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Islamic World News (21 Jan 2019 NewAgeIslam.Com)


Saudi Arabia Faces Bleak Future, Real Risk of Demise: A Political Analyst from London














A worker cleans the interior of the new Coptic Cathedral of the Nativity at the New Administrative Capital (NAC) east of Cairo. (Reuters)

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Saudi Arabia Faces Bleak Future, Real Risk of Demise: A Political Analyst From London

What’s In a Name? Religion, Maybe: Many Sikh Families Used To Give Sons Names Rooted In

Netanyahu: Israel Making Breakthrough in Muslim World

Egypt Builds Middle East’s Largest Cathedral, But What About Smaller Churches?

'The Real Face of Indonesia': Video of Singing Nun Joining Islamic Pop Performance Goes Viral

Pakistan ISIS 'Terrorists' Shot Dead Were 'Innocent': Government

Will Talk With Pakistan If Taliban Are Being Represented By the Country: Ghani

 

Europe

Saudi Arabia Faces Bleak Future, Real Risk of Demise: A Political Analyst From London

Europe’s patience with Iran wears thin, tiptoes towards Trump

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India

What’s In a Name? Religion, Maybe: Many Sikh Families Used To Give Sons Names Rooted In Urdu and Muslims Sikh Names, Before the Partition

How A Muslim Aristocrat's Art Collection Became A National Treasure

Gandhi rooted for secularism, successfully forged Hindu-Muslim unity: Historians

Pakistan Awami Tehreek Chairman Dr Tahir Ul Qadri to Visit India Next Month

Pakistan violates ceasefire along international border, LoC in Jammu and Kashmir

Muslims in Jammu feeling vulnerable, says Mehbooba

Navjot Sidhu advises PM Imran, PM Modi regarding Gurdwaras

2 militants killed in encounter with security forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam

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Mideast

Netanyahu: Israel Making Breakthrough in Muslim World

Israel to Close UNRWA Schools In Occupied East Jerusalem Al-Quds

Yemeni army recaptures Wadi Al-Tamm and Al-Saif mountains in Saada

Erdogan to Trump: Turkey ready to take over Syria’s Manbij

Israel: ‘Iron Dome’ intercepts rocket fired from Syria

US gained nothing after spending $7,000bn in Iraq, Syria: Iran military chief

10% increase in Israeli demolition of Palestinian structures last year: OCHA

Turkish US consulate worker faces charges over Gulen links: DHA

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Arab World

Egypt Builds Middle East’s Largest Cathedral, But What About Smaller Churches?

Egypt Says Security Forces Killed 14 Militants In Sinai

Damascus Army's Air Defense Wards off Israeli Air Raid in Southern Syria

Syrian Army Heavily Pounds ISIL's Movements in Eastern Deserts of Homs Province

Israeli military strikes Iranian targets in Syria, kills 11

Bomb blast in a bus kills three civilians in Syria’s Afrin

Syria says its air defences intercept ‘most of Israeli missiles’ fired on Damascus

Lebanon’s Aoun urges world powers to facilitate Syrian refugee’s repatriation

Syria’s air defence thwarts Israeli strike near Damascus: State media

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Southeast Asia

'The Real Face of Indonesia': Video of Singing Nun Joining Islamic Pop Performance Goes Viral

Philippines Seeks Peace with Muslim Self-Rule Vote

Fine to dance but why go up on stage, asks Muslim lawyers’ group

Nothing wrong with CJ dancing in public, says lawyer

Freeing of Bashir seen as political move by Jokowi

PKS campaign pledge to pass 'ulema protection’ bill draws criticism

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Pakistan

Pakistan ISIS 'Terrorists' Shot Dead Were 'Innocent': Government

COAS discusses Afghan peace process with visiting US military delegation

3rd anniversary of terrorist attack at Bacha Khan University

US senator urges Trump to meet PM Khan to strengthen ties

CTD kills two more ‘terrorists’ in Gujranwala

16 CTD officials booked under anti-terror law

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South Asia

Will Talk With Pakistan If Taliban Are Being Represented By the Country: Ghani

Afghan and Coalition Forces kill 15 militants in during separate operations

Bangladesh arrests Islamist extremist over deadly cafe attack

Taliban car bomb goes off among Afghan security forces

Chickenpox spreading in Bangladesh’s Rohingya camps

6 Myanmar cops hurt in Rakhine

U.S. envoy for Afghan peace concludes visit to Pakistan with optimisms

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Africa

Al-Qaeda-Linked Extremists Kill 10 UN Peacekeepers in Mali

Kenya: Thousands Of Muslims Commemorate Terror Victims

Sudan unrest enters second month with protests in Omdurman

Kenyan police say attack on Chinese facilities is repelled

Israel and Chad renew diplomatic relations, Benjamin Netanyahu says

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North America

US Army Study of Its Iraq Invasion Concludes Iran Was 'The Only Victor'

US Withdrawal to Drag Neighbours Back Into Afghan War, Warns Report

Pompeo terms pullout plan a tactical change

US senator wants Trump to meet PM Khan

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/saudi-arabia-faces-bleak-future,-real-risk-of-demise--a-political-analyst-from-london/d/117522

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Saudi Arabia Faces Bleak Future, Real Risk of Demise: A Political Analyst From London

Jan 20, 2019

Saudi Arabia would finally face a revolt from the inside as people's voices for democracy and freedom start to rattle the shaky and unstable regime that "corrupt royals" have built on oil wealth, a political analyst from London says.

“The future of Saudi Arabia looks bleak because it is a complete autocracy ruled by a corrupt royal family which uses the whip and electricity and the sword to suppress all opposition,” said Rodney Shakespeare in an interview with Press TV on Sunday.

The analyst said the Saudi Arabian government had managed to remain in power through its huge oil income and its economic strength which it uses to satisfy a “sufficient proportion of the population” which thinks its interests lie with supporting the corrupt and intolerant government.

Shakespeare said, however, that at some stage in future, Saudi Arabia is likely to come under high pressure as the modern communication technologies have enabled people to become more familiar with their democratic rights.

“There will come a situation where the need for people to express their views and acquire democracy will happen,” he said.

The expert said there was also the possibility that the United States and Israel as Saudi Arabia’s war-mongering allies would push the regime in Riyadh to launch a large military conflict in the Middle East which could accelerate the demise of the kingdom as it could lead to more chaos and uncertainty inside the country.

“All the time the Saudi-American-Israeli nexus is only too likely to make some ghastly geopolitical mistake,” he said, adding, “... and if that happens, then you can be sure that forces for liberation in Saudi Arabia will succeed in breaking out in the turmoil and chaos which will be inevitable in the situation.”

Shakespeare said history has seen recurrent cases of regime falls involving autocratic governments, adding that could be the case for Saudi Arabia and its royal rulers.

“You could find suddenly that autocracies ... come under huge pressure and may well get overthrown in one of those surprising, startling developments which happen in human affairs from time to time,” he said.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586325/Saudi-Arabia-regime-fall-democracy-war-interview

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What’s In a Name? Religion, Maybe: Many Sikh Families Used To Give Sons Names Rooted In

Jan 20, 2019

SEHWAJPUR/WAJIDPUR/MALERKOTLA: Before Partition drove a wedge between people of different religions, many Sikh families used to give sons names rooted in Urdu, which was one of the most important languages of undivided Punjab. There were Muslims with Sikh names too.

After Independence, the practice took on a different form. As Punjab was ripped apart in the bloodbath of Partition, a few Muslim families gave two names to their children – one Muslim, one Sikh. Slowly, the violence eased and so did the fear. But the practice continued...

Omar Farooq, alias Narayan Singh, is a tailor in Sahwajpur village, 11 km from Patiala, which has had a Sikh majority population since the British raj.

The tailor, who is in his 40s, lives with his wife and three children in a family of more than 20 members, including his father and three uncles.

Initially, religious identity was never an issue for them because most people had two names — one with Persian and Arabic roots and the other distinctly Sikh. That was the way it was and no one thought much about it. Farooq says he realized he was a Muslim only after he got married in his late 20s.

“When we were young, we used to play with other teenagers, who would sometimes call us ‘Mussalman (Muslim)’ in jest. This was so lighthearted that we thought we were just another caste in the Sikh fold. Also, many of our Sikh friends used the surname, Maan,” recalls Farooq, who celebrates Lohri and Holi with his neighbours and friends and has langar in the local gurdwara, just like everyone else in the village.

Farooq is matter-of-fact about his dual identity, which, he says, has been a common practice in his community for generations.

His uncle Habib alias Arjun Singh, who is in his late 80s, says the practice of giving two names started in 1947 after a majority of Muslims migrated to the newlycarved Pakistan and only a handful were left in the villages of Indian Punjab.

Apprehensive about their children’s safety, the families that stayed back started giving them dual names. That’s how Habib, who was 15 at the time, got another name, Arjun Singh.

As gruesome as it was, the violence of Partition eased, as did the fear. But the practice of giving two names to children continued in some of these families.

Sahwajpur, a village which has around 400 households, is home to about 100 Muslim families, many of whom have continued the practice.

In Wajidpur village, about 4 km from Sehwajpur, 38-year-old Jalle Khan, a mason, is better known as Jarnail Singh. His 15-yearold son, Akram Khan goes by the name Rinku Singh and 18-year-old daughter Sabeena has the name Satinder on her Aadhaar card.

“I didn’t know much about my religion till a few years ago. We realized our true religious identity only after Jamaat (a group of preachers) came to the village,” said Jalle Khan.

His son is a student of Islamic studies in Rajasthan’s Suratgarh and Sabeena studies at a madrassa in Malerkotla.

“We knew we are Muslims by birth but didn’t know much about our religious practices. Even now, my name in my bank account and postal address is Jarnail Singh,” says Jalle Khan as he introduces his uncle as Baljeet Singh, alias Beera Khan, and his cousins as Manpreet Singh and Jaswinder Singh.

In nearby Banhra, villagers who were born to parents with two different names did not have much knowledge about their religious identity.

Several Muslims with dual names have now started following their religious practices, thanks to the support of fellow villagers, who are mainly Sikhs and Hindus.

Manpreet Singh, husband of sarpanch Mandeep Kaur of Wajidpur village, says community celebrations of Sikh and Muslim festivals are common in the village.

“Recently, villagers even got a mosque constructed for Muslims and they are an integral part of every activity,” says Manpreet.

Abdul Sattar, a youth from a nearby village, says local leaders are taking steps to help them follow their religious practices, particularly since they also form a significant vote bank.

Mixed Rituals And Dilemmas

There are several Muslim families which have been following rituals of both religions, as they were born to parents with dual identity. Many had no clarity on their religious identity for years.

“Several members in our extended family have been following Sikh rituals of birth and death. Two years ago, when my cousin passed away, his wife and children were preparing to cremate him. It was only after some elder members of the family asserted his Muslim identity and insisted on Islamic rituals that his mortal remains were buried near the village cremation ground,” recalls Sehwajpur tailor Omar Farooq.

Muslims In Punjab

Muslims comprise less than 2% of the population in Punjab, but Islam has a strong historical presence with many mosques, mausoleums and shrines. The Muslim population came down drastically after Partition, when most Muslims migrated to Pakistan and many were killed in the ensuing violence.

“Muslims acquired dual names to escape persecution during partition, but things have changed on various fronts for the community. With growing awareness, many have started following their religious practices and are asserting their religious identity,” says Dr Naseer Akhter, a social worker and Islamic preacher from Malerkotla.

Up till Independence, Muslims were in a majority in Jalandhar, Amritsar, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur. Except for Malerkotla, the only Muslim-dominated town in Punjab, Muslims are scattered across the state and have a significant presence in and around Qadian, Chandigarh, Hoshiarpur and Ludhiana.

At present, Punjab has a Muslim population of over five lakh, of which nearly 20% may comprise people like Farooq alias Narayan Singh and Habib alias Arjun Singh, who live with a dual identity.

True Secularism

Muslim scholar and historian Muhammad Rafi, who has written many books on socio-cultural and political aspects of Muslims and is based in Malerkotla, observes that the dual identity trend started in Muslims who were too scared to migrate to Pakistan during Partition. Gradually, the practice helped forge a bond between Sikhs and Muslims. “They not only imbibed the culture but also each other’s religions. History is replete with instances of Muslims and Sikhs helping each other. Even gurus and saints of both communities have shown respect for each religion. Islam and Sikhism have been close and their amicable co-existence in villages of Punjab is a true example of our secular character,” he says.

Eminent Punjabi poet and writer Surjit Patar, chairman of Punjab Arts Council, observes that the bond between Muslim and Punjabi culture has been reflected in literature and even Sufi songs. It is also reflected in the lifestyle of such members of the minority community.

Dr Naseer, the Malerkotla preacher, points out that in 8,500 villages of Punjab, every village has at least 10 Muslim families. He estimates that Muslims with dual names constitute roughly around 20% of the population. However, this estimate is anecdotal as no survey has ever been conducted to examine the issue of dual identity.

“The trend of dual identity became prominent in villages where there were not many Muslims and the ones that were there feared backlash whenever there was tension,” he observes.

We knew we are Muslims by birth but didn’t know much about our religious practices. Even now, my name in my bank account and postal address is Jarnail Singh Jalle Khan

Two years ago, when my cousin passed away, his wife and children were preparing to cremate him. Later some elder members of the family asserted his Muslim identity and insisted on Islamic rituals and he was duly cremated

They not only imbibed the culture but also each other’s religions. History is replete with instances of Muslims and Sikhs helping each other

Muhammad Rafi | HISTORIAN

A person may have two or three names but as far as official work is concerned, we go by the name mentioned in the birth certificate issued by the MC or in the Aadhaar card. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/whats-in-a-name-religion-maybe/articleshow/67608876.cms

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Netanyahu: Israel Making Breakthrough In Muslim World

BY HERB KEINON  

JANUARY 20, 2019

N’DJAMENA, Chad – While Iran and the Palestinians tried to stop the reestablishment of ties between Israel and Chad, other Arab countries actually encouraged the move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday before boarding his plane back to Israel from the landlocked African country.

Netanyahu said that the Arab world is helping Israel make inroads into non-Arab Muslim countries. Paradoxically, he pointed out, some of those countries are looking to Israel to help in their relationships not only with the US, but also with Arab countries.

Netanyahu made these comments during a briefing with reporters accompanying him to Chad, but would not give details about which countries he was referring to.

“The breakthroughs with the Arab world help us in the Muslim world,” he said. “And also, the Muslims want our help in dealing with the Arab states.”

Netanyahu said that the reestablishment of ties with Chad is not something that happened all of a sudden, but has been in the works for a long time, taking the work of both the Mossad and the foreign Ministry to bring about.

Netanyahu related to his relationship with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, and said they speak about once every two weeks.

Among the issues that came up in his meeting with Chadian President Idris Déby was whether there is a possibility of a third country taking in Israel’s African refugees. Beyond saying that the issue came up, Netanyahu gave no details and would not indicate whether Chad would be willing to serve as a sanctuary for the refugees, or would assist in finding another country to be one.

Israel is making inroads into the Muslim world, Netanyahu said on Sunday at the presidential palace in N’Djamena, before signing documents with Déby, formally re-establishing ties between the two countries.

