JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – Israel called on Tuesday for the immediate resumption of indirect talks on the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers held for years in Gaza, but the territory s Islamist rulers Hamas dismissed the overture. The Israeli appeal came in a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s office after Hamas said last week it might be willing to move forward on the issue. Israel last week linked any future coronavirus-linked aid to neighboring Gaza on progress in efforts to recover the two soldiers — who it said were killed in the 2014 Gaza war — and the two civilians who separately slipped into the enclave. Hamas has said it holds all four. The Islamist group has never stated whether the soldiers are dead or alive, but neither has it provided a sign of life, as it has done in a previous similar case. The families of the two civilians said they suffered from mental health issues. Hamas has said that returning the four Israelis would require negotiating a prisoner swap and would not be done in exchange for humanitarian aid. In its statement, the Israeli prime minister s office said Netanyahu s national security team “stands ready to take constructive action with the goal of returning the fallen and the missing and of ending the affair, and are calling for an immediate dialogue via mediators.” In past rounds of talks, Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have served as intermediaries. But Hamas official Moussa Dodin on Tuesday dismissed Netanyahu s offer to resume talks, saying it was not serious and warning the premier: “[The Israelis] may be forced to negotiate under more complicated conditions” in the future. Yehya al-Sinwar, Hamas chief in Gaza, had said last week that he saw “a possible initiative to revive [the] issue” of the four Israelis if Israel frees jailed Palestinians, though he rejected the linkage to coronavirus aid. “A prisoner swap will exact a big price” from Israel, he told Hamas s Al-Aqsa TV, saying that were it to start by releasing sick, old and female prisoners “we may offer something partial in return”. Hamas, which has 13 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in blockaded Gaza and hopes to curb its spread, wants Israel to ease economic conditions. Israel is also loath to deal with a new humanitarian crisis on its border with Gaza, now sealed by both sides. Israel in the past has freed hundreds of jailed Palestinians, including many militants, in exchange for the recovery of dead or captive Israelis. But rightists in Netanyahu s coalition government, including Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, oppose any further releases of Palestinian militants.
Muslims should fast during Ramadan regardless of the coronavirus outbreak, an Al-Azhar committee said in an urgent session on Tuesday, amid concerns that the pandemic would affect affect the Islamic fasting month, which is set to begin on April 23. Al-Azhar s jurisprudence committee said in an official statement that there was “no scientific evidence yet of a link between fasting and contracting the virus.”
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Sunday it would minimize its troop movements in operation zones in neighboring Syria in response to the coronavirus outbreak as the Turkish death toll and infections in the country rose. Turkey s death toll from the COVID-19 disease has risen by 73 to 574 in the last 24 hours, with new confirmed cases jumping by 3,135 to total 27,069, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said. Turkey, which is ninth globally in coronavirus cases, has curbed much social movement, mostly sealed its borders and shuttered businesses. In the latest step, the defense ministry said it had set up a new unit to battle the spread of the disease. Troops deployed in Syria will now enter and exit operation areas only with the permission of the head of the army, the ministry said. “Thus, the movement of staff and troops is minimized, unless it is mandatory,” it added. Turkey s military backs Syrian rebels in the northwestern Idlib region where it ramped up a deployment earlier this year. Fighting has calmed since Ankara agreed a ceasefire with Moscow, which backs Syrian government forces, a month ago. In Idlib, where about a million people have been displaced by the conflict in recent months, doctors fear the worst if the coronavirus hits, given hospitals lie in ruins and camps overflow with people devastated by nine years of war. Turkey s defence ministry said doctors had been sent to operation areas in part to conduct training related to the severe respiratory disease. The Turkish military also oversees Syrian border regions to the east of Idlib. At home, Turkey s outbreak has surged in the last few weeks, with new cases climbing daily. On Friday the government issued a stay-at-home order for most Turks under 20, on top of the existing order for over-65s, plus one for mandatory mask use in crowded public places, shops and workplaces. On Sunday, the government said residents could apply online for five free masks per week delivered via mail.
JERUSALEM (AP) — A small group of Franciscan monks and Roman Catholic faithful took to the streets of Jerusalem s Christian Quarter in the Old City Sunday to distribute olive branches after the traditional Palm Sunday procession was cancelled due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Iran, which is dealing with the worst outbreak in the Mideast, announced plans to allow some businesses to reopen later this month even as the death toll continued to climb. Meanwhile, Lebanon reopened its airport to allow citizens stranded overseas to return home. Palm Sunday celebrations start the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Worshipers traditionally carry palm fronds and olive branches and march from the top of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem s Old City. While thousands of pilgrims usually participate in the march, this year was limited to a handful of participants. Clerics and faithful went door to door often throwing the branches to Christians looking on from their balconies. “This year because of the new situation we are trying to come to all the Christians in our Christian Quarter to bring these branches of olives, the sign of new hope,” said the Rev. Sandro Tomasevic, a Catholic clergyman at the Latin Parish of Jerusalem. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus entry into Jerusalem and is the start of the church s most solemn week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Jesus crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter. In Israel, more than 8,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and 46 have died. In the West Bank, nearly 200 cases have been reported, including a large outbreak in the biblical town of Bethlehem. The outbreak has forced church officials to close churches to the public and scale back religious observances throughout the week. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, held a small, closed service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The Israeli military began an operation in the hard-hit central city of Bnei Brak, helping to distribute food and medicine. The government last week put Bnei Brak, home to a large population of ultra-Orthodox religious Jews, under a near closure after an outbreak ravaged the city. Israel s ultra-Orthodox population has been disproportionately infected after religious leaders played down or ignored warnings to maintain social distance early in the crisis. Meanwhile, a nursing home in the southern city of Beersheba reported its sixth death in recent days. The coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by people showing no symptoms. It can cause serious illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health issues. Iran has been the hardest-hit nation across the region. Iran state TV reported that an additional 151 people had died, pushing the death toll to 3,603 with over 58,000 confirmed cases. But the country s president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that low-risk businesses will be allowed to resume their activities in Tehran on April 18. Businesses in other provinces will begin a week earlier, on April 11, he said during a meeting Saturday. He said government offices would also be able to boost staffing, from one-third to two-thirds of their work force, beginning April 11. Rouhani said the decision would not contradict a stay-at-home policy and that businesses must still observe health restrictions ordered by the government. High-risk businesses, like pools, gyms and shopping malls will remain closed, he said. In Lebanon, meanwhile, a jet carrying more than 70 Lebanese citizens who had been stuck in Saudi Arabia after Beirut s international airport closed nearly three weeks arrived in Lebanon. It marked the beginning of flights that aim to return thousands of Lebanese from around the world. Three more flights are scheduled to arrive later Sunday from the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. The tiny Mediterranean country has reported 520 cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths since the first case was reported in late February. Lebanon s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said up to 21,000 people have registered to return home, and the process will take several weeks.
