhan or the Nation of Islam should receive any federal funding. What Farrakhan preaches is hatred and anti-Semitism and racism, and to use any federal money for any group that’s he’s involved with that do any type of teaching or proselytizing is just wrong."

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/nation-of-islam-receiving-federal-cash-to-teach-prisoners

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Illinois accuses 500 more Catholic clergy of child sexual abuse

20.12.2018

The Catholic Church in the US state of Illinois failed to properly investigate at least 500 priests accused of sexually abusing children, the Illinois attorney general said Wednesday.

The preliminary report issued by Attorney General Lisa Madigan reveals that the scope of sexual abuse accusations against the Catholic Church in Illinois is far greater than previously acknowledged.

The six dioceses in Illinois had previously identified 185 clergy members credibly accused of sexually abusing children, but the attorney general found that in the case of an additional 500 members facing similar accusations the Church failed to properly investigate or did not investigate at all.

"By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors,  parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois," Madigan said in a statement. "The failure to investigate also means that the Catholic Church has never made an effort to determine whether the conduct of the accused priests was ignored or covered up by superiors."

It was unclear when the abuses occurred. Some of the cases date back decades and include accused predator priests who are now deceased.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, expressed regret but said that the Church had taken steps to investigate sexual abuse and support those who suffered at the hands of the clergy.

"I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse. It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history," he said in a statement.

"There can be no doubt about the constant need to strengthen our culture of healing, protection, and accountability. While the vast majority of abuses took place decades ago, many victim-survivors continue to live with this unimaginable pain," he continued.

The investigation represents a new blow to the Church as it struggles to respond to worldwide allegations of clergy child sexual abuse over several decades.

In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report claimed that more than 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over seven decades in that state.

In October, US federal authorities launched an investigation into clergy abuse.

Full report at:

https://www.dw.com/en/illinois-accuses-500-more-catholic-clergy-of-child-sexual-abuse/a-46811502

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Russia slams US illegal presence in Syria as ‘obstacle’ to settlement

Dec 19, 2018

Russia has slammed the "illegal" presence of US troops in Syria as "a dangerous obstacle" to finding a peace settlement.

"From being a factor in the fight against terrorism, the illegal American presence in Syria is becoming a dangerous obstacle to the path to a settlement," Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a news briefing on Wednesday.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.

The US has long been accused of providing safe passage and logistical support to the Takfiri terrorists, who have been fighting to topple the Damascus government since early 2011.

Currently, American military forces maintain a significant presence in Syria’s north, where they openly support the anti-Damascus Kurdish militants.

The US and its allies have also been running an illegal bombing campaign against what is claimed to be Daesh positions. Those raids have done little to uproot terrorism and, instead, hampered Syrian army advances against Takfiri militants on numerous occasions.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/19/583415/Russia-US-presence-Syria

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Southeast Asia

 

Penang official moots federal fund for non-Muslim prayer houses

20 December 2018

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 20 ― Putrajaya should create a fund for Non Islamic Places of Worship (RIBI) modelled after Penang’s system, state executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo said.

The local government, housing development and town and country planning committee chairman said Penang has a RIBI fund to help eligible non-Islamic places worship in the state.

“We are the first in the country to set up this fund so the federal government can follow Penang’s funding model for RIBI to set up a similar fund for RIBIs in the whole country,” he said in a press conference after presenting an allocation of RM32,742.80 to St Paul’s Church here.

Penang’s RIBI fund was started in 2016 by accumulating contributions from developers that are required to pay a sum in lieu of building such prayer houses in their projects.

Jagdeep said the federal government could set up a similar fund to help all RIBIs in the country.

“We can share with the federal government on how to set up such a fund and allocate it to eligible places of worship,” he said.

Since 2016, a total RM4.9 million was allocated to 136 RIBIs in the state.

Jagdeep said the fund is allocated to RIBIs that need assistance for restoration and repair works.

“Even after disbursing RM4.9 million, we still have a balance of RM3.8 million so RIBIs in the state can still apply for funding,” he said.

Between 2016 and 2018, the RM4.8 million was paid out to 110 temples, 20 churches and six gurdwaras.

Today, Jagdeep presented the allocation for St Paul’s Church that was damaged due to the November 5 floods in 2017.

https://www.malaymail.com/s/1704809/penang-official-moots-federal-fund-for-non-muslim-prayer-houses

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Malaysia encouraging students to master a third language

19 Dec 2018

BANGI, Selangor: Malaysia's Education Minister Maszlee Malik said on Tuesday (Dec 18) that his ministry was committed to seeing Malaysians master a third or even fourth language, including Arabic.

The education ministry is collaborating with various parties at both local and international levels to strengthen efforts towards getting students to learn a foreign language, he told Bernama after delivering his speech at an event for World Arab Language Day 2018 in Selangor.

“In 2011, the Malaysian education ministry had undertaken a comprehensive review of the country's education system as part of its plans to develop a new education plan for the country," said the minister.

"Towards this, the ministry had underlined 11 main measures to transform the country's education system, with one of them being the enhancement of language skills among students including Malay, English and Arab and encouraging them to learn other foreign languages as well."

World Arab Language Day is celebrated on Dec 18 annually to mark the selection of Arabic by the United Nations as one of the official languages of the international body.

Dr Abdul Razif Zaini, Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization director for Malaysia, said there were also non-Muslim participants for the event's Arabic calligraphy competition, reflecting how advanced technology was in attracting the interest and creativity of students to learn the Arabic language.

Full report at:

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysians-learn-third-language-arabic-maszlee-11047130

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MACC denies threats, interference in Tabung Haji probe

20 December 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 20 ― Investigators did not threaten witnesses as part of the probe into alleged abuses at Lembaga Tabung Haji, said the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission that also insisted its investigations were fully impartial.

The commission stressed that its actions were consistently driven by the “rule of law” and not subject to interference by any third party.

“All arrests and detentions made by the MACC are meant to assist investigations and based on firm evidence,” it said in a statement.

“The MACC also adheres to standard operating procedures as well as existing laws and regulations when conducting transparent, independent and impartial investigations against any individual or organisation, in the interest of clearing the country’s name of the taint of corruption and abuse.”

The MACC said those demanding information about ongoing investigations or persons of interest must understand that doing so could pose a risk to the success of such probes.

It added that disclosures about inquiries will be made only when the complete investigation papers are submitted to prosecutors.

On November 30, LTH lodged reports against former and current senior managers, alleging abuse of funds.

Among others, LTH alleged that over RM22 million from one of its charity foundations “had been disbursed for activities with political inclinations”.

LTH noted that the trustees of the foundation at the time were former chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, former CEOs Tan Sri Ismee Ismail and Datuk Seri Johan Abdullah, current chief operating officer Datuk Adi Azuan, and chief financial officer Datuk Rozaida Omar.

Adi Azuan was remanded for four days yesterday.

