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

    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 March-April or continue to King Of The South 2019 for July-August

KING OF THE SOUTH 2019 MAY-JUNE




2019 MAY-JUNE


5/2/2019 Israel comes to a standstill in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day by OAN Newsroom
    The people of Israel came to a standstill in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.    The two-minute stop occurred Thursday as sirens sounded across the country.    This is part of a larger Remembrance Day in Israel, which is celebrated until sunset with ceremonies and services.
    This year Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the solemn occasion with a speech concerning the recent rise in anti-Semitism.    Netanyahu addressed last week’s shooting at a California synagogue as well as the recent New York Times scandal, saying the Jewish state lives in a paradox.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center,lays a wreat during the opening ceremony of Israel’s
annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 2, 2019.
The somber day is also marked by ceremonies and memorials at schools and community centers. Restaurants and
cafes close, and TV and radio stations play quiet music and Holocaust-themed programs. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
    “We live today in a paradox, the worldwide admiration for the Jewish state is accompanied in certain circles with the rise of hatred of Jews,” he stated.    “This hatred was expressed with deadly attacks on worshipers in synagogues, like what happened few days ago in San Diego.”
    Holocaust Remembrance Day pays tribute to the memory of six million Jews, who were killed during the Holocaust.

5/3/2019 Israel kills two militants in Gaza; two Palestinians killed in border protest by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A wounded Palestinian boy is evacuated during a protest at the Israel-Gaza
border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israel killed two Hamas militants in air strikes on Gaza on Friday, and two Palestinian protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli forces along the enclave’s border.
    The strikes were a response to gunfire from southern Gaza that wounded two Israeli soldiers, the Israeli military said.
    Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave, said two members of its armed wing had been killed and three wounded when Israel bombed one of its positions in central Gaza.
    Later on Friday, two Palestinians shot by Israeli troops while taking part in weekly protests along the border died of their wounds, Gaza health officials said.
    The Israeli military said some 5,200 Palestinians had amassed along the frontier, but did not immediately provide further comment.
    The protesters are demanding an end to a blockade imposed 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, which Israel rejects.
    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.
    Egyptian mediators, credited with brokering a ceasefire after a Hamas rocket attack north of Tel Aviv in March set off a burst of intense fighting, have been working to prevent a new escalation.
    Hamas said in a statement on Thursday that its Gaza chief, Yeyha Al-Sinwar, had traveled to Cairo for talks on efforts to maintain calm along the border and alleviate Palestinian suffering.
    Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts.    Unemployment stands at 52 percent, according to the World Bank.
    Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel in the past decade.
    Cairo’s mediation had helped persuade Israel to lift some restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and expand the Mediterranean zone where Gazans can fish.
    But Israel scaled back the zone this week in response to rocket fire from Gaza, a spokeswoman for its military liaison agency with the Palestinians said.
(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Bill Berkrot)

5/3/2019 Kushner hopes Israel will look at peace plan before any West Bank moves by Steve Holland and David Alexander
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law, takes a seat
before a discussion on "Inside the Trump Administration's Middle East Peace Effort" at a dinner symposium of the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Thursday he hopes Israel will take a hard look at President Donald Trump’s upcoming Middle East peace proposal before proceeding with any plan to annex West Bank settlements.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed in the waning days of a re-election campaign he won on April 9 to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, in a move that would be bound to trigger condemnation from the Palestinians and the Arab world and complicate the U.S. peace effort.
    Kushner, speaking at a dinner of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Middle East peace proposal he has been putting together was close to release and that Israel and the Palestinians should wait to see it before making any unilateral moves.
    He said the issue would be discussed with the Israeli government when Netanyahu forms a governing coalition.
    “I hope both sides will take a real look at it, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, before any unilateral steps are made,” Kushner said, adding he had not discussed the issue of settlement annexation with Netanyahu.
    Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt have spent the past two years developing the peace proposal in the hopes it will provide a framework for a renewed dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians.
    The Palestinians have refused to talk to the U.S. side since Trump decided to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
    The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, all territory Israel captured in 1967.
    Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, is expected to unveil his proposals in June after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
    “What we will be able to put together is a solution that we believe is a good starting point for the political issues and then an outline for what can be done to help these people start living a better life,” Kushner said.
    “I was given the assignment of trying to find a solution between the two sides and I think what we’ll put forward is a framework that I think is realistic … it’s executable and it’s something that I do think will lead to both sides being much better off,” Kushner said.
POLITICAL, ECONOMIC COMPONENTS
    Kushner has begun to take a more public role in the Trump administration since he emerged unscathed from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump presidential campaign in 2016 colluded with Russia.
    Trump has relied heavily on the 38-year-old Kushner, who helped develop prison reform legislation and a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, and is also working on a U.S. immigration proposal.
    The Middle East proposal, which has been delayed for a variety of reasons over the past 18 months, has two major components.    It has a political piece that addresses core issues such as the status of Jerusalem, and an economic part that aims to help the Palestinians strengthen their economy.
    Kushner has said the proposal is not an effort to impose U.S. will on the region.    He has not said whether it calls for a two-state solution, a goal of past peace efforts.
    On Thursday night, he called on critics to hold their fire until they are able to see the plan in its entirety.
    Palestinians have voiced skepticism about the effort led by Trump’s son-in-law, who was a real estate developer before joining his father-in-law as a senior White House adviser.
    Arab officials and analysts believe the plan is likely to be decidedly pro-Israel since the Trump administration has taken a tough line toward Palestinians, cutting off aid and ordering the PLO’s office in Washington shut.
    Greenblatt has said U.S. negotiators expect Israelis and Palestinians will both be critical of some parts of the plan.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and David Alexander; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Peter Cooney)

5/4/2019 Gaza-Israel hostilities flare with rocket attacks, air strikes by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell
Chinese workers look on as an Iron Dome anti-missile projectile intercepts a rocket that was
fired from Gaza, above the Israeli city of Ashkelon, Israel May 4, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Saturday and an Israeli air strike killed one Palestinian gunman as hostilities flared across the border for a second day.
    The escalation began on Friday, when two Israeli soldiers were wounded by Gaza gunfire near the border.    A retaliatory Israeli air strike killed two militants from the Islamist Hamas group that governs Gaza.    Two other Palestinians protesting near the frontier were also killed by Israeli forces.
    On Saturday Israel hit Gaza with air strikes and tank fire after Palestinian militants fired more than 90 rockets toward Israeli cities and villages.    The Israeli military said it had targeted rocket launchers and Hamas posts.
    The flare-up, which prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene his security council, comes days before Muslims begin the holy month of Ramadan and Israelis celebrate Independence Day.
    Israel and Hamas have managed to avert all-out war for the past five years.    Egyptian mediators, credited with brokering a ceasefire after a Hamas rocket attack north of Tel Aviv in March triggered a burst of intense fighting, have been working to prevent any further escalation of hostilities.
    A small armed pro-Hamas group in Gaza, The Protectors of Al-Aqsa, said one of its men was killed in an air strike on Saturday.
    The Gaza Health Ministry said four Palestinian bystanders were wounded, and the Palestinian Education Ministry said it was evacuating schools in areas under Israeli bombardment.
    Across the border, rocket sirens sent Israelis running to shelters, but there were no reports of casualties as many of the missiles were intercepted.
    Netanyahu will convene security chiefs on Saturday to discuss the situation, a source in his office said.
THREE WARS SINCE 2007
    Hamas would “continue to respond to the crimes by the occupation and it will not allow it to shed the blood of our people,” its spokesman Abdel-Latif al-Qanoua said in a statement on Saturday.    He made no explicit claim for Hamas having fired the rockets.
    One of the attacks was claimed by the Palestinian Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which said it fired rockets at the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
    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.
    The Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza said in a statement that the rocket barrages were a response to Friday’s events and that Israel has been delaying the implementation of previous understandings brokered by Cairo.
    Hamas said on Thursday that its Gaza chief, Yeyha Al-Sinwar, had traveled to Cairo for talks on efforts to maintain calm along the border and alleviate hardship in the enclave.
    Some two million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts.    Unemployment stands at 52 percent, according to the World Bank, and poverty is rampant.
    Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet)

5/4/2019 Erdogan signals he backs re-run of contested Istanbul vote
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 8, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signaled on Saturday he favors a re-run of a mayoral election in Istanbul which resulted in victory for the candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
    Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, which also lost control of the capital Ankara in the March 31 mayoral elections, has already filed an appeal to Turkey’s High Election Board to annul the election in Istanbul due to what it says were irregularities and hold a fresh poll.
    “There is a controversy here, it’s clear.    There is an irregularity here, that’s clear too.    Let’s go to the people and see what they say and whatever the outcome, we will accept it,” Erdogan told Turkish business people in Istanbul.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/4/2019 ISIS claims attack on Haftar forces in Libya by OAN Newsroom
ISIS claims responsibility for an ambush in Southern Libya that killed eight soldiers from the Libyan National Army.
An armed motorcade belonging to ISIS drives along a road in Derna, in eastern Libya,
October 3, 2014. ISIS is accused of beheading 11 prisoners in the desert south of Tripoli. REUTERS
    According to reports, militants attacked an LNA training camp south of Tripoli Saturday, beheading one of their soldiers and shooting seven others.
    Hours later, the Islamic State said it was responsible for the attack against the “infidels and the apostates.”
    The LNA, who opposes Libya’s UN backed government, is reportedly gaining traction by recruiting more weapons and troops to take over the country’s rule of law.
    Just days ago thousands of civilians fled the capital to avoid being trapped in.

5/5/2019 Netanyahu pledges ‘massive strikes’ in Gaza in third day of border fighting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller
Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets are launched from Gaza
towards Israel as seen from the city of Ashkelon, Israel Ashkelon May 5, 2019. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he ordered the military to continue “massive strikes” against militants in Gaza as a surge in cross-border hostilities ran into a third day.
    A rocket fired from Gaza killed an Israeli civilian on Sunday while four Palestinians, at least two of them gunmen, were killed in Israeli strikes in the most serious border clashes since a spate of fighting in November.
    Israel’s military said more than 450 rockets, many of them intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system, have been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday, and it attacked some 220 targets belonging to Gaza militant groups.
    The latest round of violence began two days ago when an Islamic Jihad sniper fired at Israeli troops, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.
    Islamic Jihad accused Israel of delaying implementation of previous understandings brokered by Egypt aimed at ending violence and easing blockaded Gaza’s economic hardship.
    And this time, Israeli strategic affairs analysts said, both Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, appeared to believe they have some leverage to press for concessions from Israel, where independence day celebrations begin on Wednesday.
    On Sunday sirens sounded in the city of Rehovot, some 17 km (10.5 miles) southeast of Tel Aviv.    The city is preparing to host the Eurovision Song Contest in two weeks.
    In a statement, Netanyahu, who doubles as defense minister, said: “This morning I instructed the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) to continue with massive strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip and I also instructed that forces around the Gaza Strip be stepped up with tank, artillery and infantry forces.”
RAMADAN APPROACHING
    For residents in Gaza, the escalation comes ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in the territory on Monday.    It is traditionally a time for prayer, family feasts to break a daylight fast and shopping.
    Israeli police said one of the rockets launched on Sunday hit a house in the city of Ashkelon, killing a 58-year-old man.    He was the first Israeli civilian casualty in such an attack from Gaza since a 2014 war with militants in the enclave.
    Since Friday, 12 Palestinians, at least five of them gunmen, have been killed in Gaza, the local health ministry said.
    They included a 14-month-old baby, and a woman, initially identified as her pregnant mother, but later named by family as the infant’s aunt, who the ministry said were killed in an Israeli air strike.
    Israel’s military denied involvement, saying its intelligence information showed they were killed by a misfired Palestinian rocket.
    A U.N. envoy said it was working with Egypt to try to end the fighting, which has sent residents on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border racing for shelter.    Schools in Gaza and southern Israel were closed.
    Israeli bombings in Gaza destroyed two multi-storey structures.    Witnesses said the Israeli military had warned people inside to evacuate the buildings, which it alleged housed Hamas security facilities, before they were hit.
    Saeed Al-Nakhala, owner of a clothing store in one of the buildings, surveyed the rubble on Sunday and said he had no time to save his merchandise.
    “I was together with my son in the shop, there was a big noise and then another and people started to run.    We left everything behind and escaped,” said Nakhala.    “Then the whole placed was destroyed.”
    The sound of sirens cut into the 1 p.m. (1000 GMT) hourly news on Israel Radio, with the broadcaster warning residents in the south, including the major city of Beersheba, to take cover.
    Over the past few weeks, Cairo’s mediation had helped persuade Israel to lift some restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and to expand the Mediterranean zone where Gazans can fish.
    But Israel scaled back the fishing zone this week in response to rocket fire and shut the border crossings entirely on Saturday after barrages from Gaza.
    Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s West Bank-based rival.
    Unemployment in Gaza stands at 52 percent, according to the World Bank, and poverty is rampant.
    Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the area.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Jason Neely)