ran said Thursday it “only acts in self-defense” after President Donald Trump warned it against attacks on US troops in Iraq, as a new war of words heated up despite the coronavirus pandemic. Tensions between the arch-foes flared in Iraq where the United States deployed Patriot air defense missiles prompting neighboring Iran to warn of consequences and demand a US withdrawal. Both countries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the United States and more than 3,000 in Iran. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “unlike the US — which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates — Iran only acts in self-defence”. “Don t be misled by usual warmongers, AGAIN,” he said, addressing US President Donald Trump. “Iran starts no wars but teaches lessons to those who do,” he added. Trump warned Iran on Wednesday that it would pay a “heavy price” in the event of further attacks on US troops. He tweeted that “upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq”. In response, Zarif tweeted that “Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies ” Iran responded angrily to the US Patriot deployment warning that Washington risked leading the Middle East to disaster in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Its armed forces chief of staff said the recent attacks against US bases in Iraq are the “natural reaction” of Iraqi people towards Washington s continuing military presence. The attacks “have nothing to do with our country. The Americans sometimes attribute such things to us, which is projecting the blame,” Iran s ISNA news agency quoted Major General Mohammad Bagheri as saying. “Iran has no involvement in these actions and no intention to attack foreign forces,” he said, underlining that Iran would still respond strongly to any aggression. – Battle for influence – Iran and the US are in a tense battle for influence in Iraq, where Tehran has powerful allies and Washington has close ties to the government. Bases in Iraq housing US troops and foreign embassies, particularly the American mission, have been targeted in more than two dozen rocket attacks since October that Washington has blamed on Iran-backed armed groups. Tensions have risen sharply since Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. They escalated in January when the US killed Iran s Major General Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad airport. Iran retaliated by firing at bases in Iraq housing US troops. While on high alert for a response, Iranian air defences accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner minutes after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Iran has repeatedly called on the Trump administration to reverse its sanctions policy, which has been opposed even by US allies, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “This was the best, historic opportunity for the Americans to reverse their wrong path and for once, tell their nation they are not against the Iranian people,” President Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the US sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process purchases for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States. European nations have delivered medical goods to Iran in the first transaction under the Instex financing mechanism set up to get round US sanctions, Germany said on Tuesday. But it is more than a year since Britain, France and Germany announced the creation of Instex and Iran has questioned European governments commitment to seeing it through in defiance of the Trump administration.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A UN aid agency Tuesday began delivering food to the homes of impoverished Palestinians instead of making them pick up such parcels at crowded distribution centers — part of an attempt to prevent a mass outbreak of the new coronavirus in the densely populated Gaza Strip. As the virus continued to spread across the Middle East, Iran, the hardest-hit country in the region, reported 141 new deaths, pushing the death toll closer to 3,000 people. Late Tuesday, Gaza s Health Ministry said two more cases have been confirmed among travelers who returned from Egypt, bringing the number to 12. In Israel, defense officials said they had converted a missile-production plant into an assembly line for much-needed breathing machines. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said it would pay medical expenses for anyone infected with the virus. In Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees has for decades provided staples like flour, rice, oil and canned foods to roughly half of the territory s 2 million people. Under the old system, those eligible lined up at crowded distribution centers four times a year to pick up their aid parcels. Starting on Tuesday, the agency began making home deliveries. “We assessed that tens of thousands of people will pour into the food distribution centers and this is very dangerous,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, the agency s spokesman in Gaza. Some 4,000 deliveries were made Tuesday, with an estimated 70,000 others to be made over the next three weeks, he said. Drivers on three-wheel motorcycles dropped off the food, calling people out of their homes, confirming their identities and leaving the bags outside. The agency instructed people to stay two meters (about six feet) from the delivery men to minimize the risk of infection. “This makes it easy for us,” said Manal Ziara, a resident of Shati refugee camp in west Gaza City. “The old mechanism causes crowding and touching that help the virus spread.” Twelve people have tested positive for coronavirus in Gaza, whose borders have been largely sealed by Israel and Egypt since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the territory in 2007. However, there s only a small number of available tests. International officials fear the virus could quickly spread and overwhelm an already gutted health system. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia or death. Particularly hard hit has been Iran, home to 80 million people. Iran s state TV reported 141 new deaths Tuesday, pushing the death toll to 2,898. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said there are now 44,606 confirmed cases, including 3,703 in critical condition. In Saudi Arabia, King Salman said the government will pay for the treatment of all coronavirus patients, including visitors and foreign residents. Saudi Arabia has more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the virus and eight recorded deaths. It has sealed off three major cities and imposed a nighttime curfew across the country, as well as suspended flights and the yearlong Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. In Israel, the Defense Ministry said it had overseen the conversion of a missile-production facility into an assembly line for ventilators. The line, set up at a facility belonging to state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, will produce ventilators made by Israeli company Inovytec. It produced its first 30 machines on Tuesday. The Israeli military, meanwhile, announced that its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, had entered quarantine after learning that he attended a meeting last week with an officer who was infected. It said Kochavi, who has no symptoms, would remain in isolation until the weekend. The army also said roughly 600 troops were being deployed to assist Israeli police in enforcing tight restrictions on movement Israel has recorded over 5,300 cases, with 20 deaths. In Jerusalem s Old City, workers sanitized the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, to protect those who visit the site. With the Passover holiday approaching next week, prayer notes tucked between the wall s stones were removed using gloves and disposable wooden tools. The notes, which are removed twice a year, were collected in special bags and will be buried with other sacred papers.