“We are making history,” Netanyahu said of the reestablishment of ties with what he called a “giant” country in Africa. “We are turning Israel into a rising world power. There are those who tried to prevent this, but without success” – a reference to Iranian and Palestinian efforts to stop Chad from establishing ties with Israel.

“It is significant for us that Chad is a country with a Muslim majority that seeks friendship with Israel,” Netanyahu said. “There are other such countries, but in Africa this is particularly significant,” he added.

Referring to the struggle being waged in this region of Africa with extremist Islamic radicals, and noting the terrorist attack last week in Kenya, Netanyahu said that the future of Africa depends on the future of the Sahel.

“What happens here can affect the entire world,” he said, adding that Israel and Chad will now work together to impress the importance of the struggle on other critical allies around the world.

Netanyahu called Chad a very important country for Israel and said that there is much they can do to cooperate in a wide range of fields, including security, water, health, technology and agriculture.

The prime minister – who said that both he and Déby like to read history – said that the Chadian president spoke to him about African prisoners of war in World War II who were murdered by the Nazis.

“This is a story that has to be told,” Netanyahu said. “You suffered because you were black; we suffered because we were Jews. We refuse to accept this fate and we raised ourselves from defeat to create a new future for ourselves and for each other.”

Déby, in his comments, spoke of the necessity for countries to join hands to fight terrorism. He said that Chad was fighting terrorism on its borders and is prepared to continue the struggle.

The president made clear that the re-establishment of ties with Israel would not come at the expense of support for the Palestinians, and Chad is in favor of negotiations between the two sides toward an overall solution.

The statements and the signing of the Declaration at the presidential palace came after a couple of hours of meetings, first between Netanyahu and Déby alone, and then with the wider staff including National Security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, and the prime minister’s military attaché, Avi Bluth.

https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/PM-Israel-making-breakthrough-in-Muslim-world-578032

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Egypt builds Middle East’s largest cathedral, but what about smaller churches?

20 January 2019

Not only did 2019 witness the inauguration of Egypt’s largest church and mosque in the New Administrative Capital, it kicked off with the legalization of 80 churches and service buildings in the country, bringing the number of legalized Christian houses of worship to a total of 627.

But the number of legalized churches, which come up to 508 as of December 2018, is still minimal compared to the 3,800 requests sent to government, according to a report issued by the Project on Middle East Democracy. They said that the rate at which legalization is finalized, and construction or renovation permits are obtained is rather slow.

In September 2016, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi issued the Church Construction and Renovation Law, which is meant to address the longstanding demands of Egypt’s Christian communities for a more just and streamlined system of obtaining permits to build, renovate, and repair churches.

Following the ratification of this law, a committee was established in 2017 to look into applications submitted by Christian congregations, as well as to decide whether to legalize churches constructed without a permit or houses informally used for prayers and religious services.

The committee includes ministers of housing, urban development, defense, justice, antiquities, and parliamentary and legal affairs, as well as representatives of different churches and security entities. But as the law, the committee, and measures taken on the ground seem quite promising, they are hardly devoid of problems.

A long process

While praising the law and commending the state on its efforts in implementing it, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Morcos of Shubra al-Khaima said that there are still thousands of churches and affiliated buildings that need to be legalized. He also noted that the process itself takes a long time.

“According to the law, the governor under whose jurisdiction the church falls should respond to our request within four months, but in many cases there is no response. We don’t know what should be done in this case,” he said. “We’re hoping that this is happening now because the law is still quite new and that in a while, procedures will be expedited.”

Reverend Andrea Zaki, head of the Protestant community in Egypt, also commented on the time the legalization process takes.

“We submitted requests for 1,070 churches and service buildings and we have so far got approval for 82 churches, which means we’re approaching 10 percent,” he said. “But we’re hoping that procedures will be faster in the coming phase.”

According to the Project on Middle East Democracy’s report, bureaucracy might have played a major role in the slow process.

“One likely reason is that implementation of the law is taking place within a bureaucracy that remains extremely inefficient. To gain legal status, for example, unlicensed churches must provide a wealth of information that must be verified by local representatives and then reviewed by senior officials of the nine government bodies represented on the legalization committee.”

The report added that neither the law nor the actions that followed have so far been capable of addressing “system problems hindering Christians’ freedom of worship.” These include, the report explained, “unlawful church closures, harassment of worshippers by security agencies, failure to protect churches from terrorist and sectarian violence, and security agencies’ reliance on reconciliation sessions, outside the justice system, to ‘resolve’ local conflicts around churches.”

Rules and regulations

On the other hand, the Coalition of Egyptian Parties, which includes 46 political parties, said that the growing number of legalized churches is bound to reduce sectarian conflicts in different parts of Egypt.

“Clashes between Muslims and Christians, especially in Upper Egyptian villages, were attributed to performing religious ceremonies in churches with no construction permits, or in buildings that were not meant to be used for religious purposes in the first place,” said a statement issued by the coalition. “The legalization of those places will endow them with an official status, hence protect both the places of worship and the worshippers.” The legalization, the statement added, is also contingent upon complying with all the necessary safety measures required by the committee in charge of the process. “This means that those buildings will be safer,” the statement noted.

However, a report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, stated that the particular specifications required, including these safety measures, are one of the main reasons for the delay. They said mandatory specifications such as fire safety and alarm systems, are bound to take time.

“If the committee continues at this rate, it will need 12 years to respond to all submitted requests,” the report said.

The report quotes Abbot Mikhail Anton, the representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the legalization committee, as saying that according to the law, unlicensed churches that submitted legalization requests cannot be closed, yet this is not the case on the ground.

“We still witness cases of church closures because of pressure by local extremists,” he said. The report argued that dealing with churches on a case-by-case basis will cause more delays, hence problems and clashes are bound to persist. “The only solution to this problem is for the committee to approve all submitted requests in one single decision then deal with conditions and specifications after. “Such a step will undoubtedly curb sectarian violence, which is still thriving thanks to bureaucratic delays and approval conditions.”

Journalist Rania Saad made an estimate of the number of churches that require legalization based on the requests submitted to the committee. The Coptic Orthodox Church submitted requests for 2,600 churches and service buildings, the Catholic Church 119, the Anglican (Protestant) Church 1,070, the Episcopal Church 15, and the Adventist Church 5.)

But even with these statistics, el-Sisi’s move to open the Middle East’s largest cathedral, as dubbed by the government, was seen as a symbolic message of tolerance in the predominantly Muslim nation, and a glimpse of hope for Christians in the country.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2019/01/20/Egypt-builds-Middle-East-s-largest-cathedral-but-what-about-smaller-churches-.html

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'The real face of Indonesia': Video of singing nun joining Islamic pop performance goes viral

January 21, 2019

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A video showing Christian nuns singing and dancing with a qasidah (Islamic pop music) group went viral over the weekend, with netizens praising it as a heart-warming example of interfaith acceptance amid rising intolerance across the country.

The video was first uploaded to the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) YouTube channel last Wednesday (Jan 16) and went viral after Twitter user @qasimin, who specialises in making memes out of qasidah music videos, tweeted a clip of the video the next day.

According to the KWI's official website, mirifica.net, Sister Yunita of the Sisters of Charity of St Charles Borromeo had practised with the Miftahul Jannah qasidah group before taking the stage at a celebration for the anniversary of the Jakarta Archdiocese's Civita Youth Camp in Ciputat, Banten. Her fellow nuns joined in as background dancers.

The song performed by the group was called Jilbab Putih (White Headscarf) and Sister Yunita pointed to her own white headscarf when singing the lyrics.

"White headscarf, symbol of holiness," the nun and the qasidah group sang. "White headscarf, like light that is shining in the middle of a dark night."

Twitter users applauded the video and chimed in with their own examples of religious tolerance.

"As an ethnic-Chinese and a Christian that once joined in singing qasidah at school, I like this," Twitter user @jen_l4u said.

"It doesn't lessen our faith but strengthens our unity," @benobenyoh said.

"The real face of Indonesia," gushed @dapedwepe.

The video comes not long after a cross in a cemetery of a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Yogyakarta was destroyed because residents objected to a Christian symbol in the public burial ground.

A cross-shaped mosaic in Surakarta, Central Java, was also recently painted over despite denials that it had anything to do with Christianity.

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/the-real-face-of-indonesia-video-of-singing-nun-joining-islamic-pop-performance-goes

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Pakistan ISIS 'terrorists' shot dead were 'innocent': Government

Jan 20, 2019

LAHORE: Pakistani authorities on Sunday admitted that three of the four ISIS "terrorists" who were killed in an encounter with police in Punjab province were "innocent" even as 16 personnel involved in the shootout have been arrested.

"Police have arrested 16 personnel of counter terrorism department (CTD), and a premier intelligence agency allegedly involved in the encounter that took place in Sahiwal district, 200 kilometres from Lahore on Saturday. An FIR has also been instituted against them," Punjab law minister Basharat Raja told a news conference.

Raja said the officer who was leading the operation has been suspended from service.

Khalil, a resident of Lahore, his wife, their 13-year-old daughter and their neighbour Zeeshan, were on their way to a wedding in Burewala when they were shot dead by police in Zeeshan's car in the Qadirabad area on Saturday morning.

The CTD in a statement however said that Zeeshan was an active member of the Islamic State terror group and a phone call was intercepted from Afghanistan in which an ISIS commander had directed other members of the network to hide after the killing of Zeeshan.

The couple's three minor children in the car however survived. Their minor son sustained a bullet injury while their two daughters were unhurt.

Following the killings, the CTD claimed to have shot dead four ISIS "terrorists" including two women in what it said was an "intelligence-based operation".

On Sunday, the CTD declared Khalil and his family as "innocent", saying "neither Khalil nor his family members knew that Zeeshan was an ISIS terrorist who supplied ammunition to other members of his network".

It said Zeeshan offered a lift to Khalil and his family to Burewala only to transport ammunition and explosives.

"Police usually do not check a vehicle with women and children," the CTD said, adding that the first shot was fired by Zeeshan when his car was intercepted by the police. In the return of fire Zeeshan and the three others were killed.

The killing of the three innocents sent shock waves across the country as Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed grief.

"The CTD did a great job in the fight against terrorism but everyone must be accountable before the law," Khan said on Twitter.

"As soon as the joint investigation team's report comes, swift action will be taken. The government's priority is protection of all its citizens," Khan said.

The Punjab government has said it will look after the surviving children of Khalil.

The CTD said that Zeeshan was also involved in the killing of three ISI intelligence officers in Multan, a police officer in Faisalabad and in the kidnappings of American national Warren Weinstein and Ali Haider Gilani, son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The opposition has condemned the killings and demanded the government bring the culprits to justice.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pakistan-isis-terrorists-shot-dead-were-innocent-government/articleshow/67613516.cms

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Will talk with Pakistan if Taliban are being represented by the country: Ghani

20 Jan 2019

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has said that the government would talk with Pakistan if the Taliban group is being represented by Pakistan or any other regional country.

He made the remarks after registering as presidential runner in the headquarters of the Independent Election Commission this afternoon.

“Taliban have two options; to be represented Pakistan and other regional countries, or they should represent themselves as Afghans,” President Ghani said, adding that the Afghan government would negotiate with Pakistan if the Taliban are being represented by Pakistan.

President Ghani also added that the Taliban should return to home if the group prefers a return as Afghans.

The latest remarks by President Ghani come amid ongoing efforts to launch direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban group.However, the Taliban group has so far refused to participate in direct talks with the government emphasizing that the group prefers direct negotiations with the United States mainly focusing on complete withdrawal of the foreign forces.

https://www.khaama.com/will-talk-with-pakistan-if-taliban-are-being-represented-by-the-country-ghani-03155/

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Europe

 

Europe’s patience with Iran wears thin, tiptoes towards Trump

20 January 2019

In Tehran on Jan. 8 during a meeting with European envoys, Iranian officials abruptly stood up, walked out and slammed the door in an extraordinary break with protocol.

The French, British, German, Danish, Dutch, and Belgian diplomats in the Iranian foreign ministry room had incensed the officials with a message that Europe could no longer tolerate ballistic missile tests in Iran and assassination plots on European soil, according to four EU diplomats.

“There was a lot of drama, they didn’t like it, but we felt we had to convey our serious concerns,” one of the diplomats said. “It shows the relationship is becoming more tense,” a second said.

An Iranian official declined to comment on the meeting.

The next day, the European Union imposed its first sanctions on Iran since world powers agreed the 2015 Vienna nuclear arms control deal with Tehran.

The sanctions were largely symbolic but the stormy meeting encapsulated the unexpected shift in European diplomacy since the end of last year. Smaller, more dovish EU countries have joined France and Britain in a harder stance on Tehran, including considering new economic sanctions, diplomats say.

Those could include asset freezes and travel bans on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Iranians developing the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program, three diplomats said.

The new approach moves Europe closer to US President Donald Trump’s policy of isolating Iran with tough sanctions even though European governments still support the 2015 Vienna deal from which he withdrew in May.

Although there are diverging views in Europe, the shift could have consequences for President Hassan Rouhani’s government as it looks to European capitals to salvage that deal.

It could also strengthen anti-Western sentiment in Iran and lead to more aggressive Iranian moves around the Middle East, where the Islamic Republic is involved in several proxy wars.

Iran’s firing of short-range ballistic missiles into Syria on Sept. 30, missile tests and a satellite launch this month have niggled Western powers.

For Europe, alleged assassination plots by Iran on French and Danish soil in 2018 were the last straw, diplomats say.

Tehran denies the plots and says the missile tests are purely defensive.

“The accusations against Iran over the past few months have awoken a few countries in Europe that were against a tougher line on Iran,” a European-based Middle East diplomat said.

The same day as the meeting, the Netherlands publicly blamed Iran for killings on its soil in 2015 and 2017. Tehran denies any involvement. Then on Jan. 9, the EU designated a unit of Iran’s intelligence ministry a terrorist organization, froze its assets and those of two men.

“Take the Dutch for example. They had kept very quiet until the Danish attack and now they are more hawkish than the French,” said the diplomat.

Alarmed by Trump’s “America First” policy, Europe considered his May 8 decision to pull out of the Iran accord a severe setback but Iran’s international ambitions appear to offer Brussels and Washington a chance to work more closely.

A US State Department official said there was now “a growing international consensus” on the range of Iranian threats.

“The US welcomes Europe’s efforts to counter Iranian terrorism on European soil, its missile launches, human rights abuses, and other threats,” the official said.

Dialogue falters

As the Trump administration accused Iran last year of harboring nuclear ambitions and fomenting instability in the Middle East through its support for militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, the EU sought dialogue with Tehran.

At meetings between European and Iranian diplomats last year, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, pressed for gestures on Iran’s role in Syria’s war and for alleged help to end the conflict in Yemen.

But multiple bilateral talks on the ballistic missile program have yielded no results.

The EU tried to show Iran that compliance with the nuclear accord would still mean economic benefits despite Trump’s decision to re-impose US sanctions and choke off Iranian oil exports by pressuring US allies.

The European Union is set to officially launch a mechanism, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) to trade with Iran later this month but it will not be operational for several months. It will be registered in France, run by a German and likely to include Britain as a shareholder.

