From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE SOUTH 2019 MARCH-APRIL"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
    This link will take you back to King Of The South 2019 for January-February or continue King Of The South 2019 May-June

KING OF THE SOUTH 2019 MARCH-APRIL




2019 MARCH-APRIL


3/1/2019 U.S.-backed SDF expects fierce battle in final IS enclave by Ellen Francis and Rodi Said
A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) sits on a vehicle near the village of
Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) expect a fierce battle with Islamic State militants who are still holed up in the group’s last enclave in eastern Syria, Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF media office, told Reuters on Friday.
    The SDF has been poised for several weeks to wipe out the last vestige of Islamic State’s territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border, but the operation has been held up by efforts to evacuate thousands of civilians.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the SDF had retaken 100 percent of the territory once held by Islamic State.
    But Bali said Islamic State militants were still holed up in Baghouz, a village on the Iraqi border, and had not surrendered, and there were still civilians in the enclave.    The SDF would evacuate another large group of civilians on Friday, he said.
    “We won’t storm the village and declare it liberated unless we have completely confirmed the departure of civilians,” he said.    “We expect a fierce battle.”
    Speaking to American troops on Thursday, Trump said: “We just took over, you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria.    Now it’s 100 percent we just took over, 100 percent caliphate.”
    The Islamic State enclave at Baghouz, a tiny area on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, is the last populated territory held by the jihadists who have been steadily driven by an array of enemies from swathes of land they once held.
    Though the fall of Baghouz will mark a milestone in the campaign against Islamic State, the group is still seen as a security threat, using guerrilla tactics and still holding some territory in a remote area west of the Euphrates River.
    Some 40,000 people have crossed out of the jihadists’ diminishing territory in the last three months as the U.S.-backed SDF sought to drive it from the remaining territory.
    The numbers of evacuees pouring out of Baghouz have surpassed initial estimates of how many were inside.
    An SDF commander told Reuters on Thursday that many of the people coming out of Baghouz had been underground in caves and tunnels.
    A spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition which supports the SDF said the Kurdish-led Syrian group had adopted a “slow and deliberate” approach to Baghouz.
    “They are dealing with multiple dilemmas and trying to stabilize the area,” Colonel Sean Ryan said.
    The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria mainly to support the SDF in fighting against Islamic State.
    Trump announced in December he would withdraw all of them because Islamic State had already been defeated, a decision that shocked allies and top aides and prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to quit.    Earlier this month the White House partially reversed itself and said around 200 U.S. troops would stay.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/1/2019 Syrian Democratic Forces: ISIS will be defeated within a week by OAN Newsroom
    U.S.-backed forces in Syria are vowing to defeat ISIS in a week.    The Kurdish forces are currently waging war on the Islamic State’s last 1.5-square miles of territory in the region.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been fighting to root out the terrorists from their last stronghold, but thousands of civilians trying to flee the clashes have complicated the situation.
Men sit in the back of a truck as they wait to be screened by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
after being evacuated out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, in the desert outside
Baghouz, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
    Despite the setbacks, the Kurdish force’s commander is saying there will be a complete victory of ISIS within the week, which is something President Trump echoed while in Alaska on Thursday.
    “We just took over, you know, you kept hearing it was 90-percent, 92-percent, the caliphate in Syria, now it’s 100-percent, we just took over,” he stated.    “That means the area of the land, that we just have 100-percent, in a much shorter period of time than it was supposed to take.”
    President Trump’s comments came hours after the SDF commander publicized a video showing him greeting 24 Kurdish fighters released from ISIS captivity.    He didn’t discuss how the fighters were released or if there are ongoing negotiations with ISIS.
    The special United Nations envoy to Syria also said on Thursday that ISIS’s territorial defeat was near, but he warned the group could reemerge.    He said he is working to take concrete action to address the issue of detainees, abductees, and missing persons as well as to work on a new constitution for the country.
    Despite the imminent defeat of ISIS, Syria is still in political turmoil after years of civil war.    More than five million Syrians fled to nearby countries since the start of the war seven-years ago.    A UN expert said even though violence is down in Syria, many refugees are not returning home because of ongoing crimes against humanity.
    France, Germany, and the U.K. confirmed they won’t help rebuild Syria until a political transition is underway.    For many Syrians the war is not over, even though ISIS is nearly defeated.

3/1/2019 Graft accusation piles pressure on Israel’s Netanyahu as election looms by Stephen Farrell and Dan Williams
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in his
residency in Jerusalem February 28, 2019 REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Opposition protesters waved black flags outside Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Friday, sensing vulnerability in the Israeli prime minister weeks before an election where he will face the shadow of corruption charges as well as a surging new rival.
    Aiming for a fifth term on April 9 that would make him Israel’s longest-serving premier, Netanyahu is already playing catch-up.    A poll issued on Friday gave his right-wing Likud party 29 seats, behind the 38 predicted for Blue and White, a new centrist alliance led by the charismatic former general Benny Gantz.
    That survey was taken before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday that he planned to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli radio he was “confident that Netanyahu will continue being able to contend with pressure of whatever kind,” noting that the previous Likud leader, Ariel Sharon, had won an election in 2003 despite a graft scandal.
    But one of the Labour party flag-wavers, Alon Visser, said: “It is a black day for the citizens of Israel.    We are all ashamed of our prime minister and we are calling him with one big voice: Please resign from your office.”
    Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting $264,000-worth of gifts from tycoons, and dispensing favours in an attempt to secure positive coverage in a newspaper and on a website.
    He denies any wrongdoing, but could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery.    However, charges cannot be filed until Netanyahu has been given a chance to address a hearing – which is unlikely to happen before the election.
    In the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, social worker Coral Kala, 24, said she had not been surprised by Mandelblit’s announcement: “I think everyone was expecting this to happen.”
    But others echoed the position of Netanyahu, widely known as Bibi, that the political and media elites are against him.
    “I think that Bibi did a wonderful job,” said Tzipi Amit, 44, from Petah Tikva.
    “All the news and reporters want to hurt him and they are not fair to him … All of us are people, all of us make mistakes.” (Writing by Dan Williams and Stephen Farrell; Additional reporting by Rahaf Ruby in Ramat Gan and Rami Amichay in Jerusalem; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/1/2019 Turkey, U.S. discussing Patriot systems sale: Turkish foreign minister
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference with his Tunisian
counterpart Khemaies Jhinaoui in Tunis, Tunisia December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and the U.S. are negotiating Washington’s offer to sell a Patriot missile defense system to Ankara, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday.
    Cavusoglu’s comments were carried by state-owned Anadolu news agency after Bloomberg reported that Turkey had rejected a U.S. proposal to deliver a Patriot missile system by the end of the year.
    While offering the Patriots to Turkey, the U.S. has warned its NATO ally against buying a Russian missile defense system, saying it cannot be integrated into the NATO air defenses.    President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey remains committed to the Russian deal.
    U.S. officials have said that if Turkey proceeds with the S-400 purchase, Washington would withdraw its offer to sell a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co Patriot missile package, and could block the sale of fighter jets to Turkey and impose sanctions.
    The United States “said they could sell Patriots, and the delegations are negotiating,” Cavusoglu said.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans).

3/1/2019 Tens of thousands of Algerians call on Bouteflika to step down by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
Anti-riot police officers detain a man who was protesting against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to extend his
20-year rule by seeking a fifth term in April elections in Algiers, Algeria, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people in cities across Algeria called on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to leave office on Friday in the country’s biggest anti-government demonstrations since the Arab Spring eight years ago.
    The protests were mostly peaceful but as crowds receded by late afternoon, scuffles broke out in the capital Algiers between police and protesters near the presidential palace, witnesses said.
    One person died, according to a local official.    Local media said it was a 60-year-old man who suffered a heart attack.
    Several protesters and policemen were wounded during clashes in Algiers, state television said.    News website TSA put the number of wounded at 63, citing official figures.    It said 45 people were detained.
    A sea of demonstrators, young and old, had thronged the streets after Friday prayers, chanting “Bye, bye Bouteflika!” and “Peaceful! Peaceful!”    Many were draped in the Algerian flag and carried placards and banners.
    Large scale demonstrations – rarely seen in Algeria – against plans for Bouteflika to seek a fifth term in power in April elections began a week ago, but Friday saw the biggest turnout yet.
    The 81-year-old suffered a stroke in 2013 and has been seen in public only a few times since.    His re-election bid stoked resentment among Algerians who believe he is not fit to lead.
    “Look at the Algerian youth, all they are demanding is a valid president who can talk to the people,” said Hamdane Salim, a 45-year-old public sector worker.    “Twenty years are enough,” said Khadidja, a woman accompanied by her husband and children.
    Among the crowd was Djamila Bouhired, 83, a heroine of the 1954-1962 independence war against France, who told reporters: “I’m happy to be here.”
    After hours of marching, many protesters began walking home but some stayed on, dancing and singing.
    “This is a celebration, not a protest.    We are celebrating Algeria’s rebirth,” said Ali Selmi.    “It’s like the end of a football match and Algeria won 3-0.”
    Mohammed Saadi, another young man, said: “Our battle will continue until we win.”
    Reuters TV footage from later showed police in riot gear and protesters facing off on a street near the presidential palace swathed in tear gas.    Witnesses said clashes caused injuries on both sides.
    Large crowds also gathered in the cities of Oran, Constantine, Setif, Tizi Ouzou and Bouira, residents and local media said.
    Bouteflika, who will turn 82 on Saturday, has not directly addressed the protests.    The authorities said last week he would travel to Geneva for unspecified medical checks, although there was no official confirmation he had traveled.
    Local television stations reported the protests but there was no live coverage.    State television and the official news agency APS both provided rare coverage of the march which they said had been largely peaceful.
    State media had on Tuesday started covering the dissent after journalist employees pressured management.
ARAB SPRING
    Many Algerians for years avoided politics in public fearing trouble from the omnipresent security services or disillusioned as the country has been run by the same group of veterans since the 1954-1962 independence war with France.
    There appeared to be few such inhibitions on Friday.
    “People want to overthrow the regime,” some protesters chanted, using a slogan from the 2011 “Arab spring” turmoil which toppled leaders in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
    Bouteflika himself has ruled since 1999 and stamped out a decade-long Islamist insurgency early in his rule.    Many Algerians have long tolerated a political system with little space for dissent as a price to pay for peace and stability.
    But the new protest wave appears to have broken the long taboo on public discussion of politics.
    According to Bouteflika’s opponents, there is no evidence he is fit enough to lead the country and that it is being ruled in his name by advisers.    Authorities say he retains a firm grip on public affairs despite the rarity of his appearances.
    A weak and divided opposition faces high hurdles in mounting an electoral challenge.    Since the long-ruling FLN party again picked Bouteflika as its presidential candidate, several parties, trade unions and business groups have endorsed him.
    Lower oil prices in recent years have damaged Algeria’s economy, rekindling discontent and making it more difficult to buy off dissent, as in 2011, when authorities expanded a welfare state.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi, Hamid Ould Ahmed, Zohra Bensemra, Abdelaziz Boumzar, Tarek Amara and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by William Maclean, Raissa Kasolowsky and Daniel Wallis)

3/1/2019 Saudi Arabia strips Osama bin Laden’s son of citizenship
A photograph circulated by the U.S. State Department’s Twitter account to announce a $1 million USD reward for al Qaeda
key leader Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, is seen March 1, 2019. State Department/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has stripped citizenship from Hamza bin Laden, the son of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the interior ministry said in a statement published by the official gazette.
    The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it was offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading “to the identification or location in any country” of Hamza, calling him a key al Qaeda leader.
    Hamza, believed to be about 30 years old, was at his father’s side in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks and spent time with him in Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan pushed much of al Qaeda’s senior leadership there, according to the Brookings Institution.
    Introduced by the organization’s new chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message in 2015, Hamza provides a younger voice for the group whose aging leaders have struggled to inspire militants around the world galvanized by Islamic State, analysts say.
    He has called for acts of terrorism in Western capitals and threatened to take revenge against the United States for his father’s killing, the State Department said in 2017 when it designated him as a global terrorist.
    He also threatened to target Americans abroad and urged Saudi tribes to unite with Yemen’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to fight against Saudi Arabia, it said.
    Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces who raided his compound in Pakistan in 2011.    Hamza was thought to be under house arrest in Iran at the time, and documents recovered from the compound indicated that aides had been trying to reunite him with his father.
    The Saudi decision to strip him of his citizenship was made by a royal order in November, according to a statement published in the Um al-Qura official journal.
(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Andrew Heavens)

3/2/2019 Islamic State faces final territorial defeat in eastern Syria battle by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO - A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile phone to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military
parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    OUTSKIRTS OF BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Islamic State faces final territorial defeat as the U.S.-backed Syrian force battling the jihadists said on Saturday it was closing in on the jihadists’ last bastion near the Iraqi border, capping four years of efforts to roll back the group.
    While the fall of Baghouz, an eastern Syrian village on the bank of the Euphrates River, would mark a milestone in a global campaign against Islamic State (IS), they remain a threat, using guerrilla tactics and holding some desolate land further west.
    An array of enemies, both local and international, confronted IS after it declared a modern-day “caliphate” in 2014 across large swathes of territory it had seized in lightning offensives in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
    Thousands of IS fighters, followers and civilians, who had retreated to Baghouz as the group was gradually driven out of those lands, have poured out of the tiny cluster of hamlets and farmlands in Deir al-Zor province over the last few weeks.
    Their evacuation held up the final assault until Friday evening when the SDF said it had advanced and would not stop until the jihadists were defeated.
    “We expect it to be over soon,” Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told Reuters shortly after sunrise.    He said the SDF were advancing on two fronts using medium and heavy weaponry.
    IS responded with drones and rockets, and seven SDF fighters have been wounded so far, said commander Adnan Afrin.
    The SDF has previously estimated several hundred IS insurgents – believed mostly to be foreigners – to be still in Baghouz, and the U.S.-led international coalition has described them as the “most hardened” militants.
    The SDF’s final advance was slowed for weeks by the jihadists’ extensive use of tunnels and human shields.    It has not ruled out the possibility that some militants have crept out, hidden among civilians.
COMPLICATED SITUATION
    When reporters arrived at the village outskirts around midday, columns of smoke could be seen rising from inside but the scene appeared calm.    Warplanes hovered in the sky, but no air strikes were observed.
    A spokesman for the coalition, which supports the Kurdish-led SDF, said it was too early to assess the battle’s progress “as it is a complicated situation with many variables.”
    The SDF commander-in-chief said on Thursday that his force would declare victory within a week.    He was later contradicted by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said the SDF had retaken 100 percent of the territory once held by IS.
    Washington has about 2,000 troops in Syria, mainly to support the SDF in fighting IS.    Trump announced in December he would withdraw all of them, but the White House partially reversed itself last month, saying some 400 troops would stay.
    Some 40,000 people bearing various nationalities have left the jihadists’ diminishing territory in the last three months as the SDF sought to oust the militants from remaining pockets.
    The number of evacuees streaming out of Baghouz surpassed initial estimates of how many were inside.    Afrin told Reuters on Thursday that many of the people leaving the enclave had been sheltering underground in caves and tunnels.
    An 27-year-old Indonesian widow who emerged on Friday said she would have liked to stay in IS territory but conceded that conditions had become untenable.
    “I have no money, I have no food for my baby, no medicine, nothing for my baby, so I must go out,” she told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Issam Abdullah; Writing by Stephen Kalin and Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/2/2019 Wounded and alone, children emerge from last Islamic State enclave by Ellen Francis
Hareth Najem, an Iraqi orphan lies under a blanket in a truck, near the village of
Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 1, 2019. Picture taken March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Hareth Najem fled Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria wounded and alone.    The Iraqi orphan’s family had died two years earlier in air strikes across the border in al-Qaim region.
    “I had two brothers and a sister.    They all died, and then I was by myself,” Hareth told Reuters, tears filling his eyes.    “i>My little sister, I loved her a lot.    I used to take her with me to the market.”
    Lying in a cattle truck beside another injured boy at a desert transit point for U.S.-backed forces, he huddled under a blanket.    His face was covered in dirt and the side of his head wrapped with bandages covering wounds incurred days earlier.
    Hareth was 11 years old when Islamic State (IS) carved out its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, killing thousands of civilians and attracting an array of enemies that have fought from the air and on the ground to uproot the jihadists.
    Now 16, he was among the children swept up this week in the civilian evacuation of Baghouz, the last shred of land under the jihadists’ control where they are on the brink of defeat at the hands of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
    Some of the children are foreigners whose parents brought them to be raised under IS rule, or child fighters conscripted into what the group dubbed “cubs of the caliphate.”    Others, including members of the Yazidi minority, were enslaved by the jihadists.
    Many have seen their parents die in the fighting or be detained by rival forces.    As IS faces territorial defeat, their fate remains uncertain.    The SDF investigates all men and teenage boys arriving from Baghouz to determine possible IS links.
‘THESE KIDS HAVE NOBODY’
    Around 20 children crossed the frontline on their own this week, including Iraqis, Syrians, Turks and Indonesians, said SDF commander Adnan Afrin.    The fathers of some were identified as IS fighters and arrested immediately.
    “These kids have nobody.    They need somebody to take care of them, to provide mental health support,” said Afrin, adding that some had gone hungry for a long time.    The SDF plans to hand over the children to aid groups, he said.
    Hareth said his family had been running a market stall when IS overran their town and they had no links to the group.
    After his family was killed in an aerial bombardment, he crossed into Syria with other Iraqis who feared Shi’ite Muslim militias advancing against IS would take revenge on Sunnis – a fear that other Iraqis have cited as their reason for entering IS-held Syria.
    Hareth said he tried to avoid the jihadists and denies attending their schools or receiving military training.    Their morality police would sometimes arrest and whip him.
    “They gave speeches at the mosques, jihad and whatnot,” he said. “I was scared of them. My whole family died because of them.”
    When he reached Baghouz, he worked in a field in return for a room to sleep in.    He tried saving enough money to go home, but said the militants stopped him.
    Hareth was wounded last week when a shell fell near where he was standing along the Euphrates River, injuring his ear, hand and stomach.    He wants to get medical care and return to relatives still in Iraq.
    “I want to go look for them … When I get better and my body recovers, when I can walk,” he said.    “I want to go back, to become a young man again, to build a future again.”
(Editing by Tom Perry and David Holmes)

3/2/2019 Yazidis freed from Islamic State captivity in Syria, returned to Iraq
Yazidi children survivors are greeted by residents of Sinuni following their release from
Islamic State militants in Syria, in Sinuni, Iraq March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Fahed Khodor
    SINUNI, Iraq (Reuters) – A group of Yazidi women and children returned to Iraq from Syria on Friday after more than four years in Islamic State captivity.
    The group includes three women and 18 children, witnesses told Reuters.    They were greeted by residents of Sinuni, a Yazidi town north of Sinjar mountain.
    The group’s return was confirmed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) office which helps return missing Yazidis.    An official said his office had helped in efforts to bring the group back home.
    The women and children returned to Iraq more than four years after Islamic State militants launched an assault on Sinjar, the Yazidi heartland, on Aug. 3, 2014.
    The militants shot, beheaded, burned alive or kidnapped more than 9,000 members of the minority religion, in what the United Nations has called a genocidal campaign against them.    According to community leaders, more than 3,000 Yazidis remain unaccounted for.
(Reporting by Reuters pictures and Ari Jalal in Dohuk; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

3/2/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will cut inflation rate to 6-7 percent
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming
local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey’s inflation rate would fall to 6 or 7 percent from the current 19-20 percent but did not clarify how he aims to reach the goal.
    Delivering an election campaign speech in the northeastern city of Rize, Erdogan did not specify a timeline for his anti-inflation plan but appeared to be speaking about the period after local polls on March 31.
    “The Turkish central bank’s foreign exchange reserve was 100 billion dollars (when we took office),” Erdogan said.    “We will go further as our central bank is strengthening again.    The inflation rate will fall back to 6 to 7 percent.    An inflation rate of 19 to 20 percent does not suit us.”
    Annual inflation stood just above 20 percent in January and data on Monday is expected to show a slight decline to 19.9 percent in February, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday.
    Political uncertainty and investor concern over Erdogan’s monetary policy drove a sell-off in the Turkish lira in 2018, causing the currency to fall nearly 30 percent against the dollar and pushing inflation to more than 25 percent in October.
    Inflation has been persistently high since, but has held below the policy rate, which the central bank hiked 6.25 percentage points to 24 percent in September.
(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Ros Russell)

3/2/2019 183 injured in Algeria protests: state news agency
Police officers try to disperse people trying to reach the government palace during a protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's
plan to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a fifth term in April elections in Algiers, Algeria, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – A total of 183 people were injured during protests across Algeria on Friday against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for election to a fifth term, the state news agency APS said on Saturday, citing the health ministry.
    One person died of a heart attack, officials said earlier.
    Tens of thousands of protesters called on the ailing, 82-year-old Bouteflika to abandon plans to seek re-election in an April presidential vote — Algeria’s biggest anti-government rallies since the Arab Spring eight years ago.
    He has not formally confirmed he will stand, although representatives have indicated he will do so.    APS reported on Saturday that Bouteflika had named Abdelghani Zaalane as his campaign director.
    Friday’s protests were mostly peaceful but scuffles between police and protesters broke out in the evening near the presidential place in the capital Algiers.
    Algiers was quiet on Saturday.
    Large-scale demonstrations — rarely seen in Algeria with its ubiquitous security services — against Bouteflika’s re-election move began a week ago, but Friday saw the biggest turnout yet.
    Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 and has been seen in public only a few times since.    His re-election bid stoked resentment among Algerians who believe he is not fit to run the major oil- and gas-producing country.
    Bouteflika’s campaign manager had said on Tuesday he would submit his official application on Sunday, the deadline for candidates.    Bouteflika, who turned 82 on Saturday, has not directly addressed the protests.
    Authorities said last week he would travel to Geneva for unspecified medical checks. Swiss television said on Friday Bouteflika was at Geneva University Hospital.    There was no official confirmation that Bouteflika was in the Swiss city.
    Many Algerians for years avoided politics in public, fearing trouble from the security services or disillusioned as the country has been run by the same group of veterans since the 1954-1962 independence war with France.
    Bouteflika has ruled since 1999 and stamped out a decade-long Islamist insurgency early in his rule.    Algerians have long tolerated a political system with little space for dissent as a price to pay for peace and stability.
    A weak and divided opposition faces high hurdles in mounting an electoral challenge.    Since the FLN party again picked Bouteflika as its presidential candidate, several parties, trade unions and business groups have endorsed him.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Hesham Hajali; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Catherine Evans)

3/2/2019 Sudanese opposition party leader calls on Bashir to step down
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi addresses his supporters after he returned from nearly
a year in self-imposed exile in Khartoum, Sudan December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Sudan’s main opposition party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi on Saturday called on President Omar al-Bashir to step down and sit with the opposition to agree on details of a transitional process to end the nation’s crisis, a statement from his party said.
    “You can achieve a safe exit for the country which will be appreciated by the Sudanese people and history and will transform the deep polarization into national unity and international isolation into international cooperation,” the statement said.
    The call comes after a week of successive measures aimed at combating an unprecedented wave of protests threatening Bashir’s three-decade rule, including declaring a nationwide state of emergency and sacking the governors of Sudan’s 18 states and replacing them with military and security officials.
    The statement also called on Bashir to end the state of emergency, end torture and release all political prisoners.
    Protests in Sudan, initially over high bread prices, have taken place nearly every day since Dec. 19 and developed into the most sustained challenge that Bashir has faced.
(Reporting by Hesham Hajali; Writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

3/3/2019 U.S.-backed force expects ‘decisive battle’ against Islamic State by Issam Abdallah
Fire from fighting is seen in Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 3, 2019. Picture taken with a long exposure. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – The U.S.-backed Syrian force closing in on the last patch of Islamic State (IS) territory near the Iraqi border expects a “decisive battle” on Sunday after advancing gradually, a spokesman said overnight.
    Capturing Baghouz, an eastern Syrian village on the bank of the Euphrates River, will be a milestone in international efforts to roll back the jihadists, whose self-declared “caliphate” covered roughly one third of Syria and Iraq at its height in 2014.     But it is universally accepted that the group, which has been in territorial retreat since then and suffered its major defeats in 2017, will remain a security threat as an insurgent force with sleeper cells and some desolate pockets of territory.
    Thousands of fighters, followers and civilians had retreated to a tiny cluster of hamlets and farmland in Deir al-Zor province as IS territory shriveled.    Over the last few weeks, they have poured out, holding up the final assault.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) clashed with IS for nearly 18 hours inside Baghouz after extricating the remaining civilians and resuming their assault on Friday evening, Marvan Qamishlo, an SDF military media official, told Reuters.
    “Our forces are advancing at a slow pace to avoid any problems since Daesh (IS) mined the area very extensively.    Thousands of mines are present along the roads in that small patch,” he said on a hill overlooking Baghouz.
    The jihadists still holed up there are mostly foreigners who are using tunnels to hide and launch surprise attacks, Qamishlo said.
    “We expect a decisive battle in the morning.”
    IS has lost virtually all its Syrian territory including Raqqa to a military campaign by Kurdish and Arab groups in the north supported by the United States, and also to the Syrian army, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite Muslim militias.
    Washington has about 2,000 troops in Syria, mainly to back the SDF against IS.    President Donald Trump announced in December he would withdraw all of them, but the White House partially reversed itself last month, saying some 400 troops would stay.
(For a graphic on Control of Syrian communities, see – https://tmsnrt.rs/2ti4MxM)
MOST HARDENED” MILITANTS"
    After declaring a modern-day caliphate across large swathes of territory it had seized in flash offensives in Syria and neighboring Iraq, IS attracted thousands of foreigners to live under its rule and defend its realm.
    Some 40,000 people bearing various nationalities have left the jihadists’ diminishing territory in the last three months as the SDF sought to oust the militants from remaining pockets.
    The number of evacuees streaming out of Baghouz surpassed initial estimates of how many were inside.    An SDF commander told Reuters on Thursday that many of the people leaving the enclave had been sheltering underground in caves and tunnels.
    The SDF has previously estimated several hundred IS insurgents to be inside, and the U.S.-led international coalition supporting the SDF has described them as the “most hardened” militants.
    The SDF’s final advance was slowed for weeks by the jihadists’ extensive use of tunnels and human shields.    It has not ruled out the possibility that some militants have crept out, hidden among civilians.
    The SDF commander-in-chief said on Thursday that his force would declare victory within a week.    He was later contradicted by Trump, who said U.S.-backed forces had retaken 100 percent of the territory once held by IS.
(Reporting by Issam Abdulah; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Tom Perry and Mark Heinrich)

3/4/2019 Attack slows on Islamic State Syria pocket to save civilians: official
Plumes of smoke rise in Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S.-backed forces are slowing down their offensive against the last Islamic State pocket in eastern Syria to protect civilians who remain there, a spokesman for a militia force said on Monday, adding that the battle would still “be over soon.”
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) faced landmines, car bombs, tunnel ambushes and suicide attacks on Sunday as they attempted to overrun the last area in the village of Baghouz held by the jihadists.
    Over the past few weeks its assault has been held up as tens of thousands of people fled Baghouz, all that remained to the group of its main territory in Iraq and Syria after years of retreats including a series of major defeats in 2017.
    The SDF resumed the attack on Friday evening after saying it had extracted the remaining civilians.    However, the head of the SDF media office, Mustafa Bali, said on Twitter early on Monday that some civilians were still there.
    “We’re slowing down the offensive in Baghouz due to a small number of civilians held as human shields by Daesh,” he said, referring to Islamic State.
    While the capture of Baghouz would mark a milestone in the fight against Islamic State, the group is expected to remain a security threat as an insurgent force with sleeper cells and some pockets of remote territory.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/4/2019 Car rams into Israeli troops, Palestinian attackers killed: military
Israeli forces gather at the scene of an incident near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Three Palestinians deliberately drove a car into Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank on Monday and two of the attackers were shot dead after critically injuring an officer, the Israeli military said.
    The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the two men were shot in cold blood in “a brutal execution.”
    Describing the incident as a car-ramming, the military said a third Palestinian in the vehicle was wounded after the troops opened fire.
    Palestinians, many of them individuals without known associations with militant groups, carried out a wave of car-rammings in the West Bank in late 2015 and 2016, but the frequency of such incidents has since decreased.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
    In Monday’s incident, the military said the soldiers were targeted after they had stopped their own vehicle on the roadside at night about 10 km (six miles) northwest of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, the military said.    Israeli media reported their car had broken down.
    Soldiers fired at the Palestinian car after the ramming, killing two of its occupants, a military spokeswoman said.
    In addition to the Israeli officer who was seriously hurt, a soldier was slightly injured, the military said.
    Later, the military said in a separate statement that just prior to the attack, Palestinians in the car had thrown firebombs at an Israeli checkpoint and that additional Molotov cocktails had been found in the vehicle.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/4/2019 Qatar says still studying Russian defense system
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint news conference with Venezuela's Vice President
Delcy Rodriguez in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    DOHA (Reuters) – Qatar said on Monday it was still studying the purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile air defense system, adding the potential deal — reportedly opposed by Saudi Arabia — was none of Riyadh’s business.
    Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani also said there was no sign of a thaw in a Gulf row over allegations by Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states that Qatar supports terrorism.    Doha denies the charges.
    “There is a discussion for procurement of various Russian equipment but there is no understanding as of yet as to this particular equipment (S-400),” Sheikh Mohammed told a joint news conference with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
    “With regards to Saudi or other countries it is none of their business, it’s a sovereign decision by Qatar,” he said, adding that a technical committee was studying the best options for the tiny but wealthy country’s military.
    The minister was responding to a question about a report last June by France’s Le Monde daily that Saudi King Salman had sent a letter to France’s president expressing concern over talks between Doha and Moscow about the S-400 systems.
    Sheikh Mohammed said discussions with Lavrov, who is in Doha on the first stop of a Gulf tour, also covered Syria and Libya.
    He reiterated that Doha was not yet ready to normalize ties with Syria, saying the war-damaged country must have a political solution and leadership elected by its people. He also called for unity in Libya.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht in Doha and Asma Alsharif in Dubia; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

3/4/2019 Qatar says no decision yet on Russian missile defense system
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during the annual
Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    DOHA (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign minister said no decision has been made yet on Qatar purchasing a Russian S-400 missile defense system, a potential deal that has reportedly drawn opposition from Saudi Arabia.
    “There is a discussion for procurement of various Russian equipment but there is no understanding as of yet as to this particular (equipment, S-400),” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a joint news conference with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
(Reporting By Eric Knecht, Editing by William Maclean)

3/4/2019 U.S. Palestinian mission in Jerusalem to merge with Israel embassy on Monday by Matt Spetalnick
A man walks next to a road sign directing to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians, will be absorbed into the new U.S. Embassy to Israel on Monday, the State Department said, a planned merger that has angered Palestinian leadership.
    The decision to create a single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem was announced last October by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and had been widely expected for early March. The State Department announcement on Sunday gave the official date for the move.     The planned merger has raised Palestinians’ fears that the Trump administration is downgrading the handling of their concerns in the disputed city of Jerusalem, home to sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
    U.S. President Donald Trump outraged the Arab world and stoked international criticism by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv last May.
    Palestinian leaders suspended diplomatic contacts with the U.S. administration after the embassy move and have since boycotted U.S. efforts to craft a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, accusing Washington of pro-Israel bias.
    The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is the top mission for Palestinians, who with broad international backing seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
    State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the decision was driven by operational efficiency and there would be “complete continuity of U.S. diplomatic activity and consular services.”
    “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank or the Gaza Strip,” he said in a statement.    “The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”
    When Pompeo announced the merger plan last autumn, senior Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat denounced the decision to eliminate the consulate as the latest evidence the Trump administration was working with Israel to impose a “Greater Israel” rather than a two-state solution.
    The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.
    Israel regards the entire city, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed, as its “eternal and indivisible capital,” but that is not recognized internationally.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Mike Stone; Editing by Peter Cooney)

3/4/2019 Netanyahu: Israel, Russia to cooperate on foreign troop exit from Syria by OAN Newsroom
    Israel’s prime minister recently recapped his trip to Russia with assurances President Vladimir Putin shares his goal of getting all foreign troops out of Syria.
    Benjamin Netanyahu made those comments on Sunday after visiting Moscow for talks on Iran’s presence in Syria.    The Jewish leader said     Iran is the biggest threat in the Middle East, and reiterated his stance that Israel will not allow Iran to have a permanent military presence so close to its borders.
    This comes after Israel acknowledged carrying out several air strikes on Iranian military targets inside Syria in the past months.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in
Jerusalem, Sunday, March 3, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP)
    Putin pledged his help in getting all foreign troops out of Syria.
    “President Putin and I also agreed on a shared goal — the removal from Syria of the foreign forces that came in after the civil war erupted,” stated Netanyahu.    “We agreed to set up a joint task force which, together with others, will work to advance toward this goal.”
    Israel said it will continue to carry out strikes.    However, officials are saying there will now be an Israeli-Russia hot line, so the two countries don’t accidentally clash in Syrian air space.

3/4/2019 Flag comes down on U.S. Palestinian mission in Jerusalem by Dan Williams
An American flag flutters at the premises of the former United States Consulate General in Jerusalem March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States lowered the flag on Monday at the Jerusalem consulate that had served as its diplomatic channel to the Palestinians, merging the mission with the new U.S Embassy to Israel in the contested city.
    The Palestinians, who have boycotted the Trump administration since it shifted long-standing U.S. policy in December 2017 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, voiced anger at what they see as Washington’s latest move against them.
    Whereas previously the consulate reported on Palestinian matters directly to Washington, its staff have now been repurposed in the embassy as a “Palestinian Affairs Unit” under the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
    “This is the last nail in the coffin” of peacemaking, veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Twitter.
    Israeli-Palestinian talks collapsed in 2014 and the White House says it intends to present a new peace plan after a national election in Israel in April.
    Israel deems all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as its undivided capital.
    Washington has avoided such language, however, signaling that the final status of the city should be negotiated by the sides.
    Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of a state they seek in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
    The European Union’s latest report on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, released last month, said continued expansion had made the chances of a two-state solution with Jerusalam as the capital of both “increasingly unattainable.”
    Building of new houses had continued at an unprecedented rate in the second half of 2018, opening the way for more Israelis to move in, the report said.
LOW KEY
    At the ornate consulate on Agron Street in downtown Jerusalem, the flag ceremony was kept low key under gray winter skies.    Friedman, who helped spearhead May’s relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to a different converted consular building in south Jerusalem, was not present.
    U.S. officials said the Stars and Stripes banner was taken down and presented to departing consul Karen Sasahara as a farewell gift, in keeping with foreign service custom, after which another U.S. flag was run up.
    The U.S. State Department said the merger was driven by operational efficiency and did not signal any change in policy.
    “Our work and our team will continue to work on reaching peace in this land,” Sasahara said on YouTube.
    U.S. officials told Reuters last month that the Agron street building, immediately upon consulate operations ending, would serve as the ambassador’s official residence.
    But that plan appeared to have slowed.    On Monday, the consulate plaque had been removed from the building facade, leaving a blank space.
    The U.S. consulate in Jerusalem had dated back 175 years, to when the city – holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims – was under Ottoman rule.
(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)

3/4/2019 Algerian students protest against Bouteflika offer to shorten new term in power by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: Students protest against Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a
fifth term in April elections, at a university in Algiers, Algeria, March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Students determined to pursue Algeria’s biggest anti-government protests in years boycotted classes on Monday to denounce an offer by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run in elections next month but not to serve a full term if re-elected.
    Hundreds staged small demonstrations in several cities outside the capital, footage posted online showed, continuing almost two weeks of marches and rallies against the 82-year-old leader’s intent to seek a fifth term.
    Bouteflika’s offer, made on Sunday, appeared aimed at taking the steam out of youthful opposition to his 20-year rule and shore up an establishment dominated by aging revolutionary stalwarts of the 1954-62 independence war against France.
    A former Algerian government minister resigned as a lawmaker and member of the ruling FLN party on Monday, a rare sign of discontent within an elite coming under unprecedented pressure.
    Sidi Ferroukhi, who has served as agriculture minister, did not address Bouteflika in a Facebook statement, saying only that Algeria was going through exceptional circumstances and change.
    A group of opposition leaders and political activists called for a postponement of the election.
    Bouteflika’s political survival may hinge on how the elite, made up of members of his FLN party, the military and business tycoons – react if protests keep growing.
    His opponents say he is no longer fit to lead, citing his ill health and what they call chronic corruption and a lack of economic reforms.    The president, rarely seen in public since a stroke in 2013, appeared in a wheelchair in Algiers in April last year but is now reported to be in a Swiss hospital.
    Shops were open in Algiers on Monday but students did not show up for classes at Bab Ezzouar University in Algiers, the biggest in the oil-producing North African country.
    Several other university campuses in Algiers were deserted.
    “We are not going to study.    This is a decision we have taken yesterday,” Amina, a 21-year-old student, told Reuters.
    “Together we are the world and the system is nothing,” a said a message posted by activists on social media.
    Bouteflika’s campaign manager said on Sunday that the president would run in the April 18 election, defying calls for him to quit at the end of his current term.
    The announcement, read out by Abdelghani Zaalane on Bouteflika’s behalf, said the president pledged that if he won he would organize a national conference to discuss reforms and then call early elections in which he would not run.    Ennahar TV said the fresh vote would be held within a year.
OPPOSITION FRAGMENTED
    Hundreds of students marched in Blida, about 40 km (25 miles) south of Algiers, shouting, “No new term, no new term!
    Security forces have sought to contain protests but there was no sign of the military.
    Algiers residents who spoke to Reuters said they were disappointed by Bouteflika’s decision.
    “How come Bouteflika asks for one more year?    There is nothing in the constitution that allows this,” said Maziane Ali, a 50-year-old owner of a fast food restaurant.
    Tens of thousands of protesters rallied on Sunday in cities around Algeria in the largest protests since the 2011 Arab Spring, calling on Bouteflika not to submit election papers.    Zaalane filed the papers late that evening.
    Despite the challenge to Bouteflika posed by the generally peaceful protests, analysts say the demonstrators lack a leader and the opposition is fragmented and disorganized.
    Algeria dodged the Arab Spring revolutions that toppled leaders in neighboring countries largely because officials calmed dissent by increasing spending.
    Algerians generally tolerated a political system that left little room for dissent as a price to pay for stability after a nearly decade-long civil war in the 1990s that killed an estimated 200,000 people.
    But discontent has simmered as falling global prices for oil and gas hit the economy in recent years: living standards are poor and more than a quarter of people under 30 are unemployed.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by William Maclean/Mark Heinrich)

3/4/2019 Algeria’s Bouteflika: from revolutionary to ailing recluse by Lamine Chikhi
FILE PHOTO: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a veteran of the war for independence who has ruled Algeria for two decades, is again fighting for survival, this time facing a wave of protests by crowds angry at his plans to seek a fifth term of office.
    Bouteflika, 82, has rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013.    He appeared in a wheelchair in Algiers in April last year but is now reported to be in a Swiss hospital.
    Nonetheless he is standing in next month’s election, aiming to extend his dominance of a country still struggling with economic and political stagnation under a system little reformed since independence from France in 1962.
    An offer to call new elections within a year if he wins on April 18 was greeted by a fresh bout of anti-government protest in Algiers and other cities.
    A fighter in the 1954-1962 war to end French colonial rule, Bouteflika became the first foreign minister of his newly independent country and one of the forces behind the Non-Aligned Movement that gave a global voice to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
    Bouteflika championed post-colonial states, challenged what he saw as the hegemony of the United States and helped turned his country into a seed-bed of 1960s idealism.
    He welcomed Che Guevara.    Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, on the run from U.S. police, was given refuge.    Cleaver held court in his Algiers safe house with Timothy Leary, the drug-taking high priest of U.S. counter-culture
.
    A young Nelson Mandela got his first military training in Algeria, whose revolution inspired the South African.
    As president of the U.N. General Assembly, Bouteflika invited Yasser Arafat to address the body in 1974, a historic step toward international recognition of the Palestinian cause.
    By the end of the 1970s, though, Bouteflika had fallen from favor at home and went into exile.    He returned to public life when Algeria was being ravaged by a conflict with Islamist militants which killed an estimated 200,000 people.
    First elected president in 1999, he negotiated a truce to end the fighting and wrested power from the secretive military-based establishment known as “le pouvoir” (the power).
    Helped by oil and gas revenues, Algeria became more peaceful and richer.    But it remains mired in corruption and political and economic torpor in a region where uprisings brought changes in neighboring countries.
    With a hefty cushion of foreign reserves at its disposal and its people wary of major upheaval after their civil war, Algeria avoided the Arab spring revolutions that toppled leaders across the region in 2011.
    But protests against poor living standards, the lack of job opportunities and services are common, and foreign investors are keen for economic reforms that will cut the red tape that often hampers business.
THIRD WORLD’S SPOKESMAN
    Some biographers say Bouteflika was born in Tlemcen, western Algeria, and others give his place of birth as Oujda, just over the border in Morocco.
    At the age of 19, he joined the rebellion against French rule as a protege of Houari Boumediene, a commander who would later become Algerian president.
    After independence, Bouteflika became minister for youth and tourism at the age of 25.    The following year he was made foreign minister.
    Dressed in the tailored suits and sunglasses fashionable in the 1960s, Bouteflika became a spokesman for states emerging from colonial rule.    The cachet Algeria earned from defeating France lent him added authority.
    Bouteflika demanded that Communist China be given a seat in the United Nations.    He railed against apartheid rule in South Africa.
    The invitation to Arafat to address the General Assembly was explosive.    Only two years before, Palestinian gunmen took hostage and killed members of the Israeli team at the Olympic Games in Munich.    Bouteflika watched from the chairman’s dais as Arafat, a gun holster on his waistband, addressed the assembly in New York.
    When pro-Palestinian militant Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as “i>Carlos the Jackal/i>,”, kidnapped oil ministers from an OPEC meeting in Vienna in 1975, he demanded to be flown with his hostages to Algiers.    Bouteflika was shown on camera embracing     Carlos at the airport before they sat down to negotiate the hostages’ release.
RETURN FROM EXILE
    When Boumediene died in 1978, Bouteflika lost his mentor.    He was replaced as foreign minister and an investigation was launched into financial impropriety.    Bouteflika said the allegations were invented as part of a political plot.
    He left Algeria in the early 1980s and settled in Dubai, where he became an adviser to a member of the emirate’s ruling family.    He returned home in 1987 but kept a low profile, refusing offers of government posts.
    In the meantime, Algeria was unraveling.    The military-backed government annulled a parliamentary election in 1992 which Islamists had been poised to win.    In the conflict that followed, whole villages were massacred and civilians walking in city streets had their throats slit.
    Bouteflika, backed by the military, was elected president in 1999 with a pledge to stop the fighting.    Against fierce opposition from the establishment, he gave an amnesty to militants who laid down their arms.    The violence declined dramatically.
    He won re-election in 2004 and again in 2009, although his opponents said the votes were rigged.    Through a series of ferocious turf battles with his security forces behind the scenes, Bouteflika had, by the start of his third term, become Algerian’s most powerful president in 30 years.
    He consolidated that power last year by dismissing about a dozen top military officers.
    Little is known about his private life. Official records mention no wife, though some accounts say a marriage took place in 1990.    Bouteflika lived with his mother, Mansouriah, in an apartment in Algiers, where she used to prepare his meals.
    Age and poor health caught up with him. French doctors operated on him in 2005 for what officials said was a stomach ulcer.    Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables said he was suffering from cancer. He became weaker after his mother died in 2009.
    Bouteflika said in a speech in Setif, in eastern Algeria, in May 2012 that it was time for his generation to hand over to new leaders.    “For us, it’s over,” he said.
    Months later at the start of 2013, a stroke put him into a Paris hospital for three months.    He was seen little in public after returning to Algeria to convalesce.    Swiss TV says he is in currently hospital in Geneva.
(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Giles Elgood)

3/4/2019 Some IS jihadists surrender in eastern Syria but unknown number remain by Ellen Francis
Plumes of smoke rise in Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Around 150 Islamic State fighters surrendered after a ferocious battle over their last shred of territory in eastern Syria, but an unknown number of militants are still holding out, a military source in a U.S.-backed Syrian force said on Monday.
    The jihadist group faces defeat in Baghouz on the banks of the Euphrates, but it still holds pockets of land in remote areas further west and has launched guerrilla attacks in other areas where it has lost control.
    Baghouz, a collection of hamlets and farmland near the border with Iraq, is the last patch of populated territory Islamic State (IS) still holds in the area straddling the two countries where it declared a caliphate in 2014.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said earlier on Monday they had slowed their assault because more civilians, previously thought to have completely evacuated, were trapped in the enclave, but they vowed to capture it soon.
    A convoy of trucks was seen heading into Baghouz in the morning, and the SDF military source said 150 jihadists had left along with about 350 civilians, confirming an earlier Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report on the surrenders.
    An unknown number of jihadists remained inside, the source said.
    The fighters hail from a number of countries including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, said an SDF faction which distributed photographs showing men separated from women and small children.
    IS has gradually fallen back on Baghouz as its fighters retreated down the Euphrates in the face of sustained assault by local and international foes after its grotesque displays of cruelty roused global fury.
    Despite the setbacks, the group remains a deadly threat, developing alternatives to its caliphate ranging from rural insurgency to urban bombings by affiliates in the region and beyond, many governments say.
HUMAN SHIELDS
    The SDF resumed its assault on Baghouz over the weekend, the culmination of a campaign that included the capture of Raqqa in 2017, when IS also lost other big cities including Mosul in Iraq.
    The militia had already paused its attack for weeks to allow thousands of people to leave the area, including IS supporters, fighters, children, local people and some of the group’s captives.
    It said on Friday that only jihadists remained, mostly foreigners, but it now says some more civilians are left.
    “We’re slowing down the offensive in Baghouz due to a small number of civilians held as human shields by Daesh,” said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
    However, “the battle to retake the last ISIS holdout is going to be over soon,” he added.
    Dozens of trucks similar to those that had evacuated people from the enclave in recent weeks were heading back there on Monday.
    Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition backing the SDF, said he could not verify who IS was holding but hoped they would be released unharmed.
    On Sunday, the SDF faced landmines, car bombs, tunnel ambushes and suicide attacks as they attempted to overrun the enclave – tactics the jihadist group has honed through its hard-fought retreat.
    Reuters photographs from Baghouz on Sunday showed dark plumes of smoke rising above houses and palm trees, and SDF fighters shooting into the Islamic State enclave.
    While the capture of Baghouz would mark a milestone in the fight against IS, the group is expected to remain a security threat as an insurgent force with sleeper cells and some pockets of remote territory.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)

3/4/2019 Saudi Arabia says it believes Canada to go ahead with arms deal by Marwa Rashad
FILE PHOTO: Saudi's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir attends a joint meeting of European Union
and League of Arab States foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Monday it believes Canada will go ahead with a multibillion-dollar arms deal with the kingdom despite remarks by the Canadian prime minister that Ottawa was looking for a way out of the agreement.
    “Regarding the Canada arms deal, we see the Canadian government going ahead with the deal, so the statements are for domestic consumption,” Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh.
    He did not elaborate.
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in December he was looking for a way out of the $13 billion deal for armored vehicles made by the Canadian unit of General Dynamics Corp.
    The firm warned later that month that the federal government would incur “i>billions of dollars of liability” by unilaterally scrapping the agreement.
    Political opponents, citing the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen war, insist Trudeau should scrap the pact negotiated by the previous Conservative government.
    Relations between Ottawa and Riyadh have been tense since a diplomatic dispute over human rights last year.    Ottawa says it has been consulting allies on what steps to take after Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
    Germany, also concerned about Riyadh’s role in the Yemen war and Khashoggi’s killing, last year banned future arms sales to the Gulf Arab state.
    The Saudi public prosecutor’s spokesman has said that 11 Saudis had been indicted and referred for trial over the murder, with authorities seeking the death penalty for five.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad,; Editing by Peter Graff and Ed Osmond)

3/4/2019 U.S. deploys THAAD missile defense system to Israel
FILE PHOTO: A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska
during Flight Test THAAD (FTT)-18 in Kodiak, Alaska, U.S., July 11, 2017. Leah Garton/Missile Defense Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The U.S. military has deployed its most advanced air and missile defense system to Israel for the first time, U.S. and Israeli military officials said on Monday.
    The deployment, which began in March, was intended to test the U.S. military’s ability to rapidly deploy such weapons around the world, said a spokeswoman for U.S. European Command.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as a sign of the U.S. commitment to Israeli security.
    “The American THAAD system is considered among the most advanced systems in the world, and together with our defense systems, we are stronger in dealing with threats, close or distant, emanating from all areas of the Middle East,” he said.
    The move comes amid increased tensions between Israel and Iran over Israel’s bombing campaign in Syria and comments in which Iran’s foreign minister said he could not rule out the possibility of military conflict between the two countries.
    The U.S. military said the decision to rapidly move the THAAD system to Israel was intended “as a demonstration of the United States’ continued commitment to Israel’s regional security.”
    “THAAD is the most advanced integrated air and missile defense system in the world, and this deployment readiness exercise demonstrates that U.S. forces are agile and can respond quickly and unpredictably to any threat, anywhere, at any time,” U.S. European Command said in a statement.
    Lockheed Martin, the biggest U.S. arms maker, builds and integrates the THAAD system, which is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Raytheon, another U.S. firm, builds its advanced radar.
    As part of the deployment, U.S. forces will work at various locations in Europe, the United States and in Israel to operate the system in close cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces, it said.    U.S. officials declined to say how quickly the system was moved to Israel from its home base at Fort Bliss, Texas.
    Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the deployment differed from previous simulated U.S.-Israel joint military exercises and involved tactical coordination on the ground.
    He said all of the components of the THAAD system were at an air force base in the Negev desert, in southern Israel, and would soon be moved to an undisclosed site in southern Israel.
    “The advantage from the Israeli point of view is that we have an opportunity to integrate it into our systems and simulate different scenarios,” he said.
    The IDF said the deployment was defensive in nature and not related to any specific current event.
    Saudi Arabia agreed in November to buy 44 THAAD launchers, missiles and related equipment from the United States in a separate deal valued at $15 billion.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Rami Ayyub and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Thomas Seythal and Janet Lawrence)

3/4/2019 Turkish court accepts indictment against 16 over Gezi protests: lawyer
FILE PHOTO: Protesters light a fire as they block a road during clashes with riot police at
Istiklal Street in central Istanbul late July 13, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court accepted an indictment seeking life sentences against businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala and 15 others over the 2013 Gezi protests, Kavala’s lawyer said on Monday.
    Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul in 2013 to protest against a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks on Gezi park in the city center.    The protests turned into nationwide demonstrations against the government of then-prime minister Tayyip Erdogan.
    Authorities recently launched a new investigation into the protests.    The indictment, seen by Reuters, seeks life sentences against Kavala, other rights activists and opposition figures involved in the protests.
    It said the defendants “at best wanted to force the government to resign or call early elections” and were making efforts “to prepare the grounds for a civil war or coup” if that did not happen.
    Opposition figures have said the renewed investigations are designed to polarize public opinion and rally support for Erdogan ahead of local elections at the end of March.
    The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), of which some defendants are members, said the indictment was part of efforts “to defame and sully the honorable history of Gezi.”
    “We see the bad intentions despite all its dirtiness and we reject it with all our clarity,” TMMOB said in a statement published earlier on Monday.
    In November, police detained more than a dozen people as part of the investigation into the Gezi protests.
    Billionaire philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Foundation said it had become a target of the investigation and would cease operations in Turkey.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans)

3/4/2019 U.S. military looks to Africa to fight growing terrorist threat by OAN Newsroom
    The U.S. military is offering support to a multinational joint task force aligned against the Islamic State and its offshoot organization Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region of Africa.
    This follows President Trump’s announcement late last year that U.S. troops would be pulled out of Syria, citing the Islamic State’s essential defeat in the region.
    “We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria, I’ve been president for almost two years and we’ve really stepped it up,” he stated.    “We have won against ISIS, we’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly, we’ve taken back the land, and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”
    U.S. officials have looked toward North and West Africa since then, where many ISIS offshoot organizations still reside.
In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, and provided by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), internally-displaced
persons look at destroyed houses following a fire at a camp for those who had fled fighting in surrounding areas,
in Monguno town, Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. Nigeria’s government acknowledges an extremist resurgence by Boko Haram
offshoot in the Islamic State West Africa Province. (Deborah Peter/International Rescue Committee via AP)
    Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin, and Cameroon are part of a joint coalition of troops dedicated to eradicating Boko Haram from West Africa.
    While U.S. troops are not permitted to directly engage in the conflict with jihadi groups in the region, the military has provided support for the joint task force since February in the form of intelligence, training, equipment and advisers.
    The U.S. has supported most countries in the coalition, however, it has typically steered clear of providing military aid to Nigeria due to multiple human rights violations that have historically plagued the nation.
    As tensions continue to rise and Nigerians continue to die in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists, the United States has stepped up to help strengthen Nigeria’s military intelligence.
    A report from the intelligence firm Stratfor predicts that as the campaign against jihadi militant groups in the Middle East comes to a close, the world’s next focus will be on tackling their threat in Africa.

3/4/2019 Saudi laws stifle dissent, women activists: U.N. rights experts by Stephanie Nebehay
Overview of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is using its counter-terrorism laws to silence activists, including women, in violation of international law guaranteeing freedom of speech, United Nations human rights experts said on Monday.
    The kingdom’s public prosecutor has begun preparing the trials of detainees, identified by watchdog groups as women’s rights activists, after completing its investigations, state news agency SPA said on Friday.
    A panel event entitled “Saudi Arabia – Time for Accountability” was held on Monday on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
    The Saudi counter-terrorism law and other regulations are “unacceptably wide and unacceptably vague,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, U.N. special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism.
    “It includes people who are engaged in promoting or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings or group statements.    Anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.    These are notoriously slippery terms,” she said.
    “These laws are used to directly attack and limit the rights of prominent human rights defenders, religious figures, writers, journalists, academics, civil activists and all of these groups have been targeted by this law,” Ni Aolain said.
    Michel Forst, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said he has been in touch with the Riyadh government for the past year since its “crackdown.”
    “Worrisome for me is the targeting of women human rights defenders,” he said.
    These concerned not just women involved in the right to drive movement, “but also all kinds of women,” Forst said, adding: “All arrests involved incommunicado detention at undisclosed locations.”
    Abdulaziz M.O. Alwasil, Saudi ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the Human Rights Council last Friday: “The kingdom heeds in its measures all international and national standards related to human rights.”
TERROR SUSPECTS
    Its counter-terrorism measures are based not only on security measures, but take into account legal and other necessary aspects to deal with terror suspects, he said.
    At Monday’s panel, Saudi and other campaigners called on the kingdom to release defenders whom they said were unjustly held, naming rights lawyer Walid abu al-Kahir, poet Ashraf Fayadh and women including Loujain al-Hathloul and Israa al-Ghomgham.
    “Some are leaders of famous campaigns like the right to drive and abolishing male guardianship.    These attacks are designed to mute their voices and dismantle the movements in the country,” said Zaynab al-Khawaja of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.
    Issuing her group’s report on alleged torture in Saudi Arabia, she said: “We highlight some of the torture methods that are being used in Saudi Arabia – electrocution, flogging, sometimes whipping, on the thighs for example, sexual assault where some women human rights defenders have been stripped, have been groped, have been photographed naked, some while handcuffed, and others while blindfolded.”
    Omaima al-Najjar, a Saudi blogger living in exile since fleeing the kingdom, voiced concern for at least 18 women she said had been charged.
    “It is important to remember that while so many women for example now can drive, women who campaigned for driving are still in prison.    While so women can finally vote, or women can finally go to the cinemas, a lot of the activists who called for those reforms are still in prison,” she told Reuters.
    “I’m concerned that those women, if there is no international pressure, will end up spending the rest of their lives in prison, if not executed.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Ed Osmond)

3/4/2019 Firefox maker fears DarkMatter ‘misuse’ of browser for hacking by Christopher Bing and Joel Schectman
The Firefox logo is seen at a Mozilla stand during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona,
February 28, 2013. Picture taken February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Albert Gea
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Firefox browser-maker Mozilla is considering whether to block cybersecurity company DarkMatter from serving as one of its internet security gatekeepers after a Reuters report linked the United Arab Emirates-based firm to a cyber espionage program.
    Reuters reported in January that DarkMatter provided staff for a secret hacking operation, codenamed Project Raven, on behalf of an Emirati intelligence agency. The unit was largely comprised of former U.S. intelligence officials who conducted offensive cyber operations for the UAE government.
    Former Raven operatives told Reuters that many DarkMatter executives were unaware of the secretive program, which operated from a converted Abu Dhabi mansion away from DarkMatter’s headquarters.
(Read Reuters reports https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-spying-raven/)
    Those operations included hacking into the internet accounts of human rights activists, journalists and officials from rival governments, Reuters found. DarkMatter has denied conducting the operations and says it focuses on protecting computer networks.
    While Mozilla had been considering whether to grant DarkMatter the authority to certify websites as safe, two Mozilla executives said in an interview last week that Reuters’ report raised concerns about whether DarkMatter would abuse that authority.
    Mozilla said the company has not yet come to a decision on whether to deny the authority to DarkMatter, but expects to decide within weeks.
    “We don’t currently have technical evidence of misuse (by DarkMatter) but the reporting is strong evidence that misuse is likely to occur in the future if it hasn’t already,” said Selena Deckelmann, a senior director of engineering for Mozilla.
    She said Mozilla was also considering stripping some or all of the more than 400 certifications that DarkMatter has granted to websites under a limited authority since 2017.
    Marshall Erwin, director of trust and security for Mozilla, said the Reuters Jan. 30 report had raised concerns inside the company that DarkMatter might use Mozilla’s certification authority for “offensive cybersecurity purposes rather than the intended purpose of creating a more secure, trusted web.”
    DarkMatter did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The UAE embassy in Washington also did not respond to a request for comment.
    In a February 25 letter to Mozilla, posted online by the cybersecurity company, DarkMatter CEO Karim Sabbagh denied the Reuters report linking his company to Project Raven.    “We have never, nor will we ever, operate or manage non-defensive cyber activities against any nationality,” Sabbagh wrote.
    Websites that want to be designated as secure have to be certified by an outside organization, which will confirm their identity and vouch for their security.    The certifying organization also helps secure the connection between an approved website and its users, promising the traffic will not be intercepted.
    Organizations that want to become certifiers must apply to individual browser makers like Mozilla and Apple.    Mozilla is seen by security experts as a respected leader in the field and particularly transparent because it conducts much of the process in public, posting the documentation it receives and soliciting comments from internet users before making a final decision.
    DarkMatter has been pushing Mozilla for full authority to grant certifications since 2017, the browser maker told Reuters.    That would take it to a new level, making it one of fewer than 60 core gatekeepers for the hundreds of millions of Firefox users around the world.
    Deckelmann said Mozilla is worried that DarkMatter could use the authority to issue certificates to hackers impersonating real websites, like banks.
    As a certification authority, DarkMatter would be partially responsible for encryption between websites they approve and their users.
    In the wrong hands, the certification role could allow the interception of encrypted web traffic, security experts say.
    In the past Mozilla has relied exclusively on technical issues when deciding whether to trust a company with certification authority.
    The Reuters investigation has led it to reconsider its policy for approving applicants.    “You look at the facts of the matter, the sources that came out, it’s a compelling case,” said Deckelmann.
(Reporting by Joel Schectman and Christopher Bing; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

3/5/2019 Saudi Arabia faces first-ever censure at U.N. rights forum: diplomats by Stephanie Nebehay
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    GENEVA (Reuters) – European countries will urge Saudi Arabia this week to release detained activists and cooperate with a U.N.-led probe into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the first rebuke of the kingdom at the Human Rights Council, diplomats and campaigners said.
    The joint statement, due to be read out on Thursday, comes amid growing concern about the fate of detainees, identified by watchdog groups as women’s rights activists, after the public prosecutor was reported to be preparing their trials.
    Iceland has led the initiative, winning support from European countries and possibly delegations from other regions for the criticism of Saudi Arabia, a member of the 47-nation forum, activists said.
    “We believe that members of the Council have a particular responsibility to lead by example and put on the Council’s agenda human rights issues that warrant our collective attention,” an Icelandic diplomat told Reuters on Tuesday, adding rights in Saudi Arabia was one such instance and this view was shared by numerous countries.
    Activists welcomed the move.    Iceland was elected last year to take a seat on the council for the first time, replacing the United States which quit because of what it said was an anti-Israel bias.
    In a statement welcoming what it said would be the first collective action at the council addressing human rights in Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch said rights council members should demand that Saudi Arabia cooperate with probes into Khashoggi’s murder, stop targeting activists, journalists and critics and release wrongfully detained people.
    “No State is above the law,” said John Fisher, the group’s Geneva director.
    A Saudi minister told the Geneva talks last week that the kingdom would cooperate with its mechanisms, but he did not explicitly refer to the Khashoggi inquiry led by Agnes Callamard, U.N. investigator on extra-judicial executions.
    Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of State for Foreign Affairs, also told the Geneva forum the kingdom was working to ensure fair trials and improve detention conditions, as well as to empower women.
    Callamard said after a mission to Turkey last month that evidence pointed to a brutal murder of Khashoggi, a Washington-based journalist and critic of the Saudi government, that was “planned and perpetrated” by Saudi officials at its Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2.
    U.S. intelligence agencies believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the operation to kill Khashoggi, which Riyadh has denied.
    U.N. rights experts said this week that Saudi Arabia is using its counter-terrorism laws to silence activists, in violation of international law guaranteeing freedom of speech.
    Campaigners have called on Riyadh to release activists including lawyer Walid abu al-Kahir, poet Ashraf Fayadh and women including Loujain al-Hathloul and Israa al-Ghomgham.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/5/2019 Hundreds of jihadists surrender in eastern Syria enclave by Rodi Said and Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: A militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along
the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Hundreds of Islamic State militants have surrendered as they left the group’s last enclave in eastern Syria amid more than 6,500 people, mostly civilians, who were evacuated in the last 24 hours, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian force battling the jihadists said on Tuesday.
    Islamic State (IS) faces defeat in Baghouz on the banks of the Euphrates, but it still holds remote pockets of land further west and has launched guerrilla attacks in other areas where it has lost control.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Monday they had slowed their assault on Baghouz because more civilians, previously thought to have completely evacuated, were trapped in the enclave, but they promised to capture it soon.
    Mostafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said that among some 6,500 people fleeing since Monday after the SDF opened a corridor for them to flee, hundreds of jihadists had surrendered.
    It was not possible to independently verify the number and SDF officials also said it was difficult to estimate how many people were left.
    “For the second consecutive day our forces had succeeded in evacuating more than 3,500 between women, children and men.    There were more than 500 men mostly from foreign nationalities,” Bali told Reuters.    Around 3,000 were evacuated on Monday.
    The militant fighters hail from a number of countries including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
    The SDF, led by the leftist Kurdish-YPG militia, has also attracted fighters from radical secular Marxist volunteers from across Europe who are ideologically opposed to Islamist groups.
    Baghouz, a collection of hamlets and farmland near the border with Iraq, is the last patch of populated territory that IS still holds in the area straddling the two countries where it declared a caliphate in 2014.
    Reuters photographs from Baghouz on Tuesday showed mostly women and children who had been evacuated on Monday waiting to be sent to a camp to the north under SDF control, al-Hol.
    The United Nations said last week that at least 84 people, two-thirds of them young children, have died since December on their way to al-Hol camp.    The camp now holds at least 45,000 people, according to Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who said many people had arrived exhausted, hungry and sick.
    While the capture of Baghouz would mark a milestone in the fight against IS, the group is expected to remain a security threat as an insurgent force with sleeper cells and some pockets of remote territory.
(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/5/2019 U.S. should not sell F-35 jets to Turkey unless it drops Russian system: U.S. general by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, addresses a news conference
at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. general in Europe said on Tuesday that he would recommend that the United States should not sell Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 jets to NATO ally Turkey if Ankara does not drop plans to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems from Russia.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said it is committed to buying the Russian system, despite warnings from the U.S.-led alliance that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defense system.
    “My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that’s working with Russian systems, particularly air defense systems, with what I would say is probably one of most advanced technological capabilities,” U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of U.S. forces in Europe, said during a Senate Armed     Services Committee hearing.    Scaparrotti is also the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
    U.S. officials have said that if Turkey proceeds with the S-400 purchase, Washington will withdraw its offer to sell a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co Patriot missile package.
    Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system was a done deal.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Grant McCool)

3/5/2019 Cracks appear in Algeria’s elite as embattled Bouteflika buys time by Lamine Chikhi
Students take part in a protest to denounce an offer by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run in elections next month
but not to serve a full term if re-elected, in Algiers, Algeria March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – The biggest demonstrations in Algeria since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising have died down since the weekend, but cracks are appearing within a ruling elite long regarded as invincible.
    Ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s offer on Sunday to limit his term after April’s election took some of the steam out of the protests which began late last month, although students and other young people are still on the streets.
    Some officials from his ruling FLN party joined tens of thousands of people who turned out on Friday to call on Bouteflika, in power for 20 years, to step down along with his inner circle.
    Several public figures have announced their resignations in a country where personnel changes normally take place behind closed doors.
    “Our duty in this country is to listen, to listen and to imbibe great wisdom to accompany this important social movement for the future of our country,” Sidi Ahmed Ferroukhi, a former minister, wrote on his Facebook account as he announced his resignation from the FLN and parliament.
    The FCE, a top business association whose leaders have been long-time supporters of Bouteflika, has also seen resignations in sympathy with the protesters, including of its vice president Laid Benamor.
    He said the association had moved away from its mission of helping to lead the country to a brighter future.
    “Meeting this challenge requires the support of the people too,” he said.    “To run counter to the will of our fellow citizens is ineptitude.    A nonsense.    It’s the negation of our values and our history.”
    An anonymous call for a general strike has gone largely unheeded but the leadership faces another test – an online call for a “march of 20 million” – this coming Friday.
    The so-far been peaceful protests are unlikely to quickly unseat the embattled president, one of the veterans of the 1954-1962 independence war against France who still dominate Algeria, a major oil producer.
    But steady departures from his inner circle as protests rage could make his position untenable, raising concerns among army generals who have dark memories of the civil war which raged in the 1990s after Islamists took up arms when the military canceled elections they were poised to win.
NOT THE MILITARY’S BUSINESS
    “It (the army) will not interfere for now because it is up to the civilian ruling elite to clean the mess.    This is not the military’s business,” said a retired general, speaking on condition of anonymity due to sensitivities.
    “But it will not accept a remake of the 1990s scenario.”
    Algeria’s army will guarantee security and not allow a return to an era of bloodshed, its chief of staff said on Tuesday.    Gaed Salah referred to the war, saying there were some parties he did not name which wanted Algeria to return to the “years of pain.”
    Bouteflika and his closest allies fired dozens of generals last year to remove any possible opponents from the military and previously took similar measures within the security services.
    Protesters have praised the military, which has stayed in barracks throughout the unrest.
    A former minister expressed doubt that Algeria’s entire political establishment would be dismantled, even if Bouteflika, is pushed out of office.
    “Bouteflika’s men will leave, no doubt, but the political system based on consensus among the ruling elite will stay no doubt,” he said.    “I can’t see an alternative to the system which will be updated as usual to adapt to the changes and demands of demonstrators.”
    For years, rumors have swirled about potential successors for Bouteflika, but no one credible has emerged who has the backing of the army and elite and is not in their 70s or 80s.
    The 82-year leader, in office since 1999, said on Sunday he would run in the April 18 poll but call early elections to find a successor after holding a national conference to discuss reforms and a new constitution.
    That message was sent by letter, highlighting the disconnect between the president and young Algerians, who express their frustrations on social media.
    Bouteflika has not spoken in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. He remains at a hospital in Geneva for medical checks.
    Political sources say he is believed to be accompanied by family members including his younger brother Said, a former teacher and unionist who is his advisor: many Algerians believe he is actually running the country.
    “I am sure that the president is no longer ruling.    So we cannot accept this situation,” said one protestor.
    Bouteflika managed to stay in power during the 2011 protests that toppled other Arab leaders because Algeria had plenty of foreign reserves to boost state spending and appease citizens.
    Older Algerians still haunted by the civil war have tolerated crackdowns on dissent in exchange for stability.
    But young protesters have no real connection to the war of independence that gives Algeria’s elderly leaders their credentials and, desperate for jobs, have lost patience.
    European countries which value the north African country as a gas supplier and security partner in a volatile region have largely stayed silent.    An exception is the former colonial power, France, which has called for the vote to be held in best possible conditions.
    France has major business interests and is home to a large Algerian community.
    “Abdelaziz Bouteflika: Too little, too late,” French newspaper Le Monde commented in an editorial.
    A joke circulating in Algiers this week summed up the frustrations with the absent leader after one of his aides presented his candidacy for the election in his place and a report said he had sacked his campaign manager.
    “So we have one Bouteflika in hospital in Geneva,” it went, “a second Bouteflika who sacked his campaign manager and a third who submits his candidacy.”
(Refiles to remove extraneous word ‘in’ from first paragraph.)
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Michael Georgy and Philippa Fletcher)

3/6/2019 Algeria war veterans back protests demanding end to Bouteflika’s rule by Lamine Chikhi
Riot police walk as they try to disperse people during the protest to denounce an offer by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to
run in elections next month but not to serve a full term if re-elected, in Algiers, Algeria March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian war veterans said protesters demanding ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step down after 20 years in power had legitimate concerns and urged all citizens to demonstrate, in another sign of cracks in the ruling elite.
    The ongoing unrest poses the biggest challenge yet to the Bouteflika and his inner circle which includes members of the military and intelligence services and businessmen.
    “It is the duty of Algerian society in all its segments to take to the streets,” the influential National Organization of Mujahideen – veterans who fought alongside Bouteflika in the 1954-1962 war of independence against France – said late on Tuesday.
    Tens of thousands of people have rallied in cities around Algeria in the largest protests since the 2011 “Arab Spring,” calling on Bouteflika, 82, not to stand in an election scheduled for April 18.    He submitted papers on Sunday.
    Some officials from Bouteflika’s ruling FLN party have turned up at demonstrations.    Several public figures have announced their resignations in a country where personnel changes normally take place behind closed doors.
    An anonymous call for a general strike has gone largely unheeded but the leadership faces another test – an online call for a “march of 20 million” this Friday.
    Older Algerians still haunted by the civil war in the 1990s have tolerated crackdowns on dissent in exchange for stability.    But young protesters have no real connection to the war of independence that gives Algeria’s elderly leaders their credentials and, desperate for jobs, have lost patience.
    Protesters have praised the military, which has stayed in barracks throughout the unrest.    But analysts and former officials say the generals are likely to intervene if the protests lead to widespread instability.
    The 82-year Bouteflika, in office since 1999, said on Sunday he would run in the April 18 poll but call early elections to find a successor after holding a national conference to discuss reforms and a new constitution.
    Bouteflika has not spoken in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. He remains at a hospital in Geneva for medical checks.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/6/2019 Turkey cannot become an EU member, says EPP’s Weber
Manfred Weber, member of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and top candidate of the
European People's Party (EPP) for the European elections, speaks at the party's traditional Ash Wednesday
meeting in Passau, Germany, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Dalder
    PASSAU, Germany (Reuters) – Turkey cannot become a member of the European Union, said Manfred Weber, the European Peoples Party’s (EPP) lead candidate for the upcoming European elections, adding that he would end accession talks if he becomes European Commission president.
    Turkey says EU membership remains one of its top strategic goals even though accession talks, formally launched in 2004, have been stalled for years.
    Weber, the center-right EPP candidate to be EU Commission President after European Parliament elections in May, told German conservatives in Bavaria “everyone wants good relations with Turkey, everyone wants to work closely together.”
    “But if I become Commission president, then I will instruct the offices in Brussels to end the talks with Turkey on accession to the European Union,” he said to rapturous applause.
    “Turkey cannot become a member of the European Union, let’s make that clear,” Weber added.
    In October, President Tayyip Erdogan said he would consider putting Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the EU to a referendum, signaling exasperation with a process he says has been waylaid by prejudice against Muslims.
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Catherine Evans)
[WOW!    There is a new German candidate to give Macron a run for his money.    I would like to remind all that Turkey let the Pope come to their country of Muslims in early 2000's and they did not kill him, because they wanted to join the EU, of course the Pope knew that as why he went there and has not gone into another Muslim country until just this year.].

3/6/2019 U.N. rights boss regrets Israel dismissal of Gaza killings report
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that she regretted Israel’s “immediate dismissal” of a U.N. report on its security forces killing protesters in Gaza “without addressing any of the very serious issues raised.”
    Independent U.N. investigators found last week that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 at weekly protests in Gaza last year.     “All parties concerned should exercise restraint as the date of March 30 approaches,” Bachelet said, referring to the first anniversary of the protests, in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tom Miles)
[SHAME ON YOU UNITED NATIONS OF ACCUSING ISRAEL OF DEFENDING ITSELF FROM TERRORIST AND THIS TELLS ME THAT YOU ARE IN BED WITH THE SAME AND THAT YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN GO AROUND THE WORLD AND TELL OTHER NATIONS WHAT THEY ARE DOING WRONG.].

3/6/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will not go back on missile defense deal with Russia
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming
local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will not go back on its agreement to buy S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that Ankara may subsequently look into buying S-500 systems.
    NATO member Turkey has repeatedly said it is committed to buying the Russian missile defense system, despite warnings from the United States that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defense system.
    The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that Washington had told Turkey that if it buys the S-400 systems, the United States will have to reassess Ankara’s participation in the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter program.
    In an interview with broadcaster Kanal 24, Erdogan said it would be “immoral” for Turkey to turn back from its deal with Russia.
    Erdogan also said that Turkey could not accept control of a planned safe zone in northern Syria being given to anyone else.    The U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militia currently controls the area, but Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization.
    Erdogan added that if the United States could not take back the weapons it had given to the militia in Syria, it should give them to Turkey.
DONE DEAL
    Washington has previously said the S-400 deal could jeopardize its offer to sell a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co Patriot missile package to Ankara and possibly result in U.S. sanctions. But Erdogan said it was a done deal.
    “It’s done.    There can never be a turning back.    This would not be ethical, it would be immoral.    Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat,” Erdogan said.
    He said that Turkey was still open to buying Patriot systems from the United States but only if the conditions are suitable, and he added that Ankara may seek a deal to procure S-500 systems from Moscow later.
    Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey’s allies should not interfere in Ankara’s purchase of defense systems from non-NATO countries.
    On Monday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said it intends to end Turkey’s preferential trade treatment under a program that allowed some exports to enter the United States duty free.
    Erdogan said that the decision was “unhealthy” and wrong, adding that the United States should not try to discipline Turkey though trade measures.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

3/6/2019 Erdogan says Turkey must have control of planned North Syria safe zone
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally
for the upcoming local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey cannot accept control of a planned safe zone in northern Syria being given to anyone else, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
    In interview with broadcaster Kanal 24, Erdogan also said that if the United States could not take back the weapons it had given to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, it should give them to Turkey.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by John Stonestreet)
[You can see that Communist and Islamic Muslim countries are aligning themselves as the future evolves.].