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Israeli police have used a drone, helicopter and stun grenades in recent days to prevent people gathering in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem in defiance of Health Ministry measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. On Monday, police, some in riot gear and surgical masks, encountered occasional resistance and verbal abuse while enforcing the measures in a part of the city whose residents have long chafed against the state. “Nazis!” shouted a group of boys, as police pulled men off the narrow streets of Mea Shearim. As well as broadcasting the message “Stay Home” from the helicopter and drone, police have issued offenders with fines. Israeli officials describe the ultra-Orthodox as especially prone to contagion because their districts tend to be poor and congested, and in normal times they are accustomed to holding thrice-daily prayers with often large congregations. Some of their rabbis have also cast doubt on the degree of coronavirus risk. Many ultra-Orthodox reject the authority of the Israeli state, whose Jewish majority is mostly secular. Israel s 21 percent Arab minority are another sensitive community, where officials say testing for the virus has been lagging. “There are three Corona Countries – the ultra-Orthodox sector, the Arab sector and the rest of the State of Israel,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told reporters on Sunday. The Mea Shearim patrols represented an escalation in security enforcement. On Saturday, a funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners in Bnai Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town. Reprimanded by Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan for allowing what he deemed a “threat to life” at the funeral, police issued a statement vowing to “draw lessons to prevent similar situations recurring”. Public gatherings are currently limited to up to 10 people, people must keep two meters apart and the public has been urged to stay at home unless they need to buy food, get medical attention, or go to work deemed crucial by the state. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ultra-Orthodox head of ZAKA, a volunteer emergency-medicine group, told Israel s Army Radio that most ultra-Orthodox Jews did follow Health Ministry directives and only a small group defied them, possibly for political reasons. “Everything they are doing has no value when they constitute a ticking bomb because of whom people will get infected,” he said of those not following the government s guidelines. Israel has reported 4,347 coronavirus cases and 15 fatalities. With the Health Ministry warning that the dead could eventually number in the thousands, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due on Monday to convene officials to discuss a proposed lockdown of some of the country. Bennett has proposed setting up a coronavirus surveillance system that would allow authorities to focus lockdowns on areas most prone to contagion.
BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led forces in Syria put down riots by Islamic State militants in a prison in the country s northeast on Monday, hours after the extremists knocked down doors and dug holes in walls between cells, a Syrian Kurdish spokesman said. Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said the situation in the prison in the northeastern town of Hassakeh was “fully under control.” He said their anti-terrorism force “ended the riots and secured the facility and all prisoners inside.” It was not immediately clear if the riots were triggered by concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus. Mustafa Bali, another spokesman for the forces, said late Sunday that so far there is no connection between the riot and fears of the fast-spreading virus. There are concerns over an outbreak of the virus inside overcrowded prison facilities in Syria and elsewhere in the region. But so far there are no reports of infection in Kurdish-administered northeastern Syria or in any detention facilities. Gabriel did not say whether there were casualties in the operation to secure the prison adding that none of the prisoners were able to escape. Kurdish authorities run more than two dozen detention facilities, scattered around northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners, including about 800 Europeans. The Kurdish-led forces, backed by the U.S-led coalition, declared a military victory against IS in March last year, after seizing control of the last sliver of land the militants had controlled in southeast Syria. Earlier Monday, a third spokesman for the forces, told The Associated Press that IS militants were still rioting on one of the floors of the prison. Mervan Qamishlo said in a voice message from northeastern Syria that IS “members are still out of control on one of the floors.” North Press Agency, a media platform operating in the Kurdish-administered areas, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Monday that the local police force, known as Asayeh, had detained four IS members who were able to flee the night before The prison is believed to house foreign IS militants. It is not clear what nationalities were held there. The U.S-led coalition said it was assisting the SDF with aerial surveillance as they quell the riot. The coalition said in a tweet that the facility holds low level IS members. The coalition said its forces don t staff any detention facilities in Syria The Rojava Information Center, an activist collective in the Kurdish-held areas, said the prison in Hassakeh s southern neighborhood of Ghoeiran houses some 1,000 low-level foreign IS members. It added that the upper levels of the prison hold mostly Syrian IS members. Bali said late Sunday that the rioters were in full control of the ground floor of the prison and have smashed and removed the prison s internal doors. The Kurdish authorities have asked countries to repatriate their nationals, saying keeping thousands of detainees in crammed facilities is putting a strain on their forces. “These incidents confirm that Syrian Democratic Forces are able to secure Daesh terrorists,” Gabriel said using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS. He added that the incidents also show that the international community should help the SDF to “fully secure” detention facilities and camps hosting families of IS militants. The families of IS militants and supporters who came out of the last territory controlled by the group are also holed in camps around the Kurdish-controlled areas — the largest one housing nearly 70,000 women and children, many of them foreigners.
Pope Francis on Sunday joined UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres s appeal for an "immediate global ceasefire", on the fifth anniversary of Saudi Arabia s intervention in Yemen s civil war. "I join all those who have accepted this appeal and invite everyone to follow it by ceasing all forms of hostility, promoting the creation of humanitarian aid corridors, being open to diplomacy, and paying attention to the most vulnerable," the pope said in a message delivered after holding prayers. Several explosions shook the Saudi capital Riyadh late on Saturday, which the Saudi-led military coalition blamed on Yemen s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels, who have repeatedly targeted Saudi cities with missiles, rockets and drones. The attack came with the Saudi capital under curfew imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Pope Francis pointed out that Guterres s call on Monday came during "the current COVID-19 emergency, which knows no borders". "The joint commitment against the pandemic can lead everyone to recognise our need to strengthen our fraternal ties as members of one human family," the pontiff said.