Yesterday, lawyer Mohd Khairul Azam, who is acting for one of the officials, implicated alluded to “hidden hands” directing the MACC investigation.

He further alleged that witnesses were being coerced into providing statement against his client.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/s/1704783/MACC-denies-threats-interference-in-Tabung-Haji-probe

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Ahead of Friday’s protest, PM says still undecided on Waytha

19 December 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 19 ― Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted today that he has yet to decide on the fate of minister P. Waytha Moorthy, following pressure from various quarters for the latter to be sacked, with a protest planned this Friday.

“Well, people can express their opinion. It is up to me to decide. I haven’t decided,” he told reporters after the Dr Mahathir Mohamad Leadership Series event here.

“I’m okay. I feel okay,” he added, when asked if he is happy with the performance of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Unity and Social Wellbeing.

Just earlier today, the Youth wing of Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) has reportedly delivered a memorandum asking for Waytha’s removal.

Waytha is currently under pressure even from within Pakatan Harapan (PH) to quit, over his poor handling of the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple riot last month.

Dr Mahathir last month defended Waytha and his performance, after a video of his remarks published almost a decade ago surfaced again.

PPBM Youth’s memorandum comes ahead of another memorandum to be delivered by Malay-Muslim groups on Friday.

The groups plan to march after Friday prayers towards the Prime Minister’s Office.

Full report at:

https://www.malaymail.com/s/1704692/ahead-of-fridays-protest-pm-says-still-undecided-on-waytha

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China responds to Indonesia’s question about alleged abuse of Xinjiang’s Muslims

December 20, 2018 

China has responded to Indonesia’s question about alleged human rights abuse against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, saying that Beijing guaranteed the religious freedom of all of its citizens, including the Uighurs. 

A Chinese Embassy spokesman in Jakarta said in a statement on Thursday that “China is a country with multiple ethnic groups and religions.

“As prescribed in the Constitution, all Chinese citizens enjoy the freedom of religious belief,” the statement said.

The statement said that the Chinese government was facing the threat of religious extremism in Xinjiang, which is home to about 14 million Muslims. Some Xinjiang residents, it said, had struggled to find jobs because of their poor command of the nation’s official language and lack of skills.

“This has made them vulnerable to the instigation and coercion of terrorism and extremism,” it said.

“In light of the situation, Xinjiang has established professional vocational training institutions as the platform, providing courses on China’s common language, legal knowledge, vocational skills, along with de-radicalization education for citizens influenced by extremist ideas.”

Previously, the Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian on Monday to convey the concerns of Indonesian Muslims about the plight of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

“The Foreign Ministry stressed that in accordance with the universal declaration of human rights, religious freedom and belief are human rights and it is the responsibility of all countries to respect it,” ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir  told reporters on the sidelines of the Diplofest event on Wednesday evening.

He said Xiao Qian conveyed China’s commitment to the protection of human rights. In addition, the ambassador said it was very important for the Indonesian public to know the condition of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, an autonomous region.

“Even though it is a domestic issue, the Foreign Ministry noted the embassy’s intention to expand communication with various civil society groups in order to convey information about the condition of the Uighur community.”

The summons of the Chinese ambassador came shortly after Indonesian Islamic groups demanded an explanation on the situation in Xinjiang.

Western countries have accused China of persecuting Uighurs through its “re-education centers”, which Beijing insisted were actually vocational and training centers that combat religious extremism. 

The situation in Xinjiang was highlighted during China’s third United Nations Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review last month.

Human Rights Watch says Uighur people in particular are subject to intense surveillance and are made to give DNA and biometric samples.

Muhammadiyah chairman Haedar Nashir said if the reports were true, then China had violated universal human rights and his organization was ready to mobilize humanitarian and material support for peace in Xinjiang, especially for the Uighur community.

”The Chinese government’s inaction is feared to hurt diplomatic relations between Indonesia and China, and the good relations our people have had for centuries,” Haedar said as quoted by Antara on Wednesday.

Social media messages calling on Indonesians to take to the streets to defend Uighurs have been circulating online in the last few days.  

On Monday, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) advisory council leader and former chairman of Muhammadiyah, Din Syamsuddin, said the alleged crackdown was an outright violation of basic human rights and demanded that the Indonesian government take firm action to advocate for the Uighur people.

Responding to the MUI’s call, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said Indonesia would not interfere in China’s handling of Uighur Muslims.

“Of course we reject or [want to] prevent any human rights violations. However, we don’t want to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country,” Kalla told journalists on Monday.

The Chinese Embassy’s spokesman said that, “China and Indonesia have always supported each other on issues concerning respective major interests.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/12/20/china-responds-to-indonesias-question-about-alleged-abuse-of-xinjiangs-muslims.html

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South Asia

 

Do We Need A Ministry For Religious Minorities In Bangladesh?

December 20th, 2018

The constitution respects all religions equally. This is the first part of a two-part of op-ed

Bangladesh is a multi-religious country where the Muslim population is officially estimated at around 90.5%, Hindus 8.5%, followed by Buddhists at 0.6%, Christians 0.3%, and others 0.1%. The constitution protects the equal status of all religions, ensures equal rights of every citizen irrespective of their religious identity, affirms secularism to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of religion, and ensures freedom to practice any religion.

The bitter experience under the disguise of religion during the partition of the subcontinent, the regime of Pakistan, and finally in the Liberation War of 1971, encouraged constitution makers and the people of Bangladesh to stay firm with principles of secularism and freedom of religion.

Maulana Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish on October 30, 1972 gave his observations on secularism in the “Parishad Bitorko” and stated that under the name of Islam, the barbaric Pakistani soldiers mercilessly killed Bengalis on March 25, 1971.

He narrated that the Pakistani army propagated that they did all the atrocities to save Islam from the hands of Hindus and the Pakistani rulers misused Islam to fulfill their agenda.

He argued that no one can disregard the 1972 Constitution since it reflects the view of 90% of the population. Under the constitution, the way Muslims have the right to practice religion, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians shall have the right to practice their own religion, and other rights related to it shall not be compromised.

In the assembly debate, then Law Minister Kamal Hossain said that the constitution aims at abolishing all types of religious communalism, and he assured that there will be no religion-based political parties in Bangladesh.

After the brutal killing of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to gain political and constitutional legitimacy, the military rulers amended the 1972 constitution -- including redefining the state principles, eliminating secularism, identifying the citizens as Bangladeshi as opposed to Bengali.

To establish military-theocratic hegemony, the rulers motivated the citizens that their root is based on religious identity, as opposed to Bengali identity, which represents Bengali culture as the principal social marker.

Article 38, of the first constitution, which prohibited the formation of religion-based political parties, was deleted and, consequently, political parties like Jamat-e-Islami Bangladesh revived in the polity.

In 2005, the High Court of Bangladesh declared the 5th amendment of the constitution and the martial law regulations issued between 1975-1979 illegal.