3/6/2019 Hundreds of Islamic State fighters surrender in east Syria by Ellen Francis and Rodi Said
FILE PHOTO: A soldier said to be from US.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces is seen firing a rifle
from a rooftop towards IS targets in Baghouz, Syria, in this screen grab taken from video said to be shot March 4, 2019,
and uploaded to social media website on March 5, 2019. Social Media Website/ via REUTERS
    NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Hundreds of Islamic State fighters surrendered on Wednesday and hundreds more of their comrades were caught trying to escape the jihadist group’s last, tiny scrap of land in eastern Syria, said a commander in the militia besieging it.
    Islamic State fighters holed up in the enclave at Baghouz near the Iraqi border have been giving up in large numbers this week after a ferocious assault on their enclave on Saturday and Sunday, but many remain inside, said the commander.
    The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia has slowed its attack to allow thousands of civilians to leave Baghouz, continuing an exodus that began when it announced it was launching a final battle for the enclave last month.
    Far more people were still in Baghouz than the SDF had expected, it said, and it wanted them all to leave before it either stormed the area or otherwise forced Islamic State’s surrender there.
    “There are a large number of fighters who are inside and do not want to surrender,” said the senior SDF commander.
    The fall of Baghouz would mark the end of the rule of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” over populated territory, although some fighters are still hiding out in remote desert or have gone underground to wage a guerrilla insurgency.
    A war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there were preparations in eastern Syria to announce the end of Islamic State there.    Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition backing the SDF, nevertheless said the international force had “learned not to put any timetables on the last battle.”
    Syrian military air strikes against jihadist fighters further west, in the country’s central desert, were a reminder of the constant warnings by both Arab and Western officials that Islamic State will continue to pose a serious security threat.
    After its sudden advance across swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the group held about a third of both countries, but its wholesale slaughter or sexual enslavement of minorities and its grotesque public killings roused global anger.
    Separate offensives by different forces in both countries steadily drove it back, inflicting major defeats on it in 2017, and eventually forcing it back on Baghouz, a little cluster of hamlets and farmland on the Euphrates.
CAPTURE AND SURRENDER
    Some 400 Islamic State fighters were captured trying to escape Baghouz along with smugglers, the senior SDF commander said.    Hundreds of others jihadists surrendered, though it was not yet clear how many, the commander added.
    Those surrendering were among more than 2,000 people who left Baghouz on Wednesday in the latest evacuation, transported by trucks to a patch of desert where they are questioned, searched and given food and water.
    A group of fully veiled women being evacuated from Baghouz on Wednesday shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) as they gathered near a checkpoint where the SDF were searching them and one hit a journalist with a can of tuna.
    The SDF said about 6,500 people had left the area over the previous two days, including hundreds of men.    Most civilian evacuees are headed for the al-Hol displacement camp in northeast Syria.
    The International Rescue Committee aid group said that of the 60,000 people in the camp, 50,000 had arrived since December, mostly from the shrinking Islamic State enclave, including 4,000 on Wednesday.    Of the 90 people who have died reaching the camp since December, two-thirds were babies or infants, it said.
    Among those who came out on Wednesday were 11 captive children from the Yazidi community.    Islamic State subjected the Yazidis to mass slaughter and enslavement in what the United Nations called a genocide, after overrunning the community’s heartland of Sinjar in Iraq in 2014.
    Four Shi’ite Muslim children abducted from the Iraqi city of Tel Afar four years ago were also freed and the SDF would try to reunite them with their parents said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the militia.
    Live television footage broadcast on al-Hadath television showed an area of desert where evacuees from Baghouz had gathered, with scores of children and black-veiled women sitting on the ground or hauling luggage as they trudged along.
(Reporting By Ellen Francis, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Catherine Evans, Peter Graff, William Maclean)

3/6/2019 Netanyahu election rival pledges to ‘separate’ from Palestinians by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Benny Gantz, head of Resilience party is seen after a news conference,
in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The centrist Blue and White party posing the biggest election challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged a policy of “separation” from Palestinians in occupied land on Wednesday, but stopped short of backing their goal of statehood.
    However, the party’s number two, former finance minister Yair Lapid, predicted that parting ways with the Palestinians would eventually lead to them having a state of their own alongside Israel.
    Netanyahu and fellow rightists have cast themselves as blockers of any initiative to cede territory to the Palestinians.
    Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, has hedged on the issue for weeks as it gained ground in opinion polls ahead of the April 9 election.
    In its inaugural platform, published on Wednesday, Blue and White said that once in power it would confer with Arab states “and intensify the process of separation from the Palestinians, while ensuring an uncompromising commitment to Israel’s national security.”
    The policy blueprint envisages Israel retaining control of the Jordan Valley and blocs of Jewish settlements in the West Bank but remains hazy on what might be done with more isolated outposts in territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Pressed on this, Lapid told Israel’s Ynet TV: “I believe that, in separating from the Palestinians, we will ultimately arrive at two states.    But no responsible politician would get into details before the Trump plan is presented.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump is widely expected to make public a peace plan after the Israeli election.
    Asked if Lapid’s remarks reflected Blue and White policy, a party spokeswoman said she could not elaborate on the platform.
    Opinion polls give Blue and White around 35 of parliament’s 120 seats against 30 for Netanyahu’s Likud party.
    Palestinians were circumspect.
    “What does he (Lapid) mean by a state?” asked Wasel Abu Youssef, an official in the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization.    “We want a Palestinian sovereign state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, empty of settlements, with territories that are connected, not isolated.”
    In 2009, pressured by the Obama administration, Netanyahu said he would accept a Palestinian state under several provisos.    But with U.S.-sponsored peace talks stalled since 2014, he has shifted tone, vowing never to uproot West Bank settlements.
    “A Palestinian state would endanger our existence,” the prime minister said in speech last month.    “This is what they (Gantz and Lapid) are planning to do.    They obscure it.    They hide it.”
    Most world powers deem the settlements illegal and support independence for the Palestinians, who want statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital.
    Israel pulled settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005.    It annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, in a move that has not won international recognition, and regards all of the city as its capital.    Blue and White echoed this position in its platform.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Frances Kerry)

3/7/2019 U.S. troops capture 400 Islamic State militants fleeing Baghouz by OAN Newsroom
    The Islamic State’s days in Syria are numbered as U.S.-backed forces capture militants trying to flea Baghouz.    About 400 ISIS fighters were captured Wednesday night as they tried to escape the last patch of territory in Eastern Syria owned by the terror group.
    This comes after hundreds of militants recently surrendered and evacuated from the village, alongside thousands of civilians, after U.S.-backed forces began their attacks on the town.
A member of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) watches over people who were evacuated out of the last territory held by
Islamic State militants, outside Baghouz, Syria, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Hundreds of people have streamed out of Baghouz, the last village
held by the Islamic State group, under stepped-up assault the past four days by U.S.-backed forces. (AP Photo/Andrea Rosa)
    The terrorist group now holds less than one square mile of land in Syria after having controlled more than 34,000 square miles of territory at the height of their power.
    Officials believe the end of the caliphate is near once the U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberate the town. While the SDF says the majority of civilians left Baghouz, a small number remain trapped.
    The combined forces launched what they believe is their final assault on Baghouz over the weekend.    The attacks eventually had to slow down due to civilians fleeing the village, and jihadists using the remaining women and children there as human shields.
    “We will start the military operations again when no more civilians arrive,” explained Aryan Qamishlo, YPJ commander for the SDF.    “If there are civilians there we can’t start again — we began the campaign and we stopped it because of the civilians.”
    The terrorist group also tried halting the attacks with snipers and suicide bombers.
    Although the Islamic State seems to be coming to an end in Syria, officials said they have learned not to put a timetable on the battle.

3/7/2019 No pressure to withdraw from Syria by specific date: U.S. general
FILE PHOTO: General Joseph L. Votel, Commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) speaks during the Change of Command U.S. Naval
Forces Central Command 5th Fleet Combined Maritime Forces ceremony at the U.S. Naval Base in Bahrain, May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The general overseeing U.S. forces in the Middle East said on Thursday that he was under no pressure to withdraw forces from Syria by any specific date, after President Donald Trump ordered the drawdown of most U.S. troops from Syria.
    “What is driving the withdrawal of course is our mission, which is the defeat of ISIS and so that is our principal focus and that is making sure that we protect our forces, that we don’t withdraw in a manner that increases the risk to our forces,” U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
    “There is not pressure on me to meet a specific date at this particular time,” Votel said.
    Trump had ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria in December after he said they had defeated Islamic State militants in Syria.    The abrupt decision sparked an outcry from allies and U.S. lawmakers and was a factor in Jim Mattis’ resignation as defense secretary.
    But Trump was persuaded by advisers that about 200 U.S. troops would join what is expected to be a total commitment of about 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies to set up and observe a safe zone being negotiated for northeastern Syria.
    About 200 other U.S. troops will remain at the U.S. military outpost of Tanf, near the border with Iraq and Jordan.
    Thousands of people could still be left inside Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said, as waves of evacuations from the tiny area continued on Thursday.
    The SDF has said it wants to ensure all civilians have been evacuated before launching a final assault on the besieged enclave of Baghouz.    It is the last shred of populated territory held by Islamic State, which once controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria.
    Votel said he believed that Islamic State militants being evacuated from the remaining territory controlled the militant group were largely “unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized.”    He said the militant group was waiting “for the right time to resurge.”
    “We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization that includes leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and toxic ideology,” Votel added.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish)

3/7/2019 Waves of people still leaving Islamic State’s last Syrian enclave
Civilians walk together near Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Thousands of people could still be left inside Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said, as the waves of evacuations from the tiny area continued on Thursday.
    The SDF has said it wants to ensure all civilians have been evacuated before launching a final assault on the besieged enclave of Baghouz.    It is the last shred of populated territory held by Islamic State, which once controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria.
(graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2E6TwKX)
    “We are still hearing about the presence of thousands inside Baghouz,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told al-Hadath television.
    “We expect a fierce battle later on after the end of the civilian evacuation, given that those that will remain in Baghouz are the ones brimming with salafi jihadi ideology and the ones for whom surrender is not an option,” he said.
    Even with its defeat at Baghouz looming large, Islamic State is still widely assessed to represent a security threat, with a foothold in patches of remote territory and the ability to mount guerrilla attacks.
    Many thousands of people, many of them the families of Islamic State fighters, have poured out of Baghouz over the last several weeks.    Hundreds of Islamic State militants have also surrendered, the SDF says.
    The SDF announced it was launching a final battle for the enclave last month but has slowed its attack to allow civilians to leave.
    SDF commander Adnan Afrin said on Thursday he hoped the evacuations would “be completed today.”
    On Wednesday the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that monitors the war said preparations were underway in eastern Syria to announce the end of Islamic State there.    But Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition backing the SDF, said the international force had “learned not to put any timetables on the last battle.”
    Islamic State suffered its major military defeats in 2017 when it was driven from the Iraqi city of Mosul and its Syrian headquarters at Raqqa by local forces supported by a U.S.-led international coalition.
    The head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, General Joseph Votel, said on Thursday the reduction of Islamic State’s territorial footprint was a “monumental military accomplishment,” but the fight was “far from over.”
    “What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization,” he told a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
    Rather, he said, it was the group’s “calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge.”
(Reporting by Rodi Said and Tom Perry; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Writing by Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry)

3/7/2019 Far-rightists cleared for Israel election, Arab party blocked by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the Likud Party hold a photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the launch
of Likud party's election campaign in Ramat Gan, Israel March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s election board has approved far-right Jewish candidates accused by rivals of racism for next month’s election while disqualifying an Arab party that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said supported terrorism.
    The Central Elections Committee’s decisions, taken late on Wednesday, were unlikely to be implemented before court appeals, but stoked an already acrimonious race for the April 9 vote.
    Facing a corruption case and a merger of centrist parties that could defeat him, the conservative Netanyahu has allied with an ultra-nationalist list that includes the Jewish Power party to boost his chances.
    The elections committee, made up of members of the outgoing parliament, struck down motions that had sought to bar as racist Jewish Power’s Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who are adherents of late anti-Arab rabbi Meir Kahane.
    Left-wing party Meretz said it would appeal, along with center-left Labour, to the Supreme Court against the decision to let the Jewish Power candidates stand.
    The committee also voted 17-10 to bar the joint Arab party Raam-Balad from the election in accordance with a motion filed by Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party.    Likud says the Balad faction wants to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state and backs Palestinian and Lebanese militants.
    Those who support terrorism will not be in the Israeli Knesset!” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
    Raam-Balad, a mix of Islamist and Arab nationalists, describes itself as a democratic movement opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory
.
    “We have a fierce argument with Zionism,” Mansour Abbas, who heads the Raam faction, told Reuters.
    Raam-Balad now holds eight of parliament’s 120 seats.    Candidates of other parties representing Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority remain eligible to run.
COURT APPEAL
    Abbas rejected the terrorism charge and said Raam-Balad would also appeal.
    “We undergo this travesty during every election campaign.    In the end, the Supreme Court voids the Elections Committee’s political, populist decisions,” he said in separate remarks to Israel’s Army Radio on Thursday.
    The Supreme Court did reinstate Balad after it was disqualified in 2009, when it ran separately in a parliamentary election.
    Israel has in the past prosecuted two Balad figures for contacts with Palestinian militants and accused a former party leader of helping Hezbollah guerrillas during the 2006 Lebanon war, prompting him to emigrate to Qatar.
    Netanyahu is battling for political survival after Israel’s attorney-general said last week he plans to indict him in three corruption cases.    He denies wrongdoing.
    His alliance has brought rare censure from the U.S. pro-Israel lobby and normally staunch Netanyahu backer AIPAC, which called Jewish Power a “racist and reprehensible party.”
    Jewish Power leaders call themselves successors to Kahane, a U.S.-born rabbi who served one term in parliament in the 1980s before his Kach party was banned by Israel as racist.
    Washington branded the party a terrorist organization
.
    Kahane, who was assassinated in New York in 1990 by an Egyptian-born American gunman, advocated the “transfer” of Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries and a ban on intermarriage between Israeli Jews and Arabs.
    Jewish Power currently has no parliament members, having not won enough votes in the previous elections.
    No single party has ever won a majority in the Knesset, and post-election coalition talks determine the shape of the government and its leader.
    Opinion polls predict a second-place finish for Likud, with 30 parliamentary seats compared with 35 for a new party, the centrist Blue and White led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz.    But the surveys said it was still unclear which party would be able to put together a governing coalition.
(Corrects Arab party’s name throughout to Raam-Balad, not Balad, and corrects number of its legislators in paragraph 10.)
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/7/2019 Sudanese protesters defy emergency measures to rally in Khartoum
FILE PHOTO: President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in
Khartoum, Sudan, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters hit the streets in several neighborhoods of Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Thursday and security forces rounded up a number of demonstrators calling on President Omar al-Bashir to step down, witnesses said.
    It was the latest in a series of protests against Bashir and his National Congress Party across Sudan since Dec. 19.    It is the most sustained popular challenge to Bashir since he took power in a military coup 30 years ago.
    Witnesses said that activists chose a women’s day theme for Thursday’s protests and many of the hundreds who turned out in Omdurman, across the Nile river from the center of the capital, and in eastern Khartoum, were female.
    They chanted “Peace, freedom and justice,” and “Revolution is the choice of the people.”    Hundreds also took to the streets in Khartoum’s Burri neighborhood, a flashpoint for protests.
    Security forces appeared to have changed tactics and were rounding up protesters using batons, and sending them to trial in emergency courts, rather than dispersing them with tear gas, according to witnesses.
    However, tear gas was used to scatter demonstrators at the National University, a witness said, and later in Burri.
    A police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Officials have confirmed 33 deaths in the unrest since December, though activists say the toll is significantly higher.
    Last month Bashir declared a state of emergency, dissolved the central government, replaced state governors with security officials, expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings.
    Emergency courts have since been trying protesters in evening sessions, sparking further rallies outside court buildings.
    On Tuesday, a strike called by opposition activists shut down some non-essential health services and economic activity in Khartoum.
(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/7/2019 Lebanon warns neighbors against using disputed territory for EastMed gas pipeline
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil gestures as he speaks during a
news conference in Beirut, Lebanon, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon on Thursday warned its Mediterranean neighbors that a planned EastMed gas pipeline from Israel to the European Union must not be allowed to violate its maritime borders.
    Beirut has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel – which it regards as an enemy country – over a sea area of about 860 sq km (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.
    Israel is hoping to enlist several European countries in the construction of a 2,000 km (1,243 mile) pipeline linking vast eastern Mediterranean gas resources to Europe through Cyprus, Greece and Italy at a cost of $7 billion.
    Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, said he had written to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of Cyprus, Greece and Italy to request that the pipeline does not infringe on Lebanon’s rights within what it claims as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
    In a copy of the letter sent to Greece’s foreign ministry seen by Reuters, Bassil said Lebanon would not allow its sovereignty to be breached, “especially when it comes to any eventual attempt from Israel to encroach on Lebanon’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel within the next few days to help with its plan to export natural gas to Europe.
    “In a few days, the leaders of Cyprus and Greece will come here, together with … Pompeo, to advance a gas pipeline from Israel to Europe via these countries,” Netanyahu said.
    Pompeo on Monday said his visit to the region will also include a stop in Beirut and Kuwait.
    Lebanon last year licensed a consortium of Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek to carry out the country’s first offshore energy exploration in two blocks. One of the blocks, Block 9, contains waters disputed with Israel.
    Lebanese leaders have repeatedly warned Israel not to encroach on its offshore oil and gas reserves.
    A number of big gas fields have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean Levant Basin since 2009.    However, the region lacks significant oil and gas infrastructure and political relations between the countries – including Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria – are strained on a number of fronts.
    In January Eastern Mediterranean countries agreed in Cairo to set up a forum to create a regional gas market, cut infrastructure costs and offer competitive prices.    Lebanon and Turkey did not participate in the meeting, nor did war-torn Syria.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Laila Bassam; Editing by David Goodman)

3/8/2019 Turkey and U.S. head for showdown over missile contracts by Tulay Karadeniz
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defence systems during the Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary
of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is running out of time to avert a showdown with the United States over its plans to buy advanced Russian air defenses and spurn a counter-offer from its NATO partner, raising the chance of U.S. sanctions against Ankara.
    The last diplomatic crisis between the two countries contributed to driving the lira to a record low in August.
    Disputes over strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff remain unresolved, and the issue of missile defense threatens to widen the rift again.
    This week, despite the Central Bank maintaining interest rates well above inflation, Turkey’s currency has fallen 1.5 percent – largely due to renewed concerns over relations with Washington, traders say.
    President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has missed a ‘soft deadline’ set by Washington to decide whether to buy a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co. Patriot missile shield system.    The formal offer expires at the end of this month, U.S. officials have said.
    Without publicly rejecting the U.S. proposal, Erdogan has repeatedly said he will not pull out of a contract for Russia’s S-400 defense system, due to be installed in October.    Washington says Ankara cannot have both.
    If it goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also risks losing delivery of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets and could face sanctions under a U.S. law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
    But Erdogan has ruled out cancelling the deal with Russia, an increasingly powerful regional force which is building a nuclear power plant in Turkey and a gas export pipeline across Turkish territory to Europe.
    “It’s done.    There can never be a turning back,” Erdogan responded this week when asked about the S-400 contract.    “This …would be immoral.    Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”
    Ankara may even seek to procure Russia’s next generation S-500 system, he said.
NO BACKING DOWN
    Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday U.S. officials have told Turkey it would be impossible for Congress to approve the sale of F-35 jets if Ankara buys the S-400, but that Turkey is working to overcome those problems. [A4N1Y101V]
    Turkey says it has already paid Moscow some of the bill, and analysts say Erdogan, who is campaigning for March 31 local elections, would find it hard to back away from the Russian deal now.
    “They have not once said they could change their mind,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara.
    Turkey does not want to jeopardize efforts to find common ground with Russia on Syria, and has little time remaining for second thoughts as the S-400s’ delivery date approaches, he said.
    That means the chance of U.S. sanctions are increasing, defense analyst Can Kasapoglu said, adding that “diplomatic room for maneuver is narrow.”
    The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said this week it intended to end a preferential trade system for Turkey.
    It cited the country’s economic development, suggesting the decision was not political, but it first announced a review of Turkey’s eligibility after Ankara set retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods at the height of their dispute last year.
    If Washington imposes sanctions under CAATSA, it could affect the combat readiness of Turkey’s existing fleet of U.S. F-16 jets, Kasapoglu wrote in a report in January. The jets have spearheaded Turkey’s air operations against Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria.
    While bilateral tensions are focused for now on missile defense, other unresolved disputes continue to erode trust.
    In addition to policy disagreements focused on the Middle East, the two countries are at odds over Venezuela.
    Washington backs its opposition leader Juan Guaido while Ankara endorses President Nicolas Maduro.
    In that climate, even apparently innocent gestures can stoke tension.
    A visit this week by U.S. First Lady Melania Trump to a pre-kindergarten class in Oklahoma raised hackles in Turkey.    Turks believe the school she toured is linked to supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup.    Gulen has denied any involvement.
    Retired Turkish diplomat Uluc Ozulker said Turkey now finds itself backed into a corner.
    “The United States on the one hand, Russia on the other… We are stuck between the two,” he said.    “Turkey cannot exit this crisis.”
(Editing by Dominic Evans and John Stonestreet)

3/8/2019 In Gaza, women walk thin line between hope and despair by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A boy plays with a ball as Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, walks home from
school, in Gaza City, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
    GAZA (Reuters) – Amid the poverty and deprivation of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian women struggle to find a taste of normality that is taken for granted in much of the rest of the world.
    Nada Rudwan used to work in digital marketing, but as her work slowed – unemployment in Gaza stands at nearly 50 percent – she decided to put her tech skills towards one of her passions: cooking.
    “It was difficult to find a job, so I thought of doing something I like and that will make me money at the same time,” said Rudwan, 27, who posts cooking tutorials to social media platforms under the name “Nada Kitchen.”
    Rudwan said she earns income from YouTube proceeds and that several companies in Saudi Arabia recently purchased her videos.
    “It is an attempt to beat the physical blockade of Gaza by finding a job that just needs some talent, a camera and internet connection,” she said.
    More than 2 million Palestinians – mostly descendants of people who were driven out or fled from territory that is now Israel at its founding in 1948 – are packed into the narrow Gaza Strip, which shares borders with Israel and Egypt.
    Israel maintains tight control of Gaza’s land and sea borders, citing security concerns emanating from Hamas, the Islamist group which controls the coastal territory.    Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.
    Those restrictions have devastated Gaza’s economy and left many of its women, like Rudwan’s younger sister, struggling to find work after graduating from college.
    “It is hard to find a job that will allow you take care of your needs,” said Lama Rudwan, 22, a media and communications graduate who joined her sister’s cooking project after an unsuccessful job search.
DISAPPROVING COMMUNITY
    Some young women in Gaza speak of struggles in their personal lives, as well.    They say shopping and even getting married is made more difficult by the restrictions of Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas over the past decade.
    Hana Abu El-Roos, 18, said she plans to get married this summer but can’t find items she needs for her wedding in any of Gaza’s shops.    “I haven’t picked my wedding dress yet,” said El-Roos, who is also busy preparing for her final high school exams.    “I am confused.    My sisters are helping me.”
    Other Gaza women say community pressures weigh on them as they seek to bypass Gaza’s economic struggles by working jobs which some see as non-traditional.
    Sahar Yaghi took up work as a wedding planner soon after dropping out of university to earn income for her family.
    Yaghi’s party-planning requires her to stay up late at night.    She said she sometimes hears some of her neighbors, who view her work as inappropriate, making comments about her.
    “I hate some comments.    But I love my job and hope to have my own business,” Yaghi, 28, said, adding she wants to become the “first female party planner” in Gaza.
    For those Gaza women who do have work, the constant fear of losing their job heightens their sense of insecurity.
    Sara Abu Taqea said she found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor’s degree in midwifery, but that many of her colleagues were not so lucky.
    “It is a six-month contract, with no guarantee of further employment,” said Abu Taqea, 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital.
    Abu Taqea said she finds a sense of solace in the Mediterranean Sea, whose waves crash along Gaza’s coast.
    “We are lucky to have the sea. The beach is a place for relief, and for meditation, so we can forget about the wars and poverty,” Abu Taqea said.
(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Rami Ayyub and Mark Heinrich)

3/8/2019 U.S. accuses Palestinians of manufacturing crisis over tax transfer by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks with United States Ambassador to the
United Nations (UN) and lawyer Jason Greenblatt (R) before a meeting of the United Nations (UN) Security Council
at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States accused the Palestinians on Friday of manufacturing a crisis by rejecting the first 2019 monthly tax transfer from Israel because it slashed a portion designated for financial support to families of militants jailed in Israel.
    The United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the issue at the request of Kuwait and Indonesia.    U.S President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt represented Washington at the meeting.
    “It is entirely inappropriate to focus on Israel as the source of this crisis.    It is the Palestinian Authority that has chosen to manufacture the current crisis,” Greenblatt told the 15-member council, according to U.N. diplomats in attendance.
    The U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment on Greenblatt’s remarks.    The Palestinians have condemned the Israeli decision as “piracy.”
    Greenblatt and White House adviser Jared Kushner have been working on a plan to mediate peace between Israel and the Palestinians.    U.N. diplomats said Greenblatt gave no details of the plan on Friday.
    Palestinians have refused to discuss any peace blueprint with the United States in the wake of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.
    The Palestinian decision on the tax transfer came despite increasing cash flow troubles, caused in part by U.S. aid cuts, that could destabilize the Palestinian Authority, an interim self-government body set up following the 1993 Oslo accords between the Palestinians and Israel.
    Under the interim accords, Israel collects taxes on imports into the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, an enclave under Palestinian Islamist rule since 2007, and makes monthly transfers of the proceeds to the PA.
    The tax transfers make up about half of the PA’s budget, according to Palestinian Finance Ministry data.    On Feb. 17, Israel announced a freeze on about 5 percent of that money affecting stipends the PA pays to families of Palestinian militants killed or jailed by Israel.
    “It’s a unilateral decision in violation of existing bilateral agreement,” Kuwait’s U.N. Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi told reporters after the Security Council discussion.
    According to diplomats, Greenblatt said the Palestinian payments to militants’ families “creates incentives for further acts of terrorism.”    The United States passed legislation last year to reduce aid to the PA unless it stopped the pay-outs.
    Greenblatt called on other council members to join the United States in urging the Palestinian Authority to end the payments, diplomats said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by James Dalgleish)

3/8/219 New battle looms for Islamic State’s last Syria enclave
FILE PHOTO: A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks in front of two trucks, near the
village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, in Syria March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – U.S-backed fighters will resume their assault on Islamic State’s last, small patch of ground in eastern Syria if no more civilians come out by Saturday afternoon, one of their spokesmen said on Friday.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have slowed their offensive on the jihadist enclave at Baghouz near the Iraqi border to allow many thousands of people to pour out in an exodus that has lasted weeks.
    A month ago the SDF launched what it called a “final battle” to take the cluster of houses and farmland, and people leaving the enclave have described harrowing conditions of peril and hardship.
    The SDF said a week ago that it believed all civilians had come out and renewed its assault, leading to a new surge of displacement, including obdurate disciples of Islamic State, some of its captives and hundreds of surrendering fighters.
    A Yazidi woman who emerged on Thursday spoke of years of enslavement and abuse by the jihadists.    Two Iraqi boys who came out with her, pretending to be her brothers, said many fighters remained dug into tunnels in Baghouz.
    However, the head of the SDF media center, Mustafa Bali, said no more people had emerged on Friday.
    “We are waiting for tomorrow morning or perhaps until the afternoon, we’ll give another space, for the possibility that civilians are present and the chance to get them out,” he said.
    After that, “if no civilian or terrorist comes out, we will launch our military operation anew.”
    The capture of Baghouz will mark the end of Islamic State’s territorial rule over populated areas of Iraq and Syria, and the culmination of a U.S.-backed military campaign waged by the SDF for four years.
    After suddenly seizing swathes of land straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border in 2014 and declaring it their caliphate, Islamic State were beaten back by numerous local and foreign forces in both countries, suffering major defeats in 2017.
    However, the jihadists remain a menace. In Iraq they have gone to ground, staging waves of killings and kidnappings.    In Syria, their comrades hold out in remote desert areas and have carried out bombings in areas controlled by the SDF.
    Those who have fled Baghouz have mostly gone to al-Hol, a displacement camp in northeast Syria whose population has swelled to 62,000 people, 90 percent of them women and children.
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Deir al-Zor province, Syria; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Graff/Mark Heinrich)

3/8/2019 Hezbollah calls on supporters to donate as sanctions pressure bites
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has his picture on his head, during a live broadcast, the
night before Muslim Shi'ites around the world mark the day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Friday called on its supporters to donate money as it comes under increasing pressure from Western sanctions intended to isolate it financially.
    The United States deems all parts of Hezbollah a terrorist organization and has been steadily increasing financial sanctions against the Iran-backed movement.
    “I announce today that the resistance is in need of its (popular base),” Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said, adding that donations were needed to support the group’s activities.
    The Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government.    It is also heavily armed and has sent fighters to the conflict in neighboring Syria.
    Britain last month said it would list all elements of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization for destabilizing the Middle East, breaking with the rest of the European Union which proscribes only its military wing.
    In a televised speech, Nasrallah said other nations may follow Britain’s example.
    “The sanctions and the terror lists are a form of war … we should deal with them as if they are a war,” he said.
    He called on Hezbollah supporters to remain steadfast in the face of these pressures and said the group’s enemies would be “disappointed.”
    “Their actions will not be able to make us poor, hungry or isolated.    Those that support us will continue in their support – be they countries, people or our people and the people of resistance in Lebanon,” Nasrallah said.
    Hezbollah was founded in 1982 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.    Its influence has expanded at home in Lebanon and in the region.
    The group controls three of 30 ministries in the Lebanese government led by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the largest number ever.    It does not acknowledge having separate political and military wings.
    Hezbollah and political allies that view its arsenal as an asset to Lebanon won more than 70 of parliament’s 128 seats in an election last year, a major blow to Lebanese parties that oppose its possession of weapons like the Christian Lebanese Forces, which enjoys close ties to U.S.-allied Gulf states.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Editing by William Maclean)
[Sorry Hezbollah your daddy Iran is struggling to get funds to exploit the world also, so you will have to suck it up, and shut up or get out of the game.].

3/8/2019 Islamic State extremism on show at ‘miserable’ Syria camp by Ellen Francis
A woman looks through a chain linked fence at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka
governorate, Syria March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    AL-HOL CAMP, Syria (Reuters) – Foreign women with Islamic State have tried to assault others they deem “infidels” at a camp where they are being held in northeast Syria, trying to impose their views even as the jihadists are facing territorial defeat, Reuters journalists visiting the site have found.
    “They yell at us that we are infidels for showing our faces,” said a Syrian woman at al-Hol camp, where women and children were transferred from Islamic State’s final bastion in eastern Syria.    “They tried to hit us.”
    The Baghouz enclave is Islamic State’s last shred of populated territory after years of attacks have rolled back its ultra-radical “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
    But its impending defeat is confronting the U.S.-allies Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the problem of what to do with growing numbers of people, many of them Islamic State followers, emerging from the enclave.
    Most have been sent to al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis.    Camp officials say they do not have enough tents, food, or medicine.    Aid workers warn of spreading diseases, and dozens of children have died on the way there.
    At least 62,000 people have now flooded the camp, the United Nations said on Friday, way above its capacity.    More than 90 percent of the new arrivals are women and children.
    The Syrian Kurdish authorities who control the camp have cordoned off the foreign women.    On Friday, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing full face veils, they gathered behind a fence with a locked gate.
    “The foreigners throw stones.    They swear at the Syrians or Iraqis and at the camp officials.    Even the kids make threats,” said a security official at the camp.
‘WE NEED HELP’
    Guards have fired in the air to break up a few fights and on one occasion used a taser to pacify a foreign female jihadist detainee, another Syrian woman at the camp said.
    Some of the women coming out of Baghouz in recent weeks have displayed strongly pro-Islamic State sympathies.
    Hundreds of jihadists have also surrendered.    But the Kurdish-led SDF believes the most hardened are still inside, ready for a fight to the death.
    Before the final assault on Baghouz, the SDF said it was holding some 800 foreign Islamic State militants and 2,000 of their wives and children.    While it has not given updated figures, the numbers have ballooned, prompting fresh calls for support.
    “The situation in the camp is very miserable.    The displaced are growing very much and we are trying to cover people’s needs as much as we can. But we need help,” said Mazin Shekhi, an official at the camp.
    When young children arrive alone, officials deliver them to aid agencies or try to find adults to care for them at the camp for now, he added.
    “Even the big tents are full.    People are sleeping out in the open.”
    The International Rescue Committee said at least 100 people have died, mostly children, en route or soon after reaching the camp, and more than 100 children have arrived on their own.    The aid agency warned the camp had reached breaking point.
    Women from different countries begged for food or asked about their detained husbands, while young boys kicked a ball around in the dirt amid scores of tents swaying in the wind.
CAMP SKIRMISHES
    Some of the tensions at al-Hol reflect friction that has simmered for years between jihadists who traveled to Syria to join Islamic State, “al-Muhajirin,” and locals who were members or lived under its rule.
    “There were problems with some people,” said a 30-year-old woman from Turkestan who gave her name as Dilnor.
    She said her entire family had moved to Syria to escape oppression at home and “just wanted to live under the caliphate.”    Her mother, father and siblings all followed her to Syria.
    “The natives … they were kind of rude.    They always said the muhajirin are a problem and dirty and so on.    It was always like that,” she said outside the wire fence of the pen where she was staying with scores of other women.
    “Now (they) are alone, and the muhajirin alone.    Now there are no problems.”
    Shekhi, the camp official, said foreign women with ties to Islamic State had been kept apart so “they don’t mix” with others.    “We put them in a section alone to avoid them making problems with the displaced,” he said.
    The foreign women often fought among themselves, he added.
    “There are some who are more extremist who don’t accept others.    This is happening just among themselves, because they are separated from the Syrians and Iraqis,” he said.    “The situation is under control.”
    The staunch loyalties of Islamic State followers point to the risk the group will continue to pose after the capture of Baghouz.    It is also widely accepted that the militants will still represent a threat, holding remote patches of territory and mounting guerrilla attacks.
(Writing by Tom Perry and Ellen Francis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/8/2019 Germany won’t classify Iran ally Hezbollah as terrorist: Spiegel by Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters via a
screen during last day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will not follow Britain’s lead in declaring Iran-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organization, a senior official was quoted as saying on Friday, a decision that may fuel tensions with Saudi Arabia and the United States.
    Minister of State Niels Annen told weekly news magazine Der Spiegel that the Shi’ite Muslim Islamist movement remained a relevant factor in Lebanese society and the European Union had already added its military wing to a list of proscribed groups in 2013.
    Britain last month said it would ban all wings of Hezbollah for destabilizing the Middle East.
    Long the most powerful group in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s influence has expanded at home and in the region.    It controls three of 30 ministries in the government led by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the largest number ever.
    Iran and Hezbollah, founded in 1982 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, are big players in the Syria war allied with President Bashar al-Assad.
    Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel have pressured allies to ban Hezbollah in its entirety.
    Annen, who spoke to Spiegel after a visit to Lebanon, said Germany was interested in Lebanese stability and Britain’s decision would have no direct impact on the position of Germany or the European Union.
    Earlier on Friday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had said other nations may follow Britain’s example.
    “Despite all that is said and done, they will be disappointed.    Their actions will not be able to make us poor, hungry or isolated.    Those that support us will continue in their support – be they countries, people or our people and the people of resistance in Lebanon,” he said in a televised speech.
    Germany’s Annen rejected U.S. criticism his nation was doing too little to combat Iran’s influence in the region and said Berlin’s foreign policy remained focused on finding political solutions even in tough situations.
    Germany has criticized the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, and worked with France and the European Union to set up an alternative financing mechanism that would allow European firms to do business with Tehran despite U.S. financial sanctions.
    Germany’s refusal to ban Hezbollah as a whole could add to tensions with Riyadh over its leadership of a coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    France, Britain and European arms makers are pressing Germany to end a unilateral freeze in arms shipments to Saudi Arabia imposed by Berlin after Khashoggi’s death that is holding up billions of euros of weapons deliveries.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

3/8/2019 Syrian Kurds want secure border strip, reject Turkish ‘safe zone’ by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Fawza Youssef, a senior Kurdish politician, shows her ink-stained finger
after casting her ballot in Qamishli, Syria December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    QAMISHLI, Syria (Reuters) – The Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria want a multinational force to deploy at the Turkish border and reject the creation of a large “safe zone” that Turkey hopes to control, a Kurdish politician told Reuters.
    Fawza Youssef said the Kurdish-led authorities have proposed their idea in talks with U.S. officials while stressing the need for continued joint efforts against Islamic State, which is on the brink of losing its last enclave in eastern Syria.
    The proposal for a deployment at the border aims to counter Turkey’s demand for a “safe zone” under its control – an idea that is out of the question for the main Syrian Kurdish groups that fear Turkish plans to attack their region.
    The question of security arrangements for northern Syria has been brought into focus by the looming territorial defeat of Islamic State in parts of Syria where the United States and its allies have deployed to battle the jihadists.
    The Kurdish-led authorities, the main U.S. partner in Syria, were left scrambling for a strategy to protect their region from Turkey in December when President Donald Trump abruptly declared his intention to withdraw all U.S. forces.
    Since then, the U.S. has partially reversed that decision and will keep 200 troops in Syria to join what is expected to be a total commitment of about 800 to 1,500 troops from European allies to set up and observe a safe zone in the northeast.
    Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia to be a terrorist group indistinguishable from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey since the 1980s.
    Ankara, which already controls a chunk of northwestern Syria, has repeatedly threatened to attack the northeast.    But the U.S. presence has frustrated its plans.
    The Kurdish-led authorities reject the idea of a big “safe zone” because it would envelop Syrian towns and cities that are located right at the border, Youssef said.    Instead, they are proposing arrangements for a “border strip.”
    “This border strip – we do not call it a safe zone – must guarantee security for both sides with international peacekeeping forces, we believe this would be a moderate solution,” she told Reuters in an interview in Qamishli.
    “This is our view.    There are meetings between American officials and the Turks in recent days too.    We don’t know what was discussed or what happened, but so far we have proposed this issue in this form,” she said.
    “The main point we focus on in this matter is that our areas are (already) safe zones.”
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday his government could not accept anyone but Turkey taking control of the safe zone.
    Youssef said a multinational force at the border “can be a guarantor for both sides, for the Turkish side and for ours.”    “In the first place, we are the ones suffering from threats, not the Turkish side,” she said.
    The prospect of the U.S. withdrawal prompted the Kurdish-led administration to seek new talks with Damascus with the aim of striking a political deal that would safeguard their autonomy and provide security guarantees against any Turkish attack.
    Youssef indicated there had been no progress.
    “Before any of this happened, we have several initiatives to try to reach a settlement over administrative, political, cultural and other affairs with the regime. So far, the regime has not been responsive with any positive step,” she said.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/9/2019 More civilians leave Islamic State’s Syria enclave, delaying final assault by Rodi Said
A boy looks out of a truck tarp near the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, in Syria March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) paused military operations against Islamic State (IS) militants holed up in the group’s final enclave in eastern Syria, expecting more civilians to be evacuated from the area on Saturday, an SDF official said.
    Thousands of people – many of them the wives of IS fighters and their children – have been streaming out of besieged enclave at Baghouz for weeks, forcing the SDF to delay the assault to wipe out the last vestige of the jihadists’ territorial rule.
    The SDF has said it wants to make sure all civilians are out of the enclave before launching its final assault.
    Hundreds of IS fighters have also surrendered, but the SDF believes the most hardened foreign jihadists are still inside.
    “There are a number of families … military operations are paused now for their evacuation,” Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters.
    Trucks used for the evacuations went into Baghouz on Saturday and four have so far emerged carrying people, a Reuters witness said.
    On Friday, Bali said the SDF would resume the assault if no more civilians had emerged by Saturday afternoon.
    Those emerging from Baghouz are screened by the SDF and most are sent north to the al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis from years of war.
    More than 62,000 people displaced by fighting around the IS enclave have flooded al-Hol camp, with 5,200 arriving between March 5-7 and thousands more expected, the United Nations said on Friday.
    The weather is cold and rainy and there is a shortage of tents and supplies.    Dozens of children have died on the way to the camp.    The International Rescue Committee (IRC) on Friday said al-Hol was at “breaking point.”
    “No one could have guessed that such a large number of women and children were still living in Baghouz,” IRC spokeswoman Misty Buswell said.
    Those arriving in al-Hol are in “extremely poor health” with malnutrition, diarrhoea and skin diseases.    Many of the women arriving at the camp are either heavily pregnant or have recently given birth, IRC said.
    After suddenly seizing swathes of land straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border in 2014 and declaring it their caliphate, Islamic State was beaten back by numerous local and foreign forces in both countries, suffering major defeats in 2017.
    However, the jihadists remain a threat. In Iraq they have gone to ground, staging waves of killings and kidnappings.    In Syria, their comrades hold out in remote desert areas and have carried out bombings in areas controlled by the SDF.
    Islamic State on Saturday said it had carried out a suicide car bomb attack near the Syrian town of Manbij to signal to foreign troops that they are not safe in the country.    Manbij is controlled by a militia allied to the SDF.
    “The crusaders on Syrian soil shall know they are being watched and will not be secure while our blood beats,” a statement published by the IS-affiliated Amaq news agency said.
    In an email to Reuters, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition backing the SDF, Colonel Sean Ryan, denied Islamic State’s claim that the blast had killed three U.S. armed forces members and injured others.
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Syria; additional reporting by Hesham Hajali in Cairo; Writing by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by Tom Perry and Ros Russell)

3/9/2019 Germany tightens travel advice on Turkey
A foreign tourist, with the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia in the background, takes pictures
at Sultanahmet square in Istanbul, Turkey April 21, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany changed its travel advice for visitors to Turkey on Saturday, warning its citizens that they risked arrest for expressing opinions that would be tolerated at home but may not be by Turkish authorities.
    “It cannot be ruled out … that the Turkish government will take further action against representatives of German media and civil society organizations,” an updated Foreign Ministry travel advisory read.
    “Statements, which are covered by the German legal understanding of the freedom of expression, can lead in Turkey to occupational restrictions and criminal proceedings.”
    The advice, which a ministry spokeswoman confirmed was updated on Saturday, noted that several European, including German, journalists had been denied accreditation in Turkey without explanation.    In the last two years German nationals have also been increasingly arbitrarily detained, it said.
    Turkish authorities are suspicious about any connections to the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says orchestrated a 2016 attempted coup, the ministry said.
    But it added that any holidaymakers who had taken part in meetings abroad of organizations banned in Turkey risked being detained, as did Germans who made, or endorsed, statements on social media critical of the Turkish government.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
[So whats new.    Turkey is an Islamic country, and Shria Law so they punish you if you break it and we do not want that in any country that we live in.].

3/10/2019 With shrouded faces, Islamic State fighters stand guard over final enclave by Rodi Said
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are pictured together near the village of Baghouz,
Deir Al Zor province, in Syria March 9, 2019. Picture taken March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Armed with assault rifles and with faces wrapped in scarves, the Islamic State fighters visible at the boundary of their last enclave in eastern Syria are among the hardened jihadists who appear ready to fight to the death.
    Thousands of people – many of them the wives of Islamic State fighters and their children – have been streaming out of the besieged enclave at Baghouz for weeks, forcing the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to delay an assault on the last vestige of the jihadists’ territorial rule.
    Reuters TV footage of the Islamic State-controlled frontline shows armed militants, most with only their eyes visible, supervising the evacuations from a scrubby patch of agricultural land scattered with vehicles and a few buildings.
    The SDF has said the fighters staying put through waves of evacuations are the most hardened foreign militants, wanted by governments around the world, who are likely to fight to the death.
    On Saturday, a Reuters witness saw dozens of mostly men cross from Islamic State territory into SDF-controlled lines.    The SDF said these were wounded Islamic State fighters.
    A few women in full face-covering black robes and children carrying bags could be seen among the people milling at the frontline.    A man on crutches was also visible.
    A no-man’s land of about 200m separates SDF positions from the Islamic State frontline at Baghouz, a collection of hamlets and farmland near the border with Iraq.
    Evacuees are screened by the SDF as they emerge and are sent north to the al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis from years of war and struggling to cope with the influx.
    After suddenly seizing swathes of land straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border in 2014 and declaring it their caliphate, Islamic State was beaten back by numerous local and foreign forces in both countries, suffering major defeats in 2017.
    However, the jihadists remain a threat. In Iraq they have gone to ground, staging waves of killings and kidnappings. In Syria, their comrades hold out in remote desert areas and have carried out bombings in areas controlled by the SDF.
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Baghouz, Syria; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

3/10/2019 U.S.-backed Syrian force attacks Islamic State enclave by Rodi Said
A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) sits at a back of a truck, near the village of Baghouz,
Deir Al Zor province, in Syria March 9, 2019. Picture taken March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed Syrian forces launched an assault against the final Islamic State enclave in eastern Syria on Sunday, aiming to wipe out the last vestige of its self-declared “caliphate” that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria.
    While the Baghouz enclave represents the last shred of populated land held by the jihadists, the group is still widely seen as a big security threat operating in remote territory elsewhere and able to launch guerrilla attacks.
    The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been poised to advance into the enclave for weeks, but has repeatedly held back to allow for the evacuation of civilians, many of them wives and children of Islamic State fighters.
    Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said no further civilians had emerged from the enclave at the Iraqi border since Saturday and the SDF had not observed any more civilians in the area, prompting the decision to attack.
    “The military operations have started. Our forces are now clashing with the terrorists and the attack started,” he told Reuters.
    Bali said more than 4,000 IS militants had surrendered in the last month, among the tens of thousands of people who have streamed out of Baghouz – a collection of hamlets surrounded by farmland on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.
    But the SDF has also said the most hardened foreign jihadists are still holed up inside, ready to fight to the end.
    In a post on Twitter, Bali said the attack had started at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT).    Air strikes had targeted Islamic State weapons stores.    “Direct and fierce” clashes were underway, he added.
    Islamic State has been driven from the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq by an array of enemies, including forces backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in addition to the United States.
    It suffered its major military defeats in 2017 with the loss of the Syrian city of Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul.
    A former IS fighter who surrendered to the SDF two months ago told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that the group had sent hundreds of men out of its diminishing territory to establish sleeper cells.
    The SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been the main U.S. partner in Syria and has steadily driven the group down the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, forcing its fighters and followers to fall back to Baghouz.
    Earlier on Sunday, a Reuters journalist in SDF-held ground observed Islamic State fighters moving around in the part of Baghouz still under their control.
    SDF fighters advanced into a makeshift tented settlement abandoned by the group, finding a number of rifles and ammunition left behind.
(Reporting by Rodi Said; Writing by Lisa Barrington/Tom Perry Editing by Kevin Liffey and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/10/2019 Germany criticizes Turkey in row over reporters
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan hold a rally before the official inauguration of the
Cologne Central Mosque in Cologne, Germany, September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Two German journalists left Turkey on Sunday after authorities there rejected their press accreditations, a step that drew condemnation from Germany’s foreign minister and revived diplomatic tensions.
    The departure of Joerg Brase, a correspondent for ZDF television, and Thomas Seibert, who works for newspaper Tagesspiegel, came a day after Germany warned its citizens they risked arrest in Turkey for expressing views Ankara may not like.
    “This is not acceptable to us,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said of the journalists being stripped of their credentials.    “It has nothing to do with our understanding of press freedom,” he told broadcaster ARD.
    ZDF confirmed Brase had arrived back in Germany on Sunday afternoon and Tagesspiegel said Seibert had also arrived back in Germany.
    The increase in diplomatic tensions follows a period of relative calm since September last year, when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan came to Germany on a state visit aimed at repairing relations after bitter disputes.
    Ankara has been smarting at what it sees as Europe’s slowness to condemn a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, while Germany and other EU countries are concerned about the mass arrests that followed, Turkey’s clampdown on press freedom and Erdogan’s influence over Turkish diaspora communities in Europe.
    Before leaving Istanbul, Brase told ZDF: “The Turkish government has managed to more or less silence the national media.    They are now trying to do it with international media. And we should not submit to that.”
    Seibert added: “Turkey will not succeed in muffling our media. We will keep reporting about Turkey from wherever that might be.”
    ZDF director Thomas Bellut said Brase had reported from Turkey factually and knowledgeably, adding: “ZDF will continue to report about this important country extensively, impartially, factually and critically.”
    Maas also expressed alarm at comments made by a Turkish minister threatening those in Germany who supported the Kurdish PKK guerrilla group, fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey, while at home, then spent vacations in Turkey.
    Both sides are eager to avoid a severe deterioration in ties with Turkey’s economy in crisis and Germany, home to 3 million people of Turkish origin, reliant on Turkey to help contain a Syrian migrant crisis beyond Europe’s borders.
    In February last year, a Turkish court freed German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel pending trial after indicting him for alleged security offences – a move that helped ease tensions between the two NATO allies for a period.
    Asked about the rejection of the accreditations on Friday, Turkish Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said Germany and Turkey could have disagreements but “these are not impossible to solve … What will remain is the Turkish-German friendship.”
(Reporting by Reuters TV and by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

3/10/2019 Ailing president returns to Algeria as mass protests swirl by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
Closed shops are pictured in Algiers, during protests against Algeria's President
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – President Abdelaziz Bouteflika flew home to Algeria on Sunday after spending two weeks in a Swiss hospital, state television said, returning to a country where crowds of protesters have mounted the biggest threat to his 20-year rule.
    A government plane transporting the ailing president arrived at Boufarik military airport near the capital, Algiers. Ennahar TV showed footage of what it said was a convoy of vehicles transporting him.
    Tens of thousands from all social classes have been demonstrating unrelentingly for three weeks against his decision to stand in April’s election, rejecting a stale political system dominated by veterans of an independence war against France that ended in 1962.
    In the clearest indication yet that the generals sympathize with protesters, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported.    Lieutenant General Gaed Salah did not mention the unrest.
    Hours before Bouteflika’s arrival, his ruling FLN party urged all sides to work together to end the crisis and promote national reconciliation, Ennahar TV said.
    But the protesters are in no mood to compromise after rejecting Bouteflika’s offer to limit his term after the election.
    “We want Bouteflika and all his mafia to leave.    They have to leave this country,” said Salim, a high school student, among thousands of people demonstrating on Sunday.
CRACKS IN THE FORTRESS
    Cracks are appearing in what has been described as “the fortress” around the elderly ruling elite, with a growing number of Bouteflika’s long-time supporters, including FLN members, joining the peaceful rallies urging him to step down.
    “Bouteflika’s system is over,” said a commentator on Ennahar, which is close to the president’s inner circle.
    State TV carried a statement from the presidency saying he had returned to Algeria after routine medical checks.
    The 82-year-old president has rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013.    Last April, he appeared in Algiers in a wheelchair.
    “We have taken to the streets today to protest a fifth presidential term.    We are against a fifth term.    It’s enough,” protester Zakaria said in front of the Central Postal Office.
    Traders and workers staged a strike in Algiers and other cities.    Shops in the capital were closed and train services suspended without explanation, residents said.
    “We have not benefited from oil money because of corruption and mismanagement.    Things must change for the better of our loved ones,” said Yazid Hamimi, a 57-year-old bank employee.
    Young Algerians are desperate for jobs and angry about unemployment and corruption, and complain that their leaders still dwell on the victory over France instead of improving living standards for the future.
    “The current system is unable to provide jobs,” said Farid Kahil, 27, who is unemployed.
WE NEED A NEW GENERATION
    The oil ports of Skikda and Bejaia felt the effect of the strike but exports were not affected, according to port staff.
    In 2011, as the “Arab Spring” uprising toppled autocrats in the region, Bouteflika managed to remain in power mainly because Algeria, an oil and gas producer, had enough foreign reserves to contain frustrations.
    Older Algerians haunted by a devastating civil war in the 1990s tolerated crackdowns on dissent in exchange for stability.    Now, some have appeared at demonstrations to demand reforms.
    “We need a new generation to govern us and secure a better future for our children,” said pensioner Ahmed, 63.
    But others were more cautious.
    “Change has to be peaceful, Bouteflika must leave but without violence.    Otherwise we will pay the price,” said Omar Ghiles, 60, a retired Arabic teacher.
    Even if Bouteflika’s position becomes untenable, it is not clear who could replace him.
    For years, rumors have swirled about potential successors, but no one credible has emerged who has the backing of the army and the elite and is not at least 70.
    Bouteflika was elected in 1999 with backing from the generals, pledging to end the civil war that erupted after the military annulled an election in 1992 that Islamists were poised to win.
    He negotiated a truce to end the fighting, which killed as estimated 200,000 people, and wrested power from the secretive military-based establishment known as “le pouvoir” (the power).    He also angered many by granting amnesty to militants who laid down their arms.
    By the start of his third term, Bouteflika had become Algeria’s most powerful president in 30 years, after fierce turf battles with security forces behind the scenes.
    Last year he consolidated his power by dismissing about a dozen top military officers.    But as mass protests gain momentum and allies abandon him, he may finally have run out of road.
(Additional reporting by Abdelaziz Boumzar in Algiers, Tom Miles, Marina Depetris and Denis Balibouse in Geneva and Julia Payne in London; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Jane Merriman and Kevin Liffey)

3/10/2019 Abbas picks loyalist Shtayyeh as Palestinian prime minister by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Senior Fatah official Mohammed Shtayyeh gestures during a Palestinian leadership meeting in Ramallah,
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank/GAZA (Reuters) – Economist Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the West Bank’s dominant Fatah party, was named Palestinian prime minister on Sunday in what the rival Hamas group that runs Gaza called a blow to unity efforts.
    The appointment was announced six weeks after Rami al-Hamdallah tendered his resignation from the post and the resignation of his unity government to President Mahmoud Abbas, underscoring the failure of Hamas and Fatah to implement a power-sharing deal.
    Speaking to Palestine Television, Shtayyeh said he would immediately begin consultations with factions belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas heads, on forming a new cabinet.
    Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since seizing the enclave from Fatah in 2007, is not a member of the PLO.    Ismail Rudwan, a senior official in the Islamist group, said the creation of “a separatist government … will prolong Palestinian division.”
    Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal in November 2017 calling for Abbas’ West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) to resume governing in Gaza and take control of its crossing points into Egypt and Israel.
    However, disputes quickly arose on how to implement the agreement.    Another sticking point has been policy toward Israel, which has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war and maintained tight control of Gaza’s borders since withdrawing settlers and troops from the area in 2005.
    Shtayyeh’s immediate challenge is to shore up the cash-strapped PA, which exercises limited self-rule under interim peace accords with Israel.
    The PA has been squeezed by steep U.S. aid cuts, with the cash crisis exacerbated by a dispute with Israel over the withholding of some 5 percent of the monthly tax revenues it transfers to the Authority.
    Israel said the money it is holding back is used by the PA to pay stipends to families of militants killed or jailed by Israel.    The PA has refused to accept any tax transfers until those funds are restored.
    Shtayyeh, seen largely as a technocrat, most recently headed the Palestinian Economic Council for Research and Development, a donor coordination and advocacy body established by the PLO in 1993.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Kirsten Donovan)

3/10/2019 Palestinian Authority cuts back wages in tax, prisoner dispute with Israel by Ali Sawafta
Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara gestures during a news conference in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied
West Bank February 21, 2019. Picture taken February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority is scaling back wages paid to its employees in response to a cash crunch deepened by a dispute with Israel over payments to families of militants in Israeli jails, it said on Sunday.
    In February, Israel announced it was deducting five percent of the revenues it transfers monthly to the Palestinian Authority (PA) from tax collected on imports that reach the occupied West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Israeli ports.
    Israel said the sum represented the amount the PA pays to families of Palestinians jailed in Israel or killed while carrying out attacks or other security offences.
    Palestinians see their slain and jailed as heroes of a national struggle but Israeli and U.S. officials say the stipends fan Palestinian violence and are scaled so relatives of prisoners serving longer sentences receive larger payments.
    After Israel’s deduction announcement, Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas said the PA would not accept any of the tax revenues, which totaled 700 million shekels ($193 million) in January and account for about half of the authority’s budget.
    As a result, Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said the PA would pay full salaries – which had been due on March 1 – only to its lowest-earning employees, or the 40 percent of its workforce that takes home 2,000 shekels ($550) or less a month.
    Civil servants earning more than that, including cabinet ministers, will have their wages cut by half, he told a news conference.
    However, Bishara said prisoners’ families will continue to be paid their full allocations.
    “No force on earth can alter that,” he told a news conference.
    Bishara said the PA will have to take bank loans of between $50 million to $60 million for the coming five to six months to weather the crisis.
    An Israeli official, commenting on condition of anonymity, said the PA had a cash-flow problem as a result of U.S. cuts in aid to the Palestinians and the tax revenues dispute but that the situation would not spiral out of control.
    “The nightmare scenario of the PA collapsing, or of PA security coordination with Israel ceasing, won’t happen,” the official said.
    “No one, including us and the United States, would allow that.    If need be, we’ll look for ways of preventing this.”
    The U.S. has cut all aid to the Palestinians, including $360 million it used to give to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.    The cuts were widely seen as a bid by Washington to press the Palestinians to re-enter peace talks with Israel that collapsed in 2014.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Kirsten Donovan)

3/10/2019 Erdogan accuses women’s march of disrespecting Islam
Police try to disperse a march marking International Women's Day in Istanbul, Turkey, March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday accused a women’s march in central Istanbul on Friday of disrespecting Islam by booing the Islamic call to prayer.
    Several thousand women had gathered in central Istanbul on Friday evening for a march to celebrate International Women’s Day but police fired tear gas to disperse them.
    In an election rally broadcast on television on Sunday, Erdogan showed a video taken during the protest, showing women chanting while a nearby mosque was reciting the call to prayer.
    “They disrepected the Azan (call to prayer) by slogans, booing and whistling,” Erdogan told the crowd.
    Women who took part in the march said on Twitter the chanting and whistling was part of the demonstration and was not aimed at the call to prayer, which began during their protest.
    Turkish police regularly prevent protests in central Istanbul and elsewhere.    Ankara tightened restrictions after the imposition of emergency rule following an attempted coup in 2016.    The state of emergency was lifted last July.
    Erdogan’s rally was ahead of local elections on March 31 for mayors and municipal boards.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay, Editing by Jane Merriman)

3/10/2019 Egypt’s Sisi appoints close military ally as transport minister
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states,
in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appointed military General Kamel al-Wazir as transport minister on Sunday, after the previous minister resigned following a train crash that left more than 20 dead at Cairo’s main station last month.
    Wazir serves as head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, one of the main owners of the new administrative capital being built outside Cairo and a developer of large infrastructure and national projects commissioned by Sisi.
    The previous minister, Hisham Arafat, stepped down immediately after the Feb. 27 crash, in which a locomotive smashed through station buffers and burst into flames, killing at least 22 and injuring dozens.
    “When this (the accident) happened, we said the person who will take over (the ministry) is Kamel al-Wazir,” Sisi said during a seminar organized by the armed forces to celebrate martyrs’ day.
    Sisi told Wazir, who frequently appears alongside the president at public events, that he can call upon any support he needs to revamp the rail system from all state institutions, including the military.
    “If you want [military] officers from the vehicles administration, the armored vehicles [administration] or the engineers .. I don’t have a problem,” he said, as he turned to Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki, who was also on stage along with the speaker of parliament.
    He then promoted Wazir from major general to lieutenant general, pinning new epaulettes on his uniform.
    The appointment is part of what analysts say is a broader trend to expand the role of the military since Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely-elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
    Parliament is currently debating proposed constitutional changes that could allow Sisi to stay in power until 2034 and tighten his control over the judiciary.
    The changes include amending article 200 of the constitution to add that the military has a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature.”
    The military’s economic and civilian activities have expanded since Sisi became president in 2014, and companies owned by the military have flourished, causing concern amongst local businessmen and foreign investors.
    “This trend is rooted in the claim that the military is uniquely capable of delivering results,” said Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
    “(This), in turn, justifies the military’s expanding control over state institutions and participation in the economy as its businesses and enterprises continue to grow and diversify,” he added.
(Reporting by Amina Ismail and Yousef Saba, additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba; writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Aidan Lewis, Dale Hudson and Kirsten Donovan)

3/11/2019 Turkey economy has worst showing in nine years after lira crisis by Daren Butler and Ezgi Erkoyun
Turkish lira banknotes are seen in this picture illustration in Istanbul, Turkey August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/Illustration
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The Turkish economy contracted a sharper than expected 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, its worst performance in nearly a decade and a clear sign that last year’s currency crisis has tipped it into recession.
    Turkey, a major emerging market once seen as a star performer by international investors, achieved growth of more than 7 percent in 2017.    But last year, it was battered by a 30 percent slide in the value of the lira brought on by concerns over a U.S. diplomatic spat and central bank independence.
    The year-on-year quarterly contraction compared with a median forecast of a 2.7 percent decline in a Reuters poll, and it was the worst performance since 2009.    The lira initially eased slightly after the official GDP data was published, before recovering to 5.4260 against the dollar.
    The economy grew 2.6 percent in 2018 as a whole, also the weakest performance since 2009, data from the Turkish Statistical Institute showed.    It compares with a forecast in the poll of 2.55 percent growth.
    Fourth quarter GDP shrank a seasonally and calendar-adjusted 2.4 percent from the previous quarter.    The data also showed the economy had expanded 1.8 percent year-on-year in the third quarter, revised from a previously reported 1.6 percent.
    The economy slowed abruptly in the second half of last year due to the lira crisis, which was caused by a rift with Washington that led to U.S. tariffs and sanctions, and worries over the central bank’s independence given pressure from President Tayyip Erdogan to cut borrowing costs.
    Inflation peaked at a 15-year high of more than 25 percent in October, and the central bank raised its key interest rate to 24 percent in September.
DEEPER AND LONGER RECESSION
    The construction sector – long a beneficiary of Turkey’s credit-fueled building boom – contracted 8.7 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter, the data showed, coupled with a 6.4 percent industry sector contraction.
    “My sense is the recession will be deeper and longer than previously (thought) given the balance sheet nature of this recession,” said Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management.    “Any unorthodox response (by the government, such as) early monetary policy easing at this stage will make things much worse.”
    Consumption expenditures of households decreased by around 9 percent in the last quarter, showing signs of slowdown in domestic demand that has also sharply narrowed Turkey’s current account deficit.    Separately on Monday, the country’s central bank said the deficit was $813 million in January.
    In 2017 Turkey’s economy expanded 7.4 percent, its strongest growth since 2013, driven by industry and construction.    For 2018, the Reuters poll of 19 economists saw full-year forecasts range from economic growth of 1.8 percent to 3.5 percent.
    The government, which in September cut its 2018 growth forecast to 3.8 percent from 5.5 percent, said improvement was around the corner.
    “The worst is behind in terms of economic activity.    The worst forecasts were not realized,” Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said on Twitter after the data was published.
    He added the rebalancing process continues as expected despite the contraction, and predicted 2019 growth will be in line with the government’s forecast of 2.3 percent.
    The Turkish government has taken a series of measures in a bid to boost slowing domestic demand, such as tax cuts for some consumer products including vehicles, furniture and white goods.    It has also encouraged shops to offer at least 10 percent discounts.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Ezi Erkoyun; Additional reporting by Behiye Selin Taner; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/11/2019 Gunfire, landmines slow SDF advance in ruins of Islamic State’s Syrian territory by Rodi Said
FILE PHOTO: Islamic State members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of
Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed fighters are moving slowly into Islamic State’s final pocket in eastern Syria to avoid losses in the face of sniper fire and landmines, a commander said on Monday.
    Warplanes flew above Baghouz, a cluster of houses on the banks of the Euphrates at the Iraqi border where Islamic State fighters still hold out, and smoke rose from the area along with the sound of intermittent clashes.
    The defeat of Islamic State at Baghouz will mark a milestone in the campaign against the jihadist group, ending its control of populated territory in the area straddling Iraq and Syria where it suddenly expanded in 2014 and declared a caliphate.
    However, it has already shown it will continue to mount a potent security threat, with a string of insurgent attacks in both countries.
    Pro-Syrian government forces hold the opposite bank of the Euphrates across from Baghouz and Iraqi militias are stationed at the border, cutting off any easy escape route for the jihadists.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has made “modest advances” since resuming its assault late on Sunday, killing and wounding many jihadist fighters said Adnan Afrin, a senior commander in the U.S.-backed militia.
    The SDF pressed on with operations on Monday along with coalition airstrikes, but Afrin said advances were slow because the SDF wanted to complete the campaign with minimal losses.
    Islamic State fighters attempted four suicide attacks but the SDF captured an arms dump, said militia sopoeksman Mustafa Bali. One SDF fighter was killed and four wounded.
    The SDF has held off from a full assault for most of the past few weeks as many thousands of people poured from the enclave, including surrendering fighters, Islamic State supporters, other civilians and some of the group’s captives.
    By Sunday evening, no more people had come out, prompting the SDF to start its attack.
HARSH CONDITIONS
    Inside Baghouz, a squalid area of makeshift shelters, garbage and trenches filmed by Reuters TV on Sunday showed the harsh conditions in the ruins of Islamic State’s ‘caliphate.’
    Amid palm trees and scrubby patches of vegetation in front of dry bluffs, rusting cars stood among the bivouacs made by stringing blankets from rope. Oil drums and plastic barrels lay scattered around.
    The SDF has shipped most people fleeing the wreckage of Islamic State’s rule over recent weeks to al-Hol in northeast Syria where some 65,000 people now live in a camp that the U.N. says was built to house 20,000.
    The obdurate support voiced by many of them for Islamic State, particularly among foreigners, has posed a complex security, legal and moral challenge for both the SDF and their own governments.
    Those issues were underscored on Friday with the death of the newborn son of Shamima Begum, a British woman who left to join Islamic State when she was a schoolgirl.
    On Monday, the head of the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said there were about 3,000 children from 43 countries living in al-Hol, along with many more Syrian and Iraqi children, in “extremely dire conditions.”
    “Since the 1st of January 2019, every single day, a child has died fleeing the fight against ISIS,” said the UNICEF head, Geert Cappelaere, at a news conference in Beirut.
(Fixes typographical error in first paragraph.)

3/11/2019 Final decision on Netanyahu indictment to follow Israeli vote
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting
in Jerusalem, March 10, 2019. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis will go the polls next month before a decision on whether to file a criminal indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, the Justice Ministry said on Monday.
    Israel’s attorney-general announced on Feb. 28 he intended to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, though the actual filing of the charges would depend on the outcome of a required hearing.
    Due to its proximity to the April 9 election, the hearing had been widely expected to happen after the vote.
    “The attorney-general … decided to accept the request of the prime minister’s attorneys to delay the delivery of investigation materials in the cases related to the prime minister until after the election date,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
    It said Netanyahu made the request out of concern that evidentiary material could leak to the media – and potentially affect public sentiment.
    The hearing, the ministry said, will take place no later than July 10.
    Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts, which prosecutors said included cigars and champagne, from tycoons, and dispensing favors in alleged bids for improved coverage by an Israeli newspaper and a website.
    The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.
    He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
    Opinion polls show a tight race for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, with gains for a center-left alliance led by Benny Gantz, an ex-armed forces chief who has vowed clean government.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/11/2019 Defiant judges, clerics pile pressure on Algeria’s Bouteflika by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
Protestors hold Algerian flags as they attend a demonstration against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
on the Place de la Republique, in Paris, France, March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – More than 1,000 judges said they would refuse to oversee Algeria’s election if President Abdelaziz Bouteflika contests it, and clerics defied any state role in their work, in a double rebuff to an ailing leader fighting for his political survival.
    Bouteflika, who returned to Algeria on Sunday after medical treatment in Switzerland, has watched one long-time ally after another join mass demonstrations calling on him to step down.
    Now in their third week, the protests have seen Algerians desperate for jobs and angry about unemployment and corruption demonstrate in towns across the vast North African country against Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.
    The marches have shattered years of political inertia and unsettled Algeria’s opaque but powerful security establishment.
    In a statement, the judges added their voice to the protests by announcing the formation of a new association “to restore the gift of justice.”
    “We announce our intention to abstain from … supervising the election process against the will of the people, which is the only source of power,” the judges said in a statement.
    The statement drew a sharp retort from Justice Minister Tayeb Louh, a member of Bouteflika’s inner circle, who said judges should remain neutral.
    “The independence and integrity of the judge must be consistent whatever the reasons,” Ennahar TV quoted him as saying.
    In another setback for the president, who plans to stand in elections in April, clerics told the minister of religious affairs to stop pressuring them to issue pro-government sermons.
    “Leave us to do our job, do not interfere,” cleric Imam Djamel Ghoul, leader of an independent group of clerics, said in remarks to reporters.
    The 82-year-old Bouteflika faces the toughest fight of his 20-year-old rule.    He has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, and his opponents say there is no evidence he is in a fit state to run the country.    The authorities say he is in control despite his rare appearances.
    The secretive military-based establishment known to Algerians as “le pouvoir” (the powers-that-be) appears to have stood aside while the demonstrations have taken place.    Security forces have been mostly restrained.
    “Bouteflika is back, we delivered a message, we need a response, and we need a response now,” pharmacist Mouloud Mohamed, 29, told Reuters.
    In Algiers, dozens of unionists staged a protest rally outside the headquarters of the main union, UGTA, calling on its leader Abdelmadjid Sidi Said, a Bouteflika ally, to resign. UGTA later said it endorsed change through “wisdom and dialogue.”
NO CLEAR REPLACEMENT
    In the clearest indication yet that the army is seeking to put some distance between itself and Bouteflika, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported.    Lieutenant General Gaed Salah did not mention the unrest.
    His ruling FLN party urged all sides to work together to end the crisis and promote national reconciliation, Ennahar TV said. But some of its members have quit and joined ranks with demonstrators.     Algeria has been governed for decades by veterans of its 1954-1962 war of independence from France.    Even if Bouteflika is forced from office, there is no clear replacement, raising the likelihood that the ruling elite will maintain its grip.
    Political sources say that if he caves in to the demonstrators’ demands, several parties including the military, war veterans and members of the opposition would need to build consensus on a way forward to secure an orderly transition.
    The process could also include prominent protesters.    Mustapha Bouchachi is emerging as one of the best known of several lawyers and human rights activists opposed to Bouteflika who have gained a following on social media.
    “I am an Algerian citizen, I urge the respected Bouchachi to run in the 2019 election and I am ready to follow him in accordance to my principles and interests of Algeria,” said Ahmed Azedine, one of his supporters.
    Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Bouchachi said: “The system will not be able to organize a transparent election.”
    For years, rumors have swirled about potential successors, but no one credible has emerged who has the backing of the army and the elite and is younger than 70.
    “The end of the reign of the outgoing president is over.    It is just a matter of time,” said Louisa Ait Idriss, a university professor and prominent political analyst.    “The challenge is to end Bouteflika without having another Bouteflika.”
    The protests come four years after Bouteflika consolidated his position by dismissing military intelligence chief Mohamed Mediene, a rival once seen as Algeria’s “Kingmaker,” a move many expected would allow the president to step aside for an ally.
    Bouteflika’s dismissal of the general was the culmination of a struggle to impose his authority on military intelligence, a leading player in the civil war of the 1990s, and make the presidency the true center of national power.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi, Additional reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunis, Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

3/11/2019 Sen. Graham tours Golan Heights with Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu by OAN Newsroom
    GOP Senator Lindsey Graham recently toured the disputed Golan Heights with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Graham, Netanyahu, and U..S Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visited the area Monday.
    The senator vowed to urge the U.S. to formally recognize Golan Heights as a part of Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, left, and
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, right, visit the border between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-held
Golan Heights, Monday, March 11, 2019. Graham says he will push for American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the
Golan Heights, a territory it captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP)
    Israel took control of the territory from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War, but the area is not internationally recognized as belonging to the Jewish state.
    Graham said he will be talking to President Trump on the issue and suggested there is support on Capitol Hill.
    “I do believe there’s bipartisan support in the Congress to recognize the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel for a lot of reasons — in the State Department, there’s a map and this part, the Golan, is labeled as disputed territory,” he stated.    “My goal is to try to persuade the administration to change that designation, that it’s not disputed — the Golan is not in dispute.”
    Graham went on to say the Golan will always belong to Israel.