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli parliament will select a new speaker on Thursday after the Supreme Court forced the vote amid an unprecedented challenge to Israeli democracy and as the country is battling against the rapid spread of coronavirus. A new speaker from the opposition Blue and White party will deal a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he tries to cling to power while averting a looming corruption trial. Outgoing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein resigned in protest Wednesday. A close Netanyahu ally, Edelstein had refused to comply with a high court order to convene the plenum for a vote on his successor the same day, angrily accusing the court of an “arrogant intervention” in the legislative branch. Even in stepping down, Edelstein tried to stall the vote for several days, as his resignation would take effect 48 hours later. The court responded by stripping Edelstein of his authorities even before his resignation became official, and ruled overnight that the Knesset s longest-serving member, Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz, can act as interim speaker for the sake of the vote. In her ruling, Chief Justice Esther Hayut lambasted Edelstein for his “unprecedented violation of the rule of law,” warning that it posed a dire threat to the rule of law. “Until today, we have never seen a case in state history of a ruling figure openly and brazenly defying a court order by saying his conscience wouldn t allow it,” she announced. “If this is how a person of authority behaves, why should the citizen behave otherwise?” The confrontation comes just as the government enacted new restrictions requiring Israelis to almost completely stay at home, under threat of fines. In a televised address, Netanyahu warned that if citizens didn t obey the stringent guidelines, a total lock-down would be imposed. Nearly 2,500 Israelis have been infected by the new virus, with 41 in serious condition. Six elderly Israelis with preexisting medical conditions have died and there are growing fears that Israel s medical system will eventually be overwhelmed. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or even death. The virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those showing no symptoms. Netanyahu s caretaker government has passed a series of emergency executive measures to try and quell the spread of the new virus. They have included authorizing unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens and a slowdown of court activity that forced the postponement of Netanyahu s own pending criminal trial on serious corruption charges. The global pandemic erupted in Israel immediately on the heels of the country s third inconclusive election in less than a year and at the height of an ever-deepening standoff between Netanyahu s opponents and supporters. It came to a boil with Edelstein, a former Soviet dissident and longtime lawmaker, who cited restrictions on large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus in suspending parliamentary activity. But opponents accused him of clinging to his seat even though he lacked majority support in order to shield his party leader Netanyahu from legislation that would limit his lengthy rule. Netanyahu s Likud emerged as the largest party in the March 2 election, but along with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, won only the support of 58 lawmakers — leaving his right-wing bloc three seats short of the required majority in parliament. Opposition leader Benny Gantz is backed by a slim majority in the newly elected Knesset and has been pushing for the country s legislature to continue functioning at such a critical time, even without a permanent government in place. Due to deep ideological divisions within the opposition, it appears unlikely that Gantz will succeed in forming an alternative government. But the bloc is unified in their opposition to Netanyahu and appear determined to cooperate to provide government oversight and pass legislation that could prevent Netanyahu from remaining in the prime minister s post. Parliament is expected to approve Meir Cohen of Gantz s centrist Blue and White party late Thursday as the new Knesset speaker. That would allow the bloc to proceed with planned legislation that includes a ban on indicted politicians, such as Netanyahu, from serving as prime minister. With the number of coronavirus cases rising, and the tide turning against him in parliament, Netanyahu reiterated his call late Wednesday for Gantz to join him in an emergency unity government devoted to battling the virus crisis, despite the bad blood between them “I know that there is considerable unrest in all parts of the people, in both parts of the people. I say as clearly as possible: We must put an end to this,” he said. “We are one people. We are one state and the order of the day is unity.” Gantz, who has pledged outside support to government efforts to combat the virus, has thus far rebuffed Netanyahu s unity offers, deeming them insincere. His allies are concerned that Netanyahu is manipulating the crisis for his own means and will not carry out his promises to relinquish power within 18 months. But following a live televised plea from Israel s largely ceremonial President Reuven Rivlin late Wednesday, the two spoke by phone and instructed their teams to resume talks. “Find a way to present a shared leadership, a responsible leadership, for Israeli society in its time of crisis,” Rivlin appealed. “We simply do not have an alternative. Join together for the good of the Israeli people. If not now, when?”