“There’s a feeling of frustration among Britain, France and Germany, and others, after the first phase of diplomacy with Iran,” another senior EU diplomat said. “We thought we could get some effort from the Iranians in several areas.”

Iran says Europe may not be able to safeguard the nuclear deal anyway and accused European officials of dragging their feet.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said last week “operational steps” were needed from Europe as political support not enough.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts said on Thursday Europe “would do nothing in our interest.”

“The Europeans are worse than the Americans. If not, they are not any better,” he said, state TV reported.

EU disagreements

Last March, as part of efforts to convince Trump to stick to the nuclear deal, France, Britain and Germany proposed asset freezes and travel bans on the IRGC and Iranian companies and groups developing the missile program, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Now, a similar set of measures is being prepared, three diplomats say.

“We’d prefer not to take these measures, but they need to stop trying to kill people on our territory and over the last three years they have beefed up their ballistic program,” said one senior European diplomat.

The diplomats say getting all 28 EU members to agree will take time.

The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini, who helped seal the 2015 deal, is wary of moving too fast for fear of provoking a complete collapse of the accord, four diplomats said.

EU foreign ministers planned to issue a rare joint statement on Jan. 21 about what they say is Iran’s interference in the region and calling for an end to missile tests. Diplomats said Mogherini wants to see the SPV established first.

An EU official denied any split in policy between Mogherini and EU governments, saying the statement will be published as soon as the SPV is launched.

EU diplomats said eastern European governments could also go too far against Iran to please Trump in return for security guarantees against Russia.

EU diplomats said there was a risk that a two-day conference in Poland in February focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, convened by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, could divide eastern and western Europe.

Mogherini is unable to attend due to another official engagement, an EU official said, and it is not clear at what level France, Britain and Germany will be represented.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2019/01/20/Europe-s-patience-with-Iran-wears-thin-tiptoes-towards-Trump.html

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India

 

How a Muslim aristocrat's art collection became a national treasure

20th January 2019

HYDERABAD: In this city of Charminar and Golconda Fort, of pearls and palaces, Salar Jung Museum stands tall as it boasts of the largest one-man collection of antiques and art treasures in the world.

Located on the banks of Musi River, Salar Jung Museum welcomes you as you enter the old city, popular for historical monuments, opulent palaces, mouth-watering cuisine and a distinct culture.

As one walks through 40 galleries of this spectacular museum, it takes a visitor through an amazing journey to a bygone era rich in aristocratic history and culture. The artefacts on display at India's third largest museum are unique and range through varied periods of time and places in the world.

Though popular as the world's largest one-man collection of antiques, it is actually the collection by three generations of a family of nobles who served as prime ministers of Nizams, as the rulers of princely State of Hyderabad were known. The family, with the title Salar Jung, was famous for its zeal for acquiring art objects from around the world. The tradition started with Nawab Mir Turab Ali Khan, Salar Jung I. His prized possessions included the 'Veiled Rebecca', an enchanting marble statue acquired by him from Rome in 1876.

Mir Laiq Ali Khan, Salar Jung II, died at the young age of 26. The majority of nearly 50,000 artefacts were collected by Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, Salar Jung III. An art connoisseur, he resigned as prime minister of the Nizam in 1914 and devoted his life to collecting artefacts from various parts of the world.

The precious and rare art objects collected by him for about 40 years find place in the portals of the Salar Jung Museum, which spellbinds history lovers, art aficionados and heritage students.

Yousuf Ali Khan visited Europe and other parts of the world to collect art objects. Later, traders from various countries used to come to Hyderabad to sell their artefacts to him.

"He never spent his money on extravagant spending and never opted for big parties and singing sessions. He invested his money in purchasing rare pieces of art because of which over a period of time thousands of articles were stored in his palace Diwan Deodi. He had this frenzy for collecting more and more and a time came when he realized that there was no more space in his palace and he planned to shift them to another palace but passed away before he could execute his plans," Nawab Ahteram Ali Khan, a direct descendant of the Salar Jung family and a member of Salar Jung Museum Board, told IANS.

As Yousuf Ali Khan died a bachelor in 1949, the vast collection of precious art objects and library were arranged in a museum in Diwan Deodi to perpetuate the name of Salar Jung as a world renowned art connoisseur. It was opened to the public by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, on December 16, 1951. Thus the Salar Jung Museum came into existence. The museum was administered by Salar Jung Estate Committee till 1958, when the Salar Jung family donated the entire collection to the Government of India.

"If the collection was distributed among shareholders, one day or the other it would have been sold off or may have even gone out of the country. The most important thing was to see that it remained in India and in a museum where it could be displayed," said Ahteram Ali Khan, whose grandfather Nawab Mir Turab Yar Jung was the first cousin of Salar Jung III.

Turab Yar Jung was of the view that by donating it to the nation they were not doing any favour but were only saving their own articles as it was felt that preservation and restoration would incur lot of expenses and only an institution like the Government of India could take care of them.

The priceless collection was donated unconditionally. "Nobody else has done this anywhere in the world. This family should be kept up in a high esteem but it is most unfortunate that by just providing board membership to one member of the family they think they are doing a great favour. What is important is gratitude," feels Ahteram Ali Khan.

In 1961 by an Act of Parliament Salar Jung Museum was declared an institute of national importance and from 1961 its affairs were managed by the board headed by the state's governor. In 1968, the collection was shifted to a new building constructed on the banks of the Musi river. Mir Turab Ali Khan Bhavan (Western Block) and Mir Laiq Ali Khan Bhavan (Eastern Block) came up in 2000.

Spread over 10 acres of land, the museum has 9,000 manuscripts, 43,000 art objects and 47,000 printed books. Galleries exhibit artefacts including the ones that date back to the 4th century. It has Indian Art, Far Eastern Art, Children Art, European Art, Middle Eastern Art and Founders' Gallery.

The biggest attraction at the museum is the 19th century British Musical Clock. Visitors assemble in the clock hall every hour to watch tiny mechanized figures emerge through a door to strike the toy bell.

The other prized possession of SJM includes veiled marble statue of Rebecca created by Italian sculptor G. B. Benzoni. There is a set of ivory chairs presented by Louis XVI of France to Tipu Sultan of Mysore.

Ahteram Ali Khan believes the museum has art pieces in every category one can think of as a treasure of art and history. He feels SJM can boasts of articles which sometimes put even Europeans to shame. Veiled Rebecca, he points out, is one of the four fabulous sculptures, Benzoni spent all his life on. The other three are in France, UK and Italy.

"If you walk into Salar Jung Museum, you see life everywhere. Even the best of European collections are without life. There is dent in French collection. We have dressing table of Marie Antoinette (the last Queen of France before French Revolution) Can you imagine. They would die to keep something like this in their country."

The collections on display include Indian Textiles, Arms and Armour, Indian Miniature Paintings, Bidri Art, Arabic, Persian Manuscripts, Chinese collection, European Clocks and Furniture, European Marble Statue, Egyptian and Syrian Art, Far Eastern Statuary.

"The collection comprises more foreign than Indian artefacts and most of the art objects are decorative pieces. We have collections from almost 33 countries," said A. Nagender Reddy, Director, Salar Jung Museum.

Every day 3,000 to 4, 000 people visit the museum and on weekends and holidays the numbers go up to 6,000. Sometimes 12,000 to 13,000 people visit the museum on a day.

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/hyderabad/2019/jan/20/how-a-muslim-aristocrats-art-collection-became-a-national-treasure-1927689.html

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Gandhi rooted for secularism, successfully forged Hindu-Muslim unity: Historians

January 20, 2019

Mahatma Gandhi's secularism was much more than just a religious yearning and he was successful in forging Hindu-Muslim unity, a panel of historians and political scientists said here on Sunday.

"I would like to say that Gandhi in the last few years of his life tried to make sure that India's political leadership is committed to secularism. This is something that is not generally realised," said Rajmohan Gandhi, biographer-cum-grandson of the leader, during a discussion on Gandhi's Secularism at the 10th edition of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF).

His latest book was 'Why Gandhi Still Matters: An Appraisal of the Mahatma's Legacy'.

Rajmohan Gandhi, biographer of Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, mentioned that if one reads carefully the history of the last few months of 1947, he would see there was a possibility of India becoming a Hindu state and Pakistan, an Islamic state.

"At that time Gandhi played an active role in getting a clear written political commitment. It was not just his religious yearnings," said.

Speaking about an incident when Gandhi was asked about rampant violence, his grandson said: "He preached 'fear not-hate not', but Gandhi had mentioned that 'fear not' became popular while the latter did not".

But consciously people knew that by acting on the feelings of ill-will or malice, one would do great harm to Indian society, he said.

Speaking about Gandhi's religious yearnings, political scientist Tridip Suhrud said "Ishwar Allah Tero Naam" is actually Bengal's gift, as young Manu Gandhi (Gandhi's grand niece) was visiting Noakhali when these words were added to 'Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram'( Hindu religious song). Gandhi told her that the lines must be included whenever this prayer is sung.

"It is not denial of God, it is about deep faith. To think of Gandhi minus his quest for religion would be to forget the most vital part of him. His life's long quest was to see God face-to-face. The idea of secularism is very differently constituted; it is constituted by 'samabhava'. This word is all about equality and equitability," Suhrud said.

Regarding Gandhi's take on religion in politics, historian-cum-grandnephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sugata Bose said: "We have to understand he was describing non-violence, non-cooperation as a struggle of religion against irreligion. He was not in favour of separating the domains of religion and politics".

Bose said that like many of his contemporaries in the early 20th century, Gandhi believed that if religion is taken completely out of politics, it might be like evacuating it of any sense of ethics.

Also, he was very successful in forging Hindu-Muslim unity. His closest political compatriots were Shaukat Ali and Mohammad Ali.

Pointing how Gandhi evolved with time, Bose said: "In the early 1920s he would not dine with the Ali brothers and that he was also not in favour of inter-marriage. But by 1940s, he honestly mentioned that now he is in favour of inter-marriage and also approved inter-dining".

Full report at:

https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/gandhi-rooted-for-secularism-successfully-forged-hindu-muslim-unity-historians-119012000631_1.html

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Pakistan Awami Tehreek Chairman Dr Tahir Ul Qadri to Visit India Next Month

January 21, 2019

Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chairman and Minhajul Quran patron-in-chief Dr Tahirul Qadri will visit India on the invitation of various Muslim organisations in February, where he will address religious gatherings in several cities.

According to the Minhajul Quran foreign affairs department, Dr Qadri will visit India in the first week of February and address religious congregations in New Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Kanpur and attend ceremonies to present the Quran encyclopedia compiled by him.

According to sources, the Indian interior ministry has given full security assurance to Qadri.

He will also attend an event on Pakistan-India relations where he would be deliberating on Pakistan’s principled stance on Kashmir.

Dr Qadri last toured India in 2016 when he addressed gatherings of thousands of people about edicts issued against terrorism.

Full report at:

He will also pay respects at the shrine of Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1892953/1-qadri-visit-india-next-month/

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Pakistan violates ceasefire along international border, LoC in Jammu and Kashmir

Jan 20, 2019

JAMMU: Pakistani troops on Sunday violated ceasefire by firing at Indian posts along the international border and Line of Control (LoC) in Kathua and Rajouri districts of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said.

However, no casualty was reported on the Indian side in the firing, which was retaliated effectively and strongly by the forces, they said.

Pakistani troops resorted to unprovoked firing on border outposts of the BSF in Hiranagar sector around 11 am, the officials said, adding it was retaliated and the exchange of fire lasted for a brief period.

This was the third time in the past six days that Pakistan violated ceasefire in this sector. Last Tuesday, a border security force or BSF official was killed when he was hit by a Pakistani sniper from across the border.

Pakistani troops also fired on Indian army positions and the villages along the LoC in Naushera sector of Rajouri district from 1 pm to 3 pm, the officials said.

They said several mortar shells from across the border hit the forest area but there was no report of any damage.

Besides the international border, the Pakistani troops have been violating ceasefire along the LoC in the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch almost on a daily basis since the beginning of the year.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pakistan-violates-ceasefire-along-international-border-loc-in-jammu-and-kashmir/articleshow/67614444.cms

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Muslims in Jammu feeling vulnerable, says Mehbooba

by Adil Akhzer

January 21, 2019

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti on Sunday alleged that Muslims in Jammu are “feeling vulnerable”. She also alleged that the Gujjar-Bakerwal community is being “selectively targeted”.

“I (as CM) had issued an order that till the time the Forest Act comes into force in Jammu and Kashmir, the Gujjar Bakerwal community shouldn’t be disturbed. We were hopeful of the same treatment under the Governor-led administration… But unfortunately, under the nose of Governor, this time there is selective targeting of Gujjar-Bakerwals (in Jammu),” Mehbooba said.

She said she met Governor Satya Pal Malik and told him about the matter. “I want to say that Muslims in Jammu are feeling vulnerable. I was hopeful that after the Governor’s assurance, nothing of this sort would happen again. He assured me that for the time-being, they (Gujjar-Bakerwals) won’t be disturbed… But unfortunately, excesses are happening with these people,” said Mehbooba.

The former CM warned, “If they don’t take care of this fragile situation, it can have dangerous consequences not only for Jammu but also for Kashmir…”

Full report at:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/muslims-in-jammu-feeling-vulnerable-says-mehbooba-mufti-5547632/

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Navjot Sidhu advises PM Imran, PM Modi regarding Gurdwaras

January 21, 2019

NEW DEHLI: Indian politician, television personality and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday shared pictures of letters he wrote to Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi as the 55th birth anniversary of Baba Nanak draws close.

In his letters, Sidhu warned against any disfiguring of the historic Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara on the Pakistani side and Dera Baba Nanak Gurdwara on the Indian side in the name of “commercialisation” and “tourist comforts”.

“The sacredness and serenity of Kartarpur Sahib and Dera Baba Nanak Gurdwara Sahib await the footfalls of our pilgrims. Yet precisely our footfalls have the power to erode the history, architecture and ecology of these sites,” wrote Sidhu.

“We must move primarily on foot with an exception only for the elderly, disabled or sick, along with providing accessible amenities such as toilets. Personal transport should be eschewed at all costs,” he suggested.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/01/20/navjot-sidhu-advises-pm-imran-pm-modi-regarding-gurdwaras/

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2 militants killed in encounter with security forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam

Jan 21, 2019

Two militants are reported to have been killed by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district. An encounter broke out early in the morning on Monday in Budgam’s Zinpanchal, Chrar-e-Sharief.

The encounter is still underway between security forces and a third terrorist.

The encounter began when security forces, acting on information about militant presence in Hapatnar forests of Chrar-e-Sharief, began a cordon and search operation.

“As the cordon was being tightened, the hiding terrorists fired upon the security forces triggering the encounter which is presently on,” news agency IANS quoted the police as saying, adding that the area is mountainous and reinforcements have been rushed in. The gun fight is going on amid rains and snow in the Valley.

This is the first encounter in central Kashmir’s Budgam this year.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/encounter-between-militants-and-security-forces-underway-in-jammu-and-kashmir-s-budgam/story-zUddUr57D9OHhzKFglBGFJ.html

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Mideast

 

Israel to close UNRWA schools in occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds

Jan 20, 2019

Israeli authorities are planning to shut down schools in occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds run by the United Nations refugee agency for Palestinians.

Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported on Sunday that Israel would revoke permits allowing schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to continue to work next school year.

In October 2018, Nir Barakat, the former mayor of al-Quds, had said that administration for schools, clinics and sports centers, among other services, would be transferred to Israeli authorities.

Sami Meshasha, the spokesperson for UNRWA, said in a press statement on Sunday that Israel was violating the refugee convention over its plan.

"UNRWA's existence in Jerusalem (al-Quds) is not a gift from Israel," the spokesperson said, adding, "There are bilateral agreements binding on Israel to respect the agency's installations, jurisdiction and immunity in Jerusalem."

"In addition, Israel is a party to the 1946 Refugee Convention, and such attempts are in violation of this convention."

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), said in a statement carried by official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, that the Israeli decision was "a direct insult to the international community and disregard for its laws and decisions and institutions."

"This provocative step deliberately targets Palestinian refugees and their rights guaranteed by international and humanitarian law," Ashrawi said.

"It also targets Jerusalem and its institutions within the framework of the occupying state's strategy of Judaizing the Holy City, promoting the policy of ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, extending control over all aspects of life, and imposing new facts on the ground," she added.

UNRWA runs seven schools in two refugee camps in occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, serving a total of 3,000 students.

The Israeli plan is the latest blow to the agency after the United States’ decision last year to halt its funding.

US President Donald Trump had already angered Palestinians by his December 2017 recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel's "capital" and cutting more than $200 million in bilateral aid for Gaza and the West Bank.

At that time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally declared that Palestinians would no longer accept the US as a mediator to resolve the conflict because Washington was "completely biased" towards Tel Aviv.

Founded in 1948, UNRWA was established to deal with the mass displacement of Palestinians to Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, following the establishment of the Israeli regime.

Since then, the descendants of those Palestinians who continue to be displaced have benefited from several UNRWA initiatives, including educational facilities.

According to UNRWA, the agency provides health clinics, schooling for 526,000 refugee children and food assistance to 1.7 million people, a million of whom living in Gaza.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586324/Israel-UNRWA

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Yemeni army recaptures Wadi Al-Tamm and Al-Saif mountains in Saada

January 21, 2019

DUBAI: Yemen’s army reclaimed strategic mountain ranges in the Kitaf district in the northern Saada province from Houthi militants on Sunday night, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported.

Yemeni soldiers recaptured the strategic mountains of Wadi Al-Tamm and Jabal Al-Saif after clashes with the Houthis, which left six militants dead, according to a military statement issued on Yemen’s official news agency.

Elsewhere in Saada, seven Houthis - including leaders - were killed in a Yemeni army bombing in Ash-Shami front.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1439066/middle-east

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Erdogan to Trump: Turkey ready to take over Syria’s Manbij

21 January 2019

Turkey is ready to take over security in Syria’s Manbij, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told US President Donald Trump in a telephone call on Sunday, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Erdogan said an attack that left four Americans dead last week in Manbij was an act of provocation aimed at affecting Trump’s decision last month to withdraw US troops from Syria.

The attack occurred nearly a month after Trump confounded his own national security team with the surprise decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria, declaring ISIS extremist group had been defeated there.

ISIS claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.

Manbij is controlled by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia allied to the US-backed Kurdish YPG, which last month invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into the area around the town to forestall a potential Turkish assault.

Ankara deems the YPG terrorists linked to the Kurdish PKK movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.

Erdogan and Trump agreed to accelerate and continue discussions between their chiefs of staff regarding a safe zone in the area, the statement said.

Last week, Trump suggested in a tweet creating a safe zone, without elaborating. The SDF said on Wednesday it was ready to help create the safe zone, as fears grow that the US withdrawal will give Turkey the opportunity to mount a new assault.

Turkey wants the safe zone to be cleared of the Kurdish group.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/01/21/Erdogan-to-Trump-Turkey-ready-to-take-over-Syria-s-Manbij.html

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Israel: ‘Iron Dome’ intercepts rocket fired from Syria

20 January 2019

Israel’s military said its air defense systems intercepted a rocket fired from Syria on Sunday, after Damascus accused Israel of carrying out air raids.

“A short while ago, a rocket was fired at the northern Golan Heights and was intercepted by the ‘Iron Dome’ aerial defense system,” an Israeli military statement said.

A military spokeswoman told AFP the rocket was fired from Syria. No further details were immediately provided.

Syrian state news agency SANA, quoting a military source, said Syrian air defenses earlier Sunday responded to Israeli air raids in the south of the country.

Air defense systems “prevented Israeli air strikes from achieving their objectives in the south” of Syria, the report said without giving further details.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the region targeted was south of Damascus near the Kisweh area.

“Warehouses containing weapons for Syrian regime ally Hezbollah and Iranian fighters are located in that area,” Abdel Rahman said.

But the head of the Observatory - which is based in Britain and relies on a network of sources inside Syria - said it was not clear if these stores were hit in the strikes.

Israel has pledged to stop its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/01/20/Israel-Iron-Dome-intercepts-rocket-fired-from-Syria-.html

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US gained nothing after spending $7,000bn in Iraq, Syria: Iran military chief

Jan 20, 2019

Iran's top military commander says although the United States spent a total of 7,000 billion dollars in Iraq and Syria, it has achieved nothing while the Islamic Republic gained a lot despite its very low spending in those countries.

Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri made the remarks while addressing a gathering of the Iranian Armed Forces’ senior officials in Tehran on Sunday.

“If Americans spent 7,000 billion dollars in Syria and Iraq and achieved nothing, what we spent [in those countries] was very low, but [we had] all these important and strategic results and achievements due to perseverance, jihad, hard work, good thinking, [as well as good] management and guidance,” Iran's top commander added.

He noted that the Islamic Republic and the resistance front have succeeded in making major breakthroughs in the fight against Takfiri terrorism in the Middle East.

Baqeri emphasized that Daesh has been dismantled in Syria and Iraq and said, "Despite all efforts by enemies, countries that created terrorist [groups] are now standing in line to open their embassies in Syria and Iraq."

Iran's top military commander added that the enemy is increasing its security, cultural and soft threats against Iran in a bid to create a gap between the Iranian nation and the Islamic establishment with the purpose of making people give up their belief in the Islamic Revolution's ideals.

"The enemy is currently taking advantage of new methods like cognitive warfare and development of psychological operations in order to achieve its ominous goals," Baqeri said.

In a reversal from previously stated US policy, President Donald Trump ordered early in December a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US troops from Syria as he vowed the United States would no longer be the "policeman of the Middle East."

Late in December, US President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, saying he is "just doing what I said I was going to do" during his 2016 election campaign.

"... I campaigned on getting out of Syria and other places. Now when I start getting out the Fake News Media, or some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived, like to complain about me & my tactics, which are working," Trump wrote on Twitter.

In reaction to Trump's decision, Baqeri said the United States is only fueling insecurity in the Persian Gulf through its presence in the strategic region.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586337/Baqeri-Armed-Forces-Iran-US-Iraq-Syria-dollars

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10% increase in Israeli demolition of Palestinian structures last year: OCHA

Jan 20, 2019

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says Israel’s demolition and confiscation of Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank soared by 10 percent last year as the Tel Aviv regime continues with its land expropriation policies in the occupied territories in blatant defiance of international law.

“While in Area C, which makes over 60% of the area of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military control, the number of structures targeted in both years was approximately the same and stood at 270, occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds recorded a 25% increase compared to 2017. Of all structures targeted during 2018, 56 were donor-funded humanitarian aid structures, representing a 46% decline, compared to 2017 figures,” the UN body said in a report published on Sunday.

The report added that two of this month’s demolitions were on what Israeli officials described as punitive grounds, and the rest were due to the lack of difficult-to-obtain Israeli building permits.

“About 70% of the structures targeted this month were in Area C. The largest incident took place on December 4th in the Beit Hanina – al-Marwaha neighborhood, a community on the 'Jerusalem al-Quds side’ of the wall barrier, where eight commercial structures were demolished and goods were confiscated.

“Five families, who reported a financial loss of almost 1.5 million Israeli shekels ($400,000), were affected. In another incident, the livelihoods of 70 people were affected by the demolition of a leather store on the margins of al-Bireh City near the Ramallah district,” OCHA pointed out.

Since 1967, the Israeli regime has been enforcing the draconian policy of demolishing the homes of those Palestinians who are deemed by Tel Aviv to be behind fatal attacks against Israeli settlers. The practice, however, was temporarily halted from 2005 to 2014, with the exception of 2009, when scores of homes were sealed and razed in East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Nevertheless, in 2014 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced as a policy the resumption of demolitions in the occupied West Bank.

Tel Aviv has been occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem al-Quds, since taking the Palestinian territory by force in 1967. Ever since the occupation, it has been propping up settlements throughout the land, in a move condemned by the United Nations, and considered illegal under international law, which bans construction on occupied territory.

The occupied Palestinian territories have witnessed new tensions ever since US President Donald Trump announced his decision on December 6, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s capital and relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.

The dramatic shift in Washington’s policy vis-à-vis the city triggered demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco and other Muslim countries.

On December 21 that year, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution that calls on the US to withdraw its controversial recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israeli “capital.”

In an attempt to avert the resolution, Trump had warned that “we’re watching,” threatening reprisals against countries that backed the measure, which had earlier faced a US veto at the UN Security Council.

Israel, however, rejected the world body’s resolution while thanking Trump for his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds.

On January 18, 2018, the United States reneged on a pledge to contribute $45 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which supports more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

The announcement to cut aid to Palestinian refugees came after the US president made a threat to cut off aid to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency.

In a series of tweets on January 2 last year, Trump said that the US paid “the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year” and yet gets “no appreciation or respect.”

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586310/10-increase-in-Israeli-demolition-of-Palestinian-structures-last-year-OCHA

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Turkish US consulate worker faces charges over Gulen links: DHA

January 20, 2019

ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors have prepared the charge sheet against a local employee of the US consulate who was arrested over alleged links to the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Demiroren News Agency (DHA) reported.

Gulen is accused by Ankara of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016, in which he denies all involvement.

Consulate worker Metin Topuz’s arrest in October 2017 added to existing tensions between the United States and Turkey, and led to a months-long suspension of bilateral visa services.

Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained over US support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey’s plan to buy a Russian missile defense system, and the US jailing of an executive at a Turkish state bank in an Iran sanctions-busting case.

Topuz is in jail along with two other local consulate employees, as is a Turkish-US national and former NASA scientist who faces terrorism charges. Washington wants all of them to be released.

DHA quoted from Topuz’s 78-page indictment, which stated that he had very close contact with police officers suspected of playing a role in the coup attempt. The news agency said the document listed President Tayyip Erdogan and former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, among others, as complainants.

Under Turkish law, a judge would now decide if Topuz’s case should proceed to trial.

The prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

Ankara has repeatedly demanded that the United States extradite Gulen to Turkey. The cleric has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999.

Turkey has detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants over suspected links to the coup attempt, according to the UN human rights office.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1438596/middle-east

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Arab World

 

Egypt says security forces killed 14 militants in Sinai

January 20, 2019

CAIRO: Egyptian security forces say they’ve killed 14 militants and seized a ton of explosives in an operation in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

They said on Sunday that their offensive involved clashes with Islamic militants in desert areas outside the city of el-Arish, adding that the extremists had intended to plant roadside bombs in areas between there and the cities of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweyid.

Other weapons caches including explosives were found in the more central Sinai Jabal Al-Halal mountain area.

The officials spoke anonymously as they weren’t authorized to brief reporters.

The army has been battling extremist insurgents led Daesh militants in north Sinai for years. The area is off limits for journalists, diplomats and other observers so information from there cannot be independently verified.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1438851/middle-east

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Damascus Army's Air Defense Wards off Israeli Air Raid in Southern Syria

Jan 20, 2019

The Syrian air defenses managed to intercept all the seven Israeli missiles, while some reports said the Syrian army shot down all the seven missiles, adding that the remains of one of the intercepted missiles was found in a farm in rural areas.

Other reports said that the missiles were fired by Israeli fighter jets flying in Southern Lebanon's air space.

Meantime, the Arabic-language service of Russian Sputnik news agency quoted local sources as saying that the Syrian Army's air defense shield has repelled attacks by Israel on targets near Talol al-Ahmar East of the town of Hazar South of Damascus and North of Quneitra province.

The sources noted that the Israeli fighter jets were continuously and intensely flying over the Occupied Golan Heights concurrent with the attacks.

Pointing to the tensions in Quneitra Front after Israel's failed attack on Damascus suburbs today, they reiterated that the battlefield was the scene of missile exchanges between Syria and Israel.

The Arabic-language service of Al-Mayadeen news network reported that four Israeli fighter jets fired missiles towards Damascus through Lebanon.

The Russian Defense Ministry also announced that Israel's attack on Damascus Airport did not leave any casualties or losses.

The source went on say that the Syrian army's air defenses destroyed all the seven missiles fired by Israel.

The Sham Times news website quoted a military analyst as saying that there is a link between the Israeli airstrikes and terrorist attacks in the outskirts of Damascus which took place earlier today.

On Sunday morning, the Syrian security forces foiled a terrorist attack in the outskirts of Damascus.

The terrorists tried to explode a parcel in Southern al-Motehaleq near a Syrian Army military point in the suburbs of Damascus, but the Syrian Army foiled their attempt, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.

The Arabic-language al-Mayadeen TV network announced that an explosive package was seized from the terrorists and defused it through controlled detonation in Southern Al-Motehalaq region in the outskirts of Damascus.

Meantime, the Syrian State-Run news agency reported that a terrorist has been arrested in connection to the foiled terrorist attack.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13971030001147

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Syrian Army Heavily Pounds ISIL's Movements in Eastern Deserts of Homs Province

Jan 20, 2019

Field sources also reported that the Syrian Army destroyed several terrorists' targets, killing and wounding a large number of them.

The sources also said that the Syrian Army engaged in heavy clashes with the ISIL terrorists in the Northeastern part of Jabal al-Gharb in Eastern desert of Palmyra, killing and wounding a number of militants as well as destroying their military equipment.

In a relevant development on Friday, the Syrian Army in a ambush operation foiled an attempt by the Washington-backed terrorists stationed in Al-Tanf region near the border with Iraq on secure positions around Palmyra in Homs province, killing a number of them.

The Syrian Army's military units in Eastern Homs, conducted an ambush and managed to foil an attempt by a group of terrorists supported by the US who intended to penetrate into secure regions in Southern Palmyra through al-Hableh Desert from al-Tanf region.

The Syrian Army troops in their military operations destroyed the military vehicles belonging to the terrorists, killing all the militants and seizing a large volume of weapons and military equipment.

In Eastern Palmyra, the Syrian Army units also warded off an attack by another terrorist group on al-Talileh region 20 kilometers from Palmyra, arresting three terrorists and seizing their military equipment.

Meantime, the terrorist groups carried out several attacks on Syrian Army's military positions in desert regions of Homs province from al-Tanf region which is under the occupation of the US-backed militants.

the Syrian Army destroyed several terrorists' targets, killing and wounding a large number of them.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13971030000705

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Israeli military strikes Iranian targets in Syria, kills 11

21 January 2019

Israel’s military said on Monday it struck Iranian Quds targets inside Syria and warned Syrian forces not to attack Israeli territory or forces.