Finally, in 2011, during the regime of Awami League government, secularism and related principles were reintroduced through the 15th amendment of the constitution.

In many countries in the West, secularism means separation of religion from the state, however, secularism in the context of Bangladesh implies that all religions are to be treated equally.

The constitution recognizes all religions equally, does not designate minority status to any religious community (religious minorities are minorities on the basis of a number and not by religious status) while granting equality and freedom of religion to all citizens.

Secularism (religious neutrality) in Bangladesh does not mean the banishment of religion from public life, rather an equal opportunity for all religions for state patronage and participation in public affairs.

Article 2A of the constitution declares Islam as the state religion, though it adds that the state shall ensure equal respect and equal rights in the practice of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and other religions.

Which means states shall ensure equal respect and rights in the practice of religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions.

The ceremonial reference of Islam as the state religion is a mere constitutional courtesy and recognition of the majority religion.

The state does not practice religious hierarchy and Bangladesh is historically a society that does not place emphasis on distinctions, as evidenced by the caste system that dictates nearly every aspect of life for a Hindu in India.

https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2018/12/20/do-we-need-a-ministry-for-religious-minorities

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Taliban push for withdrawal of foreign troops in two-day talks

December 19, 2018

ISLAMABAD, KABUL: Putting an end to speculations surrounding the content of discussions that took place between representatives of the US and the Afghan Taliban during the two-day talks in the UAE, the militant group said on Wednesday that the “focal point of the discussion” was the “withdrawal of foreign troops".

The statement further rejected reports that a ceasefire, formation of an interim government, and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan were discussed between the two parties.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US' special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, led the delegation for the talks which began on Monday in the presence of officials from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

After the meetings, he had tweeted that the two-day talks, to promote intra-Afghan dialogue in order to end the conflict in Afghanistan, had been productive.

Khalilzad flew into Pakistan where he met the army's top commander, General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi, with the military spokesman's saying that matters of regional security and the Afghan peace process were discussed.

“Visiting dignitary appreciated Pakistan's efforts for the Afghan peace process. The COAS (Chief of the Army Staff) reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured cont efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region,” the spokesman tweeted.

He added that both sides discussed measures to create underlying conditions for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan after 40 years of conflict.

Earlier in the day, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said no talks had taken place with the Kabul administration and that other issues would not be discussed because the “root cause of all problems and the biggest obstacle to peace is the occupation of Afghanistan and bringing it to an end".

He added that any future negotiations would take placd after deliberations and consultations with the respective leadership from both sides.

Mujahid said that the Taliban representatives presented “documented information and proof to the participants about indiscriminate bombings against civilians and demanded its immediate halt. Talks were also held about humane treatment of prisoners and their freedom, a matter that shall be taken into consideration".

Another Taliban official, privy to the discussions that took place in the UAE, said that the US had called for the release of two professors from the American University of Kabul, who were kidnapped in 2016 and were in the Taliban's custody.

He added that US officials reiterated their longstanding concerns about the imminent threats to Washington from Afghanistan and that the Taliban assured them that their “activities are only limited to Afghanistan".

The official, who did not want to be identified, told Arab News that the Taliban's chief, Maulvi Habitullah, had authorized senior officials -- including former ministers Amir Khan Mutaqi, Mullah Abbas, and other senior leaders Siddiqullah, Hafiz Yahya Haqqani, Saadullah Hamas and Dr Faqeer -- to participate in the talks.

“As far as the results of these negotiations are concerned and how effective they shall prove in finding a peaceful solution to the continuing problems will be answered in the upcoming weeks and months,” the Taliban posted on their official website on Tuesday.

In Kabul, Omer Daudzai, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s newly-appointed envoy told a gathering on Wednesday that "work on the peace deal will begin in the near future". He gave no further details.

Due to the sensitive nature of the talks, no formal details of the meeting have been made available to the public yet. However, Reuters quoted a Taliban source on Tuesday when it reported that the Taliban had discussed conditions for a truce, swapping of prisoners, and the formation of an interim government with the US officials.

The reports, however, were rejected by Mujahid. “Reuters News Agency has been publishing false reports since yesterday about the meeting taking place between representatives of the Islamic Emirate and the United States in the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

“Talks in Abu Dhabi are taking place with the United States about ending the occupation and American intervention. Nothing about an interim government, ceasefire, elections nor any other internal issue is being discussed, rather the main topic is the American occupation,” he added.

The US embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Wednesday to update President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah on his engagements with regional partners and other interested parties to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1423021/world

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A tour through the ‘floating island’ that 100,000 Rohingya refugees may have to call home

December 19, 2018

Miles off the coast of Bangladesh, deep within the Bay of Bengal, is a low-lying, flood-prone island that the Bangladeshi government hopes to be the new home for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled violence in neighboring Myanmar.

It’s called Bhasan Char, which translates to “floating island.” Few have been allowed to see the island up close but “Nightline” traveled there with construction workers who are building structures that will eventually hold up to 100,000 Rohingya.

Bhasan Char is more than two hours away from the nearest inhabited island and 24 miles from the Bangladesh mainland. Bangladesh’s decision to move the Rohingya there has become controversial due to its remote location, potential isolation and concerns of extreme flooding from monsoons.

Through traveling with construction workers, “Nightline” was able to visit some of the structures that are being built on the island. There was row after row of red-roofed buildings containing sleeping quarters with bunk beds, where the workers said it would be four Rohingya to a room. A watchtower overlooked the complex, which is surrounded by a man-made canal.

But many of the Rohingya refugees told Woodruff that, having already fled one place, they do not want to be moved again, especially to the place that some activists are calling a “prison island.”

The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority who have been forced to flee from their homes in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to escape horrific violence against them there. The United Nations has since called their persecution “textbook ethnic cleansing” by the mostly Buddhist Myanmar army.

It’s estimated that nearly 10,000 Rohingya have been killed, according to a recent UN-backed report. The report details gang rapes, the torching of hundreds of villages and enslavement of Rohingya communities at the hands of Myanmar’s military. UN investigators have called it genocide.

In October, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal to start repatriating some of the over 723,000 Rohingya refugees, but the UN, the United States, and 42 humanitarian and civil society groups raised concerns that the deal would repatriate Rohingya refugees, possibly without their consent, and send them back to dangerous conditions.

As of August, there are approximately 919,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Most currently reside in camps along the country’s southern border, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Now with refugees outnumbering the local Bangladeshi population, the Bangladeshi government has been looking for a solution and began working on turning Bhasan Char into a home for them.

But many of the Rohingya “Nightline” spoke with now living in Bangladesh, already victimized once, say they do not want to be moved to that island.

“I came to Bangladesh to save my life. I didn’t come here to eat or stay. We want the international community to punish the Burmese and send us back,” said Klas Ahmad, a refugee living in one of the camps. “If we get sent to the island, the Myanmar government might bomb the island and we won’t have graves. At least if I die here I will get a grave.”