5/5/2019 Turkey says it will not bow to U.S. sanctions over S-400 deal
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
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will never bow to U.S. sanctions over its agreement to purchase Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Sunday regarding a deal that has strained ties between the NATO allies.
    Washington says the systems are not compatible with NATO equipment and may compromise its Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.    It has warned of possible U.S. sanctions if Ankara pushes on with the Russian deal.
    Turkey, a prospective buyer and a partner in the production of the F-35s, has said the S-400s and jets would not impact each other and that it will not abandon its deal with Russia.
    It has proposed forming a working group with Washington to assess the impact of the S-400s, but says it has not received a response yet.
    Speaking to broadcaster Kanal 7, Oktay said the U.S. concerns are unreasonable and that the planned July delivery date for the S-400s remained unchanged.
    “When Turkey signs an agreement, Turkey keeps its promise.    We signed this agreement and certain payments were made,” Oktay said.    “I don’t think the arguments and concerns here have a lot to lean on,” he said.
    The United States has also offered to sell Turkey its rival Raytheon Co. Patriot defense systems, which Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Ankara was still evaluating.
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who will visit Turkey next week, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency on Sunday that decisions about defense procurement were up to individual countries.
    “The issue of procuring military materiel is a national decision for countries, but the ability of allied armies to work together is a fundamental issue for NATO to run its operations and missions,” Stoltenberg was quoted as saying.
    He said he welcomed talks between Ankara and Washington on the procurement of the Patriot systems and talks between Turkey and the Franco-Italian EUROSAM consortium on its SAMP-T systems.
    In March Reuters reported Washington was exploring whether it could remove Turkey from production of the F-35 stealth fighter jet, angered by Ankara’s refusal to back down from its planned purchase of the Russian missile system.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the F-35 project would collapse if Turkey did not participate.
    Turkey has said it expected U.S. President Donald Trump to use a waiver to protect it against penalties over the S-400s, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Ankara could face retribution for the deal under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Jason Neely)

5/5/2019 U.N. races to process rotting Yemeni grain after reaching Hodeidah store
FILE PHOTO: The convoy of a team from the United Nations and the World Food Program
crosses from Houthi-controlled areas to a government-controlled areas to reach grain mills in an
eastern suburb of Hodeidah, Yemen February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Nations regained access to donated grain stored in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah on Sunday, and began the task of salvaging food that could stave off starvation for millions of citizens before it rots.
    Hodeidah, which has become the focus of a four-year war between Saudi-backed government forces and the Iran-aligned Houthis, is the entry point for most of Yemen’s humanitarian aid and commercial imports.
    But World Food Programme (WFP) grain stores there have been cut off for eight months, putting 51,000 tonnes of wheat at risk of rotting.    The stores came under the control of government forces after fierce battles last year but a major frontline is only a few blocks away.
    The war has killed tens of thousands and put Yemen on the brink of famine.
    A WFP technical team arrived in the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah on Sunday to begin cleaning and servicing equipment in preparation for milling grain, a WFP spokesman told Reuters.
    Sources familiar with the matter said the WFP-led team traveled from the government-held southern port city of Aden along the western coast, avoiding Houthi-controlled areas after the group denied them access from the north, which it controls.
    Houthi officials did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    The Houthis and the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi agreed in December to a U.N.-sponsored truce and troop withdrawal from Hodeidah.    That deal has largely held but violence has escalated in some other parts of the country.
    WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said its priority was to begin cleaning and servicing milling machinery and fumigating the wheat.
    The U.N. expects that process to take several weeks before starting to mill it into flour and distributing it to the Yemeni communities most in need.
    An assessment carried out in February, when the U.N. was briefly granted access to the mills for the first time since September, concluded that around 70 percent of the wheat may be salvageable.
    But the flour yield will be lower than normal as weevil infestation has caused hollow grains, the U.N. said, based on that assessment.
    Talks aimed at securing a mutual military withdrawal from Hodeidah have stalled despite U.N. efforts.
    Yemeni government officials accuse the Houthis of violating the peace deal while the Houthis say they need guarantees the government will not take advantage of it to redeploy its forces.
    Under the proposed withdrawal, a 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 recipients.
    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading the military coalition backing Hadi’s government.
(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/6/2019 Gaza, Israel intensify air exchange by Josef Federman and Fares Akram, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel on Sunday, killing at least four Israelis and bringing life to a standstill across the region in the bloodiest fighting since a 2014 war.    As Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes, the Palestinian death toll rose to 22, including two pregnant women and two babies.
    The bloodshed marked the first Israeli fatalities from rocket fire since the 2014 war.    With Palestinian militants threatening to send rockets deeper into Israel and Israeli reinforcements massing near the Gaza frontier, the fighting showed no signs of slowing.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent most of the day huddled with his Security Cabinet.    Late Sunday, the Cabinet instructed the army to “continue its attacks and to stand by” for further orders.    Israel also claimed to have killed a Hamas commander involved in transferring Iranian funds to the group.
    Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, are bitter enemies that have fought three wars since Hamas violently seized control of Gaza in 2007.    They have fought numerous smaller battles, most recently two rounds in March.
    Although lulls in fighting used to last for months or even years, these flareups have grown increasingly frequent as a desperate Hamas, weakened by a crippling Egyptian-Israeli blockade imposed 12 years ago, seeks to put pressure on Israel to ease the closure.
    The blockade has ravaged Gaza’s economy, and a year of Hamas-led protests along the Israeli frontier has yielded no tangible benefits.    In March, Hamas faced several days of street protests over the dire conditions.
    With little to lose, Hamas appears to be trying to step up pressure on Netanyahu at a time when the Israeli leader is vulnerable on several fronts.
    Fresh off an election victory, Netanyahu is now engaged in negotiations with his hard-line political partners on forming a governing coalition.    If fighting drags on, a usually cautious Netanyahu could be weakened in his negotiations as his partners push for a tougher response.
    Later this week, Israel marks Memorial Day, one of the most solemn days of the year, and its festive Independence Day.    Next week, Israel is to host the Eurovision song contest.    Prolonged fighting could overshadow these important occasions and deter foreign tourists.
    The arrival of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins Monday, does not seem to be deterring Hamas.
    But the group is also taking a risk if it pushes too hard.    During the 50-day war in 2014, Israel killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, according to U.N. tallies, and caused widespread damage to homes and infrastructure.    While Hamas is eager to burnish its credentials as a resistance group, the Gazan public has little stomach for another devastating war.
    “Hamas is the change-seeker,” said retired Brig. Gen. Assaf Orion, a former head of the Israeli military general staff’s strategic division.    “Hamas needs to make its calculus, balancing its hope for improvement against its fear of escalation.”
A rocket struck the Israeli town of Ashdod, leading Israel to add
retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip on Sunday. AHMAD GHARABLI /AFP/GETTY IMAGES

5/6/2019 U.S. deploying carrier, bombers to Middle East to deter Iran: Bolton by Matt Spetalnick and Idrees Ali
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Strait of Gibraltar,
entering the Mediterranean Sea as it continues operations in the 6th Fleet area of responsibility in this
April 13, 2019 photo supplied by the U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Clint Davis/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran and to show the United States will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack, national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday.
    With tensions already high between Washington and Tehran, a U.S. official said the deployment has been ordered “as a deterrence to what has been seen as potential preparations by Iranian forces and its proxies that may indicate possible attacks on U.S. forces in the region.”    However, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was not expecting any imminent Iranian attack.
    Bolton – who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish U.S. policy on Iran – said the decision, which could exacerbate problems between the two countries, was meant to send a “clear and unmistakable message” of U.S. resolve to Tehran.
    Though he cited no specific Iranian activities that have raised new concerns, Iran has recently warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it was barred from using the strategic waterway.    About a fifth of the oil consumed globally passes through the strait.
    “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces,” Bolton said in a statement.
    It marked the latest in a series of moves by President Donald Trump’s administration aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Iran in recent months.
    Washington has said it will stop waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, in an attempt to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero.    It has also blacklisted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, taking the unprecedented step of designating it as a foreign terrorist organization, which Iran has cast as an American provocation.
‘UNRELENTING FORCE’
    The Trump administration’s efforts to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began last year when it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.
    “The United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” Bolton said.
    Bolton did not provide any further details.
    A U.S. Navy statement issued early last month said the aircraft carrier and its accompanying convoy of ships had steamed out of Norfolk, Virginia, on April 1 “for a regularly scheduled deployment,” but it did not give any destination at the time.
    While it is not rare for the United States to have aircraft carriers in the Middle East, Bolton’s language could increase tensions.
    The threat late last month from the IRGC to close the Strait of Hormuz followed a U.S. announcement that it would end exemptions granted last year to eight buyers of Iranian oil and demanding they stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions.
    European governments have opposed Washington’s reinstatement of sanctions on Iran.
    A senior Trump administration official said at the time that any aggressive move by Iran in the strait would be unjustified and unacceptable.
    Iran has made threats to block the waterway in the past, without acting on them.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Idrees Ali; Editing by Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

5/6/2019 Libya’s Haftar orders troops to fight harder during Ramadan by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing
Smoke rises during a fight between members of the Libyan internationally recognised government
forces and Eastern forces in Ain Zara, Tripoli, Libya May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman al-Sahili
    BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces commander Khalifa Haftar urged his troops trying to take Tripoli to battle harder and teach their enemies an even bigger lesson, because the Muslim month of Ramadan that begins on Monday was a month of holy war.
    His comments came just hours after the United Nations called for a week-long humanitarian truce following a month of fighting for the capital that has displaced 50,000 people, killed around 400, and badly damaged some southern districts.
    Haftar had already defied the United Nations when he launched his Tripoli offensive a month ago on the same day U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting the capital to prepare a national reconciliation conference.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is allied to a parallel government in the east, has not been able to breach the southern defenses of Tripoli, which is held by the internationally recognized government.
    On an audiotape released by his force’s spokesman, Haftar said Ramadan had not been a reason to halt previous battles when he seized the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna as he expanded his power and the country collapsed into chaos after the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    “Officers and soldiers in our armed forces and the auxiliary forces, I salute you in this glorious days and urge you with your strength and determination to teach the enemy a greater and bigger lesson than the previous ones, as we’ve always known you to do, till we uproot it from our beloved land,” Haftar said.
    He did not mention the U.N. call for a truce.
    In a statement earlier on Sunday, the U.N. Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) appealed for a truce starting on Monday morning at 0400 local time to coincide with the beginning of Ramadan.
    As the United Nations issued its statement, artillery shelling could be heard coming from southern outskirts of the capital, where the LNA has been tying to breach defenses by Tripoli forces.
    The renewed conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, drive increased migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, and scupper U.N. plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in Libya’s east and west.
HOLY MONTH
    The speech by Haftar, a former Gaddafi general, included religious references to historic campaigns by Muslim forces.
    “Our battles against terrorism in Benghazi and Derna did not stop in the holy month of Ramadan but we increased our determination and strength in this holy month,” he said.
    Emad Badi, a Libya researcher, said Haftar might be trying to reach out to ultra-conservative Salafis.    They are among his forces, but also have a presence in Tripoli.
    Haftar’s LNA seized the sparsely populated but oil-rich south of the country earlier this year before turning on Tripoli last month.
    In his speech on Sunday, Haftar again framed his battle as counterterrorism.    His main backers are the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which see him as bulwark against Islamist militants and chaos.
    He has also won support from France, whose main objective in Libya is to fight terrorism, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Figaro newspaper last week, while denying Paris backed Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Nayera Abdallah and Ulf Laessing; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

5/6/2019 President Trump: U.S. supports Israel 100% against Hamas, Islamic jihad by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump has condemned the latest round of Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians.    In a series of tweets Sunday, the president denounced rocket attacks by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihad against Israel.    President Trump added, the U.S. fully-supports Israel’s efforts to protect its civilians.
    Trump tweet: “Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens.... ....To the Gazan people — these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery. END the violence and work towards peace - it can happen!
    Over the past two-days, militants have fired over 600 rockets into Israel from Gaza, killing four Israeli civilians.
Palestinians walk by a house following a late night Israeli missile strike in town of
Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, May. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    Israel carried out airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, and vowed a tougher crackdown against Islamic terror.
    This comes as reports claim a temporary ceasefire agreement has been met between Israel and Palestinian officials.
    “The IDF is ready, prepared and equipped to continue to fight against Hamas, ultimately to defend Israeli civilians against rockets fired from Gaza at Israel.” – Lt-Col. Jonathan Conricus, spokesman – Israeli Defense Force
    President Trump also urged Gaza residents to stop supporting Hamas, saying further confrontation will only bring more misery to the struggling enclave.

