Tunisia s parliament began debating on Wednesday and looked set to approve a new coalition government, after months of political wrangling that has slowed the north African country s efforts to tackle looming economic problems. Elyes Fakhfakh, who was designated prime minister last month by President Kais Saied, has brought parties from across the political spectrum into his cabinet - and they continue to disagree on several big policy areas. His government is expected to pass a confidence vote later on Wednesday, however, though it may prove fragile after struggling to reconcile the differences over policy and cabinet positions. If it were to lose the vote, another parliamentary election would be held. The last election, held in October, produced a deeply fragmented house in which no party won more than a quarter of the seats. An earlier attempt to form a government was defeated in a confidence vote in January. Introducing his proposed government s programme in parliament on Wednesday, Fakhfakh said its priorities would include fighting widespread corruption and reforming public services and the state phosphate producer. It would work to maintain the value of the currency, which has recovered in recent months after years of decline, he added. Central Bank governor Marwan Abbasi said this month that the International Monetary Fund had been in favour of the dinar losing some value to bolster exports. The new government would immediately face a major economic challenge after years of low growth, persistent unemployment, big government deficits, mounting debt, high inflation, a weak currency and deteriorating public services. It will need to find new external financing after an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan programme ends in April, with no new support yet agreed. Parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi said he would also start the process for voting judges onto the constitutional court, a body agreed in the 2014 constitution to arbitrate disputes between branches of government but not yet set up.
The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday banned all flights to and from Iran over the outbreak of the new coronavirus, just a day after its spread from the Islamic Republic was announced across multiple Mideast nations. Iran meanwhile raised the official death toll from the virus to 15 killed amid 95 confirmed infections. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran s 80 million people. The flight ban, which will last at least a week, shows the growing concern over the spread of the virus in Iran amid worries the outbreak may be larger than what authorities there now acknowledge. The Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority made the announcement via the country s state-run WAM news agency, just hours after Dubai International Airport, the world s busiest for international travel, said there would be restrictions on flights there. ``All passenger and cargo aircraft traveling to and from Iran will be suspended for a period of one week, and could be up for extension, the authority said. ``The decision is a precautionary measure undertaken by the UAE to ensure strict monitoring and prevention of the spread of the new coronavirus. Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia. The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah, a neighboring UAE emirate that is home to Air Arabia, for 48 hours. Bahrain s Health Ministry on Tuesday raised the number of infected cases from the new virus to eight, saying that all had traveled from Iran via Dubai. Four of them have been identified as Saudi nationals. The cases were confirmed upon arrival to Bahrain during screenings at the airport, and prior to the suspension on flights to Dubai and Sharjah, according to Bahrain s official news agency. Dubai has been screening passengers on incoming flights from China, where the outbreak began in December. Long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad are among the few international airlines still flying to Beijing. However, the outbreak in Iran only became public in recent days. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing around 2,700 deaths, mainly in China. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it. Iran s government said Tuesday that 15 people had died nationwide from the new coronavirus, rejecting claims of a much higher death toll of 50 by a lawmaker from the city of Qom that has been at the epicenter of the virus in the country. The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government s transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak. The new death toll came from Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour during an interview with Iranian state television. He said there were 95 confirmed cases of the virus in Iran, with many linked to Qom, a major Shiite religious center where other cases have emerged. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to reassure the nation in a speech on Tuesday, calling the new coronavirus an ``uninvited and inauspicious passenger. ``We will get through corona,`` Rouhani said. ``We will get through the virus. Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq and Oman also announced their first cases of the virus on Monday and connected them to travel with Iran. The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, has reported 13 cases of the new virus. Most of those were connected to Chinese travel. Meanwhile, Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases from three to five people. All five were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus. The state-run Kuwait News Agency reported the two latest cases on Monday evening in two women whose nationalities were not disclosed. Kuwait had halted over the weekend transport links with Iran and was evacuating its citizens from Iran. Meanwhile, Iraq s Health Ministry said four new cases of coronavirus were diagnosed in the northern province of Kirkuk. It said the afflicted was an Iraqi family that had returned from a recent trip to Iran. Iraq announced the discovery of the first coronavirus case in the country on Monday in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf.
Iranian state TV says the death toll in the country from the new coronavirus has risen to 12, after four more people died. The TV quoted lawmaker Asadollah Abbasi as saying on Monday that the total number of confirmed cases stands at 47, including the deaths. Abbasi says the latest figures came from Health Minister Saeed Namaki at a closed session of the parliament. The report comes after the health ministry on Sunday raised the death toll from the new virus that first emerged in China in December to eight, amid concerns that clusters there as well as in Italy and South Korea could signal a serious new stage in its global spread. The outbreak in Iran has centered mostly on the city of Qom, but spread rapidly over the past few days to people in four other cities, including the capital, Tehran. Iranians also went to the polls on Friday for nationwide parliamentary elections, with many voters wearing masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer. Abbasi said people who illegally travelled to Iran from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China were the ``source of the infection. Travelers infected with the virus from Iran have been confirmed in Canada, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain. Countries bordering Iran have taken preventive measures to limit the spread of the virus from Iranian travelers, with some barring Iranians from entry.
Naval forces from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen on Sunday foiled an "imminent terrorist" attack by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in the southern Red Sea, a major commercial shipping channel, the Saudi-led coalition said. The forces destroyed an unmanned boat laden with explosives that was launched from Hodeidah province in western Yemen, coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement on Saudi state news agency SPA, without identifying the targets. There was no immediate confirmation from the Houthi movement which has been battling the Sunni Muslim military coalition since 2015 in a conflict that is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and arch-foe Shi ite Iran. Yemen lies along the Bab al-Mandeb strait at the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes for oil tankers heading from the Middle East to Europe. Malki said the planned attack posed a threat to regional and international security and maritime trade. He said the use of Hodeidah for operations was a "glaring violation" of a U.N.-led peace deal in the disputed port city that was agreed between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthis in December 2018. Saudi Arabia paused oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb for more than a week in 2018 after the Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen to try to restore the internationally recognised government that was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014 by the Houthis, who now control most major urban centres.
