BEIRUT (Reuters) — President Michel Aoun warned on Thursday of an “atmosphere of civil war” during recent unrest in Lebanon and what he described as attempts to stir up sectarian tensions as a financial crisis sweeps the country. Aoun, a Maronite Christian, was speaking at a meeting that he said was called to protect civil peace but which was boycotted by opponents including Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri and other ex-prime ministers who said it a waste of time. The crisis is seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon s stability since the 1975-90 civil war. A 75 percent decline in the Lebanese pound since October has been reflected in soaring prices and savers have been frozen out of their deposits. Aoun s comments referred partly to confrontations in Beirut earlier this month that opened old sectarian faultlines between Shia Muslims and Christians and between Shia and Sunnis. “We touched the atmosphere of civil war in a worrying way. Movements replete with sectarian tensions were launched in a suspicious manner,” Aoun said. Lebanon s sectarian power-sharing system requires the president to be a Maronite, the prime minister to be a Sunni and the parliament speaker to be a Shia. Prime Minister Hassan Diab, appointed in January with backing from Aoun, the powerful Iranian-backed Shia group Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, said the exchange rate was the only concern for Lebanese. “Lebanese want the central bank to control the dollar exchange rate vis-à-vis the Lebanese pound and to preserve the value of their salaries and savings,” he told the meeting. Former prime ministers Hariri, Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam said the real threat to stability may come from the deteriorating economic and financial situation and “this cannot be solved by large meetings that do not have a clear agenda.”
More than a thousand European lawmakers have signed a joint letter protesting Israel s planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, saying such a move would ``be fatal to hopes for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter was addressed to European governments and published online Tuesday. It is part of a growing international outcry against the Trump administration s Mideast plan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s promise to begin annexing parts of the West Bank that have Israeli settlements, perhaps as early as July 1. The letter by 1,080 parliamentarians from 25 European countries called for decisive action by European leaders to ``prevent annexation and to safeguard the prospects of the two-state solution and a just resolution to the conflict. ``Failure to adequately respond would encourage other states with territorial claims to disregard basic principles of international law, the letter said. If Israel goes ahead, the letter calls for ``commensurate consequences. Israel s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to comment. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and in the decades since has built dozens of settlements that are now home to roughly 400,000 Israelis. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal. The Palestinians seek the territory as part of a future independent state. President Donald Trump s Mideast plan, which heavily favors Israel and which has been rejected by the Palestinians, would scuttle any hopes of a viable Palestinian state. Netanyahu s government has yet to publish details of the proposed annexation but the prime minister has called for roughly 30% of the territory _ including the strategically important Jordan Valley _ to be annexed by Israel. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel on Tuesday to hear global calls and not to proceed with annexation plans. He told The Associated Press that annexation would not only violate international law, but ``would be a major factor to destabilize the region. Last week British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he strongly opposed annexation of parts of the West Bank, which would ``amount to a breach of international law.
The European Union on Monday announced the start of the fourth Brussels Conference, “Supporting the future of Syria and the region.” The virtual conference, which is held in partnership with the UN, will take place from June 22 to June 30. The conference is intending to help raise funding pledges for Syrians, and to engage civil society organizations from Syria and neighboring countries. The EU s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borell remarked on the conference, saying that, “Syrians have suffered for too long. After nine years of conflict, there is a risk that the world becomes immune to the pictures and accounts of unacceptable and unnecessary suffering but we cannot allow that to happen; we cannot ignore their plight. It is our moral duty to continue supporting the people of Syria. The Conference aims to further mobilize the international community behind UN-led efforts to achieve a lasting political solution to the Syria crisis in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254. This is the only way to bring back stability and peace for all Syrians.” Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič added that, “The humanitarian situation in Syria is at even greater risk as the coronavirus pandemic threatens the most vulnerable. The EU will not abandon the Syrian people in most urgent need for assistance inside the country as well as in the region.” The first two days of the conference, dubbed “Days of Dialogue,” feature panel discussions with guests from a broad variety of governmental and non-governmental institutions. The remainder of the conference, meanwhile, will include a number of side events, such as a session on “regional response and recovery in the face of coronavirus crisis,” and another on “immediate needs in response to the humanitarian situation.” A full schedule can be downloaded here, and commissioners remarks will be made available online. Borrell on June 30 will co-chair the segment of the conference in which 80 delegates from neighboring countries, partner countries, EU Member States and international organizations will gather to discuss diverse aspects of the Syrian crisis. This will also be the time during which political commitments and pledges will be made. A virtual exhibition “Voices from Syria and the region,” which is funded by the EU, has also just been made available online. The exhibition aims to display the strength, resilience and diversity of the Syrian people in the face of ongoing conflict and strife.