Israeli air strikes and ground-to-ground missiles killed at least 11 fighters including two Syrians, a Britain-based war monitor said.

The bombardment hit Iranian and Syrian targets around Damascus as well as near a military airport to the south of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syrian military air defenses also destroyed more than 30 cruise missiles and guided bombs during Israeli air strikes on Sunday, Russia’s defense control center was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

Israeli air strikes targeting an airport in southeastern Damascus killed four Syrian soldiers and wounded six, the military center was quoted by RIA news agency as saying on Monday.

Syrian state news agency Sana said its military air defenses had thwarted “hostile targets” and shot down several of them, without elaborating.

Witnesses in Damascus said loud explosions rang out in the night sky.

“We have started striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory. We warn the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory,” Israel’s military said in a statement.

The overnight strikes followed cross-border attacks on Sunday in which Syria said it repelled an Israeli air attack. Israel said it intercepted a rocket fired at the Golan Heights.

“We have a permanent policy, to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria and hurt whoever tries to hurt us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier.

The Israeli army also said a popular winter tourist site on Mount Hermon in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights would be shut for the day. It added that otherwise things remained “routine” along the frontier with Syria.

Netanyahu last week acknowledged an Israeli attack on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria, where Tehran provides Damascus with vital support.

He told his cabinet Israel had carried out “hundreds” of attacks over the past years of Syria’s war to curtail Iran and its ally Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/01/21/Israeli-military-strikes-Iranian-targets-in-Syria.html

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Bomb blast in a bus kills three civilians in Syria’s Afrin

20 January 2019

A bomb in the northwest Syrian town of Afrin killed three civilians and wounded nine on a public bus, Reuters witnesses said on Sunday.

The blast came on the anniversary of Operation Olive Branch, an air and ground assault launched by Turkey in 2018 on the mainly-Kurdish Afrin to drive out the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which it sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency on Turkish soil since 1984.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

It follows a blast on Wednesday in Manbij, a northern Syrian town controlled by a militia allied with US-backed Kurdish forces, claimed by ISIS, which killed two US troops and two civilians working for the US military.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced last month that his army would launch an operation against the YPG east of the Euphrates. US President Donald Trump later announced a decision to pull out of Syria, alarming allied Kurdish leaders who run much of the north.

The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group dominated by the YPG and Washington's main Syrian partner in the fight against ISIS, controls territory in northeast and eastern Syria, which makes up about a quarter of the country.

The US decision to leave Syria led the Kurdish leaders to urge Russia and its ally Damascus to send forces to shield the border from the threat of the Turkish offensive.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/01/20/Bomb-blast-in-a-bus-kills-3-civilians-in-Syria-s-Afrin.html

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Syria says its air defences intercept ‘most of Israeli missiles’ fired on Damascus

Jan 21, 2019

Syrian media reported on Sunday that the country’s air defenses have thwarted an Israeli aerial attack on targets in the capital Damascus, intercepting and shooting down several missiles.

A military source told Syria's official news agency SANA that "at 01:10 o’clock (local time) on Monday, January 21, 2019, the Israeli enemy launched land and air strikes and through successive waves of guided missiles."

The source added that "immediately our air defenses dealt with the situation and intercepted the hostile missiles, downing most of them before reaching their targets as they continue their heroic response to the aggression."

According to Press TV’s correspondent, the attack lasted for over an hour, and the explosions were the loudest in months.

Reports said a military airport near Damascus were among the targets. Israel’s military claimed immediately after the attack that it had struck Iranian targets in Syria.

The attack came a few hours after a similar incident, in which Syrian air defense forces repelled an Israeli aerial aggression in the Arab country’s south.

"Our air defense systems thwarted ... an Israeli air aggression ... and prevented it from achieving any of its goals," SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying on Sunday, without giving further details.

The report added that the rare daylight missile attack had targeted localities in and around the Syrian capital, Damascus. Nearly all Israeli missile attacks have so far occurred overnight or during the early hours of the day.

Meanwhile, Russia's National Defense Control Center, cited by RIA news agency, said in a statement that the Israeli assault was conducted by four warplanes and targeted an airport in southeastern Damascus.

RIA further cited the center that the attack had not left any victims and that the airport was not damaged.

On January 11, the Syrian military said its defense units managed to shoot down “most” of Israeli missiles fired toward Damascus late at night.

The Israeli regime launches airstrikes on the Syrian territory from time to time. Such aggressive moves are usually viewed as attempts to prop up terrorist groups that have been suffering defeats at the hands of Syrian government forces.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/21/586351/Syria-Israel-intercept-guided-missile

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Lebanon’s Aoun urges world powers to facilitate Syrian refugee’s repatriation

Jan 20, 2019

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has urged world powers to “make all efforts” to help the repatriation of Syrian refugees as Syrian forces continue to liberate the country from the clutches of foreign-sponsored Takfiri terrorist groups.

“Lebanon calls on the international community to make all efforts possible and provide suitable conditions for a safe return of displaced Syrians...,” Aoun told an Arab economic summit in Beirut on Sunday, noting that Lebanon would suggest solutions for safe refugee returns in the meeting's final statement.

Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported on December 24 last year that more than 1,000 Syrian refugees had returned to their homeland from various areas in the neighboring country.

The return of refugees took place in the southern Lebanese cites and districts of Tripoli, Arsal, Tyre and Nabatieh, and under the supervision of Lebanon's General Security in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Refugees returned home using buses sent by Syrian authorities and arrived at al-Zamrani, Jdeidat Yabous, al-Dabbousiya border crossings from Lebanese territories.

The refugees underwent medical checks and polio vaccines were administered to children. They were then transferred to Syria’s northern and central provinces of Idlib and Homs in addition to other areas in the crisis-stricken Arab country.

More than 1,000 Syrian refugees returned to their homeland from different areas in Lebanon, including Nabatieh, Bekaa, Tripoli and Shabaa on December 16, 2018.

Arabic-language Elnashra online independent newspaper reported that the return of refugees took place under the supervision of Lebanon's General Security Directorate in cooperation with the Lebanese army.

More than one million Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586341/Lebanons-Aoun-urges-world-powers-to-facilitate-Syrian-refugees-repatriation

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Syria’s air defense thwarts Israeli strike near Damascus: State media

Jan 20, 2019

Syrian air defense forces have thwarted an Israeli aerial aggression in the Arab country’s south, state media say.

"Our air defense systems thwarted ... an Israeli air aggression ... and prevented it from achieving any of its goals," Syria's official news agency SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying on Sunday, without giving further details.

The report added that the rare daylight missile attack had targeted localities in and around the Syrian capital, Damascus. Nearly all Israeli missile attacks have so far occurred overnight or during the early hours of the day.

The Israeli military has yet to comment on the strike. However, it said in a statement that the regime’s so-called Iron Dome interceptor system managed to shoot down a Syrian rocket over Mount Hermon at the northern part of Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

It was not immediately clear whether the incoming projectile was part of a retaliatory attack by the Syrian army or a Syrian air defense missile that was shot during the aerial confrontation, but made its way toward a locality in the Golan Heights.

Meanwhile, Russia's National Defense Control Center, cited by RIA news agency, said in a statement that the Israeli assault was conducted by four warplanes and targeted an airport in southeastern Damascus.

RIA further cited the center that the attack had not left any victims and that the airport was not damaged.

On January 11, the Syrian military said its defense units managed to shoot down “most” of Israeli missiles fired toward Damascus late at night.

"The results of the aggression so far were limited to a strike on one of the warehouses at Damascus airport," SANA quoted an unnamed military source as saying at the time.

The Israeli regime launches airstrikes on the Syrian territory from time to time. Such aggressive moves are usually viewed as attempts to prop up terrorist groups that have been suffering defeats at the hands of Syrian government forces.

In October 2018, Moscow equipped Damascus with the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles, days after Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian targets using a Russian surveillance plane flying nearby as a shield, misleading the Syrian air defenses to shoot it down.

Since then Israel has been very careful with its operations over Syria.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586314/Syria-Israel-strike-Damascus-Iron-Dome-Golan-Heights

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Southeast Asia

 

Philippines seeks peace with Muslim self-rule vote

21 Jan 2019

COTABATO, Philippines: A decades-long push to halt the violence that has claimed some 150,000 lives in the southern Philippines culminates Monday with a vote on giving the nation's Muslim minority greater control over the region.

The poll is the final step in a peace deal with the Catholic-majority country's largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been a key force in a separatist insurgency that has raged since the 1970s.

Core areas of the proposed Bangasmoro region, located on the southern island of Mindanao, are expected to vote overwhelmingly to join it.

"I'm tired of the violence because my father is one of the victims," said 22-year-old Jembrah Abas, adding he was slain by unidentified attackers after advocating for peace.

The election "is on the 20th anniversary of his death. I'm so sick of the violence", she told AFP.

Roughly 2.8 million voters will be watched over by a contingent of 20,000 police and soldiers, amid fears rival insurgent groups could use violence to try to disrupt the poll.

The peace process began in the 1990s and does not include hardline Islamist factions, including those aligned with the Islamic State group, which are also active in the southern Philippines.

"Their motive is to sow terror," Philippine national police chief Oscar Albayalde said, referring to the rival groups. "They don't really have any other cause."

The government and MILF hope that a new, stable Bangasmoro will attract investment to a region where brutal poverty and perennial bloodshed has fuelled recruitment by radical groups.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who also hails from Mindanao, has long backed the creation of an autonomous region for the island's Muslims.

DEMOBILISATION

Under the terms of the law which lays out the region's powers, Bangasmoro will get US$950 million in development funds over the next 10 years, as well as chunk of the tax revenue generated within its borders.

The national government will keep control over the police, though the leadership of the autonomous area will be closely involved in security matters.

Final results are expected to be released within four days of the voting, with an approval triggering the demobilisation of a third of MILF's fighters, which it says number 30,000.

Muslim rebels have long been battling for independence or autonomy on Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland dating back to when Arab traders arrived there in the 13th century.

In fact, the new entity would enlarge and replace a similar autonomous zone in the same part of the southern Philippines, which struggled to complete development projects and was plagued by violence.

The proposed region includes the city of Marawi, which was seized by jihadists flying the black flag of IS in 2017 and who were only dislodged by a five-month battle that flattened swathes of the town.

Experts say the devolution of powers to the region is one of the best opportunities in recent memory to bring down the persistently high levels of lawlessness in the Philippines' south.

However, corruption and mismanagement are perennial problems across the nation of 105 million, and doubts remain over whether resources promised for development would find their way to Bangasmoro.

Experts also said not all groups would support the change.

"In the short term, there are a number of groups and politicians that are going to lose out," Gregory Wyatt, director for business intelligence at PSA Philippines Consultancy, told AFP.

"So there are significant short term risks."

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/philippines-seeks-peace-with-muslim-self-rule-vote---11146802

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Fine to dance but why go up on stage, asks Muslim lawyers’ group

January 20, 2019

PETALING JAYA: The Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia (PPMM) today said there is nothing wrong with the trademark dancing at the Opening of the Legal Year (OLY) 2019, but asked why the chief justice got on stage.

Its president Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar said Chief Justice Richard Malanjum, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak David Wong Dak Wah, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas and de facto law minister VK Liew should have turned down the invitation to go up on stage.

“In my view, it is not an offence for the organisers of the OLY 2019 to have performances to enliven the dinner. This is because this is done in Sabah and Sarawak,” Zainul Rijal said in a statement.

“The issue is not about the dinner and the performances but about why these high-ranking individuals from the judiciary danced and were seen to be friendly with other government branches and private lawyers.

“Even though they were invited to the stage, to protect the sanctity of the institution that they lead, they should have rejected the offer.”

The four were seen in a clip dancing to the tune of “Let’s Twist Again” along with lawyers Siti Kasim and Ambiga Sreenevasan at the event co-hosted by the Sabah Law Society (SLS) and the Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS) in Kota Kinabalu on Friday.

In a separate statement, AAS president Ranbir Singh Sangha refuted any suggestion of impropriety and said it was done in good taste.

He said it was disappointing that certain quarters were attempting to misinterpret a “social and harmonious occasion reflecting our East Malaysian hospitality” and politicise it for whatever reasons.

“Those who criticise may not know about the morals and ethics that are culturally held high in East Malaysia at such events.

“The AAS will, in fact, invite the chief justice, the attorney-general and judges in attendance to enter into a dance competition with the advocates and other invited guests at the next OLY 2020 to be held in Sarawak,” he said.

SLS president Brenndon Soh had earlier also said it was disappointing that certain groups were attempting to politicise the matter.

In a separate statement, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said the incident had been blown out of proportion.

He said the function was just another tradition of the legal fraternity whose other customs, sometimes regarded as “very English”, include a “call to the bar” by trainee solicitors and using expressions like “my learned friend” in court.

“The dinner and dance which has been turned into a ‘hot topic’ for no reason is, in fact, one of these traditions.

“Yes, I admit it may look a bit western and seen by the ‘holier-than-thou’ as not shariah-compliant.

“But, for me, supporting and giving ‘life’ and ‘oxygen’ at one time to a kleptocratic regime is also not very Islamic or shariah-compliant,” he said.

Several leaders from both sides of the political divide have also criticised the conduct of the top members of the judiciary at the event.

Full report at:

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2019/01/20/fine-to-dance-but-why-go-up-on-stage-asks-muslim-lawyers-group/

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Nothing wrong with CJ dancing in public, says lawyer

January 21, 2019

PETALING JAYA: A lawyer has dismissed claims of judicial misconduct over the chief justice’s participation in a dance during a dinner event last week, saying the commotion over the matter is merely “a storm in a teacup”.

Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al Mahdzar also rubbished any need for a tribunal on the issue, saying the call for such a panel was motivated by race and religion.

“The call to establish a tribunal to try the chief justice is misconceived as dancing at a social event is not judicial misconduct,” he told FMT.

Syed Iskandar was responding to the Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia (PPMM), which had suggested that the prime minister recommend that the king set up a tribunal to take action against Richard Malanjum for dancing at the opening of the Sabah and Sarawak legal year in Kota Kinabalu.

PPMM president Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar said the king had the authority to sack a judge if the tribunal found him in breach of ethics or guilty of any other acts warranting action under the law.

However, Syed Iskandar questioned where Rijal and PPMM had been when then-chief justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim asked his judges and registrars to dance and sing in the presence of lawyers at a judges’ conference in Kota Bahru.

“Similarly, where was PPMM when then attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali danced in public with Barisan Nasional and Umno Cabinet members?”

Syed Iskandar said the mindset of the legal fraternity in East Malaysia differed from the communal and religious extremism which he claimed formed part of PPMM’s doctrine.

“Other commonwealth jurisdictions will laugh at us if a tribunal is set up,” he added.

He suggested that PPMM concentrate on making known its views on incompetent judges who fail to deliver their written judgments.

“Article 125 can be used to discipline judges who refuse to write their grounds of judgments, not those who indulge in social activities in the open,” he said.