3/11/2019 Last Islamic State enclave in eastern Syria pounded in U.S.-backed assault by Rodi Said
Flares are seen in the sky during fighting in the Islamic State's final enclave, in the village
of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Islamic State’s final enclave in eastern Syria was pounded with air strikes and artillery on Monday in a U.S.-backed assault aimed at wiping out the last shred of its territorial rule that once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.
    Fires raged after dark in the enclave at Baghouz near the Iraqi border as it was targeted with rockets and thick plumes of smoke rose from the area, Reuters TV footage showed. Heavy gunfire could be heard and flares lit up the night sky.
    The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said earlier its fighters were encountering sniper fire and landmines and advancing slowly to avoid losses.    The most hardened IS foreign fighters are still holed up in the area, the SDF has said.
    Air strikes destroyed IS stores and vehicles, the SDF said.
    The defeat of Islamic State at Baghouz will mark a milestone in the campaign against the jihadist group, ending its control of populated territory in the area straddling Iraq and Syria where it suddenly expanded in 2014 and declared a caliphate.
    However, the group still operates in remote territory elsewhere and has shown it will continue to mount a potent security threat, with a string of insurgent attacks in both countries.
    A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States did not believe senior Islamic State leaders were still in Baghouz.
    “We’re pretty confident the leadership is not still down in this tiny little, basically hellhole that remains there,” the official said.
    “Most of those folks have moved elsewhere as part of our assessment of their movement toward a more clandestine insurgency or preparing for the next fight when they don’t control territory,” the official added.
    SDF commander Adnan Afrin said many jihadist fighters had been killed or wounded since the assault began on Sunday. Reuters could not independently confirm the death toll.
    Islamic State fighters attempted four suicide attacks but the SDF captured an arms dump, said Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office.    One SDF fighter was killed and four wounded.
    The SDF has held off from a full assault for most of the past few weeks as many thousands of people poured from the enclave, including surrendering fighters, Islamic State supporters, other civilians and some of the group’s captives.
    By Sunday evening, no more people had come out, prompting the SDF to start its attack.    However on Monday evening a Reuters journalist saw a group of around 100 people, including women and children, coming out of the enclave.
    Pro-Syrian government forces hold the opposite bank of the Euphrates across from Baghouz and Iraqi militias are stationed at the border, cutting off any easy escape route for the jihadists.
HARSH CONDITIONS
    Inside Baghouz, a squalid area of makeshift shelters, garbage and trenches filmed by Reuters TV on Sunday showed the harsh conditions in the ruins of Islamic State’s ‘caliphate.’
    Amid palm trees and scrubby patches of vegetation, rusting cars stood among the bivouacs made by stringing blankets from rope.    Oil drums and plastic barrels lay scattered around.
    The SDF has shipped most people fleeing the wreckage of Islamic State’s rule over recent weeks to al-Hol in northeast Syria where some 65,000 people now live in a camp that the U.N. says was built to house 20,000.
    The obdurate support voiced by many of them for Islamic State, particularly among foreigners, has posed a complex security, legal and moral challenge for both the SDF and their own governments.
    Those issues were underscored on Friday with the death of the newborn son of Shamima Begum, a British woman who left to join Islamic State when she was a schoolgirl.
    On Monday, the head of the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said there were about 3,000 children from 43 countries living in al-Hol, along with many more Syrian and Iraqi children, in “extremely dire conditions.”
    “Since the 1st of January 2019, every single day, a child has died fleeing the fight against ISIS,” UNICEF head Geert Cappelaere told a news conference in Beirut.
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Baghouz; additional reporting by Imad Creidi in Beirut and Idrees Ali in Washington; writing by Angus McDowall/Tom Perry; editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)

3/11/2019 Algeria’s Bouteflika abandons re-election bid after weeks of protest by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
People celebrate on the streets after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he will not run
for a fifth term, in Algiers, Algeria March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika abandoned his bid for a fifth term in power on Monday, bowing to weeks of mass demonstrations against his 20-year rule by people demanding a new era of politics in a country dominated by an old guard.
    The veteran revolutionary also postponed an election that had been set for April, and promised social and economic reform.
    Bouteflika’s announcement brought crowds back onto the streets in celebration on Monday evening.    Hundreds of people, young and old, some draped in the national flag, jumped up and down with excitement.    Cars beeped their horns in approval.
    “Our protests have borne fruit! We defeated the supporters of the fifth term!” said taxi-driver Mohamed Kaci, 50.
    However, Bouteflika stopped short of immediately stepping down and will remain in power for some time yet, pending a national conference on political change.
    Tens of thousands of people from all social classes had demonstrated almost daily against his plan to run for re-election, rejecting a political system dominated for nearly 60 years by veterans of the independence war against France.
    Bouteflika, 82, has ruled for 20 years but has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.
    His opponents said they did not believe he was in a fit state to run the country, an OPEC oil producer, and suspected he was being kept in place to protect the grip of the military and business elite.
    In a series of announcements on Monday evening, the presidency said the election, previously set for April, would be postponed.    A new constitution would be submitted to the public for a referendum.
    Bouteflika said his last duty would be to contribute to the founding of a new system that will be in “the hands of a new generation of Algerians.”
    An “inclusive and independent” national conference will oversee the transition, drafting a new constitution and setting the date for elections.
    The conference should finish its work by the end of 2019, with elections to follow, he said in a statement.    The conference will be headed by an “independent, consensual and experienced national figure.”
    Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia resigned and Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui, not known as a member of Bouteflika’s inner circle, replaced him. Ramtane Lamamra, a diplomatic advisor to Bouteflika, was named deputy prime minister.
    Bouteflika met Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gaed Salah and veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, the kind of widely respected figure the military might look to as a guarantor of stability.
    “The voice of the people has been heard,” Brahimi, a former foreign minister and U.N. special envoy, said on state television after meeting Bouteflika.
    “Young people who took to the streets acted responsibly and gave a good image of the country.    We must turn this crisis into a constructive process.”
    Political sources said the military would almost certainly play a leading role in the transition process, and was assessing three or four civilians who could be eligible to become leaders.
    The army will likely rely on respected figures like Brahimi, and old friend of Bouteflika, to mediate.
    The protests have mostly been peaceful and Bouteflika’s announcement should defuse the potential for a bloody showdown with security forces, as has been the case in several other Arab nations facing political upheaval in recent years.
    Former colonial ruler France welcomed Bouteflika’s decision.
    “France expresses its hope that a new dynamic that responds to the aspirations of the Algerian people can get under way quickly,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
INERTIA SHATTERED
    “We have won the battle.    This will be a sleepless night,” said 25-year-old Abdelghani Hachi.    Nearby, other young Algerians made V-for-victory signs.
    Some of those celebrating on the streets struck a note of caution, saying they wanted a complete overhaul of the leadership which has offered few opportunities to young Algerians.    More than a quarter of Algerians under 30 are unemployed.
    Bouteflika, who returned to Algeria on Sunday after medical treatment in Switzerland, has watched one long-time ally after another join the demonstrations calling on him to step down.
    More than 1,000 judges said on Monday they would refuse to oversee the election if Bouteflika stood.    Clerics said they would not accept government orders about what to preach.
    The protests have shattered years of political inertia and unsettled Algeria’s opaque but powerful security establishment.
    The demonstrations have been the biggest in Algeria since an election was annulled by the military in 1991, triggering a decade of civil war against Islamists in which 200,000 people were killed.
    Bouteflika oversaw the end of the conflict but under his rule power was concentrated in the hands of a secretive military-based establishment known to Algerians as “le pouvoir” — the powers-that-be.
    The security forces have been mostly restrained during the demonstrations, a signal of the establishment’s eroding willingness to keep the president in power through force.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi and Abdelaziz Boumzar in Algiers, Additional reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunis, Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Peter Graff, Robin Pomeroy and Angus MacSwan)

3/12/2019 Unrest at Jerusalem holy site and two Palestinians killed in West Bank
Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian protestor during scuffles outside the compound housing
al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians threw a fire bomb at an Israeli police post at a site revered by Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem on Tuesday, and Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including one troops said attacked them with a knife.
    In the walled Old City of Jerusalem, Israeli police said a fire bomb damaged the police post inside a sacred compound revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.
    Scuffles broke out at the complex between Israeli police and Palestinians.    No serious injuries or damage to holy sites were reported and police said two suspects were arrested.
    Tensions in the holy compound in Jerusalem, part of the eastern sector of the city captured by Israel in a 1967 war, have risen in recent weeks after the site’s Muslim administrators reopened a mosque sealed by Israel during a Palestinian uprising in 2003.
    The U.N. Middle East envoy called for calm.
    “I am following events at the holy esplanade in Jerusalem with concern.    Places of worship are for prayer, not for provocations and violence.    Restraint must be shown to avoid inflaming an already tense situation,” Nickolay Mladenov said on Twitter.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called “the grave Israeli escalation” at the complex, which houses al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
    In the occupied West Bank, the military said a Palestinian, armed with a knife, had confronted troops in the city of Hebron and was shot and killed.    It said no soldiers were injured.
    The Palestinian higher judicial council said the 40-year-old man had worked in a Palestinian court in Hebron.    It denounced the shooting as “a despicable crime.”
    In a separate incident in the West Bank, a 23-year-old Palestinian was shot dead when clashes broke out after Israeli troops entered the Palestinian town Salfit, residents and the Palestinian Health ministry said.
    An Israeli army spokeswoman said soldiers had used riot-dispersal means, mainly tear gas, against dozens of Palestinians who threw stones at them and that the military did not know of any live fire being used.    She provided no further details.
    Palestinians began a wave of knife and car-ramming attacks in the West Bank and in Israel in 2015.    Such incidents have become more sporadic.
    Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, all lands seized by Israel in 1967.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Ali Sawafta and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/12/2019 Security Council members urge Yemen parties to implement peace deal
FILE PHOTO: Houthi allied police troopers secure a street in Hodeidah, Yemen December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council urged Yemen’s warring parties on Tuesday to implement a peace deal in the port city of Hodeidah, a move they hope will lead to an end of the four-year-old conflict.
    The Chinese, French, Russian, British and U.S. ambassadors to Yemen said in a statement they were “extremely concerned” that the agreement reached in Stockholm in December had not been implemented.
    The Houthi group and the Saudi-backed government agreed on a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah, an exchange of prisoners, and the reopening of humanitarian corridors to help millions of starving Yemenis, with international monitors to oversee things.
    “We … urge both parties to begin implementation of the proposal in good faith without further delay and without seeking to exploit the redeployments by the other side,” they said.
    “We call on all sides to ensure the U.N. monitoring mission can carry out its work safely and without interference.”
    The Stockholm agreement stalled with each side worrying the other would take advantage of the withdrawal to gain ground.
    The formation of a local authority to take control of Hodeidah after the troop withdrawal, agreed in the truce deal, also remains a sticking point.
    The truce in Hodeidah came into force on Dec. 18 and has largely held but violence has escalated in other regions.
    Air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 22 civilians, including women and children, in a village in northern Yemen this week, the United Nations said.
    Saudi Arabia is leading the Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition that first intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s ousted government.
    Western nations have pressed for an end to the war following increased scrutiny after the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis deny receiving help from Tehran and say their revolution is against corruption.
(Reporting By Mohamed Ghobari, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Robin Pomeroy)

3/12/2019 Hundreds surrender as Islamic State nears defeat in last enclave by Rodi Said
Islamic state fighters and their families walk as they surrendered in the village of Baghouz,
Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Islamic State faced imminent defeat in its final enclave on Tuesday as hundreds of jihadist fighters and their families surrendered and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said the battle was as good as over.
    A Reuters journalist in Baghouz saw hundreds of people surrendering to the SDF, which launched its final attack to capture Baghouz on Sunday, backed by U.S.-led international coalition air strikes after weeks of siege.
    The enclave is the last shred of territory held by the jihadists who have been driven from roughly one third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years.
    The ferocious assault continued late on Tuesday.    Live footage broadcast by the Kurdish Ronahi TV showed a series of large explosions lighting up the night sky over Baghouz, apparently from an ammunitions dump blowing up.
    Smoke billowed past burning buildings, lit orange by flares and raging fires, as tracer fire poured into the enclave amid the sound of constant shooting and blasts.
    SDF official Mustafa Bali said on Twitter on Tuesday that the number of Islamic State members who had surrendered has risen to 3,000.
    “Once our forces confirm that everyone who wants to surrender has done so … the clashes will resume,” he said, adding that the jihadists’ defeat was very near.
    The coalition said in an email earlier on Tuesday there were an estimated “few hundred” foreign Islamic State fighters remaining in Baghouz who had decided to fight to the end.
    The Baghouz enclave had been pounded on Monday with barrages of rockets, but the situation calmed on Tuesday morning before the intense bombardment resumed.
    “The operation is over, or as good as over, but requires a little more time to be completed practically on the ground,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told al-Hadath TV.
    The SDF has laid siege to Baghouz for weeks but has repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of Islamic State fighters, to leave.    It resumed the attack on Sunday.
    Gabriel said 25 Islamic State fighters had been confirmed killed so far in clashes, in addition to an unknown number of militants killed by air strikes.    Another SDF official said earlier 38 jihadists had been confirmed killed.
    The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has been advancing slowly into Baghouz to minimize its losses from sniper fire and landmines.
    Three SDF fighters have been killed, Bali said on Twitter.
GRAPHIC – Control of Syrian communities : https://graphics.reuters.com/MIDEAST-CRISIS-SYRIA/010090H90R2/SYRIA-CONTROL-2015-2019.jpg
TUNNELS
    Islamic State’s defenses include extensive tunnels.    The militant group’s most hardened foreign fighters are holed up inside the enclave, the SDF has said.
    However the United States does not believe any senior Islamic State leaders are in Baghouz, assessing they have gone elsewhere as part of the group’s shift toward guerrilla tactics, a U.S. defense official has said.
    Fighters surrendering from Baghouz are questioned and searched.
    While Baghouz is the last populated territory of what was once the group’s self-proclaimed “caliphate,” fighters still operate in remote areas elsewhere.    It is widely assessed that they will continue to represent a potent security threat.
    Even as the last shred of its physical statelet crumbled, the group put out a new propaganda video, filmed in recent weeks inside Baghouz, insisting on its claim to leadership of all Muslims and calling on its supporters to keep the faith.
    “Tomorrow, God willing, we will be in paradise and they will be burning in hell,” it showed an Islamic State member identified as Abu Abd al-Azeem saying.
    Most of the people evacuated from the diminishing Islamic State territory have been transported to a camp for internally displaced people in al-Hol, in northeastern Syria, where the United Nations says conditions are dire.
    The camp, designed to accommodate 20,000 people, is now sheltering more than 66,000.    The World Health Organization said on Tuesday 106 people, mainly infants, have died since December on the journey to al-Hol, which takes at least six hours.
    Many evacuees, particularly foreigners, still express obdurate support for Islamic State, posing difficult security, legal and moral questions for their countries of origin.
    Those issues were underscored on Friday with the death of the newborn son of Shamima Begum, a British woman who left London to join Islamic State when she was a schoolgirl.    Britain stripped her of her citizenship on security grounds last month.
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Tom Perry and Angus McDowall; Editing by Frances Kerry, Peter Graff and James Dalgleish)

3/13/2019 U.S.-backed Syria forces say IS suicide bombers thwarted in last-stand battle
Islamic state fighters and their families walk as they surrendered in the village of
Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    DEIR AL ZOR, Syria (Reuters) – The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said it thwarted an attempted Islamic State group suicide bomb attack early on Wednesday during a last-stand battle for the jihadist group’s final enclave.
    The SDF on Tuesday said the battle for Baghouz, a collection of hamlets and farmland near the Iraqi border, was as good as over.
    The enclave is the last shred of populated territory held by the jihadists who have been driven from roughly one third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years.
    Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF media office, said its forces had been bombarding Baghouz heavily overnight before engaging in direct clashes with IS fighters from 4-6 am (0200-0400 GMT).
    Live footage broadcast by the Kurdish Ronahi TV overnight showed a series of large explosions lighting up the night sky over Baghouz.
    “There were suicide vest attacks by a group of bombers who tried to blow themselves up amidst our forces. Our forces targeted and killed them before they reached our positions,” Bali said.
    The SDF has laid siege to Baghouz for weeks but had repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of Islamic State fighters, to leave.    It resumed the attack on Sunday.
    Around 3,000 fighters and their families surrendered to SDF forces in 24 hours, Bali said overnight.    Three women and four children belonging to the Yazidi sect, a minority group who were kidnapped and enslaved by IS in 2014, were also freed, he said.
    While Baghouz is the last populated territory of what was once the group’s self-proclaimed “caliphate,” fighters still operate in remote areas elsewhere.
    The group put out a new propaganda video overnight Monday filmed in recent weeks inside Baghouz, insisting on its claim to leadership of all Muslims and calling on its supporters to keep the faith.
    “Tomorrow, God willing, we will be in paradise and they will be burning in hell,” one of the men interviewed in the video said.
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Deir al-Zor, Syria; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/13/2019 Ethiopia, France sign military, navy deal, turn ‘new page’ in ties by John Irish
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron waves as German Chancellor Angela Merkel departs after a
meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia and France agreed their first military cooperation accord on Tuesday, a deal that includes helping the landlocked nation build a navy, as Paris seeks to boost economic ties in Africa’s second-most populous country.
    On a four-day visit to the Horn of Africa, President Emmanuel Macron is looking to break from France’s colonial history on the continent and nurture relationships in a region where it has lagged behind in recent years.
    Macron wants to leverage a mixture of Paris’ soft power in culture and education and its military know-how to give it a foothold at a time when Ethiopia is opening up.
    “This unprecedented defense cooperation agreement provides a framework… and notably opens the way for France to assist in establishing an Ethiopian naval component,” Macron told a news conference alongside Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
    The accord also provides for air cooperation, joint operations and opportunities for training and equipment purchases.
    Abiy, who took over as premier in April last year, has presided over major political and economic changes that have included the pardoning of exiled rebel groups and reconciliation with longtime neighboring foe Eritrea.
    The country disbanded its navy in 1991 after its then-province Eritrea, which is on the Red Sea, seceded following a three-decade war for independence.
    “We are here in a friendly country where we want to strengthen and build a new page in our common history,” Macron said.    “Since you became prime minister our vision (of Ethiopia) has profoundly changed.”
    He and Abiy also agreed deals to develop Ethiopia’s cultural heritage, including preserving churches and opening an archaeological dig at a 12th century village.    Paris will provide 100 million euros to help the country’s economic transition.
    Macron was accompanied by a delegation of businessmen, including the chief executive of telecommunications group Orange, Stephane Richard, who is looking to position the company ahead of Ethiopia’s privatisation of the sector.
    Shipper CMA-CGM and family-owned agri-food group Soufflet are among firms signing deals on Wednesday.    A 50-strong French business delegation is due in Addis on Friday.
    France’s history in Ethiopia dates back to the start of the 20th century.    Its largest embassy compound in the world by size – 43 hectares (106 acres) – was given to it by Emperor Menelik II in 1907.    In 1917 it built the rail link between former colony Djibouti and Addis.    But these days its influence and business deals fail to rival the likes of China.
    “The railway between Djibouti and France is 100 years old and the work that we now want to complete with President Macron is for the long-term.    Perhaps in 100 years we’ll talk about it again,” Abiy said.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/13/2019 U.S. drops reference to ‘Israeli-occupied’ Golan Heights in annual rights report
FILE PHOTO: A couple look towards signs pointing out distances to different cities, on Mount Bental, an observation post in the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department changed its usual description of the Golan Heights from “Israeli-occupied” to “Israeli-controlled” in an annual global human rights report released on Wednesday.
    Israel has been lobbying U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it effectively annexed in 1981.    Israel says the area, captured from Syria in a 1967 war, is a critical buffer zone to defend its territory.
    A separate section in the report, on the West Bank and Gaza Strip – areas that Israel also seized in 1967 – also did not refer to those territories as being “occupied” or under “occupation.”
    Any change in U.S. terminology on the West Bank and Gaza Strip is certain to raise Palestinian concern over the strength of Washington’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state envisaged by interim peace agreements in the 1990s.
    A State Department official, commenting on the language used in the report, said: “The policy on the status of the territories has not changed.”
    The United States uses the term “territories” when it refers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.    The official, Michael Kozak, head of the State Department’s human rights and democracy bureau, said Washington was seeking “a negotiated settlement” there.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Rami Ayyub and Frances Kerry)

3/13/2019 Israel says Hezbollah suspect in U.S. troop deaths now active on Golan by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. solider shows a picture of Ali Mussa Daqduq (L) during a news conference at the heavily
fortified Green Zone area in Baghdad July 2, 2007. REUTERS/Wathiq Khuzaie/Pool (IRAQ)/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Wednesday accused a suspected Lebanese Hezbollah operative who was previously held in Iraq over the killing of five U.S. military personnel of now setting up a Syrian guerrilla network for cross-border attacks on Israeli targets.
    The accusations against Ali Mussa Daqduq came as Israel seeks U.S. recognition of its claim of sovereignty over parts of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau on the Syrian frontier, which it captured in a 1967 war and deems a key security buffer.
    With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reasserting control after an 8-year insurgency, Israel has also been lobbying his big-power backer Russia to keep Hezbollah and Damascus’ other Iranian-aligned reinforcements away from the Syrian-held parts of Golan.
    Israel’s acting foreign minister was quoted as saying such U.S. recognition would be “an appropriate” response to what he said was increased Hezbollah activity on the Golan.
    In statements based on what it described as previously classified intelligence, the Israeli military said Hezbollah had mobilized “a few operatives, Syrians” as part of a new “terror network on the Syrian Golan Heights aimed at striking Israel.”
    The military said it believed Daqduq to be the network’s mastermind.
IRAQI DETENTION
    Daqduq was released from detention in 2012 in Iraq, where he had been accused by the United States of orchestrating a 2007 kidnapping that resulted in the killing of five U.S. military personnel.
    The United States had handed Daqduq over to Baghdad in 2011 after failing to secure a custody deal ahead of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Iraq.    Washington said it had received Baghdad’s assurances Daqduq would be prosecuted, but he was later cleared by an Iraqi court and repatriated to Lebanon.
    There was no immediate response to Israel’s allegations on Wednesday from Hezbollah, Syria or the U.S. and Russian embassies in Israel.
    U.S. diplomats have said they are in talks with Israel about its request to recognize its sovereignty on the Golan, a status that has yet to win any formal endorsement among world powers.
    Israel’s Mako news site quoted acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz of saying that such recognition by the United States would be “an appropriate and required response” to the allegations about Hezbollah’s activity on the Syrian Golan.
    “I hope that this will soon happen, during the prime minister’s upcoming visit to Washington,” Katz was quoted as saying.    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to address the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC in the U.S. capital in late March.
    In the past, Russia has spoken in favor of other foreign forces leaving Syria, though it plans to keep a garrison there.
    Israel has carried out scores of air strikes against suspected Iranian targets on Syrian Golan and further into the country, and threatened to continue such operations as required.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/13/2019 EU parliament calls for freeze on Turkey’s membership talks by Gilbert Reilhac
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the
upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    STRASBOURG (Reuters) – The European Union should formally suspend Turkey’s negotiations to join the bloc, EU lawmakers said on Wednesday in a symbolic rebuke of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who Western governments accuse of widespread abuses of human rights.
    Forging a common European Parliament position on Turkey’s long-stalled EU bid, lawmakers voted 370 in favor and 109 against, with 143 abstentions, for an official freeze of the membership process, which would jeopardize some EU funding.
    EU governments have the final say in any suspension.
    “Sitting in a cell for 17 months without knowing what you are being accused of, that is reality in today’s Turkey,” Kati Piri, a Dutch center-left EU lawmaker who sponsored the non-binding resolution, told the plenary in Strasbourg.
    She accused Erdogan of a “witchhunt against his critics,” referring to what the EU says is a crackdown on dissidents, the collapse of an independent judiciary and a turn toward authoritarianism that are incompatible with the bloc’s values of democracy and freedom of speech.
    Ankara dismissed the vote as meaningless.    Turkish ruling AK Party spokesman Omer Celik called it “worthless, invalid and disreputable.”
    Turkish foreign ministry said it expected the EP to take objective decisions and to adapt a constructive stance to contribute to Turkey’s EU accession process.
    The parliament adopted its stance two days before EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is set to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Brussels to discuss bilateral relations.
    The EU process is not formally frozen but was faltering even before Erdogan’s purge of suspected plotters of a failed coup attempt in 2016 and his broadsides against Europe in 2017, comparing the Dutch and German governments to Nazis.
    The negotia1tions, launched in 2005 after decades of Turkey seeking a formal start to an EU membership bid, dovetailed with Erdogan’s first economic reforms in power as prime minister from 2003.
    Today, EU officials say limits on press freedoms, mass jailing and shrinking civil rights make it almost impossible at the present time for Turkey to meet EU joining criteria.
    Lawmakers acknowledged that the bloc relies on Turkey as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank, while an EU deal with Ankara has halted the influx of Syrian refugees into the bloc.
    “Nobody denies the important role that Turkey plays, in particular in the migration crisis and the war in Syria.    But that doesn’t mean Europe can be hostage to a system that criticizes everyone who thinks differently,” Portuguese center-left EU lawmaker Liliana Rodrigues said.
    Two German journalists left Turkey on Sunday after authorities rejected their media accreditation, a step that drew condemnation from Germany’s foreign minister and stoked diplomatic tension.
(Additional reporting by Clare Roth and Robin Emmott in Brussels, Ece Toksabay in Turkey; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/14/2019 Israel opens criminal probe of 11 deaths in Gaza violence
    GENEVA – Israeli authorities have opened criminal investigations in the deaths of 11 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli gunfire during protests along the Gaza border in the past year, a senior Israeli official said Wednesday.    Israeli officials briefed journalists in Geneva to rebut allegations contained in a U.N. human rights report issued last week.    The report alleges soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and could have committed crimes against humanity at the border, where live ammunition killed 189 people and injured more than 6,000.

3/14/2019 Syria’s Assad struggles to reap spoils after military gains by Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks near a picture of Syrian President Bashar al Assad
in Damascus, Syria April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Eight years since Syria began its descent into war, many of President Bashar al-Assad’s enemies have been defeated and the bulk of the country is back under his control.    But he isn’t celebrating.
    “We must not wrongly think, as happened in the last year, that the war is over.    I say this not just to citizens but also to officials,” Assad told supporters in a speech last month.
    “We have this romantic view sometimes that we are victorious.    No.    The war is not over.”
    He said there was more fighting to be done before turning to his main point, the “siege” imposed by foreign states.
    “The siege is a battle in itself,” he told a packed conference room in the capital, Damascus.    “It is intensifying compared to previous years.”
    The comments reflect an uncomfortable winter in Damascus, the eighth since the conflict began after protests on March 15, 2011.    It is nearly a year since any mortar bomb hit the city but Syrians in government-held areas have been complaining of severe fuel shortages blamed by Damascus on Western sanctions.
    Queues for state-subsidized bottles of cooking gas have pointed to wider economic difficulties the Syrian government faces despite military victories won with help from Iran and Russia.
    While these allies have supplied critical firepower, they have offered little in the way of aid to rebuild cities devastated by a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven half of Syrians from their homes.
    The West will not help before a political settlement.    But Assad is in no mood to make concessions, having beaten his enemies back to a corner of the northwest which is now in the sights of government forces.
    Assad took back large areas in 2018 including eastern Ghouta near Damascus in Russian-backed advances.
    But there have been no significant gains since the recovery of Quneitra at the boundary with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in July.    The presence of hostile foreign powers on Syrian soil – Turkey in the northwest and the United States in the northeast and east – has obstructed further advances.
    President Donald Trump’s decision in December to withdraw all U.S. forces raised the possibility of Damascus recovering the Kurdish-led region where those forces are deployed. But this prospect has faded with some U.S. troops now set to stay.
    And though it looked like some of his Arab foes were ready to break the diplomatic ice with Assad a few months ago, U.S. pressure has put the brakes on further rapprochement. Momentum to get Syria back into the Arab League has ebbed.
ASSAD SEES “FOUR WARS
    “I agree with Assad – the war is not over.    The regime is not in any imminent danger of falling but the challenges are immense, politically, economically,” said David Lesch, an expert on Syria and author of “Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad.”
    On its current course, he sees Syria becoming more like the crisis-hit African country of Sudan where the state exercises limited control and autonomous regions are beyond its grip.
    “The question is does Bashar al-Assad — and the people around him — realize this is their future?” he said.
    In his speech, Assad said Syria faced four wars: the military conflict, economic “siege,” a struggle against corruption and what he described as a battle on social media where he said Syria’s enemies were waging a propaganda campaign.
    Addressing shortages of gas and other supplies, he acknowledged “” of late and likened economic sanctions to a war in which battles were lost and won.
    “Mostly we succeed, but sometimes we stumble because there are new methods by the hostile states,” he said.
    The United States says its sanctions aim to isolate Syria’s leadership and its supporters from the global financial and trade systems in response to atrocities, including use of chemical weapons.    The government denies using such weapons.
    The United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry on Syria said this week government forces had perpetrated 32 of 37 chemical attacks it had reported during the war, including the use of chlorine and sarin.
    In November, Washington warned of significant risks for parties involved in petroleum shipments to Syria and published a list of vessels that had delivered oil to the country since 2016.    It warned against “deceptive shipping practices.”
    U.S. sanctions are set to be tightened further with the passage of new legislation called the Caesar Act.
    It is named after a Syrian defector who smuggled out tens of thousands of photos taken between May 2011 and August 2013 which, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, show at least 6,786 separate individuals who died in government custody.
THERE IS NO MONEY
    Assad has previously dismissed the photos as “allegations without evidence,” and as part of a Qatar-funded plot against his government.
    The European Union also has widened its Syria-targeted sanctions, adding 11 businessmen and five companies involved in luxury real estate development and other government-backed projects in January.
    The Syrian government is no stranger to pariah status: Damascus has been proscribed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States since 1979.    Iran’s deepening role in Syria complicates any prospect of Washington normalizing ties.
    For the United Arab Emirates, a U.S.-allied Arab state that once backed rebels, countering Iranian influence was reason enough to reopen its Damascus embassy in December – a huge political boost to Assad.
    But others, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, share U.S. opposition to such moves.
    “Ultimately, Damascus thinks it won the war after the fall of Eastern Ghouta, so after the military victory they need a political victory, which would include foreign recognition,” a diplomat who follows Syria said.
    “But Saudi Arabia definitely will not open its embassy, Qatar will not, major Western powers won’t,” the diplomat said.
    “The big challenge is the economy.    They have to say ‘We’re on our way to reconstruction’, but there is no money coming in.”
    The U.N. was seeking aid for war victims in Syria and refugees in the region at an annual donor conference which it was hosting with the European Union in Brussels on Thursday.
    But the United States and the EU say they cannot provide assistance for reconstruction unless there is a political transition in Syria.    The Russian military has provided some help with reconstruction projects but lobbying by Moscow has failed to persuade the international community to pay for long-term reconstruction.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

3/14/2019 U.S.-backed Syria forces advancing into Islamic State enclave by Ellen Francis
Families of Islamic state fighters walk as they surrendered in the village of Baghouz,
Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed fighters besieging Islamic State’s final shred of territory in eastern Syria said they had pushed further into the enclave following clashes and air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition on Thursday.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces said this week the battle for Baghouz, a collection of hamlets and farmland near the Iraqi border, was as good as over, but the remaining hardline jihadists are waging last stand attacks which include groups of suicide bombers.
    “Our fighters advanced deep into areas controlled by the terrorist organization and established a number of new points, following clashes in which terrorists sustained a number of deaths and injuries,” a statement from the SDF press office said.
    SDF media official Chiager Amed said Islamic State fighters had used the cover from smoke and dust in the air to attack SDF forces on Wednesday.
    “SDF thwarted their attacks and burned an arms deport,” he said.
    Live footage broadcast by Kurdish Ronahi TV showed large fires raging in Baghouz overnight.
    The SDF said 15 members of Islamic State had been killed on Thursday morning after they tried to attack SDF troops.
    Islamic State held roughly a third of Syria and Iraq at the zenith of its power in 2014, when its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself “caliph,” or leader of all the world’s Muslims.
    The group was steadily beaten back by a range of enemies, including the U.S.-led international coalition, suffering major defeats in 2017 when it lost the Iraqi city of Mosul and its Syrian headquarters at Raqqa.
    No Islamic State leaders are believed to be in Baghouz, according to a U.S. defense official. U.S. government experts strongly believe Baghdadi is alive and possibly hiding in Iraq.
    The group is still assessed to remain a potent security threat operating in remote territory in both Syria and Iraq.
    The SDF has laid siege to Baghouz for weeks but had repeatedly postponed its final assault to allow thousands of civilians, many of them wives and children of Islamic State fighters, to leave.    It resumed the attack on Sunday.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis near Baghouz, Syria; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/14/2019 U.S. sees Turkey’s Russian missile deal as national security problem for NATO by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defence systems during the Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary
of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin -/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey’s pending purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system presents a national security problem for NATO, which would not be able to deploy F-35 aircraft alongside the Russian systems, senior U.S. officials said on Thursday.
    The officials, who briefed a group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system was not tantamount to it withdrawing from NATO, but that Ankara’s purchase should be viewed as a national security issue, not a merely commercial decision.
    “We are continuing to work on a range of options to ensure that Turkey’s participation in the NATO alliance and bilateral relationship can continue unabated and unimpinged,” one of the officials said.
    “The gravity of the risk to the F-35 both to the United States and to NATO allies is such that the two systems cannot be co-located.”
    NATO member Turkey has repeatedly said it is committed to buying the Russian missile defense system, despite warnings from the United States that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defense system.
    The U.S. State Department last week said Washington had told Turkey that if it buys the S-400 systems, the United States will have to reassess Ankara’s participation in the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter program.
    Washington has sought to persuade Turkey to instead purchase the American-made Patriot defense system, but Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara remains committed to the deal for the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.
    The senior U.S. officials said Washington’s offer to sell Patriots to Turkey continued and that the two sides remain in negotiations about it.
    The Turkish government has already missed a “soft deadline” set by Washington to decide whether to buy a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co. Patriot missile shield system. The formal offer expires at the end of this month.
    On Thursday, Erdogan repeated that it was not possible for Ankara to back out of the deal with Russia.
    Turkey’s insistence on buying the Russian system risks triggering a fresh diplomatic crisis with Washington.    If Ankara goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also could face sanctions under a U.S. law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
    The last diplomatic crisis between the two NATO allies contributed to driving the Turkish lira to a record low in August.    Disputes over strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff remain unresolved, and the issue of missile defense threatens to widen the rift again.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Alistair Bell)

3/14/2019 Israel suspects Iran of hacking election frontrunner Gantz’s phone: TV
FILE PHOTO: Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, walks with fellow party candidates during a visit to a
kibbutz in Israel outside the northern Gaza Strip, March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Shin Bet security service suspects Iran of hacking the mobile phone of Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughest rival in the April 9 election, an Israeli television station reported on Thursday.
    Gantz, a former chief of Israel’s armed forces, was informed of the hack five weeks ago, Channel 12 said, adding that the Shin Bet believed Iranian state intelligence had accessed the ex-general’s personal information and correspondences.
    The Shin Bet declined comment.
    Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party, which has outpaced Netanyahu’s conservative Likud in pre-election polls, played down any prospect of a national security breach and suggested the story had been deliberately leaked.
    “It should be emphasized that the incident in question happened some four years after Gantz finished his term as (military) chief of staff and the current timing of its publication raises many questions,” Blue and White said in a statement.
    A Likud spokesman responded: “We are not involved in this.”
    Israel and Iran, arch-enemies, have long been locked in a shadow war.    “Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis,” Netanyahu told a cyber-security conference in January.
    Netanyahu, who appointed Gantz to his term as top general between 2011 and 2015, has cast his now election rival as a “weak leftist.”    Gantz, whose party leadership includes two other former chiefs of staff, has not significantly parted with the prime minister’s policies regarding Iran and other Israeli foes.
    Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, and which sabotaged components of Iran’s nuclear program.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/14/2019 U.N. raises $7 billion for Syria from donors by Robin Emmott
Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah attends an international peace and donor conference for Syria,
at the European Union Council in Brussels, Belgium March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United Nations won almost $7 bln in aid pledges for Syria on Thursday, overcoming fatigue among donors after eight years of civil war and sidestepping divisions over how to deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    The emergency aid pledges came at a conference at which Western donors have had to wrestle with the question of whether to begin providing longer-term reconstruction assistance, now that Assad has all but won the war.
    The United Nations is seeking $3.3 billion for aid to people inside Syria and $5.5 billion for refugees in the region this year.    It drew more in pledges than last year when it asked for a similar amount but received less than two-thirds of its request.
    Nearly 12 million people inside Syria need emergency aid, and 5.6 million refugees are being housed and fed in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt.
    The European Union, the world’s biggest aid donor, pledged 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion) for this year, a sum which includes money already agreed for Syrian refugees in Turkey under a deal with Ankara to take in Syrians.
    U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who recently visited Syria, told the conference that Syrians had lived through horrors “almost beyond contemplation” and urged countries to help finance food, water and medicine supplies.
    Donors must contend with U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand that allies carry more of the burden.    His government last year failed to submit a pledge, although U.S. funding commitments eventually came in, EU diplomats said.
    The United States pledged more than $397 million on Thursday, although that was less than the $697 million offered in 2017, according to the U.S. State Department.    Data for 2018 was not immediately available.
    Mark Lowcock, U.N. under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said that emergency aid would not solve the Syria crisis.    “It requires a political solution,” he said.
RUSSIAN ROLE
    That underscored Europe’s dilemma in its efforts to isolate Assad.    The EU has repeatedly made longer-term reconstruction support conditional on a U.N.-led peace process to end a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
    But with the U.N. process stuck, Russia’s 2015 military intervention proving decisive for Assad, and Arab neighbors considering re-establishing diplomatic ties, European governments are divided over whether to rebuild.
    Germany, France, Britain and the Netherlands are forthright in defending a policy of withholding reconstruction money until a transition begins that would lead to Assad leaving power.
    However, if that were not to happen, European diplomats say they would see it as Russia’s responsibility to seek a solution, given its outsized military role and support for Assad.
    “The road to stability runs through Moscow,” a European diplomat said.
    The EU has imposed an oil embargo on Syria as well as export restrictions, a freeze on central bank assets and hit 270 people and 72 entities with asset freezes and travel bans.    Italy, Austria and Hungary, all critics of European immigration policy and closer to Moscow, favor talking to Syrian authorities to allow millions of refugees to go home.
    The European Commission has begun to put some money aside to help returning refugees, while the EU’s foreign service is using satellite images to study potential areas of reconstruction, diplomats say.
($1 = 0.8850 euros)
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/15/2019 Israel launches Gaza strikes after rockets fired at Tel Aviv by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Smoke and flame are seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli military aircraft bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early on Friday, hours after two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv in the first such attack since a 2014 war.
    Following the overnight exchanges, sirens sounded again in Israeli border towns after dawn broke.
    The Israeli military said its Iron Dome defense system intercepted all but one of six more missiles that were fired at Israel.
    In a statement, the Israeli military said it had struck “approximately 100 military targets” belonging to Hamas, the Islamist militant group which controls Gaza.
    The statement included photographs of several sites the military said it targeted, including what it called the headquarters of Hamas’s West Bank operations, a rocket manufacturing site, and a naval post which it described as a weapons depot.
    Reuters was unable to immediately verify the claims.
    Palestinian news media reported strikes throughout Gaza, from Rafah in the south to the north of the densely populated coastal strip that is home to two million Palestinians.
    Some of the buildings targeted had been evacuated as a precaution, as Hamas had expected an Israeli response.
    Health ministry officials in Gaza said two people, a man and a woman, were wounded when their house was damaged in Rafah in the early morning.
    Witnesses said powerful explosions from the air strikes rocked buildings in Gaza and lit the skies over targeted sites.
IF NOT HAMAS, WHO?
    On Thursday night, the sirens howled farther north, in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, set off by what the military said were two incoming, longer-range rockets from Gaza.
    That salvo caused no casualties or damage, missing built-up areas.    But it rattled Israeli nerves ahead of an April 9 election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term on the strength of his national security credentials.
    Explosions were heard in Tel Aviv and witnesses said interceptor missiles had detonated – although the military said no rockets were shot down.
    It was the first such attack on the city since the 2014 Gaza war between Hamas and Israel.    There have been several smaller rounds of fighting since, reined in by Egyptian and U.N. mediation.
    “This was basically a surprise,” military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis told Israel Radio on Thursday.
    Manelis said Israel did not yet know who had carried out the rocket launches.    But another Israeli military spokesman laid the blame on Hamas on Friday.
    “Hamas carried out the rocket fire against Tel Aviv yesterday evening,” Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said.
    Hamas denied involvement, saying the launches took place as its leaders met Egyptian delegates about efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire with Israel.
    Israeli analysts speculated that Palestinian militants opposed to any deal between Hamas and Israel were behind the rocket attacks.
    Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, two smaller Gaza armed factions, also denied responsibility.
    On Friday, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing said in a statement that it had put its fighters on full alert to respond to Israeli attacks.
WASHINGTON CHIMES IN
    The latest flare-up drew a U.S. statement of support for Israel.
    “Hamas and other terror orgs in Gaza continue to fail their people day after day & drag Gaza further & further down by constantly choosing violence,” Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s Middle East envoy, said on Twitter.    “This method will never work.    Ever!
    Naftali Bennett, a right-wing member of Netanyahu’s security Cabinet whose party is competing against the veteran prime minister’s for votes in the coming election, demanded that Israel resume its assassination of Hamas chiefs.
    “The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all,” he said on Thursday night.
    Netanyahu also faced pressure from the center-left opposition, whose leading candidate, former General Benny Gantz, said: “Only aggressive, harsh action will restore the deterrence that has eroded” under the prime minister’s watch.
    Tensions have been high for the past year along the Israel-Gaza frontier, as violent protests by Palestinians near Israel’s border fence have often provoked the Israeli military into a lethal response.
    Some 200 Palestinians have been killed during the demonstrations begun a year ago, on March 30, and about 60 more have died in other incidents, including exchanges of fire across the border.    Two Israeli soldiers have been killed by Palestinian fire.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Peter Cooney & Kim Coghill)

3/15/2019 Algeria ruling party turns its back on Bouteflika: he is ‘history’ by Lamine Chikhi
Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika looks on during a meeting with army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gaid Salah in
Algiers, Algeria, in this handout still image taken from a TV footage released on March 11, 2019. Algerian TV /Handout via Reuters
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s ruling FLN party showed more signs of turning its back on Abdelaziz Bouteflika as new protests against him began on Friday, with one senior party figure saying in an interview overnight the long-serving president was “history now.”
    Bouteflika has reversed a decision to stand for another term after mass protests against his rule, but stopped short of stepping down and says he will stay on until a new constitution is adopted.    He has been losing allies in recent days since returning from medical treatment in Switzerland.
    The remarks by Hocine Kheldoun to Ennahar television late on Thursday were another major setback Bouteflika, who hoped to pacify Algerians by promising to take steps to change the political landscape dominated by the president and the ruling elite for decades.
    Kheldoun, a former spokesman for the ruling party, became one of the most senior FLN officials to break with Bouteflika publicly.    He said the party had to look forwards and support the aims of demonstrators protesting against Bouteflika.
    On Friday, thousands of protesters gathered in central Algiers to keep pressing Bouteflika to step down.
    “FLN go,” some shouted amid a heavy police presence across the capital.    Demonstrations have been peaceful.
    Those who think we are tired are wrong.    "Our protests will not stop,” said doctor Madjid Benzida, 37.
    The FLN holds the majority in all elected assemblies, including parliament and local city councils.
    Tens of thousands of Algerians have staged protests for weeks demanding a new era with younger leaders who would offer greater social freedoms and prosperity.
    Bouteflika, 82, has been in office for 20 years but rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.    The protesters say he is no longer in a fit state to rule.
GAME OVER
    A former minister who is familiar with Bouteflika’s inner circle told Reuters that the president could not survive given the pressure building against him.
    “Game over.    Bouteflika has no choice but to quit now,” the former minister said on condition of anonymity.
    More mass protests are expected on Friday in the early afternoon after prayers.
    Many Algerians say that the ailing president and other veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France should hand over power to young technocrats who can focus on unemployment, poor services and stamping out corruption.
    The military, which has traditionally played a behind-the-scenes power broker role, has distanced itself from Bouteflika and stayed in its barracks throughout the crisis.    It is expected to retain influence under all scenarios.
    Algeria was relatively untouched when the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings swept away veteran autocrats in the Arab world.    Bouteflika and his allies, effective manipulators of the opposition, managed to avoid major unrest by spending oil money on the population.
    Bouteflika was credited with ending a civil war against Islamist insurgents in which tens of thousands of people were killed in the 1990s, and many Algerians long accepted heavy-handed rule as the price of stability.
    But the public has turned out onto the streets angry at deteriorating economic conditions and the ruling party’s failure to make the transition to a new generation of leaders despite the president’s failing health.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/15/2019 Gaza rockets rattle Tel Aviv, but hurt none; Hamas denies responsibility by Rami Amichay
Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chief of staff Aviv Kohavi hold a security consulations at the
Kirya Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv. March 14, 2019. Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Two rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip at the Tel Aviv area on Thursday, the Israeli military said, in the first such attack there since the 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave.
    The salvo caused no damage or casualties.    But it rattled Israeli nerves ahead of an April 9 election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term on the strength of his national security and diplomatic credentials.
    After air raid sirens howled throughout Tel Aviv and surrounding towns, Reuters journalists heard several explosions in Israel’s coastal conurbation.    TV footage showed Israeli interceptor missiles streaking into the sky and detonating.
    Despite the apparent activation of Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, the military said no rockets were shot down nor landed in any built-up areas.
    It was the first time sirens had sounded in the city since the 2014 Gaza war between the territory’s dominant Hamas Islamists and Israel.    There have been several smaller rounds of fighting since, reined in by Egyptian and U.N. mediations.
    “This was basically a surprise,” military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis told Israel Radio.    He said Israel had no advance intelligence warnings of the rocket fire, which went unclaimed by any Palestinian group.
    “We don’t know who carried it out,” Manelis said, adding: “The Hamas organization is the main organization in the Strip.    It is responsible for what happens within the Strip and what emanates from it.”
    Hamas denied involvement for the rocket salvo, which it said took place as its leaders met Egyptian delegates about efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire with Israel.
SHELTERS PREPARED
    A statement by the Hamas armed wing said it was “not responsible for the firing of the rockets tonight toward the enemy.”    The Hamas administration vowed to “take measures” against those behind the salvo, which it described as violating the “factional and national consensus” governing Gaza.
    Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, two smaller Gaza armed factions, also denied responsibility.     About 40 minutes after the alarm, traffic was flowing normally on Tel Aviv’s main highway.    Still, the municipality asked residents to open bomb shelters as a precaution.
    Netanyahu, who doubles as Israel’s defense minister, was conferring with military and security staff, his office said.
    Naftali Bennett, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet who is vying with him for rightist-votes in the looming ballot, issued a statement demanding the assassination of Hamas chiefs.    “The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all,” he said.
    Netanyahu also faced pressure from the center-left opposition, whose leading candidate, ex-general Benny Gantz, said “only aggressive, harsh action will restore the deterrence that has eroded” under the prime minister’s watch.
    Tensions have been high for the past year along the Israel-Gaza frontier since Palestinians began violent protests near Israel’s border fence that have often drawn a lethal response from the Israeli military.
    Around 200 Palestinians have been killed in the demonstrations and about 60 more Palestinians have died in other incidents, including exchanges of fire across the border.    Two Israeli soldiers have been killed by Palestinian fire.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Chris Reese)

3/15/2019 ‘We don’t see the enemy’ concealed jihadists slow IS defeat
FILE PHOTO: Fire and plumes of smoke are seen during fighting in the Islamic State's final enclave,
in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – The young Syrian man crossing out of Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria brought confirmation that the fight was still not over despite days of ferocious bombardment by U.S.-backed forces.
    “There are people coming out and others not coming out,” said the bearded man wearing a robe and head scarf, one of hundreds of people who left the enclave at Baghouz on Thursday to surrender to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
    Asked if there were many people still inside, he said “yes” in the footage obtained by Reuters from the Kurdish TV station Ronahi.    “I was injured in my back,” said the man, originally from the nearby city of Deir al-Zor.
    On Friday suicide attackers struck a group of people leaving Baghouz and surrendering, the SDF said, the first such blasts to target any of the thousands of people abandoning the enclave.
    It has been five weeks since the SDF declared the start of its attack on the enclave, a group of villages surrounded by farmland where IS fighters and followers retreated as their “caliphate” was driven from once vast territories.
    While Islamic State’s defeat at Baghouz has appeared a foregone conclusion – U.S. President Donald Trump prematurely declared the group “100 percent” beaten on Feb. 28 – the SDF has yet to deal the final blow.
    The campaign has stalled to allow for the evacuation of large numbers of people, many of them wives and children of IS fighters.    The SDF has evacuated thousands of people from the enclave, adding to the tens of thousands who have crossed out of the diminishing IS territory in the last few months.
    The assault has also been complicated by resistance from hardened jihadists holed up inside seeking a fight to the death.
    A big push this week has met with counter attacks involving groups of suicide bombers who had survived intensive artillery bombardments and air strikes by a U.S.-led international coalition.
GRAPHIC – How Islamic State lost Syria: https://tmsnrt.rs/2O7l4mN
MINES, BOMBS, TUNNELS, SHELTERS
    More women and children emerged from the enclave on Thursday along with wounded men, many of them limping, with crutches or propped up by walking sticks as they hobbled along a dirt track out of the remaining IS area.
    Some of the women, fully veiled and dressed head-to-toe in black, carried babies wrapped in blankets.
    The SDF believes Islamic State has dug extensive tunnels and shelters, tactics it used in places such as Raqqa, its former Syrian headquarters that the SDF captured in 2017.
    “The numbers that came out in the last 20 or 25 days were truly a surprise,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said.
    “The reality we have seen shows the extent of preparations by Daesh for this last battle,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
    “You have the mines, the bombs, the tunnels and shelters.    We don’t see the enemy in front of us.”
    The SDF has said it is proceeding cautiously in Baghouz to avoid losses and the fighting continued on Friday, with machine-gun battles and shelling.
    “The operations will take the time needed to … completely eliminate Daesh,” Gabriel said.
    U.S. envoy James Jeffrey said Islamic State was down to its last few hundred fighters and less than a square kilometer of land in the battle, although it may have 15,000-20,000 adherents in Syria and Iraq.
    France said on Friday that it had brought back five young children from camps in northern Syria, but repeated its position that adult citizens who had joined Islamic State should stay where they are and face justice.
    Western nations have been wrestling with how to handle suspected militants and their families seeking to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria, as well as those in detention, as more pour out of Baghouz.
(Additional reporting by a Reuters journalist in Deir al-Zor province and Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/15/2019 Israel election frontrunner Gantz dismisses report that Iran hacked his phone
Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party speaks to the media in Kibbutz Nir-Am, Israel March 15, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughest rival in Israel’s upcoming parliamentary election, dismissed as “political gossip” on Friday media reports of allegations that his mobile phone had been hacked by Iranian intelligence.
    The former Israeli armed forces chief was speaking near the border with Gaza following a day which saw the most serious escalation in months between Israel’s military and Palestinians in the coastal enclave.
    “We’re in the middle of an ongoing security event…and someone’s putting out a political gossip story,” Gantz said.    “I do not think Benny Gantz is the story here.    There’s no security issue there.    No threat and no blackmail.”
    Israel’s Channel 12 news reported on Thursday that the country’s Shin Bet security services believed Iranian state intelligence had accessed the ex-general’s personal information and correspondences and had informed him of the hack five weeks ago.
    Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party has outpaced Netanyahu’s conservative Likud in polls in the run-up to the April 9 vote.
    Israel and Iran, arch-enemies, have long been locked in a shadow war.    “Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis,” Netanyahu told a cyber-security conference in January.
    Israel and the United States are widely suspected of deploying the Stuxnet malware, uncovered in 2010, and which sabotaged components of Iran’s nuclear program.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/15/219 U.S. should not curb aid to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen: Pompeo
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the Department of
Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration opposes curbs on U.S. assistance for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, United States U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday.
    “The way to alleviate the Yemeni people’s suffering isn’t to prolong the conflict by handicapping our partners in the fight, but by giving the Saudi-led coalition the support needed to defeat Iranian-backed rebels and ensure just peace,” Pompeo said at a news conference.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, David Brunnstrum and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

3/17/2019 At least one dead in Palestinian shooting attack in West Bank: Israel Radio
Israeli soldiers stand guard near the scene of Palestinian shooting attack near the Jewish settlement of Ariel, in the occupied West Bank March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – At least one person was killed and two others were wounded in a Palestinian shooting attack in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, Israel Radio said.
    The incident began when a Palestinian grabbed a weapon from an Israeli at an intersection near the Jewish settlement of Ariel and then shot him, Channel 13 television said.
    The assailant then shot another Israeli, stole his car and fled, and opened fire at a bus stop at another junction, wounding a third Israeli, the report said.
    In a statement, the Israeli military said shootings had occurred at the Ariel and Gitai intersections and troops were searching for the gunman.
    Israel Radio said one person was shot and killed and two others were wounded in the attack, one of them critically.
    Palestinians, many of them individuals without known associations with militant groups, carried out a wave of attacks in the West Bank in late 2015 and 2016, but the frequency of such incidents has since decreased.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

3/17/2019 Over 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have fled last IS Syria enclave: SDF
FILE PHOTO: Surrendering families of Islamic State militants in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor
province, Syria, March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah/File Photo
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Sunday more than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, had flooded out of Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria since a final assault to capture it began over two months ago.
    SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told reporters that 29,600 people, the majority of them families of Islamic State fighters, had surrendered since the U.S.-backed forces led by the Kurdish YPG laid siege to Baghouz and its hinterland on the Euphrates River.
    Among them were 5,000 militants, the SDF said.
    Another 34,000 civilians were evacuated from Baghouz, the last shred of territory held by the jihadists who have been driven from roughly one third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years, Gabriel said.
    Former residents from the region say many of the civilians who left the Baghouz area in recent weeks were Iraqi Sunnis with close tribal ties on the other side of the border in Deir al-Zor, a Sunni heartland.
    They sought sanctuary in Syria for fear of revenge attacks by the Iraqi Hashd al Shaabi, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq who drove the militants from their areas, the former residents said.
    Another SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told Reuters only around a hundred militants and their families had surrendered overnight in the spot where hardline insurgents have been mounting a desperate last-stand defense.
    “We had expected the surrender of a large number of terrorists and their families but only a small group came out,” Bali said.
    Artillery bombardment of Baghouz, along with airstrikes, resumed on Sunday afternoon after a lull in fighting, a Reuters journalist there said, with smoke billowing over the enclave.
    The SDF said that 1,306 “terrorists” had been killed alongside many who were injured in the military campaign that began on Jan. 9, while 82 SDF fighters had been killed and 61 injured.
    The SDF said another 520 militants were captured in special operations in the last Islamic State bastion – a few villages surrounded by farmland where jihadists and their followers had retreated as their “caliphate” was driven from once vast territories.
    Former residents say hundreds of civilians have been killed in months of heavy aerial bombing by the coalition that have razed many of the hamlets in the area along the Iraqi border.
    The coalition says it take great care to avoid killing civilians and investigates reports that it has done so.
    The SDF has mostly transferred the tens of thousands who have fled Islamic State’s shrinking territory in recent months to a camp at al-Hol in the northeast.
    A senior International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official said last Monday an estimated 20,000 Iraqi women and children in the camp were expected to be sent home within weeks or months.
    The United Nations says the camp now holds around 67,000 people, 90 percent of them women and children – well beyond its capacity.    Camp workers say they do not have enough tents, food or medicine.
(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Rodi Said; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ros Russell)

3/17/2019 Yemen’s Houthis say ready to strike Riyadh, Abu Dhabi if coalition moves on Hodeidah
A Houthi security officer rides a motorbike during a funeral of people killed by an air strike last week in the
northwestern province of Hajja, in Sanaa, Yemen March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthi group said they were building their ballistic capabilities and their forces stand ready to strike Riyadh and Abu Dhabi if implementation of a U.N. peace deal in the port city of Hodeidah is breached.
    A spokesman of the Houthi forces said the group has a “stockpile of missiles” and the group can hit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the two Gulf states leading the coalition backing the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whenever the military command decides on the timing.
    “We have intelligence asserting that the enemy is preparing for an escalation in Hodeidah and we are following their movements closely.    Our forces stand ready for any requested and adequate measure,” colonel Yahya Sarea, a spokesman of the Houthi forces, was quoted as saying by the group-controlled state news agency SABA late on Saturday.
    Sarea said the nature of the conflict, which is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran, has made ballistic missiles and drones a “strategic choice” and the only response to the Saudi-led coalition air strikes.
    The Saudi-led coalition accuses the Houthis of breaching an agreement signed in Stockholm last December, after they failed to withdraw from the port of Hodeidah, the first step of the peace plan.    The Houthis say they want more guarantees from the U.N. that the other side will not exploit their withdrawal.
    The two sides have agreed on a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah, an exchange of prisoners, and the reopening of humanitarian corridors to help millions of starving Yemenis, with international monitors to oversee things.
    The ceasefire in Hodeidah has largely held but violence escalated elsewhere.    Last week, air strikes on a village in the northern Hajjah province killed 10 women and 12 children and wounded 30 people.
    Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict since the Sunni Muslim alliance intervened in the war in March 2015 in support of Hadi after his government was driven out of Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
(Reporting By Mohamed Ghobari, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/17/2019 Israel’s top court disqualifies far-rightist, approves Arab party for ballot by Dan Williams
Michael Ben-Ari from the Jewish Power party delivers a statement to the media together with his party's members,
Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir in Jerusalem, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s top court disqualified on Sunday a far-right Jewish politician from next month’s national election and approved the candidacy of a disputed Arab party, overturning March 6 decisions by the election board, a court statement said.
    The Supreme Court rulings were widely expected and unlikely to shake Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to craft a rightist alliance that might secure him a record fifth term.
    But they deepened the vitriol of a campaign in which his camp has cast itself as the victim of judicial over-reach and media bias, and has in turn been accused by center-left rivals of race-baiting and fear-mongering.
    The court found in favor of appellants who argued that Michael Ben-Ari of the Jewish Power party had displayed anti-Arab racism.    That view was backed by Israel’s attorney-general.
    Other members of Jewish Power, a small faction that is part of an ultra-nationalist list which last month forged an election alliance with Netanyahu’s Likud party, remain eligible to run.
    The Central Elections Committee, a monitoring body made up of delegates of parties in the current parliament, last month approved Ben-Ari’s candidacy while disqualifying Raam-Balad, a joint party list representing some of Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority.
    Israel has in the past prosecuted two Balad figures for contacts with Palestinian militants and accused a former party leader of helping Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war.
    The court voided the ban on Raam-Balad, a mix of Islamists and Arab nationalists which describes itself as a democratic movement.
NEWCOMER
    Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a fellow rightist in Netanyahu’s outgoing coalition, said in a statement that the court’s blocking of Ben-Ari “while declaring terror-backing parties kosher is a crass and misguided interference in the heart of Israeli democracy.”
    Netanyahu’s bid for reelection has been challenged by a centrist newcomer, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz.    Their escalating exchanges of allegations have included corruption, bigotry, forsaking national security and abetting Israel’s foes.
    The premier’s partnership with Jewish Power also drew rare censure from the U.S. pro-Israel lobby and normally staunch Netanyahu backer AIPAC, which branded the party “racist and reprehensible.”
    A poll aired by public broadcaster Kan on Sunday put Likud narrowly in the lead to form the next coalition government with a projected 31 of parliament’s 120 seats against 30 for Gantz’s Blue and White party.
    If reelected, Netanyahu will become Israel’s longest-serving premier in July.    That bid was dealt an unprecedented blow last month when Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced a plan to indict Netanyahu for bribery and breach of trust.    Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and could forestall formal charges in a review hearing after the election.
    Raam-Balad, which held eight seats in the last parliament, said the Supreme Court had upheld its “fundamental right to represent our electorate while Netanyahu and Gantz compete to see who can incite more powerfully against the Arab public.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones and Ros Russell)

3/17/2019 Water woes hit henna plant farms in Iraq’s Fao peninsula by Mohamed Atie and Aref Mohammed
Henna for sale is displayed at a market in Basra, Iraq March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    FAO, Iraq (Reuters) – In southern Iraq, where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers meet, the Fao peninsula was once known for its swathes of henna plants and palm trees.    But the lush greenery of this Basra province district has now turned into a hardscrabble surface.
    Walking past dead palm trees on land so dry it cracks, farmer Abbas Abdul Hassan said water shortages and ensuing use of salty water from the polluted Shatt al-Arab river for irrigation had eaten up areas that grew henna plants, whose ground leaves make the dark paste used as a dye.
    “This land was packed with henna plants … the salty water tide killed the henna and killed palm trees,” he said.
    Once bearing some 425 farms producing 5,000 kilograms (11,023 lb) of henna leaves annually, mainly for export, that number has now fallen to around 50 farms producing around 300 kilograms, Fao farm owner Fadhil Falih Abdulla said.
    Decades of conflict in Iraq, once a major date producer before switching its economic focus from agriculture to oil, have devastated farms.
    Its second city Basra has suffered destruction from wars, conflict and neglect since the 1980s.    Fao, which lies on the bank of the Shatt al-Arab delta near the Gulf, was hit hard due to its location on the frontline of Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran.
    Abdul Atheem Mohammed of Basra’s agriculture office said some 38,000 palm trees had died in the area since 2008.
    Shortages of water which caused the rise of salty water tides hit agriculture hard in Basra and caused the fall in henna farms in Fao,” he said.
    A local government project has been trying to revive the plantations in the last two years by setting up a farm in northern Basra.    During the collection season – January to April and then May – leaves are reaped every 45 days and sold at local markets.
    At a Basra salon, customer Sara Ibrahim described Fao henna as “a heritage.”
    “Iraq used to export the henna of Fao to the Gulf countries,” she said as she got her hands decorated with henna.    “But it is difficult to get it nowadays.”
(Reporting by Mohammed Atie and Aref Mohammed; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

3/18/2019 U.S.-backed force says it has taken positions in Islamic State Syria camp
FILE PHOTO: Injured Islamic state militants are seen in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor
province, Syria, March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah/File Photo
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed fighters have taken positions in Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria, they said late on Sunday, after pounding the tiny patch of land by the banks of the Euphrates.
    “Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, on Twitter.
    The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind on Sunday during a lull in fighting as people walked among them.
    Backed by air power and special forces from a U.S.-led coalition, the SDF has pushed Islamic State from almost the entire northeastern corner of Syria, defeating it in Raqqa in 2017 and driving it to its last enclave at Baghouz last year.
    However, while its defeat at Baghouz will end its control of populated land in the third of Syria and Iraq that it captured in 2014, the group will remain a threat, regional and Western officials say.
    The SDF has waged a staggered assault on the enclave, pausing for long periods over recent weeks to allow surrendering fighters, their families and other civilians to pour out.
    Since Jan. 9, more than 60,000 people have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Islamic State supporters including some 5,000 fighters, the SDF said on Sunday.
    People leaving the area have spoken of harsh conditions inside, under coalition bombardment and with supplies of food so scarce some resorted to eating grass.
    Last month, the SDF said it had found a mass grave in an area it captured.
    Still, many of those who left Baghouz have vowed their allegiance to the jihadist group, which last week put out a propaganda film from inside the enclave calling on its supporters to keep faith.
    Suicide attacks on Friday targeted families of Islamic State fighters attempting to leave the enclave and surrender, killing six people, the SDF said.
    Late on Sunday, the Kurdish Ronahi TV station aired footage showing a renewed assault on the enclave, with fires seen to be raging inside and tracer fire and rockets zooming into the tiny area.
    The SDF and the coalition say the Islamic State fighters inside Baghouz are among the group’s most hardened foreign fighters, though Western countries believe its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left the area.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/18/2019 UN envoy to Syria highlights need for political process based on UN resolution by OAN Newsroom
    The new United Nations special envoy for Syria has arrived in Damascus ahead of talks with Syrian government officials.
    On Sunday, Geir Pedersen said he is concentrated on moving forward with the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The resolution, which was adopted in December 2015, is calling for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.
    Pedersen promised to facilitate the political process in Syria, while keeping principles laid out in the UN Charter.    This includes the formation of a Constitutional Committee that would be tasked with the current Syrian constitution.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen greets people before the start of a Security Council
meeting at U.N. headquarters, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
    “We will obviously concentrate on how we can move forward in the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254, which is my mandate.    And hopefully that this could lead to a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process that could be facilitated by the United Nations.”
    The launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee has become the centerpiece of UN peace efforts in the country as its goal is to set up elections that can end eight-years of devastating war.

3/18/2019 Hundreds protest in Sudan, keep up pressure on Bashir by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in
Khartoum, Sudan February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters, mostly students, took to the streets in and near Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Monday, continuing a three-month wave of demonstrations that has posed the most serious challenge yet to President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule.
    Students, activists and other protesters frustrated with economic hardships have held almost daily demonstrations across Sudan since Dec. 19, calling for Bashir to step down.
    Police used tear gas on Monday to disperse hundreds of students from Eastern Nile University protesting in Khartoum North, and hundreds of other demonstrators on Sitteen Street, which runs through several upscale neighborhoods, witnesses said.
    At least four demonstrators were detained on Monday by security forces in Khartoum 2, an upscale area in the heart of the capital where dozens protested, a Reuters witness said. Security forces used batons to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom torched car tires.
    Dozens more protested on a main street in Khartoum’s Riyadh neighborhood.
    Police have used tear gas, batons and sometimes live ammunition to break up protests.    Officials have confirmed 33 deaths in the unrest since December, but activists say the toll is significantly higher.
    Opposition organizers often give the protests a theme for the day – Monday’s were for “student martyrs.”
    Demonstrations on Sunday, which drew thousands in and near Khartoum, were for “graduates and the unemployed.”
    Bashir, who took power in a military coup in 1993, promised during a swearing-in ceremony for a new cabinet last week that he would engage in dialogue with the opposition.    The opposition has rejected dialogue with Bashir and has continued to call for him and his government to step aside.
    Last month Bashir declared a state of emergency, dissolved the central government, replaced state governors with security officials, expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings.
    That has not stopped the protesters, who have stepped up demonstrations in recent days.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/18/2019 Iran demands U.S. leave Syria, Damascus threatens its ally
FILE PHOTO: Flares are seen in the sky during fighting in the Islamic State's final enclave, in the
village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran and Syria on Monday demanded the United States withdraw its troops from Syria, and the Damascus government threatened to defeat Washington’s Kurdish allies by force if they did not submit to the return of state authority.
    The Iranian and Syrian military chiefs were speaking after a meeting in Damascus that also included their Iraqi counterpart, who gave a political boost to President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran by announcing the Syrian border would soon be reopened.
    Their remarks point to the risks of a new escalation in Syria after the defeat of Islamic State, with Assad seeking to retake the two major territories outside his control, and the United States working to curb Iranian influence.
    Washington has vowed to contain what it calls Tehran’s “destabilising” role in the region, but the entrenched nature of Iran’s ties with both Damascus and Baghdad were on vivid display on Monday.
    Standing alongside his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts on live television, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said the three countries were “united against terrorism” and coordinating at a high level.
    The United States said last month it would keep some forces in Syria, reversing course from an earlier decision to pull them all out once Islamic State is militarily defeated.
    It has deployed air power and some ground troops in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia that is close to seizing the jihadists’ last enclave in eastern Syria.    It also has a military base at Tanf, near the Damascus-Baghdad highway and the Iraq and Syrian frontier.
    After Washington in December announced its intention to pull out troops, the Kurdish-led authorities controlling northeast Syria unsuccessfully sought a deal with Damascus to protect their area from a potential Turkish assault.
    “The only card remaining in the hands of the Americans and their allies is the SDF, and it will be dealt with through the two methods used by the Syrian state: national reconciliation or the liberation of the areas that they control through force,” Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Abdullah Ayoub said.
    Large areas of Syria have been brought back under government control through “reconciliation agreements” that have typically been concluded after the military defeat of rebel forces.
‘READINESS FOR SACRIFICE’
    Ayoub noted there was no doubt that U.S. military capabilities were “big and advanced” but said that the Syrian army’s sources of strength included a “readiness for sacrifices/i>” and it was “i>capable of taking action and having an effect.”
    Baqeri said the Damascus meeting had “studied the means that should be taken to recover” territories still outside government hands, including the areas of U.S. deployment, adding the decision in this regard was up to the Syrian state
    Syria’s border crossing with Iraq has been closed for years.    The area was overrun by Islamic State in 2014, which swore to eradicate modern nation states and meld them into its self-declared caliphate.
    “God willing the coming days will witness the opening of the border crossing and the continuation of visits and trade between the two countries,” Iraqi Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanimi said at a news conference broadcast by Syrian state television
    Baqeri said opening the border was important to Iran because of trade and for Iranian tourists traveling to Iraq and then Syria.    Critics of Iran have voiced concerns over a “land bridge” for Iranian influence to the Mediterranean and the Israeli border.
    For Assad, reopening the Iraqi border will accelerate Syria’s physical reintegration with neighboring economies after the opening of the frontier crossing with Jordan last year.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall and Tom Perry, Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Editing by David Holmes, William Maclean)
[No Assad.    They need to finish off Iran’s Islamic State fighters first, which is why Iran is being so pushy now.].

3/18/2019 U.N. experts urge Israel to rein in security forces by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian girl carries a potable water container after filling it from a public tap in
Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. war crimes investigators called on Israel on Monday to stop its snipers using lethal force against protesters on the border with Gaza, as the anniversary approached of the start of demonstrations there last year in which 189 Palestinians were killed.
    The Commission of Inquiry said Israel should investigate the shooting of more than 6,000 people, far beyond the criminal inquiries it has announced into 11 killings.
    “The most important thing for the government of Israel is to review the rules of engagement immediately and to ensure that the rules of engagement are according to accepted international law standards,” the commission’s chairman Santiago Canton told the Human Rights Council.
    Israel says the U.N. council is biased, and it boycotted the day-long debate, while hundreds of Israel supporters rallied outside the United Nations in Geneva, including senior U.S. officials.
    Canton said Israel’s Supreme Court should review the confidential rules governing lethal force after the panel found it had been “in the majority of cases authorized unlawfully.”
    “In a situation of crowd control, which is the way we see these demonstrations, rubber bullets could have been used,” Canton told reporters, rather than “high velocity bullets and long-range sniper rifles equipped with sophisticated optical aiming devices.”
    Large crowds were expected to mark the anniversary of the start of the Gaza demonstrations on March 30, he said.
    The protesters were demanding that Israel ease its blockade of Gaza and recognize their right to return to lands their families lost when Israel was founded in 1948.
    Israel has said its forces opened fire to protect the border from incursions and attacks by armed militants.
    The commission’s preliminary report said last month that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in its response.
U.S.-BACKED PRO-ISRAEL RALLY
    Canton said the independent experts were sending their confidential list of suspected perpetrators to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, for forwarding to the International Criminal Court, which opened a preliminary examination of alleged Israeli abuses in 2015.
    Israel did not attend the debate.
    “The moment has come to say loud and clear – @UNHumanRights @UN_HRC are complicit to the Hamas terror campaign against Israel,” its foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a tweet.
    Israel’s main ally, the United States, quit the 47-member UN Human Rights Council last year, also accusing it of an anti-Israel slant.
    To pass resolution after resolution on Israel while frequently ignoring China, Cuba, or Russia, is a horrendous hypocrisy,” U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told the crowd of Israel supporters gathered outside the UN in Geneva.
    Applying one standard to the state of Israel and not applying the same standard to others is anti-Semitic,” he said.
    Earlier, a U.N. human rights investigator said Israel was depriving millions of Palestinians of access to regular clean water supplies and stripping the land of minerals “in an apparent act of pillage.”
    U.N. special rapporteur Michael Lynk said Israel “continues full-steam with settlement expansion” in the West Bank, which the United Nations and many countries deem illegal.    There were 20,000-25,000 new settlers a year, he said.
    “In his latest farcical report, Mr. Lynk stoops to a new low and (accuses) the Jewish State of stealing,” Israel’s mission in Geneva said in a statement to Reuters, calling Lynk a “known Palestinian advocate.”
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Jeffrey Heller and Nidal al-Mughrabi; writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson)
[The so-called Palestenians have never been a country, and have created their own hell for themselves by their actions.].

3/18/2019 Turkish police block group visiting grave of jailed PKK member by Umit Ozdal
Turkish police detain demonstrators as they protest the death of a Kurdish inmate,
in Diyarbakir, Turkey, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar
    DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkish police fired water canons and detained some members of a group of about 100 that attempted on Monday to visit the grave of a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who died in prison, a Reuters witness said.
    The PKK member, Zulkuf Gezen, had been sentenced in 2010 to life in jail for links to a bombing in 2007 that killed one and injured six, according to media reports.    He was jailed in the northwestern province of Tekirdag where initial findings showed he committed suicide, the local prosecutor’s office said.
    The group of people heading to visit Gezen’s grave in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir were blocked by police who fired a water canon on them, according to Reuters footage from the scene.    The crowd chanted, “We will win by resisting,” before some were detained by police and taken away.
    Police said the group included Sezai Temelli, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and other lawmakers from his party.    The lawmakers were allowed entrance to the cemetery but not the whole group, police said.
    Ten people were detained after security forces called for the group to disperse and some responded by throwing rocks, police added.
    The HDP has said hundreds of prisoners in Turkish jails have been on hunger strike to protest the prison isolation of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the PKK.    Gezen was also on hunger strike and committed suicide to protest the isolation, the party said.
    “We invite those in power to act responsibly and realize the request to lift the isolation and the public to be sensitive before a similar pain is experienced,” the HDP said on Twitter.
    The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged an insurgency in Turkey since the 1980s.    Some 40,000 have been killed in the conflict.
    Ankara accuses the HDP of ties to the PKK.    The HDP denies direct links.
    HDP lawmaker Leyla Guven was the first to go on hunger strike.    She was released from prison in January after spending a year in custody on charges of terrorism leadership and propaganda for her opposition to Turkey’s incursion into northwest Syria’s Afrin region.    She still faces trial and up to 31 years in jail.
(Reporting by Umit Ozdal; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

3/18/2019 Yemen’s Houthis say they are ready to strike Saudi Arabia, UAE if ceasefire broken by OAN Newsroom
    The Houthi rebels in Yemen have issued a dire warning to the Saudi-led coalition backing the country’s government.
    According to reports Sunday, the militants claim they are building up their ballistic missiles capabilities and are ready to strike Riyadh or Abudhabi if a United Nations peace deal is not implemented.
    The group claimed they have a stockpile of missiles they are prepared to use if coalition forces break a ceasefire agreement in the key port city of Hodeidah.
    The Houthis claimed they have intelligence pro-government forces are preparing to escalate the conflict in the coming days.
    “To those mobilizing and preparing for an escalation in Hodeidah, we tell them that our forces are ready and have versatile capabilities to deal with any new movement on the Western coast,” stated Yahya Sarea, spokesperson for the Houthi military.    “Our intelligence ensures that there are aggressive intentions for a military escalation in Hodeidah within the coming few days, and there is close observation for the enemy’s movement and our forces will take necessary measures.”
    The threat comes as the Senate voted last week to end U.S. involvement in the proxy war, which has spurred the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.    However, President Trump is expected to veto the measure.
FILE – In this Oct. 1, 2018, photo, a woman holds a malnourished boy at the Aslam Health Center, in Hajjah, Yemen. The U.N. Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHAU.N. warned in a report Tuesday, March 12, 2019, that thousands of Yemeni
civilians caught in fierce clashes between warring factions are trapped in the embattled northern district of Hajjah. The number
of displaced in the district has doubled over the past six months, the humanitarian agency said. (AP Photos Hani Mohammed, File)

3/19/2019 Islamic State loses big part of enclave, SDF sees defeat ‘very soon’
A fighter of Syrian Democratic Forces gestures in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed Syrian forces said they were close to capturing Islamic State’s last territorial possession in eastern Syria on Tuesday after seizing the jihadists’ camp at Baghouz, though clashes continued with some remaining militants.
(graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2O7l4mN)
    “This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, a media official with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
    Asked by Reuters how long it would take to defeat the remaining jihadists, Bali said he expected the operation to end “very soon.”
    “The battles are not yet over.    There are still some pockets next to the river.    Some of the terrorists have taken their children as human shields.    There are intermittent clashes,” he said.
    The camp was the biggest remaining area held by Islamic State in Baghouz, itself the last populated area the jihadist group held from the third of Syria and Iraq it suddenly seized in 2014.
    It has been steadily forced back there after years of retreats in the face of military campaigns by the U.S.-backed SDF, the Russia-backed Syrian army and the Iraqi army with allied Iran-backed militias.
    Over recent weeks, as the group hemorrhaged supporters fleeing the besieged enclave, diehard jihadists mounted a desperate last stand in the battered Baghouz camp, shooting from trenches and sending car bombs against their enemies.
    Conditions inside were dire, said people who left, with inhabitants facing constant danger from bombardment and with little food, forced to eat grass.    Hundreds of wounded militants were captured when the SDF overran the camp, Bali said.
    However, while the capture of the previously unknown village of Baghouz near Syria’s border with Iraq, will mark a milestone in the battle against Islamic State, regional and Western officials say the group will remain a threat.
    Some of its fighters hold out in the remote central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraq to stage a series of shootings and kidnappings.
    The SDF earlier on Monday said it had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters as they tracked efforts by jihadists to break out of the enclave and escape their besiegers.
    Both the SDF and the U.S.-led coalition that backs it have said the remaining Islamic State militants at Baghouz are among its most hardened foreign operatives.
    Over the past two months, more than 60,000 people have poured out of the group’s dwindling enclave, nearly half of whom were surrendering supporters of Islamic State, including some 5,000 fighters.
    Even on the brink of defeat, the group’s propaganda division continued to function.    On Monday night Islamic State released an audio recording of its spokesman, Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer, saying the group would stay strong.
    “Do you think the displacement of the weak and poor out of Baghouz will weaken the Islamic State?    No,” he said.
    It also put out a video recording from inside the Baghouz camp, showing fighters shooting out at the encircling forces and a mess of stationary vehicles and makeshift shelters around them.
(Corrects day in first paragraph to Tuesday from Monday.)
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Qamishli, Syria and another Reuters journalist in Deir al-Zor province; Writing by Angus McDowall/Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/19/2019 Thousands rally in Algiers as protest leaders tell army to stay away by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
Doctors carry a national flag as they march during a protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
to quit, in Algiers, Algeria March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thousands of students, university professors and health workers rallied in Algiers on Tuesday calling for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, and a new group headed by activists and opposition figures told the army not to interfere.
    In the first direct message to the army from leaders emerging from nearly a month of mass protests against Bouteflika, the National Coordination for Change said the military should “play its constitutional role without interfering in the people’s choice.”
    Bouteflika, who has ruled for 20 years, bowed to the protesters last week by announcing he would not stand for another term.    But he stopped short of stepping down immediately and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
    His moves have done nothing to halt demonstrations, which peaked on Friday with hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Algiers and have continued into this week.
    “We will not stop our pressure until he (Bouteflika) goes,” said student Ali Adjimi, 23.    “The people want you to leave,” read a banner.
    The 82-year-old president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.    The protesters say he is in no fit health to rule.    Djilali Bahi, one of several hundred doctors and other health workers at Tuesday’s demonstration, said: “We are fed up with this system.    It must disappear forever.”
ARMY “RESPONSIBILITY
    So far, soldiers have stayed in their barracks during the protests.    But on Monday, Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah hinted at a more active role, saying the army should take responsibility for finding a quick solution to the crisis.
    Generals have traditionally wielded power behind the scenes in Algeria and have publicly intervened during pivotal moments, including cancelling an election in the early 1990s that Islamists were poised to win, triggering a decade of civil war.
    The protest leaders issued their statement titled “Platform of Change” late on Monday, demanding that Bouteflika step down before the end of his term on April 28 and the government resign immediately.
    Protesters have been calling for a generation of new leaders to replace a ruling elite dominated by the military, big businessmen with ties to the establishment and veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France.
    Algerian authorities have long been adept at manipulating a weak and disorganized opposition.    But the mass demonstrations have emboldened well-known figures to lead the reform drive.
    Prominent members of the new group include lawyer and activist Mustapha Bouchachi, opposition leader Karim Tabou and former treasury minister Ali Benouari, as well as Mourad Dhina and Kamel Guemazi, who belong to an outlawed Islamist party.
    Zoubida Assoul, leader of a small political party, is the only woman in the group so far.
    “Bouteflika just trampled on the constitution after he decided to extend his fourth term,” said the National Coordination for Change.
    Bouteflika’s newly appointed deputy prime minister, Ramtane Lamamra, has launched a tour of allied countries seeking support.    On Tuesday he visited Moscow, long a close military ally of Algeria.
    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was concerned by protests in Algeria and saw attempts underway to destabilize the situation.
    Lamamra defended the government’s reform proposals. Bouteflika has agreed to hand over power to an elected president, and the opposition will be allowed to take part in the cabinet that will oversee elections, he said at a joint press conference with Lavrov, adding that the government had responded to the legitimate demands of the Algerian people.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Peter Graff)

3/19/2019 Israeli campaign ad seeks to make political point with ‘Fascism’ perfume
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked delivers a statement to members of the media, at the
Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    (Reuters) – An election campaign video starring Israel’s far-right justice minister spoofs perfume ads to sell her political priorities, but has a strong whiff of muddled message given the fragrance is labeled “Fascism.”
    The intended meaning of the ad – three weeks before Israel’s election – is largely lost on people who just see the word fascism in English but who do not speak Hebrew and so cannot understand the voice-over.
    In the spot, Ayelet Shaked walks slowly down a staircase, her hair gently tossed by a breeze, as a female narrator whispers seductively in Hebrew: “Separation of powers,” “Restraining the Supreme Court.”
    Shaked is frequently critical of Israel’s top court as being too liberal and interventionist, but these and other views of her New Right party have been roundly criticized by leftists.
    Some, the commercial implies, may see her views as fiercely nationalistic: former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once called some of her comments about reforming the Supreme Court “proto-fascist.”
    But, Shaked says, holding the perfume bottle with its label: “To me, it smells like democracy.”
    Reaction on social media to the ad, sponsored by the New Right, ranged from “great” to “strange.”
    “This is one of the most bizarre election ads you have ever seen … Viktor Orban on steroids,” Barak Ravid, the diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s Channel 13 TV, tweeted, in a reference to Hungary’s far-right prime minister.
    Under Orban, Hungary passed a law in December to set up courts overseen by the justice minister, a move critics said would allow political interference in judicial matters.
    Shaked’s New Right party, which she leads along with Education Minister Naftali Bennett, is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.    It has been sliding in opinion polls and is forecast to win about six seats in the 120-member parliament in the April 9 election.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/19/2019 Robots compete with child jockeys in Egyptian camel races by Amr Dalsh
Jockeys, most of whom are children, compete on their mounts during the 18th International Camel Racing festival
at the Sarabium desert in Ismailia, Egypt, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) – Remote-controlled robot jockeys lined up at a major camel racing festival in northeastern Egypt, as owners came under pressure from campaigns to stop using child riders.
    Organizers fielded around 20 robots – child-sized devices with a whipping arm that can be triggered at a distance – alongside dozens of real children as part of a trial run.
    “God willing, in a year, there will be no human jockeys, except for some adults for the sake of tradition,” said Eid Hamdan Hassan, head of the Egyptian Camel Federation, which organized the festival in the Sarabium desert of Ismailia.
    Several Gulf countries have banned child jockeys from the traditional Bedouin sport after rights groups said the youngsters were often injured and some had been abducted or sold by their families.
    Owners at last week’s Egyptian event said the bans had prevented them from fielding teams in Gulf festivals – and they hoped the move to robots would help them get in.
    Esam el-Din Atiyah, president of the African Camel Racing Federation, which includes Egypt, acknowledged that child riders were sometimes injured.    “Human rights organizations have said that this is child exploitation,” he said.
    He personally wanted Egypt to move to robot-only events, but the transition was costly and would take time, he added.
    Young jockeys at the event – local children mostly aged 6-13 – defended the tradition and their participation.
    Sayed Mohamed, 11, said children were better than robots at steering.
    “The camel might lean sideways.    We (the children) are better at riding leaning camels so that we can straighten its route."
    “The robot works well with camels that don’t tend to lean.”
    Around 150 camels competed in eight categories over distances from five to 15 km, cheered on by more than 1,000 spectators.
    Local tribes prepare their best camels with a special diet of beans, barley, date paste and milk.
    Victory raises a camel’s value.    “When a camel wins, you sell it for a good price – from 150,000 to 200,000 Egyptian pounds($8,700-$11,600),” said camel owner Mohamed Mostafa.    “The camel that doesn’t win is sold for only 10,000.”
(Additional reporting by Lena Masri; writing by Aidan Lewis and Lena Masri; editing by Andrew Heavens)
[Watch out they may try to replace jockeys in horse racing next.].