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish prosecutors have formally charged two former aides of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and 18 other Saudi nationals over the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, officials said Wednesday. A statement from the Istanbul chief prosecutor s office said it has completed its investigation into Khashoggi s grisly killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and has indicted 20 Saudi nationals. The killing drew international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over Prince Mohammed. All suspects however, have left Turkey and Saudi Arabia has rejected Turkish calls for their return to face trial in Turkey. Riyadh insisted the kingdom s courts are the correct place for them to be tried and has put 11 people on trial over the killing. The Turkish indictment charges the prince s former advisers, Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Asiri, with “instigating a premeditated murder with the intent of (causing) torment through fiendish instinct,” according to a statement from Chief Prosecutor Irfan Fidan s office. The indictment also calls for life prison sentences for 18 other Saudi nationals charged with carrying out “a premeditated murder with the intent of (causing) torment through fiendish instincts.” Khashoggi, who was a resident of the U.S., had walked into his country s consulate on Oct. 2, 2018, for an appointment to pick up documents that would allow him to marry. He never walked out, and his body has not been found. A team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Khashoggi inside the consulate. They included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers and individuals who worked for the crown prince s office, according to a report last year by U.N. special rapporteur Agnes Callamard. Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw. Fidan s office said the 18 suspects are accused of “acting in consensus from the beginning in line with the decision of taking the victim back to Saudi Arabia and of killing him if he did not agree.” The statement did not provide further details and it was not immediately clear if the suspects would be tried in absentia. The trial in Saudi Arabia last year concluded that the killing was not premeditated, prompting widespread criticism of a “whitewash.” Five people were sentenced to death while three other people were found guilty of covering up the crime and were sentenced to a combined 24 years in prison. Saudi authorities have said al-Qahtani was investigated and had no proven involvement in the killing, while al-Asiri was tried and released because of insufficient evidence. Turkey, a rival of Saudi Arabia, has used the killing on its soil to pressure the kingdom. It apparently had the Saudi Consulate bugged and has shared audio of the killing with the C.I.A., among others. Saudi Arabia initially offered shifting accounts about Khashoggi s disappearance. As international pressure mounted because of the Turkish leaks, the kingdom eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed by rogue officials in a brawl.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel appeared on the verge of a constitutional crisis Tuesday as top members of Benjamin Netanyahu s Likud urged their party colleague and parliament speaker to defy a Supreme Court order to hold an election for the prime minister s successor. After suspending parliamentary activities last week, citing procedural issues and restrictions on large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus, Yuli Edelstein on Monday dismissed the court s call to explain his delay in convening the Israeli Knesset, or parliament. It sparked an unprecedented judicial rebuttal, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut ordering him to hold a vote by Wednesday and ruling that “the continued refusal to allow the vote in the Knesset plenum on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process.” Even after that, at least two Likud Cabinet ministers, including Netanyahu s surrogate interim justice minister, called on Edelstein to defy the order, deeming it a judicial “coup” against Israel s elected officials. Cabinet Minister Yariv Levin led the charge, accusing the court of trampling the principle of separation of powers. He said it was creating “anarchy” and acting as if it “owned the country.” Netanyahu has yet to comment but others in the party, while equally lambasting the high court, called on Edelstein to respect its ruling to avoid a full fledged constitutional crisis at such a sensitive time. The developments marked the apex of an ever-deepening standoff between Netanyahu s opponents and supporters in the wake of the country s third inconclusive election in less than a year and against the backdrop of a series of emergency executive measures enacted to quell the spread of the new virus. The opposition Blue and White party, which is backed by a slim majority in the newly elected Knesset, said the country s legislature must continue to function at such a critical time to provide oversight of the government. The party accuses Netanyahu and his caretaker government of carrying out undemocratic measures amid the crisis, and using it as cover to cling to power. With the country in near-shutdown mode, Netanyahu has already managed to postpone his own pending criminal trial on serious corruption charges and authorize unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens. Even amid the health scare, Israelis have taken to the streets to protest what they consider an assault on Israeli democracy. Blue and White is expected to choose a new speaker and use its parliamentary majority to push through legislation that could prevent Netanyahu from serving as prime minister in the future. The Knesset on Monday voted 61-0 in favor of convening the key Arrangements Committee, which is authorized to create the parliament s other decision-making committees. Later, it approved a half-dozen other temporary committees, including one devoted to the corona crisis. Netanyahu and his allies boycotted the votes to protest what they called a power play that relied on Arab members of parliament. Likud said it would take no part in the “unprecedented destructiveness.” Netanyahu s Likud emerged as the largest party in the March 2 election but along with his smaller religious and nationalist allies only won the support of 58 lawmakers — leaving his right-wing bloc three seats short of the required majority in Parliament. Gantz s majority bloc is deeply divided along ideological lines and unlikely to band together to form an alternative government. But they are determined to oppose Netanyahu and seem willing to cooperate in parliament. Replacing Edelstein on Wednesday appears to be the first step. The parliament speaker informed the court that he will “not agree to an ultimatum” and that “a permanent Knesset speaker has never been elected at a time of such great uncertainty concerning the composition of a future coalition.” He said he would not put the Knesset speaker vote on the agenda until the political situation becomes clearer. Netanyahu has called on his rivals to join him in an emergency unity government to combat the global pandemic, but says that option will be gone if Edelstein is replaced. In Israel, daily life has largely shut down with tens of thousands out of work and all but essential movement out of the home restricted. Cases have been multiplying over the past week, with more than 1,650 people testing positive for the new virus and fears that the spread will soon overwhelm the health system. One patient has died and 31 are in serious condition. Opposition leader Benny Gantz has pledged to support the government in its effort to combat the virus. But he and his allies have been skeptical about Netanyahu s power-sharing overtures, concerned that he will not follow through on his promises to cede power in 18 months. If no compromise or alternative government is found, Israel could once again find itself faced with the prospect of yet another unfathomable election. Given the current state of lock down and fear of contagion it s not clear if that would even be possible.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli forces shot and killed a 32-year-old Palestinian man early on Monday who was hurling rocks at Israeli troops, the Palestinian health ministry and the Israeli military said. The military said it thwarted an attack and opened fire at a number of suspects who were throwing rocks at Israeli vehicles on a highway in central West Bank, near the town of Qaliqilya. It says one of the suspects was killed while another was wounded and escaped. Clashes often erupt in the West Bank between Israelis and Palestinians but have dipped considerably since the outbreak of the coronavirus. In Israel, daily life has largely shut down with more then 1,200 people testing positive for the new virus. One patient has died and 24 are in serious condition. In the West Bank, 57 cases have been diagnosed so far, the majority of them in Bethlehem. The Palestinian prime minister has ordered a lock down and in Gaza, two cases have been diagnosed in patients who returned from Pakistan.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday welcomed positive responses from Libya s warring parties to calls for a humanitarian pause in fighting to allow authorities to respond to the public health challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The UN chief “hopes that this will be translated into an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. In the chaos that followed the country was divided. A weak UN-recognized administration that holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country s west is backed by Turkey and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy as well as local militias. On the other side is a rival government in the east that supports self-styled Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose forces launched an offensive to capture the capital last April and are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as France and Russia. According to media reports, fear of the new coronavirus is widespread in Libya, with the government announcing a curfew starting Sunday night over concerns of a possible outbreak and Hifter s forces worried that foreign mercenaries fighting alongside them may have the virus. Last month, the UN Security Council endorsed a 55-point road map for ending the war in Libya that 12 key leaders agreed to at a conference in Berlin on Jan. 19. This past week, the UN Mission in Libya and a large number of international groups called on the opposing parties to declare an immediate humanitarian pause in hostilities and halt the transfer of military equipment and personnel into the country to enable a response to the pandemic. Dujarric said the secretary-general welcomed the positive response from the government on March 18 and Hifter s Libyan National Army on March 21 to calls for a humanitarian pause. “Given the already dire humanitarian situation in Libya and the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the secretary-general calls on the parties to join forces to address the threat and to ensure unhindered access of humanitarian aid throughout the country,” the UN spokesman said. Guterres urges both sides to accept the draft cease-fire agreement reached during UN-facilitated talks in Geneva last month, Dujarric said.