The issue surfaced following a video clip which showed Malanjum, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak David Wong Dak Wah, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas and de facto law minister Liew Vui Keong dancing to the tune of “Let’s Twist Again” at the event organised by the Sabah Law Society (SLS) on Friday.

Other notable personalities on stage were former Malaysian Bar presidents Ambiga Sreenevasan and Christopher Leong, and lawyer-activist Siti Kasim.

Rijal had said Malanjum, Wong, Thomas and Liew should have rejected the offer when they were invited to the stage.

However, SLS president Brenndon Soh said it was disappointing that certain groups were attempting to politicise the matter.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said the incident had been blown out of proportion although everyone had the right to express their views.

Hanipa, a former lawyer, said the function was just another tradition of the legal fraternity whose other customs, sometimes regarded as “very English”, include a “call to the Bar” by trainee solicitors and using expressions like “my learned friend” in court.

“Yes, I admit it may look a bit Western and may be seen by the ‘holier-than-thou’ as not shariah-compliant,” he said.

PKR’s Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said members of the judiciary must be mindful of their conduct, while Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin recalled criticism against Apandi for dancing with ministers.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla meanwhile said Malanjum and Thomas dancing together with the executive could have a negative impact on the perception of judicial independence.

Full report at:

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2019/01/21/nothing-wrong-with-cj-dancing-in-public-says-lawyer/

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Freeing of Bashir seen as political move by Jokowi

January 21, 2019

The Indonesian government made a bold statement three years ago when it put five of the most dangerous radical clerics in isolation cells to limit their influence beyond the prison walls.

Visitation rights were tightened, with only immediate family allowed. But now, with the election approaching, the most senior among these five - 80-year-old Abu Bakar Bashir - has received President Joko Widodo's blessings for release on parole on humanitarian grounds.

Two academics told The Straits Times that the move by Mr Joko, who is seeking re-election in April, is a political call as he woos Islamist votes. But this will have repercussions, they warned.

The controversial decision was meant to counter accusations by certain quarters that Mr Joko is anti-Islam and that he prosecutes or criminalises ulama, said Dr Noor Huda Ismail, a visiting fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

"It is good for the current political situation. This is a short-term political decision with challenging long-term repercussions," said Dr Huda, an Indonesian journalist turned academic. He explained that Bashir is considered to be an ulama by certain quarters.

Mr Joko, 57, is set to square off with his only rival, Mr Prabowo Subianto, 67, who has played the religion card and has been seen cosying up to radical clerics during campaigns ahead of the April 17 presidential polls.

They include Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, who is in self-exile in the Middle East to avoid charges by the Indonesian police over violating pornography laws and insulting the state ideology Pancasila.

Bashir has been serving his 15-year prison term since 2011 for funding a terrorist training camp in Indonesia's Aceh province.

He is widely seen as the spiritual leader of South-east Asia terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which operates underground and continues to expand via online platforms.

JI was the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, 80 per cent of them foreigners. JI was also behind several other deadly bombings in Jakarta.

"Like it or not, the parole hurts the victims' families. They still feel the wounds today. They are from various partner countries to Indonesia," Dr Huda told ST. "This is local politics that has ramifications regionally and internationally."

Australia, the United States, Japan and Germany are among the countries whose citizens were killed in the bombings.

Dr Quinton Temby, a visiting fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, agrees that the parole given to Bashir is politically motivated.

Dr Temby, an Australian national, said the timing of the early release was probably designed to pre-empt potential criticism of Mr Joko, popularly called Jokowi, over the imminent release of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, whose jail term for blasphemy will end on Thursday.

Basuki, best known by his Chinese nickname Ahok, was sentenced to two years' jail in May 2017 after a Jakarta court found him guilty of blasphemy against Islam. The controversial sentence was handed down weeks after the political ally of Mr Joko lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to Mr Anies Baswedan.

Dr Temby said: "We can see (the parole) as a piece with Jokowi's confused strategy in dealing with the Islamist mobilisations around the Ahok blasphemy case."

IMPACT ON REGIONAL TERRORISM

Bashir's conditional release, according to Dr Temby, is unlikely to contribute to regional terrorism because in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, he was more of a follower than a leader and his family is aligned against the group.

"But the political timing of his release will help to burnish his image as the elder statesman of militant Islamism in Indonesia, even if it is an image that he lacks the charismatic authority to live up to," added Dr Temby, whose research interests cover Indonesia's political Islam and elections.

Mr Malcolm Brailey, regional director for Indo-Pacific at The Stabilisation Network, which produces research and analysis that contribute to efforts to reduce violent extremism, echoed Dr Temby's views.

Mr Brailey said Bashir's release is unlikely to have any wider impact in the region among the network of Salaafi Jihadist groups with active operational cells.

The groups, represented by those including JI and ISIS, believe in strict Islamic laws and violently spread and implement their ideology. Unlike ISIS, JI no longer sees Indonesia as a battleground and its members do not consider everyone else outside their group, including Muslims, as apostate (an ideology called Takfiri).

Members of JI, an Al-Qaeda-linked organisation, do not get along with those affiliated with ISIS. There have been reports of brawls between JI-affiliated inmates and ISIS-affiliated inmates in prisons across Indonesia. Their rivalry here reflects a turf war between ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Middle East and everywhere else.

"Bashir's influence and impact have waned significantly since the days of Jemaah Islamiah..." Mr Brailey told The Straits Times.

Bashir is the founder of Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Solo, more commonly called Ngruki, which is known for producing militants.

Dr Huda, an alumni of Ngruki and working to help with counter-terrorism efforts, said that although Bashir's influence has weakened and he is frail, there is still a possibility that he may revive his violent ideology as well as his terror networks locally and overseas.

Bashir's own family members remain disappointed with his oath of allegiance to ISIS and should they manage to convince him to recant before his death, this may boost the standing of those who remained steadfast outside, Mr Brailey said, referring to those who do not support ISIS' caliphate claim.

Full report at:

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/freeing-of-bashir-seen-as-political-move-by-jokowi

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PKS campaign pledge to pass 'ulema protection’ bill draws criticism

January 21, 2019

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has promised to pass a bill to protect Muslim clerics, religious figures and religious symbols as part of its bid to retain seats in the House of Representatives after the 2019 general election.

“For the sake of maintaining the honor and nobility of ulema, religious leaders and religious symbols, and in order to maintain the integrity and harmony of inter-religious life, the PKS promises to fight for the protection bill in the upcoming 2019-2024 period,” PKS chairman Sohibul Iman told a press conference last week.

Sohibul cited what he claimed to was an increase in “persecution against ulema” as one of the reasons behind their plan.

“Ulema and religious figures are very vulnerable to threats – whether physical, non-physical or criminalization by law enforcement authorities – because of their preaching,” he said, citing the rejection of popular preacher Abdul Somad in Bali and Semarang, as well as the “criminalization” of Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab.

Sohibul also mentioned the burning of a flag bearing the Islamic creed tauhid in Garut last year as an example of why the bill was needed.

The PKS’ proposal has been sharply criticized by political parties in the coalition supporting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for being redundant and painting a misleading picture of the treatment of ulema in the country.

“Every faction at the House has the right to propose any law, but every law needs to follow certain principles such as clarity of purpose and clear formulation,” National Awakening Party (PKB) lawmaker Lukman Edy told The Jakarta Post recently.

“If the purpose of the bill is just to further twist existing hoaxes, it certainly does not fulfill the principles of formulating a law. The criminalization of ulema is a hoax that is being spread by the PKS.”

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Eva Sundari feared the bill would only justify discriminatory practices against others.

“The bill is not necessary because everyone is guaranteed equal treatment under the law no matter what their position is,” she said. “We shouldn’t create laws that discriminate by giving privilege based on SARA [tribal affiliations, religion, race and societal groups].”

She added that everyone, including ulema, would be “fine” as long as they did not commit criminal acts “such as hate speech and treason”.

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), which has been vocal in its opposition to policies on religion-based regional bylaws and polygamy, said the bill was disingenuous.

“The PKS deliberately came up with the bill to frame themselves as defenders of ulema, while those who disagree with the bill will be seen as being in favor of ulema criminalization,” PSI legislative hopeful Dara Nasution said. “This is not the case, as every Indonesian citizen has the same standing before the law.”

Even the PKS’ long-time ally in the Gerindra Party seems reluctant about supporting the bill.

The Gerindra executive and deputy chairman of House Commission VII overseeing social and religious affairs, Sodik Mujahid, said the PKS had to formulate clear criteria before initiating the bill.

“We have to have a detailed definition of what the term ‘protection’ means and specific criteria that determines which figures are eligible for protection,” Sodik said. “It also has to be clear what the protection is for. Is it protection from criminalization or politicization?”

The PKS previously issued two other official campaign pledges: to abolish the tax on motor vehicles and to remove expiry dates from driver's licenses in an effort to boost its electability in the 2019 legislative race.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/01/21/pks-campaign-pledge-to-pass-ulema-protection-bill-draws-criticism.html

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Pakistan

 

COAS discusses Afghan peace process with visiting US military delegation

January 21, 2019

RAWALPINDI: US military delegation led by US CENTCOM Commander General Joseph L Votel called on Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Sunday, said a press release issued by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

Geo-strategic environment, regional security and Afghanistan peace and reconciliation process were discussed in the meeting. The visiting dignitary appreciated Pakistan Army’s efforts for regional peace and stability.

The COAS reiterated that peace in Afghanistan was vital for regional peace. He said that Pakistan, despite constraints, had contributed to all efforts for regional peace and would continue to do so.

On Thursday, US delegation headed by US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Commander Resolute Support Mission General Austin Scott Miller also met COAS Bajwa at the General Headquarters (GHQ). Regional security environment and Afghan peace and reconciliation process was discussed.

The delegation appreciated Pakistan’s efforts towards the peace process. The army chief reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured continued efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region.

On Saturday, Afghan Taliban repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government. According to the US, any settlement in Afghanistan must be between the internationally recognised Afghan government and the Taliban, who have so far refused to talk to an administration they describe as an illegitimate puppet regime. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said peace talks with the US delegation could resume if they were assured that only three issues would be discussed – a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders.

In December, delivering on its commitment to bring peace to the region, Pakistan successfully brought the Afghan Taliban to the table in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the talks between the militant outfit and US officials to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. The talks brokered by Pakistan concluded on December 18 in Abu Dhabi. In a joint statement issued by the Afghan Taliban and the US, both parties had agreed on carrying forward the peace process.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement about the talks came days after US President Donald Trump made a personal appeal to him to help end the war in Afghanistan. Trump sent PM Khan a personal letter asking for his help in pushing the Taliban into peace talks. The White House National Security Council said that Trump had asked PM Khan in the letter to lend his “full support” to the deepening US efforts to launch such talks.

“In the letter, the president recognises that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” said a National Security Council spokesman.“The letter also makes clear that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US-Pakistan partnership.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) said in a statement that Trump had sought Pakistan’s support in forging a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/01/20/us-military-delegation-calls-on-coas/

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3rd anniversary of terrorist attack at Bacha Khan University

January 21, 2019

CHARSADDA: The third anniversary of the deadly terrorist attack at Bacha Khan University that claimed lives of 21 people was observed on Sunday.

On January 20, 2016, around four terrorists entered Bacha Khan University in Charsadda district, roughly 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the city of Peshawar and killed 21 people and injured dozens.

Moreover, some wounds have still not healed as Samiullah, former student and the only person to survive from his room is still under treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

His injuries were so severe that even after a year of the attack, he was victim to constant headaches and could not speak for more than two minutes without getting tired.

A vigil was held for the martyrs while prayers were also held for them two days ago. Students and families remembered the victims and the unfortunate day that many lives were permanently altered.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/01/20/3rd-anniversary-of-terrorist-attack-at-bacha-khan-university/

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US senator urges Trump to meet PM Khan to strengthen ties

January 21, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Senior US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday said that US President Donald Trump should meet Prime Minister Imran Khan to boost Washington’s Afghanistan peace efforts, calling the Pakistani prime minister an “agent of change”.

The Republican — an influential ally of Trump — made the comments in Islamabad after meeting the premier, saying PM Khan was a “new partner” who could potentially help with a peace deal in Afghanistan.

“I’m going to urge him (Trump) to meet with the prime minister as soon as practical,” he told reporters, adding that he believed PM Khan and Trump would “hit if off” because they have “similar personalities”.

“Prime Minister Khan is the agent of change that I have been looking for,” he added.

He said that the previous transactional approach by the US administration towards Pakistan should change into a broader strategic and economic relationship. He noted with admiration the Pakistani government’s counter-terrorism efforts and sacrifices of the armed forces in the war on terror, and for securing the tribal areas, bordering Afghanistan. The change could be visibly seen in those tribal areas, which were hit hard by the terrorism and militancy, with the Pakistani government undertaking huge economic and educational reforms programmes to integrate the tribal people into the mainstream of national political and economic life, he added.

Lauding Prime Minister Khan as ‘a credible and convincing personality’, the senator agreed that his stance towards a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Afghan issue was correct and termed his meetings with the leadership of Pakistan very positive and encouraging.

US Senator Graham said he personally wanted to shift the US-Pak ties towards a stronger strategic economic partnership as Pakistan had huge potential with a population of about 100 million young people, who could be useful for US markets. He urged the US businessmen to look into such business potential of Pakistan, which was a good place for investment and could trigger prosperity for both the countries. He also admitted that the US-Pak ties in the past were not good and referred to US President Trump’s tweets about Pakistan.

But, he said, he was optimistic about a telephonic call from the US president to PM Khan and a follow-up meeting sooner or later for future engagements of the two countries. The US, he said, must look upon Pakistan and Afghanistan as the huge economic opportunity and regretted that such vision by the US administration, in the past, was missing. The US senator further stressed close working of the US and Pakistan to ensure peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and recognised the significance of Pakistan as a major country in the region.

“I wished the same plans to secure the Pak-Afghan border on the Afghan side as had been undertaken by Pakistan,” he noted with admiration the steps taken by Pakistan security forces on the Pak-Afghan border. He said that the US wanted all the countries in the region to play their role in the Afghan reconciliation process.

To a query, he replied that the US could not afford to walk away from Afghanistan after decades of long war and maintained that Taliban had to realise that they must sit on the negotiation table by laying down arms and integrate into the political life of Afghanistan under the Afghan constitution. “The time is not on your side. The time is much on the US side. They cannot take away Afghanistan by force. Afghanistan boasts of a stronger army as compared to decades ago,” he emphasised. The negotiations were about something ‘to give and take’, he added.

The US senator defended the presence of US military footprints on the Afghan soil, saying though, they were stationed only to train and help the Afghan soldiers, but their presence was necessary to ward off terrorist outfits likes Al-Qaeda and Daesh. He said that the people in Afghanistan no longer wanted to buy the agenda of those terrorist organisations. About a question regarding impasse in holding US and Taliban talks, he expressed his optimism for the continuation of the reconciliation process.

Earlier, US Senator Lindsey Graham called on PM Khan in Islamabad to discuss bilateral ties and to review the regional security situation.

PM Khan reiterated government’s commitment to continue working with the US and other regional stakeholders to find a political settlement in Afghanistan. He underscored the need for normalising relations with all neighbouring countries to unleash the potential of regional cooperation.