3/19/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan calls on New Zealand to restore death penalty over shooting
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the
upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on New Zealand to restore the death penalty for the gunman who killed 50 people at two Christchurch mosques, warning that Turkey would make the attacker pay for his act if New Zealand did not.
    Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire at the two mosques during Muslim Friday prayers.
    “You heinously killed 50 of our siblings.    You will pay for this.    If New Zealand doesn’t make you, we know how to make you pay one way or another,” Erdogan told an election rally of thousands in northern Turkey.    He did not elaborate.
    He said Turkey was wrong to have abolished the death penalty 15 years ago, and added that New Zealand should make legal arrangements so that the Christchurch gunman could face capital punishment.
    “If the New Zealand parliament doesn’t make this decision I will continue to argue this with them constantly.    The necessary action needs to be taken,” he said.
    Erdogan is seeking to drum up support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in March 31 local elections.    At weekend election rallies he showed video footage of the shootings which the gunman had broadcast on Facebook, as well as extracts from a “manifesto” posted by the attacker and later taken down.
    That earned a rebuke from New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who said he told Turkey’s foreign minister and vice president that showing the video could endanger New Zealanders abroad.
    Despite Peters’ intervention, an extract from the manifesto was flashed up on a screen at Erdogan’s rally again on Tuesday, as well as brief footage of the gunman entering one of the mosques and shooting as he approached the door.
    Erdogan has said the gunman issued threats against Turkey and the president himself, and wanted to drive Turks from Turkey’s northwestern, European region.    Majority Muslim Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, is split between an Asian part east of the Bosphorus, and a European half to the west.
    Erdogan’s AK Party, which has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years, is battling for votes as the economy tips into recession after years of strong growth.    Erdogan has cast the local elections as a “matter of survival” in the face of threats including Kurdish militants, Islamophobia and incidents such as the New Zealand shootings.
    A senior Turkish security source said Tarrant entered Turkey twice in 2016 – for a week in March and for more than a month in September.    Turkish authorities have begun investigating everything from hotel records to camera footage to try to ascertain the reason for his visits, the source said.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Nick Tattersall)

3/19/2019 Israeli forces kill Palestinian suspected of deadly attack
Israeli soldiers gaurd near the scene of Sunday's attack near the Jewish settlement of Ariel,
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli forces on Tuesday killed a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a deadly stabbing and shooting attack in the occupied West Bank two days earlier, the Israeli Shin Bet security service said.
    The assailant was killed after he opened fire at Israeli forces who had come to arrest him, the Shin Bet said.    The Palestinian health ministry confirmed a person had been killed in the clash, but provided no further details.
    On Sunday, a suspected Palestinian assailant fatally stabbed a soldier at an intersection on a busy West Bank highway and opened fire at the scene using the conscript’s rifle, killing an Israeli rabbi and wounding a second soldier.
    Palestinians, many of them individuals without links to armed groups, carried out a wave of attacks in the West Bank in late 2015 and 2016 but the frequency of such incidents has since decreased.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Tom Brown)

3/19/2019 Netanyahu’s main election rival sidesteps Palestinian statehood
Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party speaks to the media in Kibbutz Nir-Am, Israel March 15, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongest election rival, former army general Benny Gantz, said on Tuesday he would seek peace with the Palestinians but stopped short of endorsing their goal for statehood.
    Gantz, a centrist candidate, said in an interview with Hadashot TV news that Israel has a moral obligation to “strive for peace.”
    “I will talk to anyone I can in order to advance a diplomatic solution,” Gantz said.
    When asked whether the ultimate goal would be that of a Palestinian state, Gantz did not give a definitive answer although he did suggest that eventually Israel should separate from the Palestinians.
    “At the end of the road there is a Jewish, democratic, safe and strong state with a solid Jewish majority and what happens on the other side would be an outcome of what happens at negotiations.”
    Palestinians want to establish a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.    The last round of peace talks between the sides broke down in 2014.
    The United States is widely expected to unveil a new peace proposal after the April 9 Israeli election.    The Trump administration has wavered over whether it would endorse a Palestinian state, saying the final outcome will be up to the sides to determine, but both sides will have to compromise.
    The Palestinians on their part have boycotted the Trump administration since it announced it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and opened a new U.S. embassy there last year.    Washington has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians.
    Gantz’s Blue and White party has slipped in opinion polls recently, although it still has a slight lead over Netanyahu’s Likud in most surveys.    However, Netanyahu still appears likely to win the most support from allied parties, allowing him to form a coalition of right-wing and religious factions similar to one he now heads.
    After the attorney-general announced on Feb. 28 he plans to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases, Gantz ruled out joining a Netanyahu government.
    But in leaked recordings aired on Israeli Reshet News on Monday, Gantz said that things could change if Trump’s peace plan is put forward.
    In Tuesday’s interview he said he would not join a Netanyahu government if charges are indeed filed against the prime minister.
    Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, will have the chance to persuade the attorney-general to scrap the charges at a hearing expected after the election.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/20/2019 Islamic State fighters pinned on Syrian riverbank, warplanes fly above
Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor
province, Syria, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Warplanes flew near Baghouz in eastern Syria early on Wednesday, a Reuters witness said, as the final remnants of the Islamic State group held a narrow strip of land along the Euphrates in a last-ditch defense of its dwindling territory.
    Defeat there would signal the end of the ultra-hardline Islamist movement’s control in eastern Syria, having held more than a third of Syria and Iraq at one point in 2014 as it sought to carve out a huge caliphate in the region.
    On Tuesday, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they had driven the remaining Islamic State fighters in the town of Baghouz from a makeshift encampment that had represented most of its remaining territory.
    But while the capture of Baghouz, close to the Iraqi border, would mark a significant milestone in Syria’s eight-year war and in the battle against the jihadist group, Islamic State remains a threat.
    Some of the group’s fighters are still holed up in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraqi cities to wage an insurgent campaign to destabilize the government.
    Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, said late on Tuesday that clashes with the militants at the Euphrates were continuing “in several pockets.”
(Reporting By a Reuters reporter in Deir al-Zor province and Angus McDowall in Beirut; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/20/2019 Kuwait says U.S. Mideast peace plan should weigh regional considerations by Sylvia Westall and Ahmed Hagagy
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah
in Kuwait, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that a long-awaited U.S. peace proposal for the Middle East should factor in regional considerations and all stakeholders.
    “We hope the plan will take into account the situation in the region and all the relevant parties,” Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah told a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a regional tour that will also take him to Israel and Lebanon.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s special advisor Jared Kushner visited several Gulf Arab states last month to seek support from Arab leaders on the economic portion of the peace proposal that Trump is expected to unveil in coming months.    That trip, however, did not include a stop in Kuwait.
    Kushner has given a broad outline of the plan, saying it would address final-status issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including establishing borders.
    Sheikh Sabah said the two had also discussed a Gulf Arab dispute, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Yemen.
    He said that the row between Qatar and some neighboring Gulf countries needed to be resolved.    “There is no other option,” he said.
    The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and non-Gulf state Egypt cut political, trade, and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017.    The countries accuse Doha of supporting terrorism, which it denies.
    Pompeo reiterated that the dispute was “not in the best interest of the region, not in the best interest of the world.”
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/20/2019 U.N. to hold conference in Libya in April to discuss conflict solution
The U.N. Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – The United Nations will hold a conference in the Libyan town of Ghadames on April 14-16 to discuss solutions to the country’s conflict, the United Nations’ Libya envoy said on Wednesday.
    “We hope it will be a new opening for the country for stability,” Ghassan Salame told reporters.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/20/2019 Israeli forces kill Palestinian suspected of deadly attack in West Bank
Residents check a damaged house where a Palestinian gunman was killed by Israeli forces, in
Abwein village, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli forces on Tuesday killed a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a deadly stabbing and shooting attack in the occupied West Bank two days earlier, the Israeli Shin Bet security service said.
    The assailant was killed after he opened fire at Israeli forces who had come to arrest him, the Shin Bet said.    The Palestinian health ministry confirmed a person had been killed in the clash, but provided no further details.
    In what appeared to be a separate incident, the Palestinian health ministry said two more Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the West Bank city of Nablus.    An Israeli army spokeswoman said the report was being looked into.
    On Sunday, a suspected Palestinian assailant fatally stabbed a soldier at an intersection on a busy West Bank highway and opened fire at the scene using the conscript’s rifle, killing an Israeli rabbi and wounding a second soldier.
    Palestinians, many of them people without links to armed groups, carried out a wave of attacks in the West Bank in late 2015 and 2016 but the frequency of such incidents has since decreased.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Tom Brown and Grant McCool)

3/20/2019 Kuwaiti Foreign Minister: We trust the U.S. role in putting together Middle East peace plan by OAN Newsroom
    Kuwait’s foreign minister commended America’s role in creating a long-awaited peace proposal during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the country.
    At the third United States-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue Wednesday, the country stated it trusted the U.S. in its efforts to put together a Middle East peace plan and find a peaceful solution to the Yemeni war.
    “The Middle East peace plan has long been awaited and we believe that our friends and colleagues in the United States of America have what it takes and have the necessary ideas to keep on going with the peace process and elaborate a peace plan that will take into account the situation in the region, and other relevant stakeholders.” — Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah, foreign minister – Kuwait.
    Another major issue Pompeo will be focusing on is creating a resolution to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis, which began in June of 2017.    Several countries surrounding Kuwait imposed ongoing land, sea and air blockades on Qatar after accusing the country of terrorism. Qatar has continued to deny the claims.
    Kuwait has been at the forefront of trying to find a resolution to the crisis and mediate between the other Arab Gulf countries, which remain in deadlock.
    The visit by Pompeo is also aimed at signing more agreements to boost strategic cooperation between the two countries for the next 25 years.
    “We believe that the strong relationship between the United States and several countries will lead to an acceptable ending to all the stakeholders, and lead to reaching a political solution that has been long awaited,” said Kuwait’s foreign minister.
    He also hailed the important role of the private sectors of Kuwait and the U.S. in boosting economic cooperation between them.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah
in Kuwait City, Kuwait, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool Photo via AP)
    “This will promote those connections between Americans and Kuwaitis and facilitate partnerships between cultural institutions in the United States and in Kuwait,” stated Pompeo.    “Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, it was my honor to discuss the future of this great relationship.”
    Pompeo’s regional tour comes as the U.S. is trying to consolidate its allies to oppose Iran.
    “I look forward to our conversations in this dialogue, and I welcome the next year and a generation of cooperation friendship between our two countries,” said the U.S. secretary of state.

3/20/2019 Pompeo pays pre-election visit to Israel, cites close Trump-Netanyahu ties by Jeffrey Heller
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as they
deliver joint statements during their meeting in Jerusalem March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showcased his close relationship with the Trump administration on Wednesday, hosting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo three weeks before an Israeli election.
    Washington’s announcement that President Donald Trump, a popular figure among Israelis, had invited Netanyahu to the White House for talks and a dinner two weeks ahead of the April 9 vote was also widely seen in Israel as a boost for the right-wing Likud party chief.
    Following a visit to Kuwait, Pompeo met Netanyahu in Jerusalem, where both men hailed U.S.-Israeli ties under Trump, a leader whom the prime minister has featured on election billboards.
    “We also know that our alliance in recent years has never been stronger,” Netanyahu said in comments to reporters, with Pompeo at his side.
    Netanyahu is battling for his political survival against both a strong challenger in centrist candidate Benny Gantz and against plans by Israel’s attorney-general to indict the prime minister, now in his fourth term, in three corruption cases.
    Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and portrayed himself in the election race as a leader with a wealth of international diplomatic experience that Gantz, a former armed forces chief and novice politician, cannot match.
    “I look forward to my visit next week to Washington, where I will meet with President Trump, and I believe we can carry this relationship even stronger,” Netanyahu said.    “It’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger.”
    Angering Palestinians and drawing international concern, Trump broke with decades of U.S. Middle East policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the American Embassy, which Pompeo will visit on Thursday, to the city last May.
    Pompeo, in his remarks, said the Israeli people should have confidence that Trump – who is due to present a peace plan after the Israeli ballot – will maintain a “close bond” with Israel.
    “I know that you and the president have an outstanding working relationship,” Pompeo said, addressing Netanyahu.    “He sent me here to build upon that and to represent him here.”
    Netanyahu said he and Pompeo, at the start of their discussions, examined how to “roll back Iranian aggression” in the region.
    Pressure on Iran, Netanyahu said, must be intensified now that the United States has reimposed sanctions on Tehran following Washington’s withdrawal from a 2015 deal with world powers to limit the Iranian nuclear program.
    Pompeo and Netanyahu later attended a meeting in Jerusalem with leaders from Cyprus and Greece on the construction of a 2,000 km (1,243 mile) gas pipeline linking vast eastern Mediterranean gas resources to Europe through those countries and Italy at a cost of $7 billion.
    Lebanon – Pompeo’s next stop – has warned its Mediterranean neighbors that the planned EastMed pipeline must not be allowed to violate its maritime borders.
(This story has been refiled to remove inadvertently repeated clause in paragraph three.)
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

3/20/2019 Houthi leaders say rebels will not give up Yemen’s key port city by OAN Newsroom
    Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they will not give up control of the key port city of Hodeidah.    A rebel leader made the comments Tuesday, just three months after a United Nations-backed ceasefire agreement was reached for the city.
    This comes as the number of casualties in the war has reportedly doubled since the ceasefire agreement was struck, resulting in three people being killed per day.
    The Houthis went on to accuse Yemen’s internationally recognized government of misinterpreting the deal.
    “The withdrawal, which was decided upon as a redeployment in Hodeida, we agreed to under the presented mechanism in their proposal,” stated Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi rebels’ supreme revolutionary committee.    “But for there to be a withdrawal in the way they are portraying it, this is impossible.”
The head of the revolutionary committee of Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi speaks to a reporter during
an interview with Associated Press in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday Mar. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
    The Houthis have made several threatening statements in the past days, and have claimd the Saudi-led coalition is preparing for an escalation in attacks on Hodeidah.
    The ceasefire was originally reached as a way to ensure humanitarian aid reached civilians in the country, millions of whom are facing starvation. As the ceasefire comes closer to crumbling, those vulnerable people are more at risk than ever.

3/20/2019 Palestinian killed in West Bank by Israeli gunfire: Palestinian medics
Israeli forces fire tear gas canisters at Palestinian protesters during clashes near the Jewish settlement
of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian was shot and killed in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday by what a Palestinian ambulance service said was Israeli army gunfire.
    The Israeli military said it was checking the report.     The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its crews treated a man with two bullet wounds at an Israeli military roadblock near the city of Bethlehem and that Israeli forces had shot him. It gave no details about the circumstances of the night-time shooting.
    The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man as a 26-year-old from Bethlehem and said another Palestinian had also been shot and critically wounded.
    Tensions have been high in the West Bank since a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier and a rabbi in a stabbing and shooting attack in the territory on Sunday.
    Israeli forces on Tuesday killed the alleged assailant near the West Bank city of Ramallah after he opened fire at troops who had come to arrest him, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.
    In a separate incident on Tuesday, two other Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during clashes near the West Bank city of Nablus.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Cooney)

3/21/2019 Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank: Palestinian medics; Israel reviewing
Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of
Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian medics said, and the military announced on Thursday that a soldier had discharged his weapon and it was reviewing the incident.
    The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its crews treated a man with two bullet wounds at an Israeli military roadblock near the city of Bethlehem on Wednesday and that Israeli forces had shot him.
    It gave no details about the circumstances of the night-time shooting.    The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man as a 26-year-old from Bethlehem and said another Palestinian had also been shot and critically wounded.
    Hours later, the Israeli military issued a statement saying that a soldier stationed at a post near Bethlehem had “identified rocks being thrown at Israeli vehicles (and) in response, he fired his weapon.”
    The statement did not identify the soldier’s intended target and some Israeli media reports said warning shots were fired in the air, suggesting the two Palestinians may have been hit unintentionally.
    “A report was received regarding injured Palestinians,” the military said.    “Details regarding the incident are being reviewed and the incident will be examined.”
    Tensions have been high in the West Bank since a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier and a rabbi in a stabbing and shooting attack in the territory on Sunday.
    Israeli forces on Tuesday killed the alleged assailant near the West Bank city of Ramallah after he opened fire at troops who had come to arrest him, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.
    In a separate incident on Tuesday, two other Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during clashes near the West Bank city of Nablus.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014. (Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Cooney)

3/21/2019 Victory over Islamic State to be announced after enclave searched: SDF
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) sit in the bucket of an excavator in the village of
Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 20, 2019. Picture taken March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – U.S.-backed Syrian forces were sweeping on Thursday through the final enclave that had been held by Islamic State fighters, and said they would declare the group defeated once a search for hidden mines and jihadist holdouts was complete.
“Our forces are still conducting combing and search operations and as soon as they are finished we will announce the liberation,” Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, said in a note to journalists. Bali told Reuters the operation included sweeping for mines and combing for fighters still hidden in trenches and tunnels dug beneath Baghouz, the last patch of Islamic State territory. (How Islamic State lost Syria: https://tmsnrt.rs/2O7l4mN) The last clashes reported by the SDF were on Tuesday, indicating that major fighting is over in the last big battle of a five year international campaign against a self-proclaimed caliphate that once comprised a third of both Iraq and Syria. The SDF, backed by U.S. air power, swept on Tuesday into a camp where hundreds of fighters had been making their last stand with thousands of civilians, many their own wives and children. The situation in Baghouz appeared calm for a second consecutive day, a Reuters journalist in Baghouz said. Warplanes with the U.S.-led coalition, including drones, could be seen overhead. A news outlet with close ties to the Syrian Kurdish-led authorities, Hawar, reported that the operation was now finished and Islamic State defeated. But an SDF denial swiftly made clear it was not quite prepared to declare victory yet. A propaganda video carrying the mark of an Islamic State news outlet and distributed among online followers of the group on Thursday showed footage from inside Baghouz and a fighter calling for Muslims in Western countries to stage attacks. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said another 2,000 women and children had arrived late on Wednesday at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria that has received tens of thousands of people who have poured out of the shrinking Islamic State territory. “These women and children are in the worst condition we have seen since the crisis first began. Many have been caught up in the fighting and dozens have been burnt or badly injured by shrapnel,” Wendy Taeuber, IRC’s Iraq and northeast Syria country director, said in a statement. “We are expecting another 3,000 to arrive soon and we are very worried that they may be in even worse shape.” A report issued by the United Nations’ population fund, the UNFPA, on Thursday said “it is estimated that around 7,000 people are still inside” Baghouz, without elaborating. The al-Hol camp is now holding more than 72,000 people, including more than 40,000 children, IRC said. The total number of deaths on the way to it or shortly after arriving now stood at 138, the overwhelming number of them babies and infants. Of the 1,248 pregnant women and girls in the camp, up to 15 percent were younger than 18, the UNFPA said. Though the defeat of Islamic State at Baghouz ends its grip over populated territory, it remains a threat, with fighters operating in remote territory elsewhere and capable of mounting insurgent attacks. The U.S. military has warned that Islamic State may still count tens of thousands of fighters, dispersed throughout Iraq and Syria, with enough leaders and resources to present a menacing insurgency. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Jerusalem, told reporters victory was “close”. He was proud of “the work that the United States did, the Department of Defense did, that the folks fighting down in the Euphrates river valley did”, he said. “The threat from radical Islamic terrorism remains. We need to finish out the last few square meters there, in Syria. Still work to do.” The Pentagon’s internal watchdog released a report last month saying Islamic State remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria. The group could resurge in Syria within 6-12 months and regain limited territory without sustained pressure. The United States believes Iraq is the location of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who stood at the pulpit of the great medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims. (Additional reporting by Rodi Said in Qamishli and a Reuters journalist in Baghouz, Syria; Writing by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Peter Graff and Alison Williams)

3/21/2019 Last ISIS stronghold in Syria liberated by OAN Newsroom
A column of smoke from operations by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) head out on an operation in
Baghouz, the Islamic State group’s last pocket of territory in Syria, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
    Another one of President Trump’s campaign promises is now fulfilled as ISIS is officially eradicated from Syria.
    According to Thursday reports, the last ISIS stronghold in Syria has been liberated and the caliphate has been fully conquered.
    While an official announcement has not been made, bombs have stopped dropping, gunfire has ceased and the terror group’s flags no long fly over the town of Baghouz.
    This comes just hours after President Trump said ISIS would soon be completely destroyed by U.S.-backed forces in Syria.
    A clearing operation is now underway and an official announcement is expected soon.
President Donald Trump shows a map of Syria and Iraq showing the presence of the Islamic State (IS) in 2017 and 2019,
as he speaks to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
[IF YOU DID NOT SEE THE ABOVE IMAGE AND INFORMATION ON YOUR NEWS SERVICE THEN YOU NOW KNOW THAT YOU ARE WATCHING “FAKE NEWS" WHO WILL NOT PRESENT ANYTHING THAT PROMOTES PRESIDENT TRUMP.]

3/21/2019 Pompeo visits Holocaust Memorial, meets Israeli President Rivlin by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is continuing his diplomatic visit to the Middle East.    On Thursday, he and his wife Susan made a visit to the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
    While at the center, the secretary took time to lay a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance and sign the guest book.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signs a guest book during a visit together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S.
Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City, Thursday, March 21, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool Image via AP)
    The secretary also visited the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and held a working meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
    “You talked about Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, all of these entities that present risks to Middle East stability and to Israel,” said Pompeo.    “They are determined to wipe this country off the face of the planet and we have a moral obligation and a political one to prevent that from happening — you should know that the United States is prepared to do that.”
    Pompeo is scheduled to travel to Beirut on Friday.

3/21/2019 Hezbollah sanctions harming Lebanon, says President Aoun
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon President Michel Aoun addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France
September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah are harming Lebanon as a whole, President Michel Aoun said on Thursday ahead of a visit to the country by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    The United States deems the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah group a terrorist organization and has been steadily increasing financial sanctions against it as part of efforts to counter Iran.
    Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah has a large armed militia that has helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his eight-year war against rebels, but it is also a political party in Lebanon with seats in the parliament and cabinet.
    “Lebanon is within the siege that has been imposed on others, particularly on Iran.    And it is passing, as a result of that, through a big crisis,” Aoun told Russian media in Lebanon, the Lebanese Presidency office said.
    Sanctions against Hezbollah introduced since 2016 raised fears among Lebanese that U.S. correspondent banks might deem Lebanese banks too risky to do business with, harming a major part of Lebanon’s economy.
    However, Lebanon’s Central Bank has repeatedly said that the banking sector is fully compliant with sanctions and that foreign institutions are satisfied with how it implements regulation.
    “We don’t expect more measures against the banks,” Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said.
    But he said the “negative impact of the siege on Hezbollah afflicts all Lebanese, as it does the Lebanese banks.”
    “Every Lebanese bank has uncertainty about dealing with a depositor, fearing that he has a link with Hezbollah … This mutual fear does not build an economy and sound trade relations,” he added.
    U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo is due to visit Lebanon on Friday and Saturday after trips to Kuwait and Israel.    In Israel, Pompeo described Iran-backed Hezbollah as a risk to the Lebanese.
    Aoun is scheduled to visit Russia over March 25-26 after being invited by President Vladimir Putin, Aoun’s office said.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry; Editing by David Goodman)

3/21/2019 Pompeo, in Israel, says Hezbollah putting Lebanon at risk by Dan Williams
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the
dedication plaque at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday described the heavily armed Hezbollah group as a risk to their fellow Lebanese and conferred with Israel about the Iranian-backed militia ahead of a trip to Beirut.
    Pompeo, who has been on a regional tour to promote the Trump administration’s hard tack against Iran, received a warning from Israel, which worries it may again be in the sights of Hezbollah fighters winding down their intervention in Syria’s civil war.
    Washington also has been increasingly voicing concern at Hezbollah power, echoing Israel, whose forces were fought to a standstill by the militia in a 2006 Lebanon war.
    Hosting Pompeo at his office, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri “cannot say to anyone that Lebanon is separate from Hezbollah” – a reference to the group’s clout in Beirut where it has ministers in the coalition cabinet as well as lawmakers in parliament.
    “If some(thing) will happen from Lebanon toward Israel, we will hold Lebanon as the responsible (party),” Rivlin said.
    Asked what message he would take to Lebanon, his next stop, Pompeo told reporters: “We’re going to be very clear about how America sees Hezbollah and our expectations about how Lebanon’s success depends on the Lebanese people (demanding) that a terrorist organization not be in control of their government and not drive policies and create risk for their country as well.”
ELECTORAL FORCE
    In Lebanon’s 2018 elections, parties and individuals who back Hezbollah’s possession of a military arsenal won a majority of seats in parliament.    President Michel Aoun called Hezbollah’s arms “an essential part of defending Lebanon,” though Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said its weapons were illegitimate.
    Pompeo also reinforced Rivlin’s veiled warning that Israel could retaliate against Lebanon for any Hezbollah attack: “We all know the risk, right?    Hezbollah does something inside of Lebanon, the risk of escalation is real."
    “The people of Lebanon don’t want that.    The people of Israel don’t want that.    The people of the United States of America don’t want that.”
    For its part, Israel has carried out repeated air strikes on Hezbollah in Syria, where the Shi’ite Muslim militia – along with Russian air power – helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the tables against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels and militants.
    Iran has faced economic hardship since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and reimposed sanctions.
    In a speech broadcast on the Persian New Year on Thursday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Islamic Republic had successfully resisted “unprecedented, strong” U.S. sanctions.
    Pompeo told Rivlin that Hezbollah, along with Palestinian Hamas and Yemen’s Houthis – both also Iranian-backed – “are determined to wipe this country (Israel) off the face of the planet and we (the United States) have a moral obligation and a political one to prevent that from happening.”
    Coming just three weeks before a closely contested Israeli election, Pompeo’s trip to Jerusalem was widely seen in Israel as a boost for the prime minister, who enjoys a close relationship with Trump.
(Additional reporting by Angus McDowall in Beirut; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

3/22/2019 In major shift, Trump says time for U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan by Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Israeli-Syrian border is seen from the Israeli-occupied
Golan Heights, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that Israel seized from Syria in 1967, marking a dramatic shift in U.S. policy and giving a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the middle of his re-election campaign.
    The disputed area was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.    Netanyahu has pressed the United States to recognize its claim and raised that possibility in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017.
    “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
    Trump’s move appeared to be his most overt yet to help Netanyahu, who is locked in a closely contested race in the April 9 election while also fighting allegations of corruption, which he denies.
    Netanyahu arrives in Washington next week to meet with Trump and address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, lobbying group.
    Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria” that he did not intend his move as an explicit election boost for Netanyahu.
    “I hear he’s doing okay.    I don’t know if he’s doing great right now, but I hear he’s doing okay.    But I would imagine the other side, whoever’s against him, is also in favor of what I just did,” Trump said.
    Trump, whose decision last year to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv angered Palestinians, faced some criticism for his latest move.
    “Neither America nor Israel, neither Trump nor Netanyahu, will change the historical fact that the Golan lands are Syrian lands and they will remain Syrian lands,” Ayman Abu Jabal, a member of the Druze community in the Israeli-occupied Golan, said by phone.
    Netanyahu thanked Trump for the Golan Heights gesture.
    “You’ve made history,” Netanyahu told Trump in a phone call after the announcement, according to the prime minister’s office.
    Netanyahu had been expected to raise the issue again with Trump during his visit to Washington, an Israeli official said.
    “At a time when Iran seeks to use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel, President Trump boldly recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.    Thank you President Trump! @realDonaldTrump,” Netanyahu wrote in a tweet.
    Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Trump’s announcement was “completely beyond international law.”    “The Arab League stands fully behind the Syrian right to its occupied land,” he said in a statement published by Egypt’s state news agency MENA.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter that Turkey “supports Syria’s territorial integrity.”    He said Washington’s “attempts to legitimize Israel’s illegal acts will only lead to more violence in the region.”
    At the United Nations, a spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declined to comment.
‘CYNICAL MOVE’
    The United States had foreshadowed the decision last week when the State Department issued its annual human rights report.    The report revised its usual description of the Golan Heights from “Israeli-occupied” to “Israeli-controlled.”
    A senior administration official said the president had been discussing his Golan move over the last few days with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House national security adviser John Bolton, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
    Officials waved away any concerns about Israel’s elections, the official said.
    “Every single person was supportive of the idea,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    There was no clarity from the White House on when formal paperwork would be issued confirming Trump’s tweeted decision.
    Richard Haass, a former senior State Department official who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that he strongly disagreed with Trump’s Golan decision.
    Haass said the move violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, “which rules out acquiring territory by war and serves Israel as it says all states have right 2 live in peace.”
    The resolution, passed after the 1967 war, called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories and guaranteed the right of countries in the region to live peacefully within secure and recognized borders.
    J Street, a liberal Jewish-American lobbying group, criticized Trump’s action, saying that premature U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty of Golan is a needlessly provocative move that violates international law.
    “It’s clear that this cynical move by Trump is not about the long-term interests of the U.S. or Israel, but rather about handing yet another political gift to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the hopes of boosting his chances for re-election next month,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami.
    Trump’s announcement could complicate his administration’s plans to roll out its long-delayed Middle East peace plan after Israel’s election.
    The plan, which has drawn widespread skepticism even before its unveiling, is intended not only to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table but also draw Israel closer to its U.S.-allied Arab neighbors. Those states, however, have long rejected Israel’s annexation of the Golan.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Yousef Saba in Cairo; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

3/22/2019 Syria vows to recover Golan as Trump policy shift draws criticism
FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand on tanks near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian government vowed to recover the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Friday as its allies and enemies alike condemned U.S. President Donald Trump for moving to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory seized in war.
    Trump’s statement on Thursday marked a dramatic shift in U.S. policy over the status of a disputed area that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 – a move not recognized internationally.
    Russia and Iran, military allies of Damascus, condemned the shift towards recognition – comments which the Syrian government said showed Washington’s “blind” pro-Israeli bias.
    “The Syrian nation is more determined to liberate this precious piece of Syrian national land through all available means,” the Syrian state news agency cited an official source as saying.
    The Golan Heights would remain “Syrian, Arab,” it said, saying the statement showed contempt for international law.
    Turkey, a U.S.-allied state and an adversary of the Damascus government, also criticized the move, saying it had brought the Middle East to the edge of a new crisis and the legitimisation of the occupation of the Golan Heights could not be allowed.
    “U.S. President Trump’s unfortunate statement yesterday has brought the region to the brink of a new crisis,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said.
    Iran said the U.S. position was illegal and unacceptable, and Russia said a change in the status of the Golan Heights would be a direct violation of U.N. resolutions.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is touring the region, is due in Beirut on Friday where he will he will meet political allies of the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah, including President Michel Aoun.
    Both Iran and Russia have deployed forces into Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian conflict, with Iran sending both its own forces and also backing regional Shi’ite militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah that have helped Damascus.
    “This illegal and unacceptable recognition does not change the fact that it belongs to Syria,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman was cited as saying by state TV.
    In a speech at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Turkey’s Erdogan said: “we cannot allow the legitimisation of the occupation of the Golan Heights.”
    The Arab League, which suspended Syria in 2011, said Trump’s comment paved “the way for official American recognition” of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
    Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the statements were “completely beyond international law.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pressed the United States to recognize its claim and raised that possibility in his first White House meeting with Trump in February 2017.    Trump’s statement has given a boost to Netanyahu in the middle of his re-election campaign.
    Netanyahu has praised Trump for “making history” with the statement.
    “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
    Trump’s move followed the U.S. recognition in December 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a decision that also drew international criticism as the disputed city’s status remains at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty in Cairo/Tom Perry in Beirut, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Yousef Saba in Cairo, Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Darren Schuettler and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/22/2019 U.S.-backed Syrian force still battling Islamic State
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand together in the village of Baghouz,
Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    QAMISHLI, Syria (Reuters) – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battled Islamic State militants holed up in the Baghouz area overnight, supported by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, the SDF said, seeking to defeat the last pockets of jihadist resistance.
    The SDF has been battling for weeks to defeat Islamic State at the Baghouz enclave in southeastern Syria at the Iraqi border, all that remained of the territory the militants ruled, which once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.
    While the U.S.-backed SDF has captured most of the area, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters SDF fighters were clashing late on Thursday with IS militants in more than two positions where they were refusing to surrender.
    The jihadists were holed up in what appeared to be caves in a rocky shelf overlooking Baghouz, and in trenches by the nearby Euphrates River, he said. U.S.-led coalition war planes had conducted two raids on Thursday evening against IS movements.
    “Our forces are trying to force them to surrender, but so far the clashes are continuing,” Bali said.
    Though the defeat of Islamic State at Baghouz ends its grip over populated territory, the group remains a threat, with fighters operating in remote territory elsewhere and capable of mounting insurgent attacks.
(Reporting by Rodi Said; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/22/2019 U.N. rights forum condemns Israel over deadly Gaza protests by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian medics raise up their hands as they try to evacuate a wounded demonstrator during protest
at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday condemned Israel’s “apparent intentional use of unlawful lethal and other excessive force” against civilian protesters in Gaza, and called for perpetrators of violations in the enclave to face justice.
    Protests at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip began in March last year, with Palestinians demanding Israel ease a blockade of Gaza and recognize their right to return to lands their families fled or were forced from when Israel was founded in 1948.
    On Friday, Israeli forces killed two people and wounded 55 others taking part in the weekly protests along the fortified border, the Palestinian health ministry said.
    On the final day of a four-week session, the Geneva forum adopted a resolution on accountability, brought by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).    The vote was 23 states in favor, eight against, with 15 abstentions and one delegation absent.
    It called for cooperating with a preliminary examination opened by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2015 into alleged Israeli human rights violations.
    The resolution was based on a report by a U.N. inquiry which said that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 at weekly protests last year.
    “The targeting of civilians is a serious matter that should not be condoned,” Palestine’s ambassador Ibrahim Khraisi said, citing the report’s findings.    The toll included 35 Palestinian children, two journalists, and medical workers, he noted.
    “There have not been any injuries inflicted on any Israelis, be they military or civilians,” he said.
    Israeli ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter denounced what she called “clear evidence of political bias against Israel” in the report but said that authorities were “examining individual incidents.”
    She accused the independent panel of ignoring “the very real threat” posed to 70,000 Israeli citizens living along the border by 1,300 rockets fired by Hamas militants during the period of inquiry, March 30-December 31.
    In Jerusalem, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement dismissing what it called an “absurd, hypocritical ritual” of singling out Israel for criticism in “predetermined” findings that ignored the reality on the ground.
    European countries were divided on the resolution, with Britain and Italy abstaining, while Spain voted in favor and Austria and Hungary against.    The United States did not participate, having quit the body last year over perceived anti-Israel bias.
    “Hamas of course bear principle responsibility as their operatives have cynically exploited the protests and we are clear that Israel has the right to self-defense,” Britain’s ambassador Julian Braithwaite said.
    “But equally we have publicly and privately expressed our long-standing concerns about the use of live ammunition and excessive force by the IDF.    Our decision to abstain reflects this balance.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Hugh Lawson)

3/22/2019 U.S. pressure on Hezbollah, Iran is working, Pompeo says in Beirut by Lisa Barrington
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions on Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are working, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday on a visit to Beirut, calling on Lebanon to stand up to the Shi’ite group which he accused of “criminality, terror and threats.”
    Lebanese politicians who met Pompeo, including President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil — all political allies of Hezbollah — said they had told him the group was part and parcel of Lebanese politics.
    “From our side, we confirmed as far as we are concerned Hezbollah is a Lebanese party — not terrorist — with MPs elected by the Lebanese people and with a lot of popular support,” Bassil said as he stood alongside Pompeo after their meeting.
    Pompeo, who is touring the Middle East to drum up support for Washington’s harder line against Iran, cited a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah this month asking the group’s supporters for funds as evidence U.S. pressure was working.
    Our pressure on Iran is simple.    It’s aimed at cutting off the funding for terrorists and it’s working,” Pompeo said.    “We believe that our work is already constraining Hezbollah’s activities.”
        Pompeo said Iran gave Hezbollah as much as $700 million a year.
    The heavily armed Hezbollah has a large militia that has participated in Syria’s civil war alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s government, but it also has elected members of parliament and positions in Lebanon’s national unity government.
    The group’s influence over Lebanese state institutions has expanded in the last year.    Together with allies that view its arsenal as an asset to Lebanon, it won more than 70 of parliament’s 128 seats in an election last year.
    The group has taken three of the 30 portfolios in the government formed in January by Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, including the health ministry — the first time it has held a ministry with a significant budget.
LEBANON FACES A CHOICE
    Pompeo said he shared concerns about “external and internal pressures on the government, including coming from some of its own members, which do not serve an independent thriving Lebanon.”
    The United States would continue to use “all peaceful means” to choke off financing that “feeds Iran and Hezbollah terror operations,” he said, pointing to “smuggling, criminal networks and the misuse of government positions.”
    “Lebanon faces a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation, or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future,” he said.
    Lebanese President Michel Aoun earlier told Pompeo that Hezbollah was a Lebanese party with popular support, the Lebanese presidency said.
    “Preserving national unity and civil peace is a priority for us,” Aoun told Pompeo, the presidency said on its Twitter feed.
    Speaker Berri said earlier in a statement that he had told Pompeo that Hezbollah’s “resistance” against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.
    Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East, regards Iran as its biggest threat and Hezbollah as the main danger on its borders.
    Bassil said Lebanon was committed to calm in the south, which borders Israel, adding that the country had the natural right to defend itself and “to resist any occupation of its land … this is a holy right.”
    Hezbollah’s al-Manar television reported in its afternoon news broadcast that Pompeo was in Beirut “to incite Lebanese against each other.”
ENERGY DISPUTE
    Appearing to give an upbeat assessment of U.S. mediation efforts to resolve a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, Bassil said Beirut had an opportunity to recover its rights with a “political and diplomatic victory.”
    “We will make the necessary efforts with all parties internally to reach an honourable agreement for Lebanon that preserves its rights,” he said.
    Beirut has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel over a sea area extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.
    Lebanon has also previously warned its Mediterranean neighbors that a planned EastMed gas pipeline from Israel to the European Union must not be allowed to violate its maritime borders.
    During his meeting with Berri, Pompeo “expressed hope that Lebanon would be able to join the other states of the Eastern Mediterranean in developing offshore resources in a manner of benefit to all the people of Lebanon,” a state department spokesman said.
    Bassil called on American companies to take part in forthcoming energy tenders in Lebanon.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Tom Perry, Angus McDowall; Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean and Catherine Evans)

3/22/2019 Druze on Golan Heights reject Trump backing for Israeli sovereignty by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Druze community holds Syrian and Druze flags as they sit facing Syria,
during a rally marking the anniversary of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights in the Druze village
of Majdal Shams, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights (Reuters) – Druze Arabs and Israeli settlers on opposite sides of the dispute over U.S. President Donald Trump’s support for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights agree on one thing – it won’t change matters on the ground.
    The fertile hillsides of the Israeli-occupied Golan are scattered with villages inhabited by 22,000 Druze, an Arab minority who practice an offshoot of Islam.    Many still have relatives on the Syrian side of the fortified boundary.
    In Majdal Shams, older residents remember being part of Syria before Israel captured most of the heights in the 1967 Middle East war, occupying and later annexing it in 1981.
    That annexation was not recognized internationally, and although they have lived under Israeli rule for more than half a century and shopfronts bear signs in both Arabic and Hebrew, many Druze still regard themselves as Syrian.
    “Trump can make his statements and say he wants to make the Golan part of Israel.    But we know this will stay Syrian land,” said Sheikh Mahmoud Nazeeh, 70.
    Amal Safadi, 54, a librarian, said: “Our blood is Syrian.    If you take a blood test for a child, it will read Syrian.”
    Israel has given Druze residents the option of citizenship, but most rejected it.
    In October last year hundreds demonstrated against the holding of Israeli municipal elections on the Golan, blockading the polling station in Majdal Shams and waving Syrian and Druze flags.
    Madjal Shams overlooks the divide between Israeli-occupied Golan and that part of the plateau controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    The two armies are divided by an “Area of Separation” – often called a demilitarized zone – into which their military forces are not permitted under a 1974 ceasefire arrangement.
ISRAELI REACTION
    Trump’s Golan announcement on Thursday came with many Israelis celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim, which by tradition commemorates the survival of Jews who had been marked for death while living under Persian rule in antiquity.
    Israel regards the Golan as a strategic asset, because its hills overlook northern Israeli towns, particularly near its inland Sea of Galilee.    Around 20,000 Jewish settlers live in the Golan itself, many working in farming, leisure and tourism.
    Many Israeli commentators saw Trump’s declaration as a timely boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Israeli elections scheduled for April 9, in which he has been dogged by corruption allegations.
    But some Israelis living in and around the Golan said Trump’s gesture would change little on the ground.
    “The U.S recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan makes us happy, however our daily routine does not involve dealing with whether Israeli sovereignty is being recognized or not,” said Haim Rokah, head of the regional Israeli council in the Golan.
    Rami Yogev, 65, a resident of Dan kibbutz, which is overlooked by the Golan, said he remembers shelling from the then Syrian-held heights onto his town during the 1967 war.
    “I don’t think Trump’s announcement will make any difference here.    It’s not going to change anything.    The residents in the Golan already feel like they’re Israelis.    They have a better life than being in Syria or any Arab country – just look what happened in the war in Syria,” he said.
    Israeli newspaper front pages on Friday were dominated by the news from Washington.    But some commentators injected a note of caution.
    “Some will say that this is ‘Trump’s election gift to Netanyahu.’    Some will say that these are ‘two people in legal troubles who are convinced that there is a global conspiracy to topple them,'” wrote Alon Pinkas in Yedioth Ahronoth.
    But he also pointed out that Israelis younger than 52 had never known any other reality regarding the Golan.    “This is good, it is nice, it is a recognition of reality, it is almost self-evident.    The question is: Does it really mean anything?
    Palestinian officials and analysts predicted that Trump’s intervention on the Golan would further jeopardize prospects for the White House’s long-awaited peace plan for the Middle East, spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
    Palestinians were already angry at Trump after his recent decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the U.S. Embassy to the city.
    Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters: “These promises will not give legitimacy to the Israeli occupation and the Golan will remain Arab and Syrian land.”
    In Gaza, political analyst Adnan Abu Amer said Trump was trying to reshape the region ahead of the plan.    “It is clear that Trump is trying to pre-empt the official announcement of the deal by imposing some facts on ground,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Rahaf Ruby in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/22/2019 White House confirms ISIS caliphate ‘100% eliminated’ by OAN Newsroom
    The White House has confirmed the Islamic State’s caliphate in Syria is now 100-percent eliminated.    As the president was headed to Florida on Air Force One Friday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders showed reporters a map of the region and stated ISIS territory in the region is now completely destroyed.
    Secretary Sanders then referred all questions to the Pentagon.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders holds a map of Syria in the press cabin on Air Force One,
Friday, March 22, 2019, on the tarmac at Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
    This comes after U.S.- backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they were clearing out the last areas held by ISIS in the city of Baghouz on Thursday.
    President Trump tweeted about ISIS shortly after Sanders spoke with the press.    He condemned the terror group’s extremist propaganda, saying it is the only thing keeping them alive.
    Trump tweet: “ISIS uses the internet better than almost anyone, but for all of those susceptible to ISIS propaganda, they are now being beaten badly at every level....

3/23/2019 U.S.-backed SDF forces declare total territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria by OAN Newsroom
    The Islamic State faces “complete territorial defeat,” as the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces liberate Baghouz, marking the defeat of the terror group’s last stronghold in the country.
    The SDF flag was spotted waving over the region Saturday.    In a statement, coalition forces confirmed the end of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, which once spanned a third of the country and of neighboring Iraq.
U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters pose for a photo on a rooftop overlooking Baghouz, Syria, after
the SDF declared the area free of Islamic State militants after months of fighting on Saturday, March 23, 2019.
The elimination of the last Islamic State stronghold in Baghouz brings to a close a grueling final battle that stretched
across several weeks and saw thousands of people flee the territory and surrender in desperation, and hundreds killed. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
    This comes after weeks of intense fighting along the Syrian border.    The coalition faced fierce resistance from the militants, who dug a network of tunnels in the city and used civilians as human shields.
    Some ISIS fighters still hold out in Syria’s remote central desert, and elsewhere in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, reportedly staging sudden shootings or kidnappings.
    An SDF spokesperson said operations are still underway to drive ISIS fighters out of nearby caves.    Though the defeat of Islamic state at Baghouz ends the terror group’s hold over Syria, experts said ISIS still remains a threat.
    The group is still prominent in the Philippines, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa.    Still, the fall of Baghouz is a major milestone in a four-year fight against the Jihadist group, waged by numerous local and global forces.

3/23/2019 Al Shabaab attack on Somali ministry in Mogadishu kills at least 15 by Abdi Sheikh
A Somali soldier runs to hold position as al-Shabaab militia storms a government
building in Mogadishu, Somalia March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia’s al Shabaab stormed a government building on Saturday, detonating a suicide car bomb in the heart of the capital Mogadishu with at least 15 people, including an assistant minister, killed during the ensuing gun battle.
    In the latest bombing claimed by al Shabaab, an Islamist group which is fighting to establish its own rule in Somalia, based on a strict interpretation of sharia law, a huge explosion shook central Mogadishu and a large plume of smoke rose above a building housing Somalia’s ministries of labour and works.
    Police later said the fighting at the building had ended and that the premises had been completely secured.
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    “The building was secured by security forces.    The four militants who attacked the building were shot dead.    Another militant was a suicide car bomber and so he also died,” Major Ali Abdullahi, a police officer told Reuters.
    Abdullahi said ten people, including assistant labour minister Saqar Ibrahim Abdala and police personnel, had died.
    Police said earlier that some 20 people had been injured in the assault, which began when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb, allowing other militants to storm the building.
TRAPPED BY GUNFIRE
    Dr. Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of Amin Ambulance Service told Reuters soon after the assault began that people were trapped inside the building and that it was not possible to rescue them because of a heavy exchange of fire.
    Al Shabaab told Reuters one of its fighters had rammed the ministry building with a car bomb allowing others to enter.
    Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman later said he understood 20 people had been killed.
    In a separate assault on Saturday, Abu Musab said al Shabaab had exploded a roadside bomb at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu that killed three government soldiers and also injured a local lawmaker and three of his bodyguards.
    Police confirmed the roadside bomb attack but said two civilians and one soldier had been killed by the blast while a local lawmaker from one of Somalia’s federal states was injured.
    Al Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia’s western backed central government, was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds.
    But it remains a threat, with its fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union mandated peacekeeping force AMISOM that helps defend Somalia’s central government.
(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)

3/23/2019 Security tops agenda as Iraqi PM visits Egypt in first foreign trip
Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attends the opening of Baghdad
International Fair in Baghdad, Iraq, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sought Egypt’s support for efforts to tackle Islamist militants in the region during a visit to Cairo on Saturday, his first trip abroad since taking office in October.
    After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Abdul Mahdi highlighted “the importance of drying up the sources of terrorism” and said “cooperation between Egypt and Iraq will be essential for this matter,” according to an official statement.
    His comments came as U.S.-backed forces said they had captured Islamic State’s last shred of territory in eastern Syria at Baghouz, ending its territorial rule over a self-proclaimed caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq after years of fighting.
    Though the defeat ends the group’s grip over the jihadist quasi-state that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.
    Some Islamic State fighters still hold out in Syria’s remote central desert and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting a chance to rise again.
    The United States thinks the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq.
    Defeating militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and restoring security after years of unrest has been a key promise of Sisi, the general-turned-president who came to power a year after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013.
    Egypt has fought an insurgency waged by an Islamic State affiliate in North Sinai since 2013. Hundreds of members of the security forces have been killed.
(Writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Helen Popper)

3/24/2019 Honduras calls Jerusalem Israeli capital, opens trade office
People look out from a building facing the Dome of the Rock (R), located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound
known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduras on Sunday described Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said it would open an office there for trade to complement its embassy in Tel Aviv, but it was not immediately clear if the news marked a formal change in its policy toward the holy city.
    In a statement, the Honduran foreign ministry said that the Central American country would open a “trade office in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, which would be like an extension of the Honduran embassy in the city of Tel Aviv.”
    Officials could not immediately be reached to clarify whether Honduras had formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, following in the footsteps of U.S. President Donald Trump, who last May moved the U.S. embassy to the disputed city.
    Trump’s move was criticized by many foreign governments and caused anger among Palestinians, who with broad international backing seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
    East Jerusalem is still considered occupied under international law, and the city’s status is supposed to be decided as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
    Plans for the “immediate” opening of the Honduran trade office were also announced on Twitter by President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has in recent months signaled that his government is mulling moving the Honduran embassy to Jerusalem.
    Hernandez, an ally of the United States, is in Washington to participate in a conference on U.S.-Israeli relations.
    The Honduran foreign ministry said in a statement that Israel would in a reciprocal gesture open an office for cooperation in Tegucigalpa, giving it diplomatic status.
    Honduras’ Central American neighbor Guatemala in May moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after the United States, fueling expectations that Hernandez might follow suit.
(Reporting by Orfa Mejia; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

3/24/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will not go back on purchase of Russian S-400s
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters
during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will not go back on the purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia no matter what the United States says, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
    He made the comment in an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber.
    The United States could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, officials told Reuters, in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen)

3/24/2019 Erdogan says those who buy FX expecting lira to fall will pay ‘heavy price’
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters
during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday those in the finance sector who buy foreign currencies on the expectation that the lira will fall will pay “a very heavy price,” adding the Finance Ministry is carrying out work on this.
    The Turkish lira tumbled more than 4 percent against the U.S. dollar on Friday, its biggest one-day fall since a currency crisis took hold in August, raising concerns that Turks are buying more foreign cash as ties with Washington deteriorate.
    Central bank data showed on Thursday that forex deposits and funds including precious metals held by Turkish locals hit a record high in the week to March 15, which economists said signaled a fall in confidence in the lira.
    The lira stood at 5.7800 against the dollar at 2005 GMT in Asian trade, weakening from Friday’s close of 5.7625.
    Speaking at a local election rally in Istanbul, Erdogan said “some people” had begun provoking Turkey and that they were attempting to make the lira decline against foreign currencies with their cooperators in Turkey.
    “I am calling on those who engage in such activities on the eve of elections, we know all of your identities.    We know what all of you are doing. Know this, after the elections, we will present you with a heavy bill,” he said.
    Turks will go to polls on March 31 for local elections.
    In an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber later on Sunday, Erdogan also said Turkey would give a hard time to those in the international community behind what he called “manipulative impositions” in the FX market.
    Erdogan did not specify who his comments were aimed at, but on Saturday, Turkey’s banking and market regulators said they had launched investigations into complaints that a JP Morgan report had caused speculation in the Istanbul bourse and hurt the reputation of banks.
    A JP Morgan spokesman for the region declined to comment on the investigations.    The report seen by Reuters said it saw a high risk that the lira would decline after the local election, recommending clients to go “long” on the U.S. dollar.    Such advice is typical of client notes from banks globally.
    Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said on Friday that speculators were talking down the Turkish economy on social media and that the manipulation was similar to that he said took place during anti-government protests in 2013.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Kirsten Donovan)

3/24/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will take issue of Golan Heights to U.N.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters
during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will take the issue of the Golan Heights to the United Nations.
    In an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber, Erdogan said U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement on Golan Heights was a “gift” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of elections there.
    Trump moved on Thursday to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory seized in war, marking a dramatic shift in U.S. policy.
    In a speech at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Friday, Erdogan said the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights cannot be allowed.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

3/24/2019 Netanyahu visits U.S. ally ahead of close Israeli election by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Greek Prime
Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Jerusalem March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – With Israel’s election only two weeks away, Benjamin Netanyahu will get to showcase his close ties with Donald Trump in a U.S. visit days after the president backed Israel’s hold over the occupied Golan Heights.
    The prime minister’s White House meeting with Trump on Monday could be overshadowed in the United States by the expected release of details from a confidential report into an investigation into possible collusion between the president and Russia in his 2016 U.S. election campaign.
    But Netanyahu, facing possible indictment in three corruption cases and denying any wrongdoing, will play to a domestic audience in highlighting what he hails as the strongest bond ever between an Israeli leader and an American president.
    Before returning on Thursday from the long-planned trip to the home stretch of a close race, Netanyahu can expect a warm reception from Trump, who along with the First Lady, will also host a dinner for Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
    Trump helped to set the scene for his ally on Thursday, announcing that the time had come to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, strategic territory that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 in a move that did not win international support.
    On Sunday Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, said on Twitter that Trump would sign a decree codifying such recognition, with Netanyahu present, on Monday.
    The president’s move on the Golan was widely seen in Israel – where Trump is a popular figure – as an attempt to provide an election boost to right-wing Netanyahu, who had pressed for yet another departure from long-standing U.S. policy in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
    Trump had already fulfilled two major items on Netanyahu’s wish list, recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the American embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv last May.
    Those steps angered Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem, also captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.    It also set them firmly against a peace plan Washington says it will present after the Israeli ballot.
    “We have never had such a bond between the prime minister of Israel and an American president,” Netanyahu, who has featured Trump on his campaign billboards, told reporters upon his departure from Tel Aviv.
    For Trump, Netanyahu’s embrace resonates with U.S. evangelists – a core constituency for the Republican leader, who is up for re-election in 2020.
CLOSE RACE
    Before arriving in Washington on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would speak to Trump “about his historic declaration” on the Golan and “continued pressure on Iran” after the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran that had relaxed sanctions on Israel’s arch-foe.
    Netanyahu will also address the pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, at its annual convention in Washington, as will his main challenger in the election, former military chief Benny Gantz, who heads a centrist party.
    The prime minister said he will meet leaders of Congress during the visit.    Netanyahu’s relations with Democrats have been strained by his unflinching support for Trump, friction with the Democratic party’s progressive wing and his thorny relationship with Barack Obama.
    Opinions polls show Netanyahu running neck and neck with Gantz. The political newcomer has called for clean governance, building on the attorney-general’s announcement in February that he intends to indict Netanyahu on bribery and fraud charges, pending a hearing after the April 9 vote.
    “(Trump’s statement about the Golan) will really help Netanyahu,” said Billha Ketter, 67, an event planner, speaking to Reuters in Rosh Pina, which abuts the Golan Heights.    She accused the president of intervening in Israel’s election.
    Opinion polls gauging whether Trump’s move is having an effect are expected later in the week.
(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Rosh Pina, Israel; Editing by Maayan Lubell, Keith Weir and David Goodman)

3/25/2019 Netanyahu cuts short U.S. visit as Gaza tensions spike by Tova Cohen
Israeli policemen and soldiers inspect a damaged house that was hit by a rocket north
of Tel Aviv Israel March 25, 2019. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    MISHMERET, Israel (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to the United States on Monday and the military said it dispatched reinforcements to the Gaza border after a rocket attack near Tel Aviv wounded seven people.
    Netanyahu threatened a forceful response to the long-range strike amid accusations from opponents in a closely contested Israeli election, two weeks away, that he had been showing weakness in the face of security challenges from Gaza militants.
    Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Sunday for a four-day visit, said he would fly home immediately after meeting President Donald Trump at the White House, as planned, later on Monday.
    “This was a heinous attack on the State of Israel and we will respond strongly,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.
    “In light of the security events, I have decided to cut short my visit to the United States.    In a few hours, I will meet President Trump and immediately after that I will return to Israel to direct our actions close-hand.”
    The Israeli military said Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza, fired the rocket that destroyed a house in Mishmeret, a village north of Tel Aviv.
    There was no claim of responsibility for the early morning strike.    The military said Hamas launched the rocket from about 120 km (75 miles) away, making it the longest-range attack from Gaza causing casualties since a 2014 war.
    Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said it treated seven people, including an infant, a 3-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman who was suffering from blast injuries, burns and shrapnel wounds.
    “It just made me feel really unsafe all of a sudden, which is a feeling I’m not used to,” said Nitzan Shifrin, a 19-year-old Mishmeret resident.
    Israeli military chief spokesman Ronen Manelis said it was assigning two brigades to the Gaza area and that some reservists were being called up.
    “We are prepared for a wide range of scenarios,” he said.
HIGH TENSION
    The attack came at a time of high tension ahead of this weekend’s anniversary of Gaza border protests that have included Palestinian attempts to breach the frontier and often lethal Israeli fire.
    Palestinians in Gaza have also frequently launched incendiary balloons towards Israeli farms and villages along the frontier – attacks that have triggered Israeli air strikes, at times against Hamas facilities abandoned in advance.
    Two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv on March 14 but caused no injuries or damage.    Israel blamed those launches on Hamas, though a security official later said the salvo had been set off by accident.
    In Gaza, Palestinians were bracing for retaliation as Israel closed its border crossings with the territory and access to the sea.    Yahya Sinwar, Gaza’s Hamas chief, canceled a planned public meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon.
    The prospect of a wider confrontation with Hamas poses a dilemma for Netanyahu as the April 9 ballot nears.
    Seven weeks of fighting in 2014 against Gaza militants led to heavy casualties and damage in the impoverished territory and rocket strikes against Israel that disrupted daily life.
    However, recent Gaza violence has put a dent in Netanyahu’s tough-on-security image at a time when he is running neck-and-neck with centrist challenger Benny Gantz, a former armed forces chief, and facing calls for tough action from his political rivals who are competing with him for the right-wing vote.
    Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, after Trump said on Thursday it was time to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an area it captured from Syria in a 1967 war, was widely seen at home as an attempt to boost the Likud party leader’s chances for a fifth term.
    Netanyahu’s election prospects have been clouded by corruption allegations against him. He has denied any wrongdoing.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller in JerusalemAdditional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Editing by William Maclean)

3/25/2019 Israel says six wounded near Tel Aviv in long-range Gaza rocket attack by Rami Amichay
A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi
    MISHMERET, Israel (Reuters) – A long-range rocket launched from the Gaza Strip struck a house in central Israel on Monday, wounding six people in the first such incident since a 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave, Israeli authorities said.
    The early morning attack on Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, came at a time of high tension ahead of the anniversary of Gaza border protests at the weekend, and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Washington as he campaigns for a fifth term in an April 9 ballot.
    Israel’s commercial capital and outlying communities had last come under such an attack during the 2014 war with Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.
    The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it was treating six occupants of a home in Mishmeret, including an infant, for wounds.    TV images showed a building with extensive damage, and police said it had also been set aflame.
    The strike came minutes after the Israeli military activated air raid sirens in the area and said one rocket had been launched out of the Gaza Strip, a coastal territory 50 miles (80 km) away where Hamas and other factions possess such weapons.
    Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the home in Mishmeret was hit by a rocket from Gaza.
    There was no immediate Palestinian confirmation.
    Two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv on March 14 but caused no casualties or damage, Israel said.    It blamed the rocket launches on Hamas, though a security official who declined to be identified by name or nationality later said that the salvo, which missed any built-up areas, had been set off by accident.
    There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu on Monday’s incident.
    His chief rival in next month’s election, centrist ex-general Benny Gantz, issued a statement accusing the rightist premier of having “bankrupted national security.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Darren Schuettler)

3/25/2019 6 injured after rockets hit central Israel by OAN Newsroom
    Two long-range rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit the central Israel Sunday, destroying a home and injuring at least six people.    Emergency responders said none of those injuries are life threatening.
    The hit took place minutes after sirens went off in the rural town north of Tel Aviv.
    The attack comes as tensions are high between Israel and Gaza as the one-year anniversary of border protests approaches and as elections are drawing near.
An Israeli police officer inspects the damage to a house hit by a rocket in Mishmeret, central Israel, Monday, March 25, 2019.
An early morning rocket from the Gaza Strip struck a house in central Israel on Monday, wounding several people, including one moderately,
an Israeli rescue service said, in an eruption of violence that could set off another round of violence shortly before the Israeli election. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently in the U.S. to speak at AIPAC, but the Israeli leader said he will now return home after meeting with President Trump.
    “This was a heinous attack on the State of Israel and we will respond strongly,” stated Netanyahu.    “In light of the security events, I have decided to cut short my visit to the United States — in a few hours, I will meet President Trump and immediately after that I will return to Israel to direct our actions close-hand.”
    This is the first successful attack since a 2014 war.    Israel’s military said they are boosting reinforcements along the Gaza border and are calling up reserve troops.
    Additionally, officials said Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers are behind the rocket attack.

3/25/2019 Israel bombs Gaza, positions troops after rocket attack near Tel Aviv by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller
Flame and smoke are seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Ajour
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip and deployed extra troops to the border on Monday, promising a strong response to the longest-range Palestinian rocket attack to cause casualties in years.
    Seven Israelis were wounded near Tel Aviv by the morning rocket attack.    The Gaza health ministry said five Palestinians were wounded by the initial wave of retaliatory strikes.
    Dozens of explosions rocked the coastal enclave and ambulance sirens echoed through the night.
    In one Gaza neighborhood, people rushed to buy bread in anticipation of a long escalation.    The office of Islamist movement Hamas’s leader Ismail Haniyeh was one of the initial targets hit, although he was likely to have been evacuated in advance.
    Sirens also rang out in Israeli towns near the border, sending residents running for shelter as a barrage of short-range rockets was launched into Israel.    No casualties were reported.
    The escalation appeared to be the biggest in at least four months, and potentially one of the biggest since Israel last went to war against Hamas five years ago.
    It comes just two weeks before an election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after a decade in power, campaigning on a tough line against Palestinian militants.    Beset by corruption scandals, he faces a strong challenge from a centrist coalition led by a top general.
    Netanyahu cut short a visit to the United States, saying he would fly home right after meeting President Donald Trump.
    “Israel will not tolerate this.    I will not tolerate this,” Netanyahu said.    “And as we speak … Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression.”
    Trump told reporters with Netanyahu at his side that Israel has the “absolute right” to defend itself.
    The Israeli military said Hamas, the armed Islamist group that rules Gaza, launched the rocket that destroyed a house in Mishmeret, a village north of Tel Aviv. There was no claim of responsibility for the early morning attack.
    The military said Hamas fired the rocket from about 120 km (75 miles) away, making it the longest-range attack from Gaza causing casualties since the last war in Gaza in 2014.
    Israel has waged three wars on Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets from Gaza are a frequent occurrence, but Israel’s swift mobilization of extra troops to the border area was unusual.
    The two sides have managed to avert all-out war for five years, most recently with the help of Egyptian mediation after a major escalation in November last year.
    Some of the other initial targets struck in Gaza, likely to have been evacuated, were the internal security office of Hamas, a naval base, a training camp and an insurance office in Gaza city, Palestinian security officials said.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged restraint from both sides and said that, together with Egypt, the United Nations was trying to help defuse the situation.
WIDE RANGE OF SCENARIOS
    Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said it treated seven people after the morning missile strike, including an infant, a 3-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman suffering from blast injuries, burns and shrapnel wounds.
    The Israeli military said it was assigning two brigades to the Gaza area and some reservists were being called up.
    Reuters journalists saw troops moving toward the border, where the military also closed several roads to civilian traffic.
    “We are prepared for a wide range of scenarios,” chief spokesman Ronen Manelis said.
    Israeli towns near Gaza and Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, opened bomb shelters in anticipation of rocket strikes.
    The rocket attack coincided with tension ahead of the March 30 anniversary of the start of weekly Gaza protests at the frontier in which some 200 Gazans have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli fire.    One Israeli soldier has been killed.
    Israel says it has no choice but to use deadly force at the protests to prevent militants from breaching the border fence.
    Gaza is home to 2 million Palestinians, most of them descendants of people who fled or were driven from homes in Israel when it was founded in 1948.    The protesters demand the right to return to land from which their ancestors fled.
    Israel seized Gaza in a 1967 and pulled out its troops in 2005. Since Hamas took over two years later, Israel has maintained a security blockade, along with Egypt, that has reduced Gaza’s economy to what the World Bank calls a collapse.
    In the last Gaza war in 2014, more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians according to the Gaza health ministry, were killed in seven weeks of fighting. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel were killed.
    Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, after Trump said it was time to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an area it captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, was seen at home as a bid to boost the right-wing Likud leader’s chances of a fifth term.
    At their White House meeting, Trump signed a declaration codifying U.S. recognition of Israel’s hold on the strategic plateau, a dramatic shift from decades of U.S. policy.    Syria called the move “a blatant attack” on its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
    Netanyahu’s election prospects have been clouded by graft allegations against him.    He has denied any wrongdoing.
(The story fixes typo and dropped word in paragraph 4)
(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

3/25/2019 Trump recognizes disputed Golan Heights as Israeli territory in boost for Netanyahu by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Vice President Mike Pence
at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday recognized the disputed Golan Heights as Israeli territory in an election boost for visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, drawing a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic land.
    With Netanyahu looking over his shoulder at the White House, Trump signed a proclamation officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan as Israeli territory – a dramatic shift from decades of U.S. policy.
    The move, which Trump announced in a tweet last Thursday, appeared to be the most overt gesture by the Republican president to help Netanyahu, who had been pressing Trump for the move since February 2017.
    Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.
    Netanyahu, who faces an election on April 9, earlier on Monday said he was cutting short his U.S. visit after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, blamed on Hamas, wounded seven people near Tel Aviv.    Israel launched retaliatory air strikes in Gaza.
    Israel’s prime minister arrived in Washington on Sunday, originally for a four-day trip.
    His chief rival for the premiership, Benny Gantz, also visited the U.S. capital, telling a major pro-Israel lobbying organization that he was the better alternative to lead the country.
    In signing the proclamation, Trump said “This was a long time in the making.”Give this to the people of Israel.”
    The prime minister welcomed Trump’s action and said Israel had never had a better friend.    He harked back to two previous Middle Eastern wars in justifying Israel’s need to hang on to the Golan.
    “Just as Israel stood tall in 1967, just as it stood tall in 1973, Israel stands tall today. We hold the high ground and we should never give it up,” he said.
    Syria reacted swiftly to Trump’s proclamation, calling it a “blatant attack” on its sovereignty and territorial integrity and saying it had a right to reclaim the Golan.
    At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “clear that the status of Golan has not changed,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.    “The U.N.’s policy on Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that policy has not changed,” Dujarric said.
    A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-member body in 1981 declared that Israel’s “decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”    It also demanded Israel rescind its decision.
    NATO ally Turkey termed the U.S. recognition unacceptable and said it would take action against it, including at the United Nations, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.    The Arab League also condemned the move.
    The negative reactions reprised last week’s response to Trump’s tweet announcing the move.    The announcement triggered direct or implied criticism from European as well as Middle Eastern countries and organizations, including Britain, Germany, France, the European Union, Turkey, Egypt, the Arab League and Russia.
    Elsewhere in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel group, held its annual meeting with speaker after speaker expressing U.S. support for strong ties with the country.
    “We stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight,” Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday.
    Pence also talked tough against Iran, saying that under Trump, “i>America will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
    Netanyahu challenger Benny Gantz appeared before the gathering, and vowed to protect his country against threats from Iran and Syria.    He called for unity in Israel.
    “We must remember if that we want hope, we must have unity,” he said.
    With election day approaching, opinion polls put Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck and neck.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

3/25/2019 Journalists protest in Khartoum over crackdown on press freedoms by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace
in Khartoum, Sudan, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Dozens of journalists marched in Khartoum on Monday to demand an end to a crackdown on press freedom amidst the most sustained challenge to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir since he took power in a 1989 coup.
    Protesters have been taking to the streets frequently across Sudan since Dec. 19.    The protests were initially triggered by price rises and cash shortages but evolved into demonstrations against Bashir and his National Congress Party.
    Monday’s protesters carried a large banner that read “Free press or no press” as they walked down a main street in the Sudanese capital.    They chanted “journalism is the voice of the people” and “the revolution is the choice of the people.”
    Since the wave of demonstrations began, 90 journalists have been detained, according to the Sudanese Journalists’ Network, an anti-government group of journalists that organized Monday’s protest.    Most have since been released, the group said.
    The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says the number of arrests is unprecedented, but that it is impossible to give an exact figure because journalists have been arrested then freed, with this happening to some more than once.
    The CPJ has also said that Sudanese authorities have tried to censor news coverage of the protests and that they have blocked access to popular social media platforms.
    Othman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper al-Tayar, and one of Sudan’s most prominent journalists, was arrested at his Khartoum office on Feb. 22, the same day Bashir declared a state of emergency, his family said.
    He was detained shortly after a televised interview in which he criticized Bashir’s declaration of a state of emergency, according to relatives.    They said Mirghani remains in custody, but has still not been charged.
    The Sudanese information ministry told Reuters that the state of press freedom in Sudan is good.
    “Opposition party newspapers are issued in Khartoum and the freedom to demonstrate is guaranteed by the constitution,” said Information Minister Hassan Ismail.    “There is no political crisis in Sudan, but there is an economic crisis.”
    He added that his ministry has requested information about the reasons behind Mirghani’s arrest and that he will be meeting the director of the National Security and Intelligence Service on Tuesday to discuss Mirghani and other issues.
    Bashir last month also dissolved the central government, replaced state governors with security officials, expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings.    That has not deterred protesters from staging regular rallies.
(Additional reporting and writing by Lena Masri in Cairo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/25/2019 Algerian president Bouteflika sacks state television head: Ennahar TV
Journalists working at state media carry banners and shout slogans during a protest in front of the
state TV building to demand freedom to cover mass protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika,
in Algiers, Algeria March 25, 2019. The banner reads, "No to censorship, No to opacity". REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, facing mass protests against his 20-year rule, sacked the head of the state television, private Ennahar TV channel reported on Monday.
    Lotfi Chriet replaced Toufik Khelladi, Ennahar added. There was no immediate official confirmation.
    The reported sacking comes after journalists working at state media had staged a protest in front of the state TV building to demand freedom to cover protests against Bouteflika, which are now in its fifth week.
    “For a public television free and open for all,” read one banner held up at the protest.    State media has started covering the protests after initially ignoring them.
    Khelladi is close to Bouteflika’s brother Said, a presidential advisor and major political player whose name has been shouted in slogans by protesters alongside Bouteflika’s.
    The 82-year old, who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, bowed to the protesters this month by reversing plans to seek re-election.
    But he stopped short of quitting as head of state and said he would stay on until a new constitution is adopted.    The move further enraged Algerians, and many of Bouteflika’s allies have turned against him.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed amd Lamine Chikhi, writing by Nayera Abdallah and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/25/2019 Netanyahu rival Gantz, addressing pro-Israel lobby in U.S., urges unity
Israel's Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongest election challenger, Benny Gantz, called on Monday for unity and moderation in a speech to a major pro-Israel U.S. lobby group that has been uneasy at Netanyahu’s courting of far-rightists.
    Gantz’s appearance at AIPAC was overshadowed by a rocket strike on Israel from Gaza that prompted Netanyahu to cancel his own speech at the event so he could return and oversee retaliation.
    Gantz, a retired army general who is a centrist newcomer to politics, went briefly off-script to commend Netanyahu’s decision, before delivering veiled censure of the conservative premier’s electioneering, which has included dismissive rhetoric about Israel’s Arab minority and appeals to ultranationalists.
    “The divisive dialogue tearing our strong nation apart may serve – I doubt it, but it may serve – political purposes, but is shredding the fabric that holds us together,” he said.
    If he succeeds Netanyahu after the April 9 election, Gantz said, “there will be no Kahanists running our country, there will be no racists leading our state institutions, and there will be no corruption leading our ways – no corruption whatsoever.”
    Netanyahu forged a pre-election alliance last month with Jewish Power, an ultranationalist party that includes adherents of the late anti-Arab rabbi, Meir Kahane.
    In a rare reprimand AIPAC, which is the largest U.S. pro-Israel lobby, called Jewish Power “a racist and reprehensible party.”
    The four-term premier also faces criminal charges in three corruption cases, pending a review hearing after the election.    Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing and described himself as the victim of liberal media bias and judicial overreach.
    U.S. Jews, a largely Democratic constituency, have at times fretted over Netanyahu’s alignment with President Donald Trump’s Republican administration, and Gantz talked up AIPAC’s bipartisan strategy.
    Gantz called Trump “a true partner and ally of Israel,” but added: “We want all of America, Republicans and Democrats, to move forward in the spirit of true bipartisanship that served so well in the past.”
    After the speech, Gantz met Vice President Mike Pence, who also addressed the gathering.
    Posting a photo of himself shaking hands with Pence, Gantz wrote on Twitter: “I thanked him for his unequivocal support for Israel and for everything they are doing for us.”
    Netanyahu, who opinion polls show running neck and neck with Gantz, has dismissed his rival as a “weak leftist,” accusing him of allowing Iran to hack his cellphone.    Gantz outlined national security policies that were not significantly different from the prime minister’s, and laughed off the alleged breach.
    Iran has denied targeting Gantz.    Gantz has said he had been informed by Israel’s domestic security service of a breach but there was no sensitive information on the device.
    Alluding on Monday to his military exploits against Iranian threats while in uniform, Gantz directed a warning toward Tehran: “You know me, and not only from my cellphone.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/25/2019 Trump’s Golan move boosts Netanyahu but long-term risks for Israel by Samia Nakhoul
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman
visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 11, 2019 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights was manna from heaven for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks before an election.
    For many Arabs, it crushed any hope that there will one day be a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians and increased doubts that Washington is an impartial arbiter.
    But allies and enemies can agree on one thing: Trump’s statement last Thursday was a turning point in U.S. policy over territory Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in 1981, in a move the U.N. Security Council declared unlawful.
    “I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel when Trump made his announcement on Twitter, told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview.
    Netanyahu, who has thanked Trump for the announcement, is seeking re-election on April 9 but faces a tough battle and possible indictment in three corruption cases in which he denies wrongdoing.
    He was due to meet Trump on Monday on a trip highlighting what Netanyahu calls the strongest ever bond between an Israeli leader and a U.S. president, though Trump has said his decision on the Golan Heights was not connected with the election.
    But Trump’s decision, following U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, could tempt other powers to annex land, undermine the roll-out of a U.S. Middle East peace plan and tilt Israel back into conflict with its Arab neighbors, Middle East analysts say.
    “Donald Trump has made sure that Israel will be in a perpetual state of war with its Arab neighbors for many decades to come,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and author of the book Making the Arab World.
    “What Trump has done is to hammer a deadly nail in the coffin of the peace process and Arab-Israeli reconciliation.    This is a fundamental turning point.    There is nothing left to discuss anymore.”
RESHAPING THE MIDDLE EAST
    Trump’s move is, according to many analysts, partly intended to boost his own chances of re-election in 2020, by targeting the vast pool of U.S. evangelical Christians.    Many of them voted for his in 2016 and they are championed in his administration by Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and others.
    The announcement on the Golan Heights was the latest in a flurry of decisions that are widely seen as intended to redraw the contours of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
    Most have ticked the wish-list of Israel’s right-wing government and met longstanding demands of its U.S. supporters, including U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital.    The Arab east of the city was occupied by Israel and then annexed after 1967 in a move that is legally repudiated internationally.
    White House officials say the decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights acknowledge the reality on the ground, which they say must be the basis for legitimate peace negotiations.
    Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said it was inconceivable Israel “would allow the Golan to be controlled by the state of Syria or by any of the rogue actors operating in the areas, including Iran.”
    But with Sunni Arab leaders dealing with crises in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Qatar, and their standoff with non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, they are less focused on Israel.
ARABS IN DISARRAY
    Trump’s aides have indicated privately that they believe his moves on Jerusalem have provoked a less severe reaction in the Arab world than experts had predicted, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
    In particular, they did not appear to have blocked behind-the-scenes security contacts developed in recent years between Israel and the United States’ Gulf allies over their common enemy Iran, the person said.
    Aides’ advice to Trump on recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was that Washington could again weather the storm, the same person said.
    Support for the move in the Trump administration had gained momentum over the past year as Israel increasingly expressed concern about Iranian forces and their proxies taking up positions in southwestern Syria, the official said.
    John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and one of the administration’s leading Iran hawks, was an important proponent of the policy shift, the official said.
    But skeptics say the move will also give Iran and its local ally Hezbollah what they would see as justification for new attacks on Israel and hamstring anti-Iranian Arab leaders if they are seen to accept the U.S. move.
    The Trump administration has identified Iran as its main target in the Middle East, and withdrew from the deal signed by Tehran, the     United States and other world powers in 2015 on curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
MORE TO COME
    But after the moves on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Iran and Hezbollah may feel better able to present themselves as the only steadfast allies of the Palestinian cause.
    They could also play into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by helping him in his portrayals of Israel and the United States as enemies.
    “This will give further power to the Iran axis of resistance between Iran-Hezbollah-Assad against Israel and the U.S.,” said Galip Dalay, visiting fellow at Oxford University and a fellow at Brookings Doha.    “This axis has just been given a very strong symbolic victory and this will give them the high ground.”
    He said Arab leaders could not publicly support Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights because it would threaten their popularity, in some cases already low.
    “From the Arab standpoint, this makes them more hesitant to be supportive because the political space they need to maneuver has been eroded,” said Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East negotiator.    “Each move by this administration has put Arab states on the defensive.”
    Ross also suggested that U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights could embolden the Israeli right-wing to step up its push for annexing settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
    “I worry that the right in Israel can say ‘they recognized this.    It will be a matter of time before we can annex all or part of the West Bank’,” he said.    “That would be the end of the two-state solution.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

3/26/2019 Israel strikes targets across Gaza Strip after rocket attack
    JERUSALEM – Israeli forces on Monday struck targets across the Gaza Strip, including the offices of Hamas’ supreme leader, in response to a surprise rocket attack from the Palestinian territory, as the military bolstered its troops and rocket-defense systems in anticipation of a new round of heavy fighting with the Islamic militant group.    Israel opened public bomb shelters in most major cities and civil defense authorities canceled sports events and public transportation.    The army said at least one rocket was fired into the country.

3/26/2019 Syria: Trump’s Golan Heights move makes US ‘main enemy’ of Arabs
    WASHINGTON – Syria said President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights makes Washington “the main enemy” of Arabs, and the Damascus government is calling the U.S. decision a “slap” to the international community.    Trump signed a proclamation Monday recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, which Israel occupied in 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981.    Syria’s Foreign Ministry says the U.S. move represents the “highest level of contempt for international legitimacy.”