5/7/2019 U.S. sending carrier, bombers to Mideast is “psychological warfare”: Iran
FILE PHOTO: A tugboat moves cargo towards the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of
Musandam province, Oman, July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s top security body dismissed as “psychological warfare” a U.S. announcement that a carrier strike group and bombers are being sent to the Middle East as a message to Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Tuesday.
    U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the United States was deploying the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East.     “Bolton’s statement is a clumsy use of a burnt-out happening for psychological warfare,” Tasnim quoted Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, as saying. Khosravi said the carrier had arrived in the Mediterranean weeks ago.     U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday he had approved dispatching the carrier strike group and bombers due to indications of a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”    He provided no details of the underlying intelligence.     Iran’s state-run Press TV earlier said: “The deployment seems to be a ‘regularly scheduled’ one by the U.S. Navy, and Bolton has just tried to talk it up.”     Separately, a military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States was “neither willing nor capable” with respect to an attack on Iran, the semi-official news agency ISNA reported.
    Brigadier General Hossein Dehgan said Washington would have a hard time convincing world opinion and regional countries to accept an all-out war against Iran, and to mobilize resources for such a conflict.
    Iranian newspapers and commentators have widely dismissed Washington’s announcement as a “bluff” and “empty rhetoric.”
    Iran said last month it was prepared for a U.S. decision to end waivers granted to buyers of Iranian oil, as the elite Revolutionary Guards repeated their threat to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if Tehran was barred from using it.    Around 30 percent of the world’s seaborne oil exports get shipped through the strait.
    While neither Shanahan nor Bolton elaborated on the gist of U.S. intelligence, other U.S. officials told Reuters there were “multiple, credible threats” against U.S. forces on land, including in Iraq, by Iran and proxy forces and at sea.
    Last week, President Donald Trump’s administration said it would end waivers for countries buying Iranian oil in an attempt to reduce Iran’s crude exports to zero following Washington’s withdrawal from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
    The administration also blacklisted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.
    U.S.-Iranian tensions escalated further after Washington acted on Friday to force Tehran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant.    Washington’s step intensified a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.
    Iran will revive part of its halted nuclear program in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord but does not plan to pull out of the agreement itself, state media reported on Monday.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/7/2019 Erdogan backs re-run of Istanbul vote after ‘organized corruption’
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks at North Atlantic Council Mediterranean Dialogue Meeting
in Ankara, Turkey, May 6, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the decision to re-run Istanbul’s mayoral election was an important step toward strengthening democracy, describing the March vote as marred by “organized corruption” and illegality.
    The High Election Board ruled on Monday for a fresh Istanbul mayoral contest on June 23, scrapping the March 31 vote which was lost by Erdogan’s party candidate, in a move that drew opposition accusations of dictatorship.
    “We see this as an important step to strengthen our democracy,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his AK Party in parliament.    “We believe there was organized corruption and full illegality in the Istanbul mayoral elections.”
    The Turkish lira tumbled against the dollar after the election decision, bringing its losses this year to 14 percent as investors fretted about political uncertainty and business leaders criticized the move.
    Erdogan said Turkey was facing economic sabotage and vowed to fend off attacks on the economy.    “So, what are we going to do? From now on, we will do what we did to terrorists.”
    Turkey’s Western allies have also expressed concern about the election’s annulment.    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the decision was neither transparent nor comprehensible.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)
[As I have said do not ever let Shria law or Muslim control of any area in the U.S.A. because what you see above would become the norm and you could not change it without a revolution of war if you are stupid enough to fall for their system, and as I have said that I suspect Erdogan to be a big player in the future of the South as even now his actions on Russian versus U.S. missile systems shows that issue.].

5/9/2019 Ousted Istanbul mayor says election re-run a battle for democracy by Daren Butler and Birsen Altayli
Ekrem Imamoglu, ousted Istanbul Mayor from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), speaks
during an interview with Reuters in Istanbul, Turkey, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Istanbul’s ousted mayor says he will go into battle for Turkish democracy next month when he stands in a re-run of an election he thought had granted him the city to govern for five years.
    Ekrem Imamoglu is confident he will win again on June 23, despite what he calls the theft of the narrow victory he won in March over President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, but for him there are also bigger issues at stake.
    “The Istanbul election has become a symbol for democracy, we can see that.    We have a responsibility to democracy as great as our responsibility to Istanbul,” he told Reuters on Thursday in an interview.
    Imamoglu had been in office for less than three weeks when, on Monday – after a series of appeals by Erdogan and the AKP – the High Election Board (YSK) annulled the vote and called a re-run, citing irregularities in the appointment of polling station officials.
    A former businessman, Imamoglu previously served for five years as the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayor in Beylikduzu, a middle-class district on the city’s western outskirts.
    On Thursday he was back in that neighborhood, launching his second campaign against former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who he just beat in the first vote on March 31.
    Until then, the AKP and its Islamist predecessors had governed Turkey’s largest city for 25 years, presiding over its close-to $4 billion budget.
    Erdogan, the most dominant figure in national politics since the modern Turkish state’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, launched his own political career as Istanbul mayor before his AK Party won national elections in 2002.
100,000 VOLUNTEERS
    Imamoglu, 48, said that, in his brief time at city hall, he had uncovered high levels of wastefulness, which he would highlight to voters over the next month and a half.
    He said more than 100,000 volunteers had so far come forward to assist with his campaign, which will also focus on developing alternative ways of communicating his message in the face of an overwhelmingly pro-government media.
    During his time in government, Erdogan has progressively extended his party’s influence over areas of Turkish society including the media, while consolidating his power with the introduction of an executive presidency last year.
    Imamoglu said his campaign would be similar to the one he ran for the March election, focusing on a positive message and steering clear of the combative style common in Turkish politics.
    He said the experience of the annulment had not changed him and his anger was only focused on those responsible for the decision.
    “Our campaign has started. We will again be smiling, with warmth and sincerity,” he said.    “But I am of course angry at a handful of people who have …dealt democracy the biggest blow.”
    Erdogan’s critics at home and abroad have voiced concerns about the rule of law and the resilience of the country’s institutions, and investors shifted out of Turkish assets after the election annulment.
    But Imamoglu retains confidence in the country’s political outlook.    “Democracy will not end,” he said.    “Turkey’s conscience and feeling of justice will bring this country to democracy.    That is why I have no fear at all.”
    His success in dealing a high-profile election blow to Erdogan has led to speculation about his long-term political ambitions.
    The two men have some things in common. Aside from their mayoral experience, both have family roots in the Black Sea region.
    But Imamoglu steered clear of commenting on his future plans.    “All I am thinking about now is to put right the theft which democracy was subjected to, to give Istanbul the government it deserves,” he said.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/10/2019 U.N. assessing damage at Yemeni port city grain mills
FILE PHOTO: A shipment of grain is unloaded at the Red Sea port of
Hodeidah, Yemen August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad -/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations are assessing possible damage to grain stores it manages near the Yemeni Red Sea port city of Hodeidah that were hit by gunfire on Thursday, a spokesman said.
    “Any damage to humanitarian food stocks, whether deliberately targeted or as collateral damage, is unacceptable when millions in Yemen continue to suffer from crippling shortages of food,” the World Food Programme’s senior spokesman Herve Verhoosel told a press briefing in Geneva.
    Hodeidah, which has become the focus of a four-year war between Saudi-backed government forces and the Iran-aligned Houthi group, is the entry point for most of Yemen’s humanitarian aid and commercial imports.
(Reporting Tom Miles, writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/10/2019 After ousting Bashir, Sudan’s activists struggle to loosen military’s grip by Nafisa Eltahir
Ahmed Rabie, a member of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), gestures as he arrives to break fast
with his friends during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in front of the
Defence Ministry compound in Khartoum, Sudan, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    DUBAI (Reuters) – After spearheading the rallies that toppled former President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s main protest group is now locked in a stand-off with the country’s new military rulers that is testing its clout as a political force.
    The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) gained widespread support during more than four months of protests and it has helped win a string of apparent concessions from the military council that took over from Bashir on April 11.
    But as the unionists and activists in the SPA try to chart a course to full-fledged democracy, they are coming up against a powerful rival that has shown little sign yet that it is willing to move aside for a civilian-led transition.
    Frustrated by a lack of progress, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), a broad coalition of opposition groups headed by the SPA, called on Wednesday for a campaign of civil disobedience to crank up the pressure on the military.
    “We have all options open from now on,” Ahmed Rabie, an influential SPA member, told Reuters.    “If (the council) insists on holding on to power, we are going to consider this a military coup, and we will escalate our tactics, peacefully.”
    The SPA has said such a campaign would likely focus on mass strikes, which have been successful in previous uprisings in post-independence Sudan.    Strikes called by the SPA before Bashir’s fall met with limited success, but workers may be less cowed following his removal.
    It may also call for a boycott of non-essential goods and public services in a bid to starve the government of tax revenue, and intensify rallies and sit-ins across Sudan.
    The biggest ongoing sit-in, which began on April 6 outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, has become the focal point of the uprising.
    The Transitional Military Council (TMC) has said it will not use force to end the sit-in. But the SPA could be undermined by maneuvering due to its lack of political experience.
    “The politicking is starting. This is a terrain that the professionals association might not be as well-equipped for as it seems,” said Sudanese analyst Magdi el-Gizouli.
CONCESSIONS
    To try to placate protesters the TMC replaced its first head after one day, dismissed senior allies of Bashir, announced anti-corruption measures and moved to restructure security and intelligence agencies.
    Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur, is in prison in the capital Khartoum.
    But while the DFCF wants a transitional body led by civilians to steer a four-year transition, the TMC has indicated that it wants to retain overall control of any joint military and civilian sovereign council.
    As talks between the two sides have dragged on, the SPA has accused the military leaders of expanding their powers.
    The TMC has said it is open to more dialogue and that elections could be held after six months if there’s no agreement on an interim government – well ahead of the end of the council’s planned two-year transition.
    The SPA’s civil disobedience could put pressure on the military council given Sudan’s economic vulnerability.    The country is already suffering from spiraling inflation and shortages of cash and basic goods.
    But its rivals in the TMC have powerful and wealthy backers.
    The TMC’s leaders, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, have ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which together promised Sudan $3 billion to support the central bank and provide fuel, wheat and medicine.
    Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, controls the feared Rapid Support Forces, which fought in Darfur and are participating in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.    They are also deployed across Khartoum.
    “This is an army establishment and they don’t want to lose control,” said Sudanese writer and commentator Reem Abbas.    “There’s a lot of things at stake: resources, land, immunity for war crimes.”
SHADOW UNIONS
    The SPA, by contrast, was formed in 2016 from unofficial parallel trade unions outside the state apparatus representing doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professions.
    It was campaigning for higher wages when demonstrations against Bashir, triggered by a deepening economic crisis, spread across Sudan from Dec. 19 and propelled the SPA into the role of protest coordinator.    It has since expanded to include more than 20 unions.
    The SPA’s non-political image was key to its success in ousting Bashir after three decades in power, said Rabie, a high school physics teacher from the Haj Yousif neighborhood on the outskirts of Khartoum.
    Despite its large following, the SPA says it will not become a political party.    It has no leader or strict hierarchy and, until recently, operated largely underground.
    That could leave a vacuum.
    Under Bashir, opposition parties’ activities were limited and membership dwindled.    Analysts say they still have much work to do to become effective political forces.
    The opposition also faces a challenge presenting a united front.    The DFCF is made up of a wide range of political parties, civil society associations and armed groups from across Sudan and they have already made conflicting statements about their approach to the negotiations.
    Many protesters believe the SPA shouldn’t be negotiating with the military at all, chanting: “Civilian rule is the decision of the people.”    The SPA has sought to reassure them, saying it will act as a guarantor of the revolution and democracy during the transition.
    “We always work hard to get democracy in this country and then we lose it,” said Rabie, who was jailed from Jan. 4 until shortly after Bashir’s downfall.    “We worked hard to get it, and, God willing, we can protect it.”
(Writing by Nafisa Eltahir and Aidan Lewis; editing by David Clarke)