Prime Minister stated that his economic team was constantly striving to evolve business-friendly policies for potential investors which could be beneficial for US companies as well.

Senator Graham conveyed his appreciation of Pakistan’s positive role in the ongoing efforts to find a political settlement in Afghanistan. He praised the prime minister’s vision for a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

Senator Graham lauded the vision of PM Khan to improve the economy, eliminate corruption and create jobs for the people of Pakistan. Prime minister’s efforts to normalise relations with neighbouring countries are noteworthy, he noted.

In view of the historical linkages between Pakistan and the US, the two sides agreed to deepen the bilateral economic ties particularly in the context of trade and investment cooperation.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi hosted US Senator Lindsey Graham over a luncheon meeting at the Foreign Office (FO) on Sunday. US Senator Graham is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and senior member of Armed Services, Appropriations and Budget Committees. He is visiting Pakistan at the invitation of the foreign minister, which he had extended during his visit to Washington in October last year.

Welcoming US Senator Graham, FM Qureshi apprised him of the government’s priorities on the external and internal fronts. He highlighted that PM Khan’s government had come to power to implement extensive economic reforms, improve governance and bring socio-economic development for the people of Pakistan. In order to realise this people friendly agenda, a proactive foreign policy is being pursued which, inter alia, seeks to develop a peaceful neighbourhood conducive for stability and prosperity of the entire region, he added.

FM Qureshi informed US Senator Graham about Pakistan’s efforts for reconciliation in Afghanistan. He said that peace and stability in Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s interest as well as propitious for the progress of the South Asia region. He also said that Pakistan’s continued overtures to engage India to discuss all outstanding issues, including the core issue of Kashmir, were also aimed towards the realisation of enduring peace in the region.

Reiterating the need for a positive engagement with the Capitol Hill, FM Qureshi underscored for broadening the discussions to deepen cooperation on bilateral trade, investment and people to people contacts. He said that Pakistan would welcome visits by US senators and congressmen to have first-hand information about today’s Pakistan.

Thanking the foreign minister for hosting him, US Senator Graham conveyed the good wishes of the US leadership to the government and people of Pakistan. He said that the US was appreciative of Pakistan’s sincere efforts to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process which was a priority of the Trump administration. He underlined the long term US commitment to the region.

US Senator Graham maintained that in line with the historical linkages between the two countries underpinned by close people to people contacts, Pakistan would remain an important country for the US. He promised to campaign for strengthening bilateral trade and economic cooperation with Pakistan which would lay the foundation of strong, mutually beneficial and a sustaining relationship.

On January 19, the foreign minister had said that Pakistan was trying to host the next round of talks between the US and Afghan Taliban as such kind of dialogue was in the interests of the Afghan government, Taliban and the entire region. “Solution to Afghan issue is not possible without intra-Afghan dialogue and Pakistan considers it vital for the restoration of peace in the entire region,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said. However, the Afghan Taliban rejected media reports that they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government, as the US diplomat extended his stay in Pakistan in wake of the development.

Full report at:

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/01/20/qureshi-us-senator-discuss-afghan-peace-process/

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CTD kills two more ‘terrorists’ in Gujranwala

JANUARY 21, 2019

Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) officials killed two suspected terrorists in a shootout in Gujranwala in wee hours on Sunday.

The suspects, identified as Abdur Rehman and Kashif Langra, allegedly belonged to a banned outfit and were gunned down in an exchange of fire, a CTD spokesperson said, claiming that the two men were accomplices of ‘terrorist’ Zeeshan, who was killed in Sahiwal on Saturday. The deceased were wanted for their involvement in attacks on security forces and kidnapping of local and foreign citizens, he added.

According to the anti-terror police department, the two alleged terrorists were residing in Zeeshan’s house in Lahore and fled when they heard the news of Zeeshan’s death in Sahiwal encounter.

The CTD traced them down and killed them in a shootout, the statement said. Both the ‘terrorists’ were wearing suicide jackets, it claimed.

On Saturday, four people – including a man, his wife and a teenage daughter – were killed while their minor son received bullet wounds in an alleged shootout in Sahiwal.

CTD personnel said they had killed a local commander of militant organisation Daesh and three others in the operation.

Full report at:

https://dailytimes.com.pk/346472/ctd-kills-two-more-terrorists-in-gujranwala/

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16 CTD officials booked under anti-terror law

JANUARY 21, 2019

Sixteen officials of the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) were Sunday booked under terrorism charges for their involvement in Saturday’s alleged shootout that killed four people, including a man, his wife and a teenage daughter. The case was registered in Yousafwala police station of Sahiwal district in response to a complaint by Jaleel Ahmed, the brother of Khaleel who was among those shot dead by the CTD.

The FIR was lodged under Section 302 (premeditated murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code along with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

Relatives of the slain family ended their protest after lodging of the FIR. They had staged a sit-in overnight at GT Road demanding justice and prompt action against the perpetrators, and had refused to be moved until a case was registered against the incident.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar cahired a high-level meeting on Sunday over the incident and vowed strict action against the perpetrators besides announcing to personally look after the probe into the incident.

Full report at:

https://dailytimes.com.pk/346460/16-ctd-officials-booked-under-anti-terror-law/

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South Asia

 

Afghan and Coalition Forces kill 15 militants in during separate operations

20 Jan 2019

The Afghan Special Forces and Coalition Forces have conducted separate operations in northern Baghlan and southern Uruzgan and Helmand provinces over the past 24 hours, killing at least 15 militants.

According to the informed military sources, Afghan Special Forces conducted a clearance operation in Pul-e Khumri district of Baghal province, killing 12 Taliban fighters and wounding 8 others.

A coalition air strike in Tarin Kot of Uruzgan left 2 Taliban fighters dead, the sources said, adding that in a separate coalition air strike in Sangin district of Helmand province 1 Taliban fighter was killed.

Both the Afghan and Coalition Forces have stepped counter-terrorism operations to suppress the anti-government armed elements.

The Afghan forces are conducting the majority of the ground operations with the support of Coalition air power.

https://www.khaama.com/afghan-and-coalition-forces-kill-15-militants-in-during-separate-operations-03156/

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Bangladesh arrests Islamist extremist over deadly cafe attack

January 20, 2019

DHAKA: Bangladesh has arrested a suspected Islamist extremist who supplied weapons and explosives for a 2016 siege that killed 22 hostages, a top police official said Sunday.

Eighteen foreigners were among those shot and hacked to death in the 10-hour standoff at the Holey Artisan Bakery, an upmarket cafe in Dhaka, before military commandos stormed the building and freed some two dozen other people.

Mamunur Rashid was a key “decision-maker” in Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a banned homegrown Islamist militant outfit blamed for the attack.

The 30-year-old was arrested while travelling on a bus outside the capital Dhaka, said Mufti Mahmud Khan, a spokesman for the elite Rapid Action Battalion.

Rashid “supplied money, arms, ammunition and explosives for the attack,” Khan told reporters.

“He hid in a neighbouring country and tried to reorganise the group. They were also planning to rescue their accomplices from custody.”

A former computer operator and Islamic seminary student, Rashid also provided logistical support to Islamists involved in several deadly attacks on religious minorities in the country’s north, Khan said.

A court in Dhaka last month put eight militants on trial over the cafe attack.

Khan said Rashid was one of the two men charged in absentia, while the other six were already in custody.

The Holey Artisan Bakery siege fuelled fears over violent Islamist groups in the Muslim-majority nation of 165 million people.

The government also launched a nationwide crackdown against extremists immediately after the attack, killing nearly 100 alleged extremists in gunfights including several top JMB leaders.

The attack marked a violent escalation from a spate of high-profile murders in the country since 2013, with extremists targeting Bangladeshi atheist writers, rights activists, gays, foreigners and religious minorities.

Full report at:

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2019/01/20/bangladesh-arrests-islamist-extremist-over-deadly-cafe-attack/

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Taliban car bomb goes off among Afghan security forces

Jan 20, 2019

A car bomb attack, claimed by the Taliban militant group, has claimed the lives of at least eight Afghan security forces in the country’s eastern province of Logar.

Local officials said the fatalities took place in Mohammad Agha district in the restive province on Sunday morning.

They said a bomber detonated his explosive-laden car close to a convoy of the provincial governor on a major highway between Logar and the capital city of Kabul.

Shahpoor Ahmadzai, the spokesman for Logar's provincial police, said 10 people were also injured in the attack but the governor and the provincial chief of the intelligence agency were unharmed.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident in a statement and said a "large number" of Afghan special forces had been killed or wounded.

Logar, which is known as a strategic gateway to Kabul, is vulnerable to attacks due to the Taliban's active presence there.

The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end in the wake of a US-led invasion in 2001, but 17 years on, the militant group continues to challenge the government and thousands of foreign troops remaining on Afghan soil.

The US is currently pushing for a peace deal with the militants to spare its troops but negotiations remain deadlocked over the Taliban demand that American forces leave Afghanistan.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586302/Afghan-security-forces-Taliban-Logar-car-bomb-attack

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Chickenpox spreading in Bangladesh’s Rohingya camps

18.01.2019

By Md. Kamruzzaman

DHAKA, Bangladesh

More than 800 Rohingya refugees living in squalid makeshift camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district have been infected with chickenpox since last December, but residents of the camps expect the figure to surpass 1,000.

As of Jan. 13, 832 Rohingya refugees living in the camps had been confirmed with chickenpox, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Jan. 15.

“Responding to an outbreak of chickenpox in the Rohingya camps, health sector partners led by the Ministry of Health [in Bangladesh] and WHO have stepped up surveillance and initiated measures,” the statement added.

“Surveillance has been further beefed up in the Rohingya camps,” said Dr. Bardan Jung Rana, WHO representative to Bangladesh.

But Rohingya refugees living in the camps expect the number to rise further.

Ansar Ali, 34, who was chosen by the Bangladesh government to help maintain law and order in his camp, told Anadolu Agency that mostly women and children are being affected.

“I know some in our camp [Kutupalang] who are suffering from this disease and have taken normal medicine,” he said, referring to the standard tablet or capsule for fever or headache and saline for dysentery that are normally distributed to the refugees.

Nasima Khatun, 60, a Rohingya refugee from the same camp, said there are huge mosquitoes and other insects as well as rats in the camp and many of the refugees are suffering from various diseases.

“Diseases are our constant company. We do not know the names of all the diseases. We just take the available medicine we are served,” said 75-year-old Ali Ahmad.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August, 2017.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/chickenpox-spreading-in-bangladesh-s-rohingya-camps/1367914

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6 Myanmar cops hurt in Rakhine

January 21, 2019

Six Myanmar border guard police have been wounded in an attack by Rohingya Muslim insurgents in Rakhine state, government media reported on Saturday, amid fears of escalating violence in the region.

About 10 armed attackers from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) ambushed a border guard post near Wet Kyein village in Maungdaw township in the north of the state on Wednesday, according to the government-controlled Myanmar TV network.

A government spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Rakhine has been roiled by violence for weeks, since fighting broke out between security forces and another armed group, the Arakan Army (AA).

The AA, which pre-dates ARSA, is a rebel group dominated by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists that has been fighting for autonomy for the western state for around a decade.

ARSA, which emerged with attacks on border posts in 2016, is focused on winning rights for Rohingya, the mostly stateless Muslim minority long persecuted in Myanmar.

Some 5,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes in the recent violence, according to the United Nations.

A crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Rakhine in 2017 triggered an exodus of about 730,000 Rohingya refugees to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The United Nations and Western governments denounced the military operations as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar has said it was conducting a legitimate offensive against insurgents.

Earlier reports had attributed an attack on Wednesday in the same area to the AA, but an official with the Maungdaw border guard police said ARSA, which had previously attacked the security forces, was responsible.

"At first, it was a preliminary investigation, but now it is sure," Police Lieutenant-Colonel Tin Han Lin told Reuters.

Full report at:

https://www.thedailystar.net/rohingya-crisis/news/rohingya-insurgents-attack-police-myanmar-state-tv-1690207

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U.S. envoy for Afghan peace concludes visit to Pakistan with optimisms

21 Jan 2019

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Khalilzad has concluded his visit to Pakistan, expressing optimisms that the future steps by Islamabad would lead to concrete results.

Ambassador Khalilzad has described his meetings with the Pakistani officials as ‘good’ and has added that the efforts are heading towards the right direction.

Without disclosing further information, Ambassador Khalilzad said in a Twitter post “Just completed #Pakistan leg of my current trip in the region to advance the peace process. Good meetings. I appreciate their hospitality & resolve to push for Afghan peace. We’re heading in the right direction with more steps by Pakistan coming that will lead to concrete results.”

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/u-s-envoy-for-afghan-peace-concludes-visit-to-pakistan-with-optimisms-03158/

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Africa

 

Al-Qaeda-linked extremists kill 10 UN peacekeepers in Mali

21 January 2019

Al-Qaeda-linked extremists carried out one of the deadliest attacks on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in months, killing 10 peacekeepers and wounding at least 25 in northern Mali, the UN said Sunday.

All of the peacekeepers killed in the assault on their camp in Aguelhoc were from Chad, the UN secretary-general’s spokesman said in a statement. He strongly condemned the attack, saying it may constitute a war crime.

Peacekeepers “responded robustly and a number of assailants were killed,” the statement said. Residents said the attackers in the Sunday morning assault arrived in motorcycles and cars.

The 15,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Mali, established in 2013, is one of the UN’s deadliest. The West African nation is under threat from a number of extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS extremist organization, and attacks have moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali.

The UN mission is one of several military efforts to fight the extremists, alongside Malian forces, France’s largest overseas military operation and a recently formed five-nation regional counterterror force.

Peacekeepers from Chad, a strong contributor to regional security efforts, have suffered from the repeated assaults in Mali. As of the end of 2018, 51 Chadian peacekeepers had died while serving the UN mission.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2019/01/21/Al-Qaeda-linked-extremists-kill-10-UN-peacekeepers-in-Mali.html

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Kenya: Thousands of Muslims commemorate terror victims

18.01.2019

Thousands of Muslims took to the streets on Friday to show solidarity with the victims of a deadly terror attack on a Nairobi hotel compound Tuesday that killed at least 21 people.

Locals closed their businesses in capital's Eastleigh suburb -- dubbed Little Mogadishu -- to join politicians and residents in a march to commemorate victims of the attack on the DusitD2 hotel compound, claimed by al-Shabaab militants, and to condemn terrorism and shun divisive ideology.

The victims included 16 Kenyan nationals, one Briton, one American and three individuals of African descent who are yet to be identified.

Al-Shabaab militants first blew up their vehicle outside the compound and then stormed the complex using guns and explosives.

Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb has been labeled by authorities in Kenya as the main recruiting ground of youth into al-Shabaab.

Barkhado Amina, a shop owner in the heart of Eastleigh, said that Muslims in Eastleigh are always victimized and targeted by police whenever a terror attack occurred.

"We are Kenyans, we are not terrorists, two Muslims were killed at Riverside terror attack, we are also crying, if they were fighting for Muslims, they would not kill us, al-Shabaab does not have any religion, they are animals," she said.

"Today we are out donating blood to those who need it, we are mourning so no businesses will be opened, we are saying sorry to those who were injured and condemning al-Shabaab, we support Kenya’s fight against them."