3/26/2019 Israel-Hamas fighting abates along Gaza border, but tensions high by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch
Palestinians sit inside their house that was damaged in a nearby Israeli air strike in Gaza City March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Cross-border fighting between Israel and Hamas abated on Tuesday after a day of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes, but tensions remained high with Israeli forces massed along the Gaza frontier.
    Rocket warning sirens continued to sound in Israeli towns near the border late on Monday after Palestinian officials said Egypt had mediated a truce.    But by Tuesday morning, the border area had fallen quiet.
    The flare-up began early on Monday when seven Israelis were wounded near Tel Aviv by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, some 120 km (70 miles) away.
    Hours later Israel – which blamed Hamas, the dominant armed force in Gaza, for the rocket attack – carried out a wave of retaliatory strikes, wounding five Palestinians.    The military said extra soldiers and tanks had been moved to the border.
    Gaza militants fired barrages of rockets into Israel late into Monday night.    Some were shot down by Israeli defenses and others landed in empty areas.
    The escalation came just two weeks before an election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after a decade in power, campaigning on a tough line against Palestinian militants.
    Beset by corruption scandals, he faces a strong challenge from a centrist coalition led by a top general.
    Netanyahu cut short a visit to the United States, after meeting President Donald Trump, and was due to land in Tel Aviv later in the day.
    Boarding his flight back home, Netanyahu said Israel had delivered “a very, very forceful response.”
WE DON’T WANT WAR
    Israel remained on high alert on Tuesday and the military said it remained “prepared for various scenarios.”
    Israeli schools near the border were closed and residents instructed to stay near bomb shelters.
    “I told my kids that everything is going to be all right and that it will be over.    We trust the government will solve the problem,” Eliav Vanunu, whose house in the Israeli border town of Sderot was damaged by a rocket on Monday night, said on Israel Radio.
    In Gaza, some universities were shut but public schools were open, although many families kept their children home. Palestinians picked through the rubble of destroyed buildings to search for valuables and documents.
    The office of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was one of the initial targets hit on Monday, although he was likely to have been evacuated in advance.
    “We don’t want war, but if Israel wants it then what should we do? We ask our factions to respond,” said Mohammad Sayed, 40.    “But we hope Egypt reaches a deal to end this.”
    Israel has waged three wars on Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.    Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets from Gaza are a frequent occurrence, but Israel’s swift mobilization of extra troops to the border area was unusual.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ran Tzabari and Ari Rabinovitch; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/26/2019 Gulf states reject U.S. recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli
Signs pointing out distances to different cities is seen on Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied
Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Four Gulf Arab states on Tuesday rejected a U.S. decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, with Riyadh warning the move would hurt the peace process and affect regional stability.
    Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait – all regional allies of Washington that host American troops – criticized the move by President Donald Trump to recognize Israel’s 1981 annexation, and said the territory was occupied Arab land.
    “It will have significant negative effects on the peace process in the Middle East and the security and stability of the region,” a statement on Saudi Arabia’s state news agency SPA said.
    It described Monday’s declaration as a clear violation of the United Nations Charter and of international law.
    Kuwait and Bahrain said they regretted the decision while Qatar called on Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights and comply with international resolutions.
    Trump, with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking over his shoulder during a visit to Washington, signed a proclamation on Monday officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
    Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.
(Reporting by Mohamed El-Sherif and Maher Chmaytelli, Writing by Sylvia Westall, Editing by William Maclean)

3/26/2019 Israeli prime minister holds security briefings amid tensions along Gaza border by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held security briefings Tuesday amid heightened tensions along the Gaza border.
    This comes after a long night of crossfire between Israel and Hamas.    The fighting began Monday after a long-range Palestinian rocket hit a family home located north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people.
Israeli soldiers work on their tanks at a gathering area near the Israel-Gaza border, in southern Israel, Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned home from Washington on Tuesday, heading straight into military consultations after
a night of heavy fire as Israeli aircraft bombed Gaza targets and the strip’s militants fired rockets into Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    Although the strikes have stopped for now due to Egyptian mediation, some government officials believe more needs to be done.
    Israeli’s education minister, who hopes to become the defense minister, spoke Tuesday on how he would handle the situation.
    “If it’s up to me as defense minister of the state of Israel, if I get that job, I’ll open gates of hell on this terror organization of Hamas and fix the situation once and for all,” said Minister Naftali Bennett
    Many believe the outcome of this situation will play a heavy hand on the upcoming elections after Netanyahu has long campaigned on his ability to protect his people.

3/26/2019 U.S. envoy hints at peace deal with Israeli security control in West Bank
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the dedication ceremony of
the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Israel said on Tuesday the Trump administration understands a need for Israel to have “overriding security control” in the occupied West Bank in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
    The envoy, David Friedman, is part of a White House team spearheading a still-secret Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that Washington has said will be unveiled after Israel’s election on April 9.
    Palestinians, who seek statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, have called any peace proposal by President Donald Trump a non-starter.
    They see Trump as biased in Israel’s favor, noting his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and transfer of the U.S. embassy to the city from Tel Aviv last May.
    Addressing a convention of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC in Washington, Friedman gave no details of the U.S. blueprint.    But he appeared to suggest it was in Israel’s best interests to engage now on the deal, while the United States has a president sympathetic to its security concerns.
    “Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand the existential risk to Israel if Judea and Samaria are overcome by terrorists in the manner that befell the Gaza Strip after the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) withdrew from this territory?” Friedman said.
    Friedman, who used the biblical terms for the West Bank, was referring to the 2005 pullout of Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza, territory seized by Hamas Islamists two years later in a brief war with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s rival Fatah movement.
    “Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand the need for Israel to maintain overriding security control of Judea and Samaria and a permanent defense position in the Jordan Valley?” he said.
    Israel has long rejected any return to what it has described as indefensible boundaries that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.    It has said it must maintain military control of the West Bank, which it captured in that conflict along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
    Friedman’s comments did not say what “overriding” Israeli security control in the West Bank would entail.    But his reference to a permanent defense post in its eastern sector, bordering Jordan, seemed to suggest at least a partial troop presence.
    The Palestinians demand a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank and a return to the pre-1967 borders.
    Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in law Jared Kushner is spearheading Washington’s peace efforts, but has not disclosed details.    A trip by Kushner to the region in February to advance the plan appeared to have ended with little progress.
    Unlike his predecessors, Trump has not endorsed the goal of Palestinian statehood.    On Monday, he signed a decree recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war and annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Frances Kerry)

3/27/2019 Saudi King Salman meets Libya’s General Haftar
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states, in the
Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman met on Wednesday the commander of the Eastern Libyan forces Khalifa Haftar, the Saudi foreign ministry said in a tweet.
    King Salman made assurances during the meeting of the Kingdom’s keenness for the security and stability of Libya, the foreign ministry said.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/27/2019 Airstrike on remote hospital in Yemen kills at least 7, including 4 children by OAN Newsroom
    An airstrike on a remote hospital in Yemen has killed at least seven people, including four children.    According to reports, the missile struck a gas station near the entrance of a hospital in northwest Yemen on Tuesday.    A health care worker and a security guard are among the dead.
    Eight others were also injured, and two people are still missing.
FILE – In this Oct. 1, 2018 file photo, children sit in front of moldy bread in their
shelter, in Aslam, Hajjah, Yemen. (AP Photos Hani Mohammed, File)
    In a statement, the Save the Children charity called the attack a “breach of international law.”    The charity’s CEO noted the hospital is one of many providing life saving aid to children in “the worst place on earth to be a child.”
    While it’s unclear who was behind the attack, Houthi rebels have accused a Saudi-led coalition of carrying out the strike.

3/27/2019 Hamas leader appears in public as fighting with Israel tails off by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller
A Palestinian man inspects his damaged house after Israeli air strikes targeted a nearby
Hamas site on Monday, in Gaza City March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The leader of the militant Islamist group Hamas viewed the rubble of his bombed office in Gaza on Wednesday, appearing in public as an uneasy calm took hold after two days of cross-border Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes.
    But while violence eased amid Egyptian mediation, Israeli forces along the Gaza frontier and militants in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave were on hair-trigger footing.
    No deaths have been reported in Gaza and Israel since the latest clashes erupted on Monday.    Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile interceptors have destroyed some Palestinian rockets and militants in Gaza vacated facilities hit in the air strikes.
    In the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, however, a 17-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops during clashes with stone-throwers, an ambulance service official said, identifying the victim as a volunteer wearing a paramedic uniform.    The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
    Towns in southern Israel reopened classrooms and schools were also operating in Gaza, where streets were filled with traffic.
    Hamas’s top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, emerged from a secret location to see what was left of his wrecked office, targeted by an Israeli air strike on Monday.     “The occupation,” he said, referring to Israel, “should not be under the illusion it can break the will of our people.”
    A senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, retorted: “Haniyeh should find himself a new office before he starts sounding off.”
    Even if the crisis subsides, it could shadow Israel’s April 9 election, in which right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned on a tough security platform.
    Security is a major issue for Netanyahu, in power for a decade and beset by corruption allegations that he denies.    He is facing his strongest electoral challenge from a centrist coalition led by a former general.
ANNIVERSARY NEARS
    Seven Israelis were injured in Monday’s initial rocket attack that hit the village of Mishmeret, 120 km (75 miles) north of Gaza.    Twelve Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli strikes, Gaza health officials said.
    After a daylight lull on Tuesday, Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes resumed after dark, but only briefly.
    The latest escalation is the biggest since November between Israel and Hamas, which fought three wars between 2008 and 2014 and have come to the brink of a fourth several times since.
    In the 2014 Gaza war, more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in seven weeks of fighting.    Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel were killed.
    This week’s fighting comes ahead of the first anniversary on March 30 of the start of weekly Gaza protests at the frontier.
    The protests’ organizing committee said it was preparing for a one-million-person march to mark the anniversary on Saturday at five locations along the frontier with Israel.
    Some 200 Gazans have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli fire in the past year.    One Israeli soldier was killed.
    Israel says its use of lethal force is meant to stop attempts to breach the border and launch attack on its troops and civilians.
    The protesters are demanding the right to return to lands Palestinians fled or were forced to leave in Israel during fighting that accompanied its founding in 1948.
    Egypt was expected to pursue further truce talks on Wednesday, said a Palestinian official involved in the efforts.
    U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council on Tuesday he had been working with Egypt to secure a ceasefire and that a fragile calm had taken hold.
    In further violence in the West Bank on Wednesday, about 150 Palestinian students threw firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets, a day after an Israeli raid on Birzeit university.
    Three protesters were wounded by rubber bullets, ambulance crews said. There were no reports of Israeli casualties.    The Israeli military said it arrested 11 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight suspected of what it termed terrorist activities, but gave no specifics.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Gareth Jones)

3/27/2019 U.N. Security Council to meet over U.S. Golan Heights decision
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a
proclamation recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights as Netanyahu exits the White House from the
West Wing in Washington, U.S. March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council will meet later on Wednesday, at the request of Syria, over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
    Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move the U.N. Security Council declared “null and void and without international legal effect.”
    In a letter to the 15-member Security Council requesting a meeting, Syria described the U.S. decision as a “flagrant violation” of Security Council resolutions.
    Trump, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking over his shoulder during a visit to Washington, on Monday signed a proclamation officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
    The European members of the council – France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Poland – said on Tuesday they did not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories it has occupied since June 1967, including the Golan Heights, and raised concerns about “broader consequences of recognizing illegal annexation and also about the broader regional consequences.”
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait on Tuesday criticized the U.S. decision and said the territory was occupied Arab land.    Riyadh and Abu Dhabi said it was an impediment to peace.    Iran echoed the comments, describing Trump’s decision as unprecedented in this century.
    The Security Council deployed a peacekeeping force in 1974 – known as the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) – to monitor a ceasefire between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights.    There are more than 880 U.N. troops on the ground.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols)

3/28/2019 U.S. approved secret nuclear power work for Saudi Arabia by Timothy Gardner
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the
Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, according to a copy of a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
    The Trump administration has quietly pursued a wider deal on sharing U.S. nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia, which aims to build at least two nuclear power plants.    Several countries including the United States, South Korea and Russia are in competition for that deal, and the winners are expected to be announced later this year by Saudi Arabia.
    Perry’s approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal but not ship equipment that would go into a plant, a source with knowledge of the agreements said on condition of anonymity.    The approvals were first reported by the Daily Beast.
    The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in the document that the companies had requested that the Trump administration keep the approvals secret.
    “In this case, each of the companies which received a specific authorization for (Saudi Arabia) have provided us written request that their authorization be withheld from public release,” the NNSA said in the document.    In the past, the Energy Department made previous Part 810 authorizations available for the public to read at its headquarters.
    A Department of Energy official said the requests contained proprietary information and that the authorizations went through multi-agency approval process.
    Many U.S. lawmakers are concerned that sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia could eventually lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS last year that the kingdom would develop nuclear weapons if its rival Iran did.    In addition, the kingdom has occasionally pushed back against agreeing to U.S. standards that would block two paths to potentially making fissile material for nuclear weapons clandestinely: enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel.
    Concern in Congress about sharing nuclear technology and knowledge with Saudi Arabia rose after U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed last October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.    The Part 810 authorizations were made after November 2017, but it was not clear from the document whether any of them were made after Khashoggi’s killing.
    Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat, called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a congressional hearing on Wednesday to release the names of the companies that got the approvals by the middle of April, and Pompeo said he would look into it.
    Sherman also said the Trump administration had attempted to evade Congress on sharing nuclear power with the kingdom.
    Pompeo said the administration was working to ensure any shared technology nuclear power would not present proliferation risks.
    Last month, Democratic House members alleged in a report that top White House aides ignored warnings they could be breaking the law as they worked with former U.S. officials in a group called IP3 International to advance a multibillion-dollar plan to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.
    IP3 did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it was one of the companies that got a Part 810 authorization.
    Separately, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, accepted a request by Senators Marco Rubio, a Republican and Bob Menendez, a Democrat, to probe the administration’s talks on a nuclear deal with Saudi, the GAO said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney)

3/28/2019 In first vote since Turkey’s crisis, Erdogan could lose capital city by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay
A stallholder reads a newspaper as he waits for customers at a bazaar in Ankara, Turkey,
March 26, 2019. Picture taken March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Ismail Akin has voted for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s party for almost 20 years, but the father of three said that will change on Sunday because the plunging economy has forced him to shut his shop and take on debt.
    In a market in the Turkish capital last week, Akin clutched his jacket and said “even this is mortgaged” after the economy tipped into recession following last year’s currency crisis.
    “We voted for this man (Erdogan) for 20 years.    Enough.    Let’s hit him with the back of our hand so he sees what this nation is made of,” Akin said.
    He said he would vote for the main opposition candidate in Sunday’s local elections.
    Polls suggest Erdogan could be defeated in Ankara, the city from which he has ruled Turkey with an increasingly iron grip since 2003.    His AK Party (AKP) could hang on to power in a tight race in Istanbul, where he was once mayor, but a defeat in Ankara would be a blow.
    “The psychological factor of losing the capital, losing one of the big cities in Turkey, could be perceived by voters as the beginning of the decline,” said political analyst Murat Yetkin.
    The nationwide local elections are the first since last year’s currency meltdown, and come as authorities fight a fresh wave of selling in the lira.
    The currency has bounced back this week, in part because Turkey directed its banks to withhold lira liquidity in London, a key overseas market, until after Sunday’s election – blocking foreign investors from betting against the currency.
    The stop-gap measure may save Erdogan the embarrassment of a currency meltdown on the eve of voting but economists say that longer-lasting reforms are needed to return to the strong growth which was a hallmark of the AKP’s early years in power.
    AKP officials say they are anxious about Sunday’s vote.    In recent weeks Erdogan has held up to five rallies per day and described the elections as a “matter of survival.”
    Interviews in Ankara with more than 50 voters two weeks ahead of the vote suggested several long-time AKP supporters were shifting their views on the party and looking to punish Erdogan for the turmoil caused by the ailing economy.
    “There is no production, nothing.    They brought in the food stands, but will he (Erdogan) fix the economy with food stands?” said Orhan Akkaya, a local business manager who said he would no longer back AKP.
    “They finished the country.”
‘VERY SERIOUS PROBLEMS’
    Ahead of the elections, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) formed an electoral alliance with the IYI (Good) Party to rival that of Erdogan’s AKP and the nationalist MHP.
    Mansur Yavas, the opposition candidate, appears to hold a 2 percentage point lead over his AKP rival Mehmet Ozhaseki, according to polling company Gezici.    However, a poll conducted by the AKP showed Ozhaseki had closed the gap and gained a 1.5 point advantage, a party source said.
    Yavas was also the CHP’s candidate in 2014, but lost in a vote marred by claims of voter fraud.    Ozhaseki, a former three-term mayor from central Anatolia, was a minister until he was removed from the post after last year’s presidential and general elections cemented Erdogan’s grip on power.
    Speaking to Reuters on his campaign trail, Yavas said he believed he would win in Ankara because his rival had overlooked the economic struggles of the people.
    “They don’t see the economic hardships in Ankara,” he said.    “They don’t come here and talk with shop owners.”
    While Erdogan, championed by more pious Turks, has become modern Turkey’s most popular leader, he is also the most divisive.    Secular Turks say his policies quash dissent and infringe on private lives and personal rights.
    But it was his unorthodox economic policies, including a buildup in foreign debt, that helped spark last year’s crisis that wiped some 30 percent off the value of the lira.    The contraction in the fourth quarter was the economy’s worst in nearly a decade.
    “What we expected didn’t happen in the economy, that is a reality,” an AKP official told Reuters.    “While the economy was a gain before, it’s now our weak point.”
    “If there is a big loss (in Ankara)…we may enter a period where there will be very serious problems for the AK Party.”
‘FED UP’
    Murat Gezici, chairman of pollster Gezici, said three of every four undecided voters have backed the MHP or AKP in past general or local elections.
    The fraying economy had left many of them unsure, Gezici said citing his company’s March 16-17 poll, and added that rather than the AKP’s past successes, voters were more focused on candidates’ future promises.
    “Maybe I won’t even vote, that’s how fed up I am,” said Huseyin Kilic, another longtime but disenchanted AKP voter.
    Sacked from his factory job and waving in the air coins that he said were his last, Kilic, standing in a street market in the central Ankara district of Ulus, said he had not yet settled on a favored candidate.
    Yet few are writing off Erdogan before votes are counted.
    In nearly two decades he and his AKP have not lost a local election in Ankara or Istanbul.    The party is leading polls in other big cities like Adana and Konya.
    Shopping for vegetables in central Ankara, Neriman said she remained committed to the AK Party, dismissing economic woes.
    “They (the AKP) gave us everything, financially and emotionally.    There are no economic troubles.    Are there?” she said.    “I am planning on voting for the AK Party because for years we’ve been so much better off.”
($1 = 5.5652 liras)
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Mert Ozkan; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Anna Willard)

3/28/2019 Amid Russia tensions, producing F-35 fighter jets without Turkey possible: U.S. sources by Mike Stone and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in
Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt -/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Excluding NATO-member Turkey from the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet program would be challenging due to Ankara’s integral role in the stealthy jet’s production process, but not impossible, U.S. sources familiar with the situation said.
    Last week Reuters reported that the United States could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, a move that would widen the rift between Ankara and Washington, the latest disagreement in a years-long standoff.
    At the heart of the matter lies Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s commitment to buy a Russian air defense system that the United States says would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
    The United States and other NATO allies who own F-35 fighter jets fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the F-35, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.
    The United States has offered Turkey the more expensive, Patriot anti-missile system at a discount that expires at the end of March, but on the condition that Ankara drop its plans to buy the S-400.
    So far Ankara has not shown any willingness to reverse the S-400 purchase, forcing the United States to explore a future for the F-35 program without Turkey, which makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays.
    Two U.S. sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate, worldwide production process and U.S. thinking on the issue say Turkey can be replaced.    Officials with the Pentagon and the Turkish embassy declined to comment.
    “There are about 800 parts that Turkey makes for the F-35, and of them, very few are sole source,” said a person with direct knowledge of the U.S. position, explaining that single source parts from Turkey can be replaced by contractors who had previously bid to make them.
    “Turkey is not too big to fail,” the person said.
    Replacing or finding substitutes for the Turkish components would slow production for a three-month period at the Lockheed Martin facility that builds the jets, the person said.
    Lockheed declined to comment.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in December said Ankara plays a significant role in the production of the trillion-dollar jet and therefore removing it from the program would not be easy.
    But sources say several components of the F-35 made in Turkey, can be easily replaced.    For example, the center fuselage produced in Ankara, could be made by Northrop Grumman Corp , which already makes them in California.
    In the mean time, more Turkish pilots are set to begin training at U.S. air force bases, joining the Turkish pilots already there and Ankara still hopes to take delivery of two aircraft in November.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday he wants Turkey to remain in the F-35 fighter jet program, but added that Ankara needed to buy the Patriot missile defense system.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chris Sanders and Lisa Shumaker)

3/28/2019 State Dept. to change maps showing Golan Heights as part of Israel by OAN Newsroom
    The State Department is set to redraw its officials maps to show Golan Heights as Israeli territory.    The upcoming changes will reflect President Trump’s proclamation released earlier this week to recognize Golan Heights as part of Israel.
    The region was captured by Israel from Syria in 1967 and seized in 1981.
In this photo taken on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, a herd of cows graze near Moshav Keshet in the Israeli-controlled
Golan Heights. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday, March 25, 2019 recognizing Israel’s sovereignty
over the Golan Heights, reversing more than a half-century of U.S. policy in the Middle East. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    “As we said yesterday, to allow the Golan Heights to be controlled by the likes of the Syrian and Iranian regimes would turn a blind eye to the threats emanating from a Syrian regime that engages in atrocities and from Iran and terrorist actors, including Hezbollah, seeking to use the Golan Heights as a launching ground for attacks on Israel.” — Rodney Hunter, political coordinator – U.S. mission to UN.
    U.S. officials are saying the recognition of Golan Heights will boost Israel’s ability to defend itself.
    According to State Department officials, the new maps will be released as soon as they’re ready.

3/28/2019 Netanyahu says Israel ready for Gaza campaign if needed; Palestinians plan huge march by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ran Tsabari
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
visits Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel is prepared to wage a broad military campaign in Gaza if needed, after a two-day flareup of cross-border fighting that has thrust his security policies to the fore two weeks before an election.
    In Gaza, organizers announced plans for a massive protest on Saturday along the border to mark the anniversary of weekly demonstrations at which Israeli forces have, according to Gaza medical officials, already killed nearly 200 Palestinians.
    Israel launched air strikes and moved troops and armor reinforcements to the Gaza border this week after a rocket attack from the Hamas Islamist-run enclave wounded seven Israelis in a village north of Tel Aviv on Monday.
    “All Israelis should know that if a comprehensive campaign is required, we will enter it strong and safe, and after we have exhausted all of the other possibilities,” Netanyahu said after visiting the Gaza frontier and meeting with Israeli commanders.
    Although this week’s fighting has since died down amid Egyptian mediation, Israel’s security posture toward Gaza will be tested again by what are expected to be massive demonstrations on Saturday.
    The United Nations Human Rights Council said last week that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes by using excessive force at the protests.    Israel says the protests are used as cover by militants to attack the frontier, and lethal force is needed to safeguard border towns from infiltration.
    “The military will resort to a very strong hand against anyone trying to confront our troops,” Israeli security cabinet minister Arye Deri told Army Radio.    “Let no one blame Israel after.”
    Israel captured Gaza in a 1967 war and withdrew its troops and settlers in 2005.    Two years later, Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, took power in the territory.    Israel fought three wars against the group from 2007-2014.
    Since the last war five years ago, the sides have repeatedly pulled back from the brink of another major conflict.    The weekly border protests have instead become a focus for confrontation.
    Palestinians say the protests are not futile despite having failed to bring improvement in living conditions.
    “This has achieved something.    We have explained the Palestinian cause to all humans, to the whole world,” said Khalil Shahin of Nusseirat refugee camp, whose son Imad was killed at the fence.    “We have made clear our cause will never die.”
    The protesters call for Palestinians to be allowed to return to lands their families fled or were forced to abandon in Israel, and a lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian security blockade that has brought Gaza’s economy to a state of near-collapse.
GENERATION WITH NO HOPE
    According to a U.N. humanitarian report in December, 53 percent of Gazans live in poverty and 54 percent are unemployed. Sameh el-Sakani, a 26-year-old protester, said a generation had grown up with no hope.
    “You have a generation born in the 1990s that has nothing.    Some study for four or five years in university only to have no job,” he said.    “We see nothing. On the contrary, the blockade was tightened.”
    Security is a major issue for Netanyahu in Israel’s April 9 election.    Beset by corruption allegations that he denies, he is facing his strongest electoral challenge from a centrist coalition led by a former general.
    Netanyahu cut short a visit to the United States after seven Israelis were injured in Monday’s initial rocket strike in the village of Mishmeret, 120 km (75 miles) north of Gaza.    Twelve Palestinians were wounded by Israeli retaliatory attacks, Gaza health officials said.
    Televised scenes of a high-tech military facing off against crowds of youths armed mostly with rocks or improvised kite-and balloon-borne firebombs bedevil Netanyahu’s government.
    It frets about being tripped into another Gaza war.    But it also cannot ignore the rattled nerves of Israelis near the border, who say they live under constant threat of rockets and incendiary kites flown across the border.
    “What has happened here over the past year has been hell,” said Yifat Ben-Shushan, an Israeli mother of two from Nativ Haasara, a few hundred yards (meters) from the border.
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/28/2019 Opponents say Egypt’s constitutional changes will cement ‘absolute rule’ by Mohamed Abdellah and Amina Ismail
Magdi Abdel-Hamid, spokesman of the Civil Democratic Movement, speaks during a news conference at the headquarters
of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party in Cairo, Egypt March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – A coalition of Egyptian opposition parties said constitutional changes that could allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in power until 2034 would pave the way for years of “absolute individual rule” and is urging Egyptians to vote against them.
    An overwhelming majority in parliament, which is dominated by Sisi supporters, voted for the changes in principle last month, with 485 of 596 lawmakers voting in favor.    The chamber is expected to give its final approval in mid-April, with a national referendum to follow.
    The proposed amendments would reset presidential term limits, bolster the role of the military and increase the president’s power over the judiciary.    They would extend the two-term presidential limit from eight to 12 years, and would reset the clock for Sisi when his current term finishes in 2022.
    Sisi’s supporters say the changes are necessary to give him more time to complete major development projects and economic reforms.    His critics say they concentrate more powers in the hands of a leader accused by rights groups of presiding over a relentless crackdown on freedoms.
    Parliament last week began holding a series of consultative sessions over the proposed changes.    But the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), a coalition of secular and leftist opposition groups, said they had largely excluded critical voices.
    As the sessions resumed on Wednesday it called for a “real dialogue” involving a free debate with civil society.
    “What is going on is not a serious civic dialogue,” it said in a statement last week, dismissing what it described as an “approach that consecrates tyranny and paves the way for absolute individual rule for many years to come.”
    Opposition parties said a request for a protest against the amendments outside parliament on Thursday had been refused.    Parliament speaker Ali Adel-Aal was quoted by the private Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper as saying there was no excuse for the protest and that parliament was “listening to all opinions.”
    Members of parliament who have expressed opposition to the amendments say they have been subject to smear campaigns and intimidation.
    Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the opposition Egyptian Popular Current, said hundreds of opposition figures had been arrested since the amendments were tabled.    One civil rights lawyer said at least 120 arrests had been confirmed through the state security prosecution system.
    An interior ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Parliament spokesman Salah Hasaballah rejected criticism of the hearings, saying all political currents had been invited and that “everyone was granted space to express their views and reservations without interference.”
    Differences discussed in hearings last week addressed less controversial issues such as the level of the proposed quotas for women in parliament and the choice of name of a second legislative chamber.
    Five opposition party leaders attended the second set of consultative sessions this week.
    One, Mohamed Sami of the Karam Party, said they had been able to air their opinions but “there wasn’t a real dialogue.”    Another, Farid Zahraan of the Social Democratic Party, said proper dialogue was impossible against the backdrop of an “unprecedented crackdown” on dissent.
    The CDM said it was leaning towards urging people to take part in the referendum on the amendments but to reject changes that would “demolish any possibility of establishing a civil, democratic, modern state.”
    Since becoming president in 2014, former army chief Sisi has overseen a far-reaching crackdown that has swept up Islamists and liberal opponents.    At least 60,000 people have been jailed, according to Human Rights Watch.    Sisi has denied holding political prisoners and his backers say the measures were necessary to stabilize Egypt after its 2011 uprising.
    On Wednesday the Egyptian actors’ union said it had expelled two stars, Amr Waked and Khaled Abul-Naga, who had expressed opposition to the amendments, accusing them of treason for taking part in U.S. Congress hearings on human rights in Egypt.
    Waked told Reuters he had been receiving threats on Twitter which had intensified after the amendments were introduced.    Abul-Naga said on Twitter the decision was hasty and was reached “without any investigation of the facts.”
(Additional reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

3/28/2019 Capturing 24 hours in Gaza, one hour at a time
Children play a game of "Arabs and Jews" outside a school in Gaza City, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
    GAZA CITY (Reuters) – In the build-up to the one-year anniversary of the Gaza border protests that opened up a deadly new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Reuters photographer Dylan Martinez visited Gaza for the first time.
    As someone who had never set eyes on Gaza, his assignment was to use those unfamiliar eyes to record life beyond the daily drumbeat of violence in the blockaded Palestinian territory.
    The mood has become more tense in recent weeks as the March 30 anniversary nears, with trails of Palestinian rockets and Israeli missiles again appearing in the skies above.
    Martinez did not know what to expect after he crossed through Israel’s fortified checkpoint and past a long caged walkway and parallel road leading to a dilapidated Palestinian checkpoint at the other end.
    “We have a great team of photographers and journalists in Gaza whose main task, really, is to photograph the protest, the clashes between Israel and Gaza,” said Martinez, 49, a 28-year Reuters veteran who has covered Europe, Asia and the Americas and is currently based in London.
    “My remit, I think, was to do pretty much anything but that. Because everyone has seen that side of Gaza.”
    Gaza is a 139-square-mile (360-square-kilometre) coastal strip situated between Tel Aviv and Sinai and is home to around two million Palestinians, two thirds of them refugees.
    It has been governed by the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas since shortly after Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers in 2005.
    With its armed brigades and thousands of police and security men on the streets, Hamas controls Gaza’s interior as tightly as Israeli soldiers, gunboats and warplanes control most of Gaza’s perimeter, with Egyptian walls and watchtowers along the eight-mile southern border.
    Accompanied by a Reuters assistant photographer from Gaza City, Martinez traveled the strip, photographing it at every hour of the day and night over a 10-day period.
    One of the most powerful scenes was a patch of waste land between a school and a mosque where children were playing.
    “These kids were burning some cardboard, they had trenches, they were throwing sandballs so they weren’t hurting each other.    And I said,     ‘Oh, what are you guys doing?’ and they said, ‘Oh, we are playing Jews and Arabs.'”    The image, he said, “will probably stay with me forever.”
SUNSETS AND RUBBISH
    Parts of Gaza, to his surprise, resembled an underdeveloped version of California’s famed Venice Beach – with glorious Mediterranean sunsets, bathers and skateboarders, but often with crumbling buildings and rubbish heaps as part of the backdrop.
    In vehicle scrapyards in the north, he saw stacks of discarded cars. With 53 percent of Gazans living in poverty, according to a United Nations report in December, valuable items such as cars are cannibalized for every accessory.
    The same “use everything” dynamic could be seen at the harbor, where even the smallest fish discarded from a catch were gathered to be sold to poorer families.
    On Friday, while youths were protesting at the Gaza-Israel border, Martinez went to the beach to see what was going on.
    “I really understood that not 2 million people had gone to the border to clash with the Israelis. What else were they doing?” he said.
    “I found a bunch of skaters there with, I don’t know, I think they had one or two boards between them, some pretty ropey roller blades…They were just busy filming themselves trying to do flips, trying to do tricks, things like that.”
    After the sun goes down and the streets empty, pool halls and bakeries continue to operate through the darkness imposed by night, and by Gaza’s constant power cuts.
    Martinez was warned many times by officials and bystanders on the street, in a more cautionary than menacing manner, not to photograph Hamas checkpoints and military installations.
    Often, he did not realize what the buildings were because their exteriors gave no sign of what might have been within.    Otherwise, Martinez encountered few problems.
    “There’s a real sense of being enclosed.    You can stand on the beach looking out toward the horizon and see this fantastic sun and crystal blue waters, a sense (that) you are part of the world and there is everything around you,” he said.
    “You look to the right, you turn one way, and there is Israel and you can go down this road but in a car it was taking 20 minutes.    You look the other way, there is Egypt. You go down the road there, there’s a blockade, you can’t go any further."
    “You look inland, and there in the background as well is the horizon, is Israel.    And you can’t go that way."
    “So there is always a feeling you can only go so far one way.    And the other way.    I did feel it.    There is a sort of feeling of enclosure.”
(Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/28/2019 UAE official urges Arab openness to Israel: paper
FILE PHOTO: Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, speaks at
an event at Chatham House in London, Britain July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Relations between Arab states and Israel need to shift to help progress towards peace with the Palestinians, a senior United Arab Emirates official was quoted on Thursday as saying.
    The decision by many Arab countries not to talk with Israel has complicated finding a solution over the decades, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said, according to Abu Dhabi-based daily The National.
    “Many, many years ago, when there was an Arab decision not to have contact with Israel, that was a very, very wrong decision, looking back,” Gargash said, in unusually candid remarks.
    “Because clearly, you have to really dissect and divide between having a political issue and keeping your lines of communication open.”
    His comments came after the UAE and other Gulf states criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition this week of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in a 1967 war.
    They also followed a visit last month by Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner to Gulf Arab states to seek support for the economic portion of a long-awaited U.S. proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Gulf Arab states host U.S. troops and are important for Washington’s regional defense policy.
STRATEGIC SHIFT
    Israel has formal diplomatic relations with only two Arab states, neighboring Egypt and Jordan.
    But an Israeli cabinet minister visited Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque last year and fellow Gulf state Oman hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a surprise trip, the first time an Israeli leader had visited the Sultanate in 22 years.
    Israel sees Arab states as its natural allies against regional powerhouse Iran.    But many in the Arab world resist following Jordan’s and Egypt’s lead as long as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory continues.
    Gargash said he expected increased contact between Arab countries and Israel through small bilateral deals and visits by politicians and athletic delegations.    Israeli athletes won gold in an Abu Dhabi judo competition in October, and its national anthem was played.The strategic shift needs actually for us to progress on the peace front,” Gargash said.
    “What we are facing, if we continue on the current trajectory, I think the conversation in 15 years’ time will really be about equal rights in one state,” he added, alluding to a possible fusion of the Israeli and Palestinian polities in place of the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
    He said this conversation was currently on the margins but this would change.
    “A two-state solution will no longer be feasible because a sort of reduced rump (Palestinian) state will no longer be practical,” Gargash added.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/29/2019 Turkey: air defense purchase from Russia ‘a done deal’
FILE PHOTO - Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defence systems during the Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary
of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will honor its air defense deal with Russia, Ankara said on Friday after four U.S. senators introduced a bill to ban the planned delivery of F-35 fighter jets if Turkey ignored U.S. opposition and accepted the S-400 system.
    “We have agreed with Russia in the end and signed an agreement.    This agreement is valid (and) we are discussing when the delivery will be,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said following a meeting with his Russian counterpart.
    “This agreement is a done deal.”
    The U.S. senators on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to prohibit the transfer of F-35 aircraft from the United States to Turkey until the U.S. government certifies that Ankara will not take delivery of the Russian S-400 system, a statement on the move said.
    Turkey has been receiving contradictory statements from the United States, Cavusoglu said, adding Ankara has met all its obligations related to the F-35s, which are made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
    Turkey is a production partner in the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter jet program but the United States, a NATO ally, has opposed its purchase of Russian systems which could compromise the security of the aircraft.
    Turkey had no intention of selling the S-400s to another country, Cavusoglu said.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Dominic Evans and Jonathan Spicer)

3/29/2019 Saudi Arabia says Syrian opposition must unite before any dialogue with government
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia Minister of State Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf is seen at the
G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Friday a unified Syrian opposition should emerge before the start of any dialogue with the Syrian government.
    Ibrahim al-Assaf, speaking at an Arab League gathering in Tunisia, said the kingdom supported Syria’s territorial integrity and a political solution based on dialogue between the opposition and government.
    He reiterated Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the United States recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/29/2019 Pro-democracy protesters march again in Algeria, question army role by Tarek Amara and Hamid Ould Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: Military veterans shout slogans during a protest to demand the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
and changes to the political system, in Algiers, Algeria March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of chanting, banner-waving protesters marched though Algiers for the sixth Friday in succession to demand the removal of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika days after the country’s powerful military called for him to step down.
    Dancing, blowing horns and shouting freedom slogans, some demonstrators also called for the entire political elite to go, saying that while they were against Bouteflika they also rejected the army’s intervention in civilian political life.
    “Streets pressure will continue until the system goes,” said student Mohamed Djemai, 25, as hundreds of riot police kept an eye on the protests and helicopters flew overhead.
    “We have only one word to say today, all the gang must go immediately, game over,” said Ali a merchant, as other protesters shouted “the people want the fall of the regime.”
    Amid a festival atmosphere, families standing on balconies above the streets cheered the marchers, who shared out dates and water and bought ice cream from street vendors.
    The army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, on Tuesday asked the constitutional council to rule whether the ailing 82-year-old president is fit for office.
    The move piled pressure on Bouteflika, who has failed to placate Algerians by reversing a decision to seek a fifth term.
    Key allies have deserted the head of state, who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 and now faces the biggest crisis of his 20-year-old rule.
AMBITIOUS DEMANDS
    Protesters have ambitious demands in a country long- dominated by veterans of the independence war against France who are seen by many Algerians as too old and out of touch.
    They want to replace the establishment with a new generation of leaders capable of modernizing the oil-dependent state and giving hope to a population impatient for a better life.
    The powerful military has stayed in the barracks.    But Salah’s call for Bouteflika to go was a clear reminder to Algerians that the army intends to retain its vast influence in politics.
    Saadia Belaid, a woman crying as she wore the flag of Algeria, said: “I cry because they kidnapped Algeria and the army’s proposal is a real travesty.”
    “We want the departure of Salah,” read a banner.
    Salah’s call, however, received backing from the ruling FLN party and the main trade union, signaling that Bouteflika’s time was all but up.
    In the latest blow to Bouteflika, one of his few remaining influential supporters, leading businessman Ali Haddad, resigned as head of the influential FCE business forum, a resignation letter seen by Reuters showed.
    Haddad, who was awarded large public works projects by the government and has investments in the media, has helped to fund Bouteflika’s election campaigns over the years.
    Under the constitution, the chairman of parliament’s upper house, Abdelkader Bensalah, would serve as caretaker president for at least 45 days after Bouteflika’s departure.    But even if Bouteflika quits, there is no clear long-term successor.
(Reporting by Algiers bureau; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Robin Pomeroy, William Maclean)

3/29/2019 Tunisia says to coordinate Arab response to U.S. move on Israel, Golan
Tunisia's Foreign Affairs Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui attends a preparatory meeting between Arab foreign
ministers ahead of the Arab summit in Tunis, Tunisia March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia said on Friday it will coordinate with other Arab countries in efforts to contain any fall-out from the U.S. decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
    Khemaies Jhinaoui was speaking as his country assumed the rotating presidency of the League of Arab States ahead of an annual Arab summit in Tunis expected to focus on the U.S. decisions on the Golan Heights and an earlier one to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
    Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed both in moves not recognized internationally.
(Reporting by Maher Chamytelli, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/29/2019 Israeli troops wound Palestinians, anniversary rally approaches by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A Palestinian protester moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops in
Hebron, in the occupied West Bank March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot and wounded 10 Palestinians on the Gaza border on Friday, Gaza medical officials said, as Israeli tanks massed on the eve of a huge rally to mark the first anniversary of the start of the deadly protests.
    Egyptian mediators and humanitarian officials were working to avoid further bloodshed ahead of Saturday’s commemoration of the ‘Great March of Return’ border protests, which began on March 30 last year.
    Around 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured by Israeli fire at the protests, Gaza medics say, as the demonstrations turned into an often deadly standoff between Gazans hurling rocks and petrol bombs and Israel troops on the other side of the fence.
    Israel defends its use of lethal force, saying that its troops are defending the border and Israelis living near it.
    With security already featuring prominently as an issue in Israeli elections due on April 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of Gaza will be a key issue as he seeks a fifth term in office.
    His right-wing coalition government launched air strikes and moved armor and reinforcements to the Gaza border this week after a Palestinian rocket attack wounded seven Israelis in a village north of Tel Aviv on Monday.
    Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said it “continues to prepare for possible escalations with a wide variety of operational plans.”
    In Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that his Islamist faction had held three days of “marathon talks” with Egyptian mediators.
    The focus of those talks, he said, had been on “resolving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza in a way that will end the suffering of our people and preserve their dignity.”
    Haniyeh warned that Hamas would consider Israel’s response to demands that it ease restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, help create jobs and permit more humanitarian aid.    “In the light of that we will decide… how things will go in the coming hours,” he said.
BRINK OF COLLAPSE
    The Gaza protesters are calling for the lifting of a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, and for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948.
    Israel rejects any such return, fearing that it would lose its Jewish majority.
    The blockade, which Israel said was imposed for security reasons, is cited by humanitarian agencies as a key reason for impoverishment in Gaza.    A United Nations report in December said Gaza had an unemployment rate of 54 percent, rising to 70 percent among young people.
    UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, issued a report on Friday saying the number of Gazans wounded during the border protests over the last 12 months had “brought an already strained health system to the brink of collapse.”
    Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, appealed for both sides to take efforts to halt further bloodshed.
    Speaking to Reuters in Gaza, McGoldrick said that, on the Palestinian side, he and his colleagues had expressed hopes that “people would not be put in harm’s way, in particular we expected children not to be put in places where there was the possibility of danger or violence to them.”
    Israel, he said, should “use all possibilities in terms of crowd control and demonstrations and not using live ammunition, as they have in the past” in order to “prevent large numbers of injured and wounded.”
    Israel and Hamas fought three wars from 2007-2014 and have come close to all-out conflict several times since.
    Israel’s lethal response has been criticized by human rights groups, who say it is targeting protesters who pose little threat to heavily armed soldiers.    U.N. investigators said last week that Israeli forces may be guilty of war crimes for using excessive force.
    Israel rejects the criticism. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Hamas had fired 1,233 rockets from Gaza in the past year, set off 94 explosive devices and set fire to more than 8,000 acres of Israeli land.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson)

3/29/2019 Fixing Lebanon’s ruinous electricity crisis by Angus McDowall
Zouk Power Station is seen in Zouk, north of Beirut, Lebanon March 27, 2019. Picture taken March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s electricity crisis has pushed it to the brink of financial ruin, as power cuts hobble the economy and subsidies have racked up one of the world’s largest public debt burdens.
    Lebanon has not had capacity to supply 24-hour electricity since its 1975-1990 civil war, leaving many households reliant on their own generators or private neighborhood suppliers who charge hefty fees to keep a few lights on or other appliances running during regular daily cuts that can last several hours.
    The largely unregulated neighborhood suppliers, responsible for a web of power cables slung across city streets, are popularly called the “generator mafia” for their supposed political clout.    The owners say they simply offer a service that the state can’t.
    Ageing power plants run by the state use expensive fuel oil that, along with exhaust from diesel generators, adds to the smog lingering over cities in the nation of 6 million people.
    The government has promised change, including improving bill collection to help pay for cleaner, more efficient plants.    But it also needs foreign funds, which will mean raising power prices and other reforms that the government has struggled to deliver.
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
    The government, World Bank and International Monetary Fund all say electricity reform is vital to cutting debt, now equivalent to about 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
    The government says net transfers to state power firm Electricite du Liban (EdL) now amount to $1 billion-$1.5 billion a year, most of it spent on fuel oil.    This is equivalent to about a quarter of last year’s budget deficit of $4.8 billion.
    The accumulated cost of subsidizing EdL amounts to about 40 percent of Lebanon’s entire debt, the IMF said in 2016.
    The World Bank says electricity shortages rank second only to political instability in hindering business.    The economy has expanded by an annual rate of just 1-2 percent in recent years.
    Relying on fuel oil power plants and diesel generators also comes with a health cost: air pollution that can cause respiratory disease.    Air pollution in Beirut was three times levels deemed a hazard by the World Health Organization, according to 2014 data.
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO FIX?
    Consumer power prices have not changed since 1996, when oil cost only $23 a barrel.    Crude now trades nearer $70. But asking people to pay more when the service is so poor is a tall order.
    The main power plants have an average capacity of just over 2,000 megawatts (MW), compared to peak demand of 3,400 MW.    For Beirut, the best supplied city, that means daily cuts of three hours a day.    Elsewhere, it can mean outages for much of the day.
    Lebanon plans new, privately financed, gas-fueled plants.    But it does not yet have a regulator that can set prices or arbitrate disputes between government and power producers.
    Distribution and revenue collection are also big problems. EdL collects payments for only half the power it produces, with some power lost through creaking transmission network and other supplies siphoned off the system through unauthorized cables.
    In 2012, the government appointed private companies to run metering, billing and payment collection for EdL, but it gave them little power to enforce payment.
WHY HASN’T THE GOVERNMENT ACTED BEFORE?
    Lebanon has made sporadic attempts to end power shortages for decades, but its efforts have been thwarted by conflict, political instability and the challenge of policy-making in a system of government that depends on a delicate balance of interests across that nation’s fractious sectarian groupings.
    Lebanon had no president for two years from 2014-16 and had a caretaker government for nine months until February this year because of political squabbling over cabinet appointments
    Even with a government in place, it has few resources to spend on power infrastructure when nearly half of state revenue is needed to service public debt.
    This has led to quick fixes rather than long terms solutions, such as renting floating fuel oil power stations on barges paid for through deficit spending.
    Jessica Obeid, a power specialist with the Organisation for Petroleum and Energy Sustainability in Lebanon, said private generator companies did play a role in hindering reform, but maneuvering among rival political parties was also to blame.
IS THERE NEW IMPETUS FOR REFORMS?
    The World Bank and other investors have pledged $11 billion to invest in Lebanon’s infrastructure, including electricity.    But that money will only come if the government implements reforms, such as laying out a path toward raising power prices.
    Energy Minister Nada Boustani has proposed price increases and outlined plans to set up new power generators.    But her plans have already brought opposition from other political parties represented in the cabinet.
    Still, this time leaders across Lebanon’s political spectrum have said resolving the energy crisis is urgent and have agreed on a policy statement to review tariffs and achieve 24-hour electricity supplies in “the soonest possible time.”
    They have yet to specify a date to achieve this.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Edmund Blair/David Evans)

3/29/2019 Erdogan fights to hold Turkey’s cities in bitter election battle by Dominic Evans and Ali Kucukgocmen
An election banner of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, with the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia
in the background, is pictured in Istanbul, Turkey, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Less than a year after Tayyip Erdogan celebrated election triumph with fireworks in Ankara, Turkey’s all-powerful leader faces the embarrassment of losing his capital in local polls marred by bitter campaign rhetoric and economic storm clouds.
    Erdogan has ruled Turkey for 16 years with an ever-tightening grip and his June 2018 national election victory vastly expanded his presidential powers, alarming Western allies who fear Turkey is drifting deeper into authoritarianism.
    But the 65-year-old president could be brought down to earth on Sunday when Turks vote in municipal elections which threaten to inflict the first defeat for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in Ankara or the country’s biggest city and business hub, Istanbul.
    Erdogan has portrayed the vote as an existential choice for Turkey, blasting his domestic opponents as terrorist supporters and even invoking the New Zealand mosque killings as examples of the broader threats he says Turkey faces.
    “It is a matter of survival against those who want to divide this country and tear it to pieces,” he told hundreds of cheering supporters at a rally earlier this month in central Istanbul’s Eyup Sultan district, next to a 19th-century mosque.
    He has toured the country for weeks speaking up to eight times a day – a punishing routine which showcased the supreme campaigning skills that have made him the most popular and powerful leader since modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
    It also highlighted, his critics say, Erdogan’s growing reliance on divisive rhetoric since a currency crisis in August ended years of strong economic growth which had helped deliver successive election wins for his AKP, attracting support from well beyond its conservative Muslim core.
    A steep fall in the lira last Friday revived memories of last year’s meltdown, and provoked a flurry of stop-gap measures to halt a slump on the eve of voting which could erode support.
    For many Turks, the vote is all about whether Erdogan can still deliver a decent standard of living.
    “A crushing majority of people – including of course voters from the government party and its partners – think the economy is the number one problem in Turkey,” said political analyst Murat Yetkin.
    Some polls give the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate in Ankara, Mansur Yavas, a lead over his AKP rival.    In Istanbul, where the AKP is fielding former prime minister Binali Yildirim, the race appears close with the CHP.
    Other cities may also be seized by the secularist opposition party.
REFERENDUM ON ERDOGAN
    Analysts caution against reading too much into polling data – Erdogan won a first-round presidential victory last year, defying many expectations – and even if the AKP were to lose, it would not diminish the president’s official powers.
    But those very powers that he assumed last year leave him increasingly exposed when things go wrong.
    “The whole system has been so centralized around one individual that even a municipal election is a referendum on Erdogan himself,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo political risk advisers.
    Defeat in either city would bring to an end a quarter century of rule by Erdogan’s AKP and its Islamist predecessors, and deal a symbolic blow to a leader who launched his career in local politics and served as mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s.
    For two months he has addressed rally after rally, repeating well-honed presentations that include campaign songs, gifts of tea to supporters and lists of AKP achievements from garbage clearing to home building and infrastructure mega-projects.
    Overwhelmingly supportive media broadcast hours of live coverage.    Campaign posters proclaim that Istanbul is “a love story” for the AKP, and municipal duties are a “labour of love.”
    But Erdogan also promises his political opponents he will “bury them in the ballot boxes” just as Turkey’s armed forces have killed militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which he regularly links to the pro-Kurdish HDP party.
    In the speech in Eyup Sultan he said CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, an election ally of the HDP, was “arm in arm” with a terrorist organization.    “Who is behind him?    Terrorists are behind him.    Mr Kemal is walking together with them.”
    The CHP and HDP deny any links to the PKK.
    To his passionate supporters, Erdogan is speaking a self-evident truth.    “I see, I hear, and I believe what I see and hear – not just what Reis (the chief) says,” Ismail Zeybek, a 40-year-old electrician, said at the rally.
    Others say that by portraying the vote as a question of survival, the president is splitting his country.    “What kind of relation could there be between local elections and existence?    He is trying to win votes by polarizing,” said Mert Efe, a resident of Istanbul’s Besiktas district, a CHP stronghold.
    When a lone gunman opened fire in two mosques in New Zealand a fortnight ago, Erdogan said if anyone tried to come to Turkey to do harm they would be sent back “in caskets” like Australian and New Zealand troops who fought Ottoman soldiers in Gallipoli a century ago.
    He repeatedly showed extracts from the gunman’s manifesto, which he said threatened Turkey and Erdogan himself, as well as blurred footage from the shooting itself – even after New Zealand’s foreign minister flew to Turkey to ask him to stop.
    “Looking at the rhetoric he is using, we have never seen this before on a municipal level.    It’s unprecedented,” Piccoli said.    “This concentration of power is running short of ideas, that is why he is pushing more and more this nationalist, religious agenda.”
    In the final days of campaigning Erdogan also revived calls for Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum – the foremost cathedral in Christendom for 900 years and then one of Islam’s greatest mosques for 500 years until 1935 – to become a mosque again.
FOUR MORE YEARS?
    After winning a 2017 referendum on his powerful executive presidency, and then last year’s hard-fought parliamentary and presidential elections, Erdogan could in theory enjoy the next four years free from electoral challenge.
    A poor showing on Sunday, however, would strain his parliamentary alliance with the nationalist MHP party, raising the possibility that Erdogan could be back on the campaign trail sooner than the next scheduled national elections in 2023.
    If the AKP suffers a “large-scale shock” involving the loss of both Ankara and Istanbul, or saw the share of the vote taken by the AKP/MHP alliance fall well below 50 percent, it would be a clear sign that Erdogan’s party is on the wane, said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and analyst at Carnegie Europe.
    “That would have consequences over time.    It would make it more difficult to hold onto power through 2023, especially given that this perceived political weakness would be combined with the economic slowdown,” Ulgen said.
    If the vote does not go the way Erdogan hopes, he will be faced with a more immediate decision on Sunday night.
    Asked whether he plans to address supporters again as he did triumphantly from his AKP headquarters in Ankara last June, Erdogan said his balcony speech had become an election night tradition.
    “We did this in every election.    I think it would not be right if we didn’t do it at this election.    But we have not sat down with colleagues to make this decision yet.”
(Additional reporting by Omer Berberoglu and Daren Butler; Editing by Pravin Char)

3/30/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will solve Syria issue ‘on the field’ after Sunday’s elections
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections,
in Elmadag district of Ankara, Turkey March 28, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will solve the Syria issue “on the field” after Sunday’s local elections, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, as he sought to drum up support for his AK Party in the vote.
    Turkey has carried out two cross-border operations against Kurdish militants in northern Syria and has warned that it will launch further incursions if the threats along its borders are not eliminated.
    “First thing after the elections, we will solve the Syria issue on the field if possible, not at the table,” Erdogan told supporters in the first of his six rallies in Istanbul.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/30/2019 Palestinians mass at Gaza border to mark protest anniversary by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A woman holds a Palestinian flag during a protest marking Land Day and the first anniversary of a surge of border protests,
at the Israel-Gaza border fence east of Gaza City March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied at the Israel-Gaza border on Saturday, facing off against Israeli tanks and troops on the first anniversary of the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations.
    Israeli forces had massed the other side of the fortified frontier, with tensions already high after a rocket attack from Gaza and Israeli air strikes earlier in the week.
    Four Palestinians were killed on Saturday, Gaza medical officials said.    Three were 17-year-olds shot dead by Israeli troops while protesting, they said, adding another person was killed at an overnight protest hours before the main rally.
    But Saturday’s rally was smaller than expected, despite concerns that the anniversary would see a major escalation.
    Loudspeakers at border protest camps played Palestinian nationalist songs and Hamas, the armed Islamist movement which controls Gaza, had ordered schools to shut for the day to encourage participation.
    The protesters are demanding the end to a security blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and want Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948.
    Israel rejects any such return, saying that would eliminate its Jewish majority.
    Hundreds of Palestinian men, some from Hamas, were deployed in bright orange vests to deter people from going near the fence.    There was also less acrid black smoke swirling around with little sign of tyre-burning, as on previous weekends.
    The Israeli military said there had been around 40,000 protesters, some hurling grenades and explosives.
    Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the day had “lots of rioters but significantly less violence,” adding that it showed Hamas was able to stop violence when it wanted to.
    But many protesters still managed to get near the border and throw stones at Israeli soldiers.
YEAR OF PROTEST
    Around 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the protests started on March 30 last year, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Palestinian sniper.
    “In a year I will finish school.    My father is unemployed so I will be unable to go to university.    Who is responsible?    Israel,” said 16-year-old protester Mohammed Ali.
    “I don’t know how many years will pass before our lives improve but we should continue (protests) as long as the occupation and the blockade exist.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the protest was under close scrutiny at home in the build-up to Israeli elections on April 9.
    The veteran Israeli leader faces a serious challenge from a centrist party led by a former general and pressure from hawkish allies in his right-wing coalition to be tough on security.
    Netanyahu said the Israeli military’s massive deployment had ensured violence at the protests remained relatively low.
TENSE BUILDUP
    The week before the anniversary saw a flare-up of cross-border violence after a rocket fired from Gaza wounded seven Israelis north of Tel Aviv on Monday.    In response, Israel launched a wave of air strikes and ramped up its forces at the border.
    Egyptian mediators intervened to avoid further escalation, and to ease tensions by persuading Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza.
    A long-standing Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza is cited by humanitarian agencies as a key reason for impoverishment in the narrow coastal enclave, into which 2 million Palestinians are packed.
    Hamas leaders said on Saturday progress had been made in the Egyptian talks but that they still had a list of demands from Israel.
    “In the coming days we hope to conclude the negotiations and achieve a real breaking of the blockade,” Yehya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, told Reuters at one rally.
    Israel seized Gaza in a 1967 war and pulled out its troops in 2005.    It says the security blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel and fired thousands of rockets at it in the past decade.
    Israel’s use of lethal force at the protests has drawn censure from the United Nations and human rights groups.    U.N. investigators last week said Israeli forces might be guilty of war crimes for using excessive force.
    Israel says its troops have no choice because they are trying to stop militants breaching the fence and attacking Israeli communities nearby. Palestinians have also launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
    March 30 also marks “Land Day,” an annual commemoration of six Arab citizens of Israel who were killed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations over land confiscations in 1976.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Edmund Blair)

3/30/2019 Libya holds municipal elections in first vote for five years by Ahmed Elumami
A man casts his vote during the municipal election at a polling station in Zwara, Libya March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya held rare municipal elections in nine communities on Saturday, although turnout in the country’s first voting for five years reached only about 38 percent.
    The North African state, which has been mired in conflict and chaos since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, has not held any elections since 2014, when a heavily contested national vote ended up splitting the country into rival administrations and parliaments.
    Only nine out of 69 municipal councils in southern and western Libya voted on Saturday, officials said.    No violence or sabotage was reported.
    Libya created 120 municipal councils in 2013 in a bid to end 42 years of centralization and one man rule under Gaddafi.    Some councils held elections in 2014.
    The municipal board of each council includes seven members, which then elects a mayor.
    “We’ll go on each Saturday until 33 councils hold their elections then we resume after the holy month of Ramadan so all councils are elected,” Salem Bentahia, head of the elections commission, told Reuters.
    The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in early June.
    In Zuwara, a town west of Tripoli near the Tunisian border, there was a modest turnout in the morning.
    “We wish every success to this board and for it to achieve all the aspirations of this city’s residents in all areas,” Abdulsalam Ramdan Abdulsalam said as he cast his vote.
    The United Nations is holding a national conference in April in a bid to end the political conflict between the internationally recognized government in Tripoli in the west of Libya and a parallel administration version in the east.
    The U.N. efforts aim to prepare the country for long-delayed national elections.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Edmund Blair)

3/30/2019 Turks vote in local elections which could see Erdogan lose in big cities by Tuvan Gumrukcu
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cheer during a rally for the upcoming local
elections in Istanbul, Turkey, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turks go to the polls on Sunday in local elections that President Tayyip Erdogan has described as a matter of survival for the country.
    Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years thanks to strong economic growth and supreme campaigning skills, has become the country’s most popular, yet also most divisive, leader in modern history.
    However, he could be dealt an electoral blow with polls indicating his ruling AK Party (AKP) may lose control of the capital Ankara, and even Istanbul, the country’s largest city.
    With the economy contracting following a currency crisis last year in which the lira lost more than 30 percent of its value, some voters appeared ready to punish Erdogan who has ruled with an increasingly uncompromising stance.
    This week, as authorities again scrambled to shore up the lira, Erdogan cast the country’s economic woes as resulting from attacks by the West, saying Turkey would overcome its troubles following Sunday’s vote and adding he was “the boss” of the economy.
    “The aim behind the increasing attacks toward our country ahead of the elections is to block the road of the big, strong Turkey,” Erdogan told one of his six rallies in Istanbul on Saturday.
    Sunday’s elections, in which Turks will vote for mayors and other local officials across the country, will be the first since Erdogan assumed sweeping presidential powers last year and will be a reckoning for his government, which has come under fire for its economic policies and record on human rights.
    Voting starts at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and polls close at 5 p.m., with a clear picture of the winners probably emerging around midnight.
SYMBOLIC BLOW
    Defeat in either Ankara or Istanbul would bring to an end a nearly quarter century rule by Erdogan’s AKP or its predecessors in those cities and deal a symbolic blow to Turkey’s leader.
    Ahead of the vote, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Iyi (Good) Party formed an electoral alliance to rival that of the AKP and its nationalist MHP partners.
    The pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), which Erdogan has accused of links to Kurdish militants, has not made an official alliance and is not fielding candidates for mayor in Istanbul or Ankara, which is likely to benefit the CHP.
    The HDP denies links to the outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
    In the days leading up to the vote, Erdogan has held around 100 rallies across the country, speaking 14 times in different districts of Istanbul over the past two days alone and more than four times in Ankara throughout his campaign.
    He has described the elections as an existential choice for Turkey, blasting his rivals as terrorist supporters aiming to topple Turkey.    He has warned that if the opposition candidate wins in Ankara, residents would “pay a price.”
    His opponents have denied the accusations and challenged his characterization of the elections as a matter of survival, saying Erdogan had led the country to its current state.
    “What matter of survival? We’re electing mayors.    What does this have anything to do with the country’s survival?” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the CHP, told a rally in Eskisehir.
    With reference to Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu said: “If there is a survival issue in Turkey, it’s because of you.”
(Editing by Dominic Evans and David Holmes)

3/31/2019 Arab summit expected to reject U.S. decision over Golan
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi gestures as he stands near Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Jordan's King Abdullah II
during the group photo with Arab leaders, ahead of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis, Tunisia March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/Pool
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Arab heads of state, long divided by regional rivalries, are expected to unite at a summit on Sunday to oppose a U.S. decision to recognize Israel’s annexation of Arab lands captured in 1967.
    Arab leaders are already grappling with unrest in Algeria and Sudan, international pressure over the war in Yemen, regional splits over Iran’s influence in the Middle East and a bitter Gulf Arab dispute.
    They face a new challenge after President Donald Trump signed a proclamation last week recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli, less than four months after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.    Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
    Arab officials said the summit would be dominated by the Golan Heights and Palestinian demands for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas also occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.
    Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said on Saturday Arab ministers had expressed support for a proposal to declare that the U.S. move violated the U.N. charter against acquiring land by force.
    They also agreed to back Syria’s right to regain Golan and Lebanon’s right to the Shebaa farms, a small strip of land next to the Golan claimed by Beirut, he tweeted.
    Summit spokesman Mahmoud Al-Khmeiry said Arab leaders would repeat an Arab call for peace with Israel in exchange for occupied Arab lands and would reject any initiative not in line with U.N. resolutions.
    Khmeiry appeared to be referring to a still-unannounced U.S. peace plan by White House adviser Jared Kushner and Trump son-in-law that Palestinians have refused to discuss.
    Trump’s aides have said his moves have drawn a less severe reaction privately from Arab states than experts had predicted.
    While opposition to Israel and its actions can unite the 22-member Arab League, Arab states remain divided over a range of other issues, including pro-democracy protests that have erupted in the region since 2011 and over Iran’s Middle East influence.
    Ibrahim al-Assaf, foreign minister of Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia, said on Friday that Shi’ite Muslim rival Iran remained the biggest threat to the region.
    The Tunis summit will be the first time the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar attend the same gathering since 2017 when Riyadh and its allies imposed a political and economic boycott on Doha.    Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran, a charge Doha denies.
    The leaders of Sudan and Algeria are not expected to attend, with both nations roiled by anti-government protests.
    Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s ailing, 82-year-old president who has ruled for 20 years, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, in power for three decades and wanted by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes in his country’s Darfur region, are both facing calls to step down.
    Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.    The League has said there was still no consensus to allow Syria’s reinstatement.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut, Hesham Hajali in Cairo; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

3/31/2019 Brazil’s Bolsonaro begins Israel visit with embassy decision pending
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he stands next to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a welcoming ceremony
upon his arrival in Israel, at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro began a visit to Israel on Sunday with a decision pending on fulfilling a promise to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, a policy change opposed by military officers in his cabinet.
    The four-day visit by the far-right leader comes a week before Israel’s closely contested election in which the right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is battling a popular centrist candidate and corruption allegations, which he denies.
    “I love Israel,” Bolsonaro said in Hebrew at a welcoming ceremony, with Netanyahu at his side, at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport.
    Netanyahu said he and Bolsonaro would sign “many agreements,” including security deals, and that the Brazilian leader would visit Judaism’s holy Western Wall, “in Jerusalem, our eternal capital.”
    A leading Israeli financial news website, Calcalist, reported on Sunday that Brazilian state-run oil firm Petrobras was considering bidding in a new tender to explore for oil and gas offshore Israel and a final decision would be announced during Bolsonaro’s visit.
    Earlier this month, a Brazilian government official told Reuters no decision had been made on the embassy move, but “something will have to be said about the embassy during the trip.”
    The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that a formal announcement might not come during the visit.     Visiting Brazil for the Jan. 1 presidential inauguration, Netanyahu said Bolsonaro had told him that moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv was a matter of “when, not if.”
    Like Netanyahu, Bolsonaro is an outspoken admirer of U.S. President Donald Trump, who moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem last May, five months after breaking with international consensus and recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.
    Bolsonaro also enjoys strong evangelical support at home. Netanyahu has courted U.S. evangelical leaders during his current decade in power.
    But in an interview in February, Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao, a retired army general, told Reuters that moving the embassy was a bad idea because it would hurt Brazil’s exports to Arab countries, including an estimated $5 billion in sales of halal food that comply with Muslim dietary laws.
    Bolsonaro’s economic team and the country’s powerful farm lobby have advised against relocating the embassy to Jerusalem.
    Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek to establish a state in the two territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Editing by Dale Hudson)

3/31/2019 Erdogan’s AKP leads in Istanbul, Ankara in Turkish local elections
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters as he leaves after voting during the municipal elections,
outside a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Candidates from President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) were leading mayoral elections in Turkey’s two main cities after about one quarter of ballots had been opened, broadcaster NTV said on Sunday.
    It said the AKP candidate in Istanbul, the country’s largest city, had 51.8 percent with 24.4 percent of ballot boxes opened.    The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate had 45.8 percent.
    The AKP was also leading in the capital Ankara with 51.6 percent of votes after 22.5 percent of ballots were opened, NTV said.
    Preliminary vote counts at similar stages of previous elections have often shown a strong lead for the AKP over opposition parties, which has narrowed as counting continued.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

3/31/2019 Turkey’s AKP candidate declares victory in Istanbul, opposition says premature
Binali Yildirim, mayoral candidate of the ruling AK Party, delivers a speech after voting in the municipal elections,
outside a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s ruling AK Party (AKP) candidate for Istanbul mayor said he had won Sunday’s election but his opposition rival said the declaration was premature.
    Speaking after more than 98 percent of ballot boxes had been opened, AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim said his party had won.    Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu dismissed Yildirim’s statement as a “manipulation” and said that votes were still being counted.
    Turkish broadcasters said the latest count, with 98.8 percent of ballot boxes opened, showed Yildirim with a razor-thin lead having secured 4,111,219 votes against Imamoglu’s 4,106,776.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

3/31/2019 Algeria’s president appoints caretaker government amid turmoil by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: Police officers attempt to disperse demonstrators trying to force their way to the presidential palace during a
protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, in Algiers, Algeria March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika named a caretaker cabinet on Sunday, as he grapples with a political crisis following weeks of protests demanding he end his 20-year rule.
    Serving Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui will head the administration, state news agency APS said, listing 27 ministers.
    Central bank governor Mohamed Loukal was named as finance minister, while the former head of the state power and gas utility, Mohamed Arkab, will be energy minister, APS said.
    Sabri Boukadoum, a former envoy to the United Nations, becomes foreign minister and replaces Ramtane Lamamra, who spent less than a month in the role.     Algeria’s army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, renewed a call on Saturday for the Constitutional Council to rule on whether the ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika was fit to rule, opening up the possibility of a managed exit.
    Salah kept his position as deputy defense minister in the reshuffle, according to state media.    Bouteflika, who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, kept his title as defense minister.
    Bouteflika also named the communication minister, Hassane Rabhi, as government spokesman, a rarely-filled post in what critics say has been a secretive administration.
    Demonstrators have rejected military intervention in civilian matters and want to dismantle the entire ruling elite, which includes veterans from the war of independence against France, army officers, the ruling party and business tycoons.
    Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Algiers for more than a month, complaining of corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement which they say has tarnished Bouteflika’s 20-year rule.
    But two opposition leaders have supported the army initiative.
    “The merit of this approach is that it responds to a pressing popular demand,” Ali Benflis, a former head of the ruling FLN party, said in a party statement.    “We are facing a political, constitutional and institutional crisis.”
    Abderazak Makri, head of an Islamist party, said he was against anything that threatened the stability and unity of the country or undermined the military.
    Several close allies, including some members of the ruling FLN and union leaders, have abandoned Bouteflika.
    Political sources said the appointment of a caretaker government might be a signal that Bouteflika could resign, given pressure from the military and protesters.
    The U.N. Secretary-General said on Sunday he welcomed efforts toward a peaceful and democratic transition in Algeria.
    Addressing an Arab League summit in Tunis, Antonio Guterres said any steps should be made in a way “that addresses the concerns of the Algerian people in a timely way.”
(Writing by Michael Georgy and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Susan Fenton, Edmund Blair and Daniel Wallis)

3/31/2019 Israel says Brazil opens ‘diplomatic office’ in Jerusalem
FILE PHOTO: Israel's acting foreign minister Israel Katz, who also serves as intelligence and transport minister,
attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 24, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Sunday that Brazil had opened a “diplomatic office” in Jerusalem as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro began a visit to the country.
    “Obrigado for opening a diplomatic office in Jerusalem!” acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a Twitter post that included a photograph of himself shaking hands with Brazilian counterpart Ernesto Araújo.
(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

4/1/2019 Erdogan suffers major setbacks in local elections in Turkey’s big cities by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay
Supporters of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) gather in front of the party's headquarters
to celebrate the municipal elections results in Ankara, Turkey, March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan suffered stunning setbacks in local elections as his ruling AK Party lost control of the capital Ankara for the first time since the party’s founding in 2001, and was on course to lose the biggest prize of all, Istanbul.
    Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since coming to power 16 years ago and ruled his country with an ever tighter grip, campaigned relentlessly for two months ahead of Sunday’s vote, which he described as a “matter of survival” for Turkey.
    But the president’s daily rallies and overwhelmingly supportive media coverage failed to win over voters in the two main cities, as Turkey’s tip toward economic recession weighed heavily on voters.
    Turkish broadcasters said opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavas had won a clear victory in Ankara.    In Istanbul, the CHP was nearly 28,000 votes ahead as the last votes were being counted.
    “The people have voted in favor of democracy, they have chosen democracy,” opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said, declaring that his secularist CHP had taken Ankara and Istanbul from the AK Party (AKP) and held its Aegean coastal stronghold of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city.
    The turnout was a very high 84.52 percent nationwide, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency.
    Defeat for Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted party in Ankara was a significant blow for the president.    Losing Istanbul, a city three times the size of the capital, where he launched his political career and served as mayor in the 1990s, would be an even greater shock.
    High Election Board Chairman Sadi Guven told reporters the CHP Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoglu had 4,159,650 votes, while the AKP candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, had 4,131,761 votes.
    There was a three-day period for election results to be challenged, Guven said, adding that results of 84 out of 31,186 ballot boxes in Istanbul had not yet been scanned into the system due to challenges.
    The Turkish lira, which swung wildly https://tmsnrt.rs/2CEaO11 in the week ahead of the elections echoing last year’s currency crisis, weakened as much as 2.5 percent against the dollar from Friday’s close.
    Anadolu said the AKP would appeal in some Ankara districts.
    In a speech to supporters on Sunday night, Erdogan appeared to accept AKP defeat in Istanbul, although he said that most neighborhoods in the city were held by his party.
    “Even if our people gave away the mayorship, they gave the districts to the AK Party,” he said.
    The party would appeal results wherever needed, he added.
TURNING A PAGE
    Erdogan pledged that Turkey would now focus on its troubled economy in the run-up to national elections in 2023.    “We have a long period ahead where we will carry out economic reforms without compromising on the rules of the free-market economy,” he told reporters.
    Turkey’s most prominent leader since the founder of the Turkish republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Erdogan has built support based on strong economic growth and backing from a core constituency of pious, conservative Muslim Turks.
    A consummate campaigner, he has been the country’s most popular – although divisive – modern politician, tightening his grip in elections last year that ushered in a powerful executive presidency, approved in a bitter 2017 referendum which alarmed Western allies who fear growing authoritarianism in Turkey.
    But a currency crisis after last year’s election dragged the lira down by 30 percent and tipped the economy into recession in the fourth quarter.    With inflation close to 20 percent and unemployment rising, some voters were ready to punish the president.
    “Today’s elections are as historic as that of 1994,” prominent journalist Rusen Cakir tweeted, referring to the year Erdogan was elected mayor of Istanbul.    “It is a declaration that a page that was opened 25 years ago is being turned.”
    As authorities again scrambled to shore up the lira over the past week, Erdogan cast the country’s economic woes as resulting from attacks by the West, saying Turkey would overcome its troubles and adding he was “the boss” of the economy.
    Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo political risk advisers, noted the AKP had lost seven of the country’s 12 main cities, even without taking Istanbul into account.
    “It’s a bad night for the AK Party,” he said.    “They have done very poorly in all the economic powerhouses of country.    For a party which portrays itself as pro-business, it’s a huge issue.”
    Moody’s rating agency said the central bank’s use of reserves last week to prop up the lira raised new questions over its independence, while uncertainty over Turkey’s policy response to recession raises the risk of further capital flight.
    In mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, residents celebrated as the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) won back municipalities that authorities had taken over two years ago, accusing the HDP of terrorist links.    The HDP denies links to the outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
    “They robbed us of our will and we overturned this,” Diyarbakir resident Abdullah Elmas said.
(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz, Orhan Coskun and Nevzat Devranoglu in Ankara, Daren Butler and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graff)

4/1/2019 President Trump to host Egyptian counterpart at White House on April 9th by OAN Newsroom
    Egypt’s president is making his way to the U.S., where he’s expected to receive a warm welcome in Washington, D.C. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will meet with President Trump at the White House.    The leaders are slated to discuss several high-profile issues.    This includes joint military efforts and economic ties between the two countries.
    It’s speculated the pair could also discuss counterterrorism efforts as well as the Trump administration’s upcoming Middle East peace plan, which is not expected to be released until after Israel’s presidential race.    The meeting comes on the eve of Israel’s elections, which means discussing the details of the plan could be a high possibility.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening of the 30th Arab Summit in
Tunis, Tunisia, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (Fethi Belaid/ Pool photo via AP)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with al-Sisi in Cairo at the beginning of the New Year.        During that meeting, Pompeo stressed that al-Sisi needed to do more to address human rights abuses in the country.    However, in late February the Egyptian president defended the use of the death penalty at a European Union Arab summit.
    “Our priority is preserving our countries and stopping them from collapse, destruction and ruin as you see in many surrounding states,” stated al-Sisi.    “The matter is different, so I ask for understanding between us and knowledge that the existing priorities and goals, although different, can have similar interests that allow for cooperation.”
    His remarks come as reports are shedding light on the rising number of executions among detainees in the country.    Over 2,500 death sentences have been handed down since 2014.    It’s unclear if this issue will be on the table, but the U.S. and United Nations have made their stance clear.

4/1/2019 Exclusive: U.S. sends message to Turkey, halts F-35 equipment shipments – sources by Mike Stone and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO - A real-size mock of F-35 fighter jet is displayed at Japan International
Aerospace Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tim Kelly
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, sources familiar with the situation said, marking the first concrete U.S. step to block delivery of the jet to the NATO ally in light of Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian missile defense system.
    In recent days, U.S. officials told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the stealthy jet, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.    The aircraft is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
    The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the next shipment of training equipment, and all subsequent shipments of F-35 related material, have been canceled.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.    Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.
    The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.
    A Pentagon official had told Reuters in March that the United States had a number of items it could withhold in order to send Turkey a signal that the United States was serious about Ankara dropping its ambition to own the S-400.
    The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Turkish officials in Ankara were not immediately available for comment.
    The U.S. decision on the F-35s was expected to complicate Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s planned visit to Washington this week for a NATO summit.    The latest development in the F-35 dispute came a day after Erdogan suffered one of his biggest electoral losses in decades in local elections.
    Reuters reported last week that Washington was exploring whether it could remove Turkey from production of the F-35.    Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays.    Sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate worldwide production process and U.S. thinking on the issue last week said Turkey’s role can be replaced.
    The United States and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons in the future.
    In an attempt to persuade Turkey to drop its plans to buy the S-400, the United States offered the pricier American-made Patriot anti-missile system in a discounted deal that expired at the end of March.    Turkey has shown interest in the Patriot system, but not at the expense of abandoning the S-400.
    Turkey has engaged with U.S. negotiators in recent days about buying the Patriot system, a person familiar with the matter said.    The system is made by Raytheon Co.
    Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in March said that despite some issues, Turkish pilots were continuing their training at an air base in Arizona on the F-35, each of which costs $90 million, and that Ankara was expecting the aircraft to arrive in Turkey in November.
    U.S. lawmakers also have expressed alarm over Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian system.    Four U.S. senators last week introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the transfer of F-35s to Turkey until the U.S. government certifies that Ankara will not take delivery of the S-400 system.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Will Dunham)
[Turkey's economy is tanking probably because of their involvement in the Syrian conflict and it was economically hurting them and now Erdogan is struggling since the population is in unrest and the purchase of Russian military items must be cheaper, but will cost them down the line.].