5/10/2019 Turkish defense minister says Syrian forces must halt attacks in northwest Syria
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Hulusi Akar, when he was chief of the general staff, during the EFES-2018 military exercise
near the Aegean port city of Izmir, Turkey May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s defense minister said Syrian government forces need to halt attacks in northwestern Syria, state-owned Anadolu Agency reported on Friday.
    Syria’s army, backed by Russian air power, launched ground operations this week against the southern flank of a rebel zone consisting of Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces.
    Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Syrian forces should return to territories agreed in an international deal in Kazakhstan to reduce hostilities and casualties.
    “Humanitarian problems grow each day and it is increasingly showing a tendency to turn into a catastrophe,” he said.
    Akar also said the attacks pose a threat to the security of Turkey’s observation posts in the northwest, where Turkey carries out patrols.
    “We expect Russia to take effective and determined measures to make regime forces stop their attacks on the south of Idlib and immediately return to the borders set by the Astana agreement,” Akar said, referring to the Kazakh capital by its previous name.
    On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said the operation was a reaction to terrorists in the area, and was being carried out “in coordination with our Turkish partners,” TASS news agency reported.
    The United Nations Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on Friday on the situation in northwest Syria.
    Afterward, 11 the 15 members – including the United States, France and Britain – jointly condemned the killing of civilians and warned of a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib.
    “We are alarmed by the displacement of over 150,000 persons as well as the targeting of population centers and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and schools,” Belgian U.N. Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve told reporters on behalf of the 11 members.
(The story corrects date of Russian defense minister comment in 7th paragraph.)
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Sarah Dadouch; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Dominic Evans and Toby Chopra)

5/10/2019 U.S. warns merchant ships of possible Iranian attacks; cleric threatens U.S. fleet
FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers
and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran nuclear talks
at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran could target U.S. commercial ships including oil tankers, the U.S. Maritime Administration said on Friday, as a senior Iranian cleric said a U.S. Navy fleet could be “destroyed with one missile.”
    In the latest tense exchange between Tehran and Washington, Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards separately said Iran would not negotiate with the United States, a stance that seemed partly aimed at discouraging Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his moderate allies from taking up a U.S. offer of talks.
    U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leaders talk with him about giving up their nuclear program and said he could not rule out a military confrontation.
    Trump made the offer as he increased economic and military pressure on Iran, moving to cut off all Iranian oil exports this month while beefing up the U.S. Navy and Air Force presence in the Gulf.    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved a new deployment of Patriot missiles to the Middle East, a U.S. official told Reuters on Friday.
    The U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, deployed as a warning to Iran, passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal on Thursday and American B-52 bombers have also arrived at a U.S. base in Qatar, U.S. Central Command said.
    Iran has dismissed both moves – which the United States said it took after U.S. intelligence signaled possible preparations by Tehran to attack U.S. forces or interests – as “psychological warfare” designed to intimidate it.
    In an advisory posted on Thursday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) said that since early May there had been an increased possibility of Iran or its regional proxies taking action against U.S. and partner interests.
    These included, MARAD said, oil production infrastructure, after Tehran threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz chokepoint through which about a fifth of oil consumed globally passes.
    “Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf,” MARAD said.
    “Reporting indicates heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and interests.”
HEATED RHETORIC
    Millions of barrels of oil pass daily through the various bottlenecks from Middle East oil producers to global markets.
    U.S.-Iranian tensions have risen since Trump withdrew a year ago from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and major powers and began ratcheting up sanctions to throttle Tehran’s economy.
    Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, told Reuters on Thursday its forces were on a heightened state of readiness, although the U.S. military was not seeking or preparing for war with Iran.
    MARAD said U.S.-flagged ships were encouraged to contact the Fifth Fleet at least two days before sailing through the Strait of Hormuz.    The fleet’s job is to protect commercial shipping in the area.
    Washington further tightened sanctions on Iran this month – eliminating waivers that had allowed some countries to buy its oil – with a goal of reducing Tehran’s crude exports to zero.
    Iran responded by relaxing some curbs on its nuclear program concerning material stockpiles but continues to comply with commitments to restrict its uranium enrichment activity.
    Rhetoric has grown heated on both sides.
    The semi-official ISNA news agency quoted hardliner Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad in the city of Isfahan as saying: “Their billion(-dollar) fleet can be destroyed with one missile."
    “If they attempt any move, they will … (face) dozens of missiles because at that time (government) officials won’t be in charge to act cautiously, but instead things will be in the hands of our beloved leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei),” he said.
‘SANCTIONS HAVE NO EFFECT!’
    Separately, Yadollah Javani, the elite Revolutionary Guards’ deputy head for political affairs, said: “No talks will be held with the Americans, and the Americans will not dare take military action against us.”
    “Our nation … sees America as unreliable,” he said, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, echoing a stance Iran has taken since the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 deal under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.
    Thousands of Iranians took part in state-sponsored marches on Friday to support the government’s decision to reduce limits on its nuclear program.    Iran has threatened to go further if other parties to the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – fail to shield it from U.S. sanctions.
    State TV showed protesters marching after Friday prayers in Tehran and said similar marches had been held across Iran. “America should know, sanctions have no effect!” chanted the protesters.
(Reporting By Jonathan Saul in London, Phil Stewart in Washington and by Dubai Newsroom; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool)

5/10/2019 U.S. B-52 bombers reach Middle East in message to Iran
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Suez Canal
in Egypt, May 9, 2019. Dan Snow/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    DOHA (Reuters) – American B-52 Stratofortress bombers sent to the Middle East over what Washington describes as threats from Iran have arrived at a U.S. base in Qatar, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said.
    The U.S. military said on Tuesday that a number of B-52 bombers would be part of additional forces being sent to the Middle East to counter what the Trump administration says are “clear indications” of threats from Iran to U.S. forces there.
    Iran has dismissed the new U.S. deployments, including of an aircraft carrier, as old news announced now to intimidate it through “psychological warfare,” at a time when Washington is also tightening financial sanctions.    The USS Abraham Lincoln is replacing another carrier rotated out of the Gulf last month.
    A picture taken by U.S Air Force personnel stationed in Al Udaid air base and posted on the CENTCOM website showed two aircraft.    The caption said: “B-52 Arrival.    U.S. B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron are parked on a flight line May 8, 2019.”
    The media officer at Al Udaid, near Doha, did not immediately respond to a phone call and email requesting comment and details.    CENTCOM is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
    Washington has tightened sanctions on Iran this month, eliminating waivers that had allowed some countries to buy its oil, with a goal of reducing Tehran’s crude exports to zero.    Iran has responded by scaling back some curbs on its nuclear program, although it remains compliant with a deal to restrict its nuclear activity which Washington abandoned a year ago.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/11/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu to ask for more time to form government: spokesman
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a ceremony on Memorial Day, when Israel commemorates
its fallen soldiers, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem May 8, 2019. Heidi Levine/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ask Israel’s president for more time to form a new government, a spokesman said on Saturday.
    In office for a decade, Netanyahu won a record fifth term in an April 9 parliamentary election, largely seen as a de-facto referendum on his leadership as he faces possible indictment in three corruption cases.    He denies the charges.
    Netanyahu is negotiating terms with nearly all the right-wing, nationalist and religious parties that form his outgoing government.    No party in Israel has ever won an outright majority in the 120-seat Knesset, making coalition governments the norm with political negotiations often dragging on.
    In accordance with Israeli law, Netanyahu received an initial 28-day period to form a government, with a possible 14-day extension.    The initial period ends on Wednesday.    His final deadline, if granted the delay, would be May 29.
    A spokesman for Netanyahu cited a heavy schedule that included Jewish holidays, national memorial days and a surge of deadly fighting with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip last week as some of the reasons for seeking the delay.
    Among the most pressing issues awaiting the new government will be U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.    The team drafting it, led by Trump’s Middle East advisor Jared Kushner, has said it will be unveiled in June and will require compromise by all parties.
    So far prospects for the peace plan appear dim.
    A right-wing coalition in Israel would likely oppose any proposed territorial concessions to the Palestinians, who are boycotting the Trump administration over what they see as its pro-Israel bias.
    Netanyahu’s desired coalition would also be less likely to pressure him to step down if he is eventually indicted for corruption.    The prime minister is under no legal obligation to resign if charges are brought against him.
    Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has said he plans to serve Israel for many more years.    He can also argue at a pre-trial hearing whose date has not been set yet, against the formal filing of bribery and fraud charges against him.
    A leader of one of Netanyahu’s likely coalition partners, the national-religious Right Wing Union, has been advocating for legislation that could grant Netanyahu immunity against prosecution.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Edmund Blair)

5/11/2019 Yemen’s Houthis begin withdrawal from Hodeidah ports in boost to peace deal by Abduljabbar Zeyad
Yemen's Houthi movement forces are seen during withdrawal from Saleef port in
Hodeidah province, Yemen May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad
    HODEIDAH, Yemen (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthi movement on Saturday started withdrawing forces from Saleef port in Hodeidah under a U.N.-sponsored deal stalled for months, a Reuters witness said, reviving hopes for peace efforts to end the four-year war.
    But a minister in the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia dismissed the Iran-aligned Houthis’ pullout as a “show” meant to “misinform the international community.”
    The move, yet to be verified by the United Nations, is the first major step in implementing the pact reached last year by the government and the Houthis for a truce and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
    U.N. teams were overseeing the Houthi redeployment in Saleef, used for grain, as other teams headed to the second port of Ras Isa, used for oil, to start implementing the withdrawal from there, according to the witness.
    A dozen trucks carrying Houthi fighters, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns, departed from Saleef.    Two ships were docked at the port and operations were running normally, said the witness who was at the facility.
    “The coast guards have taken over in Saleef,” he said.    “They and U.N. officials have started checking equipment at the port.”
    The Houthis said their “unilateral step shows our commitment to implement the Hodeidah agreement and to achieving peace,” after four years of fighting in the Arab nation.    The group called on the U.N. to press the Saudi-led coalition to take “similar steps.”
    However, Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Iryani told Reuters the pullout was “a flagrant show.”
    “It’s an attempt to misinform the international community ahead of a meeting of the U.N. Security Council” on Yemen, he said.    “A group of (Houthi) militiamen left and they were replaced by others wearing coast guard police uniforms.”
    The U.N. Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) has said the Houthis would make an “initial unilateral redeployment” from the ports between May 11 and May 14.
    It said the redeployment would enable the United Nations to take a leading role in supporting the local Red Sea Ports Authority in managing the ports and enhance U.N. checks on cargoes.    It would also allow humanitarian corridors to be reopened.
    There has been no comment so far from the Saudi-led Sunni Muslim military coalition that has massed forces outside Houthi-held Hodeidah, which handles the bulk of Yemen’s imports and aid supplies.
    Western allies, which supply arms and intelligence to the coalition, have pushed for an end to the war.
    The British ambassador to Yemen reacted sharply to the Yemeni government’s scepticism about Houthi withdrawal.    “The Yemeni cynics who criticize everything the other side does even if it is positive and who say the UN are naive seem to be saying the only solution is perpetual war in Yemen,” Michael Aron said in a Twitter post. He said a U.N. presence in the ports would prevent arms smuggling.
    Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the main supply line of the Houthis, whom they accuse of smuggling Iranian weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities.    The group and Tehran deny the accusations.
U.N. ASSESSMENT NEXT WEEK
    It was not clear if U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths had secured agreement between the two sides over the main sticking point regarding which local authorities would control the ports and city under U.N. supervision after both sides withdraw.
    The coalition had disputed an earlier unilateral withdrawal by the Houthis from Hodeidah port in December, saying they had handed it over to coast guard members loyal to the group.
    A U.N. source told Reuters on Saturday that the RCC would announce its assessment of the Houthi redeployment next week.
        Under the first phase, the Houthis would pull back five km (three miles) from the ports over the next four days.    Coalition forces, currently massed four km from Hodeidah port on the edges of the city, would retreat one km from “Kilo 8” and Saleh districts.
    In the second phase, both sides would pull troops 18 km outside the city and heavy weapons 30 km away.
    The United Nations secured the Hodeidah deal at peace talks in Sweden, the first in two years, to avert a full-scale assault on the port that risked triggering mass famine.
    The pact is also a trust-building step to pave the way for wider political negotiations to end the conflict, widely seen in the region as a proxy between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    The alliance led by Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
    The ceasefire in Hodeidah has largely held but the fighting escalated elsewhere in Yemen.
    On Saturday, the Houthis’ Masirah TV channel said “enemy air bombing” killed six children and a woman, and injured 11 children and five women, in the southern province of al-Dhale.
    A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition didn’t immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
(Reporting by Abduljabbar Zeyad in Hodeidah, Mohammed Ghobari in Aden and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Clelia Oziel and Stephen Powell)