Italy has just surpassed China for the most number of deaths related to coronavirus, making it the world s deadliest center of the outbreak. The number of deaths in Italy reached 3,405 on Thursday, the Italian Civil Protection Agency said at a news conference -- 156 more than China s toll, which, according to Johns Hopkins University, stands at 3,249. The total number of cases in Italy rose to 41,035 with 5,322 new cases, officials added. The grim figure comes hours after China marked a major milestone in the battle to limit the spread, reporting no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the first time since the pandemic began. As cases ratcheted up, Italy imposed nationwide restrictions similar to those seen in China -- placing more than 60 million people under lockdown. Italy s world-class health system has been pushed to the brink amid the outbreak, especially in the country s north, which has seen the highest concentration of cases. People are being treated in field hospitals and lined up in corridors inside its straining public hospitals. Doctors and nurses are being infected, due to a lack of adequate protection. Italian authorities are considering lengthening school closures beyond April 3, amid rumors of the lockdown also being extended. "I think we are going toward an extension," Italian Education minister Lucia Azzolina said Thursday, adding that schools would reopen once there is "certainty of absolute safety." Corriere della Sera quoted Thursday Italian PM Giuseppe Conte as saying "it is clear" the measures to tackle the outbreak, "both the one that has closed a lot of the country s businesses and individual activities, and the one that concerns the school, can only be extended to the deadline." The Prime Minister s spokesperson told CNN no official decision had yet been taken. Chinese medical experts helping the country deal with the crisis said the measures in the hard-hit Lombardy region are "not strict enough." The situation "is similar to what we experienced two months ago in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of Covid-19," the Chinese Red Cross vice president, Sun Shuopeng, said Thursday in a news conference in Milan, the region s capital. "In the city of Wuhan after one month since the adoption of the lockdown policy, we see a decreasing trend from the peak of the disease," Sun Shuopeng said. "Here in Milan, the hardest hit area by Covid-19, there isn t a very strict lockdown: public transportation is still working and people are still moving around, you re still having dinners and parties in the hotels and you re not wearing masks. We need every citizen to be involved in the fight of Covid-19 and follow this policy." He advised Italians to stop all "economic activities and cut the mobility of people," calling on everyone to just stay at home.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank surged ahead in 2019, a watchdog group said in a report Tuesday, maintaining a rapid pace that has drawn strength from the friendly policies of the Trump administration. Peace Now, a monitoring group that opposes the settlements, said that Israel s average annual construction rate has risen 25% since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. Perhaps more significantly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s government last year approved plans to build thousands of new homes, laying the groundwork for a sharp spike in construction in the coming years. That included an explosion in plans for new settlement projects approved early this year. “In my opinion, they re trying to take advantage of the window of opportunity that they have under the Trump administration, knowing that it might change in a few months,” said Hagit Ofran, a researcher for the group. “There was no such supportive administration for the settlements previously, ever.” Most of the world considers the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, to be occupied territory and Israeli settlements illegal obstacles to peace. In a break from his Republican and Democratic predecessors, Trump has taken a much softer line toward the settlements. Surrounded by a group of advisers with close ties to the settlement movement, Trump s administration declared last year that it did not consider the settlements to be illegal under international law. Then, in January, he unveiled a Mideast plan that envisions placing large parts of the West Bank, including all of the settlements, under permanent Israeli control. The Palestinians, with wide international backing, seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, also captured in 1967, as parts of a future independent state. With nearly 500,000 settlers now living in the West Bank, and over 220,000 more in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians say the chances of establishing a state in those territories are quickly dwindling. They have rejected the Trump Mideast plan, saying it would extinguish any remaining hopes of independence. According to the Peace Now figures, Israel began construction on 1,917 new homes in the West Bank last year. That marked a slight dip from 2,100 construction starts in 2018. But overall, Israel has begun construction on an average of 2,267 homes per year since Trump took office, compared to an annual average of 1,807 units during the Obama administration. The construction was scattered throughout the West Bank, including small settlements deep inside the territory. That new annual construction could house roughly an addition 9,000 people per year in settlements, based on Peace Now s estimate of four people per a household. Under Israeli law, settlements must go through several stages of bureaucratic planning before construction begins. According to Peace Now, Israel last year advanced plans to build nearly 8,457 new homes, putting them on track to potentially be built in the coming years — up from 5,618 units last year and 6,742 in 2017. By comparison, Israel advanced plans for a total 4,611 new homes during the final two years of the Obama administration, when ties with the U.S. were strained. Peace Now gathers its data from official Israeli sources and by conducting aerial photography of settlements. Israeli settlement groups, using different sets of measures, have also reported rapid growth in the settler population during the Trump era. Oded Revivi, mayor of the settlement of Efrat and the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settler council, said it was “no secret” that the Trump administration has been more tolerant of construction. Whether the thousands of units in the pipeline are built, he said, will depend on who leads Israel s next government and who wins the U.S. presidential election in November. “If we still have the same players, Netanyahu and Trump, I predict the figures you will see in 2020, or more accurately 2021, will actually be higher than 2019,” he said. Netanyahu, fighting for his political life, took a number of pro-settlement steps while campaigning for re-election early this year. Immediately after Trump unveiled his Mideast plan, Netanyahu vowed to begin annexing the settlements. When the White House balked, he pushed forward a flurry of new settlement plans as he tried to cater to his hard-line base. During the first two months of this year, Israel pushed ahead plans for an additional 7,500 homes — nearly half of them in the sensitive “E1” area, according to Peace Now. Developing that area, jutting deep into the West Bank east of Jerusalem, would hinder Palestinian hopes of creating a contiguous state. Israel has previously refrained from building in E1 due to opposition by prior U.S. administrations. Israel also moved ahead with plans to build over 1,500 units in a contentious area of east Jerusalem. Despite these steps, Netanyahu came up short as the March 2 election ended in deadlock. Netanyahu s rival, Benny Gantz, is now trying to form the country s next government but also appears to face long odds of success. If neither man can cobble together a governing coalition, the country could plunge into a fourth consecutive election, placing Netanyahu s future into question as he prepares to go on trial for corruption charges. Trump s future, meanwhile, also is suddenly in question following widespread criticism of the slow U.S. response to the coronavirus crisis. The virus could also play a role in the growth of the settlements in the coming months. An economic slowdown, for instance, could potentially slow demand in the Israeli housing market, including in settlements. In the West Bank, there are also risks from Israelis and Palestinians — who are covered by two different health systems and governments — coming together. Revivi s settlement, for example, is next to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, and residents often come into contact with one other. Thousands of Palestinians, including construction workers, work in the settlements. “With all the potential of catching the virus, all these things become a much more relevant issue that needs to be discussed, determined, decided upon and definitely acted upon,” Revivi said.