One day after hostile statements made by the Ethiopian foreign minister, in which he hinted at the possibility of war with Egypt over stalled negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sent a message laden with meaning. While inspecting Egypt s Western Military Zone on Saturday, Sisi said, “The Egyptian army is strong, and is one of the most powerful armies in the region. But it is a reasonable army, an army that protects and does not threaten, an army that secures and is not the aggressor. This is our strategy, our beliefs, and our constant position. And I am sure that if we need you to do work and sacrifice [you will].” Sisi thanked the combat units of the Egyptian Air Force, saying: “Be prepared to carry out any mission on our borders or, if necessary, outside our borders.” Sisi s message, which promoted peace more than war, appeared to be a response to comments made by Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew in an interview with the Associated Press. Andargachew was quoted as saying that Egypt seeks war, and that Ethiopia will go ahead with filling the dam in July, despite having not yet reached an agreement with Egypt and Sudan. Contrary to Ethiopia s statements, Egypt s tone in dealing with the crisis has seemed calm and responsible, stressing the historical rights of Egypt to the waters of the Nile. Egypt s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry characterized his Ethiopian counterpart s statements as “hostile” and “disappointing.” This “will not make us abandon our policy of negotiations and seeking peaceful solutions,” Shoukry said. Although Ethiopia has repeatedly hinted at war, according to documented military information there is a significant gap between the respective capabilities of the Egyptian and Ethiopian armies. Here is a comparison between the Egyptian and Ethiopian armies based on figures provided by the Global Fire Power website: 1. The Egyptian army ranks ninth out of 138 armies around the world, while the Ethiopian army ranks 60th. 2. The Egyptian Air Force owns 1,054 assorted military aircraft, including 215 fighter jets, 59 military means of transport, 388 trainers, and 294 military helicopters. The Ethiopian army has only 86 aircraft, 24 of which are fighter jets, 20 are trainers, nine are transports, 33 are military helicopters and eight are attack helicopters. 3. The Egyptian army has more than 4,000 tanks, 10,000 armored vehicles, 1,000 self-propelled artillery and more than 2,189 field artillery, while the Ethiopian army has 400 tanks and 650 pieces of field artillery. 4. The Egyptian naval fleet includes about 320 marine vessels, including two aircraft carriers, seven corvettes and four submarines, in addition to 50 patrol ships and nine frigates. Because it is a landlocked country, Ethiopia does not have a naval fleet. 5. The defense budget of the Egyptian army is US$11.2 billion, compared to $350 million for the Ethiopian defense budget. 6. The Egyptian army has about 920,000 soldiers, with 440,000 currently in service and 480,000 in reserve. The Ethiopian army has a total 162,000 soldiers, and no reserve soldiers.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday said that Egypt has the right of international legitimacy at this point, based on the United Nations Charter, to militarily intervene in the Libyan crisis. During a televised speech at the Western Military Zone, Sisi added that Egypt has also received support from the Libyan House of Representatives to intervene in the Libyan crisis. Any intervention will aim to protect and secure the western borders from terrorist militias, Sisi explained, and to restore stability to Libya s territories and thereby maintain the stability of Egypt and Arab national security at large. Egypt is working towards a ceasefire at Libya s eastern and western borders, while also preparing to launch comprehensive political settlement negotiations under the auspices of the UN and to implement the resolutions of the Berlin Conference and the recently announced “Cairo Declaration“, backed by Khalifa Haftar and Libya s parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh. Sisi also called to raise the Egyptian army s level of military readiness to carry out operations in Egypt and Libya. He praised the Egyptian army s combat capabilities and hailed it as one of the strongest armies in the region, describing it as a rational army that protects but does not threaten. The Cairo Declaration takes into consideration the international resolutions, UN efforts, and Berlin Conference resolutions towards ending the Libyan crisis, Sisi explained, paving the way for the future of Libya following the withdrawal of foreign forces and the dissolution of military militias. Egypt works towards peace first and foremost, and calls to resolve the crisis through political means that meet the needs of the Libyan people and respects international law. Sisi also issued a warning to all Libyan and foreign parties from forcibly seizing the strategic city of Sirte and al-Jafra, calling them the “red line” for Egypt s national security. The president s remarks and visit to the Western Military Command came a day after the release of 23 Egyptians who were detained in the Libyan city of Tarhuna. A video showing militia members abusing Egyptian laborers in Libya went viral on Tuesday, triggering anger among social media users and Egyptian officials. President Sisi instructed authorities to return the abducted laborers. Egyptian authorities managed to secure their release and return them home safely.
JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Emirati official warned Wednesday that Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank could lead Arab states to call for a single bi-national state for Israelis and Palestinians. The Arab minister’s remarks, delivered to an influential Washington think tank, struck a new setback to Israel’s hopes of normalizing relations with the Arab world and added to the increasingly vocal international opposition to the Israeli annexation plan. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the strategically important Jordan Valley. Such a unilateral move would dash Palestinian hopes of establishing a viable independent state. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to nearly 500,000 Israelis. The Palestinians seek the territory as the heartland of their future state. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal under international law. Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates’s minister of state for foreign affairs, told the Washington-based Middle East Institute that his country is committed to dialog and the two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. But he added that “ultimately, I personally believe that if we are going where we are going today, and we lose the possibility of really implementing a two-state solution, we will really be talking about equal rights and one state.” A binational state of Israelis and Palestinians would mean an end to Israel’s goal of being a democracy with a solid Jewish majority. Israel has cultivated close, but clandestine, ties with several Arab states, including the UAE, because of their shared concern about Iran. Those warming relations have manifested themselves publicly with Israeli ministers visiting the UAE, Israeli athletes attending sports events and some quiet business ties. Israel only has formal diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, which also have both strongly criticized the annexation plan. On Tuesday, Gargash told the American Jewish Committee that “the UAE is clearly against any