Turkey s guarantees in Libya are dependent on a truce between warring sides being upheld, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday, adding that Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar was violating the ceasefire. Turkey backs Libya s Government of National Accord (GNA) and has signed a military cooperation agreement to help it repel an offensive by Haftar s forces in the country s east. World powers agreed at a summit last month to halt hostilities in Libya while a political process is underway. Speaking to state broadcaster TRT Haber, Cavusoglu said the "international system" had failed to stop clashes in Libya and that there was no determination. He said a political process in Libya could not move forward while Haftar s attacks continue.
Yemen s Houthi rebels have blocked half of the United Nations aid delivery programs in the war-torn country _ a strong-arm tactic to force the agency to give them greater control over the massive humanitarian campaign, along with a cut of billions of dollars in foreign assistance, according to aid officials and internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. The rebel group has made granting access to areas under their control contingent on a flurry of conditions that aid agencies reject, in part because it would give the Houthis greater sway over who receives aid, documents and interviews show. The Houthis obstruction has hindered several programs that feed the near-starving population and help those displaced by the nearly 6-year civil war, a senior U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation. ``Over 2 million beneficiaries ... are directly affected, the official said. The Houthis have been pushing back against U.N. efforts to tighten monitoring of some $370 million a year that its agencies already give to government institutions controlled mostly by the rebel group, documents show. That money is supposed to pay salaries and other administration costs, but more than a third of the money spent last year wasn t audited, according to an internal document leaked to the AP. The U.N. has largely kept quiet in public about the pressure, but behind the scenes the agency and international donors are digging in against the Houthi demands. The AP spoke to seven workers and officials from U.N. and independent agencies about the situation. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. The AP also saw dozens of documents, including emails of aid officials. In October, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, sent a letter to the Houthi-appointed prime minister complaining about a long list of demands. The ``overwhelming majority of them impede or delay delivery of aid and many violate humanitarian principles, she said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the AP. For months, the Houthis demanded a 2% cut from the entire aid budget be given to them, a condition the U.N. and donors rejected. In an email to the AP, a spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for International Development said Houthi attempts ``to implement a tax on humanitarian assistance are unacceptable and directly contradict international humanitarian principles. The United States donated $686 million to Yemen in 2019, according to USAID. Last week, the Houthis appeared to back off the 2% demand, but continue to press for other concessions, according to aid officials. During a meeting in Brussels last Thursday, aid agencies and international donors threatened to reduce aid if Houthis continue to impose restrictions on U.N. operations in Yemen. The situation ``has reached a breaking point, they said in a statement. At least one agency, the World Food Program, is currently considering cutting back the monthly food aid it delivers to 12 million Yemenis every other month, a U.N. official said. It s unfortunate that people will suffer but this is on the Houthis, the official said. ``They can t use people as hostages for too long. The Houthis demands have stoked longtime concerns among aid agencies over the rebels diverting of humanitarian funds and supplies into their own or their supporters pockets or toward their war effort. Delivering aid in a war zone has always poseda problem for U.N agencies. But officials said the situation in Yemen has been especially challenging. The Houthi have withheld visas and permissions for equipment and supplies and refused to grant clearances for U.N. missions to move through rebel-controlled areas. Aid workers said agency leaders past willingness to concede to some of the rebels demands has emboldened the Houthi leaders to push for more. Nearly 300,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children under age 5 haven t received nutrition supplements for more than six months because the Houthis ``held beneficiaries hostage to the 2% demand, another U.N. official said. In another example, Houthi authorities for months delayed permission to distribute 2,000 tons of food _ enough to feed 160,000 people _ in the district of Aslam, where the AP previously found starving villagers reduced to eating boiled leaves. When approval came in November, the food had spoiled ``beyond the point of salvage,`` another aid official said. Houthi leaders have remained defiant in the face of U.N. pushback. ``Yemen will survive`` if agencies suspend aid, Abdul-Mohsen Tawoos, secretary-general of the Houthi agency coordinating international aid, told European donors during a Jan 20 Skype call. Minutes of the call were obtained by the AP. He said the Houthis wanted to reach an agreement with the U.N. and its donors, but ``won t be bullied. Tawoos accused Grande, the top U.N. official in Yemen, of sending false reports aboutHouthis restricting the movement of U.N. humanitarian operations. Houthi leaders have threatened to expel her from the country. The U.N. s massive aid program, totaling $8.35 billion dollars since 2015, is vital to keeping many Yemenis alive. The U.N. calls the situation in Yemen the world s worst humanitarian crisis. Ten million people in the country are on the brink of famine and 80 percent of the population of 29 million in need of aid, according to the U.N. More than 3 million people have been displaced, cholera epidemics have killed hundreds, and at least 2.2 million children under 5 suffer from severe malnutrition, the agency said. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country s north, where most of the population lives and the need for aid is greatest. They are at war with a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government. With the economy in freefall, the U.N. aid effort is a major source of foreign currency into the country. The U.N received around $3 billion in 2019 in international donations for its campaign, short of its $4.2 billion goal. The Houthi demand for 2% of that budget would funnel $60-$80 million into the coffers of their aid-coordination agency, the Supreme Council for Management and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and International Cooperation, known as SCMCHA. Qassim Hussein al-Houthi, the head of the international agencies department in theHouthi presidency, said the money was necessary for SCMCHA `s operating expenses. ``It carries heavy financial burden. It s in charge of facilitating, distributing, security, and organizing the work of the agencies, he said. Al-Houthi argued that it s the U.N. agenciesthat spend a much larger percentage of their budgets on administration without ``real oversight. He said the U.N. aid delivery programs blocked by the Houthis ``are not a priority for the Yemen people. Harassment, intimidation and suspected embezzling of funds by Houthis have been going on for years, aid workers said, and have gotten worse since the rebels created their aid coordination agency in early 2018. Since then, Houthi-led security agencies have arrested local workers, blocked aid missions or held up supplies, according to internal emails and documents seen by the AP. ``Not even a simple project can be carried out in northern Yemen without the consent and supervision of this body, said a Yemeni chief of a local aid organization. The U.N. rarely pushed back, calculating that aid had to be delivered at any cost. U.N. agencies continued to put hundreds of millions of dollars into Houthi accounts for ``capacity building, a common practice in humanitarian programs to ensure government bodies function. Some of the money went to salaries for doctors, teachers and other vital employees who have otherwise gone without pay amid the war. Millions more went to the Houthi aid agency for administrative costs and salaries. Aid workers privately expressed