Eastleigh area MP Yusuf Hassan, who previously survived an assassination attempt by al-Shabaab militants, was on the forefront leading the masses in Friday's march.

In 2013, he was injured when terrorists hurled a grenade at him as he left a mosque. Five people were killed in that attack.

"We are here as a community in solidarity with all the people of Kenya who have been affected by the terror attack and to remember the victims of the Riverside attack, we are here to say no to terrorism, no to radicalization no to al-Shabaab."

Son of senior military official

One of the attackers who was killed by Kenyan police at the hotel compound has been identified as a son of a senior Kenyan military officer.

Ali Salim Gichunge, a.k.a Farouk, is suspected to have crossed into Somalia sometime in 2015, sources close to the investigation said.

His father Abdala Salim and mother Sakina Mariam were summoned to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to assist with the probe.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/kenya-thousands-of-muslims-commemorate-terror-victims/1368509?fbclid=IwAR37yQbGAgMWn8meF_fTsHtAQxnNJQAbCHu8jPA6sYUnWYJkxflpBQ7ehCo

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Sudan unrest enters second month with protests in Omdurman

20 January 2019

Sudanese security forces fired tear gas on Sunday at several hundred protesters and chased them down side streets, a Reuters witness said, as anti-government protests entered their second month.

The protesters had blocked Al Arbaeen street, one of the main arteries in Omdurman, across the Nile from the centre of the capital, Khartoum. Some raised two fingers in victory signs as tear gas was fired at them.

About 30 trucks carrying security personnel, some in uniform and some in plain clothes, were deployed to the area.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/01/20/Sudan-unrest-enters-second-month-with-protests-in-Omdurman.html

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Kenyan police say attack on Chinese facilities is repelled

21 January 2019

Kenyan police say gunmen opened fire on Chinese construction facilities in an eastern area, days after extremists claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Nairobi.

National police chief Joseph Boinnet says security forces fought off the attackers at Shimbirey near Garissa town on Sunday.

There are no reports of casualties.

Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to al-Qaeda and based in Somalia, claimed responsibility for a 2015 attack in Garissa that killed 147 people, mostly students.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2019/01/21/Kenyan-police-say-attack-on-Chinese-facilities-is-repelled.html

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Israel and Chad renew diplomatic relations, Benjamin Netanyahu says

January 20, 2019

Chad renewed its official relationship with Israel yesterday, decades after the African nation cut diplomatic ties.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Israeli leader, who is fighting corruption allegations, and Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno had “announced the renewal of diplomatic relations” after more than three decades.

Mr Netanyahu, posting on Twitter, called the announcement “a historic moment”.

Speaking in N’Djamena on the first visit there by an Israeli prime minister, he said that “Israel is making inroads into the Islamic world”.

“This is the result of considerable effort in recent years. We are making history and we are turning Israel into a rising global power,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Chad broke off ties with Israel in 1972 but he has been courting the Muslim-majority country. Mr Deby visited Israel in November.

The substance of their talks is unclear but there has been speculation that an arms deal to help Chad fight rebels in the north of the country may have been at the centre of the drive to mend ties.

Chad is engaged in the battle to defeat Boko Haram, the ISIS offshoot based in Nigeria.

Mr Deby is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

He took over the arid, impoverished nation in 1990 and won a disputed fifth term in April 2016 to lead the country of about 15 million people.

Chad is one of the world’s least developed states, the World Bank’s Human Development Index says, and its government has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and rigged elections.

Mr Netanyahu has tried to improve ties with countries in the Arab and Muslim world, and said he expected similar diplomatic breakthroughs soon.

Many Arab states refuse to have diplomatic ties with Israel because of its occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories that Palestinians want as part of a future state.

The Palestinians and Iran opposed Chad’s move and Mr Netanyahu appeared to aim remarks at both parties.

“There are those who tried to sabotage this trip, but they were unsuccessful,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu is under increasing pressure at home as Israel’s attorney general is reportedly preparing to indict the prime minister on corruption charges.

To avoid the impact of an indictment, Mr Netanyahu called early elections for April to tackle any leadership challenge with a new mandate.

He has sped up attempts to secure diplomatic victories abroad to detract from his domestic troubles.

Mr Netanyahu also attended the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro this month, making attempts to lobby the right-wing leader about moving Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Full report at:

https://www.thenational.ae/world/africa/israel-and-chad-renew-diplomatic-relations-benjamin-netanyahu-says-1.815709

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North America

 

US Army study of its Iraq invasion concludes Iran was 'the only victor'

Jan 20, 2019

The US army has described Iran as “the only victor” in its two-volume, 1300-page study of its brutal invasion of Iraq.

The report, complete with over 1,000 declassified documents, is a comprehensive assessment of the US'  mistakes and successes during its destructive war effort.

It spans the 2003 military occupation of Iraq through the US withdrawal, the rise of Daesh (ISIL) terror group, and what it refers to as the influence of Syria and Iran.

“At the time of this project’s completion in 2018," Iran seems to be "the only victor,” the authors wrote in the concluding chapter of the study published by the US-based Army Times on Friday.

The study -- commissioned by former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno in 2013 and continued under current chief Gen. Mark Milley -- was postponed for release since 2016, when it was originally completed.

The report noted that the postponement was due to concerns over airing “dirty laundry” about decisions made by some leaders during the conflict.

It further identified the authors as Col. Joe Rayburn and Col. Frank Sobchak, both retired.

“The Iraq War has the potential to be one of the most consequential conflicts in American history. It shattered a long-standing political tradition against preemptive wars,” the authors wrote. “In the conflict’s immediate aftermath, the pendulum of American politics swung to the opposite pole with deep skepticism about foreign interventions.”

In his foreword to the study, Odierno wrote that “those who rejected the idea that there is an operational level of war in counterinsurgency were wrong.”

He further noted that following the war, the US entered “another historical cycle” like wars in the past, where civilian and military leaders debate the utility of land power. He then pointed directly to an overtaxed Army at even higher troop levels than they are now.

According to the report, one issue raised repeatedly in the study is the lack of troops — within the deployed brigade combat teams, available for other operations such as the war in Afghanistan, and lack of an operational reserve in theater for responses to major events.

Highlights of the study, the report added, include validations of criticisms made at the time the war was being fought, and others that were not foreseen and only understood in the years that followed.

Study authors further noted that technology could not always make up for manpower shortages, that coalition warfare was “largely unsuccessful” for several reasons, that failing to account for a lack of understanding of the inner workings of Iraqi politics and group struggles meant some military unit actions did exacerbate problems.

In early 2003, the US, backed by the UK, invaded Iraq under the pretext that the regime of Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). No such weapons, however, were ever found in Iraq.

More than one million Iraqis were killed as a result of the invasion, and the subsequent occupation of the country, according to the California-based investigative organization Project Censored.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/01/20/586269/US-Army-study-of-Iraq-invasion-Iran-Daesh

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US withdrawal to drag neighbours back into Afghan war, warns report

January 21, 2019

WASHINGTON: The Taliban will lose interest in negotiating peace and Afghanistan’s neighbours will get even more involved in war if the United States withdrew its forces, a US report warns.

But a Republican senator, Rand Paul, said after a recent meeting with Donald Trump that the US president was ready to end America’s 17-year involvement in Afghanistan.

The report — co-authored by two former US special envoys for Afghanistan and two former defence officials — highlights the consequences of a possible withdrawal of half of the 14,000 US from Afghanistan that President Trump suggested last month.

The report — written for the RAND Corporation, a US think-tank that specialises in defence affairs — argues that Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India and Uzbekistan, have a history of backing various ethnic groups, such as the Pashtuns, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara. “These relationships will likely be reinforced as the central government’s financial base collapses, its writ weakens, and its cohesion erodes,” the report warns, adding that a US withdrawal will do both — undermine the Kabul government and weaken the Afghan economy.

“Pakistan has long tolerated and facilitated use of its territory by the Taliban. In the event of a precipitous US withdrawal, Pak­istan will likely become more open in its backing,” the report claims.

Pakistan has long rejected such claims as “negative speculations”, insisting instead that it no longer allows any terrorist group to use its territories for carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan.

The authors also note that since 2001, Russia and Iran have generally supported the Kabul government but, in recent years, they have also “provided limited aid to the Taliban as a hedge”.

They point out that the Taliban’s main goal in “recently energised” talks with the US “is a negotiated timetable for a US military withdrawal”. An early withdrawal, they argue, will cause the insurgents to “lose interest in negotiating peace with the United States”.

The authors also underline US expectations from the talks: Taliban forswearing ties with extremist groups, denying such groups access to Afghan territory, and becoming part of a new Afghan political and security architecture that is agreed upon among Afghans.

“If Taliban leaders receive or come to expect a cost-free US withdrawal, they will have little incentive to bargain with the United States or with the US-backed Afghan government,” the authors warn.

The report also highlights other consequences of an early US withdrawal, such as: Other North Atlantic Treaty Organi­sation (Nato) forces also leave Afghanistan. The US and other international civilian presence is sharply reduced. External economic and security assistance diminishes. Power moves from the centre to the periphery. Responsibility for security increasingly devolves to regional militias and local warlords.

The Taliban extend their control over territory and population but encounters resistance. Afghanistan descends into a wider civil war.

Civilian deaths rise sharply and refugee flows increase. Extremist groups, including Al Qaeda and Daesh, gain additional scope to organise, recruit and initiate terrorist attacks against US regional and homeland targets.

Senator Paul, however, says that he returned with his White House meeting with President Trump with the impression that he believes “we’ve been at war too long and in too many places”.

In general, “the idea is that we’re going to do things differently. We’re not going to stay forever. The Afghans will have to step up”, he added.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1458794/us-withdrawal-to-drag-neighbours-back-into-afghan-war-warns-report

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Pompeo terms pullout plan a tactical change

Anwar Iqbal

January 21, 2019

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on Friday that the plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Syria was a “tactical change” that does not affect the mission to defeat terrorism.

In a series of tweets from Islamabad, US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad noted that “many are concerned the United States is willing to both talk and fight” with the Taliban.

“Let me be clear: the US wants peace,” wrote Mr Khal­ilzad, indicating that he saw no dichotomy in the two positions.

“To achieve peace, we are ready to address legitimate concerns of all Afghan sides in a process that ensures Afghan independence and sovereignty, and accounts for legitimate interests of regional states,” he wrote. “Urgent that fighting end. But pursuing peace still means we fight as needed.”

In an interview to Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of America’s largest media conglomerates, Secretary Pom­peo pointed out that the “war against terror” was a long struggle and America wants to stay engaged in this struggle with support from the rest of the international community.

“A tactical change in one place or another, adding a few soldiers, taking some soldiers down, these are tactical changes. They don’t change the mission set,” he said.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1458833/pompeo-terms-pullout-plan-a-tactical-change

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US senator wants Trump to meet PM Khan

Syed Irfan Raza

January 21, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Declaring that Pakistan and the United States have entered a new “strategic partnership” for economic gains and peaceful settlement of the 18-year-old Afghan conflict, leading US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has said that he will request President Donald Trump to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan soon to cement the bilateral relations further.

The senior senator made the announcement while addressing a press conference at the US embassy shortly after meeting PM Khan on Sunday.

Mr Graham also claimed that the prime minister had endorsed the Trump administration’s plans that the US should keep its presence in Afghanistan and continue the reconciliation process.

“After meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan, I would urge President Donald Trump to meet Mr Khan as soon as practical. I would also urge him (the president) to meet the prime minister sooner or later and push a joint agenda for peaceful resolution of Afghan conflict,” he added.

The senator said he had paid over 50 visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan with his colleague Senator John McCain, who recently passed away, but it was for the first time that he observed a drastic change in Pakistan. He said PM Khan and Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa were seriously trying to eradicate terrorism and resolve Afghan conflict. “Today Pakistan is most reliable strategic partner than yesterday’s,” he added.

He termed it a “big change” as besides military efforts the government of Pakistan was also trying to economically develop tribal areas to overcome militancy there.

Responding to a question about the actual purpose of his visit, Senator Graham said: “I did not come here to negotiate with Taliban but to see a new opening for reconciliation in Afghanistan which I’d never seen before.

“This time there is a lot. I can see a change in Pakistan in terms of peace in Afghanistan. Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has been doing a lot in Pakistan’s tribal areas and destroyed sanctuaries of Taliban. Pakistani armed forces should continue these efforts as these are better than any other time,” he added.

Senator Graham, who frequently visits American troops stationed overseas for on-the-ground assessment, said Prime Minister Imran Khan was new and different. “Earlier our (Pak-US) relations were transactional that if you give us this we will give you that and if you don’t give us this we will take away that from you,” he said.

He said PM Khan wanted to get rid of the transactional relationship and wanted Islamabad to have a strategic relationship with Washington. “Pakistan is a nuclear country and it should go forward instead of looking backward,” he added.

“With Prime Minister Khan, we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship and I will also tell President Trump that Prime Minister Khan wanted change in Pak-US relations,” the senator said.

He said both Pakistan and the US also wanted free trade agreement to help former in prevailing economic crisis. “It will be a game changer for Pakistan, whereas IMF loan will stabilise Pakistan on a short term basis,” he said.

Senator Graham also vowed to enhance trade with Pakistan saying 200 million young Pakistanis could become good customers of US products.

War in Afghanistan would end through reconciliation, he said, adding that it was not only in the interest of the US but also of others. He elaborated that it was not in the interest of Pakistan or anyone else that Taliban reoccupied the Afghanistan by force. “I would also ask President Trump that vast majority of people of Afghanistan do not want to go back to those days when Taliban were ruling. Children want to go to school and they need us. The people of Afghanistan deserve better,” he added.

He said Taliban had realized that Pakistan and rest of the world would not allow them to take back Afghanistan. “This is the change and more robust Afghan armed forces than they were in 2004. Now time is not on your (Taliban) side,” he remarked.

Earlier, the leading Republican senator called on the prime minister. They discussed bilateral ties and reviewed the regional security situation.

An official press release said the senator conveyed his appreciation of Pakistan’s positive role in the ongoing efforts to find a political settlement in Afghanistan. He praised Mr Khan’s vision advocating a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

Senator Graham also lauded his vision to improve the economy, eliminate corruption and create jobs for the people of Pakistan. “Prime minister’s efforts to normalise relations with neighbouring countries were note worthy,” he observed.

Speaking on the occasion, the prime minister reiterated his government’s commitment to continue working with the US and regional stakeholders to find a political settlement in Afghanistan. He highlighted the need for normalising relations with all neighbouring countries to unleash the potential of regional cooperation.

Mr Khan said his economic team was constantly striving to evolve business-friendly policies for potential investors which could be benefited by the US companies. In view of the historical linkages between Pakistan and the US, the two sides agreed to deepen the bilateral economic ties particularly in the context of trade and investment cooperation.

Separately, the US senator met Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at a luncheon at Foreign Office and COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at dinner at the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Welcoming Senator Graham, Mr Qureshi apprised him of government’s priorities on the external and internal fronts and said a proactive foreign policy was being pursued which, inter alia, sought to have a peaceful neighbourhood conducive for stability and prosperity of the entire region.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1458800/us-senator-wants-trump-to-meet-pm-khan

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