5/12/2019 Iran may attack Israel if U.S. standoff escalates: Israeli minister
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an interview with Reuters
in Cairo, Egypt January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli cabinet minister warned on Sunday of possible direct or proxy Iranian attacks on Israel should the stand-off between Tehran and Washington escalate.
    The United States has increased economic and military pressure on Iran, with President Donald Trump on Thursday urging its leaders to talk to him about giving up their nuclear program and saying he could not rule out an armed confrontation.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which supports Trump’s hard tack against its arch-foe, has largely been reticent about the spiraling tensions.
    Parting with the silence, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that, in the Gulf, “things are heating up.”
    “If there’s some sort of conflagration between Iran and the United States, between Iran and its neighbors, I’m not ruling out that they will activate Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad from Gaza, or even that they will try to fire missiles from Iran at the State of Israel,” Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israel’s Ynet TV.
    Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad are Iranian-sponsored guerrilla groups on Israel’s borders, the former active in Syria as well as Lebanon and the latter in the Palestinian territories.
    The Israeli military declined to comment when asked if it was making any preparations for possible threats linked to the Iran-U.S. standoff.
    Israel has traded blows with Iranian forces in Syria, as well as with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian militants.    But it has not fought an open war with Iran, a country on the other side of the Middle East.
(Writing by Dan Williams)

5/12/2019 As Houthis quit ports, Yemen awaits next peace steps
Yemen's Houthi movement forces ride in the back of vehicle during withdrawal from Saleef port
in Hodeidah province, Yemen May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad
    ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) – Yemen’s government wants the United Nations to give time-frames for next steps of a peace deal after Houthi forces began withdrawing from key ports in the most significant advance yet for efforts to end the four-year war and relieve hunger.
    In line with an accord in Sweden last year, the Iran-aligned Houthi movement began on Saturday a unilateral pullout from three Red Sea ports used for grain, oil, commerce and aid.
    Local coast guards have taken over security at the Saleef, Ras Isa and Hodeidah ports, according to the United Nations which is supervising operations there.
    Some officials from the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized Yemeni government dismissed the pullout as a “show,” but government negotiator Sadiq Dweid acknowledged it marked the start of implementing the Stockholm accord.
    The war has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine.
    Dweid tweeted late on Saturday that he had held a positive meeting with the chief U.N. observer, agreeing that the pullout should lead to time frames for implementing a U.N. mechanism for inspecting ships, de-mining and removing military installations.
    While the Houthi move encouraged foreign powers pushing to re-open humanitarian corridors, displaced Hodeidah residents said they were not ready to return.
    “We fled the war and I do not want to go back unless it ends, I fear death,” said Sami, an 11-year-old who lives with his family in a graveyard in the capital Aden.
    “War destroyed everything – no work and no security,” said Abdul Rahman Taher, a 34-year-old man forced from his home in Hodeidah and now washing cars in Aden.
RETREAT FROM HODEIDAH
    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, leaders of the coalition backing President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, have so far not commented on the Houthi ports withdrawal.
    Sources saw this as a sign U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths had managed to get the warring sides to agree to the plan, since the coalition had quickly rejected a previous attempt by the Houthis to unilaterally withdraw last December.
    Under plans to avert a full-scale assault, the Houthis are to pull back five km (three miles) from the ports between May 11 and 14.    Coalition forces, currently massed four km from Hodeidah port on the edges of the city, are to retreat one km from two flashpoint districts.
    In a second phase, both sides would pull troops 18 km outside the city and move heavy weapons 30 km away.
    Aid organization the International Rescue Committee said the Houthi move was a positive step, but a wider peace deal was needed to avert violence elsewhere.
    “Among our biggest concern is ensuring sustained access to Hodeidah port,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Sultana Begum told Reuters.    “Further military escalation risks cutting the supply line of vital food, fuel and medicines.”
    Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the main supply line for the Houthis, whom they accuse of smuggling Iranian weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities.    The group and Tehran deny the accusations.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Cairo, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/12/2019 Turkish finance minister hopes damage to economy from currency crisis will be short-lived
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak speaks during an event to announce his programme
to fight inflation, in Istanbul, Turkey October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The Turkish economy will hopefully overcome the impacts of a currency crisis last year with just two quarters of contraction, Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said on Sunday.
    Speaking to broadcaster CNN Turk, Albayrak referred to Turkey’s performance during the 2008 global financial crisis when the economy contracted for four consecutive quarters.
    “Turkey will get over this period hopefully with two quarters (of contraction) and with minimum negative impact,” Albayrak said.
    “The first quarter data year-on-year and when compared to last quarter, technically rebalancing, recovery process will extend more than two quarters.”
    The Turkish economy contracted 3.0 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2018, after a currency crisis knocked some 30 percent off the value of the lira last year.    Economists expect two more quarters of contraction year-on-year.
    The lira has lost as much as 15 percent against the dollar this year, with the latest weakness driven by investor concerns over Monday’s decision to re-run a mayoral election in Istanbul that had been narrowly won by the main opposition party.
    Turkey’s central bank moved to tighten policy by funding the market through a higher rate and took additional liquidity steps, while state banks sold dollars to boost the local currency.
    Albayrak said Turkish inflation and employment will improve this year, while the government will implement necessary reforms without hesitation.
    “Turkey, especially inflation and employment, will reach a better, more balanced place till the end of 2019,” Albayrak said.
    The meeting between the finance minister and U.S. President Donald Trump was constructive, hopeful and positive, Albayrak said, adding that Trump will most probably pay a visit to Turkey in July.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

5/13/2019 Saudi Arabia says oil tankers hit off UAE coast, Iran calls for probe by Rania El Gamal and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
General view of the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar
    DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two Saudi oil tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, condemning it as an attempt to undermine the security of crude supplies amid heightened U.S.-Iranian tensions.
    The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz, but did not say who was behind the attack or describe the nature of it.
    Iran, embroiled in an escalating war of words with the United States over sanctions and the U.S. military’s presence in the region, moved on Monday to distance itself.
    The foreign ministry called the incidents “worrisome and dreadful” and asked for an investigation into the matter.    A senior Iranian lawmaker said “saboteurs from a third country” could be behind it, after saying on Sunday that the incident showed that the security of Gulf states is fragile.
    In a sign of concern about rising tensions, Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt warned of the risks of “a conflict happening by accident” with an unintended escalation between Washington and Tehran over an unraveling nuclear deal.
    A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait from Middle East crude producers to major markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, threatened last month to close the chokepoint if Tehran is barred from using it.
    Oil prices rose on Monday, with Brent crude futures trading up 1.1% at $71.77 a barrel at 0906 GMT.
    Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement that one of the two Saudi vessels attacked was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude from Ras Tanura port for delivery to state-owned Saudi Aramco’s customers in the United States.
    The attack did not lead to any casualties or an oil spill but caused significant damage to the vessels’ structures, he said.
    INTERTANKO, an association of independent tanker owners and operators, said in a note that it has seen photos showing that “at least two ships have holes in their sides due to the impact of a weapon.”
    Trading and shipping sources identified the Saudi vessels as Bahri-owned very large crude carrier (VLCC) tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah.    Bahri did not respond to a request for comment.
    The UAE foreign ministry has said there were no casualties and the Fujairah port operations were normal.    An investigation had been launched in coordination with international authorities, it said, calling on global powers to prevent any parties trying to harm maritime safety and security.
    Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry in a separate statement voiced support for the UAE, the Middle East’s trade and business hub.    Gulf stock markets fell on Monday, with Dubai down 2.6% and the Saudi index down over 2%.
ESCALATING TENSIONS
    Sunni Muslim allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE have strongly backed U.S. sanctions against fellow OPEC producer and regional foe Shi’ite Iran.    After the United States ended all sanctions waivers on Iranian crude, Washington said Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would help compensate for any shortage in oil supply.
    Falih said the attack aimed to undermine maritime freedom and the security of oil supplies to consumers worldwide.
    “The international community has a joint responsibility to protect the safety of maritime navigation and the security of oil tankers, to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets and the danger they pose to the global economy,” he said.
    Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was cited by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying the incident “has a negative impact on maritime transportation security” and asked regional countries to be “vigilant against destabilizing plots of foreign agents.”
    The U.S. Maritime Administration said in an advisory on Sunday the incidents off Fujairah, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, have not been confirmed and urged caution.
    Earlier this month, the Maritime Administration said U.S. commercial ships including oil tankers sailing through Middle East waterways could be targeted by Iran in one of the threats to U.S. interests posed by Tehran.
    Washington said it was sending a U.S. aircraft carrier and other forces to the Middle East due to what it said were Iranian threats, while Tehran has called the U.S. military presence “a target” rather than a threat.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s government has been ratcheting up pressure on Iran with sanctions since Washington withdrew a year ago from a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
    Washington tightened sanctions on Iran this month, eliminating waivers that had allowed some countries to buy its oil, saying it wanted to cut Tehran’s crude exports to zero. Iran has said it will not let its oil exports be halted.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul and Robin Emmottin London and Saeed Azhar in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Louise Heavens)

5/13/2019 Turkey election board rejects opposition bids to annul Erdogan’s 2018 election victory
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves to the audience during an iftar dinner at Taksim Square in central
Istanbul, Turkey, May 12, 2019. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) has rejected bids by opposition parties to annul all votes in the Istanbul local elections, as well as last year’s nationwide elections, broadcaster NTV said on Monday.
    The YSK last week ordered a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, citing irregularities in the appointment of polling station officials after appeals by President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP), but did not cancel votes for district administrators, mayors, and municipal councils.
    The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Iyi (Good) Party argued that if the mayoral vote – which the CHP won – was canceled then all the other votes in Istanbul, as well as Erdogan’s victory in a presidential election last year, should also be annulled because the same flaws took place in those elections.
    After weeks of appeals by the AKP and its nationalist MHP ally, the election board ruled last week for a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election which the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu won by a narrow margin.
    It was the first time in 25 years that the AKP or its Islamist predecessors had failed to win control of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with a budget of close to $4 billion.    Erdogan launched his own political career as Istanbul mayor.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