concerns about the funds from U.N. aid agencies being diverted into the coffers of Houthi leaders or their supporters. UNICEF told the AP in a statement that its funds were strictly monitored and no instances of diversions were found. The World Health Organization said all its spending was ``subject to internal and external audit, as well as frequent internal reviews on multiple levels. WHO also said it found no evidence that its funds have been diverted. Still, last summer, the U.N. requested all agencies report how much they were giving in direct cash transfers. In 2019, the total reached $370 million, around 10 percent of the entire international aid budget for Yemen, according to a U.N. spreadsheet obtained by the AP. Around $133 million was marked in the spreadsheet as ``not audited. Some officials in the Houthi aid body, SCMCHA, appear to be receiving multiple salaries, the data shows. For a time, three U.N. agencies were each giving salaries to the body s president, his deputy and general managers. Each of the officials received a total of $10,000 a month from the agencies, the spreadsheet shows. The U.N. refugee agency also gave SCMCHA $1 million every three months for office rental and administrative costs, while the U.N. migration agency gave the office another $200,000 for furniture and fiber optics. U.N. officials said Grande was ``genuinely shocked when she learned about the arrangements. ``She had no idea about the scale of it, said one senior U.N. official. ``Her reaction after that was, we have to fix the situation. Over the past year, U.N. agencies, lead by Grande, began pushing back against Houthi demands. First, the World Food Program suspended aid for a couple of months in some areas around Sanaa and demanded biometric registering of beneficiaries to ensure deliveries go to those truly in need. The Houthis initially agreed but later refused to follow through with the biometric registering. The U.N. then moved to prevent double-paying of salaries, and its agencies tightened auditing of the funds it provided. UNICEF, for example, said it decided in November to re-assess all 243 partners it works with, including government ones, and cut down dramatically on funds put into Houthi coffers. The agency said it would start paying suppliers and contractors directly. The moves by the U.N. have prompted the Houthis to launch a media campaign denouncing the humanitarian agency as corrupt and wasteful. Further escalation came after the Houthi aid body in November was put under the leadership of the Houthi president s chief of staff, making it more powerful, several aid officials said. An already difficult environment to work in ``became extremely suffocating with threats (and) directives, one of the officials said. SCMCHA s new leadership imposed more than 200 new directives on humanitarian agencies, six aid officials told the AP. Some directives _ such as requiring agencies to disclose the identities of aid recipients and involving Houthi authorities in assessments of need _ would give the rebels even greater power to steer aid to their supporters, aid workers fear. Other demands seemed aimed at monitoring and intimidating, such as ordering local Yemeni staffers to get Houthi permission to take U.N. training courses abroad and then to report back the content of those workshops. Houthis officials also require the segregation of women and men in U.N.-run programs in some areas. The Houthis also demanded a new agreement giving them a hand in assigning U.N. contracts with suppliers and picking local partners to implement programs, according to a draft of their proposal seen by the AP. It also gives them the right to screen U.N. hires in Yemen and take over the budget of monitoring programs. Aid agencies have refused to sign the agreement. Several humanitarian workers said the Houthis are also trying to force the U.N. to work with NGOs they favor, particularly an organization known as Bonyan, which is filled with Houthi affiliates. The brother of Houthi leader Abdel Malek al Houthi, Ibrahim al-Houthi, was a board member until his death last summer. Houthi leaders stopped the U.N. agencies from delivering food in Yemen s Hodeida province, unless they used Bonyan for the distribution. Despite the disputes between the Houthis and the U.N, aid officials continue to appeal to international donors for money to address the crisis in Yemen. Over the summer, Grande pleaded to donor countries for more funds to meet the $4.2 billion goal. ``When money doesn t come, people die, she said. But one international aid official said more money isn t the issue. ``I don t want more funds. I want the space to spend what I have, he said.
A high turnout in a parliamentary election will display unity in Iran against “enemies”, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted on Tuesday, days before the vote seen as a referendum on the clerical establishment’s popularity. “America will fail to create divisions between the authorities and Iranians ... a high turnout will display our unity against the enemies,” Khamenei tweeted. The Guardian Council, a hardline vetting body, has rejected around 6,850 moderate or conservative hopefuls in favour of hardliners from among the 14,000 applicants seeking to contest the Feb. 21 vote. About a third of lawmakers have also been barred from standing again. Khamenei, the final authority in Iran’s complex system of clerical rule and limited democracy, backed the Guardian Council, saying the next parliament was no place for those scared of speaking out against foreign enemies. “The election will neutralise American’s ill intentions ... the vote is the Islamic Republic’s prestige,” state TV reported Khamenei as saying. Tensions have been high between Iran and the United States since 2018, when President Donald Trump exited a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and reimposed sanctions that have hit the country’s economy hard. In retaliation, Iran has gradually rolled back its commitments under the deal. Tehran says its steps are reversible if European parties to the agreement fulfil their promises of shielding Iran’s economy from U.S. penalties. “We need a strong parliament to neutralise plots of our enemies,” said Khamenei.
An Israeli aircraft has flown through Sudanese airspace for the first time, in what Prime Minister Benjamin called another example of warming ties with formally hostile states. Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which supported hardline Islamists -- including, for a period, Al-Qaeda -- during the rule of president Omar al-Bashir. Bashir was ousted last April following months of mass anti-government demonstrations. "The first Israeli airplane passed yesterday over the skies of Sudan. This is quite a change," Netanyahu told American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday evening, without offering further details. Israeli daily Haaretz quoted an Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, saying that the plane was "a private Israeli executive jet". Netanyahu met Sudan s leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan two weeks ago for what the Israeli premier s office described talks aimed at normalising ties. A Sudanese government spokesman said later that Burhan "did not give a promise of normalising or having diplomatic relations". Sudan has been part of a decades-old Arab boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians and its occupation of Arab lands. In the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967 in which Israel occupied the Palestinian territories and seized the Golan Heights from Syria, Arab leaders gathered in Khartoum to announce what became known as the "three nos": no peace, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel. Netanyahu said Sunday that visible signs of a thaw in relations with Sudan and other Muslim-majority countries were only the tip of the diplomatic iceberg. "How much is above the surface in an iceberg? It s about 10 percent, he said. "What you re seeing is about 10 percent. Vast changes are coming." Gulf Arab countries have made a number of recent moves hinting at warmer ties with the Jewish state, prompted largely by a shared enmity towards Iran. Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018 and he frequently says the boycott of his country is ending, despite the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians. Egypt and Jordan are so far the only Arab states to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Netanyahu was speaking two weeks ahead of a March general election, the third in 12 months. He has twice failed to form a government after inconclusive polls.