Sudan s ruling council said on Tuesday it would step up its drive to remove loyalists of former president Omar al-Bashir, a day after the prime minister of the transitional government escaped an assassination attempt unscathed. A branch of Sudan s security services that was closely linked to Bashir will be brought under control of the civilian government and a committee tasked with dismantling the old regime will be given additional powers, sovereign council spokesman Mohamed al-Faki said in a statement. Authorities have launched an investigation into Monday s assassination attempt, when a blast targeted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok s convoy as he drove to work. They have not said who was behind it, but by reasserting that Bashir loyalists will be firmly dealt with, they have suggested possible links with old regime supporters trying to disrupt a democratic transition. Hamdok heads a government of technocrats serving under a 39-month power-sharing deal between civilian groups and the military that was struck after Bashir was overthrown last April. As part of efforts to disempower Bashir s supporters, the "dismantling" committee has already moved to disband the former ruling party and dismiss senior officials at banks and embassies. Some officers at the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have also been dismissed, and the name of the agency has been changed to the General Intelligence Service (GIS). Faki said on Tuesday that the part of the GIS that operates inside Sudan would be brought under the interior ministry. In mid-January, armed security agents linked to Bashir fought soldiers in Khartoum for several hours, after a dispute linked to severance packages.
Churches across Egypt have announced the suspension of church meetings and activities, following a government decision to suspend schools and universities for two weeks as a precautionary measure to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Coptic Orthodox Church confirmed the suspension of all church education programs for two weeks. The church s official Spokesperson Father Paul Halim announced in a press statement Sunday the suspension of all other church activities as well, including gatherings of large groups and services at nurseries, rehabilitation centers and church trips. The statement also stressed the suspension of study in all theological institutes and colleges. Meanwhile, the statement also said that it remains possible to hold more than one daily religious service at churches to avoid overcrowding at mass, especially on occasions and holidays. The statement stressed the need to take precautions before heading to mass, and warned citizens not to attend if they were suffering from a fever or displayed other influenza-like symptoms. The statement also cautioned churchgoers to frequently wash their hands and avoid shaking hands and sharing drinks and food as much as possible. Egypt had confirmed 126 cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, as of Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health. The country has reported two deaths from the respiratory illness, which produces mild to moderate symptoms in most people, such as a fever and cough. For the elderly and immunocompromised, however, COVID-19 can cause more serious illness, including pneumonia, and require hospitalization. Last week, Egypt reported that a 60-year-old woman from Daqahlia had died from complications of coronavirus. The first death reported in Egypt – a 60-year old German tourist who passed away in a hospital in Hurghada – was confirmed on March 8. Egypt has moved to close schools and universities across the country for two weeks and has halted large public gatherings to stop the spread of the virus, which has killed over 6,500 worldwide and infected upwards of 170,000. Elsewhere in the Middle East, Lebanon declared a state of emergency and announced that the country s airports, borders, and ports would close starting Wednesday and extending through March 29, with nonessential businesses ordered to shut down and citizens urged to stay indoors. Jordan has also moved to suspend all incoming and outgoing flights beginning on Tuesday, according to Reuters, and has closed all tourism sites across the country. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have halted passenger flights as well, and the UAE has also imposed entry restrictions and moved to close restaurants and pubs across the country, while Qatar has restricted entry for all travelers except Qatari nationals and issued a ban on public transportation, according to Reuters. Local officials in Saudi Arabia announced over the weekend the closure of malls, restaurants, cafes, and public parks. Pharmacies, grocery stores, and food delivery were to remain open. Kuwait has moved to shutter restaurants and cafes as well, with businesses providing essential goods and services to stay open. A curfew is also set to be imposed in Iraq beginning late Tuesday, and includes suspending all flights from Baghdad s airport. Businesses remain open in Iran, however, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East.
Egypt s Coptic Orthodox Church and the Ministry of Religious Endowments have suspended most of their activities for two weeks to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. The decision came after Egypt s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi ordered on Saturday the suspension of schools and universities for two weeks as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Egypt has 110 confirmed coronavirus cases, 21 of whom have recovered. The country has recorded two deaths from the flue-like virus: a 60-year-old Egyptian woman and a German tourist. The Coptic Orthodox Church said in a statement late on Saturday that it is suspending all church education services and theology schools for two weeks in line with the president s directives. The Church said that the daily mass may be split up into several smaller services to avoid large gatherings, especially on days off and on special occasions. The Church also urged those suffering from high temperature or flu symptoms to not take part in masses and called on people to avoid shaking hands. Similarly, the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments has temporarily banned holding marriage celebrations and funeral services at mosques or halls attached to them. It also decided to close all mausoleums and shrines nationwide and suspend classes at Islamic cultural centres affiliated with the ministry for two weeks. Mosques will be open only for daily prayers and the weekly Friday sermon, the ministry said in a statement, stressing that any other gatherings or events at mosques will be suspended. The ministry announced earlier that it was cancelling the annual Israa and Miraj celebrations, which mark the miraculous journey that the Prophet Muhammad embarked on from Mecca to Jerusalem and heaven. Since its outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected more than 157,000 people globally and killed more than 5,800.