annexation as being proposed by the current Israeli government.” Last Friday, Yousef Al Otaiba, the Gulf state’s ambassador to the US, published an editorial in a leading Israeli newspaper warning that annexation of occupied territory would “upend” Israel’s efforts to improve ties with Arab countries. Also on Wednesday, Gargash said “less than 100” Emirati soldiers remain in Yemen amid a Saudi-led war on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that hold the capital, Sanaa. The UAE began to withdraw in July 2019 from the yearslong war in the Arab world’s poorest nation amid international criticism of a campaign that saw airstrikes kill civilians and prisoners tortured. ___ Image: In this Feb. 20, 2020 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the area where a new neighborhood is to be built in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa. A senior Emirati official warned Wednesday, June 17, 2020 that Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank could lead Arab states to call for a single binational state for Israelis and Palestinians. (Debbie Hill/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Turkey said Wednesday it has airlifted troops for a cross-border ground operation against Turkey s Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, the first known airborne-and-land offensive by Ankara inside Iraqi territory. The airborne offensive into Iraq s border region of Haftanin, some 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Turkey-Iraq border, was launched following intense artillery fire into the area, said the Defense Ministry in Ankara. The operation by commando forces is being supported by warplanes, attack helicopters, artillery and armed and unarmed drones, according to the ministry s statement posted on Twitter. It did not say how many troops are involved. Turkey regularly carries out air and ground attacks against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which it says maintains bases in northern Iraq. Wednesday s was the first known airborne and land offensive. Turkey has defended its past operations into northern Iraq, saying neither the Iraqi government nor the regional Iraqi Kurdish administration have acted to remove PKK insurgents who allegedly use Iraq s territory to stage attacks on Turkey. The ministry said Wednesday s operation follows ``increasing harassment and attempts to attack military outposts or bases in Turkey. It said the Turkish forces would target other ``terror groups in the region, but did not name them. ``Operation Claw-Tiger is continuing successfully as planned, the ministry said. It shared videos of Defense Minister Hulusi Akar overseeing the mission at a command center in Ankara. It came days after Turkey launched an air operation in the region, which the Defense Ministry said hit suspected PKK targets in several locations in Iraq s north, including Sinjar, and targeted 81 rebel hideouts. A military official said the operation began with artillery units targeting some 150 suspected PKK positions and was followed by an aerial attack involving F-16s, drones and attack helicopters. Some of the commandos crossed the border by land while other units were transported by helicopters. The troops had began to enter PKK hideouts in Haftanin, the official said, providing the information on condition of anonymity in line with government rules. It was not clear if the latest offensive would target the Sinjar region, where the Turkish government says has become a new base PKK commanders. A video provided by the Defense Ministry, showed Akar addressing the commandos: ``You have always demonstrated the Turkish military s force. I believe that you will demonstrate it again. ``Turkey continues its fight against terrorists using the rights based on international law,`` said Omer Celik, the deputy chairman of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan s ruling party. ``It is our most natural right and duty to fight terrorists who attack our borders, citizens, and security forces. There was no immediate reaction from the PKK or from Baghdad and northern Iraq s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Iraq s government however, summoned the Turkish ambassador on Tuesday to protest against the aerial offensive. The PKK has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey s mainly Kurdish southeast region. It is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The conflict has led to the loss of tens of thousands lives since it started in 1984.
Providing for 16 children including four sets of twins is only getting harder for Ahmad Yassin al-Ali and his wife Fawza Umri, Syrians who were forced to flee their home nearly a decade ago and are now crammed into a tent at the Turkish border.
ANKARA (Reuters) — Turkey and Libya s internationally recognized government are discussing possible Turkish use of two military bases in the North African country, a Turkish source said on Monday, teeing up a lasting Turkish presence in the south Mediterranean. No final decisions have been made over possible Turkish military use of the Misrata naval base and the al-Watiya air base, which was recently recaptured by the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA has driven back Khalifa Haftar s Libyan National Army (LNA) — backed by Russia, France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — in recent weeks and recaptured several positions. Last week, Turkey said it could expand its cooperation in Libya with new energy and construction deals once the conflict ends. “Turkey using al-Watiya […] is on the agenda,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It could also be possible for the Misrata naval base to be used by Turkey.”
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis appealed on Sunday for both sides in the Libyan civil war to seek peace, urging the international community to facilitate talks and protect refugees and migrants he said were victims of cruelty. In an impassioned plea during his noon address in St. Peter s Square, Francis said he was pained by the situation in Libya, which has had no stable central authority since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by NATO-backed rebels in 2011. For more than five years Libya has had rival parliaments and governments in the east and the west, with streets often controlled by armed groups and sporadic fighting. “Please! I urge international bodies and those who have political and military responsibilities to restart, with conviction and resolve, the search for a path towards an end to violence, leading to peace, stability and unity in the country,” he said. Egypt announced a new initiative for Libya on Saturday. Meanwhile Russia and Turkey, who support opposing sides in Libya, have postponed ministerial-level talks on the conflict. Libya is divided between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the rival Government of National Accord (GNA) with nations split over their support of the LNA or the GNA. In an apparent reference to the coronavirus pandemic, Francis said the already precarious health conditions of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers had been aggravated, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation and violence. “There is cruelty. I call on the international community – Please! – to take their plight to heart … Brothers and sisters, we all have responsibility in this. No-one can consider themselves dispensed from this,” he said. Human rights groups such as Doctors Without Borders have said people in migrant detention centers in Libya are being held in harmful conditions and exposed to abuses.