Rockets hit a U.S.-led military coalition s Baghdad headquarters early on Sunday but caused no casualties, a coalition spokesman said, in the latest attack to target U.S. facilities in Iraq. Washington has blamed Iran-backed paramilitary groups for increasingly regular rocketing and shelling of bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq and of the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. An attack last month hit the U.S. Embassy compound itself, and a rocket attack on a military base in the north in December killed a U.S. civilian contractor. There have been no claims for the attacks. Tension between Iran and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months. The United States killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad last month, after which the region braced for full-scale conflict. Iran launched its first direct missile attack on two bases hosting U.S. forces in response. Sunday s attack, before dawn, was carried out with "small rockets" and caused no casualties, the coalition spokesman said in a statement on Twitter. He provided no further details. An Iraqi military statement said three Katyusha rockets had hit the fortified Green Zone which hosts the U.S. Embassy, other foreign missions and Iraqi government buildings. It said a fourth hit a nearby logistics base for Iraqi paramilitary groups. Iraq, caught between its two allies Washington and Tehran, also faces an unprecedented domestic crisis as months of anti-government unrest continues. Protesters, whose numbers have reduced from the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets in October, are still demanding the overhaul of Iraq s political system and ruling elite which they say are corrupt. Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi said on Saturday that the formation of a new government would take place in the coming week. He said his appointments would consist of independent ministers free from the influence of parties, including Iran-backed Shi ite groups, that have controlled cabinet posts and state institutions since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The UN Security Council endorsed a 55-point road map for ending the war in Libya on Wednesday and condemned the recent increase in violence in the oil-rich North African country. The vote on the British-drafted resolution was 14-0, with Russia abstaining even though Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the 12 leaders who agreed to the plan at a conference in Berlin on Jan. 19. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he abstained because the government has ``serious doubts about whether the resolution can be implemented and end the war between rival governments ``in the way we d like to see it.`` He said the Berlin plan ``has one defect ... and that is a lack of clearly expressed consent from the Libyan sides themselves. ``Events will show us who was right, Nebenzia said. ``And if the resolution will have a positive impact in resolving the conflict, I will be the first to acknowledge I was wrong.`` British Ambassador Karen Pierce countered that ``the resolution is viable, saying all it does ``is give concrete expression to the commitments that leaders adopted at Berlin _ and that included adoption by President Putin. ``We all want to see it implemented, she said. ``But it will be up to the parties on the ground and their foreign backers as to whether or not it gets implemented. So to the Russians and the others who have very close interests in Libya, I would think the remedy is in their hands. 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 administration that holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country s west is backed by Turkey, which recently sent thousands of soldiers to Libya, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy. On the other side is a rival government in the east that supports the National Libyan Army s commander Khalifa Hafter, 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. Acting US deputy ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet told the council after the vote that it s ``very unfortunate that foreign mercenaries, including from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, are making an inclusive political solution harder to achieve and making it harder for the two sides to get together. The resolution demands that all countries refrain from interfering in Libya s conflict and its internal affairs and observe a UN arms embargo, ``including by ceasing all support for and withdrawing all armed mercenary personnel. Russia sought unsuccessfully to change references to growing involvement of mercenaries in the initial draft to ``foreign terrorist fighters. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that the Berlin agreement has been repeatedly violated by continuing arms deliveries to the warring parties and escalating fighting. He called the current offensives by rival forces ``a scandal, saying the commitments ``apparently were made without a true intention of respecting them. The resolution welcomes last week s cease-fire talks between Libya s warring sides in Geneva and calls for their continuation ``without further delay in order to agree a permanent cease-fire. It asks Guterres to submit his views on conditions for a cease-fire and proposals for effective monitoring of a truce, with a view to making detailed recommendations when a cease-fire is announced. The African Union, European Union and Arab League have been mentioned as possible participants in cease-fire monitoring along with the UN. Germany s deputy ambassador, Juergen Schulz, said the council was sending ``an important signal for peace in Libya, reaffirming the concrete commitments of all the participants of the Berlin conference. He welcomed the timing _ ahead of a Feb. 16 follow-up ministerial meeting of Berlin conference participants on the sidelines of the Munich security conference. ``The swift implementation of the Berlin conclusions is now crucial in light of the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law and reports of mounting civilian casualties, Schulz said. The resolution threatens sanctions against those supporting acts that threaten peace which Schulz said demonstrates the council s ``resolve to hold violators accountable. South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila, whose country chairs the African Union, stressed Libya s roots in Africa, saying the arms embargo must be observed to prevent the conflict spilling into the Sahel. ``The African Union has been very ready to play a central role, including the issue of monitoring of peace, he said. ``The road ahead is going to be very, very difficult, long. So it really needs all hands on deck, and you couldn t do that without African hands.