5/13/2019 Yemen warring parties hold fresh talks as Houthis withdraw from Hodeidah
Yemen's Houthi movement forces are seen during withdrawal from Saleef port in Hodeidah province,
Yemen May 11, 2019. Picture taken May 11, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s warring parties started fresh U.N.-sponsored talks in Jordan on Monday, Yemeni officials said, two days after Houthi forces began withdrawing from the ports of Hodeidah, breaking a six month stalemate.
    The talks will focus on sharing out revenues from Hodeidah’s three Red Sea ports to help relieve an urgent humanitarian crisis, they said.
    The Iran-aligned Houthi group began on Saturday a unilateral pullout from the ports of Saleef, Ras Isa and Hodeidah, handing them over to U.N.-supervised local forces as agreed under a pact with the Saudi-backed government last December that had stalled for months.
    “The U.N. and its special envoy are sponsoring talks in Amman … to discuss the issue of salaries and to make the economic situation neutral,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a tweet.
    A Yemeni government official confirmed the talks to Reuters.    A U.N. official said the office of U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths was facilitating the meeting.     Under the Stockholm agreement for a truce and troop withdrawal by both sides from Hodeidah, the ports’ revenues would be gathered in the Hodeidah branch of the central bank to help pay public wages.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
    The war has devastated Yemen’s economy, exacerbating an urgent humanitarian crisis with millions of Yemenis on the brink of starvation.
    Soaring prices have put basic commodities out of reach for many Yemenis and the central bank has struggled to pay public-sector salaries as foreign exchange reserves evaporated.
    The United Nations will help in the management of the Hodeidah ports, which will be under control of Yemen’s Red Sea Port Corporation and local coast guards, and assist in inspection of ships.
    The Sunni Muslim military alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which was ousted from power in Sanaa in late 2014 by the Houthi movement.
    The group, which says its revolution is against corruption, holds the biggest urban centers.
(Reporting By Mohamed Ghobari and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/13/2019 Erdogan tells Putin: Syria targeting Turkish-Russian ties by ceasefire violations in Idlib
FILE PHOTO - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks at North Atlantic Council Mediterranean Dialogue Meeting in
Ankara, Turkey, May 6, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the Syria government targeted the Turkish-Russian cooperation in Idlib by violating the agreed ceasefire, a statement from Erdogan’s office said.
    Erdogan also told Putin that Syrian attacks on civilians, schools and hospitals in Idlib could not be seen as fighting against terrorism, the statement added.
    The upsurge in violence in the Idlib area has strained a Russian-Turkish deal that had staved off a government offensive since September.    The area is part of the last major foothold of the Syrian rebellion.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

5/14/2019 Saudi Arabia says oil facilities near Riyadh attacked by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal
A technical staff is seen at the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar
    RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said explosive-laden drones had struck oil pumping stations in the Riyadh region on Tuesday in what it called an act of terrorism two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
    The energy minister of the world’s largest oil exporter said the attack on two oil pumping stations had not disrupted oil production or exports of crude and petroleum products.
    Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, in comments run by state media, said the two recent attacks threatened global oil supplies and proved the need to counter “” including the Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.
    Houthi-run Masirah TV earlier on Tuesday cited a military official saying the Houthis had launched drone attacks on “vital Saudi installations.”    A Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting the Houthis in Yemen for four years.
    Tuesday’s attack and the operation against commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE on Sunday took place as the United States and Iran exchanged angry words over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region.
    The UAE has not revealed details on the nature of the attack on ships near Fujairah, a bunkering hub lying just outside the Strait of Hormouz, or blamed any party or country.
    Iran was a prime suspect in the sabotage on Sunday although Washington had no conclusive proof, a U.S. official familiar with American intelligence said on Monday.
    Iran has denied involvement and described the attack on the four commercial vessels as “worrisome and dreadful.”    It has called for an investigation.
    The U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia said Washington should take what he called “reasonable responses short of war” after it had determined who was behind the attacks near Fujairah.
    “We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war,” Ambassador John Abizaid told reporters in the Saudi capital Riyadh in remarks published on Tuesday.
    “It’s not in (Iran’s) interest, it’s not in our interest, it’s not in Saudi Arabia’s interest to have a conflict.”
    Washington has increased sanctions on Tehran, saying it wants to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero, after quitting the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and global powers last year.
    The U.S. Maritime Administration said last week that Iran could target U.S. commercial ships including oil tankers sailing through Middle East waterways.    Tehran has called the U.S. military presence “a target” rather than a threat.
    A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz from Middle East crude producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.    The narrow waterway separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threatened last month to close the Hormuz chokepoint if Tehran was barred from using it.
    U.S. President Donald Trump wants to force Tehran to agree a broader arms control accord and has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Gulf in a show of force against what U.S. officials have said are threats to U.S. troops in the region.
(Writing by Stephen Kalin, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/14/2019 Turkey, Russia discuss reducing tension in Syria’s Idlib
A barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter explodes in Karsaa, Idlib province, Syria May 7, 2019 in this
still image taken from a video on May 9, 2019. ARAB24/Reuters TV via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart discussed by phone developments in Syria’s Idlib province and measures to reduce tension in the area, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
    A renewed wave of violence in northwestern Syria has killed more than 120 civilians.    The offensive by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russia, has uprooted more than 150,000 people, the biggest escalation in the war since last summer.
    On Monday, rebels said they mounted a counterattack against government forces in northwestern Syria, where Idlib is located, ramping up battles in Syria’s last major insurgent stronghold.
    On Monday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the Syrian government was targeting Turkish-Russian cooperation in Idlib by violating the agreed ceasefire, a deal that had staved off a government offensive since September.
    Since April 28, a total of 18 health facilities have been struck, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told Reuters on Monday.    Two hospitals were hit twice.
    At least four health workers have been killed, and, as of Monday, the 18 health facilities – which collectively serve a minimum of 193,000 people – remain out of service, OCHA said.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, William Maclean)

5/14/2019 Iranian lawmaker blames ‘Israeli mischief’ for tanker attacks off UAE coast
FILE PHOTO: A damaged ANDREA VICTORY ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The tanker attacks off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were “Israeli mischief,” an Iranian parliamentary spokesman said on Tuesday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
    “The events that took place in the Emirates were Israeli mischief,” Behrouz Nemati said, without providing any details on what role Israel may have played in the attacks.
    Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked off the coast of the Emirates and described it as an attempt to undermine the security of crude supplies amid tensions between the United States and Iran.
    The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz.    It did not describe the nature of the attack or say who was behind it.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, editing by Louise Heavens)

5/14/2019 U.S. and Iran do not want war, Iraqi PM says
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets with Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi
in Tehran, Iran, April 6, 2019. Official Iranian President website/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Neither the United States nor Iran want war and Iraq is in contact with both, Iraq’s state news agency INA quoted Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi as saying on Tuesday.
    The conflict between Washington and Tehran – Baghdad’s main allies who are themselves enemies- is a “complex file” that Iraq is working hard to find solutions for, Abdul Mahdi said.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by John Davison)

5/14/2019 Macron wants to meet Libya’s Haftar to push ceasefire: French foreign minister
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a national tribute for late special forces soldiers Cedric de Pierrepont
and Alain Bertoncello, who were killed in a night-time rescue of four foreign hostages including
two French citizens in Burkina Faso, at the Invalides in Paris, France May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool
    PARIS, (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron wants to meet Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to push a ceasefire and resume peace talks, France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
    Macron last week called for a ceasefire in the month-long battle for Libya’s capital Tripoli after meeting U.N.-backed Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
    Tripoli is home to the recognized administration but some European countries such as France have also supported eastern military commander Haftar as a way to fight militants in a country in chaos since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    A day after meeting Macron, the internationally recognized government asked 40 foreign firms including French oil major Total to renew their licenses or have their operations suspended.
    “The situation in Libya is extremely worrying because the proposed U.N. roadmap to both parties – and which almost reached a positive conclusion – … has today failed on the one hand because of Field Marshal Haftar’s initiative and Serraj’s non-initiative,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers.
    “It’s for this reason that the president wanted to meet one and the other to support the U.N. initiative.”
    The French presidency said there was no meeting planned at this stage.
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Matthias Blamont)
[Macron can't even deal with yellow vest protests so what makes him think he will deal with a Arab Spring revival.].

5/15/2019 U.S. pressures Baghdad over Iran-backed militias by Ahmed Rasheed and John Davison
FILE PHOTO: Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighters ride in a tank near the Iraqi-Syrian border in al-Qaim, Iraq.
Iraq November 26, 2018. Picture taken November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s surprise visit to Baghdad this month came after U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed Shi’ite militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to two Iraqi security sources.
    He told Iraq’s top brass to keep the militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and now form part of its security apparatus, in check, the sources said.    If not, the U.S. would respond with force.
    As tensions between Washington and Tehran increase, Iraq finds itself caught between neighboring Iran, whose regional influence has grown in recent years, and the United States.
    “The message from the Americans was clear.    They wanted guarantees that Iraq would stop those groups threatening U.S. interests,” a senior Iraqi military source with knowledge of Pompeo’s trip said.
    “They said if the U.S. were attacked on Iraqi soil, it would take action to defend itself without coordinating with Baghdad.”
    The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the details of Pompeo’s discussions.    He had said after the trip: “We don’t want anyone interfering in their country (Iraq), certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq.”
    The second Iraqi security source said: “Communications intercepted by the Americans showed some militia groups redeployed to take up suspicious positions, which the Americans considered provocations.”
    He said the Iraqis were told that any threat from the groups “would be dealt with directly by the Americans with force.”
    Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Tuesday told reporters that the Iraqi side had not observed “movements that constitute a threat to any side.    We clarified that to the Americans – the government is doing its duty to protect all parties.”
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran intensified early this month as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration stepped up sanctions pressure by ending waivers for some countries to purchase Iranian oil – part of efforts to roll back the Islamic Republic’s expanding regional clout.
    It also said last week it was sending additional military forces to the Middle East.
PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE
    Iraq would struggle to rein in the Iran-backed militias.
    The paramilitaries are formally part of Iraq’s security forces but operate semi-independently, backed by powerful Iran-allied politicians, and are expanding their economic power.
    Spokesmen for two Iran-backed paramilitary groups said there were no plans to target U.S. forces, saying talk of threats was “psychological warfare” by Washington.
    The United States says Iran is the biggest threat to peace in the region.    It wants to weaken the paramilitaries which have expanded their sway over land stretching to Syria and Lebanon, and for Iraq to decrease dependence on Iranian gas exports.
    Iran sees Iraq as an important link to the world in the face of U.S. sanctions, and analysts say the positioning of pro-Iran forces and rockets indicates Tehran is prepared at least to threaten the United States with violence.
    The Iraqi security source said U.S. officials discussed with Iraqi officials Iran-backed militia deployed along the Syrian border, where U.S. troops have helped fight Islamic State.
    Pompeo said last week: “We’ve urged the Iraqi government … to get all of those forces under Iraqi central control.”
    The groups say they already follow the orders of the Iraqi state and are not planning to target U.S. interests.
    “American claims are baseless.    It reminds us of the big lie of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” said Laith al-Athari, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq group, referring to the pretext for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
    The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the umbrella grouping of mostly Shi’ite militias, numbers around 150,000 men.
    There are currently an estimated 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq, having peaked at 170,000 in the years following the invasion.
    Analysts say the positioning of missiles by militias backed by Iran is likely meant as a symbolic threat to the United States, rather than a real plan to use them.
    Professor Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics said Iran has in the past moved such weapons “to slowly ratchet up the heat under America in Iraq when it feels America is seeking to threaten Iran’s interests.”
ECONOMIC POWER
    Some observers say economic pressure on Iran will have more impact than military action.
    Pompeo said he discussed on his Baghdad visit “crude oil and natural gas … (and) ways we could … make those projects move forward very quickly,” a reference to efforts to wean Iraq off crucial Iranian energy imports.
    He urged Iraq to sign oil and power deals being negotiated with American companies, two energy officials said.
    U.S. energy giant General Electric is seeking a share of a $14 billion scheme to develop electricity infrastructure, and Iraq is close to signing a $53 billion oil infrastructure contract which includes Exxon Mobil.
    This is another way in which the United States is seeking to pressure Iraq’s major electricity supplier Iran and force Iraq to choose between Washington and Tehran as its chief ally, said Renad Mansour, a research fellow at Chatham House.
    “The U.S. is … going to Iraqi leaders and saying you’re either with us or with them,” Mansour said.
    “Iraqis have been saying why can’t we be allies with both?    But the Americans aren’t interested in that and I think neither are the Iranians.”
    A Western diplomat said warned of the danger of a serious escalation.
    “The atmosphere is no longer friendly … (and) the White House does not seem to be concerned if Iraq is collateral damage,” the diplomat said.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein, Aref Mohammed in Basra and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by John Davison; editing by Anna Willard)