George Floyd was fondly remembered Tuesday as “Big Floyd” — a father and brother, athlete and neighborhood mentor, and now a catalyst for change — at a funeral for the black man whose death has sparked a global reckoning over police brutality and racial prejudice. More than 500 mourners wearing masks against the coronavirus packed a Houston church a little more than two weeks after Floyd was pinned to the pavement by a white Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on his neck for what prosecutors said was 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Cellphone video of the encounter, including Floyd s pleas of “I can t breathe,” ignited protests and scattered violence across the U.S. and around the world, turning the 46-year-old Floyd — a man who in life was little known beyond the public housing project where he was raised in Houston s Third Ward — into a worldwide symbol of injustice. “Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that s where he was born at,” Floyd s brother, Rodney, told mourners at the Fountain of Praise church. “But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world.” The funeral capped six days of mourning for Floyd in three cities: Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born; Houston, where he grew up; and Minneapolis, where he died. The memorials have drawn the families of other black victims whose names have become familiar in the debate over race and justice — among them, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin. After the service, Floyd s golden casket was taken by hearse to the cemetery in the Houston suburb of Pearland to be entombed next to his mother, for whom he cried out as he lay dying. A mile from the graveyard, the casket was transferred to a glass-sided carriage drawn by a pair of white horses. A brass band played as his casket was taken inside the mausoleum. Hundreds of people, some chanting, “Say his name, George Floyd,” gathered along the procession route and outside the cemetery entrance in the mid-90s heat. “I don t want to see any black man, any man, but most definitely not a black man sitting on the ground in the hands of bad police,” said Marcus Brooks, 47, who set up a tent with other graduates of Jack Yates High School, Floyd s alma mater. In the past two weeks, amid the furor over Floyd s death, sweeping and previously unthinkable things have taken place: Confederate statues have been toppled, and many cities are debating overhauling, dismantling or cutting funding for police departments. Authorities in some places have barred police from using chokeholds or are otherwise rethinking policies on the use of force. Dozens of Floyd s family members, most dressed in white, took part in the four-hour service. Grammy-winning singer Ne-Yo was among those who sang. The mourners included actors Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, J.J. Watt of the NFL s Houston Texans, rapper Trae tha Truth, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who brought the crowd to its feet when he announced he will sign an executive order banning chokeholds in the city. “I know you have a lot of questions that no child should have to ask, questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations: Why? Why is Daddy gone?” former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, said, addressing Floyd s 6-year-old daughter in a video eulogy played at the service. “Now is the time for racial justice. That s the answer we must give to our children when they ask why.” Biden made no mention of his opponent in November. But other speakers took swipes at President Donald Trump, who has ignored demands to address racial bias and has called on authorities to crack down hard on lawlessness. “The president talks about bringing in the military, but he did not say one word about 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police murder of George Floyd,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. “He challenged China on human rights. But what about the human right of George Floyd?” Most of the pews were full, with relatively little space between people. “So much for social distancing today,” the Rev. Remus Wright told mourners, gently but firmly instructing those attending to wear face masks. Texas has no limit on how many people can gather in places of worship during the pandemic, though Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has encouraged churches to follow federal health guidelines. Although the church service was private, at least 50 people gathered outside to pay their respects. “There s a real big change going on, and everybody, especially black, right now should be a part of that,” said Kersey Biagase, who traveled more than three hours from Port Barre, Louisiana, with his girlfriend, Brandy Pickney. They wore T-shirts printed with Floyd s name and “I Can t Breathe.” Floyd served nearly five years in prison for robbery with a deadly weapon before becoming a mentor and a church outreach volunteer in Houston. He moved to Minnesota several years ago through a program that tried to change men s lives by helping them find work in new settings. At the time of his death, Floyd was out of work as a bouncer at a Minneapolis club that had closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. He was seized by police after being accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. Four Minneapolis officers were arrested in his death: Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with second-degree murder. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting. All four could get up to 40 years in prison. Some of the mostly peaceful demonstrations that erupted after Floyd s death were marked by bursts of arson, assaults, vandalism and smash-and-grab raids on businesses, with more than 10,000 people arrested. But protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
High Representative of the EU Josep Borrell on Tuesday released a joint statement with Foreign Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian of France, Heiko Maas of Germany and Luigi Di Maio of Italy, urging all parties involved in the ongoing Libya conflict to cease fighting and engage in negotiations. The four representatives hailed the “constructive commitments” made in Cairo on June 6 under the auspices of the 5+5 joint military committee, and urged all parties — both Libyan and International — to follow up by agreeing to a ceasefire and continuing talks to end the conflict. The statement pushed for a ceasefire agreement based on the 5+5 draft agreement of February 23, one that includes the withdrawal of all foreign forces and a commitment to engaging in UN-led talks that will help lead to a political agreement and a permanent end to fighting. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on June 6 launched a new plan to resolve the Libyan crisis dubbed the “Cairo Declaration”. This “Cairo Declaration” is a message to the world, Sisi said, and expresses a firm desire to enforce the Libyan people s wish goals of stability and development, to preserve the country s sovereignty and to put its interests first and foremost. Despite Egypt s efforts, Libyan fighters allied with the country s UN-supported government in Tripoli pressed their advance on Monday, boosted by recent battlefield gains and their rivals withdrawal from around the capital, the warring sides reported. The Tripoli forces, backed by Turkey, gained the upper hand last week after retaking the capital s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli, forcing Hifter s fighters to withdraw — defeats their command painted as a tactical measure to give the UN-backed peace process a chance. Libya s east-based forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. The Tripoli-based government receives aid from Qatar, Italy and Turkey, which stepped up its military support in recent months, helping shift the tide of the conflict.