Government forces seized control of a highway in northwest Syria for the first time since 2012 on Tuesday as they pressed their campaign to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in Idlib province and the Aleppo countryside, a war monitor said. In Ankara, talks between Turkey and Russia ended without agreement on stopping clashes in which 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria in one week. Relief agencies meanwhile said an exodus of hundreds of thousands of civilians from the afflicted areas was the largest such movement in nine years of war and a new humanitarian crisis was unfolding. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces had seized the entire length of the M5 highway after driving rebels from their last foothold on the road. The M5 runs from Aleppo in the north to the capital Damascus then on to southern Deraa. They took control of the highway after capturing a western suburb of Aleppo from insurgents. The latest advances by President Bashar al-Assad s Russian and Iranian-backed troops came after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in the Idlib region in the past week, prompting some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus of the war. Ankara deployed thousands of soldiers to stem the Syrian offensive. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels downed a helicopter believed to belong to the Syrian government in the town of Nairab, Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber reported on Tuesday. Since the new push began, government forces have recaptured more than 600 square km of territory and in recent days have taken control of dozens of towns and villages. Last week they recaptured the crossroads town of Saraqeb, on the M5. Turkey has several military personnel stationed there to prevent further Syrian advances after eight of its soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling. A Russian delegation arrived in Ankara on Saturday days after the attack to hold talks aimed at stopping clashes. On their final day of talks, a second Syrian attack on Turkish troops in the Taftanaz area killed five more troops. Ankara has said that it retaliated to both attacks, destroying several Syrian targets. It said would drive back Assad s forces unless they withdraw by the end of the month. It also told the Russian team that attacks against Turkish posts must stop immediately. The Russians left Turkey after talks ended on Monday, a Turkish diplomatic source said, with no apparent agreement. The Kremlin said on Tuesday all attacks on Russian and Syrian forces in Idlib had to stop. AIR RAIDS Rescue teams in the region said Russian and Syrian war planes bombed several towns in Idlib, with most air raids on towns in western Aleppo, including a residential area in the city of Daraat Izza. At least 13 civilians were killed overnight in the air strikes, they said. The rapid advances by Assad s forces in Idlib have driven nearly 700,000 people from their homes towards the closed-off Turkish border in the past 10 weeks. Most of those displaced are women and children. "This is, from our initial analysis, the largest number of people in a single period since the Syrian crisis began almost nine years ago," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations OCHA humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva. "So it s the fastest growing displacement we have ever seen in the country. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the harsh winter weather was making their suffering worse and shelter was hard to find. "Even finding a place in an unfinished building is becoming nearly impossible," he said, adding that mosques were full. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more. It said it will halt new migrant waves from Idlib and its military will remain there. One Turkish politician urged President Tayyip Erdogan to go further. "There will be no peace in Turkey until Assad is brought down from his throne. Turkey must start plans to enter Damascus now, and annihilate the cruel ones," said Devlet Bahceli, chairman of Erdogan s nationalist partner party. Witnesses and rebels said on Tuesday a new column of Turkish reinforcements, including tanks, rocket launchers and armoured vehicles, crossed the border into Idlib overnight. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have also begun an new offensive against the government forces near army-controlled Saraqeb and Nairab to push troops away from Idlib city, where more than one million people live. The battle for Idlib is a crucial stage of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians, made millions refugees in their own country or overseas, and fractured the wider Middle East since it broke out amid the Arab Spring in 2011. Forces arrayed against Assad, Syria s ruler for nearly 20 years, have failed to dislodge him but he now presides over a devastated country. Moscow s military intervention in 2015 helped swing the war decisively in Assad s favour. Despite being on opposing sides, Turkey and Russia collaborate for a political solution to the conflict.
Clashes broke out Tuesday between Lebanese protesters and security forces near the parliament building in central Beirut, where the new Cabinet is scheduled to submit its policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence. The meeting is being held amid a crippling economic and financial crisis, Lebanon s worst in decades. Police threw a tight security dragnet around the area, and special forces and riot policemen quickly opened roads that were closed by protesters trying to prevent Cabinet ministers and legislators from reaching parliament. ``No confidence,`` chanted some of the protesters. The meeting is scheduled to begin before noon and last until Wednesday. Lebanon has been gripped by anti-government protests since October. Demonstrators are calling for sweeping reforms and an end to a political class they deem as corrupt and incompetent, blaming it for the rapidly worsening financial crisis. The protests forced the resignation of the former prime minister, Saad Hariri. New Prime Minister Hassan Diab is expected to read new government s policy statement, which includes a rescue plan to try get Lebanon out of its economic and financial crisis, the worst since the end of the country s 1975-90 civil war. A group of protesters surrounded the car of one Cabinet minister, Demianos Kattar, as he was on his way to the nearby government headquarters, pelting it with eggs pounding it with their fists before an army and police force pushed them away. Security forces fired tear gas in another street leading to parliament, where protesters were able to remove part of a giant concrete wall. In other streets, troops forced protesters from the middle of the street to allow traffic to flow. According to a copy of the government policy statement published by local media, it includes an ``emergency rescue plan`` and reforms in the judicial, financial and administrative fields, as well as fighting corruption and fixing the country s finances. Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, standing at more than 150 of the GDP and worsening over the past years with no economic growth and high unemployment.
Chancellor Angela Merkel s center-right party plunged deeper into crisis Monday following a debacle in a regional election, as the long-time German leader s successor unexpectedly announced that she wouldn t stand for the chancellorship. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer informed leading members of Merkel s Christian Democratic Union that she will begin the process of organizing a leadership contest in the summer. Germany is scheduled to hold its next general election in the fall of 2021 and the 65-year-old Merkel, who has led Germany for 15 years, said two years ago that she won t run for a fifth term as chancellor. The move throws German politics into further turmoil, days after Merkel s party was heavily criticized for its handling of a vote for governor in the state of Thuringia that saw both the Christian Democrats and the far-right Alternative for Germany party back a centrist candidate. The vote broke what is widely regarded as a taboo around German political parties cooperating with extremist parties. Kramp-Karrenbauer, often referred to by the acronym AKK, took over the leadership of the Christian Democrats in December 2018 after beating out Health Minister Jens Spahn and Friedrich Merz, a former party veteran sidelined by Merkel before she became chancellor in 2005. Yet Kramp-Karrenbauer, 57, who is also Germany s defense minister, has struggled to boost the party s declining election results amid a stiff challenge from the far-right. The fiasco in Thuringia state further highlighted tensions in the center-right Christian Democrats after the party s regional lawmakers ignored a recommendation from Berlin not to back a centrist candidate against the left-wing incumbent. It was unclear how the latest development would affect Merkel s earlier plans for her succession. Among the names currently being bandied around as possible party leaders are Spahn, Merz and Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany s most populous state. Spahn and Laschet are considered centrists in the Merkel tradition, whereas Merz has tried to appeal to the conservative wing of the party that has flirted with the far-right Alternative for Germany.