“I want to go back to my country,” said another refugee. “I don’t want to be in this country and I certainly don’t want to go to that island.”

However, some of the construction workers working at Bhasan Char suggested that it the living conditions on the island are better than the harsh conditions of the camps.

“People like us who don’t have proper houses, of course we would want a place like this,” said one worker, who lives on a neighboring island.

“We haven’t got anything,” said another worker. “The island we come from keeps breaking.”

Bangladesh’s government has defended its plan to relocate the refugees.

“The island is something else,” Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abdul Hassan Mahmud told ABC’s Bob Woodruff in an exclusive interview. “If it takes longer, then we have to do something because the camps are quite difficult to run also.”

The plan has since been widely denounced, so, for now, the Bangladeshi government has postponed the move.

“Nightline” has documented the plight of the Rohingya for the past three years. Last year, Woodruff traveled to Bangladesh as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled across the border in Myanmar. But as the camps became overpopulated, security inside has become an increasing concern.

One of the refugees, Kalim Ullah, is among a group of volunteers who patrols the camps for protection and said one day he and his neighbors awoke to find their camp on fire.

“The fire started at 2:30 in the morning,” said Kalim. “Around 30 families lived in this part and it took 20 to 30 minutes for it to all be burnt down to the ground. We had to run and could not take any of our possessions.”

Women are often among the most vulnerable. Dr. Sadia Afroze, who works at a barebones women’s health clinic inside one of the refugee camps, told “Nightline” that she has had to perform an increasing number of abortions – many of them for rape victims.

“They may survive but their lifestyles are not that much good with a pregnancy or a child — so in that case, we save a life by giving the services,” Afroze.

Afroze says her clinic has also delivered hundreds of babies. The World Health Organization expects 60,000 children to be born in the camps this year alone.

Despite the dangers in the camps, some refugees said they would rather choose death than face the prospect of being repatriated to Myanmar.

Full report at:

http://sandhillsexpress.com/abc_world/a-tour-through-the-floating-island-that-100000-rohingya-refugees-may-have-to-call-home-abcid36141534/

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Over 195 BNP-Jamaat men held across country

December 20th, 2018

Members of law enforcement agencies arrested more than 195 BNP and Jamaat men in different areas of the country as of 10pm on Wednesday, ahead of the 11th general election.

In Satkhira, police arrested more than 100 people including 45 BNP leaders and activists from different upazilas in the morning.

A police team led by Assistant Superintendent Jamirul Islam along with the officers-in-charge of the Kaliganj and Debhata police stations conducted the drive and arrested 45 BNP leaders and activists while they were conducting a sabotage meeting in the office of BNP candidate for Satkhira 3 constituency Dr Shaidul Alam.

On the other hand, in a special drive, police arrested 55 people in different cases including sabotage.

In Sirajganj, eight Jamaat men were arrested for attack on the police on Tuesday in the Bonnakandi village under the Ullapara upazila in the district.

Ullapara police station OC Golam Mostofa said on a tip-off, police conducted a drive in the area while the Jamaat men were holding a secret meeting for sabotage.

Sensing the presence of law enforcement officials, Jamaat men hurled cocktails on them.

When they attacked the police, member of law enforcers managed to arrest them, the OC said.

It should be mentioned, that the police misbehaved with a woman while she was taking pictures of the clash.

Later, a police constable was withdrawn in connection with the incident.

In Barisal, police arrested 27 people from different areas of the Barisal city and Sadar upazila under the Barisal 5 constituency of the district.

BNP sources said Mantu Khan, the district unit BNP office secretary and Afroza Khanam Nasrin, JCD central assistant organizing secretary and 8 leaders and workers of BNP and its front organizations were arrested.

With them, at least 27 activists of Jatiya Oikya Front were arrested in the constituency from different areas of the district, claimed Bilkis Jahan Shirin, central organizing secretary of BNP.

In Lalmonirhat, police arrested two Jamaat men and a Jubo Dal leader from the Tushar Bhander area of the Kaliganj upazila.

Kaliganj police station Officer-in-Charge Mokbul Hossain said they were wanted in several cases.

In Meherpur, police arrested 25 BNP-Jamaat men in the Harbhanga village under the Gangni upazila while they were holding a secret meeting, confirmed Sadar police station Officer-in-Charge Robiul Islam.

In Sunamganj, three Jamaat men were arrested in the Birgaon village under the Sunamganj South upazila, in connection with vandalism.

In Moulvibazar, members of law enforcers arrested at least 22 BNP-Jamaat men from different areas of the area in the evening.

Moulvibazar Superintendent of Police Md Shahjalal said several cases were filed against them.

In Feni, a Chhatra Dal activist identified as Md Sharif,was arrested under the Digital Security Act in the Sonagazi upazila of the district.

Sonagazi Model police station Moazzem Hossain confirmed the arrest.

Full report at:

https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/election/2018/12/20/over-195-bnp-jamaat-men-held-across-country

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Cox's Bazar: Rohingya camp to be hardest hit by climate change

by Malavika Vyawahare

December 20, 2018

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh - At first when they came, Dilfaraz, a stout 41-year-old Bangladeshi woman, could not find it in her heart to turn them away. She gave the Rohingyas utensils, mattresses, water, whatever they needed to survive.

"We are not [Buddhists] and we are not Hindu, we are Muslim and as Muslims we should help other Muslims," said the mother of five, who has lived in Kutupalong village since 1999.

Along with neighbouring Balukhali in Cox's Bazar district, it now hosts the largest refugee camp in the world.

But the goodwill towards refugees has soured over the last year.

Like Dilfaraz, Bangladesh is struggling to accommodate over 1 million Rohingya.

The exodus began in August last year as the predominantly Muslim minority fled an army-backed massacre in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Most Rohingya are terrified of returning to Myanmar, which has persecuted them for decades, so it remains unclear for how long Cox's Bazar will play host to their suffering.

And while the humanitarian crises at the camp have been documented, a different kind of disaster is brewing.

The hilly tracts of Cox's Bazar could foster an environmental crisis brought on by indiscriminate deforestation and vanishing groundwater reservoirs.

In the long run, this would make the region more prone to the effects of climate change.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, by 2050, Cox's Bazar will be the worst-hit district in South Asia as average temperatures rise and rainfall patterns become disruptive, a June 2018 World Bank report found. Living standards, measured in household expenditure, could fall by 20 percent by mid-century.

Cox's Bazar, a strip of land wedged between Myanmar to the east and the Bay of Bengal to the west, has sheltered Rohingya refugees over the decades during ethnic clashes in Myanmar.

Some stayed while others returned as tensions subsided.

But this time it is different; entire villages have migrated en masse with little to return to.

Nur, 25, who works for Dilfaraz's brother, and says she is grateful to have support in the form of comfortable shelter.

"I am not being paid, but they helped us out in our time of need," Nur said.