BEIRUT (AP) — Suspected Russian airstrikes pounded villages on the edge of the last rebel enclave in northwestern Syria, sending thousands of civilians fleeing, activists reported Tuesday — scenes unseen in the area since a cease-fire three months ago. The violence at the edge of Idlib province is the most serious breach of the cease-fire in place since early March, when an agreement between Turkey and Russia halted the Syrian government s three-month air and ground campaign into rebel-held Idlib. The Syria Response Coordination Group, a team of aid workers, said the military escalation displaced more than 5,800 civilians in the last 24 hours from areas in southern Idlib and western Hama countryside. Many of the displaced had only recently returned to their villages after the cease-fire, the group said. On Monday, insurgents launched a limited offensive against government-held positions, briefly seizing a couple of villages. Government troops, backed by Russian air support, responded, repelling the insurgents but also widening their area of operations, targeting 10 villages, according to Mohamed Rasheed, a Syrian media activist documenting the offensive. Rasheed reported airstrikes, believed to be carried out by Russia s air force, on a number of villages in southern Idlib. He said he documented 45 airstrikes since Monday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded 15 airstrikes on Tuesday, also saying they were believed to be Russian. The Observatory and other local networks said at least one civilian was killed in Kansafra village. Meanwhile, Syrian state media said government forces repelled an offensive by the insurgents, and that a soldier was killed. Russia is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey backs opposition fighters trying to remove him from power. Russia and Turkey have become the main power brokers in the war-torn country. Rasheed said the insurgent offensive was led by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, now the dominant group in the rebel-held northwest.
CAIRO (AP) — Libyan fighters allied with the country’s UN-supported government in Tripoli pressed their advance on Monday, boosted by recent battlefield gains and their rivals’ withdrawal from around the capital, the warring sides reported. The push came despite a unilateral cease-fire proposal over the weekend by Egypt, a backer of the rival Libyan forces commanded by Khalifa Hifter, who has waged a year-long campaign to capture Tripoli from the militias allied with the UN-supported but weak government. The Tripoli forces, backed by Turkey, gained the upper hand last week after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli, forcing Hifter’s fighters to withdraw — defeats their command painted as a tactical measure to give the UN-backed peace process a chance. Egypt’s proposal, announced by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday, envisaged a cease-fire starting Monday. Hifter accepted it, as did Aguila Saleh, speaker of the country’s east-based parliament. But the militias fighting to defend Tripoli rejected the proposal, instead pushing eastward to take the coastal city of Sirte, a former stronghold of the Islamic State group that Hifter’s forces captured in January. Taking Sirte would open the gate for the Tripoli-allied militias to press even farther eastward, to potentially seize control of vital oil installations, terminals and oil fields that tribes allied with Hifter shut down earlier this year, cutting off Libya’s major source of income. Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj urged the Tripoli fighters to “continue their path” toward Sirte, according to a statement posted by Mohamed Gnono, a spokesman for the Tripoli-allied forces. Gnono posted footage of allegedly captured tanks and vehicles. Hifter’s military media unit, however, said his forces destroyed a military company that included Turkish-made Hausers and tanks, along with a bus allegedly carrying Turkish troops and Syrian mercenaries who have been aiding the Tripoli militias. The push on Sirte shows the Tripoli-based government and its main backer, Turkey, are eager to build on their recent victories. Libya’s east-based forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. The Tripoli-based government receives aid from Qatar, Italy and Turkey, which stepped up its military support in recent months, helping shift the tide of the conflict. Sirte was the hometown of Libya’s former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, killed in the 2011 uprising. The city was later controlled by Islamic militants who pledged allegiance to IS, until they were defeated in 2016. But Libya’s turmoil continued, and the oil-rich country has since been divided between rival administrations in the east and west, each is backed by foreign countries. ___ By SAMY MAGDY Image: In this Nov. 19, 2019, file photo, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks at the “G20 Investment Summit – German Business and the CwA Countries 2019” on the sidelines of a Compact with Africa (CwA) in Berlin, Germany. Egypt’s president has announced an initiative to end the civil war in neighboring Libya. The move has been accepted by the commander of the eastern Libyan forces, which have suffered heavy defeats in recent weeks. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared his initiative in a ceremony in Cairo Saturday, June 6, 2020. (John MacDougall/Pool via AP, File
An unprecedented fuel spill that has polluted huge stretches of Arctic rivers was caused by melting permafrost, Russian officials said Friday, ordering a review of infrastructure in vulnerable zones. The spill — which has colored remote tundra waterways with bright red patches visible from space — has highlighted the danger of climate change for Russia as areas locked by permafrost for centuries thaw amid warmer temperatures. News of the cause of the accident came amid a huge cleanup effort outside the Arctic city of Norilsk which President Vladimir Putin said should be bankrolled by metals giant Norilsk Nickel. A national-level state of emergency was announced after 21,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled from a reservoir that collapsed last Friday. Norilsk Nickel owns the reservoir through a subsidiary. Three criminal probes have been launched, and Russia’s prosecutor general’s office said in a statement that preliminary findings indicate sagging ground as the reason for the disaster. “To prevent a similar situation on especially hazardous structures on territories prone to melting of permafrost,” the prosecutor general has “ordered a comprehensive review of such objects,” it said. Norilsk, one of the country’s biggest industrial centers, lies above the Arctic circle and Norilsk Nickel had already said it suspects permafrost thawing. Other factors may be at play too: the country’s technical safety watchdog told TASS news agency that since 2016, it has been unable to check the condition of the 35-year-old reservoir, because the company said it was under repairs. The metals giant tried to contain the damage on its own for two days before specialists were called in from companies and agencies across Russia and managed to stop the spill from spreading further. Speaking with officials at the site by video call, Putin told Norilsk Nickel chief Vladimir Potanin he expected the company to pay for a comprehensive cleanup. “It’s necessary to carry out all the compensatory measures to restore biodiversity and the environment,” he said. Potanin estimated that the operations would cost about 10 billion rubles ($146 million), on top of any fines. “We will spend whatever is needed,” said Potanin. “We will return the ecosystem back to normal.” Russia’s environmental watchdog Svetlana Radionova said the damage was being calculated, and called the accident “unprecedented in scope”. – Worst spill in Arctic history – A vast Arctic state, Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the world average. Sixty-five percent of the country is covered by permafrost and the environment ministry warned in 2018 that the melt threatens pipes and structures, as well as buried toxic waste, which can seep into waterways. Northern regions have also rung the alarm, with the eastern Arctic Yakutia area for years lobbying Moscow to pass legislation protecting permafrost. Environmentalists said the spill was the worst such accident ever in the Arctic region and the second worst in modern Russian history. The Ambarnaya River, which is affected by the spill, feeds into Lake Pyasino, a major body of water and the source of the