African heads of state gather Sunday at the headquarters of the African Union for a summit meeting due to focus on how the body can play a more prominent role in resolving conflicts proliferating across the continent. The two-day summit has taken as its theme "Silencing the Guns", yet AU officials are well aware of their failure to achieve the goal adopted in 2013 of ending "all wars in Africa by 2020". In remarks to African foreign ministers ahead of the summit, AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat painted a bleak picture of the continent s security situation, citing extremist threats stretching from the Sahel to Somalia. The "missed deadline" to silence the guns, he said, "reveals the complexity of the security situation in Africa." The focus on conflicts this year marks a departure from multiple years of summits dedicated to reforming the AU -- including its funding structure -- and the implementation of a continent-wide free trade area. There are multiple hot spots to choose from. Though some progress has been made recently in Central African Republic and Sudan, long-running conflicts in places like Libya and South Sudan have been joined by new crises from Cameroon to Mozambique. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will take over from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as AU chair, appears attuned to these challenges. In a speech to South Africa-based diplomats in late January, he warned that conflict "continues to hamper" development. The AU "must be more proactive" in responding to conflicts instead of leaving the job to outside powers, Naledi Pandor, South Africa s international relations minister, told AFP. "The fact that anyone can step in means a gap has been allowed by us, and so I think we have to act faster, be more responsive when matters are affecting our continent," she said. For his part, Faki encouraged a focus on "root causes" of conflicts and urged African leaders to pursue "innovative solutions that put the military solution into perspective by combining it with measures from other areas, notably development." Frustration The AU will have to overcome internal disputes and insufficient financing for peacekeeping missions if it wants to become a major player in conflict resolution. One priority for Ramaphosa is to have the AU play a bigger role in Libya-related peace processes, which have been led primarily by the UN. A spokeswoman for Faki complained last month that the AU "has consistently been ignored" on Libya. But the AU s attempts to assert itself have been undermined by its own divisions. These date back to 2011, when African members of the UN Security Council endorsed military intervention, even as the AU s Peace and Security Council opposed it. A source from Niger recently explained that the AU remains split on Libya, saying that Egypt, for example, doesn t want the AU to get involved -- a claim Cairo disputes. The AU will also need to convince Europe, which is following Libya closely given its proximity to the conflict, to give it room to operate. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said during a news conference at the AU on Saturday that he understood the AU s "frustration" at having "been put aside" when it comes to Libya, and endorsed a more influential role for the body going forward. In a report released Friday, the International Crisis Group think-tank said the AU should prioritise the finalisation of an agreement that would see the UN finance 75 percent of peacekeeping missions backed by the UN Security Council. "While the AU is willing and able to mount the type of counterterrorism and peace enforcement missions now regularly needed to help stabilise African countries, it lacks the financial resources necessary to provide them steady and predictable support -- something the UN can offer," the report said.
A car-ramming targeting Israeli troops in Jerusalem wounded 14 people early Thursday in an attack that Palestinian Islamist group Hamas hailed as a response to Washington s controversial Middle East peace plan. A manhunt was underway for the driver who fled the scene outside a popular Jerusalem entertainment spot. The attack occurred shortly before 2:00 am (2400 GMT) outside the First Station, an historic Ottoman-era railway terminus that has been turned into a cultural and entertainment centre with bars and restaurants. The attacker struck in the street outside where the soldiers had been marching, the army said. One of then soldiers was "severely injured" and has been evacuated to hospital. Public radio said they were new recruits on their way to an induction ceremony at Jerusalem s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. "During the incident, a terrorist sped his car towards (Israeli) soldiers," the army said. Israeli troops "are currently pursuing the terrorist who escaped the scene." Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said "the incident is being investigated as a terror attack." There have been car-rammings targeting Israeli troops in the past, in the occupied West Bank as well as Jerusalem. The Islamist Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, hailed the car-ramming as a "practical response" to US President Donald Trump s controversial Middle East peace plan. In a statement, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack was part of the "resistance operation" but stopped short of claiming responsibility. It came amid heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, since the release last month of US President Donald Trump s long-awaited peace proposals. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the plan, which unilaterally gives Israel most of what it has sought in previous negotiations. - Sporadic clashes - There have been sporadic clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops since the release of Trump s proposals. In the northern West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli forces shot dead 19-year-old Yazan Abu Tabikh on Thursday, in an incident that left seven others wounded. The army said troops had "identified a number of armed terrorists who hurled explosive devices and fired towards them. The forces responded with riot dispersal means." On Wednesday, a 17-year-old was shot dead by Israeli forces during a protest in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron. Israeli military described the teenager as a "violent rioter" armed with a Molotov cocktail who posed a threat to troops. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli aircraft struck Hamas positions early Thursday, after Palestinians fired rockets or mortar rounds at Israel and launched incendiary balloons. "Fighter jets and (other) aircraft targeted Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip," an army statement said. Since Trump s plan was announced, there has been almost daily fire from Gaza into southern Israel, drawing Israeli retaliation. There have been no reported casualties.
Syrian militants affiliated with groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are currently being sent by Turkey to fight on behalf of the U.N.-supported government in Libya, according to two Libyan militia leaders and a Syrian war monitor. Both sides in Libya s civil war receive equipment and backing from foreign countries. But Turkey, which has long trained and funded opposition fighters in Syria and relaxed its borders so foreign fighters joined IS, has in recent months been airlifting hundreds of them over to a new theater of war in Libya. The U.N.-supported government controls only a shrinking area of western Libya, including the capital, Tripoli. It s facing a months-long offensive by forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter who is allied with a rival government based in Libya s east. The United Nations recognizes the government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, as Libya s legitimate government because it was born out of U.N.-mediated talks in 2015. Sarraj is backed by Turkey, and to a lesser degree, Qatar and Italy. Hifter receives backing from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. Libya has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world, and many of these countries are apparently jockeying for influence in order to control Libya s resources. Libyan militia leaders in Tripoli told The Associated Press that Turkey has brought more than 4,000 foreign fighters into Tripoli, and that ``dozens of them are extremist-affiliated. The two commanders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. The commanders also highlighted differing opinions within the Libyan militias about accepting Syrian extremists into their ranks. One said the fighters backgrounds aren t important, as long as they ve come to help defend the capital. The other said some commanders fear the fighters will ``tarnish the image of the Tripoli-based government. Turkey-backed militias in northern Syria have been known to include fighters that previously fought with al-Qaida, IS and other militant groups, and have committed atrocities against Syrian Kurdish groups and civilians. The U.N. has repeatedly condemned the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Libya. But the organization has not directly responded to reports and accusations by Hifter s side that Sarraj s government and Turkey are apparently using IS- and al-Qaida-linked extremists as mercenaries. Turkey has not confirmed or denied reports of Syrian fighters being sent to Libya to support Sarraj, and the Turkish military did not respond to requests for comment. However, in a televised interview last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: ``As a combat force, we will have a different team there. They won t be from within our soldiers. Those different teams and the combat forces will work together. But our high-ranking soldiers will coordinate.