Her family of eight hails from Buthidaung in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

"When we came, it (Cox's Bazar) looked like a jungle, people just choose their own place to build a shelter, and the whole jungle was destroyed," Nur recounted.

The settlement is now spread across 5,800 acres, and much of it cleared forest land.

Over 95 percent of the refugees collect fuelwood directly from the forests or buy it in the market. A tiny fraction use LPG cylinders (liquefied petroleum gas) provided by NGOs.

The loss of forests and land degradation is dangerous for the precariously placed camps.

"In Bangladesh these are not rocky hills, they are soft soil hills. The stability comes from the roots of the trees, if you cut the trees you have destabilised the terrain and there is a risk of hill collapse," A Atiq Rahman, executive director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), said.

Vigorous monsoons make the area prone to landslides and there is always the lurking threat of cyclones. Disappearing forests are also a sore spot for locals who have watched a vital resource become scarce.

In the initial months, shallow tube wells that pump water from about 150 feet were constructed quickly with little oversight. Many shallow tube wells could run dry as demand peaks in summer.

In the cramped camps, toilets pits were constructed close to water withdrawal points. Water samples from over 70 percent of wells were contaminated by E. coli, according to WHO.

New tube wells are plumbing deeper into the poorly mapped aquifer.

Nearby in the camp, a new 650-feet deep hand pump has brought much-needed relief to the refugees. 

The initial response in the face of political uncertainty is not translating well into a long-term strategy.

"They are still working in emergency mode," said Saleemul Huq, director of Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, highlighting the need for environmental monitoring. "The long-term impacts are very uncertain."

The World Bank report does not take into account the impacts of the current refugee influx, but notes that deforestation has led to major landslides and harmed property and water resources in the area.

"Education, access to electricity, water availability, market access and has a greater share of agricultural households, it may, therefore, become more vulnerable to the effects of temperature rise," said Muthukumara Mani, lead author of the World Bank report.

The report recommends investment in socio-economic development to overcome climate change impacts.

But Cox's Bazar will struggle to do that if the refugee situation remains unresolved.

"Poverty may increase due to depletion of assets, labour competition, and the impact of the cyclone and monsoon seasons," a Joint Response Plan 2018 prepared by UN agencies in conjunction with the Bangladeshi government, said, warning that "the current situation risks slowing — and even reversing — efforts towards socio-economic development of the district."

Resentment is brewing among locals as the camps become a fixture of the landscape.

Dilfaraz believes that people living next to the camp have paid the heaviest price, while businesses that support the vast machinery of aid have prospered.

"The Bangladeshi government has to find a solution," she said.

A plan to repatriate the refugees formulated by the Bangladeshi and Myanmar government, has failed to take off. International agencies have criticised the two governments for ignoring the wishes of the Rohingyas.

Terrors of their homeland continue to haunt refugees. Mamtaj, 30, is the mother of two boys and one girl, but only her seven-year-old daughter survived.

Full report at:

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/cox-bazaar-rohingya-camp-hardest-hit-climate-change-181218233254118.html

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4 Taliban militants killed, 2 wounded in a premature IED blast in Faryab

Dec 19 2018

At least four Taliban militants were killed and two others were wounded in a premature explosion triggered by an Improvised Explosive Device in northern Faryab province of Afghanistan.

The 209th Shaheen Corps of the Afghan Military in the North in a statement said the incident has taken place in the vicinity of Sherin Tagab highway.

The statement further added that the militants were busy planting an Improvised Explosive Device when the incident took place.

The Taliban militants and other militants including ISIS often use improvised explosive device as the weapon of their choice to target the security forces and government officials.

However, in majority of such attacks the ordinary civilians are killed while in some cases the Taliban militants are themselves blown up in premature explosions.

Anti-government elements must immediately end the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of all improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in areas frequented by civilians, said UNAMA in a special human rights report released few weeks earlier.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/4-taliban-militants-killed-2-wounded-in-a-premature-ied-blast-in-faryab-02961/

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U.S. says Military presence in Afghanistan remains conditions-based

Dec 19 2018

The U.S. officials have said the military presence in Afghanistan remains conditions-based as the Taliban group claims that the ongoing negotiations regarding Afghan peace process in UAE is focused on U.S. forces withdrawal from Afghanistan only.

Robert Palladino, deputy spokesperson of the State Department said “The United States military presence in Afghanistan remains conditions-based, and that’s the cornerstone of the administration’s strategy.”

“The special representative continues to work with all interested parties in close coordination with the Afghan people and the Afghan  Government to facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations,” he added.

This comes as negotiations between the United States and Taliban are underway in Abu Dhabi in the presence of Saudi, Pakistani, and UAE officials.

Taliban militants group has said the ongoing talks in United Arab Emirates are focused on withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said no discussion has taken place regarding an interim government, ceasefire, and elections.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/u-s-says-military-presence-in-afghanistan-remains-conditions-based-02964/

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Over 10,000 Citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan Fought for ISIS: Reports

December 19, 2018

As per latest reports, the bloody reign of the Caliphate, more than 10,000 citizens from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and the Uyghurs from China’s northwest fought on the side of ISIS.

“Many of them made a Hijrah (migration of Muslims for jihad) to Iraq and Syria to protect the values of true Islam and brought their families with small children there. Subsequently, some of these children entered the battalion ‘Curb of the Caliphate’ and became protagonists in the Islamic State’s propaganda.”

According to a report by the International Crisis Group, both Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks are often drawn to stringent versions of Islam and even consider Syria for personal and social reasons. “While Kyrgyz nationalists claim ethnic Uzbeks turn to extremist Islam for political reasons and revenge for 2010 when more than 400 mostly Uzbeks were killed in ethnic violence, there is growing evidence that both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are finding recourse in more radical forms of Islam.

Many people from both groups are drawn to non-violent Islamist groups such as the Hizb ut-Tahrir but some are also attracted to more violent ideologies and groups.”

The statistical research reveals that in 2013-2018, more than 55 videos, audio and text materials were released by the Islamic State’s media wings with the participation of Central Asia’s children in Arabic, Uygur, Uzbek, Russian, Kyrgyz and Tajik.

But after the fall of the Caliphate, propaganda videos almost ceased. “With the diminishing possibilities of the Islamic State’s media resources, the propaganda and ideological activity of the Al Qaeda-linked Central Asian Salafi-jihadi groups have recently increased in contrast.”

The Uzbek militants of Katibat al-Tawhid wal jihad (KTJ) and Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), as well as Uyghur jihadists of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) from the Chinese province of Xinjiang are affiliated with Al Qaeda. Botobekov says these groups regularly publish propaganda videos of children from Syria’s Idlib province.

“Since 2013, Al Qaeda has posted about 30 videos – audio and text materials in which Central Asian’s children made up the main plot.” Botobekov said the most common characteristic of Al Qaeda and ISIS’s curriculum in madrasas is learning the Quran by heart, Tawhid (monotheism), Fiqh (jurisprudence), Salat (prayers), Aqidah (creed), Hadith and Sura (life of the Prophet Muhammad).