5/15/2019 Saudi oil facilities attacked, U.S. sees threat in Iraq from Iran-backed forces by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal
A technical staff is seen at the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar
    RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said armed drones struck two of its oil pumping stations on Tuesday, two days after the sabotage of oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S. military said it was braced for “possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq” from Iran-backed forces.
    The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington’s decision this month to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and to beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats.     Tuesday’s attacks on the pumping stations more than 200 miles (320 km) west of Riyadh and Sunday’s on four tankers off Fujairah emirate have raised concerns that the United States and Iran might inching toward military conflict.     However, U.S. President Donald Trump denied a New York Times report that U.S. officials were discussing a military plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter any attack or nuclear weapons acceleration by Iran.     “It’s fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely.    But we have not planned for that.    Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that.    And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” Trump told reporters.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there would not be war with the United States despite mounting tensions over Iranian nuclear capabilities, its missile program and its support for proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
    “There won’t be any war.    The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance,” he said in comments carried by Iran’s state TV. He repeated that Tehran would not negotiate with Washington over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.
    The U.S. military cited possible imminent threats to its troops in Iraq and said they were now on high alert.    The U.S. was responding to comments from a British deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State remnants in Iraq and Syria who said there had been no increase in the threat from Iran-backed militia.
    The comments “run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman at the U.S. military’s Central Command.
    Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal a year ago and has sharply increased economic sanctions on Iran.
    Under the accord negotiated by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, in return for sanctions relief.
NO HARD EVIDENCE
    The Trump administration’s sanctions are designed to choke off Iran’s oil exports in an effort to force Iran to accept more stringent limits on its nuclear and missile programs as well as to rein in its support for proxy forces in the region.
    U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have sabotaged the tankers near the UAE rather than Iranian forces themselves, a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. assessments said.     The official said possible perpetrators might include Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran-backed Shi’ite militias based in Iraq, but Washington had no hard evidence.    On Monday, a U.S. official said Iran was a leading candidate for the tanker sabotage but the United States did not have conclusive proof.
    Iran rejects the allegation of Iranian involvement and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies
    A senior European diplomat voiced skepticism that Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy would force Iran to capitulate.
    “Iran is not falling to its knees,” said the diplomat on condition of anonymity, saying Iran could resume its nuclear work and leave Washington with no option but military action.
    “Does Trump want to go to war with Iran especially during an election campaign year?” he asked.
    Democratic Party candidates are already campaigning ahead of the November 2020 U.S. election aiming to stop Republican Trump being re-elected.
HOUTHI TV CLAIMS DRONE ATTACK
    Houthi-run Masirah TV earlier said the group had carried out drone attacks on “vital” Saudi installations in response to “continued aggression and blockade” on Yemen.
    A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis for four years in Yemen to try to restore the internationally recognized government in a conflict widely seen as a Saudi-Iran proxy war.
    The Houthis have hit Saudi cities with drones and missiles, but two Saudi sources told Reuters this was the first time a facility of the state-run Aramco had been attacked by drones.
    Aramco said it had temporarily shut down the East-West pipeline, known as Petroline, to evaluate its condition.    The pipeline mainly transports crude from the kingdom’s eastern fields to the port of Yanbu, which lies north of Bab al-Mandeb.
    The energy minister of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, said the latest attacks caused a fire, now contained, and minor damage at one pump station, but did not disrupt oil output or exports of crude and petroleum products.
    Oil prices rose on news of the attack on the Saudi pumping stations.    Brent futures gained $1.01, or 1.4 percent, to settle at $71.24 a barrel.
    Saudi Arabia’s cabinet said the “terrorist attack” against two Saudi oil tankers near the UAE reflected poorly on regional and international security, Saudi Press agency reported.
    It quoted the cabinet as saying it was the international community’s shared responsibility “to preserve maritime safety and oil tankers security in anticipation of any effects on energy markets, and the danger of that on world economy.”
    The UAE has not blamed anyone for what it called sabotage on the vessels.    The UAE said the other tankers hit were a UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker near Fujairah, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
    A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the strait from Middle East crude producers to much of the world.
    A UAE official told Reuters the UAE was working with local and international partners from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Norway and France – which has a naval base in Abu Dhabi – to “fully investigate the incident and to identify the people or entities responsible.”
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal; Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Asma Alsharif, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Davide Barbuscia in Dubai; Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; Mark Hosenball, Doina Chiacu, Makini Brice, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Grant McCool)

5/15/2019 Israeli prime minister calls on surrounding countries to unite against Iran by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging neighboring countries to support the U.S. against Iran’s mounting aggression.    Netanyahu made his plea Tuesday, during an event marking the one-year anniversary of Israel’s U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem.
    This comes after Washington deployed an aircraft carrier and a number of jets to the region on Monday to counter recent threats made by Tehran.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at
his Jerusalem office, Sunday, May 12, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)
    During his speech, the prime minister called on all surrounding nations in the region to unite against the Iranian threat:
    “There is a new efflorescence, a new renaissance of relations between us and many of our Arab neighbors and many non-Arab Muslim countries.    Many more than you can count, and it’s true that we are united in our desire to stop Iranian aggression.    And I believe that Israel and all the countries of the region and all the countries who seek peace in the world should stand together with the United States against Iranian aggression.”
    On Tuesday, both Iran and the U.S. made it clear they do not want the growing tensions to escalate to war.

5/15/2019 Nearly 50 Palestinians wounded in ‘Catastrophe’ anniversary protests on Gaza-Israel border by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A Palestinian demonstrator hurls back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 71st anniversary
of the 'Nakba', or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's
independence in 1948, at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops wounded nearly 50 Palestinians at the Gaza border on Wednesday during protests to mark the 71st anniversary of the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, when many Palestinians lost their homes in the fighting around Israel’s creation, Gaza officials said.
    Thousands had gathered at the coastal enclave’s frontier with Israel, the scene of bloodshed over the past year that has raised international concern.
    Groups approached the border fence, planting Palestinian flags and throwing stones toward Israeli soldiers on the other side despite the efforts of marshalls in orange vests to keep protesters away from the barrier, witnesses said.
    Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets to repel them, but also live ammunition, the witnesses said.
    The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 47 people were wounded, though it was not clear how many of those were hit by live ammunition or were hurt by rubber bullets or by inhaling tear gas.
    The Israeli military said about 10,000 rioters and demonstrators gathered in several places along the Gaza Strip fence.
    “The rioters are setting tyres on fire and hurling rocks.    A number of explosive devices have been hurled within the Gaza Strip, as well, and a number of attempts have been made to approach the security fence.    IDF troops are responding with riot dispersal means.”
    Wednesday’s rallies were called to mark Nakba Day, what Palestinians term the catastrophe that befell them at Israel’s creation in 1948, when hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from lands in what is now Israel.
    “Our people rise today to announce their rejection to this crime and to assert their right in Palestine, all of Palestine,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said at one demonstration, referring to Israel and the territories it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    “Palestine is ours, the sea is ours, the sky is ours and the land is ours, and those strangers must be removed,” he said.
    Another protester, Jamila Mahmoud, 50, said her family had originally come from Asqlan, now the Israeli city of Ashkelon, near Gaza.
    “If we don’t return, maybe our children and grandchildren will do, one day we will get our rights back,” Mahmoud said at the border protest site.
    Palestinians also held rallies in the occupied West Bank but no major clashes with Israeli forces were immediately reported.
    This year’s Nakba protests were preceded by a surge in deadly cross-border fighting between Gaza militants and Israel which ended in a ceasefire on May 6.
    Israeli troops have killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands in regular border protests since March 2018, according to human rights groups.    U.N. investigators have said the Israeli military might be guilty of war crimes for using excessive force.
    Israel has said it is defending its border against attacks against its troops and infiltration attempts by gunmen.
    Israel has rejected a Palestinian right of return as a threat to maintaining a Jewish majority in a country it describes as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
    Frustration is growing among Palestinians as hopes fade for a two-state solution to the conflict which would give them an independent country.    President Donald Trump’s announcement in December 2017 of U.S. recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital also fueled Palestinian anger.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Angus MacSwan)

5/15/20019 Egypt’s Sisi opens huge suspension bridge over the Nile
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of floating bridges and tunnel projects
executed under the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday opened a suspension bridge over the Nile touted as the world’s widest, one of a series of military-led, mega-projects designed to improve infrastructure and provide jobs.
    The bridge, which crosses the Nile just north of central Cairo, is a key link in a highway stretching from the Red Sea in the east to Egypt’s northwestern Mediterranean coast, and is meant to help reduce congestion in the capital.
    Traffic ground to a halt in parts of central Cairo on Wednesday morning as Sisi traveled to open the bridge with ministers and military generals.
    At its widest, the bridge has six traffic lanes in each direction and measures 67.3 meters (222 feet) across.    A regional director for the Guinness Book of World Records present at the opening said that makes it the world’s widest suspension bridge.
    Around one million cubic meters of concrete as well as 1,400 km (870 miles) of steel wire for 160 suspension cables were used in its construction, according to a presentation given at the formal opening.
    The bridge crosses the Nile’s Warraq Island, which has an estimated 100,000 residents, some of whom have protested against planned demolitions on the island and plans to develop it into a “modern residential community.”
    On an inspection visit to the suspension bridge last month, Sisi denied reports the island could be sold to investors and said the state could not forcefully evict residents.
    Other prestige projects launched under Sisi include an expansion of the Suez Canal, completed in 2015, and the building of a new capital in the desert east of Cairo that is currently under construction.
(Story refiled to correct kilometer-to-mile conversion in paragraph 5)
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis, Mahmoud Mourad and Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/15/2019 Turkey says it is discussing S-400 working group with U.S., postponing not on agenda by Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in
Ankara, Turkey, April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is discussing with the United States setting up a working group to assess the impact of its purchase of Russian missile defences systems, but will not delay their delivery, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
    Tensions between Turkey and the United States are running high over Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defences, which are not compatible with NATO systems.
    U.S. officials say Turkey’s planned purchase would jeopardise its role in building F-35 fighter jets as well as its purchase of the aircraft, which Washington says would be compromised by the presence of the S-400s.
    The United States and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the radar on the system will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons.
    Ankara says U.S. concerns are overstated and has been pushing Washington to establish a working group to assess the risks the system would be posing to the F-35 jet.
    “We are exchanging opinions on how this could work, we will continue to share our views.    Once we agree on that, we will decide if there will be a working group or not,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.    “The discussions are ongoing, there is nothing certain yet,” he added.
    On Monday, a source familiar with the matter said the United States had asked Turkey to delay taking delivery of the S-400 system, currently scheduled for July, in return for potentially approving the formation of the working group.
    “There is no such thing as postponing or cancelling at this stage,” Cavusoglu said.    “It’s not on the agenda either.”
    The disagreement is the latest in a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey.    They include Turkish demands that Washington extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran.
    A Turkish court on Wednesday remanded in jail U.S. consulate employee Metin Topuz and set the next session of his trial on espionage charges for June 28, a lawyer for Topuz said.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alison Williams)

5/15/2019 Erdogan and Putin agree to convene working group on Syria soon: Turkish minister
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey,
May 2, 2019. Fatih Aktas/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed that a working group on Syria’s northwest should convene as soon as possible, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
    A recent offensive targeting Syria’s Idlib and surrounding areas by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russia, has uprooted more than 150,000 people, the United Nations says, while rescue workers and civil defense officials say more than 120 civilians have been killed.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that attacks by Syrian government forces were damaging prospects of forming a U.N.-sponsored committee to draft a new Syrian constitution.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Dominic Evans)

5/15/2019 Lebanon’s president urges ‘sacrifice’ as budget cuts debated
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese President Michel Aoun talks on the eve of the country's 75th independence day at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Michel Aoun urged the Lebanese on Tuesday to end protests and make sacrifices to rescue the country from financial crisis as ministers debate a draft state budget expected to include spending cuts.
    Fears that the budget would include wage or pension cuts have sparked protests by public sector workers, pointing to the minefield that Lebanon’s main parties face.
    The coalition government is seeking to finalized a budget that Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri says may be the most austere in Lebanon’s history, trying to get spending under control and rein in public debt.
    Lebanon has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world, and long-stalled reforms are seen as more pressing than ever after years of low economic growth.
    The government aims to agree the state draft budget by Wednesday night before sending it to parliament, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil told Reuters after a cabinet session on Tuesday.
    “Today, Lebanon is going through a difficult economic, financial and social crisis … but it is transient,” Aoun told guests at a Ramadan iftar at the presidential palace.
    “If we do not all make sacrifices today and waive some of our privileges that we do not have the luxury to preserve, we will lose them all,” he added.
    Aoun pledged that suffering would be balanced between the rich and poor, and called on the government to restore the people’s confidence.
    “Let us save ourselves, accept the sacrifices that are temporarily required, and stop the sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations and paralysis of public and private work sectors,” Aoun said.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Leslie Adler)