Pyasina River that is vitally important to the entire Taimyr peninsula. Satellite images released by the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos show a large spot of reddish fuel had travelled over 20 kilometres (12 miles) toward the lake from the spill site. Russia’s fisheries agency and some environmentalists have said that the floating barriers erected on the river by responders are unable to stop the majority of the pollution, which can quickly dissolve or sink. JERUSALEM (Reuters) – More than a week after Israeli police shot dead an unarmed and autistic Palestinian in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called the killing a tragedy and offered his condolences to the family. Iyad al-Halaq, 32, was killed during a police chase in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 30. A police spokesman said at the time officers suspected he was carrying a weapon. The police internal affairs division is investigating the shooting. “What happened to Iyad al-Halaq is a tragedy. This was a man with disabilities, autism, who was suspected – and we (now) know wrongly – of being a terrorist in a very sensitive venue,” Netanyahu said in comments that stopped short of an apology. Palestinians have drawn comparisons between the Palestinian man’s fatal encounter with police and the death in the United States of African-American George Floyd after a police officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck while detaining him. Hundreds of people attended Halaq’s funeral a week ago. Palestinian officials and Halaq’s family said he suffered from severe autism and panicked and ran after the officers confronted him. “I know that (police) are conducting examinations. We all share in the grief of the family,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to his cabinet. Addressing Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is responsible for police, at the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: “I expect your full investigation into this matter.” A police spokesman could not immediately be reached on Sunday to provide information on whether any action had been taken so far against the officers. JERUSALEM (Reuters) – More than a week after Israeli police shot dead an unarmed and autistic Palestinian in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called the killing a tragedy and offered his condolences to the family. Iyad al-Halaq, 32, was killed during a police chase in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 30. A police spokesman said at the time officers suspected he was carrying a weapon. The police internal affairs division is investigating the shooting. “What happened to Iyad al-Halaq is a tragedy. This was a man with disabilities, autism, who was suspected – and we (now) know wrongly – of being a terrorist in a very sensitive venue,” Netanyahu said in comments that stopped short of an apology. Palestinians have drawn comparisons between the Palestinian man’s fatal encounter with police and the death in the United States of African-American George Floyd after a police officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck while detaining him. Hundreds of people attended Halaq’s funeral a week ago. Palestinian officials and Halaq’s family said he suffered from severe autism and panicked and ran after the officers confronted him. “I know that (police) are conducting examinations. We all share in the grief of the family,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to his cabinet. Addressing Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is responsible for police, at the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: “I expect your full investigation into this matter.” A police spokesman could not immediately be reached on Sunday to provide information on whether any action had been taken so far against the officers. At last week’s cabinet session, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s centrist partner in Israel’s new unity government, publicly apologized for Halaq’s death. The right-wing Netanyahu, sitting next to him, kept silent at the time. Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Barbara Lewis Image: FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem June 7, 2020. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has harshly criticized Jewish West Bank settler leaders for disparaging President Donald Trump over what they perceive to be his less than adequate plan allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. Despite what is widely viewed as a pro-Israel peace plan, settler leaders have voiced concern that the maps they have seen leave many settlements as isolated enclaves. They also reject any recognition of a Palestinian state, as outlined in the American plan, and have pressed Netanyahu to make changes. On Wednesday, David Elhayani, chairman of the umbrella Yesha Council representing the settlers, told the Haaretz daily that the plan proved Trump was “not a friend of Israel.” Netanyahu, having just met settler leaders to hear their grievances, lashed back. “President Trump is a great friend of Israel’s. He has led historic moves for Israel’s benefit,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday. “It is regrettable that instead of showing gratitude, there are those who are denying his friendship.” Speaker of Parliament Yariv Levin, who has been involved in implementing the plan, went even further, calling Elhayani’s remarks “rude and irresponsible.” He said they exhibited an ungratefulness that was particularly damaging at a time when there was “an important effort to advance the historic process of applying sovereignty” to parts of the West Bank. Netanyahu has announced that he will annex parts of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley and dozens of Jewish settlements, in line with Trump’s Middle East plan. He has signaled he will begin moving forward with annexation next month. The US plan envisions leaving about one third of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the remainder of the territory. The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, have rejected the plan, saying it unfairly favors Israel. They have already cut off key security ties with Israel and say they are no longer bound to agreements signed. On Thursday, the Palestinians announced they would refuse to accept the tax money Israel routinely collects for them. The moves have raised concerns of a return to violence if the plan is actually carried out. The annexation plan has also come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Middle East map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state and reaching a two-state peace agreement. ___ Image: Palestinians burn pictures of US President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against Trump’s Middle East initiative, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Saturday, May 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
BEIRUT (AP) — Russian warplanes carried out early Wednesday the first airstrikes in three months on the last remaining rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, opposition activists said. There was no immediate word on any casualties. The activists said the strikes on and near Idlib province were the first to be conducted by Russian planes since a truce brought relative calm to the volatile region in early March. The truce, brokered by Turkey and Russia, halted a terrifying three-month air and ground campaign that had killed hundreds and sent one million people fleeing toward the Turkish border. Russia is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces while Turkey supports the opposition. In recent years, Moscow and Ankara have become the main power-brokers in Syria, shattered by a civil war since 2011. Opposition activists said that in recent days, both Turkey and the government in Damascus have been sending reinforcements to northwestern Syria. There have also been repeated violations of the truce on the ground in recent weeks. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group, said Russian warplanes targeted rebel-held areas just south of Idlib province late Tuesday and Wednesday morning. It had no immediate word on casualties in the four airstrikes. Idlib-based activist Taher al-Omar said Russian warplanes fired missiles that caused wide destruction. He also gave no word on casualties. Another Idlib-based activist, Hadi Abdullah, said Wednesday’s strikes hit a mountain region in Latakia province on the edge of Idlib, and a power station on the northern edge of Hama province.