And the second most common characteristic is the call to jihad. “The doctrine of jihad is the main place in the ideology of both Sunni terrorist groups, and accordingly, in the madrasas and training camps, children are brainwashed from early childhood with ideas of holy jihad.”

Furthermore, the Uzbek and Uyghur imams who are Al Qaeda sympathizers tell children about the enemies of Islam which they ranked on par with the Kafir regimes of the USA, Russia and China, also the Kharijites (those who defected from the Ummah and rebelled against the Caliph) of the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

https://eurasiantimes.com/over-10000-citizens-of-uzbekistan-tajikistan-kyrgyzstan-kazakhstan-fought-for-isis-reports/

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‘Radical Islam’ suspected in grisly murder of Scandinavian backpackers

DECEMBER 20, 2018

Islamists are suspected to have carried out the murder of two young Scandinavian women trekking in southern Morocco, one of whom was beheaded, a source close to the probe said Wednesday.

“Radical Islam is not ruled out due to the profile of the suspect arrested and of the three men wanted” after the women’s bodies were found Monday in the High Atlas Mountains, the source said, asking not to be named.

The source told AFP that one of the women — 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen from Denmark and 28-year-old Maren Ueland from Norway — had been beheaded.

Police spokesman Boubker Sabik also said terrorism was suspected and that the three suspects on the run had been “identified and a search for them is under way by all the security services”.

One of the three had “a court record linked to terrorist acts”, he said, while the prosecutor general’s office said the man in custody belonged to an extremist group.

The prosecutor general’s office, in a statement, said it was determining the authenticity of a video on social media allegedly showing the murder of one of the women.

The interior ministry said initially that the Danish and Norwegian hikers were found with cuts to their necks in an isolated mountainous area 10 kilometres from the tourist village of Imlil.

The arrest was made in Marrakesh, about 60 kilometres north of Imlil, the ministry said.

The Danish victim, Jespersen, “had her throat cut,” her mother Helle Petersen was quoted by the Danish newspaper B.T. as saying.

Her family had warned her against going to Morocco “because of the chaotic situation,” she added.

‘Every precaution’

A local guide who works in the area told AFP the body of one woman was found inside a tent and the other outside of it.

The guide, who declined to be identified, said the area where they were found was also frequented by three men from Marrakesh, including the one who was arrested.

The two women studied at a university in southern Norway and had planned to travel together for a month, Ueland’s mother told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The investigation is being conducted by Morocco’s central bureau of judicial investigation in co-operation with the royal gendarmerie and authorities from national security.

Security was stepped up in the region and hiking suspended following the discovery of the bodies, Moroccan media said.

“It’s very bad for the region. There will undoubtedly be cancellations,” a local guide, Hossein, told AFP from Imlil.

The most recent jihadist attack hit Morocco in 2011, when 17 people were killed in Marrakesh. An attack in the financial capital Casablanca left 33 dead in 2003.

Tourism is a cornerstone of Morocco’s economy and the kingdom’s second-largest employer, after agriculture.

The sector accounts for 10 per cent of national income and is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency.

Full report at:

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/radical-islam-suspected-in-grisly-murder-of-scandinavian-backpackers/news-story/ab9cbb369b9a32e7dea1de82c655797c

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‘UK anti-terror scheme unfairly targets children’

Dec 19, 2018

The UK government’s newly-released statistics for its signature anti-terror scheme, known as Prevent, shows how the policy continues to increasingly target and focus security on children, according to an advocacy group.

The CAGE showed in a report published on its website on Tuesday that thousands of children and teenagers were being flagged up over terror concerns in the UK.

A Report by the group showed that some 2,009 under-15s, including 297 girls, had been referred to the Prevent program in the year to March.

The controversial scheme is essentially a system which aims to identify vulnerable people and intervene in their lives before something bad happens.

While police and ministers say Prevent forms a crucial plank of anti-terror efforts, the scheme has repeatedly come under fire, with critics labeling it heavy-handed and “toxic”.

The CAGE report showed that the number of people from the youngest age group referred to the Prevent increased by a fifth from the previous period ending in March 2017, while it added that more than half of those reported for possible de-radicalization interventions in 2017/18 were aged 20 or under.

However, some 95 percent of all referrals to Prevent did not result in any action by the Channel program that provides support to people who might be vulnerable to radicalization, meaning the vast majority of Prevent referrals were false alarms.

Another issue with the scheme is its alleged over-representation of threats emanating from the Muslims in the UK. Muslims make up only 5 percent of the population yet concerns related to the community as part of the Prevent make up 44 percent of all referrals. That is seen by some as reflecting a gross over-representation indicative of the inherent bias and deliberate targeting of Muslim communities by Prevent.

“In the UK, we have a panoply of offences that operate in the pre-criminal space. The idea that future ‘terrorists’ have been somehow dissuaded through Prevent, particularly when the numbers do not correlate to actual violent offenders, is ridiculous at best,” said Asim Qureshi, Research Director for CAGE.

“What is always missing from these discussions is the long-term impact of false referrals. With a large portion stemming from the education sector, the fundamental relationship between student and teacher is changed forever – the student will forever feel a suspect.

“We could speak of one false referral being one too many, but the reality is that we are already speaking about this in the thousands, where a 95% inaccuracy rate is harming the future of our children,” Qureshi added.

Critics of Prevent include David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, and the Commons home affairs select committee, which called for the “toxic brand” of Prevent to be abandoned in favor of a more inclusive “Engage” title, and for much clearer guidelines and training on how it is implemented in schools and universities.

“There is a strong feeling in Muslim communities that I visit that Prevent is if not a spying program then at least a program that is targeted on them,” Anderson said.

The Muslim Council of Britain has also announced that it will set up its own program next year aiming to tackle the issue of support for terrorist groups like Daesh within Muslim communities in the country.

Others, including Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary from the opposition Labour Party, and teaching and student unions, have called for a reform or even abandonment of the Prevent.

“The whole scheme is simply unworkable,” Abbott said this week, adding, “Even with widespread cooperation the number of children under 10 who have been referred to the police under the Prevent strategy is over 400 in the last four years.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/19/583418/UK-terror-scheme-Prevent-children

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UK must stop fueling Saudi Arabia’s bloody war on Yemen: Charity group

Dec 19, 2018

A main charity group in the United Kingdom has called on the British government to stop fueling a conflict in Yemen by imposing a total ban on sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

The Christian Aid said in a report published on Wednesday that there was a need for an immediate review of UK sales of arms to states that are actively infringing international law and human rights by pursuing murderous campaigns against their own citizens or their close neighbors.

The British government is selling billions of pounds worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, fueling the kingdom’s three-year-old war on Yemen which has left 22 million people struggling to survive.

Thousands of civilians have been killed, while thousands more have been injured. Collapsed infrastructure coupled with a partial blockade has also deprived most of the population of clean water and proper healthcare, while unleashing the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.