4/1/2019 Bolsonaro visits Western Wall, Palestinians angry at Jerusalem mission by Ilan Rosenberg and Lisandra Paraguassu
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a photo
as they visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. April 1, 2019 Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM/BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accompanied by Israel’s prime minister, visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Monday as the Palestinians considered recalling their ambassador in Brasilia over a new trade mission to Israel in the holy city.
    The ancient Western Wall, the most sacred prayer site in Judaism, is located in the eastern part of the city Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally.
    Israel has long considered all of Jerusalem as its eternal, indivisible capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they seek in territory Israel captured in the 1967 war.
    U.S. President Donald Trump broke global consensus in 2017 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there last May.
    Brazil on Sunday opened a new trade mission to Israel in the city, edging back from earlier signals it would follow the United States with a full embassy move.
    The Western Wall is a remnant of the compound of a Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.    The plaza above known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary is the third holiest site in Islam, containing al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
    Bolsonaro, on a four-day trip to Israel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approached the wall together and leaned side-by-side against its massive stones.    Bolsonaro placed a prayer note in between the stones, as is customary.
    Bolsonaro’s original proposal to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem angered the Muslim world, and senior Brazilian officials backed away from it for fear of damaging ties with Arab countries and jeopardizing billions of dollars in Brazilian halal meat exports.
    Presidential spokesman Otavio Rego Barros said on Sunday the trade mission would not be a diplomatic representation, but the move angered the Palestinians.
    Palestinian Ambassador in Brasilia Ibrahim Alzeban told Reuters that he may be recalled, although a response was still under consideration.
    “From what I was told, it will depend on how (Bolsonaro’s) visit evolves,” Alzeban said.    “We wish that the subject of Jerusalem had not been touched upon.”
    Alzeban said the Palestinians were also upset because Bolsonaro did not consider a visit to the Palestinian territories and did not coordinate his trip with Palestinian authorities.
    Netanyahu has said he hopes Brazil’s Jerusalem trade office is a step toward moving the embassy to the city.
    “There is no recognition of Jerusalem as the capital,” Brazilian presidential spokesman Barros said.    “Our president continues to evaluate this possibility (of moving the embassy), but that is not what we decided at this time.”
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu,; Writing by Jake Spring,; Editing by Susan Thomas and Ed Osmond)

4/1/2019 Lockheed clinches $2.4 billion deal for sale of THAAD missiles by Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO: Lockheed Martin's THAAD missile model is displayed during Japan Aerospace 2016
air show in Tokyo, Japan, October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lockheed Martin Corp was awarded a $2.4 billion Pentagon contract on Monday for THAAD interceptor missiles, some of which are slated to be delivered to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
    Reuters had reported Lockheed was nearing the deal earlier on Monday.
    In November, Saudi and U.S. officials signed letters of offer and acceptance formalizing terms for Saudi Arabia’s purchase of 44 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense launchers, missiles and related equipment.
    The Pentagon said the Saudi government would pay $1.5 billion of the $2.4 billion.
    The November deal was inked amid concerns about the role of the kingdom’s leadership in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi critic who lived in the United States and was a columnist for the Washington Post.
    Representatives for Lockheed Martin declined to comment.
    Lockheed Martin, the biggest U.S. arms maker, builds and integrates the THAAD system, which is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Raytheon, another U.S. firm, builds its advanced radar.
    As a part of the scope of work outlined by the Pentagon, obsolete systems currently in place will be updated to prepare the current Saudi missile defense infrastructure for the new THAAD technology.
(Reporting by Mike Stone; writing by Nick Zieminski; editing by Bill Berkrot, Leslie Adler and Sonya Hepinstall)

4/2/2019 U.S. halts F-35 equipment to Turkey, protests its plans to buy from Russia by Mike Stone and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO - A real-size mock of F-35 fighter jet is displayed at Japan International
Aerospace Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tim Kelly
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, marking the first concrete U.S. step to block delivery of the jet to the NATO ally in light of Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian missile defense system.
    U.S. officials told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the stealthy jet, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters on Monday.
    The Pentagon confirmed the Reuters report that the equipment delivery had been stopped.
    “Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.
    The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.
    The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the next shipment of training equipment, and all subsequent shipments of F-35 related material, had been canceled.    The aircraft is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
    A Pentagon official had told Reuters in March that the United States had a number of items it could withhold in order to send Turkey a signal that the United States was serious about Ankara dropping its ambition to own the S-400.
    Turkish officials in Ankara were not immediately available for comment.    Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.
NATO SUMMIT
    The U.S. decision on the F-35s was expected to complicate Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit to Washington this week for a NATO summit.    On Sunday, Erdogan suffered one of his biggest electoral losses in decades in local elections.
    “Certain Russian weapon systems are seen as inherently threatening to the United States regardless of who is operating them and for what purpose,” Andrew Hunter, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.
    “Because Turkey is not just an F-35 purchaser, but an industrial partner, blocking delivery of these systems represents a major escalation by the United States as it threatens to impose serious costs on both sides,” Hunter said.
    Reuters reported last week that Washington was exploring whether it could remove Turkey from production of the F-35.    Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays.    Sources familiar with the F-35’s intricate worldwide production process and U.S. thinking on the issue last week said Turkey’s role can be replaced.
    The United States and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons.
    In an attempt to persuade Turkey to drop its plans to buy the S-400, the United States offered the pricier American-made Patriot anti-missile system in a discounted deal that expired at the end of March.    Turkey has shown interest in the Patriot system, but not at the expense of abandoning the S-400.
    Turkey has engaged with U.S. negotiators in recent days about buying the Patriot system, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.    The system is made by Raytheon Co.
    Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in March said that despite some issues, Turkish pilots were continuing their training at an air base in Arizona on the F-35, each of which costs $90 million, and that Ankara was expecting the aircraft to arrive in Turkey in November.
    By halting jet deliveries, the Pentagon could subsequently delay training of Turkish pilots.    Two additional jets are scheduled to arrive in Arizona in April and a significant delay could impact Turkey’s November target date for operations.
    U.S. lawmakers also have expressed alarm over Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian system. Four U.S. senators last week introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the transfer of F-35s to Turkey until the U.S. government certifies that Ankara will not take delivery of the S-400 system.
    Following news of the halt, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, one of the bill sponsors, said she was glad to hear the administration was “to delay the transfer of F-35 equipment to Turkey to help ensure U.S. military technology and capabilities cannot fall into the hands of the Kremlin.”
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; editing by Will Dunham, Howard Goller and Lisa Shumaker)

4/2/2019 Turkey’s AK Party to challenge Istanbul voting results: Hurriyet paper
A woman walks past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and mayoral candidate
Binali Yildirim in Istanbul, Turkey, April 1, 2019. The billboards read: " Thank you Istanbul ". REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party has decided to lodge objections to local election results in all 39 Istanbul districts, Hurriyet newspaper said on Tuesday, after results showed a narrow lead for the main opposition candidate.
    The AK Party is on track to lose control of Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, in a surprise election setback that may complicate Erdogan’s plans to combat recession.
    In Istanbul, the mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem Imamoglu, and his AKP rival, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, both said on Monday Imamoglu was around 25,000 votes ahead.
    AK Party has said it will use its right to object to the results where there are voting irregularities. The deadline for appeals expires at 1200 GMT.
    Uncertainty generated by the local elections has added to pressure on the lira, which weakened sharply last week as a lack of confidence in the currency among Turks led them to snap up record holdings of dollars and gold.
    On Tuesday the lira weakened as much as 2 percent against the dollar on concerns about renewed tensions with the United States after it halted delivery to Turkey of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler and Dominic Evans)

4/2/2019 NATO meeting to focus on Russia, as U.S. cautions Turkey over missile purchases
Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move
to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey remains an important NATO ally and partner to the United States despite concerns over its plans to buy missile defense systems from Russia, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday, a day before the start of a NATO meeting in Washington.
    The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview the meeting of NATO foreign ministers, said the gathering would discuss all elements of the military threat posed by Russia, including in the Black Sea, as well as the Afghan peace process and members’ budget contributions to the alliance.
    The official said the NATO allies would seek to agree on a package of measures to bolster NATO’s military presence in the Black Sea, which has become a flashpoint with Moscow over its seizure of Ukrainian ships last year.
    “The focus is on the defense and deterrence posture of the alliance in the Black Sea region,” said the official, adding that a plenary session on Thursday would focus on Russia, including what Washington sees as Moscow’s breach of the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
    The United States has said it will withdraw from the treaty this summer unless Moscow ends its alleged violations of the landmark 1987 arms control pact.    Russia denies violating the treaty.
    While the official described the NATO alliance as “strong and unified,” U.S. tensions with Turkey over its plans to buy a S-400 missile defense system from Russia are likely to loom large.
    The United States has halted delivery of equipment related to its F-35 fighter jets to Turkey over its S-400 plans.
    “We have very serious concerns about its stated plans to proceed with the acquisition of the S-400 missile defense system and there will be potential consequences, within sanctions law and the F-35 program if they continue,” the official said.
    “Our relationship is not being defined by the single issue of the S-400, but the S-400 is a deeply problematic issue for the United States,” the official added.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

4/2/2019 U.S. expects to resolve spat with Turkey over purchase of Russian air defense system
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base
outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday said he expected to resolve a dispute with Turkey over its planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system, a day after the United States halted delivery of equipment related to F-35 fighter jets to Ankara.
    The United States is at a crossroads in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after failing to persuade President Tayyip Erdogan that buying the Russian air defense system would compromise the security of the F-35, the most modern fighter in the U.S. arsenal.
    On Monday, the Pentagon said it had suspended delivery of equipment related to the F-35 “pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400.”    The aircraft is made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
    If the Pentagon takes the next step and removes Turkey from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades.
    Shanahan expressed optimism that both countries would find a way out of the crisis by persuading Turkey to purchase the Patriot air defense system instead of the S-400s.
    “I expect we’ll solve the problem so that they have the right defense equipment in terms of Patriots and F-35s,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon. The Patriot is made by Raytheon Co.
    Shanahan added that he expected the United States to ultimately deliver F-35s currently at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona to Turkey, after resolving the dispute.    Turkish pilots are receiving training on two aircraft at the base.
    A senior State Department official offered a less optimistic view on Tuesday, saying that while the NATO alliance was “strong and unified,” U.S. tensions with Turkey over its S-400 purchase plans are likely to loom large over a NATO meeting of foreign ministers in Washington later this week.
    “We have very serious concerns about its stated plans to proceed with the acquisition of the S-400 missile defense system and there will be potential consequences, within sanctions law and the F-35 program if they continue,” said the official.    The official was speaking on condition of anonymity to preview the meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers.
    Turkey could face sanctions under a U.S. law known as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
    Turkey’s lira currency dropped nearly 3 percent on Tuesday after the U.S. halt of the delivery and sanctions warning.
    The disagreement over the F-35 and the S-400 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey, including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; editing by Diane Craft and Jonathan Oatis)

4/2/219 Palestinians pray for fish as Israel opens deeper waters by Nidal al-Mughrabi
The sun rises as fishermen are seen at the seaport of Gaza City, after Israel expanded
fishing zone for Palestinians April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – As their rickety motorboats puttered out into deep Mediterranean waters for the first time in almost two decades, the Palestinian fishermen prayed for deepwater mackerel and tuna to supplement Gaza’s usual shallows fare of sardines, shrimp and crab.
    This week, as part of Egyptian-mediated efforts to ease the plight of 2 million residents of the blockaded Gaza Strip, Israel has extended the area where it permits Palestinians to fish.
    “Such a distance has been off-limits.    And hopefully there are lots of fish to bring back,” said 69-year-old fisherman Ahmed al-Amoudi.
    Israel keeps a naval cordon on Gaza, part of a blockade it and neighboring Egypt say is necessary to prevent arms smuggling by the Hamas Islamists that rule the coastal territory.
    Israel has long limited Palestinian fishing waters, and has varied the size of the zone.    It was tightened to just 6-9 miles (9-15 km) from the coast in recent years.    But on Monday, Israel broadened the limit to 12-15 miles (19-24 km) out, its widest since 2000, before a Palestinian revolt erupted.
    “This step is part of the civilian policy aimed at preventing a humanitarian deterioration in the Gaza Strip and reflects the policy of distinguishing between terror and the uninvolved populace,” an Israeli official said.
    Palestinians saw the move as an Israeli concession to a year of protests at the border, combined with several surges of cross-border fighting which have prompted mediation by Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar on ways to help Gaza’s economy.
    “Thanks to God and then to the ‘March of Return’, which opened up the sea for us,” al-Amoudi said, referring to the weekly demonstrations at the frontier, which demand a lifting of the blockade and the right for Palestinians to return to homes their families fled or were forced from when Israel was founded.
    April to June are peak Gaza fishing season.    The sector accounts for less than 5 percent of the enclave’s GDP and supports some 50,000 people, a fraction of the 2 million population.
    But the fishing has value beyond the numbers, as one of the few viable industries in Gaza, where more than half the population is unemployed and nearly 80 percent receive some form of aid, according to the World Bank.
    With Gaza’s land borders tightly controlled by neighboring Israel and Egypt, the sea’s horizon provides many Palestinians with a glimpse of hoped-for freedoms of movement in the future.
    The fishermen still have it hard, with fuel and spare parts for their boats scarce.    They say that Israel has also barred the importation to Gaza of wire cables that would allow them to line nets for plumbing the depths.
    But fisherman Wael Abu Mohammed was still cautiously upbeat.
    “With 15 miles now we will be comfortable, if there are no problems with the Israelis,” the father of 10 said.    “We hope for the best.”
    The past year has been the deadliest in Gaza since the last war between Hamas and Israel five years ago, with nearly 200 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces at the border demonstrations.    One Israeli soldier was killed.
    United Nations investigators say Israel has used excessive force. Israel says it has no choice but to use deadly force to protect the border from militants and infiltrators.
    The Israeli navy has in the past fired on Palestinian boats that strayed from the fishing zones, sometimes impounding the vessels and detaining their occupants.    In addition to smuggling, Israel worries about seaborne attacks.    In the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas frogmen swam from Gaza to storm an Israeli coastal base.
    The Israeli official said that maintaining the expanded zone for Gaza fisherman “depends on (them) honoring the agreements” and that any attempt to venture beyond it “will be handled accordingly by the (Israeli) security services.”
(This version of the story corrects figures for size of fishing zone in paragraph 5)
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/2/2019 Yemen’s Houthis deny U.N. access to Hodeidah mills for ‘safety reasons’: sources
FILE PHOTO: A police trooper stands guard on a street in the Red Sea port city of
Hodeidah, Yemen, February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Houthi forces denied the United Nations access to a grain storage site in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter said, hindering efforts to increase food aid to millions facing severe hunger.
    Hodeidah is the entry point for most of Yemen’s humanitarian aid and commercial imports.    World Food Programme (WFP) grain stores there have been cut off in the conflict zone for six months, putting the contents at risk of rotting.
    A WFP technical team was scheduled to cross the front line between the Iran-aligned Houthi movement forces and the Saudi-backed government on the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah to fumigate the wheat stored in the Red Sea Mills.
    But Houthi forces told the WFP team they could not leave Houthi-held areas inside Hodeidah city for “security reasons,” asking the United Nations instead for a way to investigate attacks on the mills.
    “The Houthis argued that government forces will target the U.N. and then they will be blamed for it,” one source aware of the discussion said.    “(But) if the wheat is not fumigated, it will be lost.”
    The WFP regained access to the mills last month, a step hailed by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.    The grain stores there have more than 51,000 tonnes of wheat, enough to feed 3.7 million people.
    WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said a WFP mission to the Red Sea Mills was scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed due to “safety concerns.”    Verhoosel declined to give details.
    Houthi officials did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
    Yemeni government officials accused the Houthis of another violation of the peace agreement signed last year which the United Nations has been struggling to implement.
    The Houthis and the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi agreed at U.N.-sponsored talks in December to a truce and troop withdrawal from Hodeidah.
    But talks aimed at securing a mutual military withdrawal from Hodeidah have stalled despite U.N. efforts to salvage the deal and nudge both sides to agree on steps toward disengagement after four years of war.
    Under the deal, the government retreat would free up access to the Red Sea Mills and humanitarian corridors would also be reopened.    The warring sides would still need to agree on which road could be used to transport supplies from the site to needy recipients.
    The WFP is now reaching about 10 million Yemenis per month with food aid and hopes to scale up to 12 million this year, but sporadic clashes make Hodeidah and its province unsafe despite the ceasefire agreement.
    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading a military coalition that is backing Hadi government forces fighting the Houthis.    The war that killed tens of thousands and thrust Yemen to the verge of famine.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Mohamed Ghobari and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/3/2019 Turkish election board rules in favor of partial Istanbul recount by Ece Toksabay
People walk past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim
in Istanbul, Turkey, April 1, 2019. The billboards read: "Thank you Istanbul." REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s election board ruled on Wednesday in favor of a recount in eight of Istanbul’s 39 districts after an initial count showed the main opposition candidate earned a narrow victory in the city’s local election.
    President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party submitted objections to election results in all districts of Turkey’s commercial hub Istanbul and capital Ankara as initial results showed it was on course to lose control of both cities.
    The election setback may complicate Erdogan’s efforts to combat the economy’s slide into recession.
    The High Election Board (YSK) head said on Wednesday it had decided that the recount of what had been ruled as invalid votes should go ahead in the eight Istanbul districts, including some AK Party strongholds.
    In Istanbul, the mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem Imamoglu, and his AKP rival, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, both said on Monday Imamoglu was about 25,000 votes ahead.    Istanbul’s population is 15 million.
    The AKP filed challenges to results throughout the two cities after saying it would use its right to object to the results where there were voting irregularities, adding that errors at the ballots had affected the outcome.
    Ahead of the elections, the CHP had formed an electoral alliance with the Iyi (Good) Party to rival that of the AKP and their nationalist MHP partners.    The alliances nominated joint candidates in certain cities, including Ankara and Istanbul.
    In Ankara, Yavas received 50.9 percent of votes in Sunday’s vote, ahead of his AKP rival and former minister Mehmet Ozhaseki by nearly 4 percentage points.
    Pro-government newspapers on Wednesday said there had been a conspiracy against Turkey in the local elections, with the Star newspaper likening this to an attempted military coup in 2016 and nationwide protests in 2013.
    “Who organized the coup at the ballot box,” the front-page headline in Star said.    “They wanted to take over the national will through organized theft and cheating methods,” it added.
    Yeni Safak newspaper editor Ibrahim Karagul also described the elections as a “coup via elections” and that supporters of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says carried out the 2016 coup attempt, were involved.
    Karagul said the Istanbul election should be held again.
ECONOMIC IMPACT
    Erdogan’s political success has rested on years of stellar economic growth in Turkey, but an economic recession that has brought surging inflation and unemployment and a plunging lira have taken their toll on his popularity.
    Istanbul and Ankara municipalities have an estimated total 2019 budget of 32.6 billion liras ($5.79 billion), possibly falling under opposition control if Yavas and Imamoglu are confirmed as winners.
    Uncertainty generated by the local elections has added to pressure on the lira, which weakened sharply last week as a lack of confidence in the currency among Turks led them to snap up record holdings of dollars and gold.
    “The lira volatility is largely due to the lack of clarity over what’s going on in the Istanbul vote count,” an Istanbul-based forex trader said.
    “Some foreign investors are struggling to understand the process that included the decision to recount, followed by the decision to halt the recount, followed by the resumption of the recount.”
    The lira had already weakened 2 percent on Tuesday, after relations with Washington soured following a U.S. decision to halt delivery to Turkey of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft.
    The U.S. State Department called the Turkish government to respect the results of the election, stoking fury from Ankara.
    “Free and fair elections are essential for any democracy.    That means acceptance of legitimate election results,” State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino said.
    Ankara responded by warning against foreign interference.
    “We urge all parties, including foreign governments, to respect the legal process and refrain from taking any steps that may be construed as meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs,” Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s presidential communications director, said on Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Can Sezer and Tuvan Gumrukcu, Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)
[Islam control is all this election is about and a change means the old boss will still be the new boss.].

4/3/2019 Saudi King Salman to visit Bahrain: BNA agency
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states, in the
Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is expected to visit Bahrain on Wednesday to discuss bilateral relations and regional developments, Bahrain’s news agency BNA said, without giving details.
    The visit comes a day after Manama formalized an agreement with Kuwait for financial aid to support the Bahraini economy as part of an assistance package with other Gulf neighbors.
    Kuwait, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, pledged $10 billion in financial aid to Bahrain last year to rescue it from a potential debt crisis.
    At the time Bahrain said it expected to receive up to $2 billion by the end of 2018 as part of the package, to be disbursed over five years.
    Bahrain’s finances have been hit hard by a slump in oil prices in 2014 and it has been struggling to cut government spending while avoiding public anger over austerity measures.
(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

4/3/2019 Turkey says proposed working group to ease U.S. worries over Russian S-400s
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defence systems during the Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary
of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin -/File Photo
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has proposed to the United States that they form a working group to determine that Russian S-400 missile defense systems do not pose a threat to U.S. or NATO military equipment, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
    The United States and Turkey have been at loggerheads over Ankara’s decision to purchase the S-400s, which are not compatible with NATO systems, from Russia.    Washington has warned that proceeding with the deal could result in U.S. sanctions and the exclusion of Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program.
    “It will not be integrated into the NATO system…therefore we propose the United States to establish a technical working group to make sure that this system will not be a threat – neither to (U.S.) F-35s nor the NATO systems,” Cavusoglu told a panel in the United States.
    He said it was “not our aim” to integrate the S400 system into that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization because “it’s for our own use.”    Turkey and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump need to explain to the U.S. Congress why Ankara had to go through with the purchase from the Russians, Cavusoglu said.
    Turkey says it needs the S-400s, to be delivered in July, to defend against potential security threats and President Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said he would not back down from the “done deal.” Cavusoglu, in Washington for a NATO summit, said he would “definitely” repeat this to U.S. counterparts during his visit.
    Seeking to apply pressure, the United States halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, its first concrete step to block delivery of the jets due to Ankara’s planned purchase of the S-400s.
    A U.S. official on Tuesday said that the purchase risked triggering sanctions.    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later said that he expected the dispute to be resolved.
    In a broader move to stop the delivery of the fighter jets, four U.S. senators introduced a bipartisan bill last week to prohibit the transfer of F-35 aircraft until Washington can certify Turkey will not take the delivery of the S-400s.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Sarah Dadouch; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Jonathan Spicer)

4/3/2019 Algeria’s interim rulers face insistent call for more change as Bouteflika goes by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
Algerian President AbdelazizÊBouteflika hands over resignation letter to constitutional council head
Tayeb Belaiz as upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah (L) looks on, in Algeria, April 2, 2019, in this
still image from Algerian State TV video. Algerian State TV/Handout via REUTERS
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s caretaker government faces the prospect of persistent popular demands for the removal of an scletoric ruling elite and wholesale reforms after ailing 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit in the face of mass protests.
    “We want a president who understands what we want,” 25-year old Bouzid Abdoun, an engineer at state-owned energy concern Sonelgaz told Reuters on Wednesday.    “We want to live here, not to migrate to Europe.”
    Bouteflika ended 20 years in power on Tuesday after a final nudge by the military following six weeks of protests calling for democratic reforms after almost 60 years of monolithic rule by veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France.
    That leaves Algeria extraordinarily in the hands of a caretaker government until elections in three months and with no successor in sight.
    However, protesters made quickly clear that they would accept no new president from “le pouvoir,” the popular nickname for the entrenched establishment of elderly veterans, business tycoons and National Liberation Front (FLN) party functionaries.
    “What is important to us is that we do not accept the (caretaker) government,” Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and protest leader, told Reuters just before Bouteflika stepped down.    “Peaceful protests will continue.”
    Ali Benflis, a former head of the ruling FLN party, said other leading figures should also quit, naming Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the upper house who is standing in for Bouteflika for 90 days, interim premier Noureddine Bedoui and constitutional council head Tayeb Belai.
    “The Algerian people have just closed one of the darkest chapters in the history of our country,” he said in a statement, calling the protest a “peaceful popular revolution.”
    Protesters have brushed aside especially Bedoui, whom Bouteflika appointed on Sunday as his grip on power was fading.    Bedoui is seen by many in the street as a stalwart of the ruling circles – as interior minister he oversaw elections which the opposition said were not free or fair.
    Algeria’s streets were quiet on Wednesday but the next test for the interim rulers looms on Friday, the day of the weekly mass marches since Feb. 22.
    Bouteflika’s exit is seen only as a first gesture for young Algerians demanding jobs in a country where one in every four under the age of 30 is unemployed in a highly statist, undiversified economy dependent on oil and gas exports.
CORRUPTION AND CRONYISM
    The outpouring of dissent is also over systemic cronyism that has seen Algeria effectively run by Bouteflika’s brothers, tycoons and ex-military intelligence officers since he suffered a stroke in 2013 and largely vanished from view, analysts say.
    Protests were initially ignited by Bouteflika’s plan to seek a fifth mandate in elections this month, since postponed, but the agenda broadened to calls for root-and-branch change.
    The top priority for any successor would be to liberalize the economy, shifting away from an expensive but unproductive welfare state, and create jobs for young people who comprise almost 70 percent of the population.
    The North African country has almost no foreign debt burden but its hard-currency reserves have halved to $70 billion since 2014 due to a slide in volatile oil and gas prices.
    “Definitely the top priority is to address economic issues to diversify away from oil and gas revenues,” said one analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    One name with an economic background respected by many protesters who has emerged as a potential successor is Ahmed Benbitour, who served as prime minister under Bouteflika before resigning over lack of progress on reforms.
    He is a technocrat with no ties to political parties, though he is also in his 70s like many senior Algerian officials.
    Earlier this week, in a sign of Bouteflika’s imminent political demise, authorities seized the passports of a dozen politically connected businessmen under investigation for alleged corruption.    One of them, Bouteflika loyalist Ali Haddad, has taken into custody, Ennahar TV reported on Wednesday.
    “Bouteflika’s group captured the state, so the top priority for whoever replaces Bouteflika is really to re-connect with the millions of protesters who marched because they no longer trust the pouvoir,” said independent analyst Farid Ferrahi.
    Western powers, some of which had demanded a peaceful solution, will be relieved at Bouteflika’s departure, valuing stability in the OPEC oil producer, which is also a key gas supplier for Europe and partner in fighting Islamist militants.
    U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he “looks forward to a peaceful and democratic transition process that reflects the wishes of the Algerian people,” a statement said.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Michelle Nichols, Writing by Ulf Laessing, Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

4/3/2019 Israel could face austerity under next government by Steven Scheer and Tova Cohen
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend a ceremony for
the signing of a housing agreement in Sderot, Israel April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s economy has barely featured in the run-up to next week’s general election, yet the central bank and many economists warn the new government will need to cut spending and raise taxes to rein in a growing budget deficit.
    The pre-election debate has been dominated by security issues and the possible indictments facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in corruption cases. Opinion polls ahead of the April 9 vote suggest a close race between the premier’s right-wing Likud party and the centrist Blue and White party.
    Netanyahu, who has been in office for a decade, has long touted the economic successes of Israel.    Indeed growth is robust, unemployment is low, the Israeli high-tech sector is second only to Silicon Valley globally and foreign investment is strong.
    However he and his finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, have cut taxes while spending generously on policies like pay rises for police and subsidies for kindergartens in recent years, leading to a widening budget deficit.
    Now the Bank of Israel and many economists warn that the economy is set to slow as a result of weaker global growth, which would hit Israeli exports.    The central bank, which has started a gradual process of raising interest rates, said the next government would have to cut spending in coming months as well as raise some taxes.
    Analysts expect the spending reductions and tax hikes to reach 10-12 billion shekels ($2.8-$3.3 billion) to narrow this year’s budget gap.
    “The government that will be chosen will have to make fiscal adjustments,” said Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron.    He added these steps should be taken when the economy was in good shape as they would be tougher to implement if conditions worsened.
    “The grey clouds on the horizon should not be ignored,” he said on Sunday, referring to reductions in global growth forecasts.
    A higher budget deficit and public debt reduce the ability of a country to withstand economic shocks, like another financial crisis, and can also threaten its credit rating and borrowing costs.
    Ratings agencies Fitch and S&P said Israel was not at risk of a downgrade in the near term, but also stressed the next government would have to take steps to rein in the deficit.
    The country’s budget deficit is projected by analysts to rise to close to 4 percent of gross domestic product this year – above a target of 2.9 percent.    The deficit was 2.9 percent of GDP in 2018, widening to 3.5 percent in the 12 months to February this year.
    The central bank believes the state must stick to a deficit target of 2.5 percent of GDP.    At 3 percent, the public debt burden would rise from a current level of 61 percent to 65 percent of GDP by 2025, or as much as 75 percent should the economy worsen, Yaron warned.
    The finance ministry, which expects a budget deficit of at least 3.5 percent this year, says the situation is being blown out of proportion, noting Israel is one of the only Western countries to have reduced its debt ratio over the past decade.
    “There is a gap of 6 billion shekels that we need to close in a budget of 400 billion shekels … It’s not a big problem and certainly not a catastrophe,” Shai Babad, the ministry’s director general, told Reuters.    “We are monitoring it.    When you have 37.8 Celsius fever you don’t go to surgery.”
    By comparison, the U.S. deficit is expected to be 5 percent of GDP in 2019, France’s deficit 2.8 percent, Spain’s 2.3 percent, Britain’s 1.7 percent and Germany’s 1.5 percent, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.
‘PUT BRAKES ON’
    The next Israeli government is likely to be in place by late May.
    Leader Capital Markets Chief Economist Jonathan Katz said the new administration could implement so-called fiscal consolidation measures in two stages – in the middle of this year and then in early 2020.,br>     “I don’t think they will necessarily have to cut immediately the budget by 12 billion shekels and raise taxes, to put the brakes on right away and sharply.    I think they have the leeway to do it in two stages,” he said.
    “The budget should have been balanced by 2017 when you are at full employment, and this would allow you fiscal tools to expand spending during a slowdown.”
    Finance ministry chief Babad said updated forecasts for state income and expenses would be available in June, when the ministry would determine if action was needed.    The 2020 state budget is expected to be ready for a cabinet vote by early August, he added.
    He said if there was an issue with Israel’s fiscal policies, global rating agencies would be more concerned.
    Last week, Fitch affirmed its sovereign debt rating of ‘A+’ with a ‘stable’ outlook, but believes the new government must take steps to narrow the budget deficit.
    Similarly, Standard & Poor’s last year raised its rating to ‘AA-‘ from ‘A+’, also with a stable outlook.    It affirmed the rating in February.
    “If the fiscal slippage or relaxation of fiscal performance were to be repeated or happen consistently, we might conclude that there is a shift in the government’s fiscal stance,” said Karen Vartapetov, a sovereign ratings director at S&P.
    “The next government, whatever it might be, will have to take some difficult decisions including potential tax hikes or cost controls.    This is for sure.”
(Reporting by Steven Scheer and Tova Cohen; Additional reporting by Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Pravin Char)

4/3/2019 Eastern Libya forces move west, skirmish south of Tripoli by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ahmed Elumami
FILE PHOTO: Members of forces loyal to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar guard near Libya's
El Sharara oilfield in Obari,Libya, February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BENGHAZI, Libya/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan military forces have moved to western Libya and were briefly locked in a skirmish with a rival force south of the capital Tripoli, an eastern official and residents said on Wednesday, in an escalation between rival camps in the oil producer.
    The advance took diplomats and analysts by surprise, exploiting their focus on neighboring Algeria where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday after protests, to the relieve of Western countries valuing stability there.
    Libya — in trouble since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 — is divided between the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and a parallel administration allied to Khalifa Haftar.
    Haftar has turned into major player in the North African country, enjoying the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates which see him as bulwark against Islamists.    His opponents see in him a new Gaddafi.
    His forces control the east and recently expanded to southern Libya.
    Now in a new escalation Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) moved in the past days discreetly forces west with the LNA media office publishing on Wednesday videos of troops traveling on a coastal road from Benghazi, the main eastern city.
    In the evening a brief skirmish lasting one hour was reported near Gharyan, a town south of Tripoli between the LNA and forces allied to Tripoli Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, who relied on patches of armed groups with flexible loyalties.
    “Right now they are clashes south of Tripoli…in Gharyan,” LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari told al-Arabiya channel.
    No casualty figures were or details were immediately available.
    There was no immediate comment from the Tripoli government, which had issued earlier a general alert for its forces in response to the eastern advance.
    “There is no military solution,” Serraj said in the statement.
OFFENSIVE?
    Analysts doubt the LNA is capable of launching a full-scale attack as it has stretched itself with the southern advance and it also relies on tribesmen and other auxiliary forces.
    Some diplomats say the advance is mainly a psychological campaign to pressure Serraj into a power-sharing deal on eastern terms, allowing Haftar to become commander of a national army.
    The confrontation is in any case a major setback for the U.N and Western countries which have been trying to mediate between Serraj and Haftar.    Both men had met in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss a power sharing deal and a national conference is set to follow this month to agree on a road map for elections.
    Some of Haftar’s supporters have called the U.N. efforts a waste of time, urging him to carry out a military solution to establish himself as national army commander.
    During the day the LNA had turned up pressure on Tripoli, warning of a military campaign to “liberate the homeland from terrorism.”
    “We expect the women of Tripoli to welcome the Libyan army like the women of Benghazi and Derna did,” said Mismari, referring to two eastern cities which the LNA took by force.
    Mismari also called on young people in Tripoli to focus on the battle between LNA and Daesh, or Islamic State, in another hint that military action might be looming.
    The comments suggest the LNA might seek to takeover Tripoli working with local groups instead of seeking an invasion.
    In January, the LNA, which is loyal to Haftar, started a campaign to take control of the south and its oilfields with a similar rhetoric.
    The announcements coincided with the arrival in Tripoli of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres who is on a regional tour seeking to help avoid a confrontation between the rival Libyan camps.
    On another potential frontline, a resident in Ras Lanuf, an oil town located on the coastal road, said tanks and military convoys were seen heading westwards in the direction of Sirte.
    Sirte is in central Libya controlled by a force from the western city of Mistrata allied to the Tripoli administration.
    Misrata, a port east of Tripoli, is home to powerful armed groups, which could match at least partly the firepower of LNA ground troops, analysts say.    Haftar’s forces enjoy air superiority.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Ulf Laessing, Ahmed Elumami and Hesham Hajali; Writing by Ulf Laessing, Editing by William Maclean, James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)

4/4/2019 Israeli election: the left that dare not speak its name by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: A part of a campaign billboard of Benny Gantz, a former Israeli armed forces chief and the head of a new
political party, Israel Resilience, can be seen in Tel Aviv, Israel January 29, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to undermine his strongest election challenger, he pins a label on him that many Israelis see as an insult: “Leftist.”
    Israel was founded by the left, which dominated politics in the early years of the state.    In 1992 it took 61 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament.
    Nearly 30 years on, the left is forecast to take only around 25 seats in an election on Tuesday.
    The left has been reeling after a series of setbacks – the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the failure of his 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords to deliver peace with the Palestinians, many rounds of failed negotiations and years of bloodshed that have made both sides bitter and mistrustful.
    Now, only 12 percent of Jewish Israelis identify themselves as left-wing, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.    It was around double that a decade-and-a-half ago. Fifty-six percent now describe themselves as right-wing, up from 40 percent over the same period, and the amount who say they are centrists is little changed at 26.5 percent.
    With Netanyahu in power for the past decade and months away from becoming Israel’s longest-serving leader if he is re-elected, the right is on the ascendant.
    The only candidate with a chance of beating Netanyahu is not a leftist.    Benny Gantz, a former general and political novice, belongs to a new party that is running on a centrist platform.
    Seeking to win over right-leaning voters, Gantz, 59, has highlighted his military credentials and is a pragmatist.
    Gantz was head of the Israeli military during the 2014 Gaza war between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas in which 2,100 Palestinians were killed, against an Israeli death toll of 67 soldiers and six civilians.
    Gantz embraces that legacy, running a television ad which highlighted the number of Palestinian militants killed on his watch.
    Careful not to alienate centrist voters, Gantz also chooses his words carefully on the issue that more than any other divides Israel’s left and right – a “two-state solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Gantz nods to the left by saying Israel should pursue peace and end its dominion over the Palestinians but stops short of endorsing Palestinian statehood.
    Most polls show Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party leading Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in a straight race.    But they also show a Netanyahu-led alliance of all the right-wing parties is more likely to secure a majority.
TRAITORS
    Netanyahu has cast Gantz as a weak leftist who will endanger Israel’s security by giving territorial concessions to the Palestinians, which is anathema to the right.
    This is Netanyahu’s standard play-book, say his opponents.
    “The word ‘left’ is a tool to delegitimize everyone or anyone who’s against Netanyahu,” said Labour lawmaker Merav Michaeli.    “‘Left’ has become like a curse, so it’s not surprising that so many people are trying to avoid it.”     “If there is really deep damage our prime minister has done to society, it’s making the left-wingers traitors,” said Labour supporter Liat Arbel.    “We are as (much a) part of Israel as right-wingers.”
    In the build-up to the election, Netanyahu struck an alliance with anti-Arab and far-right politicians, some of whom seek to annex the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    Foremost among Netanyahu’s critics for veering further right is the last left-winger to beat him in an election, Ehud Barak.
    Like Gantz, Barak is a former military man.    Now retired from politics, Barak, 77, says the far-right has become the driving force in Israeli politics, “like the tail wagging the dog.”    The left, he says, has lost steam.
    “The left used to have a vision for Israel – a modern, Zionist, enlightened society on the cutting edge of the advanced world,” said Barak, who was prime minister from July 1999 until March 2001.
    “The right-wing has its own vision which is, in a way, dark, ultra-nationalist, somewhat racist and messianic.    But it’s a burning vision – so it motivates them.”
    Historian Gadi Taub, of Hebrew University’s School of Public Policy, describes himself as a former leftist.
    He says the left has become elitist, over-critical of their own society, and out of touch with mainstream Israelis, who are deeply skeptical about prospects for peace with Palestinians.
    “The Israeli public is pragmatic.    It drew its conclusions from the failure of the left’s vision and it changed direction,” said Taub.
NO PEACE
    For many Israelis, Barak played a big role in the left’s decline.    In 2000, he and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat failed to agree a peace accord.
    “From that day onwards the Israeli public believed that there was no partner, that ‘they’ don’t want peace,” said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a veteran Israeli peace activist.    “Israelis hunkered down.”
    The outbreak of a Palestinian intifada, or uprising, a few months later drove the sides even further apart.
    Palestinians carried out shootings and suicide bombings, and Israel carried out air strikes and army raids.
    Opinion was further hardened when Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, only for Hamas to seize control of the territory two years later, further dimming prospects for peace.
    If he is to secure victory, Gantz may have to convince voters he is in the model of former commanders turned politicians, such as Rabin and Ariel Sharon, who was prime minister from March 2001 until April 2006.
    Gantz was asked about the comparison with Rabin at an election event in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
    “To be compared to Yitzhak Rabin would be nothing short of the best compliment I can think of,” he replied.
    “Rabin was center, a bit left, a bit right, however you want to define him.”
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Additional reporting by Elana Ringler and Stephen Farrell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Timomthy Heritage)

4/4/2019 Eastern Libyan forces advance to position near town of Gharyan
Military vehicles drive on a road in Libya, April 4, 2019, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS
    BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces have advanced to a position just south of the town of Gharyan, which lies to the south of the capital Tripoli, local mayor Yousef al-Bdairi said on Thursday.
    “The situation now is very calm inside the city… There is a gathering of those forces who came from the south (of Gharyan),” he told Reuters by telephone.
(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/4/2019 Recount of Istanbul votes partially complete, opposition candidate says remains ahead by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Supporters of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) cheer in front of the party's headquarters as they
celebrate the municipal elections results in Ankara, Turkey, March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition candidate in Istanbul said on Thursday a recount of Sunday’s local election votes was partially complete and the difference between him and the ruling AK party candidate remained around 20,000.
    Initial results from the elections showed the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had narrowly won control of Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, in an upset for President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP).     In Istanbul, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, and his AKP rival, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, both said on Monday that Imamoglu was about 25,000 votes ahead, a very slim margin in a city of some 15 million people.
    However the AKP submitted objections to election results in all districts of Istanbul and Ankara, saying the results had been impacted by invalid votes and voting irregularities.
    On Wednesday, Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) ruled in favour of a recount of votes in 18 of the city’s 39 districts, while the AKP said the difference was narrowing as the recounts continued.
    Speaking to reporters in Istanbul’s Gungoren district on Thursday, Imamoglu said that recounts had been completed in nine or ten districts, and urged the YSK to respect its regulations during the counting process.
    “The results will not change. Time is passing and Istanbul is waiting for service, so we just want to get to our job as soon as possible.    I hope it’s resolved as soon as possible,” Imamoglu said.
    In the capital Ankara, the YSK ordered the recount of votes in 11 districts, after the AKP objected to initial results that saw opposition candidate Mansur Yavas defeat his AKP rival, former minister Mehmet Ozhaseki, by nearly 4 percentage points.
    If the initial results are confirmed, the CHP will gain control of municipal budgets with an estimated total value of 32.6 billion liras ($5.79 billion) for 2019 in Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial hub, and the capital Ankara.
    Erdogan – who campaigned amid almost total media domination for the AKP – would likely lose some oversight for local contracts in the two cities, possibly complicating his efforts to drag the Turkish economy out of recession.
    While official results have not yet been announced, Erdogan has said his alliance won the majority of municipal councils across Istanbul and Ankara.    The AKP has said this was a sign of irregularity in the vote count.
    The CHP has said that a recount would not change the outcome of the elections, and Imamoglu on Wednesday called on the YSK to “do its job” and mandate him as Istanbul’s elected mayor.
    “I just keep on laughing at this whole process, but at least the people are finally smiling,” Imamoglu said on Thursday.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)

4/4/2019 Eastern forces draw closer to Tripoli as U.N. chief urges restraint by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman Werfali
FILE PHOTO - Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference at
Al-Azhar headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    TRIPOLI, April 4 (Reuters) – The U.N. secretary-general appealed on Thursday for restraint from rival factions in Libya as forces from the east of the country moved to within 100 km (60 miles) of the capital Tripoli.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday to promote peace talks, warned of the risk of serious fighting erupting.
    But skirmishes have already broken out as fighters from Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) move westwards.    They clashed briefly on Wednesday with forces allied to Tripoli Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
    By Thursday, LNA forces had reached a position south of Gharyan town, Mayor Gharyan Yousef al-Bdairi told Reuters by phone.
    The town, lying in the Western mountains about 100 km due south of the capital, is allied to the Tripoli government.
    The two sides fought skirmishes on Wednesday night but these had ceased, Mayor Bdairi said.
    “The situation now is very calm inside the city.    There is a gathering of those forces who came from the south,” he said.
    Libya has been divided between the internationally recognised government in Tripoli and a parallel administration allied to Haftar since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    The U.N.’s Gutteres said in a tweet he was deeply concerned by the military movements and the risk of confrontation.
    “There is no military solution.    Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems.    I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country,” he said.
    The renewed confrontation was a setback for the United Nations and Western countries which have been trying to mediate between Serraj and Haftar, who met in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss a power-sharing deal.
    A national conference is set to follow this month to agree on a road map for elections.
    Libya is an oil producer and a hub for refugees and migrants trekking across the Sahara in the hope of reaching Europe.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Asma Alsharif and Tom Miles, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/4/2019 Eastern Libyan commander orders forces to move on Tripoli by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj meets with Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres
in Tripoli, Libya April 4, 2019. The Media Office of the Prime Minister/Handout via REUTERS
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops on Thursday to march on the capital Tripoli, taking his conflict with the internationally recognized government to a dangerous new level.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is in Tripoli trying to push an international peace deal, called for restraint.    When asked about Haftar’s statement, he said Libya needed a political not a military solution.
    Haftar made his order in a video posted online hours after his forces took full control of Gharyan, a town about 100 km (60 miles) south of the capital.
    “To our army which is stationed at the outskirts of Tripoli.    Today we complete our march … We are going to start shortly,” he said in the video titled ‘Operation to liberate Tripoli.’
    The capture of Gharyan after skirmishes on Wednesday with forces allied to Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj followed a rapid thrust westwards by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) from his eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
    The developments mark a dramatic escalation of a power tussle that has dragged on in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    The country has been divided between the Western-backed government in Tripoli and a parallel administration allied to Haftar since Gaddafi’s downfall.
    There was no immediate comment to Haftar’s statement from the government in Tripoli.
    Earlier, after the news of the capture of Gharyan, it said it had put its forces on maximum alert, though it relies on armed groups with often flexible loyalty – several groups dumped the last government to support Serraj when he took power in 2016.
SETBACK
    The developments are a setback for the United Nations and Western countries which have been trying to mediate between Serraj and Haftar, who met in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss a power-sharing deal.
    A national conference is set to follow this month to agree on a road map for elections to resolve the prolonged instability in Libya, an oil producer and a hub for refugees and migrants trekking across the Sahara in the hope of reaching Europe.
    Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as bulwark against Islamists.    His opponents see in him as a new Gaddafi.
    His forces control the east and recently expanded to southern Libya.
    Their advance took diplomats and analysts by surprise while they were focused on neighboring Algeria, where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday after weeks of protests.
    Earlier on Thursday, one of Haftar’s commanders said his forces had taken full control of Gharyan.    “Right now as we speak I’m driving through the town,” Abdelsalam al-Hassi told Reuters by telephone.
    Gharyan had been allied to the Tripoli government although some Haftar supporters were also based there.
    The two sides fought skirmishes on Wednesday but these had ceased, town mayor Yousef al-Bdairi said.
    A town resident told Reuters: “The town now is under control of the army who came from the east and I can see their vehicles with their Libyan National Army logo.”
    A group of armed groups in Misrata said they were ready to confront the LNA.
    “All the leaders in the city demand Serraj to give orders to launch immediately an operation,” they said in a statement.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ahmed Elumami, Ayman al-Warfalli and Tom Miles, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens)

4/4/2019 Pompeo says confident of ‘path forward’ with Turkey over S-400 dispute
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media during the NATO Foreign Minister's Meeting at
the State Department in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is continuing discussions with Turkey over its plans to buy a missile defense system from Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday, adding he was confident the two NATO allies could find a path forward.
    “There’s great opportunities for the United States and Turkey to work closer together,” Pompeo told a news conference at the end of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.    “I had a good long conversation with the Turkish foreign minister yesterday and I’m very confident we’ll find a path forward.”
    Pompeo also said the NATO meeting discussed the need for Russian troops to leave Venezuela.    The discussions were part of a broader conversation on Russia’s foreign military interventions, he added.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

4/4/2019 Israel buries remains of soldier recovered by Russian forces in Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during their meeting
in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Thursday buried the remains of a soldier missing since 1982, which were recovered by Russian special forces troops in Syria.
    Russia handed over the remains and personal effects, including the combat uniform, of Zachary Baumel, who was 21 when he fought in Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.    He was declared missing in action along with two other soldiers in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his eulogy for Baumel at a military cemetery in Jerusalem, thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his help.
    “One word has been repeated among many Israelis over the past momentous day. Chills.    I, too, felt chills.    When I learned that Zachary was with us once again, that his remains were identified, and that we will be able pay him our last respects,” Netanyahu said.
    Hours earlier the Israeli leader met in Moscow with Putin, who described how Russian and Syrian forces had located Baumel’s remains, and that it had been a difficult task.
    “We are very happy that they will be able to give him the necessary military honors at home and most importantly… that his close relatives will be able to bring flowers to his grave,” Putin said in comments published by the Kremlin.
    The disappearance of Baumel has long troubled Israel.
    Baumel immigrated to Israel with his parents from New York in 1970.    Over the years, there had been unverified reports that Baumel and two other soldiers who went missing at Sultan Yacoub might have survived the fighting and been captured.
    The precise location of his remains was not disclosed, but Netanyahu said Russian soldiers had risked their lives to get them.
    The recovery was welcomed by the United States, Baumel’s birthplace.
    “For many years we prayed for the safe return of Zachary Baumel,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Twitter on Wednesday.    “Welcome home, Zachary, and Rest in Peace.”
    Netanyahu, who is campaigning for a new term ahead of elections next week, said he had asked Putin to help Israel find Baumel’s remains two years ago.    Israeli commanders and intelligence agencies were in “constant contact” with the Russian army throughout, he said.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Israel, Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

4/4/2019 Saudi plans to invite bids for nuclear power project in 2020: sources by Sylvia Westall, Rania El Gamal and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: A car drives past electricity poles erected in east of Riyadh April 23, 2012.Reuters/Fahad Shadeed/File Photo
    DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia plans to issue a multi-billion-dollar tender in 2020 to construct its first two nuclear power reactors and is discussing the project with U.S. and other potential suppliers, three sources familiar with the plans said.
    The world’s top oil exporter wants to diversify its energy mix, adding nuclear power so it can free up more crude for export. But the plans are facing Washington’s scrutiny because of potential military uses for the technology.
    Saudi Arabia, which aims to mine for uranium, says its plans are peaceful.    But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in 2018 the kingdom would develop nuclear arms if Iran did.
    U.S., Russian, South Korean, Chinese and French firms are in talks with Riyadh to supply reactors, a promising deal for an industry recovering from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
    “Saudi Arabia is continuing to make very deliberate steps forward although at a slower pace than originally expected,” one of the sources familiar with the plans told Reuters.
    Saudi officials previously said they aimed to select a vendor in late 2018, which then slipped to 2019.    The sources said the tender would now be issued in 2020.
    Two sources said the project was proceeding slowly partly because the kingdom was still in discussions with all potential suppliers rather than narrowing them down to a short list.
    The plans have also been delayed by strained ties with Washington, which criticized Riyadh after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October, a source familiar with the talks said.
    Riyadh needs to sign an accord on the peaceful use of nuclear technology with Washington to secure the transfer of U.S. nuclear equipment and expertise, under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said last week that the negotiations which began in 2012 were continuing.
    The source said Washington has also been seeking to convince Riyadh to sign the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol on extra safeguards for verifying nuclear technology is used for peaceful applications.    The kingdom has so far resisted, the source added.
    The fate of these negotiations could determine whether Riyadh reaches a deal with U.S. firms, the source said.
WORKSHOPS
    Saudi Arabia, which sent a “request for information” (RFI) to nuclear vendors in 2017, is holding workshops with vendors from five nations as part of the pre-tender process, one source said, adding that this was expected to last 12 to 15 months.
    The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), tasked with developing the nuclear program, has brought in an executive from oil giant Saudi Aramco to help manage the pre-tender consultancy process, two sources said.
    The Energy Ministry, overseeing the project, and the kingdom’s international press office did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
    KACARE has in the past said the kingdom was considering building 17.6 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2032, requiring about 16 reactors.    But the sources said the focus for now was on the first two reactors and a potentially smaller program.
    Neighboring United Arab Emirates is building a nuclear power plant, the first in a Gulf Arab state.    Iran, across the Gulf, has a nuclear plant in operation and has been locked in a row over its nuclear ambitions with the United States.
    Saudi Arabia, which has long vied with Iran for regional influence, has said it will not sign any deal with the United States that deprives the kingdom of the possibility of enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel in the future, both potential paths to a bomb.
    South Korea’s state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), Russian state nuclear group Rosatom, French utility EDF, state-run China National Nuclear Corp and U.S. Westinghouse have expressed interest in the Saudi project.
(Additional reporting by Geert De Clercq in Paris; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Edmund Blair)

4/5/2019 Election board rejects AKP bid to annul Istanbul district vote: official
Supporters of AK Party wave flags in Ankara, Turkey April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The Istanbul election board has rejected a bid by Turkey’s ruling AK Party to annul the local election in the city’s Buyukcekmece district, an AKP official told Reuters on Friday, after the opposition narrowly won the vote in the city.
    Rohat Hasbayram said his party would take its annulment request to Turkey’s High Election Board in Ankara.    Broadcaster Haberturk earlier said the AKP had applied to annul elections in the whole of Istanbul, but Hasbayram said this was not the case
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen)

4/5/2019 Erdogan’s AK Party appeals for annulment of Istanbul local elections: Haberturk
Supporters of AK Party wave flags in Istanbul, Turkey April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) has appealed to annul local elections in Istanbul, broadcaster Haberturk said on its website on Friday, after initial results showed the opposition won a narrow victory in the city.
    Since Sunday’s vote the AKP has submitted objections to the results, saying they had been impacted by irregularities.
    Haberturk, without citing sources, said the AKP office in Istanbul’s Buyukcekmece district had appealed to the provincial electoral office to annul the vote across the city due to what it said was illegal voter registrations in the district.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

4/5/2019 U.N. chief to meet eastern Libya commander as fighters close in on Tripoli by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks during a
news conference in Tripoli, Libya April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was due to meet eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi on Friday in a bid to avert renewed civil war as his forces advanced on the capital Tripoli to challenge the internationally recognised government.
    The military thrust by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is allied to a parallel administration based in the east, marked a dangerous escalation of a power struggle that has dragged on since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    LNA forces on Thursday took Gharyan, about 80 km (50 miles) south of Tripoli after skirmishes with forces allied to Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
    But they failed to take a checkpoint about 30 km west of the capital in a bid to close the coastal road to Tunisia.    An LNA-allied militia withdrew overnight from so-called Gate 27, leaving it abandoned in the morning, a Reuters reporter said.
    Meanwhile militias allied to the U.N.-backed Tripoli government moved more machinegun-mounted pickups from the coastal city of Misrata to Tripoli to defend it against Haftar’s forces.
    The escalation surprised the United Nations, whose Secretary-General Guterres had been in Tripoli this week to help organize a national reconciliation national conference planned for later this month.
    Guterres, who spent Thursday night in the heavily fortified U.N. compound in a Tripoli suburb, was flying to Benghazi on Friday to meet Haftar.
    He will also go to Tobruk, another eastern city, to meet lawmakers of the House of Representatives, which is also allied to Haftar.
    “My aim remains the same: avoid a military confrontation.    I reiterate that there is no military solution for the Libyan crisis, only a political one,” Guterres said on Twitter.
    Assembly President Aguila Saleh welcomed the offensive, a spokesman said.
    Haftar also enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.
INTERNATIONAL CONCERN
    Germany called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council due to the military escalation.
    Russia said it was not helping Haftar’s forces and it supported a negotiated political settlement that ruled out any new bloodshed.
    “The situation should be resolved peacefully,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    Former colonial power Italy, which lies across the Mediterranean from Libya, was very worried by the turn of events, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said.
    “We need to throw water on the fire, not petrol on the fire.    I hope that people, acting out of economic or business self-interest, is not looking for a military solution, which would be devastating,” Salvini said.
    The United Nations and Western countries have been trying to mediate between Serraj and Haftar, who met in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss a power-sharing deal.
    The conference the United Nations is helping to organize is aimed at forging agreement on a road map for elections to resolve the prolonged instability in Libya, an oil producer and transit point for refugees and migrants trekking across the Sahara with the aim of reaching Europe.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/5/2019 Israel’s Arab minority urged to boycott election over divisive law by Rami Ayyub
Mosque minarets are seen next to an election campaign banners depicting Ahmad Tibi, from of the Hadash-Ta'al party in the
Israeli-Arab village of Taibe, northern Israel April 3, 2019. Picture taken April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) – Some of Israel’s young Arab citizens are calling for a boycott of Tuesday’s parliamentary election, dismayed by a recent law which they say reduces them to second-class citizens.
    The pro-boycott activists, many of whom identify as Palestinian, have tried in the past to persuade others among Israel’s Arab minority not to vote.
    But this time, they say, they are tapping into anger over the 2018 law that declares only Jews have a right to self-determination in the “nation-state” of the Jewish people.
    Leaders of Israel’s main Arab parties are pushing for their voters to turn out, fearing a boycott would weaken the 21-percent Arab minority’s representation in parliament, and boost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election chances.
    Ignoring the party leaders, dozens of activists from the “Popular Campaign to Boycott the Zionist Knesset Elections” have been handing out leaflets in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, which has a mixed Jewish and Arab population, and in smaller Arab towns and villages.
    “This is an attempt to boycott the body that actively tries to erase our Palestinian identity,” said Joul Elias, a student from Haifa who turned up to distribute flyers in Wadi Nisnas, a majority Arab neighborhood in the city.
    Israel’s Arab minority comprises mainly descendants of the Palestinians who remained in their communities or were internally displaced after the 1948 war that surrounded Israel’s creation.
    According to figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 1.9 million Arabs in Israel’s roughly 9 million population at the start of 2019.    Most were Muslims, Christians or Druze.    Jews made up 74.3 percent of the population.
WAKE-UP CALL
    Despite holding Israeli citizenship, many Arabs say their communities, from the fertile Galilee in the north to the Negev desert in the south, face discrimination in areas such as health, education and housing.
    Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party counters that its 15 billion shekel ($4.19 billion) investment plan for the Arab sector “is the largest such commitment in Israel’s history,” according to Eli Hazan, Likud’s foreign affairs director.
    But Netanyahu rekindled Arab resentment in March when he wrote on Instagram that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens.”    It was a reference, he said, to the new law, and the country being the homeland of the Jewish people.
    Many in the Arab community saw the Instagram post as an echo of divisive comments he made in the 2015 election.
    Hours before the polls closed on election day that year, Netanyahu said that Arabs were flocking “in droves” to cast ballots.    This was an attempt to prod any complacent right-wing supporters to get out and vote for him.
    “The nation-state law was like a wake-up call for many people, making them realize this country will never be a country for all its citizens,” said Muhannad Abu Ghosh, 42, a pro-boycott activist from Haifa.
    But Ayman Odeh, an Arab legislator who heads the Hadash party, says that engagement is key to bringing about political changes that will benefit the Arab minority.
    “Our challenge, number one through five, is to increase the number of people who vote,” he said.
    He said some Arabs would, as they have in the past, vote for non-Arab center- or left-wing parties, but that even those votes “play a significant role in fighting right-wing extremism in Israel.”
ARAB LEGISLATORS
    Arabs have served in Israel’s parliament since the country’s founding, but low turnout and other factors have typically left them under-represented in the 120-seat body.
    No Arab party has served in a governing coalition, meaning they have little say in shaping Israeli policies.
    In the 2015 election, Israel’s four Arab-dominated political parties united to form a “Joint List” that won 13 seats – their biggest representation yet.
    But this time around they are divided, which is likely to further deter an already dismayed electorate from voting, say political analysts.
    Arab voter turnout is expected to be just 51 percent, down from 64 percent in 2015, according to a recent poll from the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at Tel Aviv University.    The poll projects nationwide turnout of 70 percent.
    “The majority of Palestinians in Israel consider the Knesset election as a practical tool.    If it helps them, they will go and vote,” said As’ad Ghanem, a professor of political science at the University of Haifa.
    “This time, with the collapse of the Joint List and frustration with discriminatory practices, voter turnout will be low.”
    Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab legislator whose Ta’al party has forged an alliance with Odeh, says Arab parties are likely to lose two Knesset seats in this election.    But he doesn’t see the nation state law or political division as a reason to boycott the vote.
    “You can be a critic, you can have reservations, you can be angry at Arab parties or Arab [ministers],” Tibi said.    “But to be nonchalant and to sit aside is not the solution.”
    Still, the boycott movement’s members, many of whom voted in previous elections, believe that grassroots activism is a more effective agent of change than voting.
    Rula Nasr-Mazzawi, 43, a former activist with the Arab party Balad, says she left the faction and joined the boycott out of frustration with Arab parties’ divisions in the face of what she described as Israel’s “racist policies.”
    “The parties stopped working for the people.    They are just clinging onto their own seats and their own power,” she said.
($1 = 3.5830 shekels)
(Additional reporting by Rawan Sheikh Ahmad, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/5/2019 Turkish opposition still claims lead in Istanbul recount
FILE PHOTO: Ekrem Imamoglu, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate for mayor of Istanbul, embraces his
supporter at his election campaign office in Istanbul, Turkey April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition candidate in Sunday’s Istanbul local elections said on Friday he remained ahead by 18,742 votes after a recount of invalid votes in 17 of the city’s 39 districts.
    Late on Thursday, election officials expanded the vote recount in Istanbul, broadcaster CNN Turk said, as President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party pushed its appeal against its shock election defeat there.    It was unclear how many districts would ultimately see recounts.
    Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu told Turkey’s Fox TV he did not expect the gap between his party and the AKP to change substantially when the recount in the country’s largest city was completed.
    “From what I see, it should end this weekend.    It will fall into a 18,000-20,000 range, that’s what all the simulations show.    These are very tight numbers,” he said.
    He said 119,652 invalid votes had been recounted, with 2,184 votes added in favor of the AKP and 785 added for the CHP.
    The AK Party said it would also demand a wider check on votes across the capital Ankara, which, according to initial results, it also narrowly lost in Sunday’s nationwide municipal vote.
    Those losses, if confirmed, would be particularly painful for Erdogan, whose party and its predecessor have dominated the two cities for 25 years.    He launched his political career in Istanbul and served as the city’s mayor in the 1990s.
    On Wednesday, Turkey’s High Election Board had ordered a full recount in three of Istanbul’s 39 districts and a recount of just invalid ballots in 15 districts.    However, late on Thursday the board decided there would be a full recount in those 15 districts as well, CNN Turk said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

4/5/2019 Turkish president says country is going through with Russian defense purchase by OAN Newsroom
    Turkey’s president said his country is going through with the purchase of a Russian weapons system despite push back from NATO.    Tayyip Erdogan announced deliveries for the Russian S-400 missile defense system will begin in July despite repeated warnings from the U.S. and NATO leaders to abandon the deal.
    Erdogan said Turkey had offered to buy the U.S.-made ‘Patriot’ system, but had gotten a better offer from Russia.    On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said despite indications there was room for negotiation, the purchase was a “done deal.”
NATO’s Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg, right, talks with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu,
left, at the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers’ Session 2 at the US State Department
in Washington, Thursday, April 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
    “From the beginning this process has been very transparent with everybody, not only with our ally United States, but everybody,” stated the Turkish official.    “Therefore, we have told them — I don’t know how many months ago, a year ago — that it’s a done deal.”
    The U.S. and other NATO allies have warned the Russian system can’t work with U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets and could make the jets vulnerable to Russian attacks.
    On Tuesday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had said he was confident Turkey would backpedal on the purchase after the Pentagon blocked Turkey from receiving the jets on Monday.

4/5/2019 Erdogan says Turkey continues S-400 payments, criticizes U.S. stance
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference at Huber Mansion in Istanbul, Turkey March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey was continuing to make payments under its deal with Russia to buy S-400 missile defense systems and the United States had not presented the same terms when it offered to sell the rival Patriot missile system.
    “The S-400 holds an important place in our talks.    The United States’ arguments are very wrong.    We finished the S-400 process and our payments continue,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul when asked about planned talks in Moscow next week.
    Turkey’s planned purchase of the Russian system has put it at odds with NATO ally the United States.    Earlier this week, Washington halted delivery to Turkey of equipment related to the stealth F-35 fighter aircraft because of the missile defense disagreement.
    In an attempt to persuade Turkey to drop its plans to buy the S-400, the United States has offered the pricier American-made Patriot anti-missile system.    Turkey has shown interest in the Patriot, but not at the expense of abandoning the S-400.
    A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested on Friday that a Turkish purchase of the Russian missile defense systems could present an opportunity for U.S. forces.
    “It’s shocking that Russia, however, isn’t more worried about sending their equipment to a NATO nation, co-located with U.S. forces, where it can be studied and where we are likely to gain valuable intelligence,” the official said.
    “It may certainly be a unique opportunity,” the official added.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Idrees Ali in Washington; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alistair Bell)
[Obviously both U.S. and Russia want a chance to get intel on each weapons systems and Turkey is trying to do that apparently so its time to dump them since Islamic countries cannot always be trusted and Erdogan may lose power soon and you do not know what you will get in place of him.].

4/5/2019 East Libyan troops close on Tripoli, clashes near former airport by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres speaks during a news
conference in Tripoli, Libya April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan troops commanded by Khalifa Haftar said on Friday they had advanced into the southern outskirts of the capital Tripoli in a dangerous thrust against the internationally recognized government.
    Fighting was going on near the former international airport, which Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) force controlled by nightfall, an LNA spokesman and residents said.
    The move by the LNA, which is allied to a parallel administration based in the east, escalated a power struggle that has splintered the nation since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    It came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres departed after meeting Haftar to try to avert civil war.
    “i>I leave Libya with a heavy heart and deeply concerned.    I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli,” he said on Twitter.
    The U.N. Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on the latest developments on Friday and expressed deep concern in a statement read after the meeting by German U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, president of the council for April.
    “They (the council) called on LNA forces to halt all military movements.    They also called on all forces to de-escalate and halt military activity.    There can be no military solution to the conflict,” Heusgen said.
    Haftar, 75, who casts himself as an opponent of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new Gaddafi, was quoted by Al-Arabiya TV as telling Guterres the operation would continue until terrorism was defeated.
    The coastal capital Tripoli is the ultimate prize for Haftar’s eastern parallel government.
    In 2014, he assembled former Gaddafi soldiers and in a three-year battle seized the main eastern city of Benghazi.
    This year, he took the south with its oilfields.
    As well as visiting Haftar in Benghazi, Guterres had been in Tripoli this week to help organize a national reconciliation conference planned for later this month.
    But that plan looked in jeopardy on Thursday as LNA forces took Gharyan, about 80 km (50 miles) south of the capital after skirmishes with forces allied to Tripoli-based, U.N.-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
    From there, Haftar’s forces moved north, first taking the village of Suq al-Khamis, about 40 km (25 miles) from Tripoli, after some fighting, a resident and an eastern military source said.
    Then on Friday, the LNA said it took the areas of Qasr ben Ghashir and Wadi al-Rabie on the southern outskirts of the capital, seizing the former Tripoli International Airport, which has been abandoned since a 2014 battle.
SETBACK TO MEDIATION PLAN
    The LNA was in control of the former airport, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari said, rejecting a claim by the Tripoli interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, that his forces had retaken it.
    The LNA said it had lost five soldiers since Thursday.
    While the advance has looked fast, so far Haftar’s force has mainly crossed sparsely populated areas after taking Gharyan, the last town in the mountains before the road descends to a coastal plain.
    In 2014 battles for Tripoli, it took advancing fighters weeks to reach the city center from the old airport as snipers bogged them down.
    Forces from Misrata, a city east of Tripoli, sent more reinforcements to defend Serraj, residents said.
    Major ministries are still 20 km away.
    Despite their gains, Haftar’s forces failed to take a checkpoint about 30 km west of the capital in a bid to close the coastal road to Tunisia.    An LNA-allied armed group withdrew overnight from so-called Gate 27, leaving it abandoned in the morning, a Reuters reporter said.
    And in another setback, forces allied to Tripoli took 145 LNA fighters prisoner in Zawiya, west of the capital, a western commander, Mohamed Alhudair, told Reuters.
    An LNA source confirmed 128 had been captured.
    Armed groups allied to the Tripoli government have moved more machinegun-mounted pickup trucks from the coastal city of Misrata to Tripoli to defend it against Haftar’s forces.
    The offensive is a setback for the United Nations and Western nations trying to mediate between Serraj, 59, who comes from a wealthy business family, and military veteran Haftar.
    They met in Abu Dhabi last month to discuss power-sharing.
    The United Nations wants to find agreement on a road map for elections to resolve the prolonged instability in Libya, an oil producer and transit point for refugees and migrants trekking across the Sahara with the aim of reaching Europe.
    Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.
    The UAE, however, joined Western countries in expressing its deep concern about the fighting.
    Russia said it was not helping Haftar’s forces and it supported a negotiated political settlement that ruled out any new bloodshed.
    Tunisia has tightened control on its border with Libya in response to the renewed conflict, the defense ministry said.
    Former colonial power Italy, which lies across the Mediterranean and has been a destination for migrants, was very worried, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said.
    “We need to throw water on the fire, not petrol on the fire.    I hope that people, acting out of economic or business self-interest, are not looking for a military solution, which would be devastating,” Salvini said.
(Additional reporting by Hesham Hajali in Cairo and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Daniel Wallis and James Dalgleish)
[The backlash of the policies of the Obama administration in Libya and also Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's inaction is inherent into the condition we see here now.].

4/5/2019 Netanyahu falls behind in Israel polls but still holds path to stay in power by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with NATO countries'
ambassadors to Israel in Jerusalem January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fallen behind his main challenger in opinion polls ahead of next week’s Israeli election but still has an easier path to form a government that would keep him in power for a record fifth term.
    Netanyahu, who has dominated Israeli politics for a generation, is fighting for his political survival against former top general Benny Gantz, a political novice.
    The outcome is unlikely to be decided on election day, when voters cast ballots for party lists.    No party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament, meaning days or even weeks of coalition negotiations will lie ahead.
    And looming criminal indictments against Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing in three cases of alleged bribery and fraud, could cloud his political future and that of any government he might head, possibly leading to a new election.
    On Friday, the last day polling is allowed, Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party was projected to take 30 seats, more than the 26 forecast for Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, according to a poll in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
    But the poll also projected a combined total of 63 seats for the parties in Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc, a slim but workable majority.    Other polls showed similar results.    The coalition arithmetic for Gantz appears far more difficult.
    Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, will consult with the leaders of every party represented in parliament and choose whoever he believes has the best chance of forming a coalition.    The nominee has up to 42 days to form a government before the president asks another politician to try.
    In the final stretch of the campaign, Netanyahu cautioned his right-wing supporters against over-confidence: “It’s a close race between right and left,” he told Israel Radio on Thursday.
    Gantz appeared invigorated by the polling numbers on Friday, telling his backers they were “a few meters away from victory.”
    “On Tuesday, everything you see here in this country will shift,” Gantz told a rally in Kiryat Ekron.
SHADOW OF CORRUPTION
    Netanyahu has fought the campaign under the shadow of the public announcement in February by Israel’s attorney general that he intends to indict him.
    No charges have yet been brought and there will be a pre-trial hearing at which Netanyahu can challenge any findings.    If indicted, he is under no obligation to quit, but he would need coalition partners to stand by him to avert a new election.     “Netanyahu’s supreme and indeed only imperative will be to cobble together an indictment coalition: one that will make it possible for him to continue to serve even after the hearing and after he’s indicted,” political analyst Yossi Verter wrote in the liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz on Friday.
    That could include efforts, promoted by some Netanyahu loyalists, to pass a law to ban the indictment of a sitting prime minister.    Some potential coalition allies have publicly balked at such legislation, including at least one cabinet minister – and potential successor – in Netanyahu’s own party.
    Netanyahu’s opponents have campaigned hard on the corruption issue, producing posters, car bumper stickers and election rally banners bearing the words “CRIME MINISTER.”
CAMPAIGN STRATEGY
    With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks frozen since 2014, personalities and personal attacks have dominated an election campaign that has largely skated over war-and-peace issues that once dominated Israeli political debate.
    Netanyahu has cast Gantz, a former military chief, as a weak leftist who would endanger Israel’s security by giving territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
    Gantz professes a commitment to peace while giving no clear indication whether he would support the Palestinian goal of statehood in territories captured by Israel in a 1967 war.
    Netanyahu has also highlighted his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, who overturned decades of U.S. policy and international consensus to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital.
    Netanyahu visited Trump last month.    At the meeting, Trump, in what was widely seen as a bid to boost Netanyahu, again broke with long-term policy to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, also captured in 1967.
    In Jerusalem, Hezi Levy, 60, a taxi driver, said he backed Netanyahu: “The most important thing in the world is that the left will not assume power, God forbid,” he said.
    But other voters deplored recent scandals. “The focus is on the corruption that’s happening politically,” said Ayelet Noff, 43, a public relations manager from Tel Aviv, a Gantz supporter who said she wanted more attention paid to the economy.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/5/2019 Hundreds of thousands of Algerians march for sweeping change by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
People carry national flags during a protest to push for the removal of the current
political structure, in Algiers, Algeria April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding radical change marched through Algiers for a seventh successive Friday, as Algeria’s spy chief was reportedly fired in a further sign of high-level turbulence after the veteran president resigned.
    The demonstrators are pushing for the removal of what they see as an outdated and opaque political apparatus, built around the ruling party, army officers, businessmen, unions and veterans of a 1954-62 independence war against France.
    “We want a new generation to govern this wealthy country and to secure a better future for the people,” said 80-year-old woman Yamina, standing with her five grandchildren as crowds jammed downtown streets.
    “We want to uproot the symbols of the system,” said teacher Ahmed Badili, as hundreds of people waved national flags from the balconies of buildings. Others handed out sweets and bottled water.
    The intelligence chief, retired army general Athmane Tartag, was a close ally of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit on Tuesday under pressure from the army.
    The military said it was acting in the national interest after weeks of largely peaceful anti-government demonstrations.
    Western powers are eager for stability in the OPEC oil producer, Africa’s largest country by land mass and a key gas supplier for Europe and partner to fight militants.
    Bouteflika’s departure has not eased tensions despite the appointment of a caretaker government which will stay in office until elections in three months’ time.
    This Friday, protesters pushed for the removal of Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui, upper house of parliament chairman Abdelkader Bensalah, and Tayeb Belaiz, head of the constitutional council — all seen as establishment figures.
    Many banners read “3B’s must go.”
    In the weeks before his resignation, Bouteflika’s inner circle had already been depleted by the exit of several close allies from influential positions in politics and business.
    Tartag’s departure was reported by the private Ennahar TV, and two political sources confirmed that he had been sacked.
    Ennahar added that his position would return to the supervision of the defence ministry, rather than the presidency, a move that appears to strengthen the army’s hand.
    The intelligence service has in the past been an important part of the military’s influence in national affairs, and played a backroom role in politics as well as in the 1990s civil war.
    But in 2016, Bouteflika removed it from the supervision of the defence ministry and placed it under the authority of the presidency to try to ease it out of the political sphere.
    Protesters want to remove any traces of the old guard and introduce sweeping democratic reforms.    But no clear successor to Bouteflika has yet emerged and Algeria’s opposition is fragmented.
    The uncertainty means the army is likely to continue playing its role as kingmaker with little resistance, guiding the sensitive transition process.
    Unlike in past protests, when some Algerians said the army should not interfere in civilian matters, there were signs of support for the military in the latest demonstration.    Some banners said “the people and the army are brothers.”
    Some protesters saw humour in Algeria’s crisis: “Any country interested in toppling its system, we are ready to help.    Please send a copy of the constitution.    You also need an appointment and we only work on Friday,” read one banner.
(Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

4/5/2019 Gulf states, Egypt say will boycott parliament meet in Doha
FILE PHOTO: People gather at Doha Corniche as they celebrate Qatar's National Day December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Three Gulf Arab states and Egypt said they will not attend a global meeting of parliamentarians due to be held in Doha from Saturday because Qatar has not changed the kind of behavior which made them sever ties two years ago.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member Egypt cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their regional foe Iran – something Doha denies.
    The quartet plans to boycott an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) annual meeting in Doha April from 6-10, they said in a statement carried on UAE state news agency WAM late on Thursday.    The IPU is a global organization of national parliaments that promotes democracy.has not responded to the just demands of the four countries and has continued its supportive policy for extremism, terrorism and interference in the affairs of the countries of the region,” it said.
    Gas-rich Qatar says the boycott is aimed at undermining its sovereignty.    It has started charting a course away from its Gulf neighbors, including forging new trade partnerships, strengthening ties with Turkey and quitting OPEC.
    Those moves have deepened expectations that the dispute will not be resolved quickly, unnerving the United States, the main Western ally of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which sees the rift as a threat to efforts to contain Iran.
    The United States, which has military bases in both Qatar and some of the countries lined up against it, is trying to mediate the feud.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall, Editing by William Maclean)

4/5/2019 Losing its luster – how Erdogan party’s campaign put off Istanbul voters by Ali Kucukgocmen and Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Ekrem Imamoglu, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate
for mayor of Istanbul, wait for him to visit Anitkabir, the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Ankara, Turkey, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – It was midnight on election night when Turkey’s main opposition party finally believed it had overturned a decade and a half of failure at the polls and delivered a stinging defeat to the country’s master campaigner, President Tayyip Erdogan.
    The candidate of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) for mayor of Ankara was comfortably ahead in the capital, but in Istanbul – the biggest prize in Sunday’s local elections – Erdogan’s ruling AK Party candidate had declared victory.
    CHP politicians and supporters, who had endured more than a dozen election and referendum losses at the hands of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP since 2002, were well accustomed to crushing disappointment once the ballots were counted.
    This time was different.
    “At around 12 a.m. we realized that we were clearly the winners of the election, that we had won,” said Suleyman Celebi, an aide to CHP Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.
    The party’s own data, he said, showed they had defeated Erdogan’s close ally and former prime minister Binali Yildirim, despite an exhaustive and bitter two-month campaign waged by the president and backed by an overwhelmingly pro-government media.
    Once they saw the numbers, Imamoglu and his team refused to back down.    “We believed after that that there was no turning back, and that we would win,” Celebi told Reuters.
    That newfound confidence, supported by initial results the next morning showing Imamoglu had narrowly beaten Yildirim, was forged in an opposition campaign that contrasted sharply with Erdogan’s high-profile, confrontational election strategy.
    The softly-spoken Imamoglu, spurning the kind of mass rallies which Erdogan addressed daily, sought to win over a broad spectrum of voters with a positive message, meeting many of them face-to-face in a campaign which even his opponents acknowledged struck a chord with the electorate.
    Celebi said Turks, tiring of “divisive and polarizing language” from their leaders, warmed to a new style of politics.    “This time we saw an open will to vote for Ekrem Imamoglu across all parts of society,” he said.
    The CHP made a formal alliance with the breakaway nationalist Iyi (Good) Party and also won votes in Istanbul from supporters of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which chose not to field a mayoral candidate there to boost Imamoglu’s chances.
DENTED AURA
    Confirmation of defeat in Istanbul – a city of 15 million people – and Ankara would not reduce Erdogan’s sweeping presidential powers, but would seriously dent the aura of invincibility he has built up during 16 years of ever-tighter control over the country.
    His AKP, which has challenged results in both Ankara and Istanbul, still won 51.6 percent of the national vote together with its nationalist MHP alliance partner, down from 53.7 percent in parliamentary elections last year.
    Three party sources who spoke to Reuters all said there were flaws in a campaign which struck a relentlessly belligerent tone, linking Erdogan’s opponents to terrorists and painting the vote bleakly as a “matter of survival” for Turkey.
    “Maybe we should have given another message instead of ‘survival’,” said one source at AKP headquarters in Ankara who described it as ill-suited for voters worried about living standards and local services.
    As early as January, AKP officials were sounding the alarm over falling public support amid high inflation and rising unemployment.
    Authorities responded to soaring food prices by setting up stalls in Ankara and Istanbul selling subsidized vegetables.
    That too may have backfired, the same source said, as TV footage of people queueing for food revived images of “old Turkey” and the chronic inflation of the 1990s.    “Long lines being formed disrupted the perception of the AK Party,” he said.
    Another party source said the AKP was still missing former campaign manager Erol Olcok, a close friend of Erdogan who masterminded AKP election victories before he was killed on an Istanbul bridge during a failed military coup in 2016.
    In recent elections, the AKP could not “find its groove,” he said.
    Praising the CHP’s strategy of focusing on “direct contact with the people,” a third source said: “If we had paid attention to the messages from the start and then taken necessary steps, the results could have been different today.”
    For Imamoglu, now preparing to take over Turkey’s largest city and govern 15 million people with a projected expenditure of 24 billion lira ($4.3 billion), the campaign is over but the battle not yet won.
    The AKP has appealed results of all 39 districts in Istanbul.    A party official said on Thursday that once the recount was complete, the AKP’s candidate would emerge on top.
    Imamoglu says the electoral board “must do its job” and declare him victor but, in keeping with the tone of his campaign, he has stressed consensus over confrontation.
    “We really need to help each other,” he said a day after the vote, as it became clear the close result could trigger a bitter dispute.    “I would like to remind you that we walk side by side on the same path, that we are in the same boat.”
($1 = 5.5907 liras)
(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

4/6/2019 Egypt says Libyan crisis cannot be resolved through military means
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry shake hands after a news conference
following a meeting at Tahrir palace in Cairo, Egypt April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday the crisis in Libya could not be resolved through military means, but added the security situation in the country had long been a source of worry.
    “Egypt has supported from the beginning a political agreement as a tool to prevent any military solution” in Libya, Shoukry said during a joint news conference with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov broadcast on state television.
(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Potter)

4/6/2019 Low expectations, no quarrels and Libya accord rescue G7 summit by John Irish and Richard Lough
Foreign Ministers attend the round table during the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting in
Dinard, France April 5, 2019. Thibault Vandermersch/Pool via REUTERS
    DINARD, France (Reuters) – The Group of Seven nations ended a foreign ministers’ meeting in western France without quarreling on Saturday, as they looked to lay the groundwork for a leaders’ summit in August despite the absence of the U.S. Secretary of State.
    U.S. President Donald Trump had thrown last year’s summit of the club of major industrial countries in Canada into disarray, backing out of a joint communique and firing barbs at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
    France, which now has the G7 presidency, scaled back its ambitions for the latest meeting, focusing on areas where consensus could be found including the dangers of cyber crime for democracy, tackling inequalities between men and women, and trafficking in Africa’s Sahel region.
    “Last year there was an end of G7 that did not go very well but the G7 here in Dinard went very well,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters, seeking to put a positive spin on the two-day meeting.
    The meeting was overshadowed by the absence of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who sent his deputy in his place.    One diplomat said it sent a message that he “had better things to do.”
    However, it did lay out ambitions for a cyber security initiative designed to help protect liberal democracies and defend civil liberties from digital attacks, though it was the turmoil in Libya that appeared to unite them the most.
    As eastern commander Khalifa Haftar swept toward Tripoli, they pressed him to halt his forces’ advance on the capital as concerns grow of a civil war resurgence.
    Urging restraint from all factions, the G7 said Libya’s oil installations should not be used by any group for political gain.    “At least there seems to be a good degree of convergence on Libya from the international community,” Italy’s Foreign Minister Enzo Milanesi told reporters.
KEY ISSUES
    Despite that unity, Le Drian pointed out that differences on key issues were still evident, especially on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to handle Iran.
    “Despite the crisp air of Dinard, we couldn’t overcome some of our differences,” Le Drian said.
    A spokeswoman for Japan’s foreign ministry described the debate as friendly but at times heated and frank.
    President Trump last year pulled the United States out of Iran’s international nuclear deal, rejecting the approach favored by Washington’s allies to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
    The final communique made no mention of the Iran accord, which France, Britain and Germany continue to abide by.    However, it outlined concerns over Iran’s regional and ballistic missile activities, and its human rights record.
    “We intend to continue our work to counter Iran’s regional proliferation of ballistic missiles and its unlawful arms transfers,” the communique said.
    The biggest difference was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    In March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in an election boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, drawing direct or implied criticism from the European Union and European capitals.
    “We had an exchange of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and there were clear differences,” the communique read.
    G7 leaders meet in southwest France at the end of August. (Reporting by John Irish, Julie Carriat and Marine Pennetier; Editing by Richard Lough and David Holmes)
[Now you know why the U.S. did not attend the G7 summit, but when they can't solve a problem they call the U.S. to get NATO going to resolve their problems.].