President Donald Trump vowed to order a military crackdown on once-in-a-generation violent protests gripping the United States, saying he was sending thousands of troops onto the streets of the capital and threatening to deploy soldiers to states unable to regain control. The dramatic escalation came a week after the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed when a white police officer knelt on his neck, leading to the worst civil unrest in decades in New York, Los Angeles and dozens of other American cities. In the Midwest, police were early Tuesday trying to bring the city of St Louis under control after a night of looting and violence in which four officers were shot, police chief Colonel John Hayden said, adding their injuries were not life-threatening. “Mr Floyd was killed somewhere else and they re tearing up cities all across the country,” a visibly emotional Hayden said. After being criticized for his silence on the worsening crisis, Trump struck a martial tone in a nationwide address Monday from the White House garden, as police fired tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the fence. “I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property,” Trump said. He slammed the previous night s unrest in Washington as a “total disgrace” and called on governors to “dominate the streets.” “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” he said, denouncing “acts of domestic terror.” Despite the president s rhetoric, Monday s protests appeared largely peaceful in major cities, though some looting was reported in New York and Los Angeles. During his address, however, law enforcement including military police used tear gas to clear protesters outside the White House so the president could walk across the street to the two-centuries-old St John s church, hit with graffiti and partially damaged by fire during unrest on Sunday. “We have a great country,” Trump declared as he stood before the church s boarded-up windows, held up a Bible and posed for photographs. The backlash was swift. “He s using the American military against the American people,” tweeted Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. “He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo. For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him,” he said. Washington s Episcopalian bishop, Mariann Budde, said she was “outraged” at the church visit, which she said Trump did not have permission for. Thousands of people have participated in the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racism since Floyd s killing. It has been the most widespread unrest in the United States since 1968, when cities went up in flames over the slaying of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the demonstrations have been peaceful and marked by moments of catharsis, such as officers hugging tearful protesters and marching or kneeling alongside them. – Homicide – Others have seen rage-filled clashes between protesters and police, and widespread property damage. One person was shot dead in Louisville, Kentucky. Floyd s agonizing death was caught on bystander cell phone video that shows policeman Derek Chauvin pinning him down with his knee for nearly nine minutes, as the 46-year-old pleaded for his life with the haunting words: “I can t breathe!” “The evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause of death, and homicide as the manner of death,” said Allecia Wilson, a University of Michigan expert who examined his body at the family s request. Hennepin County s medical examiner released its own official autopsy calling the death a homicide caused by “neck compression,” although it had also said he was intoxicated and pointed to heart disease. A memorial for Floyd will take place on Thursday in Minneapolis before his funeral in Houston, where he grew up, on June 9. Floyd, 46, had been accused of trying to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit bill. The autopsy revived demands for the arrest of three other police officers who stood guard for Chauvin as Floyd lay dying. Chauvin has been charged with third degree murder and is due to appear in court June 8. – We ve had enough – More than 40 cities have imposed curfews after consecutive nights of tension. More looting took place in New York on Monday night, an AFP reporter saw, with stores including Best Buy and Nike damaged. Police said they had arrested “hundreds” across the city. After widespread looting in Manhattan, New York mayor Bill de Blasio said a curfew would be imposed from 8:00 pm Tuesday, three hours earlier than Monday s. “We support peaceful protest in this city. But right now it s time to go home,” de Blasio tweeted. In Los Angeles, where the National Guard were deployed at Hollywood landmarks such as the Dolby Theatre, some looting was also reported, though protests were largely peaceful. “Deep down inside us, we ve had enough,” said 30-year-old Jessica Hubbert, a protester. Trump spent most of the weekend inside the White House tweeting attacks on political rivals and the media. In a leaked conference call Monday, he told state governors they were “going to look like a bunch of jerks” if they were too soft. The governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, is heard saying he was “extraordinarily concerned” by the president s “inflammatory” rhetoric. Biden met Monday with black leaders at a church in his home of Wilmington, Delaware and promised to form a police oversight commission in his first 100 days as president.