Despite all this, Western countries, led by the US and the UK, have supplied the Saudi-led coalition with huge amounts of advanced military equipment, facilitating a military campaign characterized by repeated violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes.

The Christian Aid urged the UK government to take the lead in promoting peace and the rule of law in contexts like Yemen – to follow through the logic of its aid spending by recognizing armed conflict as the source of so many development challenges.

Nearly three quarters of British citizens would support an end to arms sales to countries engaged in indiscriminate slaughter, meaning that three out of five are against selling arms to Saudi Arabia so long as it continues its activities in Yemen, according to the report.

An estimated 85,000 children under the age of five have starved to death over the last three years as a result of Saudi war on Yemen, a report from Save the Children has found.

The figure is a conservative estimate based on UN data on severe acute malnutrition, which the international body says has afflicted more than 1.3 million children since the conflict between ruling Houthi Ansarullah movement and the Saudi-led coalition that seeks to restore Yemen’s exiled government, began in March 2015.

About 14 million people – half of Yemen’s population – are currently at risk of famine, largely because of Saudi border blockades designed to weaken the Houthis, which have also strangled civilian access to food, fuel, aid and commercial goods.

In the UK, public opinion and all opposition parties support an end to arming Saudi Arabia. Much of the outcry over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit in March to London focused on the issue.

Dismayed at the government’s unwillingness to halt its vast arms sales to Saudi Arabia, campaigners have taken the UK to court, arguing that the government breached its own – and international – laws.

The Wednesday report by the Christian Aid, which mainly dealt with the UK government’s double standards in foreign policy, also highlighted the contradiction between London's words and actions regarding peace-building and the volume of arms-related exports that continue to be taken for granted and sidelined.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/19/583413/UK-arms-sale-Saudi-Yemen-war-charity-report

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Human rights court rules against Greece in Sharia law case

December 19, 2018

PARIS —  Greece violated a prohibition on discrimination by applying Islamic religious law to an inheritance dispute among members of the country’s Muslim minority, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Wednesday.

The court, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, ruled Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights by applying Sharia law in the case, under which a Muslim Greek man’s will bequeathing all he owned to his wife was deemed invalid after it was challenged by his sisters.

The man’s widow, Chatitze Molla Sali, appealed to the European court in 2014, having lost three quarters of her inheritance. She argued she had been discriminated against on religious grounds as, had her husband not been Muslim, she would have inherited his entire estate under Greek law.

The European court agreed. It has not yet issued a decision on what, if any, penalty it will apply to Greece.

“Greece was the only country in Europe which, up until the material time, had applied Sharia law to a section of its citizens against their wishes,” the court said in its ruling.

“That was particularly problematic in the present case because the application of Sharia law had led to a situation that was detrimental to the individual rights of a widow who had inherited her husband’s estate in accordance with the rules of civil law but who had then found herself in a legal situation which neither she nor her husband had intended.”

Molla Sali’s husband had drawn up his will according to Greek law, and both a first instance and an appeals court initially ruled in her favour in the dispute with her sisters-in-law. But further court decisions ruled that inheritance issues within the Muslim minority had to be dealt with under Islamic religious law, and the will was deemed invalid.

Legislation concerning minorities in Greece was based on international treaties drawn up in the 1920s following the wars that broke out in the aftermath of the Ottoman empire’s collapse. Civil cases involving the 100,000-strong Muslim minority in northeastern Greece were dealt with under Islamic law and presided over by a single official, a state-appointed Muslim cleric, or mufti.

But in January this year, the Greek parliament voted to limit the powers of Islamic courts. The new law, which was backed by the country’s largest political parties, eliminated rules referring many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Sharia law. It had been brought to parliament following Sali’s complaint.

The European Court of Human Rights said that while it “noted with satisfaction” the change in legislation, the new law “had no impact on the situation of the applicant” as the final rulings in her case had been made under the old system.

Full report at:

https://nationalpost.com/news/human-rights-court-rules-against-greece-in-sharia-law-case

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Africa

 

Jihadists penetrating sub-Saharan Africa at an alarming rate: Researchers

19 DEC, 2018

LONDON. – Despite recent defeats at the hands African armed forces, jihadist groups are penetrating sub-Saharan Africa at an alarming rate, threatening states ill-prepared to deal with a complex social and security challenge, say Western and African officials and researchers.

The Islamic radical groups, which include Isis, Al Qaeda affiliates and home-grown movements such as Boko Haram, threaten the rising continent, posing unique challenges for policymakers and officials of shaky governments struggling with limited resources. “The extremists are inside the community,” Bineta Diop, an official of the African Union, told The Independent along the side-lines of The Atlantic Dialogues, a conference in Marrakech last week organised by the Policy Centre for the New South, a Moroccan think tank.

“They provide public services where the state has failed,” she said. “They bring water, sanitation, education. They provide opportunities to young people they don’t otherwise have. There is a need to address the basic elements of human security and not leave it to extremists.”

African troops backed by the Western intelligence and security forces have beaten back Somalia’s Al Shabaab movement and have made strides against Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as militant groups in Mali.

But in some ways, the militant groups have expanded their presence. Networks of Islamist militants now influence a vast area within Africa, drawing on contacts and resources from the Middle East and Europe, with radical groups exploiting ungoverned spaces throughout the continent.

“The same catalysts that are out there as far as lack of strong governments, lack of government services, lack of opportunities, where folks can come in and radicalise,” US Major General Christopher Craige, a commander of Stuttgart-based Africom, told a group of journalists at a briefing along the side-lines of the conference.

“Europe, Africa, and the Middle East now so connected. Not just because of modern media devices, but because of travel.”

Statistics show that terrorist incidents in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe fell last year, while sub-Saharan Africa held steady, suggesting a shift in resources towards the continent by militant groups.

“Everything is going south,” said Rida Lyammouri, a researcher at the Policy Centre for the New South, describing militant groups’ expansion Mali and Burkina Faso. “It continues to go south. It’s very alarming. The conflicts have spread.”

Extremist groups infiltrating sub-Saharan Africa often take a different approach to those drawing recruits and supporters in European or Arab cities seeking glory or infamy.

Scholars increasingly find it useful to distinguish between radicalisation in urban spaces such as in Europe, or along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, and rural spaces such as in Mali or rural Nigeria, where radical global aims become fused with local grievances. Countering violent extremism in each venue also requires different approaches.

“The militant groups in Mali and other places can easily find social empowerment by connecting to tribes or ethnic groups, and make common interest with the community” said Mostafa Rezrazi, president of the Moroccan

Lyammouri, who spent a number of months in 2013 and 2014 conducting research among radicalised villagers living along the Niger River in Mali, found that militants often began infiltration by co-opting local leaders and offering help with agriculture and other services.

“It’s more than just radicalisation or ideology,” he said, in a presentation to former diplomats, researchers, and journalists.