4/6/2019 U.N. to hold Libya conference as planned despite surge in fighting: envoy by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
The U.N. Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – The United Nations is determined to hold Libya’s national conference on possible elections on time despite eastern forces’ advance on the capital Tripoli in an escalation of the conflict, a senior U.N. envoy said on Saturday.
    G7 foreign ministers warned eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar to halt his thrust on Tripoli, menacing the internationally recognized government based there, or face possible international action.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said on Friday its forces had advanced into the capital’s southern outskirts and taken its former international airport.    Its spokesman Ahmed Mismari said 14 LNA troops had been killed so far.
    The offensive by the LNA, which is allied to a parallel administration based in the main eastern city of Benghazi, intensifies a power struggle that has fractured the oil-producing country since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
    The United Nations aims to stage a conference in the southwestern town of Ghadames on April 14-16 to weigh elections as a way out of the country’s prolonged factional anarchy, which has seen Islamist militants establish a toehold in some areas.
    Ghassan Salame, the U.N. special envoy to Libya, said he was striving to prevent the new crisis from getting out of control.    “We have worked for one year for this national conference, we won’t give up this political work quickly,” he said.
    “We know that holding the conference in this difficult time of escalation and fighting is a difficult matter.    But we are determined to hold it on time unless compelling circumstances force us not to,” he told reporters in Tripoli.
    The Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, who relies on various armed groups, said Haftar’s move was a coup.
    “He (Haftar) will find in us only steadfastness and strength from all those are coming from all over the country to defend Libyans’ dream of a civil sovereign state,” he said in a televised speech.
    At a G7 meeting in France, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he and his counterparts had agreed they must exert pressure on those responsible for the upsurge of fighting in Libya, especially Haftar.
    Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said the G7 statement “should be seen as an appeal to General Haftar to consider with a sense of responsibility peaceful solutions for stabilizing Libya under the UN umbrella.”
    Russia also called for restraint, saying Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Haftar that Moscow continues to insist on a political solution to “disputed issues” in Libya.
    Haftar told Bogdanov about what he described as efforts to fight terrorists in Libya, including near Tripoli, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
CRUCIBLE OF INSTABILITY
    The United Nations wants to find agreement on a road map for elections to resolve the protracted instability in Libya, an important oil exporter and transit point for refugees and migrants trekking across the Sahara with the objective of reaching Europe across the Mediterranean Sea to the north.
    In Cairo on Saturday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the crisis could not be settled by military means, though insecurity in Libya had long been a source of worry.
    At a news conference alongside Shoukry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted all political forces in Libya to strike an agreement in support of peace and warned against foreign meddling there.
    There were no reports of significant fighting on Saturday.
    Haftar’s LNA said on Saturday its positions were attacked in an air strike south of Tripoli but there were no casualties.
    Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, was quoted by Al-Arabiya TV as telling Guterres his offensive would continue until terrorism was defeated.
    A former officer in Gaddafi’s army, Haftar enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.    The UAE, however, joined Western countries in expressing its deep concern about the fighting.
    In the past, Haftar has struck deals with armed factions outside Tripoli to advance his forces.    But gaining control of Tripoli – the ultimate prize for Haftar’s eastern parallel government – would be far more complicated.
    Armed groups allied to the Tripoli government have moved more machinegun-mounted pickup trucks from Misrata to Tripoli to defend it against Haftar’s forces.    The city is known for a spirit of resisting “old regime” figures, developed during 2011 when pro-Gaddafi forces besieged it for three months.
    The LNA says it has 85,000 men but this includes soldiers paid by the central government that it hopes to inherit.    Its elite force, Saiqa (Lightning), numbers some 3,500, while Haftar’s sons also have well-equipped troops, LNA sources say.
    In 2014, he assembled former Gaddafi soldiers and in a three-year battle seized Benghazi.    This year, he took control of Libya’s south with its oilfields.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Ulf Laessing in Cairo, John Irish in Dinard, France, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Michael Georgy in Dubai and Giselda Vagnoni in Rome; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alexandra Hudson)

4/6/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu says he plans to annex settlements in West Bank
FILE PHOTO: A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the
occupied West Bank February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins another term in office, a last-minute pre-election promise likely to enrage Palestinians and the Arab world.
    In an interview to Israeli Channel 12 News three days ahead of the April 9 poll, Netanyahu was asked why he had not extended sovereignty to large West Bank settlements, as Israel did without international recognition in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    “Who says that we won’t do it?    We are on the way and we are discussing it,” Netanyahu said.
    “You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage – the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage.    I am going to extend (Israeli) sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”
    Netanyahu is competing for votes with small far-right parties who advocate annexation.    His comments are likely to appeal to hardline voters, who object to ceding lands to the Palestinians.
    A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdainah, told Reuters: “Any measures and any announcements will not change the facts.    Settlements are illegal and they will be removed.”
    The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, all territory Israel captured in 1967.    Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and withdrawn from Gaza.    The West Bank remains under Israeli military occupation with limited Palestinian self rule.
    Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014.
    After decades of settlement-building, more than 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, protected by an Israeli military presence that divides some Palestinian communities and cuts off towns and villages with checkpoints.
    The Palestinians and many countries consider this to be illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war.    Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
    While vowing that he would not evacuate settlers from their homes, Netanyahu has also said in the past that the future of the settlements should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians.
    His remarks on Saturday were viewed in Israeli media as an attempt to draw right-wing votes rather than an immediate change of policy.
    There was no immediate comment from the U.S. embassy about Netanyahu’s remarks, which follow a series of announcements and policy changes by U.S. President Donald Trump that were seen to favor Israel.
    In March, Trump broke with decades of international consensus by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel captured from Syria.
    That followed his December 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the U.S. embassy there.    Both moves delighted Israel, infuriated Palestinian and Arab leaders, and were opposed by most U.S. allies.
    U.S. officials have said they would unveil a long-awaited Trump administration Middle East peace plan after the Israeli election, but prospects to restart negotiations appear dim.
    The Palestinians have been boycotting the Trump administration over its Jerusalem moves and other recent decisions they view as pro-Israel bias.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/6/2019 Sudanese protesters clash with security forces outside Bashir’s compound
Sudanese demonstrators flash the victory sign as a military police vehicle drives past them during a protest demanding
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to step down in Khartoum, Sudan April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Thousands of Sudanese protesters clashed with security forces outside President Omar al-Bashir’s residence in central Khartoum on Saturday in what appeared to be the biggest demonstration in months of protest against his 30-year rule, witnesses said.
    Security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators and tried to disperse the crowd, which had responded to a call by activists trying to increase pressure on Bashir to step down.
    They waved Sudanese flags and chanted slogans demanding “freedom, peace and justice” as they gathered outside the gates of the compound, guarded by army soldiers, that also houses the defense ministry, army command and security headquarters.
    By the evening, the clashes subsided as security forces pulled back, allowing the thousands still gathered to remain outside the compound.    Witnesses said young demonstrators sang nationalist songs and danced for joy.    Some said they would stay until Bashir stepped down.
    There were no reports of casualties in the clashes.
    Information Minister Hassan Ismail, who also serves as the government spokesman, praised security forces for the manner they handled the protests and said the government remained committed to dialogue to resolve the crisis.
    “The approach followed by government apparatus was met with satisfaction from citizens,” Ismail said in a statement.    “Sudanese blood is the most precious thing we need to preserve.”
    Bashir has refused to step down, saying his opponents need to seek power through the ballot box.
    “Today, we won and we are confident that the regime will fall,” said Mohamed Saleh, a 63-year-old university professor who estimated the crowd to be at more than 100,000 people.
    An independent estimate for the number of protesters was not immediately available.    But witnesses said the protest appeared to be larger than previous ones.
    “There are crowds as far as the eye can see,” one witness told Reuters.
ANNIVERSARY
    Sudanese activists, apparently emboldened by the success of similar but much larger protests in Algeria that forced ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, called Saturday’s protests to mark the anniversary of the 1985 coup that forced Nimeiri to step down following mass protests against his rule.
    The demonstrators said they wanted to deliver a message to the country’s armed forces to side with them in trying to push Bashir out of power.
    Sudanese say the armed forces had in the past backed popular protests against autocratic rulers, including their 1985 move against the then President Jaafar Nimeiri.
    Nimeiri’s downfall paved the way for national elections and a civilian government which Bashir ousted in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989.    Bashir had since run and was elected president in repeated elections which his critics say were neither fair nor free.
    Representing the most sustained challenge to Bashir since he took power in 1989, the wave of protests that began on Dec. 19 were triggered by price rises and cash shortages but have evolved into demonstrations against his long rule.
    In February, Bashir declared a state of emergency in the country of 40 million, sacked his government and state governors in a series of moves aimed at tightening his control.
    Bashir is wanted by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes while trying to put down an armed uprising in the country’s western Darfur region since 2003.    Sudan denies committing any war crimes had been committed.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Potter, Helen Popper and Alexandra Hudson)

4/7/2017 Turkey says ‘irresponsible’ Netanyahu cannot change West Bank status
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's
office in Jerusalem February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey on Sunday criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “irresponsible” for saying he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins Tuesday’s election.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, was Palestinian territory and Israel’s occupation violated international law.
    “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s irresponsible statement to seek votes just before the Israeli general elections cannot and will not change this fact,” Cavusoglu tweeted.
    Netanyahu, asked why he had not declared Israeli sovereignty over large West Bank settlements as Israel has already done in the occupied Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, said he was already discussing the move.
    “I am going to extend (Israeli) sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 News on Saturday.
    Palestinian leaders reacted angrily, blaming what they said was a failure by world powers to stand up for international law.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman echoed those charges on Sunday.    “Will Western democracies react or will they keep appeasing?    Shame on them all!” Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.
    The Palestinians and many countries deem settlements to be illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war.    Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
    Erdogan, whose Islamist-rooted AK Party has led Turkey for 16 years, has criticized the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump over its pronounced support for Israel, including Washington’s decision to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.
    Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state they are seeking.    Peace talks with Israel have been frozen since 2014.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/7/2019 Netanyahu plays pre-election Trump card: settlement annexation by Jeffrey Heller
A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinians voiced alarm while Israelis weighed the gravity on Sunday of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sudden election promise to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
    Some Israeli commentators saw the right-wing leader’s pledge on Saturday, as Tuesday’s national ballot approaches, as mainly a bid to siphon votes from ultranationalist rivals long advocating annexation.
    But after years of resisting far-right calls to formally put West Bank land captured in the 1967 Middle East war under permanent Israeli hold, Netanyahu could be counting on support for a dramatic shift from his close ally, U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “Who says that we won’t do it?    We are on the way and we are discussing it,” Netanyahu, asked why he had not extended Israeli sovereignty to large West Bank settlements, told Israel’s Channel 12 News.
    In March, Trump broke with decades of international consensus by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel captured from Syria.    That followed his December 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the U.S. embassy’s move to the holy city last May.
    Asked in an interview on Friday on Israel’s Channel 13 why he wasn’t pressing Trump now to approve a West Bank settlement status change, Netanyahu replied: “Wait until the next term.”
    Taking Netanyahu at his word, Palestinians seeking statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem called his settlement annexation remarks a violation of international law regarding occupied territory.
    “His declaration is not just in the heat of … electioneering campaigns,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestine Liberation Organization official.    “This is the end of any chances of peace.”
    A spokesman for Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, said “the response to (Israeli) crimes and foolishness will be met by popular resistance, armed resistance and by all our might.”
    But Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the New Right party and author of a plan to annex parts of the West Bank, suggested Netanyahu was simply trawling for votes.
    “For the past 10 years, Netanyahu has blocked applying Israeli law to even a centimeter of land,” Bennett tweeted.
    In the settlement of Karnei Shomron, spice shop owner Yehezkel Shaul said he believed Netanyahu’s annexation pledge, calling him “the most reliable and honest person.”
    At the local high school, Harel Levi, 18, was not so sure.
    “It’s an election promise and he’ll find some excuse later,” Levi said.
HEATED ISSUE
    Settlements, which Israel’s B’Tselem rights group said cover about 10 percent of the West Bank, are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart peace talks, frozen since 2014.
    After decades of settlement-building, more than 400,000 Israelis now live in the territory, according to Israeli figures.    The West Bank is home to some 2.9 million Palestinians, the Palestinian Statistics Bureau says.
    A further 212,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
    The Palestinians and many countries consider settlements to be illegal under the Geneva conventions, which ban settling on territory occupied in war.    Israel disputes this, arguing that the status of the West Bank is still disputed.    But unilateral annexation would be far harder to justify, even among allies.
    Trump’s predecessors as president publicly discouraged the expansion of settlements, arguing that they made it harder to negotiate a viable Palestinian state, viewed by administrations from both U.S. parties as Israel’s likeliest route to peace.
    Palestinians argue that Washington did not do enough in practice to press for settlements to be curbed.
    Most peace plan scenarios foresee Israel negotiating to keep some settlements in return for giving other land to the Palestinians.    Annexation could take that off the table.
    Netanyahu’s annexation promise was met with scepticism by Shaqued Morag, director of Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlements group that closely monitors their expansion.
    “So we must ask, why has Netanyahu said this now?” Morag said.    The answer, she told Reuters, was that Netanyahu feared for his political survival and “the times dictate he makes these extreme declarations that he has no intention to follow through on.”
    Israel Katz, the acting foreign minister and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said its “great fear” was a split in the right-wing vote that would result in a second-place finish behind the centrist Blue and White faction.
    Katz said Likud had to ensure it emerges as the biggest party, to put Netanyahu in the best position to get the nod from Israel’s president to try to put together a governing coalition.    No one party has ever won a ruling parliamentary majority on its own in an Israeli election.
(Additional reporting by Ron Bousso in Karnei Shomron, West Bank, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, West Bank and Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/7/2019 Eastern Libyan forces conduct air strikes on Tripoli as U.N. fails to reach truce by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, head out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops
advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces carried out air strikes on the southern part of Tripoli on Sunday and made progress toward the city center, residents said, escalating an operation to take the capital as the United Nations failed to achieve a truce.
    The Libyan National Army (LNA) force of Khalifa Haftar, which backs a parallel administration in the east, last week launched an advance on Tripoli in the west, home to the internationally recognized government.
    The offensive intensifies a power struggle that has fractured the oil and gas producer since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
    The LNA reached the southern outskirts of the capital on Friday and says it took the former international airport, though the Tripoli military officials deny this.
    At least one warplane carried out an air strike in the area, a resident said.
    “The air force took part for the first time in the military operations,” said LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari.    “It conducted a very successful operation to secure the airport road (to city center),” he added.
    The LNA moved up north from on the road from former airport in the district of Khalat Furgan, coming some 11 km from the city center, a resident said, adding he could see the troops as forces loyal to the Tripoli government withdrew.
    The U.N. mission to Libya (UNSMIL) called on Sunday for a truce for two hours in southern Tripoli to evacuate civilians and wounded, it said in a statement without giving details.
    But the true was not observed by evening, one U.N. official said.
    In another sign of the situation worsening on the ground, a contingent of U.S. forces supporting the U.S. Africa Command evacuated Libya for security reasons, a U.S. statement said. It gave no details.
    Forces allied to the Tripoli government meanwhile announced their own operation called “Volcano of Anger” to defend the capital, a spokesman said, without giving details.
    The offensive has taken the United Nations by surprise, undermining plans to find agreement on a road map for elections to resolve the protracted instability in Libya.
    Lawless since Gaddafi was toppled by rebels backed by NATO air strikes, Libya has become the transit point hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara with the objective of reaching Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.
    Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.
    The UAE, however, has joined Western countries in expressing its deep concern about the fighting.
    “No justification for LNA move on Tripoli,” UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt tweeted, adding he was watching the situation very closely and would discuss the “next steps” with the European Union on Monday.
    In the past, Haftar has struck deals with armed factions outside Tripoli to advance his forces.    But gaining control of Tripoli – the ultimate prize for Haftar’s eastern parallel government – would be far more complicated.
    Armed groups allied to the Tripoli government have moved more machinegun-mounted pickup trucks to defend Tripoli from Misrata down the coast.    Misrata is known for a spirit of resisting “old regime” figures, developed during 2011 when pro-Gaddafi forces besieged it for three months.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, Ayman Al-Warfalli, Ulf Laessing, Nayera Abdallah and John Irish; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Keith Weir and Peter Graff)

4/7/2019 Thousands of Sudanese protesters hold second day of sit-in outside Bashir’s compound
Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans during a protest demanding Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir
to step down in Khartoum, Sudan April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters held a sit-in outside Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s residence in central Khartoum on Sunday, and crowds chanting anti-government slogans filled several main streets, witnesses said.
    Sudan has seen sustained protests against Bashir and his National Congress Party since Dec. 19.    Security forces have fired tear gas, stun grenades and live bullets to disperse protesters and dozens have been killed during demonstrations.
    Bashir has refused to step down, saying that his opponents need to seek power through the ballot box.
    On Sunday evening, dozens of demonstrations took place in the Sudanese capital, eyewitnesses said.    Protesters marched in several streets of central Khartoum, setting fire to car tyres and blocking a main road, a Reuters witness said.    Demonstrators also blocked a bridge that connects Khartoum and Khartoum North.    No police officers or other security forces personnel could be seen, eyewitnesses said.
    Sudan earlier suffered a total power blackout, the ministry of water resources, irrigation and electricity said without explaining the cause of the outage. Electricity was later restored in some areas.
    Since the sit-in began outside of the presidential residence on Saturday, security forces had fired tear gas several times in an attempt to clear the protesters, but thousands remained on Sunday.
    Apparently emboldened by the success of similar but much larger protests in Algeria, which forced ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down last week, Sudanese activists called for Saturday’s protests.    The demonstrations marked the anniversary of the 1985 military coup that overthrew autocratic President Jaafar Nimeiri after mass protests against his rule.
    The protesters urged the military to side with them once more in their bid to push Bashir out of power.
    The compound which houses the presidential residence is the most heavily guarded in Sudan.    It is also home to the defense ministry and the headquarters of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service.
    On Saturday at least one person died during protests in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, state news agency SUNA said without providing detail on the cause of death.
    The person killed was a laboratory doctor who succumbed to his injuries, according to a statement from an opposition doctors’ committee.    Medical staff have played a prominent role in the protests.
    SUNA said other civilians and police officers were wounded on Saturday in Omdurman, the scene of protests late into the evening that subsided by Sunday morning.
    The sit-in outside the compound appeared to mirror 2011 Arab Spring protests, in which demonstrators in Cairo and other Arab capitals camped out in public squares for days to demand a change in rule.
    Police and security forces on Saturday blocked all bridges leading to the capital’s center from Khartoum North and Omdurman, across the River Nile to the north and west respectively, in what appeared to be a bid to prevent the sit-in from swelling.
    They remained closed on Sunday, causing major traffic jams. Hundreds of people were crossing into Khartoum from Omdurman via Victory Bridge by foot on Sunday morning, a Reuters witness said, as cars stood at a standstill for hours.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba and Lena Masri; Editing by Sami Aboudi, Raissa Kasolowsky, David Goodman and Lisa Shumaker)

4/7/2019 Erdogan’s AK Party to seek recount of all Istanbul votes by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is greeted by his supporters as he leaves a mosque after the Friday
prayers in Istanbul, Turkey April 5, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party is seeking a full recount of all votes cast in local elections in Istanbul, a senior party official said on Sunday, a week after initial results showed a narrow victory for Turkey’s main opposition party.
    The AKP is reeling from its apparent loss of the mayoralties of Istanbul and the capital Ankara, both cities which the party and its Islamist predecessors have dominated for a quarter of a century.    Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s before emerging as national leader.
    His party has already appealed the initial results in all 39 districts of the city of 15 million people, leading to partial or full recounts across Turkey’s largest city.
    So far the initial lead held by Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate for the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), has narrowed from 25,000 immediately after the vote to a little over 16,000 after 70 percent of the recounts were completed.
    With both Imamoglu and his rival, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, securing more than 4.1 million votes, the margin of victory is likely to be extremely slim, but Imamoglu has said the appeals and recounts will not change the outcome.
    AKP deputy party chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said there was “organized misconduct” in the original count, and the party will appeal to the High Election Body (YSK), the final arbiter on electoral disputes, for all Istanbul votes to be recounted.
    “We chose the path to eliminate numerical mistakes.    But it’s not over,” he told reporters in televised comments on Sunday.
PAINFUL LOSS
    The losses in Ankara and Istanbul, if confirmed, would be especially painful for Erdogan, who campaigned relentlessly for the local elections.
    For most of his 16 years in power he has overseen strong economic growth, largely supported by a construction boom funded with cheap debt, which has won backing for the AKP beyond its base of pious, conservative Turks.
    But sharp falls in the lira have tipped the economy into recession, eroding some support in the buildup to the vote.
    Erdogan’s party, which together with its nationalist MHP ally won more than 51 percent of the countrywide vote for local offices on March 31, says its overall performance was a victory.    But that is scant compensation for losing the main cities.
    Spokesman Omer Celik said on Saturday the party would accept the final verdict of the YSK.    “Whoever is declared winner by High Election Board, we will accept that,” he told reporters.
    Speaking shortly after Yavuz announced the AKP’s latest appeal, Imamoglu said it was time for the party to accept defeat.    He also promised “to reconcile this city” and to work closely with the president.
    “I understand the feeling of defeat of the people who demanded a recount,” Imamoglu said.    “You managed this city for 25 years.    It is not easy, you lost.    But democracy is like that – democracy is not a one-way path.”
(Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)

4/8/2019 Battle for Libyan capital intensifies, deaths rise by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
A Member of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, prepares himself to
go to the front line in Tripoli, Libya April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces tried to push toward the center of Tripoli on Monday after their easy desert advance hit a tougher urban phase, with deaths and displacements mounting despite Western appeals for a truce and a return to a peace plan.
    Renewed war in Libya – splintered since Muammar Gaddafi’s 2011 fall – threatens to disrupt oil and gas supplies, trigger more migration to Europe, and wreck U.N. hopes for an election.
    The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar, a former officer in Gaddafi’s army, said 19 of their soldiers had died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
    The United Nations said 2,800 people had been displaced by clashes and many more could flee, though some were trapped.
    The LNA has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance into the center from a disused airport.
    But the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has armed groups arriving from nearby Misrata to help block the LNA.
    It reported 11 deaths without saying on which side.
    Al-Serraj, 59, who comes from a wealthy business family, has run the Tripoli government since 2016 as part of a U.N.-brokered deal boycotted by Haftar.
PEACE MOVES IN DISARRAY
    His LNA, allied with a parallel eastern administration based in Benghazi, took the oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before its surprisingly fast push toward the coastal capital.
    While that advance was straightforward through sparsely populated areas, taking Tripoli is a far bigger challenge.
    The violence has thrown into disarray a U.N. plan for an April 14-16 conference to plan elections as a way out of the anarchy that has gripped Libya since the Western-backed toppling of Gaddafi eight years ago.
    The European Union joined the United Nations, United States and G7 bloc in calling for a ceasefire, a halt to Haftar’s advance and return to political negotiations.
    A contingent of U.S. forces evacuated at the weekend.
    The U.N. mission to Libya called on Sunday for a truce for two hours in southern Tripoli to evacuate civilians and wounded, but it did not appear to have been heeded.
    Haftar casts himself as a foe of extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, whose four-decade rule saw torture, disappearances and assassinations.
    Forces with the Tripoli government have announced an operation to defend the capital called “Volcano of Anger.”
    Allied groups from Misrata along the coast have been moving pickup trucks fitted with machine guns into Tripoli.
TRANSIT POINT
    The LNA says it has 85,000 men, but this includes soldiers paid by the central government that it hopes to inherit.    Its elite force, Saiqa (Lightning), numbers some 3,500, while Haftar’s sons also have well-equipped troops, LNA sources say.
    Since NATO-backed rebels ousted Gaddafi, Libya has been a transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hope of reaching Europe across the sea.
    Islamic State staged some high profile attacks in Tripoli last year, but the militant group has largely retreated to the desert of southern Libya since the loss of its former stronghold in Sirte late in 2016.
    France, which has close links to Haftar, said it had no prior warning of his push for Tripoli and denied it was secretly undermining the peace process, a diplomatic source said.
    France established close relations with Haftar under the Socialist government of Francois Hollande and his defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
    When President Emmanuel Macron named Le Drian his foreign minister, Paris doubled down in its support to Haftar, in close alignment with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.
    France’s stance has created tensions with Italy, which has sought to play a leading role to end the turmoil, which has allowed Islamist militants and migrant smugglers to flourish
.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing in Cairo, Tom Miles in Geneva, Diane Bartz in Washington, Robin Emmott in Luxembourg, Marine Pennetier in Paris; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/8/2019 Erdogan says margin too small for opposition to claim Istanbul win
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media in Istanbul, Turkey April 5, 2019.
Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday the margin of votes between Istanbul’s top two candidates was too small for the opposition to have claimed victory, as his ruling party seeks a full recount to deal with what he called “organized crime.”
    Last week’s initial results showed a narrow mayoral victory for Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the March 31 municipal elections.
    Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) had appealed the initial results in all 39 districts of Istanbul, leading to partial or full recounts across Turkey’s largest city, which has some 10 million voters.    On Sunday AKP said it sought a full recount.
    “The citizens are telling us to protect their rights, they are complaining of organized crimes.    And we, as political parties, have determined such organized crimes,” Erdogan told a press conference in Istanbul.
    Erdogan’s AKP is reeling from its apparent loss of Istanbul and the capital Ankara, both cities which the party and its Islamist predecessors have dominated for a quarter of a century. Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s before emerging as national leader.
    Erdogan said he would only accept the result when the High Electoral Board (YSK) has processed all the appeals.
    “Nobody has the right to get in an election victory mood in a city of 10 million voters with a margin of 13,000-14,000,” he said.    “When the appeals have been completed, we will accept the result.”
    So far the initial lead held by Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate for the secularist CHP, has narrowed from 25,000 immediately after the vote to a little less than 16,000 after more than 90 percent of the recounts were completed.
    Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu warned of election security and called on the YSK to be impartial, saying that Erdogan’s request for a full recount lacked a reasonable justification.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)
[SORE LOSER!!!!.].

4/8/2019 Israeli election: Far-right, pro-cannabis libertarian may be kingmaker by Maayan Lubell
Moshe Feiglin, leader of Zehut, an ultra-nationalist religious party, poses for a selfie with supporters at an election
campaign event in Tel Aviv, Israel April 2, 2019. Picture taken April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Corinna Kern
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – His political platform might be just a pipe dream – a heady mix of pot legalization and biblical temple reconstruction – but far-right candidate Moshe Feiglin could be a kingmaker in Israel’s election on Tuesday.
    Drawing support from alienated young voters, Feiglin’s new Zehut party has surged in the polls, which predict it could capture up to six of parliament’s 120 seats and perhaps tip the balance in coalition-building that will follow the ballot.
    No single party has ever won a ruling majority on its own in Israel.    Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud nor his main challenger, centrist Benny Gantz of Blue and White, have public assurances from Zehut that it will be on their side when they try to form a government.
    Feiglin has said that his conditions to both men are the legalization of cannabis and control of the finance ministry, where he wants to cut corporate taxes and eliminate customs duties.
    Once a member of Likud who unsuccessfully challenged Netanyahu for its leadership, the libertarian Feiglin, 56, has showcased free markets and marijuana, with his plan for the Palestinians taking a back seat.
    His far-right policies call for annexation of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, paid incentives to Palestinians to emigrate – and eventual construction of a third Jewish temple at the Jerusalem holy site where two biblical temples once stood.
    The compound, revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is home to the Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and one of the most sensitive venues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    “My solution is justice because this is the land of Israel, not the land of Ishmael – (it is) the land of the Jewish people,” he told Reuters.
MARIJUANA PLEDGE CHARMS YOUNG VOTERS
    But it is the candidate’s push for legalization of recreational marijuana that appears to have lit a fire under many young voters in Israel, where pot smoking is popular.
    “One of his big agendas is the legalization, a free market and liberalization in general.    I can’t tell you I went over every line in his platform, I left that to my dad,” said Ofir Avisar, 22, who works at a cigarette stand in a Jerusalem shopping mall.
    Others are drawn by Feiglin’s vision of small government.
    “The cannabis is a small part of his charm,” said 27-year-old Uriya Peled, a teacher who came to a bar in Rishon Lezion, a town near Tel Aviv, to hear Feiglin speak.    “I don’t consider myself right, left or center, I just want liberty.”
    Critics have cast Feiglin as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, using the popular pot platform to get votes from bleary-eyed youngsters in order to promote an extremist agenda.
    “Joints on the Temple Mount,” was how the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz headlined a recent editorial condemning Feiglin’s “ridiculous dreams of liberty and cannabis” and his “ultranationalist and dangerous vision.”
    Feiglin appears to be reveling in his new-found appeal.
    Days before the election, the bearded and bespectacled candidate emerged on an on-line comedy show, where he reclined on a sofa and slugged back some whisky as he and its host punched and massaged each other’s bare feet.
    “They’re not morons,” Feiglin, referring to his supporters, told Channel 12’s Meet the Press on Saturday.    “A new generation has risen in Israel that wants its liberty and is very intelligent, and it’s not the cannabis that is attracting them.”
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Rami Amichai and Ron Bousso; Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)

4/8/2019 Israel’s election: first the vote, then the kingmaking
A man holds a Likud election campaign poster depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he stands
behind a stall at Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis vote in a parliamentary election on Tuesday, choosing among party lists of candidates to serve in the 120-seat Knesset.
    No party has won a majority of seats since Israel’s first election in 1949.    Following are questions and answers about the vote and what sort of coalition negotiations could emerge:
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER POLLS CLOSE?
    Israel’s major television stations and news websites issue exit polls when voting ends at 10 p.m.    (1900 GMT) on Tuesday, estimating how many parliamentary seats each party has won, and then the coalition calculations begin.
WHO’S AHEAD IN OPINION POLLS?
    Final polls in the campaign, on Friday, showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had fallen behind his main challenger, centrist Benny Gantz, but still has an easier path to form a government that would keep him in power for a record fifth term.
HOW DOES COALITION-BUILDING WORK?
    Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, consults with the leaders of every party represented in parliament as to their preference for prime minister, and then chooses the legislator who he believes has the best chance of putting together a coalition.    The nominee, who does not necessarily have to be the head of the party that won the most votes, has up to 42 days to form a government before the president asks another politician to try.
WHAT SORT OF COALITION COULD BE FORMED?
Netanyahu will likely seek a coalition, similar to his current government, with ultranationalist and Jewish Orthodox parties. Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White Party, will likely win the support of center-left and left-wing parties, but polls predict he will fall short of a governing majority in parliament.
WHAT ARE THE UNEXPECTED FACTORS TO WATCH?
    A far-right politician, Moshe Feiglin, has been drawing unexpectedly strong support, opinion polls show, with a libertarian platform advocating the legalization of marijuana, free market policies and annexation of the occupied West Bank.    He could be a kingmaker.
    In Israeli politics, a “unity government” can never be ruled out if the path to a right- or center-left-led coalition proves difficult – even though Gantz has pledged not to serve with Netanyahu, citing corruption allegations against the Likud party leader, who has denied those accusations.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/8/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan to discuss possible operation in Syria with Putin: RIA
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is greeted by his supporters as he leaves a mosque after the Friday prayers
in Istanbul, Turkey April 5, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he planned to discuss a possible Turkish military operation in Syria when he visits Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
    Erdogan has vowed to crush U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters east of the Euphrates in Syria and said last year that preparations were complete for an operation.
    Turkey, Washington’s main Muslim ally within NATO, considers Syria’s YPG Kurdish militia an enemy and has already intervened to sweep the fighters from territory west of the Euphrates in military campaigns over the past two years.
    “Our preparations on the border are finished, everything is ready for an operation.    We can begin it at any moment.    I will discuss this issue among others face-to-face (with Putin) on my visit to Russia,” Erdogan was cited as saying.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin and Christian Lowe; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/8/2019 Saudi Arabia says May will be key to decide on extending oil supply cuts by Rania El Gamal and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih speaks during the Saudi-India Forum
in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – The Saudi energy minister on Monday said it was premature to say whether a consensus existed among OPEC and its allies to extend oil supply cuts but a meeting next month would be key.
    A joint OPEC and non-OPEC ministerial committee known as the JMMC is due to meet in May.    Saudi Arabia and Russia are members of the panel, which includes other major oil producers that took part in a global supply-cutting agreement last year, such as Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Nigeria and Kazakhstan.
    “JMMC will be a key decision point because we will certainly by then know where the consensus view is and, more importantly, before we ask for consensus, we will know where the fundamentals are pointing,” said Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih.
    “I think May is going to be key,” he added.
    Oil inventories remain higher than average but the market is on its way toward rebalancing, Falih said.
    “I don’t think we will need (to do more) … the market is on its way toward balance.    We have done a lot more than others,” he added, referring to the possibility of Saudi Arabia cutting output further below its target under the global deal.
    “We are getting to a stage where inventories are starting to stabilize and come down but still significantly above what I would consider a normal level.”
    Russia, which is cutting oil output in tandem with OPEC, also said production cuts would stay in place at least until June, when Washington’s next steps on reducing Iranian and Venezuelan oil exports become clearer.
NO CHANGE IN TRADING CURRENCY
    The United States has been increasing its own crude exports steeply and U.S. President Donald Trump has been pressing OPEC to lower the oil price by boosting production.
    U.S. policies targeting Iran and Venezuela have introduced a new level of uncertainty for OPEC as the producer group struggles to predict global supply and demand.    Washington is also advancing a bill, known as NOPEC, that could expose OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits.
    The NOPEC move prompted Saudi Arabia to threaten to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes the bill, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy told Reuters last week.
    However, the kingdom’s energy ministry on Monday said the report was “inaccurate” and does not reflect its position on the matter.
    “The Kingdom has been trading its oil in dollars for decades, which has served the objectives of its financial and monetary policies well,” the ministry said in a statement.
    It added that Saudi Arabia would not risk its key policy priority — as a stabilizing force for global energy markets — through a fundamental change to the financial terms of oil trading in its relationships around the world.
    Falih also told reporters at an oil event in Riyadh that there was no change to the kingdom’s policy of trading oil in U.S. dollars.
    “Absolutely not.    There is no change whatsoever to our long-standing policy,” Falih said.
    The United Arab Emirates’ energy minister, Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, also said that the use of the dollar as the main oil-trading currency could not be changed overnight.
(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Dale Hudson and David Goodman)

4/8/2019 Sudanese army blocks attempt to disperse protesters: witnesses by Khalid Abdelaziz
Anti-government demonstrators rally outside the defence ministry in Khartoum, Sudan, in this still image
taken from a video obtained by Reuters, April 8, 2019. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese soldiers intervened to protect several thousand demonstrators calling for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s rule on Monday after security forces tried to break up the sit-in, witnesses and activists said.
    For the first time in some three months of unrest, a group of prominent opposition leaders joined protesters outside the defense ministry in Khartoum.    They addressed demonstrators who have been massed for two days outside the ministry compound and repeated their demand for Bashir and his government to step down immediately, witnesses said.
    The compound also includes Bashir’s residence and the secret service headquarters.
    The interior minister told parliament that six people had been killed on Saturday and Sunday in disturbances in the capital, and one in the western region of Darfur.
    Frequent protests have been staged in Sudan since December, when the government tried to raise bread prices, building into the most sustained challenge yet to Bashir, a former army general who came to power in a military coup in 1989.
    On Saturday, protesters marched toward the defense ministry hoping to deliver a memorandum urging the army to side with them.    They reached the ministry compound despite attempts by security forces to stop them, and set up a camp.
    Numbers outside the compound continued to grow on Monday despite the closure of all roads leading there, witnesses said.
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to “exercise utmost restraint and avoid violence,” and called for the release of detained protesters, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
WARNING SHOTS
    Early on Monday, witnesses and activists said riot police and secret service personnel charged the demonstrators with pickup trucks while firing tear gas, trying to disperse a crowd estimated at 3,000 men and women.
    But witnesses and activists said soldiers guarding the compound had come out to protect the demonstrators, firing warning shots in the air.
    The security forces retreated without firing back and soldiers deployed around the area, while demonstrators chanted “The army is protecting us” and “One people, one army,” witnesses said.    There were no immediate reports of casualties.
    Information Minister Hassan Ismail, who is also the government spokesman, contradicted the reports.
    “The crowd in front of the (military) general command has been cleared completely, in a way that resulted in no casualties among all parties.”
    Previous attempts by security forces have failed to disperse the protesters, who have vowed to stay until Bashir steps down.
    Addressing a meeting of military commanders, Bashir’s defense minister and vice president said security forces would not permit attempts to divide them, state news agency SUNA reported.
ECONOMIC CRISIS
    Bashir is wanted by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes in the western Darfur region, and demonstrators accuse him of presiding over years of repression and promoting policies that devastated the economy.
    The government denies any connection with atrocities in Darfur and blames U.S. sanctions for the economic hardships.
    Bashir has acknowledged that the protesters have legitimate demands but says they must be addressed peacefully, and through the ballot box.
    Security forces have used tear gas, stun grenades and mass arrests, and have sometimes fired live ammunition.
    Authorities have also blocked social media.    Facebook and WhatsApp, the most popular platforms in Sudan, have been inaccessible without a virtual private network since Sunday, residents said.
    In his address to parliament, Interior Minister Bishara Jumaa said 39 people had died since the onset of the protests, including three members of the security forces.
    He said 10,000 protesters had gathered outside the defense ministry compound on Saturday, the first time authorities had provided such a crowd estimate.
    Activists put the death toll at more than 60 since the protests began.    They chose Saturday for their march to coincide with the April 6 anniversary of a 1985 military coup that forced long-time autocrat Jaafar Nimeiri to step down after protests.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Catherine Evans)

4/9/2019 Israelis go to polls to decide on Netanyahu’s record reign by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks next to Likud party candidate, Nir Barkat as they visit Mahane Yehuda
Market a day ahead of Israeli national elections, in Jerusalem April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis began voting on Tuesday in an election that could hand right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record fifth term or see him dethroned by an ex-general who has pledged clean government and social cohesion.
    During the campaign leading up to polling day, the rival parties waged a vitriolic online battle, accusing each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security.
    Netanyahu’s closest rival in the campaign was Benny Gantz, a former chief of the armed forces.    Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party, which includes other former generals, has challenged Netanyahu’s hitherto unrivalled national security credentials.
    After an election eve visit to the Western Wall, Netanyahu, 69, voted at a polling station in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, accompanied by his wife, Sara.
    “This is truly the essence of democracy and we should be blessed with it,” he said, shaking hands with election officials and posing for selfies.    “With God’s help the State of Israel will prevail.    Thank you very much. Go to vote.”
    Casting his vote in Rosh Ha’ayin near Tel Aviv, Gantz, 59, said: “This is a day of hope, a day of unity.    I look into everyone’s eyes and know that we can connect.”
    After the election Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, will consult the leaders of every party represented in the Knesset and select the person he believes has the best chance of forming a government.
    Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) across the country and will close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT).
    But the victor may not be decided immediately.    No party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament, meaning days or even weeks of coalition negotiations lie ahead.
    One factor may be the turnout of voters from Israel’s 21 percent Arab minority.    Many were angered by Israel’s nation-state law, passed in 2018, which declared that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country.    Netanyahu supported the legislation.
    Voting in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Arab legislator Ayman Odeh, who heads the Hadash party, said that engagement was key to bringing about political changes that would benefit the Arab community.
    “We have to vote … we need to come in droves by train, bus, car and any other way to vote and make a crucial contribution to topple the right-wing government, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said.
    “It is very important that Arabs vote for the party that represents their values 100 percent, not 80 or 40 percent like other parties,” he said.    Some Arabs have indicated they will vote for left-wing or centrist Israeli parties instead of party lists dominated by Arab candidates.
    According to figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s roughly 9 million population included 1.9 million Arabs at the start of 2019.    Most were Muslims, Christians or Druze.    Jews made up 74.3 percent of the population.
OPINION DIVIDED
    Voting at a polling station in Rosh Ha’ayin near Tel Aviv, gynaecologist Yaron Zalel, 64, said he supported Gantz.
    “Netanyahu did a lot of great things for Israel, really, a lot of great things.    But he is 13 years in power and enough is enough,” he said.
    “He has had enough, he did enough.    Now when he feels his earth, the political earth, is shaking, he is destroying everything.    This has to be stopped.    I am here for my kids and the next generations.    There is no one who can’t be replaced.”
    Backing Netanyahu was another voter at the same polling station, Avi Gur, 65, a lecturer at Ariel University in a settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    “Very excited, very excited.    I hope that rightism will win,” he said, adding that the Likud leader was “the best prime minister there has ever been” in Israel.
    “We are leading in high tech, we are leading in security, we are leading in the economy now.    That’s good.”
    In Jerusalem, Ronza Barakat, a librarian belonging to Israel’s Arab minority, said she backed the left-wing Meretz party.
    “I voted for them hoping for change, a change in the racism that exists here,” she said.    “We live together in a place of peace, why should hate exist between people?
    With little policy daylight between the two main candidates on issues such as Iran and relations with the Palestinians, much of the voting will be guided by judgments on character and personality.
CAMPAIGN RHETORIC
    Netanyahu casts himself as the victim of media bias and judicial overreach, Gantz as a salve for Israel’s religiously and ethnically riven society and its ties with liberal Jews abroad.
    But the distinctions between the leading parties in Israel were not as clear as they were in past decades, said Nabil Shaath, a veteran adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
    “There were times when elections were important,” he said on Monday.    “But now, what are you talking about?    It’s the right, and then further to the right and then the extreme right and then further to the extreme right.    There is really no left left is Israel.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Rosh Ha’ayin; Ron Bousso and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad in Haifa; Rahaf Ruby and Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem; Editing by Larry King)

4/9/2019 Heavy gunfire heard at protest in Sudan’s capital: live TV
People protest near the defence ministry building in Khartoum, Sudan, in this still image taken from
a social media video obtained on April 9, 2019. Courtesy Sudan Congress Party/via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Heavy gunfire was heard at a protest outside the defense ministry in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Tuesday, live broadcast by Arab TV stations showed, and activists said that security forces were trying to break up the protest by force.
    Activists said in a statement posted on social media that army soldiers guarding the ministry were trying to protect the demonstrators and opened the gates of the compound to give sanctuary.
    Both Al-Hadath TV and Al Jazeera broadcast live footage in which heavy gunfire was heard and people were seen running for cover.    They said it was an attempt by security forces to disperse the demonstrators.
    There were reports that at least two government soldiers were killed, but it was not immediately possible to verify.
    Sudan has been rocked by months of small but persistent protests that were sparked by bread price rises and cash shortages.    The demonstrations later turned against President Omar al-Bashir, a former paratrooper who had been in office since 1989.
    Bashir, who is being sought by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes in the country’s western Darfur region, has refused to step down and said his opponents needed to seek power through the ballot box.
    The protests escalated on Saturday, when activists, trying to push the country’s armed forces to side with them, marched towards a compound in the center of the capital housing the defense ministry as well as Bashir’s residence and the country’s security headquarters and camped out there.
    Activists said they chose Saturday for their march to coincide with the April 6 anniversary of a 1985 military coup that forced long-time autocrat Jaafar Nimeiri to step down after protests.
CALL FOR RESTRAINT
    Security forces have made several attempts to break up the protest, but army soldiers have repeatedly come out to protect the demonstrators, often firing shots in the air and deploying soldiers on streets around the protesters.
    The interior minister, Bishara Jumaa, told parliament on Monday that six people had been killed on Saturday and Sunday in disturbances in the capital, and one in the western region of Darfur.
    He also said that 15 civilians and 42 members of the security forces were injured in the protests and that 2,496 protesters were arrested in Khartoum.
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged all parties in Sudan to “exercise utmost restraint and avoid violence,” and called for the release of detained protesters, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
    Jumaa said 39 people had died since the onset of the protests, including three members of the security forces.
    Activists put the death toll at more than 60.
    For the first time in some three months of unrest, a group of prominent opposition leaders joined protesters outside the defense ministry in Khartoum.
    They addressed demonstrators who have been massed for two days outside the ministry compound and repeated their demand for Bashir and his government to step down immediately, witnesses said.
(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Michael Perry)

4/9/2019 Tripoli hospitals report 47 dead in recent fighting: U.N.
A crater is seen at the blast site after an air strike at Mitiga airport in Tripoli, Libya April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI/GENEVA (Reuters) – Health facilities near Tripoli have reported 47 people killed and 181 wounded in recent days as eastern forces seek to take Libya’s capital from an internationally-recognized government, the United Nations’ health body said on Tuesday.
    The renewed conflict in a nation splintered since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi also risks depleting medical supplies, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned.
    The death toll – higher than that given by either side yet – appeared to be mainly fighters, although it also included some civilians including two doctors, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a Geneva news briefing.
    The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar – a former general in Gaddafi’s army – seized largely-desert southern Libya earlier this year before heading to the coastal capital this month, where they are ensconced on the south side.
    The United Nations, United States, European Union and G7 block have all appealed for a ceasefire and a return to U.N. peace plan, but Haftar has so far not heeded them.
    A warplane took out Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Monday, and the number of displaced – 3,400 at the last U.N. count – is mounting alongside the casualties.
    The conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration to Europe and scupper hopes for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in east and west.
    U.N. officials said they were concerned that civilians could be used as human shields or forcibly recruited to fight.
    “The people of Libya have long been caught between numerous warring parties, with some of the most vulnerable suffering some of the gravest violations of their human rights,” U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said.
    “I appeal to all sides to come together to avoid further senseless violence and bloodshed.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/9/2019 Algeria’s parliament appoints Abdelkader Bensalah interim president
FILE PHOTO: Algeria's Senate President Abdelkader Bensalah waits for the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron
at Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers, Algeria December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s parliament appointed on Tuesday its upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president following the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after weeks of mass protests against his rule.
    Protesters, who are demanding sweeping democratic reforms, are opposed to figures like Bensalah, a close associate of Bouteflika and his inner circle who dominated Algeria for decades.
    Upon stepping down last week, Bouteflika promised that elections would be held after 90 days as part of a transition he said would usher in a new era.
    As per the Algerian constitution, Bensalah will remain interim president until new elections are held.
    “We must work to allow the Algerian people elect their president as soon as possible,” Bensalah told parliament.
(Reporting By Hamid Oul Ahmed, Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Michael Georgy and Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/9/2019 Battle rages for Libya’s capital, airport bombed by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
A Member of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, prepares himself to go
to the front line in Tripoli, Libya April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – A warplane attacked Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Monday as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregarded international appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011.
    Casualties were mounting in fighting that also threatens to disrupt oil supplies, fuel migration to Europe and wreck U.N. plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in the country’s east and west.
    The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar – a former general in Gaddafi’s army – said 19 of its soldiers died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
    A spokesman for the Tripoli-based Health Ministry said fighting in the south of the capital had killed at least 25 people, including fighters and civilians, and wounded 80.
    Mitiga airport, in an eastern suburb, was bombed and closed, authorities said.    The U.N. envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, condemned the air strike as a “a serious violation of humanitarian law.”
    A spokesman for the LNA confirmed the strike, saying his force had not targeted civilian planes, only a MiG parked at Mitiga.
    The closure left Misrata airport, 200 km (125 miles) to the east down the coast, as the closest option for Tripoli residents.
    Haftar’s LNA, which backs the eastern administration in Benghazi, took the oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before advancing fast through largely unpopulated desert regions toward Tripoli.
    Seizing the capital, however, is a much bigger challenge.    The LNA has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance along a road from a disused former international airport.
    Witnesses said on Monday afternoon the LNA had lost control of the old airport and withdrawn from positions on the airport road.    Forces allied to the Tripoli administration were seen inside the airport, while clashes with the eastern forces were raging south of the airport, a Reuters reporter at the scene and residents said.
    On Sunday evening, LNA forces had moved up from the airport, coming as close as 11 km (7 miles) from the city center before retreating, residents said.
MACHINE GUNS ON PICKUPS
    The government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, 59, is seeking to block the LNA with the help of allied armed groups who have rushed to Tripoli from Misrata in pickup trucks fitted with machine guns.
    A Reuters correspondent in the city center could hear gunfire in the distance southwards.
    Serraj has run Tripoli since 2016 as part of a U.N.-brokered deal boycotted by Haftar.
    U.N. envoy Salame met Serraj in Tripoli on Monday to discuss “ways the U.N. can assist with this critical and difficult juncture,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
    Dujarric said 3,400 people had been displaced by violence in and around Tripoli, emergency services had been blocked from reaching casualties and civilians, and electricity lines had been damaged.
    “We’re calling for a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and a voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded, from the areas of conflict,” Dujarric said.
    The violence has jeopardized a U.N. plan for an April 14-16 conference to plan elections and end anarchy that has prevailed since the Western-backed toppling of Gaddafi.
    As well as the United Nations, the European Union, United States and G7 bloc have all urged a ceasefire, a halt to Haftar’s advance and return to negotiations.
    Haftar casts himself as a foe of extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mold of Gaddafi, whose four-decade rule was marked by torture, disappearances and assassinations.
AND MILITANTS
    Since NATO-backed rebels ousted Gaddafi, Libya has been a transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hope of reaching Europe across the sea.
    Migrants and refugees held in detention are especially vulnerable in the current fighting, said aid agencies MSF (Doctors without Borders) and the International Rescue Committee.
    The LNA says it has 85,000 men, but this includes soldiers paid by the central government that it hopes to inherit.    Its elite Saiqa (Lightning) force, numbers some 3,500, while Haftar’s sons also have well-equipped troops, LNA sources say.
    Analysts say Haftar has swelled his ranks with Salafist fighters and tribesmen as well as Chadians and Sudanese from over the southern borders, claims dismissed by the LNA.
    France, which has close links to Haftar, said it had no prior warning of his push for Tripoli, a diplomatic source said.
    France established close relations with Haftar under the Socialist government of former President Francois Hollande and his defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
    When President Emmanuel Macron named Le Drian his foreign minister, Paris increased support for Haftar, in close alignment with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.
    France’s stance has created tensions with Italy, which has sought a leading role to end the turmoil in its former colony.
    Serraj received a phone call from Macron on Monday, the Tripoli-based government said, adding they discussed security developments.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Additional reporting by Hani Amara in Tripoli, Ulf Laessing in Cairo, Tom Miles in Geneva, Robin Emmott in Luxembourg, Marine Pennetier in Paris and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Alison Williams and Catherine Evans)

4/9/2019 Algeria’s interim president rejected by protesters by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
Police officers use water cannon to disperse people protesting after parliament appointed upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah
as interim president following the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s interim president was quickly rejected by thousands of protesters on Tuesday after he was named by parliament to take charge during a volatile transition period after decades of autocratic rule.
    Replacing long-serving leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned last week, Abdelkader Bensalah is seen by protesters part of an ailing and out-of-touch ruling caste that has dominated since independence from France in 1962.
    A long-time Bouteflika ally, Bensalah has been re-elected as leader of the upper house since the early 2000s
.
    “Appointing Bensalah will fuel anger and it could radicalize the protesters,” said taxi driver Hassen Rahmine as crowds gathered in central Algiers.
    At one point, police briefly turned water cannon to disperse protesters.
    Mass protests have led to the disintegration of what has been described as the ruling elite’s “fortress” – veterans of the war of independence against France, ruling party figures, businessmen, the army and labor unions.
    But Algerians have been pushing for more radical change since Bouteflika’s allies abandoned him in the weeks leading up to his resignation last week.
    They are unwilling to compromise in their demand for a new generation of leaders in the North African country, which has failed to create jobs and improve living standards despite vast oil and natural gas resources.
    “You go means you go,” read banners at the protest in central Algiers, which ended in the late afternoon.
CRITICAL QUESTION
    The critical question is how Algeria’s military – long seen as a highly effective backstage player in politics – will react to Bensalah’s appointment and any opposition that arises.
    “I thank the army and all security services for their work,” Bensalah told parliament after his appointment.
    Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gaid Salah carefully managed Bouteflika’s exit after declaring him unfit to stay in power and expressed support for protesters, who have put up little resistance to the military.
    Hours after parliament made its choice, Salah said the military will do more to ensure peace for the Algerian people, the state news agency APS reported.
    “All in all, the way in which the vacancy of the Presidency of the Republic has been filled does not bring our country closer to the end of the crisis,” said Ali Benflis, leader of the opposition Talae El Houriyet party.
    On stepping down, Bouteflika promised that elections would be held after 90 days as part of a transition to usher in a new era.
    According to the Algerian constitution, Bensalah will remain interim president until new elections are held.
    “We must work to allow the Algerian people to elect their president as soon as possible,” Bensalah told parliament.
    Out of a total of 604 MPS, only 470 lawmakers attended today’s meeting.
    “By maintaining the old guard like Bensalah, the system will be responsible for any bad consequences.    We will not give in,” said student protester Djilali Chemime, 27.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Giles Elgood)
[Its the old statement out with the old boss and in with the new boss which is the same as the old boss.].

4/9/2019 Erdogan’s AKP to seek fresh vote in Istanbul, citing irregularities by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by Vice President Fuat Oktay and
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, talks during a news confrence at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey
April 8, 2019. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) will demand a new vote in Istanbul, a senior party official said on Tuesday after its bid was rejected for a citywide recount of March 31 election results that appeared to hand the party defeat.
    Initial results show the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) narrowly won control of Turkey’s biggest city in the mayoral elections, seemingly bringing an end to the 25-year rule there by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors.
    Since the vote, the AKP has filed a series of requests for recounts in the city. Overnight, the High Election Board (YSK) rejected a request to recount all votes across 31 of Istanbul’s districts, the party’s representative at the YSK said.
    The YSK agreed only to a recount of 51 ballot boxes, spread across 21 of the city’s total 39 districts, but the AKP called this decision “unfathomable.”
    Speaking to reporters in Istanbul, AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said his party would file an extraordinary appeal to the YSK for a fresh vote in Istanbul over what he said were irregularities that directly impacted the outcome.
    “We will file our extraordinary appeal today. We will say that there have been events that directly impacted the outcome of the elections and that we demand the renewal of the elections in Istanbul,” Yavuz said.    He later tweeted that the appeal could happen “in coming days.”
    He said if the YSK rejected the party’s appeal to renew the votes, doubt over the elections would remain until the next mayoral elections are due in five years.
    Erdogan said on Monday the local elections were marred by “organized crime” at ballot boxes in Istanbul, raising the possibility of re-running the vote in the city of some 15 million residents.
    Erdogan’s comments, his strongest challenge yet to the election process in Istanbul, briefly drove the lira down and also weighed on Turkish stocks.    The lira was steady at 5.6850 to the dollar on Tuesday.
    In Istanbul, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu called on the YSK to finalize the election results as soon as possible and said the AKP was to blame for the uncertainty surrounding the vote.
    If they’re looking for the perpetrators, they should look in the mirror.    Look in the mirror if you want to see who is responsible for this,” he said.
‘SORE LOSERS’
    The loss in Istanbul, if confirmed, would be a setback for Erdogan’s efforts to pull Turkey out of recession.    He has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years on the back of stellar economic growth.
    To justify its calls for recounts and for a full re-run of the elections, the AKP said there were illegal appointments of representatives at ballot boxes and irregularities across the city.
    The CHP said the AKP’s appeals were unlawful.
    “You are complaining and appealing nonstop, and this shows one of two things.    Either you are so incompetent that you can’t even get an election right, or you are such sore losers that you can’t accept defeat,” CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak said.
    The YSK’s decision on the AKP’s appeal for a fresh vote in Istanbul will be final.    If rejected, the ongoing recounts across the city will be completed and the results finalised.
    If the appeal is accepted, the re-run of elections in Istanbul would be held on the first Sunday 60 days after the initial elections, which would be June 2.
    Erdogan’s party also lost the mayoralty in the capital Ankara to CHP candidate Mansur Yavas despite seeking recounts across the city.    Yavas received his mandate on Monday after the YSK upheld the initial results.
    Erdogan said the scale of irregularities his party had uncovered meant the margin of votes between Istanbul’s top two candidates, currently at less than 15,000 in a city of 10 million voters, was too narrow for the opposition to claim victory.
    However, his AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim had declared victory by some 3,000 votes in Istanbul on election night, before conceding that Imamoglu held a lead.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry)

4/9/2019 Trump praises Egypt’s Sisi despite concerns about human rights, Russian arms by Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in the Oval Office
at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump praised his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a “great president” on Tuesday despite U.S. lawmakers’ concerns about his record on human rights, efforts to keep him in office until 2034 and planned Russian arms purchases.
    Egypt’s parliament has proposed constitutional reforms aimed at allowing Sisi to remain in power until 2034, a move criticized by senior U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups who are also disturbed by Egypt’s repression of human rights.
    Asked if he backed the efforts to allow Sisi to potentially stay in power for another 15 years, Trump told reporters: “I think he’s doing a great job.    I don’t know about the effort, I can just tell you he is doing a great job … great president.”
    Sisi is a former general who came to power after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.    Sisi was elected president the following year.
    Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, is of strategic importance to the United States because of its peace treaty with Israel and its control of the Suez Canal, a vital waterway for global commerce as well as the U.S. military.
    The U.S. Congress has appropriated $1.4 billion in bilateral assistance for Egypt in the current fiscal year, the same amount provided the previous year, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
    While there continues to be support for aid to Egypt, members of Congress have voiced deep concerns about its reported signing of a $2 billion deal with Russia to buy more than 20 Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets and weapons for the aircraft.
    In a letter released on Monday, leading senators also said Egypt had “unjustly detained more than a dozen Americans,” called for their release, and raised “serious concerns about the erosion of political and human rights.”
    The letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was signed by the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican chairman Jim Risch, the panel’s senior Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez as well as 15 other senators.
    “We are concerned (about) their deepening relationship with Russia, which also includes the loan that Moscow has provided to construct the nuclear power plant at Dabaa,” it said, referring to a 4,800 megawatt plant aimed to be in service by 2026.
    The senators asked Pompeo to request that Sisi “reevaluate these decisions, which risk making his country a Russian dependency once again.”
    Egypt and the Soviet Union were close allies until the 1970s, when Cairo moved closer to the United States, which brokered its 1979 peace deal with Israel.
    Trump did not directly address the issue of Egypt’s planned Russian arms purchase.    He said “a lot of progress has been made … in terms of terrorism and other things with Egypt.”
    “We’ve never had a better relationship, Egypt and the United States, than we do right now,” Trump added as the two men spoke to reporters before meeting in the White House Oval Office.
    “All the credit goes to you, Mister President,” Sisi responded through an interpret.    “Thank you very much for your support on all fronts.”
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Roberta Rampton, Mohammad Zargham and Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Bill Berkrot)

4/9/2019 Dozens killed, including 2 doctors at health facilities near Tripoli by OAN Newsroom
    The death toll continues to rise in Libya, where attacks have killed more than 45 people in the last few days.
    The most recent attacks reportedly happened at health care facilities near Tripoli. At least two doctors are among the dead, while more than 180 others have been injured.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) said dozens of strikes have been recorded across Libya since last year.
    “We reiterate that targeting health care workers and health facilities is against the international humanitarian law,” stated Tarik Jasarevic of the WHO.
    The organization is asking for emergency donations to help replenish medical supplies.
    While fighting near the capital continues, a United Nations envoy said he does not see a peace conference taking place as scheduled next week.
    “Intentionally targeting civilians or civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks may amount to war crimes,” said Ravina Shamdasani, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A U.S. amphibious hovercraft departs with evacuees from Janzur, west of Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, April 7, 2019. The United States says
it has temporarily withdrawn some of its forces from Libya due to deteriorating security conditions. The pullout comes as a Libyan commander’s
forces advanced toward the capital of Tripoli and clashed with rival militias. A small contingent of American troops has been in Libya in
recent years helping local forces combat Islamic State and al-Qaida militants and protecting diplomatic facilities. (AP Photo/Mohammed Omar Aburas)

4/10/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu wins reelection with parliamentary majority: tally by Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell
A Bedouin man casts his ballot as Israelis vote in a parliamentary election, at a polling station
in the city of Rahat in Israel's southern Negev Desert April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a clear path to reelection on Wednesday, with religious-rightist parties set to hand him a parliamentary majority despite a close contest against his main centrist challenger, a vote tally showed.
    With more than 97 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party looked likely to muster enough support to control 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats and be named to head the next coalition government – a record fifth term as premier.
    The close and often vitriolic contest was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Netanyahu’s character and record in the face of corruption allegations.    He faces possible indictment in three graft cases, and has denied wrongdoing in all of them.
    Despite that, Netanyahu gained four seats compared to his outgoing coalition government, according to a spreadsheet published by the Central Elections Committee of parties that won enough votes to enter the next parliament.
    “It is a night of colossal victory,” the 69-year-old Netanyahu told cheering supporters in a late-night speech at Likud headquarters after Tuesday’s vote.
    “He’s a magician,” the crowd chanted as fireworks flared and Netanyahu kissed his wife Sara.
    Tel Aviv Stock Exchange main indexes opened up 0.5 percent on Wednesday, showing confidence in a prime minister who has overseen a humming economy and restrained security challenges.
    His challenger, the new Blue and White party of ex-general Benny Gantz, claimed a more modest victory after winning a 35-seat tie with Likud.    Unless he reverses on campaign pledges to shun Netanyahu, and joins him in a future broad coalition, Gantz looked destined to lead a center-left parliamentary opposition.
    “The skies may look overcast…but they cannot conceal the sun of hope that we have brought to the Israeli people and society,” Gantz, 59, wrote in an open letter to supporters.
    Should Netanyahu retain the helm, he will become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister in July, overtaking the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion.    That could be scuppered if criminal charges are filed and force his removal.
IMMUNITY?
    An indictment decision would follow a review hearing where Netanyahu can be expected to argue he should be spared, in the national interest.    Some political analysts predict he may try to pass a law granting himself immunity, as a sitting leader, from trial.
    During the campaign, the rival parties accused each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security.
Netanyahu highlighted his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, who delighted Israelis and angered Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city last May.
    Two weeks before the election, Trump signed a proclamation, with Netanyahu at his side at the White House, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
    In a rare turn during the race towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected.    Palestinians seek a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    Netanyahu’s pre-election promise was widely seen as an attempt to draw right-wing votes rather than a change of policy.    But with Trump’s moves on Jerusalem and The Golan, the prime minister may feel emboldened to advocate for annexation.
    Commenting on the election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: “Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo. They have said no to peace and yes to the occupation.”
    The last round of U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014.
    Trump is expected to release his administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan after the election.    If it includes Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s probable far-right coalition allies will likely object.
    Once the vote tally is final, President Reuven Rivlin will ask parties that have won parliamentary seats who they support for prime minister.    He will then pick a party leader to try to form a coalition, giving the candidate 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension if needed.
(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Rosh Ha’ayin, Ron Bousso and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad in Haifa, Rahaf Ruby, Stephen Farrell, Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/10/2019 Turkey says it will look elsewhere if U.S. won’t sell Patriots, F-35s by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO - A view shows a new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base outside
the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. Picture taken March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey warned on Wednesday that it could buy jets and additional air defense systems from Russia if it cannot get Patriot missile shields and F-35 jets from Washington, raising the prospect of ever deeper defense ties between Moscow and a NATO member.
    President Tayyip Erdogan’s existing plans to buy Russian S-400 missile defenses have already alarmed the United States, which says they are not compatible with NATO systems and would compromise the security of F-35 jets Turkey is due to receive.
    Washington has offered Ankara both carrot and stick in response, proposing to sell it the Raytheon Co. Patriot systems instead of the S-400s, while at the same time warning of sanctions and a halt in the F-35 fighter jet sales if the Russian deal goes ahead.
    Turkey has shown no sign of giving ground and Erdogan, who held talks with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week, was quoted on Wednesday as saying the July date for delivery of the first S-400s could even be brought forward.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also reiterated Turkey’s stance that the S-400 purchase was a done deal and that it would meet its defense needs from elsewhere if necessary.
    “If the United States is willing to sell, then we’ll buy Patriots.    However, if the United States doesn’t want to sell, we may buy more S-400s or other systems,” Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster NTV.
    “If the F-35s don’t work out, I will again have to procure the jets I need from elsewhere … There are (Russian) SU-34, SU-57 and others.    I will absolutely meet my needs from somewhere until I can produce it myself,” he said.
    Asked about Cavusoglu’s comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was looking for opportunities to broaden its military and technical cooperation with Turkey.    “This is an absolutely normal process,” he told reporters.
EITHER F-35s OR S-400s
    The F-35s stealth fighters are being built by Lockheed Martin Corp, but Turkish manufacturers are also involved in production, further complicating the fallout from any rupture between the two countries.
    Cavusoglu also said Turkey had not yet received a positive response from Washington over its proposal to form a joint working group which Ankara says would be able to demonstrate that deploying the S-400s would not pose a threat to F-35s.
    “The U.S. F-35s fly over Syria every day and there are S-400 systems there.    They pose no threats despite being systems that are completely under Russian control, so will they pose a risk when the are in Turkey’s control?” he said.
    On Tuesday, leaders of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees warned Turkey that it risked tough sanctions if it pursued plans to buy the S-400s.
    “By the end of the year, Turkey will have either F-35 advanced fighter aircraft on its soil or a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.    It will not have both,” Republican Senators Jim Risch and Jim Inhofe and Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Jack Reed said.
    The standoff over the S-400s purchase is one of several issues straining ties between the two NATO allies.    They have also disagreed on military strategy in northern Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of local U.S. consular staff.
    Speaking to reporters on his return flight from Russia, Erdogan said he and Cavusoglu were constantly being pressured to abandon it the S-400 deal.
    “We answer that ‘This deal is done, everything is settled.’    The delivery of the S-400 missile defense system was to be in July.    Maybe it can be brought forward,” Sabah newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Dominic Evans and Giles Elgood)

4/10/2019 Thousands flee Tripoli homes as battle rages on outskirts by Ahmed Elumami
A member of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, takes his position
near a military camp in Tripoli, Libya April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Eastern forces and troops loyal to the Tripoli government fought on the outskirts of Libya’s capital on Wednesday as thousands of residents fled from the battle.
    The Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar held positions in the suburbs about 11 km (7 miles) south of the center, with steel containers and pickups with mounted machine-guns blocking their way into the city.
    Residents reported LNA planes buzzing Tripoli and the sound of clashes in outskirts.    Haftar’s forces were engaging Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s fighters at the former international airport, one soldier told Reuters.
    The United Nations said at least 4,500 Tripoli residents had been displaced, most moving away from their homes in conflict areas to safer districts of the city.    Many more were trapped, it said.
    The LNA forces moved out of their stronghold in east Libya to take the sparsely-populated but oil-rich south earlier this year, before heading a week ago toward Tripoli, where the internationally-recognized government of sits.
    Libya has been split into rival eastern and western administrations since the 2011 topping of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi. He ruled for more than four decades before falling in a Western-backed revolt.
    Since then, political and armed factions have vied for power and control of Libya’s oil wealth, and the country split into rival eastern and western administrations linked to shifting military alliances after a battle for Tripoli in 2014.
    The United Nations wants to bring both sides together to plan an election and way out of the chaos.
I JUST WANT TO SURVIVE
    Its humanitarian agency the OCHA said it was extremely concerned about the “disproportionate and indiscriminate use” of explosive weapons in densely-populated areas.
    Half a million children were at risk, it added.
    As well as the humanitarian consequences, renewed conflict in Libya threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper the U.N. peace plan, and encourage militants to exploit the chaos.
    Islamic State killed three people in a remote desert town under LNA control two days ago.
    In Tripoli, nearly 50 people have died, mainly fighters but also some civilians including two doctors, according to latest U.N. casualty estimates.    The toll is expected to rise.
    Several thousand migrants, detained after trying to use Libya as a staging-point for crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, have also been caught up in the crisis.
    The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday it had relocated more than 150 of them – among several thousand in total – from one detention center in south Tripoli to a facility of its own in a safe zone.
    One official at that detention center said he flung open the doors on Wednesday and released another 150 migrants for their own safety due to the proximity of clashes.
    The United Nations, United States, European Union and G7 bloc have appealed for a ceasefire, a return to the U.N. peace plan, and a halt to Haftar’s push.
    Opponents cast him as a would-be dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, though Haftar projects himself as a champion against extremism pushing to restore order to Libya.
    Haftar was among officers who helped Gaddafi rise to power in 1969 but fell out with him during a war with Chad in the 1980s.    He was taken prisoner by the Chadians, rescued by the CIA, and lived for about 20 years in Virginia before returning in 2011 to join other rebels in the uprising against Gaddafi.
    Despite the flare-up in conflict, normal life was just about continuing in Tripoli, a city of roughly 1.2 million people, though prices were rising and businesses are closing earlier than usual, residents said.
    “I don’t care who wins or loses, I just want to survive with my family,” said a teacher in Tripoli, who hoped to get out.
(Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis i Cairo; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/10/2019 Algeria’s interior ministry allows 10 new political parties: Ennahar TV
Algerian upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah is pictured after being appointed as interim president by Algeria's
parliament, following the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s interior ministry has issued licenses for 10 new political parties, private Ennahar TV said on Wednesday, after a newly-appointed interim president vowed to organize free elections in the face of growing calls for democracy.
    Protesters in Algeria, a major oil and natural gas producer, have been demanding sweeping changes since unrest which erupted on Feb. 22 prompted long-serving, 82-year-old leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign.
    On Tuesday, parliament named upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah as caretaker president, a move swiftly rejected by protesters who say they cannot accept any figures from the old guard under the National Liberation Front (FLN) that has dominated Algeria since independence from France in 1962.
    Allowing new political parties suggests some flexibility by the Algerian authorities, who have faced weeks of protests demanding immediate steps to introduce democratic reforms including political pluralism.
    Bensalah said late on Tuesday he would organize elections that are expected to be held within 90 days.
    The military, which has held sway over Algerian politics from behind the scenes for decades, is expected to help guide a potentially volatile transition.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/10/2019 Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes hit Yemeni capital
A man stands at the site of an air strike in al-Jeraf neighbourhood of Sanaa, Yemen April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition carried out air strikes in Yemen against two Houthi targets in Sanaa, the capital, early on Wednesday, its spokesman said.
    The coalition said the strikes targeted a Houthi drone-manufacturing plant and a warehouse containing launch pads.    Residents said a house was also hit, but no casualties were reported.
    Saudi Arabia leads a Western-backed alliance of Yemeni and Arab forces that has been fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in neighboring Yemen since March 2015, after Houthi forces drove Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.    They are fighting to restore Hadi’s internationally recognized government.
    The Houthis, who say their revolution is against corruption, control Sanaa and most population centers.    The strikes hit the al-Jeraf neighborhood in north Sanaa.
    Houthi-run Masirah TV said a fire broke out in a plastics factory as a result of air strikes early on Wednesday.
    The U.N. has said that a blast in Sanaa near two schools on Sunday killed 14 children and injured more.
    “It was almost lunchtime and students were in class.    The blast shattered the windows and unleashed a burst of shrapnel and broken glass into the classrooms,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s Middle East head.
    It is unclear what caused the blast and U.N. Yemen aid coordinator Lise Grande called for efforts to pinpoint the circumstances “that led to this tragedy.”
    Yemen’s war has killed tens of thousands of people – some of them by coalition air strikes – and driven 10 million to the brink of famine.    The country is also suffering its third major outbreak of cholera since the conflict began.
    A peace process that began with a December agreement has stalled and, although a ceasefire largely holds in Hodeidah, Yemen’s main port, violence continues elsewhere and has escalated in recent weeks.
    The U.N. is trying to get the parties to pull troops out of Hodeidah and complete a prisoner exchange, two confidence- building measures which could pave the way for further talks.
(Reporting by Mohamed El-Sherif, writing by Lisa Barrington; editing by Sandra Maler, Michael Perry, Larry King)

4/10/2019 How Libya’s Haftar blindsided world powers with advance on Tripoli by Ulf Laessing
FILE PHOTO: Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, arrives to attend an international
conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Western diplomats sat down for three hours with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in his eastern stronghold last month to try to dissuade him from launching an offensive against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
    They urged him not to plunge the country into a civil war and told him he could become a successful civilian leader if he committed himself to pursuing a political settlement, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting outside Benghazi.
    But Haftar, a military strongman who critics describe as the new Muammar Gaddafi, paid them little heed, said the sources who spoke on condition the ambassadors were not identified.    He said he was prepared to negotiate with the prime minister, but if no power-sharing deal was reached, he could invade the capital.
    Two weeks later, on April 4, he sent troops from his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) streaming towards Tripoli – just at a time when U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the city to prepare for a national reconciliation conference this month which Guterres’ aides thought Haftar supported.
    For world powers including France, Italy and Britain, the general’s military campaign, the biggest in Libya since the 2011 uprising that deposed Gaddafi, represented a major setback.
    They had tried for years to co-opt Haftar, 75, into a political settlement that would stabilize the major oil and gas producer after almost a decade of conflict that had acted as a breeding ground for Islamist militancy.
    Even the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which have backed Haftar and see him as a bulwark against Islamists in north Africa, appear to have been surprised by his rapid advance.    A French diplomatic source said Paris, which has also aided the general, had no prior warning of the offensive.
    The diplomats’ calls for military restraint in the meeting last month had echoed those from other Western and U.N. envoys who had traveled to Haftar’s base outside the city of Benghazi in the preceding weeks, four separate diplomatic sources said.
    In a sign of how far the situation in Libya – and Haftar – was beyond their control, U.N. and Western envoys in daily contact with his camp about the conference had no idea he was about to launch the offensive, the four diplomatic sources said.
    Some even thought the general was bluffing.
    “These are just psycho games,” one U.N. official texted Reuters when the first LNA troops were spotted south of Tripoli.
    Some diplomats who had met Haftar many times and lobbied their governments to overlook his hardline comments – such as that Libya was not ready for democracy – despaired when it became clear he was committed to taking the city by force.
    “I’ve wasted almost two years on Haftar,” said one who met Haftar regularly.    “If the national conference doesn’t happen, it was for nothing.”
EGYPT, UAE, FRANCE
    Haftar, for his part, has been consistent in speeches and statements about his commitment to military force in his declared mission to restore order to the north African country and also dropped hints about ultimately ruling the country.     When he first announced his intentions in February 2014 he stood in front of a map of Libya, a somber-looking, gray-haired man wearing an immaculate army uniform, and vowed to stage a coup.
    Western countries left Libya after fighting in Tripoli in 2014, closing embassies and ending NATO training programs, before returning in 2016.
    Their period of absence opened the door for Arab countries such as Egypt and the UAE, which provided training and military assistance, according to reports from U.N. experts monitoring an arms embargo imposed on Libya in 2011, and diplomats.
    Haftar’s forces received aircraft as well as military vehicles from the UAE, which had also built up an air base at Al Khadim, allowing the LNA to gain air superiority by 2016, a U.N. report said in June 2017.
    But on the ground Haftar was struggling to make progress in his initial campaign launched in May 2014 against Islamist militants in Benghazi, which he dubbed “Operation Dignity.”    His heavy guns and aircraft flattened residential buildings but could not dislodge the foreign jihadists holed up in booby-trapped houses.
    It was at this point that France, which has oil assets in eastern Libya and is politically close to the UAE and Egypt, offered assistance, according to Libyan and French sources.
    In late 2015, Paris sent military advisers and special forces familiar in urban warfare who camped out at an air base near Benghazi, the sources said. The French assistance helped turn the tide and allowed him to declare victory in Benghazi in 2017, they added.
    Arab countries had recognized Haftar as Libya’s official army commander for years but France helped him gain further international legitimacy as his campaign progressed.
    In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron received Haftar and the U.N.-backed Libyan prime minister, Fayez al-Serraj, on the outskirts of Paris to try to persuade them to make a deal, which instantly upgraded the general’s diplomatic status.
    Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian see Haftar, much like Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, as a buffer against Islamist militants in north Africa, according to French officials.
    Le Drian has been to Libya three times in two years and on his last trip, on March 20, he saw Serraj in Tripoli and then traveled east to see Haftar to try to broker a detente.
    According to a French diplomatic source, when Haftar asked him why he hadn’t come for such a long time, Le Drian responded: “We were waiting for your victories.”
    He was referring to the general’s campaign to take the south of the country earlier this year, the source said.
    Following Haftar’s Tripoli advance, Egypt’s Sisi stressed the need for urgent international action to stop the situation deteriorating, without naming the LNA offensive.    The governments of France, Italy, the UAE, Britain and the United States said in a joint statement they were deeply concerned about the fighting.
    Le Drian told lawmakers on Tuesday that France feared more serious conflict, adding that Haftar and Serraj needed to agree on a ceasefire before resuming their dialogue.
    The UAE mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.N. reports of military aid to Haftar.    Egyptian officials also had no immediate comment on the reports.
RESCUED BY CIA
    Haftar was among officers who helped Gaddafi rise to power in 1969 but fell out with him during Libya’s war with Chad in the 1980s.    Haftar was taken prisoner by the Chadians and had to be rescued by the CIA after having worked from Chad to overthrow Gaddafi.
    He lived for around 20 years in the U.S. state of Virginia before returning home in 2011 to join other rebels in the uprising that ousted Gaddafi.
    Three years later Haftar made his own move, launching the campaign in Benghazi.
    At the time he had gathered only around 200 soldiers and 13 helicopters under his LNA banner, said Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute international relations think-tank in The Hague.
    However Haftar quickly attracted other soldiers such as the Saiqa (Lightning) elite unit as well as tribesmen.
    There is no reliable figure for the current size of the LNA, though analysts say it runs into the thousands.    The Saiqa alone has 3,500 men and Haftar’s sons also have well-equipped units.
    Haftar’s forces outnumber his opponents scattered in different western cities but he has filled his ranks beyond a core of former Gaddafi soldiers with less trained tribesmen and Salafist fighters and foreign mercenaries, analysts say.
    After Benghazi, Haftar gradually took control of the entire east of Libya, before turning his attention to the south.
    However this month’s Tripoli offensive is the commander’s highest-stakes gamble yet.
    He has moved much of his forces west, leaving his eastern home base exposed, and making it almost impossible for him to retreat without losing standing among friends and foes alike.
    The battle for the capital is still raging, and little is certain.    Some pro-Haftar media had predicted victory in 48 hours but the fighting is still mostly outside the city.
    Meanwhile, his lightning drive has united opponents in western Libya who had not talked to each other for a long time but have now joined arms.
    “Although none of the foreign sponsors behind Haftar is likely pleased with the dramatic deterioration, they have no option but to continue backing him,” said Harchaoui.    “They have been concentrating most of their bets on one key figure for almost half a decade.    This cannot be walked back overnight.”
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Michael Georgy in Dubai, Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Aziz El Yakooubi in Dubai and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Pravin Char)

4/10/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan calls for annulment of Istanbul election<
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is greeted by his supporters as he leaves a mosque after the
Friday prayers in Istanbul, Turkey April 5, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via
REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said electoral authorities should annul Istanbul’s local elections due to irregularities, notably over the appointment of ballot box officials, the pro-government Sabah newspaper reported on Wednesday.
    Initial results show the main opposition Republican People’s Party narrowly won control of Turkey’s biggest city in the mayoral elections, seemingly bringing an end to the 25-year rule there by Erdogan’s AK Party and its Islamist predecessors.
    Speaking to reporters on his plane, returning from a trip to Moscow this week, Erdogan said that regulations requiring that ballot box officials be civil servants had not been met everywhere, with regular workers placed in charge in some places.
    “Our colleagues have established this.    Naturally all this casts doubt.    If they take a sincere view, this will lead to annulment,” he said.
    Any decision to annul the elections would rest with the High Election Board.
    A senior AKP official said on Tuesday it would demand a new vote in Istanbul after its bid was rejected for a citywide recount of the March 31 election results after a series of recounts since the vote.
    Erdogan said on Monday the local elections were marred by “organized crime” at ballot boxes in Istanbul.    The loss of control in the city would be a setback for Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
[YOU NOW KNOW WHY I MAY BE RIGHT THAT ERDOGAN MAY BE THE KING OF THE SOUTH SINCE HE AND HIS PARTY BELIEVE THEY ARE ABOVE THE LAW.    YOU CAN DEFINITELY SEE THAT ISLAMIST DO NOT WANT TO LOSE POWER AS THEY BLAME IT ON THE TYPE OF OFFICIALS WERE USED AND ORGANIZED CRIME INVOLVEMENT WITH NO PROOF AND THE VICTIMS HERE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO VOTED AGAINST THEM.]