The Head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II led on Monday a mass celebrating the entry of Jesus Christ into Egypt without attendees under unprecedented measures undertaken to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the country. According to state run MENA news agency, Pope Tawadros II led the mass on Monday morning from Maadi’s Virgin Mary Church. The mass comes a few days after Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church said on Saturday that it would extend the suspension of prayers and activities in its churches until 27 June due to the spread of the coronavirus. The Church has decided to extend the suspension of prayers, but allowed the celebration of the mass marking the entry of Jesus Christ into Egypt on 1 June and the mass of Pentecost on 7 June with the limited attendance of six monks and deacons. Egypt s Christians make up about 10-14 percent of the country s 100 million-plus population, with the vast majority of Christians in Egypt belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church. In the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted several religious celebrations by the Church, mainly Easter in April. Last April, Pope Tawadros II led Easter mass without attendees at the desert Monastery of Saint Bishoy in Wadi El-Natrun over the virus. The outbreak has forced Copts to celebrate Easter at home, as Egypt continues with its unprecedented measures to stem the spread of the virus, including a nationwide night-time curfew and suspension of prayers and activities at all houses of worship. This is the first time that Easter mass has been held under the current patriarch at a location other than Cairo’s Saint Mark s Cathedral and without attendants or worshippers.
At least 25 people were killed in eastern Burkina Faso on Saturday after militants attacked a cattle market, regional authorities said. The attack in the village of Kompiembiga in Est region was the latest incidence of violence that highlights deep instability in parts of Burkina Faso, which has been battling armed groups with links to al Qaeda and the Islamic State since 2017. "The provisional death toll from this killing is 25 and several wounded," said Saidou Sanou, the governor of Est region, where suspected jihadists have carried out a number of attacks in the past year. No one has claimed responsibility for Saturday s attack. The bloodshed follows the death of at least 15 people on Friday in an attack on a convoy transporting traders in northern Burkina Faso. Hundreds have been killed in the past year in the Sahel nation, and over half a million people have fled their homes due to the violence, which has also fuelled ethnic and religious tensions.
The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is considerably ahead of schedule, an official said on Wednesday, as President Donald Trump reiterated calls for the Pentagon to bring troops home. The developments came as questions loomed over the next phase of Afghanistan’s long war following a historic, three-day ceasefire that led to a major drop in civilian casualties. The truce, which the Taliban called to mark the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr, ended Tuesday night, leaving Afghans anxious about whether it would be extended, or when the war might come raging back. Violence levels remained low even after the end of the ceasefire, but Afghan security forces conducted air strikes in the south that killed 18 “militants,” police said. Under a deal the US signed with the Taliban in February, the Pentagon was to bring troop levels down from about 12,000 to 8,600 by mid-July, before withdrawing all forces by May 2021. But a senior US defense official said the troop number was already at approximately 8,500, as commanders accelerate the withdrawal over fears of the coronavirus. “The drawdown was accelerated due to COVID-19 precautions,” the official said, noting that the departure of anyone with health concerns or over a certain age was being prioritized. Trump told reporters Tuesday the US force level was “down to 7,000-some-odd soldiers right now.” The next day he returned to a frequent complaint that America should not be acting as a “police force” in Afghanistan. “After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!” Civilian casualties fall Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell said in a statement the US was adhering to its agreement with the Taliban. Further drawdowns would come “after the US government assesses the security environment and the Taliban’s compliance with the agreement,” he added. Afghans enjoyed a rare respite in the nearly 19-year-old war during the ceasefire, only the second of its type. No major violence was reported until after the pause ended, with air strikes in southern Zabul province on Wednesday. The strikes killed 18 militants in response to an attack on a security forces convoy in Shah Joy district, provincial police spokesman Lal Mohammad Amiri said. Three children were also injured in the operation, he added, without specifying which group the militants belonged to. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that a government air strike had either killed or wounded five civilians, including four children. According to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, civilian casualties fell by 80 percent during the ceasefire. It said that on an average, 30 civilians would be killed and wounded every day during the holy month of Ramadan. But this fell to six killed and wounded on each day of the ceasefire, the commission said on Twitter. Calls to extend ceasefire The Afghan government meanwhile said it would continue with the release of Taliban prisoners that had been agreed in the US deal with the insurgents and is seen as key to kickstarting long-delayed peace talks. On Tuesday, the Afghan military freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates, mostly from Bagram jail near Kabul, as part of a pledge to release up to 2,000 insurgents in response to the Taliban-led ceasefire. A senior Taliban member said that in return, the insurgents planned to free up to 100 Afghan security force members as early as Thursday. Top Afghan officials have demanded the Taliban extend the ceasefire and offered to reciprocate. “If the Taliban are ready to extend the ceasefire, we are ready to continue the ceasefire too,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said Tuesday. The future of talks with the insurgents “depends on the Taliban’s next move”, he added. The prisoner swap is part of a US-Taliban deal, which excluded the Afghan government, that stipulates Kabul would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the militants would free about 1,000 national security personnel. Kabul had already freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates before the ceasefire, while the insurgents had released about 300 government captives. ___ Image: Some of the Taliban prisoners released from Bagram prison since the ceasefire in Afghanistan started. (AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR)
With a mighty rushing wind, and tongues as of fire appearing, the gathered disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. This was a new birth of the church and it became a feast to celebrate each year. On that day, the evangelism spread to the whole world. His Holiness Pope Tawadros II in his article titled Pentecost, talked about the importance of