Iraqi and United Nations officials scrambled Thursday to contain the fallout from an unprecedented rocket attack that killed three US-led coalition members and threatened yet another escalation of Iran-US tensions. Within hours of the attack on Taji air base, north of Baghdad — the deadliest in years on a base used by US forces in Iraq — an air strike killed more than two dozen Iran-aligned fighters in neighbouring Syria. It marked a dramatic uptick in violence less than three months after rockets killed a US contractor in northern Iraq, unleashing a round of tit-for-tat attacks between Washington and Tehran on Iraqi soil. Fearing an even bloodier flare-up this time, Iraqi officials and the United Nations were quick to condemn the coalition deaths. Iraq s military command said it was “a serious security challenge” and pledged to open an investigation. President Barham Saleh and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi condemned a “terrorist attack” which targeted “Iraq and its security”. The UN mission in Iraq called for “maximum restraint on all sides”. “These ongoing attacks are a clear and substantial threat to the country, and the risk of rogue action by armed groups remains a constant concern,” it said. “The last thing Iraq needs is to serve as an arena for vendettas and external battles.” Kataeb Hezbollah hails attack Wednesday s attack was the 22nd on US interests in Iraq since late October. It saw a volley of 18 rockets slam into the Taji base, one of about a dozen facilities across Iraq where coalition forces are posted. The coalition confirmed three of its personnel were killed and around a dozen more wounded. One of the dead was a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Britain confirmed. A US military official told AFP the other two were a US soldier and an American contractor. There was no immediate word on Iraqi casualties and no group claimed responsibility. Kataeb Hezbollah, a hardline faction within Iraq s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance, hailed the attack and its perpetrators, without saying they were behind it. “We believe it is the best time for popular, nationalist forces to resume operations to oust the evil attackers,” the group said in a statement. Kataeb Hezbollah also criticised “those who were quick to denounce and express their sympathy”, in a hint at top Iraqi officials who had condemned the rocket attack. In late December, the US accused Kataeb Hezbollah of killing an American contractor at a base in northern Iraq and carried out air strikes on western Iraq that killed 25 of its fighters. Days later, a US drone strike killed senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Hashed deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near Baghdad airport. Iran then launched its own strikes on a western Iraqi base, leaving dozens of US troops suffering from brain trauma. Hashed factions have repeatedly pledged to avenge Muhandis s death in their own way. Hashed hammered in Syria Within hours of Wednesday s attack, an air strike near the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Albu Kamal killed 26 Iran-aligned Iraqi fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The US-led coalition denied carrying out any raids overnight on either Syria or Iraq. Both the coalition and Israel have targeted Iran-backed fighters in Syria, whom they fear could be transferring missiles from their regional foe Iran. The Hashed also blamed Israel and the US for a string of unexplained explosions last year. Post-Saddam Iraq counts years of close ties with both Iran and the United States, and Baghdad has been put in an increasingly difficult position by the spiralling tensions between its allies. In January, Iraqi lawmakers voted to oust all foreign troops from Iraq in reaction to the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis. Some 5,200 US troops are stationed in Iraq as part of the coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State jihadist group. While IS has lost all of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, sleeper cells remain capable of carrying out attacks on both sides of the border. On Sunday, two US soldiers were killed north of Baghdad while helping Iraqi forces battle IS remnants. US officials have previously told AFP they considered the Hashed a bigger threat than IS, given the frequency and accuracy of rocket attacks on US troops that could be traced back to the paramilitaries.
ATHENS (Reuters) — The Greek government dismissed on Wednesday a report in The New York Times newspaper that it was holding migrants who cross the border from Turkey at a secret “black site” where they are denied access to lawyers and cannot file asylum claims. Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, a European Union member state, since Turkey said on Feb. 28 it would no longer keep them on its territory as part of a 2016 deal with Brussels in return for EU aid for the refugees. Greece has used tear gas and water cannon to deter the migrants and says it has stopped more than 42,000 people from entering its territory over the past two weeks. In its article, The New York Times quoted migrants who said they had been captured by Greek security forces, stripped and beaten and held in a complex of buildings near the border. Using satellite imagery and mobile phone data, the newspaper said the site was near the village of Poros, in the northeast, not far from the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros river delta. “There is no secret detention center in Greece,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters, adding that if an international newspaper knew about the site, it wasn t secret. “All issues related to guarding the borders or issues of security are transparent. The constitution is being applied… and there is nothing secret.” On March 3, Greece passed a decree suspending asylum applications for a month and allowing for the immediate deportation of any migrants seized crossing the border. Erdogan s decision to open the border appears designed to put pressure on the EU to provide more aid for some 3.6 million refugees and migrants Turkey is hosting. Ankara says it has received only about half of some 6 billion euros promised by the EU under the 2016 deal for the refugees. The New York Times article, citing video evidence and witness testimony, also alleged that Mohammed Yaarub, a 22-year-old Syrian from Aleppo who was shot dead near the border last week, had been killed by a Greek security officer. Petsas, the government spokesman, reiterated Greece s previous denials that its forces have killed any migrants. “We have categorically denied there was such an issue, at least on the part of Greece … This is organized Turkish propaganda and the spreading of fake news,” he said.
Mina M. Azer
Visit Egypt from home is a slogan raised by the Ministry of Tourism in its campaign to organize virtual visits to archaeological sites with a 360-degree photography online technique. This comes under the precautionary measures taken due to the spread of the Corona virus in many countries of the world. The Ministry started this project in cooperation with foreign archaeological institutes, as it began displaying t