`` He did not elaborate. Rumors of Turkey-backed Syrian fighters in Libya have swirled for weeks. Foreign leaders and commentators have pointed to videos circulated online that appear to show Syrians in Tripoli. In one video, a man with a Syrian accent films the dormitories where he and other fighters are living, saying ``Thank God, we arrived safely in Libya. Another clip shows a plane full of fighters, some wearing fatigues and speaking with Syrian accents. Turkey s Libyan allies and Syrian opposition leaders have denied any organized efforts to send combatants to Libya. But in January, Sarraj told the BBC that his government ``would not hesitate to cooperate with any party to defeat this aggression`` by Hifter s forces. Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AP that his war-monitoring network has determined there are at least 130 former Islamic State or al-Qaida fighters among the approximately 4,700 Turkey-backed Syrian mercenaries sent to fight for Sarraj. He said the IS militants had joined the so-called Syrian National Army, a patchwork alliance formed by Turkey from different factions who battled the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Most of the groups are loyal to Turkey, and the SNA was used as shock troops last year in Turkey s offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria. In theory, a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey remains in place around Tripoli but Libya s warring sides have traded accusations of violations, and the shaky truce is threatened by clashes. Representatives from Sarraj and Hifter began meetings in Geneva on Tuesday to work toward a more permanent cease-fire. The Observatory also quoted a Syrian fighter from Idlib province who applied to go to Libya as saying he was motivated by the financial benefits offered by Turkey. Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute who closely follows Syria s armed groups, said the promise of payment, Turkish citizenship or the prospect of fleeing to Europe were the main motives of Syrian fighters sent to Libya. ``None of them are committed to the fight in Libya due to personal conviction or ideology, she said. A Libyan official at the prime minister s office said Syrian fighters have been in Libya since early August. At first, he said they were only facilitating the work of Turkish military experts. But as the fighting escalated in mid-December, the number of Syrian fighters arriving in Libya increased. These fighters now immediately deploy to the front lines, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn t authorized to talk to reporters on the subject. The Tripoli authorities and U.S. officials have also accused Hifter of relying on hundreds of Russian mercenaries. Sudanese armed groups from the Darfur region recently joined the fighting on both sides, according to a report by U.N. experts. The influx of Syrian, Russian and Sudanese mercenaries has threatened to prolong the war and cripple international efforts to establish a long-term cease-fire. Last month, a summit in Berlin brought together the major international stakeholders in Libya, but with few concrete results. Nicholas Heras, a Syria expert at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said Turkey is focusing on Libya to establish a sphere of influence in the Mediterranean. ``However, the Turks do not want to risk significant casualties to their own forces when the Turkish military has built a proxy force of Syrian fighters that can reinforce the Libyan fighters, he said.
Sudan s leader Tuesday briefed the country s ruling body after the Israeli prime minister said the two had discussed normalising bilateral ties, a move which surprised the Sudanese cabinet. On Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu s office said he had met General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairman of Sudan s ruling sovereign council, in the Ugandan city of Entebbe in a previously unannounced meeting. Israel remains technically at war with Sudan, which for years supported hardline Islamist forces. The statement from Netanyahu s office said the two men had "agreed to start cooperation leading to normalisation of the relationship between the two countries". Sudan s cabinet said it had been unaware of such talks and convened Tuesday to discuss the issue. Sudan s sovereign council, a transitional body of civilians and military officials led by Burhan, also held a meeting on Tuesday where the issue was being discussed, a source told AFP. The source said Burhan, who had now returned from Entebbe, was briefing the council about his meeting with Netanyahu. Netanyahu s office said on Monday that he believed Sudan is headed "in a new positive direction" and that he had expressed this view to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "Burhan is eager to help his country modernise by taking it out of isolation and putting it on the world s map," it said. The Uganda meeting came after Sudan said Pompeo had invited Burhan to Washington for an official visit, the first such invitation to a Sudan ruler in more than three decades. The United States still classifies Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, a legacy from the rule of now ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir who in the 1990s welcomed Osama bin Laden. Late on Monday, Sudan s government spokesman Faisal Mohamed Salih said the cabinet had only learned of the meeting at Entebbe through the media. "We, the members of the cabinet, were not notified or consulted about this meeting," Salih said in a statement. Sudan under Bashir was part of the decades-long Arab boycott of Israel over the Jewish state s treatment of the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership denounced the Sudanese general s talks with Netanyahu. "This meeting is a stab in the back of the Palestinian people... at a time when the administration of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are trying to liquidate the Palestinian cause," Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement carried on official news agency WAFA.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey will continue to retaliate after Syrian government shelling killed four of its troops and wounded nine in Syria s northwest Idlib region, where Turkish forces have bulked up in recent days. Erdogan said initial indications show 30-35 Syrians were "neutralised" in Turkey s response to what the government called intense shelling of its soldiers. He said Turkey has told Russian counterparts "they need to stand aside" in the escalating conflict. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad s forces, backed by Russian air power, have recently made advances in Idlib, prompting Turkey to warn it may launch a military operation there unless the fighting is halted. "We have responded in kind to these attacks and will continue to do so, whether it is with our artillery or mortars," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. "We are determined to continue our operations for the security of our country, people and our brothers in Idlib," he said. "Those who question our determination will soon understand they made a mistake." A Turkish security official told Reuters that the shelling which killed the soldiers occurred in the area of Saraqeb town, 15 km (9 miles) to the east of Idlib city. "Following the developments in Idlib in recent weeks, serious support was provided over the weekend to the troops, equipment and vehicles in the region," the official said. The Idlib region is the last major rebel-held stronghold in Syria s nearly nine-year-old war and Erdogan accuses Russia of violating agreements to reduce the fighting in the region, a charge which Moscow denied on Friday. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria, fears a fresh wave of migrants from Idlib. It has 12 military observation posts around the region, set up under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran. Several of them have since been surrounded by advancing Syrian government forces. REINFORCEMENTS A spokesman for Erdogan s AK Party said Turkey will view Syrian government forces around the observation posts in the region as "targets". The Syrian Observatory, a UK-based war monitor, said some 320 Turkish trucks and military vehicles entered Idlib at Kafr Lusin crossing on Sunday, much more than usual, and went south. Turkey s defence ministry said Syrian shelling was carried out against its reinforcements, which were meant to prevent clashes in Idlib, despite prior coordination of their positions. Erdogan said if talks between diplomats and generals fail to get results he will contact Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to try to resolve the situation. "We told especially Russian counterparts that they are not our counterparts here, that it is the (Syrian) regime directly, and that they need to stand aside," Erdogan said. "This is not okay, we are giving martyrs here, but our armed forces and our artillery... are keeping them under fire." He added F-16s are involved in Turkey s operation against 40 points in Idlib. Russia s TASS news service said no air strikes were carried out in the fighting. The U.S. special envoy for Syria said on Thursday the Idlib fighting raised the spectre of an international crisis.
Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip early Sunday in retaliation for projectiles fired from the Palestinian enclave into southern Israel, the army said. Military jets and helicopters struck targets linked to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, shortly after midnight, with no reported casualties. Israel also suspended cement deliveries to the enclave and cancelled 500 commercial entry permits into Israel "until further notice". The action was taken "due to the continued rocket fire and launchings of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel," said a statement by Major General Kamil Abu Rukun, head of the Israeli military unit responsible for coordination in the Palestinian territories. Since the announcement Tuesday by US President Donald Trump of his plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rockets, shells and explosive balloons have been fired almost daily from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, provoking Israeli retaliation. Palestinians strongly reject the US plan, seen as heavily favouring Israel. The Trump initiative suggests that Israel would retain control of the contested city of Jerusalem as its "undivided capital" and gives the Jewish state the green light to annex settlements in the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967. Rocket fire from Gaza on Saturday night forced Benny Gantz, a leading candidate in Israel s upcoming general election who was campaigning in southern Israel, to take refuge with his team in a shelter, local media reported. Former military general Gantz heads the Blue and White party and is the chief rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the March 2 election. The Israeli army said its overnight strikes on Gaza targeted infrastructure belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group that has controlled the enclave since 2007. "Fighter jets and attack helicopters struck a number of Hamas terror targets in the northern Gaza Strip," it said in a statement. Among the targets was "underground infrastructure... used as a situation room," it added. There were no casualties from the strikes, according to Hamas security sources. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008 but over the past year the Islamists have gradually shaped an informal truce with Israel, under which the Jewish state has eased its crippling blockade of Gaza.
Abu Dis, the town earmarked for the Palestinian capital in U.S. President Donald Trump s Middle East peace plan, lies a short distance to the east of Jerusalem s walled Old City. A relatively featureless urban sprawl on the old road to Jericho, it has little of the religious or cultural resonance of the historic city centre, which contains sites sacred to the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abu Dis belongs to the Palestinian governorate of Jerusalem but is just outside the Israeli municipal city limits set by Israel after it captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, later annexing it in a move not recognised by most of the international community. What the neighbourhood does have is a large shuttered building that was constructed in an earlier, more hopeful era to be a site for the parliament of the Palestinian Authority. That hall now lies abandoned and disused after the breakdown of the Oslo peace process and the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, two decades ago. Since then, Palestinians in Abu Dis have been cut off from Jerusalem neighbourhoods to the west by a high concrete wall built by Israel that claimed it built it to stop suicide bombers and gunmen entering the city. Students at a nearby university have used the wall as a backdrop to project movies during warm summer nights when they sit outside. The White House document accompanying the U.S. plan s release said the barrier should "serve as a border between the capitals of the two parties." It said Jerusalem should "remain the sovereign capital of the State of Israel, and it should remain an undivided city." It continued: "The sovereign capital of the State of Palestine should be in the section of East Jerusalem located in all areas east and north of the existing security barrier, including Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis, and could be named Al Quds or another name as determined by the State of Palestine."
The number of Jews and Arabs between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River is at or near parity, figures cited by Israeli officials show, raising questions whether Israel can remain a democracy if it keeps territory where Palestinians seek a state. The population statistics were mentioned in an Israeli parliamentary statement on Monday summing up legislators’ questioning of an official of Israel’s military-run civil administration (COGAT) that coordinates government activities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Demography is studied closely on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of its potential implications for both societies as they weigh possible solutions as Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary next month. With over a “two-state solution” frozen since 2014, some argue that if Israel becomes a binational state through annexation of land seized 51 years ago, it could one day be forced to choose between remaining a democracy or securing a Jewish majority by denying Palestinians the vote. “We estimate the (Palestinian) population in Judea and Samaria at between 2.5 million and 2.7 million,” Colonel Uri Mendes, COGAT’s deputy director, using Israel’s term for the West Bank, told a session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. He noted that a Palestinian census put the figure even higher, at 3 million. Avi Dichter, the committee’s chairman and a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, responded that with the addition of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians, that meant there was now a total of about five million Palestinians living in the two territories that fell to Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Taking the higher end of the Israeli figures cited and adding them to the 1.84 million Arabs living inside Israel, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), would bring the total number of Arabs in Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories to around 6.5 million. This is around the same number of Jews living between the Jordan Valley and Mediterranean, according to the CBS. Jewish settlements in occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state have also dimmed Palestinian hopes of a viable and contiguous country of their own with East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians also fear their quest for statehood suffered another blow when U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. SETTLERS DISPUTE DATA Israeli settlers immediately disputed the population figures, citing one study that put the number of Palestinians in the West Bank at 1.8 million. “The slanted publication about Arab demography in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley relies on data from the Palestinian statistics bureau which are not true or accurate. They (Palestinians) have an interest in inflating the numbers,” settler spokesman Yigal Dilmoni said. But Ahmed Tibi, an Arab legislator in the Israeli parliament, described the figures as accurate and “well known to us for a long time”. Without the creation of a Palestinian state, Tibi said, Israel will be headed toward a “one-state solution” embracing either “apartheid or an Arab-Palestinian prime minister”. Ofer Shelah, a committee member from the opposition centrist Yesh Atid party, said it is clear the Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean is “precarious”. “From a demographic perspective, if Israel does not part with the Palestinians then there is real danger to realizing the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic Israel,” Shelah told Reuters. Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer and professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said one state taking in two nations was not viable. “The answer is separation, the answer is manifestly separation. Two countries for two people, which of course has to be negotiated,” said DellaPergola. Underlying political dynamics, he said, are more important than exact population percentages.
I know that the horror of Corona virus will end soon, and I shall tell you why. God from time to time would like to request and save what has perished just as he did at the cross with crucifixion and redemption. He only reminds us of his presence and love, especially for those who are lost and far from his bosom. God who transferred the mountain of Muqattam after the prayers of his people of Egypt will surely listen