“Some of the youth joined did it for money, some joined for ideology. Some joined because they had no other option,” said Lyammouri. “There was no state. The groups were providing services that the state wasn’t providing.”

Eventually, the villages began to shun the state instead of begging for services, renaming their towns from local languages for Arabic equivalents, and choosing not to interact with non-radicalised towns. Local leaders were dispatched to Ghana or Ivory Coast to study conservative forms of Islam, and return to preach.

“They had a more conservative radical ideology and imposed some extremist ways of life,” said Lyammouri. “Most of the communities were not educated – couldn’t read or write – and were not able to challenge the preachers.”

Why and at what point such communities or individuals within them choose to cross over into violence remains a question. One factor is the spread of violent messages via the Internet. But perhaps more important are the mistakes made by governments that prod Islamist groups into violent resistance against the state.

When the French arrived in northern Mali to fight extremists in 2013, the Malian army accompanying them committed atrocities that continue to haunt relations between the state and the locals.

The Islamist militant group Ansar al-Islam emerged in Burkina Faso after the armed forces committed atrocities. Even Boko Haram in Nigeria turned to systematic violence only after their supreme leader was summarily executed by security forces following a messy 2009 confrontation.

Even more so than in Europe, Africa’s prisons are threatening to become incubators of radicalism as ordinary prisoners sometimes caught up in dragnets by police are warehoused in harsh conditions with hardened jihadists seeking out recruits.

African governments also sometimes commit needless blunders that damage their own anti-radicalisation aims. In an effort to stop the spread of Boko Haram, the Nigerian government cut off the road to Chad Lake, destroying the livelihoods of fishing communities, and making them susceptible to the group.

Burkina Faso at one point sought to ban public prayer by Muslims, while Chad passed a law after a suicide bombing banning women from wearing face-covering Islamic garb. “These kinds of moves create a lot of anger in toward governments,” said Mr Lyammouri. “The militant groups have built a trust with the communities that’s hard to break, that took a decade to build,” he said. “It’s going to take more than a decade to break that, and have communities gain some trust in the authorities.” – The Independent (UK)

https://www.herald.co.zw/jihadists-penetrating-sub-saharan-africa-at-an-alarming-rate-researchers/

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Yemen's Houthis blast Sudan for planned war deployment

Dec 19, 2018

Yemen’s popular Houthi Ansarullah movement has condemned Sudan for seeking to retain and even increase its troops in a Saudi Arabian-led coalition that has invaded the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.

“The decision by Sudan’s administration to send more forces to Yemen indicates the Khartoum government’s opposition to the establishment of peace and security in Yemen,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee of Yemen, said on Wednesday, Unews Agency reported on its website.

Ansarullah formed the committee in 2015 to run Yemen’s administrative affairs after the former government resigned and its head, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, fled to Riyadh as he faced increasing popular discontent.

Saudi Arabia led a number of countries, including Sudan, into a war on Yemen shortly after Hadi’s flight to restore the former regime by force.

The Yemeni official said Sudan wanted to send reinforcements to Yemen while “its president, Omar al-Bashir, was being sought internationally on charges of terrorism and committing some crimes and atrocities in his country, and the Sudanese ruling establishment cannot defend him against the charges.”

Sudan’s Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Awad Mohammed bin Oaf had on Tuesday told a visiting Saudi military delegation in Khartoum that his country intended to keep up its cooperation with the Riyadh-led coalition and even enhance its contribution.

Thousands have died and Yemen has been pushed to the edge of an all-out famine as a result of the war.

On Thursday, the Houthis and the representatives of the former Yemeni government agreed during UN-brokered talks in Sweden to a truce in Yemen’s western province of Hudaydah.

Sudan’s announcement came on the same day as the ceasefire took force.

UN to convene meeting via video-conference

Also on Wednesday, the UN will convene the parties to Yemen’s conflict by video link to discuss the redeployment of all forces from Hudaydah’s provincial capital of the same name, and three other ports, under the deal.

It will be the first meeting of a Redeployment Coordination Committee that oversees the ceasefire and the withdrawal of forces, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“It will include military/security representatives from the two sides,” he explained.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/12/19/583370/Yemen-Houthis-Sudan-Saudi-coalition-war-UN-video-conference

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Gunmen kill Nigeria's ex-defence chief

December 19, 2018

Gunmen have shot dead a former defence chief on a main road outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, the air force said, in an attack that underscores worsening security in the vast west African nation.

"It is with a heavy heart that I regretfully announce the unfortunate demise of former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Sabundu Badeh", air force spokesman Ibikunle Daramola said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Badeh, 61, died on Tuesday "from gunshot wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked while returning from his farm along Abuja-Keffi road".

The air force did not say if any arrests had been or suggest motives behind the killing.

Badeh who served as Nigeria's defence chief under former president Goodluck Jonathan, retired in 2015.

He has been on trial since his retirement over allegations of corruption while in office.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is battling a myriad of security problems, from Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast to farmer-herder conflict in the centre and kidnappings for ransom ans armed robberies in the south.

Full report at:

https://www.thenational.ae/world/africa/gunmen-kill-nigeria-s-ex-defence-chief-1.804302

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Nigerian soldier killed in latest Boko Haram attack

2018-12-19

Boko Haram jihadists killed one soldier and injured another in an attack on a military base in Nigeria's northeast Borno state, the latest attack in the region, military sources said on Tuesday.

Jihadists in four trucks fitted with anti-aircraft guns stormed the base in Mairari village close to the garrison town of Monguno on Monday briefly seizing it, said the sources who asked not to be identified.

One source said "soldiers were dislodged from the base and some military equipment damaged" in the attack.

"One soldier was killed, one wounded and others missing in action. Search ongoing to recover the missing ones," he added.

The base was recaptured after reinforcements arrived from Monguno, 10km away.

On Monday, a Boko Haram faction loyal to long-time leader Abubakar Shekau released pictures of an attack on a village near the Borno state capital Maiduguri, according to SITE intelligence which monitors jihadist activities.

The village was burned down, sending residents fleeing into the city.

The military said Monday troops repelled the attack in which a soldier and four insurgents were killed.

Boko Haram jihadists have recently intensified attacks on military bases in the northeast, killing scores of troops.

Full report at:

https://www.news24.com/Africa/News/nigerian-soldier-killed-in-latest-boko-haram-attack-20181218

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TOTAL COMMENTS:-   1


  • It will be very good if one attains knowledge to win the love of Allah Almighty.
    Do not be confused with the love that He Almighty already does to His creations.
    He Almighty has created all human beings, the sky, the earth, and all universe for mankind. Is all this not love of God, then what is else?
    What I meant by winning love is to be sincere, thankful to Him, and be the one who focuses more on His blessings and pleasure. 
    What are blessings and how is pleasure of God attained?
    Time to think, and rethink! 

    By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi غلام غوث الصديقي - 12/20/2018 7:57:03 PM



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