4/10/2019 Hezbollah warns U.S. over sanctions against Iran and allies
FILE PHOTO: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses supporters via a screen
in Beirut, Lebanon, September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah raised the prospect of retaliation by Iran and its allies over U.S. sanctions, saying on Wednesday that all options were on the table were Washington to take steps that “threaten our nation.”
    Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the heavily armed Iranian-backed Shi’ite group, said the United States’ move this week to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization reflected a failure of U.S. policy in the Middle East.Iran and its allies, which include Hezbollah, had so far made do with condemnation in response to the U.S. sanctions, said Nasrallah, before adding that this was “not a permanent and fixed policy.”
    “There are measures which, if taken by the Americans … who said they will remain without response?” he said in a televised speech delivered to an event for Hezbollah’s wounded fighters.
    “There will be an appropriate response for sure,” he said.    Iran and its allies held “many strong cards,” he added.
    Hezbollah was founded by the Revolutionary Guards in 1982 and has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States.    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has tightened sanctions against Hezbollah as part of its wider regional policy to counter Iran.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that Trump would continue to increase pressure on Iran.
(Reporting by Beirut bureau; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/10/2019 Pompeo will not publicly back two-state solution for Israel and Palestinians
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before a Senate foreign Relations Committee hearing on
the State Department budget request in Washington, U.S. April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined on Wednesday to publicly say the Trump administration still backs a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
    “We are now working with many parties to share what our vision (is) as to how to solve this problem,” Pompeo told a U.S. Senate hearing where he was pressed for a response on the issue.
    He said the administration “has been working on a set of ideas” for Middle East peace “that we hope to present before too long,” adding that he hoped they would provide a basis for discussions on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Democratic Senator Tim Kaine asked Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, if he thought a peace agreement including one state for Israel and one state for the Palestinians was an outdated idea.
    “It’s certainly an idea that’s been around a long time, senator,” Pompeo responded.
    “Ultimately the individuals in the region will sort this out,” the secretary of state said.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a clear path to re-election on Wednesday, and a record fifth term in office, with religious-rightist parties set to hand him a parliamentary majority, despite a close contest against his main centrist challenger, a vote tally showed.
    In a rare turn during the campaign toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu alarmed Palestinians by pledging to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected.    Palestinians seek a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    That came after Trump signed a proclamation during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington on March 25, officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, a dramatic departure from decades of American policy.
    The move, which Trump announced in a tweet days prior, was widely seen as an attempt to boost Netanyahu as he ran for re-election on April 9.
    Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.
    The Trump administration has been promising for many months that it would roll out a Middle East peace plan after Israel’s election.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

4/11/2019 Sudan’s Bashir forced to step down after mass protests by Khalid Abdelaziz
Sudanese demonstrators flash a two finger salute as they attend a protest rally demanding Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir
to step down outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was deposed by the army on Thursday and consultations were under way to form a transitional council to run the country, drawing a line under three decades of autocratic power that included allegations of genocide.
    Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir, 75, was at the presidential residence under “heavy guard.”    A son of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the head of the country’s main opposition Umma Party, told al-Hadath TV that Bashir was being held with “a number of leaders of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group.”
    It was not known what would now happen to Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and is facing an arrest warrant over allegations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to death of an estimated 300,000 people.
    The downfall of Bashir follows the toppling this month of Algerian strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika, also following mass protests after three decades in power.
    Government sources and the minister of production and economic resources in North Darfur, Adel Mahjoub Hussein, told Dubai-based al-Hadath TV that Bashir’s presidency was over and consultations were being held on creating a ruling military council.
    Early on Thursday morning, state television said the military would make an announcement soon.    But hours later no statement had been issued, amid reports of differences about the make-up of the transitional council.
MILITARY RULE AGAIN?
    Names that have been circulating include Vice President and Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, an ex-military intelligence chief, also an Islamist, and former army chief of staff Emad al-Din Adawi.
    Adawi is said to be favored by regional neighbors at odds with Bashir over his Islamist leanings.
    Thousands of people flocked to an anti-government protest outside the ministry on Thursday, while huge crowds took to the streets in central Khartoum, dancing and shouting anti-Bashir slogans.    Protesters chanted: “It has fallen, we won.”
    Demonstrators called for a civilian government and said they would not accept an administration led by military and security figures, or by Bashir’s aides.
    Omar Saleh Sennar, a senior member of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, one of the main protest groups, said it was waiting for the army statement and expected to negotiate with the military over a transfer of power from Bashir.
    “We will only accept a transitional civilian government,” Sennar told Reuters.
    Kamal Omar, 38, another demonstrator, said: “We will continue our sit-in until we prevail.”
    Some demonstrators, who have rallied against Bashir since Dec. 19, said they feared the delay would allow him to go into exile.
    Troops deployed around the defense ministry and on major roads and bridges in the capital.
    Soldiers stormed the headquarters of Bashir’s Islamic Movement, the main component of the ruling National Congress Party.    Protesters also attacked the offices of Sudan’s intelligence and security service in the eastern cities of Port Sudan and Kassala on Thursday, witnesses said.
FATE UNCLEAR
    Bashir, a former paratrooper who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1989, has been a divisive figure who has managed his way through one internal crisis after another while withstanding attempts by the West to weaken him.
    Sudan has suffered prolonged periods of isolation since 1993, when the United States added Bashir’s government to its list of terrorism sponsors for harboring Islamist militants.    Washington followed up with sanctions four years later.
    The latest crisis has escalated since the weekend, when thousands of demonstrators began camping out outside the defense ministry compound, where Bashir’s residence is located.
    Clashes erupted on Tuesday between soldiers trying to protect the protesters and intelligence and security personnel trying to disperse them.    At least 11 people died, including six members of the armed forces, the information minister said, citing a police report.
    Since December, Sudan has been rocked by persistent protests sparked by the government’s attempt to raise the price of bread, and an economic crisis that has led to fuel and cash shortages.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Mohamed El Sherif; Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Samia Nakhoul and Giles Elgood)

4/11/2019 Libya fighting kills 56, European powers jostle over conflict by Ahmed Elumami and Giselda Vagnoni
Members of Libyan internationally recognised pro-government forces ride in military vehicles
on the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara
    TRIPOLI/ROME (Reuters) – Fighting between eastern Libyan forces and Tripoli government troops killed 56 people and forced 6,000 to flee their homes in the capital in the last week, the United Nations said on Thursday, as France and Italy wrangled over how to respond to the renewed conflict.
    After sweeping up from the south, the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar have been blocked in the southern suburbs of Tripoli about 11 km (7 miles) from the center.
    Overnight, a Reuters reporter in downtown Tripoli heard gunfire and explosions as the LNA faced off with the forces of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s government around the former international airport and the Ain Zara district.
    Haftar’s push for Tripoli is the latest in a cycle of violence and chaos in Libya since the 2011 overthrow of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
    In Rome, Libya’s former colonial ruler Italy warned France, which has close ties to Haftar, to refrain from supporting any faction after diplomats said Paris blocked a European Union statement calling on him to halt his offensive.
    “It would be very serious if France for economic or commercial reasons had blocked an EU initiative to bring peace to Libya and would support a party that is combatting,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini told Radio RTL 102.5.
    “As minister of the interior I will not stand by and watch.”
    France, which has oil assets in eastern Libya, has provided military assistance in past years to Haftar in his eastern stronghold, Libyan and French officials say.    It was also a leading player in the war to unseat Gaddafi.
    Italy supports the U.N.-backed government of Serraj.
ITALY SPARS WITH FRANCE
    Salvini said France had recently withdrawn its ambassador from Rome “for much less” after leaders of his League party’s coalition partners, the 5-Star Star Movement, had met with French “yellow vest” protesters.
    “Some think that the (2011 Nato-led military intervention) in Libya promoted by (former French President Nicolas) Sarkozy was triggered more by economic and commercial interests than by humanitarian concerns,” he said.
    “I hope we are not seeing the same film all over again.”
    An EU draft statement on Wednesday said Haftar’s attack on Tripoli put civilians at risk, disrupted the political process, and risked an escalation with serious consequences for Libya and the wider region.    The statement was blocked by France.
    French diplomatic sources said on Thursday Paris did not object to calls on Haftar to stop his advance, but had only requested amendments including mentions of migrants’ plight and the presence among anti-Haftar fighters of militants designated as terrorists by the United Nations.
    The latest tally of casualties from the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) said 56 people – mainly fighters though also some civilians including two doctors and an ambulance driver – had been killed, and another 266 wounded in Tripoli.
    The number of people forced out of their homes doubled in the last 48 hours to 6,000, U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA said.
    As well as the humanitarian consequences, renewed conflict in Libya threatens to disrupt oil supplies, increase migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper the U.N. peace plan, and encourage Islamist militants to exploit the chaos.    Libya is a main transit point for migrants who have poured into Europe in recent years, organized by illegal trafficking gangs.
    The LNA forces moved out of their stronghold in eastern Libya to take the sparsely-populated but oil-rich south earlier this year, before heading a week ago toward Tripoli, where the internationally-recognized government of Serraj sits.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumani and Ulf Laessing in Tripoli, Tom Miles in Geneva, Giselda Vagnoni in Rome, John Irish in Paris; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/12/2019 Exclusive: Ex-South Sudan rebel leader believes unity government won’t be ready by May 12 by Philip Pullella
South Sudan's ex-vice president and former rebel leader Riek Machar is pictured during an interview
with Reuters in Rome, Italy, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi.
    ROME (Reuters) – The two sides of war-ravaged South Sudan will not be able to meet a May 12 deadline to form a unity government because key requirements of a peace deal have not been met, former rebel leader Riek Machar told Reuters on Friday.
    Machar – who should regain his post as vice president under the deal – said the government and the rebels needed another six months before forming a unity government.
    He spoke exclusively to Reuters in Rome after attending a two-day retreat hosted by the pope with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir.
    Although few diplomats expected Kiir and Machar to meet the May 12 deadline set in last September’s peace deal, the delay will cause further unease among the 12 million strong South Sudanese population.
    More than a third have been uprooted from their homes and around 400,000 have died in the civil war, which plunged parts of the country into famine and has been characterized by such extreme sexual violence and widespread ethnic cleansing that the U.N. warned in 2017 of a possible genocide.
    Asked if he thought the national unity government could be ready by May 12, he said: “Unfortunately, I have to say ‘no’.”
    A six-month extension was needed to unify and deploy defense forces, demilitarize the capital Juba and other cities, and agree on devolution of power and the release of political prisoners, he said.
    Machar said he discussed the extension with Kiir during a retreat at the Vatican that ended on Thursday with an appeal by the pope to the leaders to respect the armistice and resolve their differences.
SECURITY STILL LACKING
    “We have refugees who will not return if they don’t feel secure, we have IDPs (internally displaced people) in the capital and in other major cities who will not go back to their homes which they have left five and a half years ago because of security problems,” he said.
    “So we need to establish adequate security from the two forces so that our people can have confidence that this agreement will hold.    So it is unlikely that we will form the government by the twelfth of May,” he said.
    Machar said Kiir “is concerned that the international community will target him for not implementing the agreement.”    He added: “But he has to carry his cross on this.”
    Diplomats and experts agreed that it would be difficult to meet the deadline.
    “The delay is inevitable, as there is no real alternative.    However, there will be little expectation that it will yield any real progress absent external pressure or an unforeseen change,” Klem Ryan, former coordinator of the U.N. Security Council Panel of Experts for South Sudan, told Reuters.
    “I don’t think it’s cynical, it’s practical.    If a delay makes Machar feel more secure and ends the war, it will be worth it,” Peter Martell, an author of a history of South Sudan, told Reuters.
    Machar also said he is confident that the new military leadership in Khartoum will continue to be “a strong guarantor” of the fragile South Sudan peace deal.
    Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim, and the mainly Christian south fought for decades before South Sudan became independent in 2011.    South Sudan plunged into civil war two years later after Kiir, a Dinka, fired Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, from the vice presidency.
    The Vatican, together with the South Sudan Council of Churches and the Rome-based Sant’ Egidio international peace group, brought the leaders together for prayer and preaching inside the pope’s residence in an attempt to heal divisions.
    “It was a unique occasion and it was concluded by Pope Francis with a challenge.    The pope challenged us.    We must deliver,” Machar said.
(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld and Hereward Holland in Nairobi and Denis Dumo in Juba; editing by Gavin Jones and Jonathan Oatis)

4/12/2019 Sudan’s military council promises civilian government after Bashir toppled by Khalid Abdelaziz
Sudan's Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf is sworn in as a head of Military Transitional Council in
Sudan in this still image taken from video on April 11, 2019. Sudan TV/ReutersTV via REUTERS
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling military council on Friday promised a new civilian government, a day after the armed forces overthrew President Omar al-Bashir, but mistrustful protest leaders immediately rejected the gesture.
    The council, which is now running Sudan under Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf, said it expected a pre-election transition to last two years at most or much less if chaos can be avoided.
    The head of the military council’s political committee, Omar Zain al-Abideen, also said the council would hold a dialogue with political entities.
    However, later on Friday, the council said the meeting would be delayed until a later unspecified date, state news agency SUNA reported.
    The council also announced that it would not extradite Bashir to face accusations of genocide at the international war crimes court.    Instead he might go on trial in Sudan.
    Friday’s announcement of a future civilian government by the head of the military council’s political committee, General Omar Zain al-Abideen, appeared aimed at reassuring wary demonstrators who went back into the streets to warn against imposing army rule after Bashir’s ouster.
    But the main protest group dismissed the pledge, saying the military council was “not capable of creating change.”    In a statement, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) restated its demand for power to be handed immediately to “a transitional civilian government.”
    Bashir, 75, himself seized power in a 1989 military coup.    He had faced 16 weeks of demonstrations sparked by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades of autocratic rule.
    Worshippers packed the streets around the Defence Ministry for Friday prayers, heeding a call by the SPA to challenge the military council.
    The numbers swelled in the afternoon and a Reuters witness estimated hundreds of thousands of protesters thronged areas around the ministry, which was guarded by soldiers.
    “We do not reject a military council in principle, but we reject these people because they are from Bashir’s regime,” said Abdelhamid Ahmed, a 24-year-old doctor.
    Sudan’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Yasir Abdalla Abdelsalam Ahmed told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that any democratic process in the country required time and called on the international community to support a peaceful transition.
    “No party will be excluded from the political process, including armed groups,” he told the council during a meeting on Abyei, a contested border region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan.    The 15-member council convened later on Friday behind closed doors to be briefed on the latest developments in Sudan.
    “Moreover, the suspension of the constitution could be lifted at any point and the transitional period could be shortened depending on developments on the ground and agreements reached between stakeholders,” the Sudanese envoy said.
    Zain al-Abideen said the military council would not interfere with a civilian government.    However he said the defense and interior ministries would be under its control.
    The military council is headed by Ibn Auf, who was Bashir’s vice president and defense minister and is among a handful of Sudanese commanders sanctioned by Washington for his alleged role during the atrocities committed in the Darfur conflict.
NOT GREEDY FOR POWER
    Zain al-Abideen said the military council itself had no solutions to Sudan’s crisis and these would come from the protesters.
    “We are the protectors of the demands of the people,” he said.    “We are not greedy for power.”
    “We will not dictate anything to the people. We want to create an atmosphere to manage a peaceful dialogue,” he said.
    He said the council would meet on Friday with political entities to prepare a “climate for dialogue.”    But this was later postponed.
    The council said it did not invite Bashir’s National Congress Party to join the dialogue because “it is responsible for what happened.”
    It pledged to work with the new government to solve Sudan’s economic problems but warned protesters that the army would not tolerate unrest.
    “Protest is guaranteed, but it is forbidden to infringe on the freedom of others.    We will be very decisive with whoever closes a road or a bridge,” Zain al-Abideen said.
    In the early hours of Friday, thousands of demonstrators sat themselves down outside the Defence Ministry to push for a civilian government, defying a curfew.
    At the Defence Ministry compound, large tents were put up and people brought food and handed out water as the crowd grew.    Ahmed al-Sadek, a 39-year-old trader, said he had not slept at his home since the sit-in began on April 6.
    Activists wearing yellow vests controlled traffic around the compound on Friday morning and managed foot traffic to and from the sit-in, a Reuters witness said.    They also blocked a major bridge in central Khartoum.
WORLD POWERS BACK DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION
    World powers, including the United States and Britain, said they supported a peaceful and democratic transition sooner than two years.    China said it would continue to seek cooperation with Sudan regardless of the political situation.
    Ibn Auf said on Thursday that Bashir was being detained in a “safe place.”    Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir was at the presidential residence under heavy guard.
    Ibn Auf also announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution.    He further said there would be a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
    But the council affirmed on Friday it would not extradite Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.    Bashir is facing an arrest warrant over accusations of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people.    He denies the allegations.
    The military council will not hand him over for trial abroad, Zain al-Abideen said.    “We may try him, but we will not hand him over.”
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Yousef Saba and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/12/2019 Israeli soldiers kill Gaza teenager during border protest by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A relative of a Palestinian who was killed at the Israeli-Gaza border fence during a protest,
reacts in the northern Gaza Strip April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager taking part in protests along the Gaza border on Friday, Palestinian health officials said, the first fatality since Gazans marked the one-year anniversary of the weekly demonstrations in March.
    The Israeli military said about 7,400 Palestinians massed along the frontier, some throwing rocks, and that there were several attempts to approach the fence into Israel.
    The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 15-year-old boy died after being shot by Israeli gunfire.    An Israeli army spokesman said the troops were responding with riot dispersal means.
    Tensions rose after a rocket fired from Gaza wounded seven Israelis north of Tel Aviv on March 25.    Israel mounted a wave of air strikes following that attack on targets it said belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group which rules the coastal enclave.
    The cross-border violence immediately played into Israel’s election campaign, which concluded earlier this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heading toward a record fifth term in office.
    But Egyptian mediators intervened to avoid further escalation by persuading Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and expand the breadth of Mediterranean waters where Gazans can fish.
    The protesters are demanding an end to a blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and want Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948.
    Israel rejects any such return, saying it would eliminate its Jewish majority.
    More than 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the ‘Great March of Return’ started on March 30 last year, according to Gaza health officials.    An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Palestinian sniper.
    Last month’s anniversary rally was smaller than expected, despite concerns that the event, during which four Palestinians were killed, would see a major escalation.
    Israel seized Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War and pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005.    It says its blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel and fired thousands of rockets at it in the past decade.
    Israel’s use of lethal force at the border protests has drawn censure from the United Nations and human rights groups.    U.N. investigators in February said Israeli forces might be guilty of war crimes for using excessive force.
    Israel says its troops have no choice because they are trying to stop militants breaching the fence and attacking Israeli communities nearby.    Palestinians have also launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
[Shame on you Hamas and Hezbollah to push the Palestinians to put their children in harm for your evil actions, which the true original Allah will bring punishment to you, not the one that human Mohhammed created in 600 B.C..].

4/12/2019 With Bouteflika gone, protesters in Algeria demand more change by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi
A man carries a sign reading "System, get out" during a protest seeking the departure of the
ruling elite in Algiers, Algeria April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in Algiers for an eighth successive Friday to demand the departure of the ruling elite, witnesses said, as Algeria prepares for a presidential election in July.
    Police in anti-riot gear fired tear gas in the evening to disperse a crowd of several hundreds of youths in the city center, witnesses said, after an otherwise largely peaceful march joined by families throughout the day.
    Police arrested 108 people after clashes with “infiltrators” among the protesters who injured 27 policemen, a police statement said.
    President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down after 20 years in power 10 days ago, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations mainly by young people seeking change in the North African country.
    But the protests, which began on Feb. 22 and have been largely peaceful, have continued as many want the removal of an elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962 and the prosecution of people they see as corrupt figures.
    Bouteflika has been replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, as interim president for 90 days until a presidential election on July 4.
    “No to Bensalah,” the protesters chanted on Friday.
    Reuters correspondents at the scene estimated the crowd size at hundreds of thousands of people as on previous Fridays, although there was no official count.
    “We want the prosecution of all corrupt people” and “no to the gang,” said banners held up by marchers. Many protesters waved Algeria’s white, green and red crescent moon flag.
    One of them, who gave his name as Nawal, told Reuters: “We came out today to say that Bensalah’s position is unconstitutional.”
    “We do not deserve military rule.    We deserve a democratic and free Algeria.”
    Ali Badji, a 52-year-old grocer, holding his son on his shoulders, said: “We are still sticking to our demands.    We want a radical change.”
    State television said similar marches took places in most cities.
    Police said on Friday in a statement it had arrested an unspecified “terrorist group” and also some foreigners who had planned to incite protesters to violence.    It gave no details.
    More than one in four people under the age of 30 are unemployed – one of the central grievances of protesters who want the economy liberalized and diversified to reduce its reliance on its oil and gas production.
    On Wednesday, Algeria’s army chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, said he expected to see members of the ruling elite close to Bouteflika, who he called a “gang,” prosecuted for corruption and said he would support a transition toward elections.
    The army initially monitored the unrest from the sidelines.    Then Salah intervened, declaring Bouteflika – rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 – unfit to rule.
(Additional reporting by Hesham Hajali and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

4/12/2019 Explainer: Israeli election – with the final count in, who won and who lost? by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara wave as Netanyahu speaks following the announcement of exit polls
in Israel's parliamentary election at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has won 36 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, according to final results of Tuesday’s election, putting him in pole position in negotiations to form a right-wing coalition.
    Netanyahu is heading toward a record fifth term in office confident of being able to put together a bloc of religious-rightist parties.
    It would be a slim majority against an opposition that is likely to be led by the centrist-left Blue and White party, which won 35 seats.    No single party has ever won an outright majority in the Knesset.
    Here’s a quick guide to the various parties, who gained, who lost and what is likely to happen next:
WHAT COALITION WILL NETANYAHU SEEK?
    Most likely, a replica of his outgoing right-wing government.    In his victory speech, Netanyahu, 69, said he intends to form his new cabinet with right-wing and religious parties.
WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP?
    Coalition-building. Next week Israel’s president consults with the leaders of each party about their preference for prime minister.    He then names the person who he believes has the best chance of putting together a government.
    Netanyahu is the obvious choice as leader of the largest party.    If nominated to form a government, he will have up to 42 days to form a government.    If he fails, the president asks another politician to try.
    Past coalition negotiations have dragged on.    Smaller parties will demand cabinet seats, and will have their own financial and legislative demands to fulfill campaign promises made to their own voters.    Netanyahu will have to balance these against his own party’s priorities.
    Graphic Israel 2019 parliamentary elections: https://tmsnrt.rs/2D916Uv
WHICH PARTIES ARE BACKING NETANYAHU?
LIKUD
    Thirty-six seats, up from 30 before the election. Leader: Benjamin Netanyahu.
    The spearhead of right-wing politics in Israel for decades.    Likud first came to power in 1977 under former Irgun leader, later Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Menachem Begin.
    Its current leader, Netanyahu, personifies Likud’s traditionally hawkish positions on security in matters such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and foreign policy, with Iran currently as the focus.
    Many Likud members of parliament oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and during the election Netanyahu said he would annex Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
    About 400,000 Jewish settlers live alongside 2.9 million Palestinians in the territory that Israel captured in a 1967 war, and has held under military occupation ever since, but never formally annexed.
    Netanyahu’s base rallied around him, even though he faces possible indictment in three corruption cases.
    Interactive graphic: Israeli election – number of votes won by party – https://tmsnrt.rs/2IeButC
THE RIGHT WING UNION
    Five seats, no change.    Leader: Rafi Peretz.
    Israel’s national-religious party is the most prominent political representative of the settler movement.    It repudiates the idea of a Palestinian state, underlining the Jewish people’s biblical and religious connections to the land that Palestinians seek for a state.
    U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to unveil his long-awaited Middle East peace plan in the coming months.    If the plan requires Israeli territorial concessions to the Palestinians, the Right Wing Union is likely to raise fierce objections.
ISRAEL BEITENU (‘Israel is our Home’)
Five seats, no change.    Leader: Avigdor Lieberman.
    A secularist, nationalist and far-right party whose base is immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
    Its Moldovan-born leader, Lieberman, is a former defense minister who seeks to out-hawk Netanyahu.    His policies include swapping Arab towns inside Israel – home to the country’s 21 percent Arab Palestinian minority – in return for ceding territory in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.
UNITED TORAH JUDAISM (UTJ)
    Seven seats, up from six.    Leader: Yakov Litzman.
    It represents ultra-Orthodox Jews, or haredim, of European origin.    A Netanyahu coalition, like many before it, is likely to rely on ultra-Orthodox support.
    UTJ is primarily concerned with safeguarding state benefits for Haredi men, many of whom devote themselves to full-time religious study, do not work and do not serve in Israel’s conscript military.
    Demands for more government payouts will make it harder for Netanyahu to rein in a growing budget deficit.
SHAS
Eight seats, up from seven.    Leader: Aryeh Deri.
    SHAS represents Haredi Jews of Middle Eastern origin.    Allied with UTJ and with similar demands, it has also served as kingmaker in successive governments.
KULANU (‘All Of Us’)
    Four seats, down from 10.    Leader: Moshe Kahlon
    The party casts itself as moderate right-wing. Kahlon, the current finance minister, has met Palestinian officials on economic matters, even though the two political leaderships have not held negotiations since 2014.br>     Kahlon wants to keep the finance ministry but his party is now much weaker in parliament, so will have less clout in post-election coalition negotiations.
    Israel’s economy barely featured in the election campaign, but the central bank has warned that the new government will need to cut spending and raise taxes to rein in a growing budget deficit.
WHO IS THE OPPOSITION?
BLUE AND WHITE
Thirty-five seats, in its first election.    Leaders: Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.
    A centrist party whose figurehead, former military chief Gantz, emerged as a serious rival to Netanyahu.    But the political novice failed to unseat the veteran, and lost credibility by claiming victory too soon on election night.
    Gantz joined forces with right-wing Moshe Yaalon, a former defense minister, and center-left former finance minister Yair Lapid.
    The party vowed to combine clean government with peace and security.    Conceding defeat on Wednesday, Lapid said his party will “make Likud’s life hell in the opposition.”
LABOUR
    Six seats, down from 18.    Leader: Avi Gabbay.
    The left-wing party which ruled Israel throughout the early decades of the state was dealt a devastating blow on April 9.    With Netanyahu reflecting the rightward shift of the Israeli electorate, Labour highlighted social and economic reform, and the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
HADASH-TA’AL – Leaders: Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi.
    Six seats.    The larger of two mostly Arab blocs in parliament.    All the Arab-dominated parties joined forces in 2015 but split in two this year, and saw their combined seat tally falling from 13 to 10.
    The group has one Jewish member of parliament, and advocates an Arab-Jewish alliance to fight racism and social inequality.    But Arab parties have never joined governing coalitions in Israel, and this year faced a boycott movement by Arabs dismayed at a 2018 “nation-state” law which declared that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country.
    By most estimates, this election saw exceptionally low turnout by Israel’s Arab citizens, some of whom increasingly prefer the designation “Palestinian” to “Israeli-Arab.”
RAAM-BALAD – Leaders: Mansour Abbas and Mtanes Shihadeh.
    Four seats.    Raam-Balad’s leaders are a mix of Islamist and Arab nationalists.    It describes itself as a democratic movement opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
MERETZ – Leader: Tamar Zandberg.
    Four seats, down from five.
    The left-wing party has not been part of government in the past two decades.    Popular with liberal middle-class Israelis, it advocates a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
WHO LOST BIG?
THE NEW RIGHT – Leaders: Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked.
    No seats, down from three.
    Once seen as rising young stars in Israeli politics, Bennett, a high-tech millionaire, was Israel’s Education Minister and Shaked was Justice Minister in the outgoing government.
    They split from a larger national-religious faction to form a new far-right party that would appeal to more secular constituents.    Shaked frequently criticized Israel’s Supreme Court as being too liberal and interventionist.
    The party did not win over enough voters to enter the Knesset.
ZEHUT – Leader: Moshe Feiglin.
    No seats.    Soaring in pre-election opinion polls and crashing at the ballot, the new ultra-nationalist libertarian Zehut will not be part of the incoming Knesset.
    Its campaign demands for marijuana legalization appeared to be a huge draw for many young voters, who ultimately failed to come through for it.
    Its other policies included proposals to annex the West Bank, the voluntary ‘transfer’ of Palestinians to other countries and the eventual construction of a third Jewish temple.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Stephen Farrell and Timothy Heritage)

4/12/2019 Syrian Kurdish official: Damascus talks going nowhere, Russia to blame
Badran Jia Kurd, top Kurdish official, talks during an interview with Reuters in Qamishli, Syria
March 11, 2019. Picture taken March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    QAMISHLI, Syria (Reuters) – Efforts to forge a political deal between Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria and the Syrian government are at a standstill and President Bashar-al Assad’s ally Russia is to blame, a Syrian Kurdish official said.
    The Kurdish-led authorities revived efforts to negotiate a deal with Damascus earlier this year in the wake of a U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from their areas, hoping Moscow would mediate an agreement that would preserve their autonomy.
    The picture has shifted significantly since then, however, with Washington deciding to keep some troops in Syria and the Syrian government directing new threats of military action at Kurdish-led forces if they do not submit to its rule.
    Badran Jia Kurd, a Syrian Kurdish official involved in the political track, said the talks had gone nowhere.    “The Russians froze the initiative which Russia was supposed to carry out and it did not begin negotiations with Damascus,” he said.
    “Russia is still claiming that it is working on that initiative but to no avail,” he told Reuters late on Thursday.
    Unlike the insurgent groups that have fought Assad across much of Syria, the main Syrian Kurdish groups are not hostile to him and say their objective is to preserve autonomy within the state.
    But Damascus opposes the level of autonomy they seek. The Syrian defense minister last month said the state would take back the Kurdish led-region by force if its leaders did not submit to the return of state authority.
    The presence of U.S. forces has provided the Kurdish-led region with a de facto security umbrella that has shielded it from Assad and neighboring Turkey, which views the main Syrian Kurdish groups as a security threat.
    Jia Kurd said Russia had put its interests with Turkey ahead of pressing for a deal between Damascus.
    Russia had “not played its role after meeting the Turkish side many times and this is what led to the blocking of the path of dialogue with Damascus and Russia bears the historic responsibility,” he said.
(Reporting by Rodi Said; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/12/2019 East Libyan warplanes hit Tripoli government positions by Ulf Laessing and Ahmed Elumami
Troops from eastern Libyan forces are seen in Ain Zara, south of Tripoli, Libya April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces bogged down in street battles in a push to seize the capital Tripoli deployed warplanes on Friday to hit several government positions, as more civilians fled fighting.
    More than 1,000 people gathered in central Tripoli to demand that Khalifa Haftar stop the advance of his Libyan National Army (LNA) on the coastal city.
    Haftar launched the campaign a week ago, in the latest conflict in a cycle of anarchy since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
    But forces loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally recognized government have so far kept them at bay, with fierce fighting round a disused former airport about 11 km (7 miles) from the center.
    On Friday, an LNA warplane bombed the camp of a force allied to Serraj in Zuwara, west of Tripoli toward the Tunisian border, an LNA military source and residents said.
    Zuwara is near the Mellitah oil and gas plant, jointly operated by Italy’s ENI and state oil firm NOC, which supplies Italy with gas through the Greenstream pipeline.
    An LNA warplane also attacked the only partly functioning airport in Tripoli, Mitiga, where anti-aircraft guns opened fire in response, witnesses said.    The extent of damage and possible casualties in both places was not clear.
    A week of battles has killed 75 people – mainly fighters but also 17 civilians – and wounded another 323, according to latest U.N. tallies.    Some 13,625 people have also been forced out of their homes.
    As the sound of fighting echoed round their city, residents sought to maintain some normality on Friday.
    Some families were eating in cafes next to the fish market where people were stocking up for the weekend.
    “We have got used to wars.    I fear only God,” said Yamim Ahmed, 20, who works in a fast food restaurant.
    More than 1,000 people staged a protest in Martyrs Square in central Tripoli to demand an end to the offensive, witnesses said.    The turnout was bigger than last Friday.
    As well as the humanitarian cost, the conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, increase migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper a U.N. peace plan, and allow Islamist militants to exploit the chaos.
CITY STALEMATE
    Haftar, 75, a former general in Gaddafi’s army who later joined the revolt against him, moved his troops out of their eastern stronghold to take the oil-rich desert south earlier this year before sweeping up to Tripoli at the start of April.
    But Serraj’s government has managed to halt for now the advance, helped by forces with machine-guns on pickups, and steel containers across the road into Tripoli.    The Tripoli government says it has taken nearly 200 prisoners from Haftar’s forces.
    The United Nations, which had hoped to organize a national conference this month bringing the rival eastern and western administrations together to organize an election, has called for a ceasefire.    The United States, G7 bloc of wealthy nations and European Union have also urged the LNA to halt its offensive.
    Tripoli-based Foreign Minister Mohamed Siyala urged the U.N. Security Council to call on Haftar to halt the advance.
    The U.N. health agency said it fears outbreaks of tuberculosis, measles and diarrhea due to poor sanitation, especially among those displaced.
    Five ambulances have been hit trying to extract wounded people from the conflict zone, World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Dr Syed Jaffar Hussain also told a Geneva news briefing from Tripoli.
    The WHO said it had only two weeks of medical supplies available for Tripoli’s hospitals.
    Haftar casts himself as a bulwark against Islamist militancy who wants to restore order to Libya.    But opponents see him as a potential would-be dictator like Gaddafi.
    He has so far resisted U.N. pressure to accept a power-sharing settlement, using his leverage as an ally of the West in attempts to stem jihadists in North Africa.
    About 1,500 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centers, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said.    “They must be urgently brought to safety.    Simply put, this is a matter of life or death,” Filippo Grandi said in a statement.
    Libya is a major transit point for migrants pouring into Europe in recent years, mostly trafficked by smuggling gangs.
(Additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi, Ahmed Salem in Tripoli, and Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Andrew Cawthorne and James Dalgleish)

4/13/2019 New military council leader promises civilian government for Sudan by Khalid Abdelaziz
Sudanese demonstrators celebrate after the Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf stepped down as head of the country's transitional ruling military
council, as protesters demanded quicker political change, outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The new head of Sudan’s military council said on Saturday a civilian government would be formed after consultations with the opposition and promised the transition period would last for a maximum of two years.
    Protesters, however, kept up the pressure for rapid change following the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday.
    In his first televised address, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman canceled a night curfew and ordered the release of all prisoners jailed under emergency laws put in place by Bashir before his downfall.
    During a meeting between the transitional military council and a coalition of protest organizers, the protesters demanded that civilians be included in the council, activists who were briefed about the meeting said.
    They will submit names of suggested members on Sunday.
    The military council also promised to “abolish all laws that restrict freedoms,” the activists said.
    Bashir was overthrown on Thursday after months of mass protests brought on by rising food costs, high unemployment and increasing repression during his three decades in power.
    The main protest organizer had earlier on Saturday urged people to keep marching to demand a civilian government after the defense minister and the intelligence chief stepped down.
    Thousands of people gathered in front of the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum, a Reuters witness said.
    Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, known as Salah Gosh, the former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service quit, state media said.
    He was once the most influential person in the country after Bashir and protesters held him responsible for the killing of demonstrators demanding an end to military rule.
    Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf stepped down as head of the transitional military council late on Friday after only a day in the post.
    Celebrations erupted on the streets of Khartoum overnight after Ibn Auf’s resignation.    Thousands of protesters waved flags and illuminated mobile phones in the darkness and drivers hooted car horns.    People chanted: “The second has fallen!” a reference to Ibn Auf and Bashir, witnesses said.
    Islamists have now lost control and they are in shock.    Their ability to project influence in an organized way inside the state appears weak,” said Sudanese analyst Khalid al-Tijani.
    “The reason for the changes in Sudan is the pressure from protesters and pressures within the army, and the fear among military commanders of a split in the armed forces.”
LITTLE KNOWN
    Burhan, the new head of the military council, was the third most senior general in the Sudanese armed forces and is little known in public life.    As head of Sudan’s ground forces he oversaw Sudanese troops fighting in the Saudi-led Yemen war and has close ties to senior Gulf military officials.
    The head of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known by his nickname Hemeti, was appointed deputy head of the council, state TV reported.
    RSF soldiers outside the Defense Ministry fired their guns in the air in celebration of Dagalo’s promotion, causing a brief alarm, witnesses said.
    “The opposition are demanding a civilian government, but I think it will be a mixed government,” analyst Muhammad Osman said before Burhan’s remarks on Saturday.    “The military would want to retain the defense and interior portfolios.”
    The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has been leading protests to demand a civilian government, called for more demonstrations earlier on Saturday.
    “We assert that our revolution is continuing and will not retreat or deviate from its path until we achieve … our people’s legitimate demands of handing over power to a civilian government,” an SPA statement said.
    Bashir, 75, seized power in a 1989 military coup.
    The protests against him escalated last Saturday when thousands of demonstrators, apparently bolstered by change in Algeria following similar protests, marched toward the Defense Ministry to deliver a memorandum demanding the military side with them.
    Demonstrators have been camping outside the compound since then to push for a handover of power.
    At least 16 people were killed and 20 wounded by stray bullets at protests and sit-ins on Thursday and Friday, police said.    Government buildings and private property were also attacked.
    The military council under Ibn Auf had said it would not extradite Bashir to face accusations of genocide at the international war crimes court.    Instead he might go on trial in Sudan.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Writing by Lena Masri; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Jane Merriman)

4/13/2019 New Palestinian government sworn in amid factional tensions by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Mohammad Shtayyeh is sworn in as a Palestinian Prime Minister, in Ramallah in the
Israeli-occupied West Bank April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday swore in a new government headed by a loyalist from his dominant Fatah party, a move rejected by his Islamist rival Hamas as a blow to unity efforts.
    Mohammed Shtayyeh, an economist and longtime Abbas adviser, will serve as prime minister of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).    Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Finance Minister Shukri Bishara will continue in their positions.
    Shtayyeh was named Palestinian prime minister on March 10, replacing the independent university president Rami Al-Hamdallah.    He will run the ministries of interior and religious affairs until new appointees are named for the two posts.
    The rival Hamas group that runs Gaza called the move blow to unity efforts that faltered since the two groups signed a new reconciliation deal in Cairo in October 2017, but disputes over power-sharing had blocked the implementation of the agreement.
    “This is a separatist government, it has no national legitimacy and it will reinforce the chances of severing the West Bank from Gaza,” said a statement issued by Hamas as the swearing ceremony in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank ended.
    Two factions of Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) refused to take part in Shtayyeh’s government.
    Shtayyeh’s immediate challenge is to shore up the cash-strapped PA, which exercises limited self-rule under interim peace accords with Israel.
        The PA has been squeezed by steep U.S. aid cuts, with the crisis exacerbated by a dispute with Israel over the withholding of some 5 percent of the monthly tax revenues it transfers to the Authority.
    Israel said the sum it is holding back matches money used by the PA to pay stipends to families of militants in Israeli jails.    The PA has refused to accept any tax transfers until those funds are restored. It scaled back wages paid to civil servants in February and March to weather the crisis.
    Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is heading toward a fifth term in office after an election on April 9, said he would annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank if he is re-elected.
    If implemented, the move would be a grave a blow to Palestinian aspirations of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.    The peace process has all but collapsed and Israel has expanded its settlements in East Jerusalem and the West bank despite international objections.
    Palestinian leaders said Israel was being empowered by U.S. President Donald Trump to “violate national and human rights of the people of Palestine.”
    Speaking to his new cabinet members, Abbas repeated his rejection of Trump’s peace plan and said it was not useful to talk to Trump after he moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized the holy city as Israel’s capital.
    “More developments will take place in the coming days but we will cooperate and confront it together because they are going to be difficult,” said Abbas, hinting at the possible announcement of Trump’s peace initiative.
    Nickolay Maldenov, the U.N. special Middle East peace envoy welcomed the announcement of a new government and promised to cooperate with it.
    “The United Nations remains fully committed to working with the Palestinian leadership and people in ending the occupation and advancing their legitimate national aspirations for statehood based on UN resolutions,” said Mladenov said.
    Shtayyeh, a former government minister, has been part of a number of Palestinian negotiating teams in the United States-brokered talks with Israel.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/14/2019 Eastern Libya parliament head says forces will push Tripoli campaign by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ahmed Elumami
Members of Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, get ready before heading out of Benghazi to reinforce
the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    BENGHAZI, Libya/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces will pursue their advance on the capital Tripoli, the head of the eastern parliament in the divided country said on Saturday, despite international calls for a halt in an offensive that risks causing many civilian casualties.
    His comments came an eastern air strike hit the yard of a school on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, where eastern forces have been confronted by forces allied to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally recognized government.
    In a possible new front, the eastern Libya National Army (LNA) was readying a unit to move to the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil ports, Libya’s biggest, on the eastern coast, anticipating an attack from an armed group allied to Serraj, eastern military officials said.
    “The force will strengthen the protection of the ports,” one official said, asking not to be named.
    Last week the European Union had called on the LNA to stop its attacks, having agreed on a statement after France and Italy sparred over how to handle the conflict.
    But the eastern parliament head said they would press an offensive launched a week ago under military commander Khalifa Haftar, the latest outbreak of a cycle of conflict since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
    “We need to get rid of militias and terrorist groups,” Aguila Saleh, head of the House of Representatives allied to Haftar, said using a reference eastern officials often make to describe forces allied to the Tripoli government, which relies on support from several armed groups.
    “We assure the residents of Tripoli that the campaign to liberate Tripoli will be limited and not violate any freedoms but restore security and fight terrorism,” Saleh told lawmakers in a session in the main eastern city of Benghazi.
    For its part the Tripoli government will agree to a ceasefire only if the LNA troops return back east, government spokesman Mohanad Younes told reporters.
    Forces loyal to al-Serraj’s government have so far kept the eastern offensive at bay. Fierce fighting has broken out around a disused former airport about 11 km (7 miles) from the center.
    An eastern military source said a warplane belonging to the LNA had struck a military camp in an eastern Tripoli suburb.
    In a separate strike the yard of a primary school was hit, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. A LNA official said the plane had targeted a camp of Serraj’s forces.
    Saleh also said the United Nations mission to Libya and Serraj’s government had been controlled by armed groups and had failed to expel them from the capital, and promised Libya would hold long-delayed elections after the Tripoli operation ends.
    Haftar’s offensive had surprised the United Nations, which had been planning to hold a national conference on April 14 to prepare Libya for elections.
    The latest battle had by Friday killed 75 people, mainly fighters but including 17 civilians, and wounded another 323, according to U.N. tallies.    Some 13,625 people have been forced out of their homes.
    As well as the humanitarian cost, the conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration to Europe, scupper a U.N. peace plan, and allow Islamist militants to exploit the chaos.
    Haftar, 75, a former general in Gaddafi’s army who later joined the revolt against him, moved his troops out of their eastern stronghold to take the oil-rich desert south earlier this year, before sweeping up to Tripoli at the start of April.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by David Holmes)

4/14/2019 Arab Spring comes later in Sudan and Algeria by Michael Georgy and Tarek Amara
A Sudanese demonstrator gestures while riding atop a military truck as he protests against the army's announcement that President Omar al-Bashir
would be replaced by a military-led transitional council, near Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    DUBAI/TUNIS (Reuters) – The armed forces of Algeria and Sudan, which pushed out the long-serving rulers of those countries after mass protests, are following a script that has failed millions of Arabs since the 2011 uprisings.
    Those “Arab Spring” upheavals raised hopes of political and economic reforms in countries such as Egypt, where the army watched patiently from the sidelines and then capitalized on the turmoil to widen its influence in politics.
    Egypt’s armed forces chief effectively brushed President Hosni Mubarak aside when it became clear security forces could not contain street protests against the veteran leader.
    A military council took charge, overseeing a turbulent and sometimes violent transition during which Egypt’s first democratic elections took place.
    Two years later, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi.    Sisi then won elections in 2014 and 2018, on both occasions with 97 percent of the vote.
    Parliament has proposed constitutional reforms that could allow him to remain in power until 2034.
    “What I think caused a lot of the uprisings in 2011 and what’s causing them today in Sudan and Algeria is the politics of deception: when the president says I won by 85 or 99 percent at the polls but wherever you go everyone disapproves of him,” said Mohammed Alyahya, a Saudi political analyst and editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English TV.
    “That can be viable when you have robust economic development.    But if you don’t have that and you’re not granting people political and civil rights, then you’re essentially giving them nothing but repression, and that is ultimately unsustainable.”
    Sudan appears to be following the Egyptian model, at least for now, after long-serving leader Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in a military coup last week after sustained protests.
    Crowds had gathered outside the Ministry of Defence to ask the army to help them topple Bashir.
    The new head of Sudan’s military council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdelrahman, said on Saturday a civilian government would be formed after consultations with the opposition and promised a transition period of no more than two years.
    He had just succeeded the officer who announced Bashir’s arrest, Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf, who stepped down as head of the military council after only a day in the face of demands for a civilian government.
PRESSURE FOR CHANGE
    Protesters, however, kept up the pressure for change, just as they did in Egypt when Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – who was defence minister for two decades – ran the country after Mubarak’s fall.
    A common chant amongst the Sudanese was “either victory or Egypt,” a reference to their objection to following that script.    Social media in both countries latched on to Sisi and Burhan’s identical first names to humorously warn of a similar fate.
    “The biggest blunder was the hope that the army would be an ally.    I understand the emotions around the army but it’s a misunderstanding of what the army is and what it does,” said Sudanese commentator Magdi El Gizouli.
    “If you call on the army to intervene to resolve a crisis, this is what it can do, it can’t do better.”
    Algeria’s Army Chief, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, took a softer approach.    He declared the ailing Bouteflika, 82, unfit for office when he attempted to extend his fourth term, raising the prospect of prolonged demonstrations.
    In a matter of days, parliament named a new interim leader who was part of the ruling elite, the army expressed support for a transition and a date was set for a presidential election – providing what analysts say is political cover for the army, a long-time kingmaker in Algeria.
    Any future civilian leader in Sudan or Algeria needs the support of the army – a common arrangement in the Arab World – while also facing huge economic and political challenges.
    Problems that triggered the unrest across the Middle East in 2011 have since become more acute.    Ousted autocrats have been replaced by leaders who also failed to create jobs, and eradicate poverty and corruption.
BREAD PRICES
    More than one in four people below the age of 30 in Algeria are unemployed – a central grievance of protesters who want the economy liberalized and diversified to reduce reliance on oil and gas.
    In Sudan, what started as a protest about bread prices and poor living conditions turned into one about the regime.
    Echoing 2011, their cry is: “The people want the regime to fall.”
    But Elsheikh Ali, a 29-year-old Sudanese sales manager, said this was not exactly a second Arab Spring because the present protests were more about economic hardships than politics.
    “Sudan and Algeria aren’t a second wave.    They’re about hunger and the dire economic situation, and a wave of oppressed youth that haven’t gotten their full freedoms,” Ali said.
    “It’s not a victory in any way. People want to see accountability for all the people who brought us to this point.”
    Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics and author of two recent books about the Arab Spring, agrees.
    “The term Arab Spring is very misleading because it implies that everything will blossom, that there’s a magic bullet to resolve a severe crisis that has been in the making for decades,” he said.
    “What we are talking about is social protests that are symptoms of economic and political vulnerabilities.”
    As Algerians and Sudanese seek more freedom and better prospects, turmoil elsewhere in the region suggests their hopes for a better future may be disappointed.
    Tunisia has been hailed as a success story for its democratic development, although an economic crisis has eroded living standards.
    But its problems seem minor in comparison to other Arab Spring nations.    In Libya, military strongman Khalifa Haftar, whom critics call the new Gaddafi, is waging war to take over a country that had already descended into bloodshed since 2011.
    Hundreds of thousands have been killed in Syria’s civil war.    Four years of conflict have pushed Yemen, already one of the poorest Arab states, to the brink of famine.
    In Sudan and Algeria, meanwhile, democracy lacks a clear way forward.
    “The army wants to stay in control, whether with a civilian cover in Algeria or a direct way in Sudan,” said prominent Tunisian journalist Ziad Krichen.
    “The military that has tasted the sweetness of power and privileges sees itself as the only one capable of protecting those countries.”
(Additional reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunis, Nafisa Eltaher in Dubia, Lamine Chikhi in Algiers, and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Editing by Giles Elgood)
[They have a problem with the governments form because as the U.S. we have a Bill Of Rights with amendments that protect those rights from the government based on Christian principles to keep the government from becoming aggressive and even in todays world we find ourselves fighting against forces who are trying to get rid of those rights to keep us safe from what you read above.    So their beliefs are interferring with them achieving what they want.].

4/14/2019 Egypt’s president meets Libyan commander Haftar in Cairo by Aidan Lewis
Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt
April 14, 2019 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday met in Cairo with Khalifa Haftar, the commander of eastern-based Libyan forces, who is under international pressure to halt an advance on the capital Tripoli.
    Egypt has close ties with Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) controls the east and swept through the mainly desert south earlier this year before moving to Tripoli ten days ago in a major escalation of conflict.
    His move is the latest in a cycle of conflict and anarchy since the 2011 toppling of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
    Haftar has projected himself as the scourge of Islamist militants and of the militias that grew powerful after the uprising.    His rivals say he has fueled conflict and risks returning Libya to authoritarian rule.
    Egypt and the United Arab Emirates publicly support U.N.-led peace efforts in Libya, while being seen as Haftar’s closest regional allies.    Sisi, a former army chief, has led a far-reaching crackdown on Islamists with Egypt and has blamed Libya-based militants for some cross-border attacks.
    A statement from Sisi’s office did not mention Haftar’s offensive directly but “confirmed Egypt’s support for efforts to combat terrorism and extremist groups and militias in order to achieve security and stability for the Libyan citizen.”
    The presidency released photos showing Haftar, dressed in a blue suit, sitting with Sisi and his head of intelligence Abbas Kamel.
    Haftar, a former general in Gaddafi’s army who later turned against him, had long talked of a move on Tripoli, in     Libya’s west, where an internationally-recognized government sits.
    His campaign has disrupted efforts by the United Nations to bring rival eastern and western administrations to the negotiating table to plan an election and end the turmoil.
    Sunday was the day the United Nations had hoped to hold a national conference in the southwestern town of Ghadames.
    “Our position will not change,” U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame tweeted.    “You’ve learned and tasted war.    No matter how obstinate one becomes, there is no solution except a political one.”
SURPRISE PUSH FOR TRIPOLI
    As well as thwarting the U.N. plan, the flare-up threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration to Europe, let Islamist militants exploit the chaos, and worsen Libyans’ suffering.
    The fighting has killed 121 people, mainly fighters, and wounded another 561, according to U.N. tallies.    Some 13,600 people have fled their homes.
    Fighting in recent days has been taking place on the outskirts of Tripoli as LNA forces have been bogged down by groups aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA).
    The front lines were mostly calm on Sunday morning but military sources said in the afternoon that an eastern Libyan warplane crashed in southern Tripoli. No further details were available.
    The 75-year-old Haftar’s push for Tripoli took many by surprise and has brought calls from round the world for a ceasefire.    By moving forces west, his eastern home base is exposed and it may be hard for Haftar to retreat without losing standing among friends and foes alike.
    While some pro-Haftar media had predicted a quick victory, Tripoli government forces have halted him about 11 km (7 miles) from the center near an airport that was largely destroyed in a previous bout of fighting five years ago.
    His lightning drive appears to have united diverse factions in western Libya in the defense of Tripoli.
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Wali in Cairo and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Janet Lawrence and Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/14/2019 Egypt parliament to vote Tuesday on constitutional changes: speaker
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gives an address after the gunmen attack in Minya, accompanied by leaders of the
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Council for Police (unseen), at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt
May 26, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s parliament will vote on Tuesday on constitutional amendments including an extension to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s current four-year-term, its speaker, Ali Abdelaal, said on Sunday.
    Proposed constitutional amendments had previously suggested that Sisi would be allowed to seek two new six-year terms after his current one expires in 2022.
    But according to a recent draft seen by Reuters, those latest amendments could allow Sisi to stay in power until 2030 by extending his current term by two more years and allowing him to run once again in 2024.
    State television reported on Sunday that parliament’s legislative committee had approved the amendments and they were ready to go to the full house for a vote, scheduled for Tuesday.
    Abdelaal said the changes were the result of civic discussions organized by parliament to hear diverse views on the proposed amendments.
    If approved by parliament on Tuesday, the amendments would be put to a public referendum, widely expected later this month, before they go into effect, Abdelaal said.    Sisi’s supporters, dominate the 596-member assembly.
    The proposed changes also call for setting up a second parliamentary chamber to be known as the Senate, composed of 180 members, and giving the president new powers over appointing judges and the public prosecutor.
    They also include amending article 200 of the constitution to add that the military’s duty is to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature.”
    Some critics fear those changes will give the military more influence on political life in Egypt.
    Sisi’s supporters say the changes are necessary to give him more time to complete major development projects and economic reforms.    His critics say they concentrate more powers in the hands of a leader accused by rights groups of presiding over a relentless crackdown on freedoms.
(Reporting by Mohamed Abdellah and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Peter Cooney)

4/14/2019 Sudan protesters demand civilian rule, military council says ready to comply by Khalid Abdelaziz
Sudanese demonstrators protest outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 14, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s main protest group on Sunday demanded the immediate handover of power to a civilian transitional government, saying it would keep up the street demonstrations which ousted former President Omar al-Bashir last week to achieve its aims.
    The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) called for the establishment of a transitional council which would be protected by the armed forces, adding it would exert “all forms of peaceful pressure to achieve the objectives of the revolution.”
    The military council that replaced Bashir, who was ousted on Thursday by the military after three decades in power, announced a raft of new decisions late on Sunday including the retirement of Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf.    Ibn Auf, and his deputy, resigned as head of the transition council after they assumed the positions following Bashir’s ouster.
    The council also appointed Lieutenant General Abu Bakr Mustafa as intelligence chief, succeeding Salah Abdallah Mohamed Saleh, commonly known as Salah Gosh, who resigned on Friday.
    It did not name a successor to Ibn Auf.
    The transitional council spokesman told a news conference in Khartoum on Sunday the military was ready to work with opposition groups to establish a new civilian government.
    “The ball is now in the political forces’ court when it comes to the prime minister or a government,” Shams El Din Kabbashi said.
    “If they are ready today to approve anything, we are ready to implement it,” he added.
    Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abideen, another member of the council, said the opposition would have one week to submit their suggestions.
    The head of the military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had earlier said the council had invited the main opposition parties and protest organizers for a meeting.
    But the SPA and other main opposition parties, which together make up a group known as the Forces for Freedom and Change, said they did not attend the meeting.
    “We were not invited to this meeting … we will submit our suggestions for the government to the military council,” a spokesman for SPA told Reuters.
    A Reuters witness said the meeting was largely attended by unknown politicians and parliamentarians who are known to be loyal to Bashir’s party.
    A sit-in in the Sudanese capital, which began on April 6, was the culmination of a protest movement that began nearly four months ago, triggered by a worsening economic crisis.
    Kabbashi said there had been orders by the former regime to disperse the sit-in “at whatever cost,” but the military had refused to do so and will continue to protect protesters.
DEFEND THE REVOLUTION
    Several thousand protesters continued a sit-in outside the Defence Ministry and for the first time state television showed footage of people marching and chanting in the streets, while a TV presenter congratulated their “revolution.”
    SPA, which had demanded civilians be included on the transitional military council and for Bashir’s close associates to leave, called for the arrest of prominent National Intelligence and Security Service generals, including its former head Salah Gosh, and for the removal of the prosecutor general.
    It also called for the arrest of Bashir, whom the army has said it has already detained.
    Kabbashi said a committee would be formed to take over the former ruling party’s assets and that Sudan’s ambassadors to Washington, a former intelligence chief, and to Geneva, a former foreign minister, had been sacked.
    He also said the military council would release all the army and police officers who participated in demonstrations.
    Up to four thousand people were still camped out on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, slightly fewer than on previous days, with some people returning to work for the first time in days.
    After deadly clashes at the sit-in last week, the atmosphere was relaxed, with soldiers drinking tea and chatting with protesters.
    “We are at our sit-in until we hear the response from the army to the … demands.    We will defend the revolution from hijacking,” Mouawiya Mubarak, a 21-year-old student, said.
    “Our demands are clear and have not yet been achieved, why would we go home?    Our sit-in is the most powerful weapon in our hands,” the SPA said in a tweet.
(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Aidan Lewis, Hesham Hajali and Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Alexander Smith and Chris Reese)

4/15/2019 Sudan protesters move to protect Khartoum sit-in by Khalid Abdelaziz
A Sudanese demonstrator gestures as he attends a sit-in protest outside the
Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese protesters moved to block an attempt on Monday to break up a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry, where demonstrators have been pushing for a quick transition to civilian rule after President Omar al-Bashir was ousted, a Reuters witness said.
    Troops had gathered on three sides of the sit-in and tractors were preparing to remove stone and metal barricades, but protesters joined hands and formed rings around the sit-in area to prevent them.
    The protesters, numbering about 5,000 with more arriving, chanted “Freedom, freedom” and “Revolution, revolution,” and appealed to the army to protect them.
    Earlier, Sudan’s main protest group, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), issued an urgent call for people to join the sit-in and foil any attempt to disperse it.
    “We hope that everyone will head immediately to the areas of the sit-in to protect your revolution and your accomplishments,” the SPA said.
    The sit-in outside the compound, which also includes the intelligence headquarters and the presidential residence, began on April 6, after more than three months of protests triggered by a deepening economic crisis.
    On Thursday, Sudan’s army announced that it had removed and detained Bashir after three decades in power and was setting up a transitional military council to run the country.
    Since then the head of the military council and of Sudan’s powerful intelligence services have both been replaced, as protesters have continued to call for change.
    The SPA has demanded the immediate handover of power to a civilian transitional government as well as the prosecution of former officials.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/15/2019 Appeals and recounts spark frustration as Istanbul vote count enters third week by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) wave flags as they listen to mayoral
candidate Ekrem Imamoglu during a gathering in Istanbul, Turkey, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Electoral officials ordered a second recount of votes in an east Istanbul district on Monday, after two weeks of appeals by President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party against results showing it had narrowly lost control of Turkey’s largest city.
    Repeated AKP challenges to the initial results have led to growing frustration among supporters of the main opposition CHP, which spilled over onto the soccer terraces at the weekend when Istanbul’s top teams played two derby matches.
    “Give the mandate, give Imamoglu the mandate now,” fans of Besiktas and Fenerbahce chanted, as their teams played current league leaders Basaksehir, whom Erdogan has said he supports, and runners-up Galatasaray.
    The secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who attended both matches, holds a slim lead of around 0.2 percentage points over his AK Party rival, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, according to initial results of the March 31 local elections.
    The loss of Ankara ended 25 years of control over the capital by the AK Party and its Islamist predecessors.    Defeat in Istanbul, where Erdogan was mayor in the 1990s, would be an even greater blow to the president who has dominated Turkish politics through a decade and half of repeated election triumphs.
    On Monday electoral officials in the Maltepe district of Istanbul, where a recount of votes in 1,089 ballot boxes had already been underway for nearly a week, ruled for a fresh recount after an appeal by the AKP and their nationalist MHP allies, broadcaster NTV said.
    The appeal centered around an AKP objection to the additional teams brought in to speed up the recount, and means more than half the votes in the district must be recounted again.
    The AKP has already filed several other objections across Istanbul and has appealed to annul the elections in another district, Buyukcekmece.
    The High Election Board (YSK) has said it would wait for all recounts across the city to be completed before ruling on the AKP’s appeal to annul results in Buyukcekmece.
    After that it may have to rule on a call by Erdogan – not yet formally submitted by the AKP – for the entire Istanbul election to be annulled over what the party said were irregularities that affected the outcome.
    An appeal for annulment of the entire Istanbul election could probably be lodged only after the YSK has announced the final results.
OPPOSITION WANTS FASTER COUNTS
    CHP lawmaker Baris Yarkdas said his party has asked the YSK to consider previous recounts as valid and to speed up recounts across Istanbul by forming 100 new counting teams.
    “The AKP-MHP was planning to get different results by having the ballot boxes in Maltepe recounted.    When the results did not come out as they wished, they are now not signing the record sheets of the judges (officials) so the count can’t be finished,” Yarkdas said on Twitter.
    He said the AKP and MHP were driving the process into an impasse, and putting public servants under pressure.    “The party state is crushing the law,” he said.
    MHP leader Devlet Bahceli appeared to criticize Imamoglu for mixing sport with politics by attending the weekend matches.
    “Carrying the mandate to the stadium is a seed planted to turn the competition between the sides into animosity.    He can’t be mayor,” he said.
    Imamoglu responded: “I told my friends I would attend these games before the elections.    Are Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas not teams of this city?    I will go.”
(Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)

4/15/2019 Israel’s president starts consultations on prime minister nomination by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin talks during a press conference at the
Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president began post-election consultations on Monday with political parties that will lead to his appointment of a candidate to form a government.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nomination seemed virtually ensured after his right-wing Likud won the largest number of parliamentary seats in Tuesday’s ballot, and his closest rival, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, conceded defeat.
    The president, Reuven Rivlin, said he would announce his choice on Wednesday after meeting with all of the parties that captured seats in the 120-member Knesset.
    Under Israeli law, after consultations with the parties the president taps a legislator whom he believes has the best chance of forming a government, delegating 28 days, with a two-week extension if necessary, to complete the task.
    Netanyahu said he intends to build a coalition with five far-right, right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would give a Likud-led government 65 seats, four more than the outgoing administration he heads.
    Four of those parties have already said they would back Netanyahu, bringing his tally of seats to 60.
    Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which won five seats and meets Rivlin on Tuesday, has not formally declared he would join a Likud-led coalition.
    But political commentators, noting Lieberman’s sharp differences with left-wing and Arab parties whose support Gantz would need to govern, predicted he would sign up with Netanyahu after pressing for concessions in coalition negotiations.
    Gantz, a former military chief whose party won 35 parliamentary seats, would likely be next in line to try to put together a government if Netanyahu fails.
    For the first time, Rivlin’s consultations with the parties were being broadcast live as part of what he described as a display of transparency in what has historically been a closed-door process in Israel.
    At the meeting with Likud representatives, Culture Minister Miri Regev noted Netanyahu had won re-election despite Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement in February that he plans to charge the prime minister in three graft cases.
    Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.    He can still argue, at a pre-trial hearing with Mandelblit whose date has not been set, against the filing of bribery and fraud charges against him.
    The Israeli leader is under no legal obligation to resign if indicted.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by David Holmes)

4/15/2019 Turkish unemployment jumps to highest in nearly a decade
FILE PHOTO: A street vendor stands next to his stall in front of a jewelry shop in Istanbul, Turkey, April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s unemployment rate surged to 14.7 percent in the December-February period, its highest level in nearly a decade according to official data on Monday, as the effects of last year’s currency crisis continued to weigh on workers.
    The jobless rate was up from 13.5 percent in the previous period ending in January, and it included a jump in youth unemployment to its highest level since at least 2005.
    The Turkish economy contracted a sharper than expected 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, its worst performance in nearly a decade, indicating that last year’s near 30 percent slide in the lira had tipped it into recession.
    Both President Tayyip Erdogan and his son-in-law Finance Minister Berat Albayrak have said Turkey has left the worst of its economic troubles behind, and Albayrak last week announced a series of structural measures to prop up the ailing economy.
    Inflation has slipped from last year’s high but remains elevated, and the country’s current account deficit has narrowed sharply.
    However, the number of people registered as unemployed rose to 4.67 million in the three months to February, a surge of more than one million from a year earlier, data from the Turkish Statistics Institute showed.
    Non-agricultural unemployment stood at 16.8 percent in the same period, the data showed, jumping from 15.6 percent in the November-January period.
    In February, the government and Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges launched a campaign to boost employment, which they said will provide jobs for 2.5 million people.
    But Turkish unemployment was expected to continue rising in the months ahead and weigh on private consumption and investment, ratings agency Moody’s said in March.
    Tatha Ghose, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank, said: “The labor market is a lagging indicator and we all know Turkey is in a recession, and until that changes, unemployment is expected to go up.”
    “It should go up further as the recovery has not yet taken hold and will continue rising at least until July or August. It will get worse before it gets better,” Ghose said.
    In the three months to February, the unemployment rate among people aged 15-24 rose to 26.7 percent, its highest level since the data became available in 2005, the data showed.
    Overall unemployment last stood at 14.7 percent in the February-April period of 2009.
(Reporting by Behiye Selin Taner; Additional reporting by Tom Arnold; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Jonathan Spicer)
[Erdogan and his Islamic party apparently can't understand why they are losing elections.    DUHH!!!!.].

4/15/2019 French-made tanks and howitzer canons used in Yemeni war: Disclose by Richard Lough and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands following
their press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 10, 2018. Yoan Valat/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – French arms including tanks and laser-guided missile systems sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are being used in the Yemeni war against civilians, leaked intelligence published by investigative website Disclose showed.
    Entitled “Yemen: security situation,” a 15-page classified report written by France’s DRM military intelligence agency includes maps that detail the positioning of French-made weapons inside Yemen and on the Saudi side of the border.
    It demonstrates that swathes of Yemen’s population lives under the threat of the French-made arms, according to Disclose.
    The leaked report will be awkward for President Emmanuel Macron and his government, which has said that as far as it knows French-made arms sold to Saudi Arabia are used solely for defensive purposes on the border.
    The intelligence document states that Caesar cannons, manufactured by French company Nexter and deployed along the Saudi-Yemeni frontier, conduct defensive shelling of Houthi forces as well as back up “loyalist troops and Saudi armed forces in their progression into Yemeni territory.”
    The intelligence dossier is dated September 25, 2018.    It was presented to Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, as well as France’s defense and foreign ministers.
    The Disclose report was part of an investigation carried out with Mediapart, Konbini, France Inter radio, Arte television and U.S.-based The Intercept.
    France is a signatory of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty that regulates the international trade of conventional weapons and bans the sale of weapons that fuel human rights violations or war crimes.
    U.N. experts have said all sides in the Yemeni conflict may have committed war crimes.
NOT ON THE FRONT LINE
    Philippe’s office said in a statement that France adopted rigorous safeguards when issuing export licenses and supported United Nations’ efforts to broker peace in Yemen.
    “As far as we know, French arms possessed by coalition forces are placed for the most part in defensive positions, outside of Yemeni territory or under coalition control, but not on the front line,” the statement said.
    It did not question the authenticity of the documents and neither confirmed nor denied the Disclose report, adding that France was not aware of Yemeni civilians being killed by French arms.
    The defense ministry, which oversees the DRM, did not respond to a request for comment.
    The Saudi and UAE government communication offices and a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
    The four-year conflict in Yemen has shattered its economy and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, the U.N. says.    More than 10,000 civilians have been killed and some 10 million people have been driven to the brink of famine.
    A second, six-page DRM intelligence report distributed more widely, according to Disclose, showed that French-made tanks were deployed in defensive positions in bases including Mocha, Aden, al-Khawkhah along the coast and Ma’rib.
    Disclose said its study of satellite images, video and photographs taken by civilians revealed some Leclerc tanks bought by the UAE had taken part in coalition offensives, including the campaign for control of the rebel-held port of Hodeidah.
    The six-page report also said that UAE Mirage fighter jets were equipped with a laser-guided system made by Thales known as Damocles which it said were possibly being used in Yemen.
    Germany has imposed an embargo on arms exports to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and amid concerns over Riyadh’s role in the Yemen war, drawing criticism from the arms industry and from allies France and Britain, which say the move has put joint projects at risk.
(Reporting by Richard Lough, John Irish and Sophie Louet; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[Macron is not having a good day with this and Paris is having the famous cathedral on fire.].

4/15/2019 Libya offensive stalls, but Haftar digs in given foreign sympathies by Ulf Laessing and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A Libyan man carries a picture of Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration to support Libyan National Army
offensive against Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    TRIPOLI/PARIS (Reuters) – Military strongman Khalifa Haftar’s intended lightning seizure of Libya’s capital has stalled, but he is unlikely to face real pressure from abroad to pull back as the arrival of hardline opponents bolsters his war cry against “terrorism.”
    Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli almost two weeks ago, predicting defections, victory within two days and joyful women ululating in the streets.
    However, the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has managed to bog them down in southern suburbs, thanks largely to armed groups who have rushed to aid them from various western Libyan factions.
    And instead of ululating, many women in fact joined a rally on Friday in Tripoli against the offensive.
    Haftar, a 75-year-old former general in former dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s army, has been building up troop numbers and intensifying air strikes in a campaign he is selling as necessary to restore order and eradicate jihadists.
    That, however, is uniting Haftar’s enemies behind Serraj, who lacks regular forces and needs help, but may find them difficult to control the longer the war drags on, analysts say.
    Renewed conflict has scuppered for now a U.N. peace plan for Libya, with a national reconciliation conference planned for this week postponed.    It also threatens to disrupt oil supplies from the OPEC member and cause new migration across the sea to Europe.
    Diplomats believe Haftar for now will face no pressure from backers including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France, who still see him as the best bet to end the chaos and divisions since the ousting of Gaddafi in 2011.
ISLAMISTS IN TRIPOLI
    Their case, which undermines calls by former colonial ruler Italy and others for a political solution, is aided by the arrival of militants in recent days to help Serraj’s forces.
    One of them is Salah Badi, a commander from nearby Misrata port who has Islamist ties and possible ambitions himself to take Tripoli.    In videos from the front line, Badi has been seen directing men as well as a U.N.-sanctioned people trafficker.
    Some hardcore Islamists, previously affiliated to Ansar Sharia, have also popped up in the fighting, according to the videos.    That group was blamed by Washington for the 2012 storming of a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.    France, which has oil assets in Libya though less than Italy, has called for a ceasefire – albeit more reluctantly than Rome – while also echoing Haftar’s narrative that some extremists were among the Tripoli defenders.
    “There is an oversimplification.    It is not just Haftar the baddy against the goodies in Tripoli and Misrata.    There are groups that are at the end of the day allied to al Qaeda on the other side,” said a French diplomatic source.
    “Perhaps if those opposed to Haftar had done a deal with him in 2017, the balance of power would not have shifted against them,” the source said, referring to when France brought Haftar and Serraj together for face-to-face talks in Paris.
    Serraj’s government has sought to downplay the presence of hardliners.    “On both sides there are members accused of being violators,” Mohamed Siyala, his foreign minister, told reporters.
    Haftar’s own troops are swelled by an estimated hundreds of Salafist Islamists, and one of his commanders is wanted by the International Criminal Court over the alleged summary execution of dozens of people in the eastern city of Benghazi.
    It was there that Haftar in 2014 launched his “Operation Dignity” campaign, naming his forces an “army” to try and distinguish from “militias” elsewhere.
    He won the Benghazi battle against mainly Islamists in 2017 with covert support from the UAE, Egypt and France, but some of his defeated foes are now in Tripoli seeking revenge.
TINY MINORITY
    Neighboring Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi met Haftar at the weekend in Cairo and in a statement “confirmed Egypt’s support for efforts to combat terrorism.”
    Wolfram Lacher, a researcher at German think tank SWP, said there was exaggeration of the presence of militants in Tripoli for propaganda purposes.
    “These elements are a tiny minority of the forces that are fighting against Haftar right now, but this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy the longer this goes on,” he said.
    “So anybody who has an interest in preventing jihadist mobilization in Libya should have an interest in stopping this war now.”
    In the past, the UAE and Egypt have supported Haftar with air strikes in eastern Libya, but it is unclear whether they would do so in the current campaign, diplomats and analysts say.
    For Paris, Haftar, or a perceived stable army in Tripoli, is key to its wider policy against militants in the Sahel.
    France has some 4,500 troops in the deserts to the south and west of Libya, and wants to ensure the porous borders are locked as tightly as possible.    Its support of Haftar will depend on whether it thinks he can win or how much civilian casualties can be contained.
    Should those escalate and refugee numbers swell, then it may be forced to be more proactive in pressuring Haftar.
    It will also depend on how UAE support evolves.
    France has listened increasingly closely to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s views on Libya since President Emmanuel Macron came to power.    An internal policy battle in France between the foreign and defense ministries prior to his arrival had until then blurred Paris’ lines.
    “While France is keen to project its Libya policy as a home-grown policy, in reality France merely follows the UAE — more or less,” said Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute think-tank in The Hague.
    “What this means today is: Unless MBZ decides that Haftar has blown his chance and failed irretrievably, Emmanuel Macron is unlikely to alter or subdue his pro-Haftar policy in Libya.”
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

4/15/2019 Turkey says buying Russian defense system should not trigger U.S. sanctions by Humeyra Pamuk