5/16/2019 U.S. pulls staff from Iraq, says Iran gave ‘blessing’ for tanker attacks by John Davison and Mark Hosenball
FILE PHOTO: A partial view of the Iraqi capital Baghdad is reflected in the visor of a U.S. Army helicopter crew member as he looks out of a
Chinook helicopter flying from the U.S. Embassy to Baghdad International airport on January 9, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/File Photo
    BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Helicopters ferried U.S. staff from the American embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday out of apparent concern about perceived threats from Iran, which U.S. sources believe encouraged Sunday’s attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf.
    The sabotage of the tankers, for which no one has claimed responsibility, and Saudi Arabia’s announcement on Tuesday that armed drones hit two of its oil pumping stations have raised concerns Washington and Tehran may be inching toward conflict.
    A U.S. government source said American security experts believe Iran gave its “blessing” to tanker attacks, which hit two Saudi crude oil tankers, a UAE-flagged fuel bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker off Fujeirah near the Strait of Hormuz.
    The source said the United States believes Iran’s role was one of actively encouraging militants but indicated the United States does not now have evidence that Iranian personnel played any direct operational role.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry has called the tanker attacks “worrisome and dreadful” and called for an investigation.
    There has been a marked increase in U.S.-Iranian tensions since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut off all of Iran’s oil exports and to designate its Revolutionary Guards as a “foreign terrorist organization.”
    Trump, who last year abandoned the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran, believes the economic pressure will force Tehran to accept more stringent limitations on its nuclear and missile programs as well as on its support for proxies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the increasing U.S. sanctions “unacceptable” but said Tehran remained committed to its obligations under the nuclear accord.
    “We exercise maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew,” Zarif said as he met his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, in Tokyo.
    Under the accord negotiated by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, in return for sanctions relief.
    Earlier on Wednesday, the ISNA news agency reported that an Iranian atomic energy official said Iran has officially stopped some commitments under the pact, and has no limit from now for production of enriched uranium and heavy water.    Iran’s decision does not appear to violate the nuclear deal yet.
U.S. SHRINKS DIPLOMATIC PRESENCE
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad last week after U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed Shi’ite militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to two Iraqi security sources.
    Pompeo told Iraq’s top brass to keep the militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and now form part of its security apparatus, in check, the sources said.    If not, the United States would respond with force.
    Helicopters took off throughout the day from the vast U.S. embassy compound near the Tigris River in Baghdad, carrying non-emergency staff out, according to an Iraqi source and a diplomatic source inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.
    The Iraqi source said U.S. staff were headed for a military base at Baghdad airport.    A U.S. official told Reuters late on Wednesday that the evacuation was complete.
    Trump is sending an aircraft carrier group, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East to counter what the United States calls a heightened threat from Iran to U.S. soldiers and interests in the region.
    Iran described the U.S. moves as “psychological warfare,” and a British commander cast doubt on U.S. military concerns about threats to its roughly 5,000 soldiers in Iraq, who have been helping Iraqi security forces fight Islamic State.
    The U.S. State Department said employees at both the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, were being pulled out immediately due to safety concerns.
    It was unclear how many were affected, and there was no word on any specific threat.    Visa services were suspended at the heavily-fortified U.S. missions.
    Germany, which has 160 soldiers in Iraq, and the Netherlands which has 169 military and civilian staff, suspended military training operations, citing regional tensions.
‘DANGEROUS SITUATION’
    The attack on the tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, through which one fifth of the world’s oil consumption flows, appeared designed to test the resolve of the United States and its Sunni Muslim allies without triggering a war, analysts said.
    “This is a pin-prick event, a little needle-like jab at the maritime trade going into the Strait of Hormuz,” said Gerry Northwood, chairman of risk management and security firm MAST.
    Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he had indications “things will end well” despite the rhetoric.
    Iraq is one of few countries with close ties to both the United States and Iran.    It has said it will keep strong ties with Iran, and also with the United States and Arab neighbors, some of whom, such as Saudi Arabia, consider Tehran a rival.
    The United States, which had a large troop presence in Iraq from 2003-2011 after invading to topple dictator Saddam Hussein, sent troops back there in 2014 to help fight Islamic State.
    Iran has close ties to powerful Iraqi political parties and supports powerful Shi’ite militia groups.
    “I think we are now in a quite dangerous situation where a miscalculation by either side could lead us into conflict,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN in an interview on Wednesday.
(Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Raya Jalabi in Erbil and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Makini Brice and Phil Stewart in Washington; Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Tassilo Hummel and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; and Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Grant McCool)

5/16/2019 Fighting grips Yemen’s Hodeidah port, complicating peace moves by Mohammed Ghobari
FILE PHOTO: Ships are seen at the Hodeida port, Yemen May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad
    ADEN (Reuters) – Houthi fighters and Saudi-backed pro-government forces battled in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday, breaching a ceasefire and potentially complicating a troop withdrawal agreement intended to pave the way for wider peace talks.
    The Houthis began withdrawing from three ports on Saturday, including Hodeidah port – a lifeline for millions of Yemenis threatened by starvation because of the four-year war, as it is the main entry point for food imports and humanitarian aid.
    A military coalition led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, which receives weapons from the West, intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis ousted President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government from the capital Sanaa.    The war is seen as proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    The Houthis and coalition forces both reported renewed clashes in Hodeidah on Wednesday, a day after the Houthis claimed responsibility for a drone attack that Saudi Arabia said had hit two of its oil pumping stations.
    The Saudi-led coalition will “retaliate hard” for any Houthi attacks on coalition targets but remains committed to a Hodeidah peace deal, said a senior official from the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the coalition.
    Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, who heads a U.N. monitoring mission in Hodeidah, said that while there had been an increase in violations of the ceasefire on Wednesday, “it is not an alarming number … I think the number that we have now is pretty much what we saw in some of the days before Ramadan.”
    The Yemen government and the Houthis met in the Swedish capital Stockholm in December and agreed to a ceasefire and troop withdrawal deal for Hodeidah.    Under phase one of the deal, the Houthis withdrew from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa.
    This is due to be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah, facilitating humanitarian access to grain stores at the Red Sea Mills.
    However, Lollesgaard said on Wednesday that a phase one withdrawal by government and coalition forces would not take place until the warring parties have worked out details for a broader phase two redeployment around Hodeidah and agreed on local forces to secure the area.
    “We need to finalize phase two and the question of the local security forces before we start the full implementation of phase one,” Lollesgaard told reporters at the United Nations in New York via video.
    “We will never get a perfect plan for phase two … both parties need to compromise,” he said.    “The same goes for the local security forces (deal).    We could be done in two weeks, but it can also take months if there is no willingness.”
    The U.N. Security Council was briefed on the situation in Yemen earlier on Wednesday.
    Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen called on all parties to negotiate in good faith to reach a deal on local security forces, exercise restraint and enable the U.N. efforts on the ground, particularly by granting entry to the country for U.N. monitors.
    “Obstruction of the U.N. process cannot be tolerated.    For months apparent breakthroughs have happened just in time for Security Council briefings, then progress stalls,” he said.    “Council members must consider how to hold parties responsible if they don’t implement the Stockholm agreement.”
    Lollesgaard said there were 15-18 U.N. monitors on the ground in Hodeidah, but that another 30 monitors were still waiting for the Houthis to grant them a visa.
    Tens of thousands of people have been killed during the conflict in Yemen, many of them civilians, and aid agencies say the humanitarian crisis is the worst in the world.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Frances Kerry and Matthew Lewis)

5/16/2019 Saudi-led coalition in Yemen strikes Sanaa, casualties reported by Abdulrahman Al-Ansi
People carry their belongings at the site of an air strike launched by the Saudi-led
coalition in Sanaa, Yemen May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
    SANAA (Reuters) – The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen carried out several air strikes on the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Thursday after the Iranian-aligned movement claimed responsibility for drone attacks on Saudi oil installations.
    The Sanaa strikes targeted nine military sites in and around the city, residents said, with humanitarian agencies reporting a number of casualties.
    Rubble filled a populated street lined by mud-brick houses, a Reuters journalist on the scene said.    A crowd of men lifted the body of a women, wrapped in a white shroud, into an ambulance.
    Houthi-run Masirah television quoted the Houthi health ministry as saying six civilians, including four children, had been killed and 60 wounded, including two Russian women working in the health sector.
    Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said two hospitals it supports in Sanaa took in 48 injured and four dead people as a result of the strikes.    Preliminary reports indicated five children were among those killed, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen said.
    A coalition statement carried by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, said the Sunni Muslim alliance struck military bases and facilities and weapons storage sites with the aim of “neutralising the ability of the Houthi militia to carry out acts of aggression.”
    “The sorties achieved its goals with full precision,” the coalition said.    It had urged civilians to avoid those targets.
    A later statement said “the possibility of an accident” had been referred to a body set up by the coalition to investigate claims.
    One resident reported a strike near a densely-populated district, where flames and clouds of smoke could be seen.    A car was half-buried under rubble and twisted metal on a street lined with bystanders.
    “There was an air strike near us, in the middle of an area packed with residents between Hael and Raqas (streets),” Abdulrazaq Mohammed told Reuters.    “The explosion was so strong that stones were flying.    This is the first time our house shakes so much.”
    Sanaa has been held by the Houthi movement since it ousted the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power there in late 2014.    The coalition has previously targeted suspected drone and missile storage sites in the city.
IRANIAN TOOLS
    Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister on Thursday accused Iran of ordering Tuesday’s armed drone attack on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom.
    “The terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts,” Prince Khalid bin Salman tweeted.
    The Houthis said they were responsible for the attack, which did not disrupt oil output or exports.    The group denies being a puppet of Tehran or receiving arms from Iran, and says its revolution is against corruption.
    The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee denied that Iran directed the strike and said the movement manufactures its drones locally.    Tehran also denies providing arms to the Houthis.
    “We are not agents for anyone,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi told Reuters.    “We make decisions independently and do not take orders for drones or anything else.”
    The coalition described the drone attack as a “war crime.”
    The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that the Western-backed coalition, of which it is a main member, would “retaliate hard” for any Houthi attacks on coalition targets.
    The Sanaa air strikes and renewed fighting in Yemen’s Hodeidah port that breached a U.N.-sponsored truce in the Red Sea city, could complicate peace efforts to end the four-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
    The coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western nations, intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore Hadi’s Aden-based government.
    The warring parties agreed last December at U.N.-sponsored peace talks on a ceasefire and troop withdrawal deal in Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis that became the focus of the war last year.
    The pact, the first major breakthrough in over four years, stalled for months amid deep suspicion among all parties, but special envoy Martin Griffiths secured some progress when the Houthis started withdrawing from three ports last Saturday.
    Pro-coalition troops are expected to pull back as well under the deal once the two sides work out details for a broader phase two redeployment in Hodeidah, the main entry point for Yemen’s commercial and aid imports and the Houthis’ key supply line.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden, Reuters team in Sanaa and Asma Alsharif and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by Angus MacSwan and Toby Chopra)

5/16/2019 Small Turkish Democrat Party says it is not standing in Istanbul election
FILE PHOTO: Ekrem Imamoglu, ousted Istanbul Mayor from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), speaks
during an interview with Reuters in Istanbul, Turkey, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A small Turkish center-right party said on Thursday it would not take part in next month’s re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, which the main opposition party candidate won by a tiny margin in March.
    The potential impact of the Democrat Party’s withdrawal was not immediately clear as it did not immediately express support for any of the remaining candidates.
    The Democrat Party won around 22,000 votes in the March 31 vote, won by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.    He beat President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party by only 13,000 votes but his victory was annulled.
    The decision by election authorities to re-run the Istanbul vote on June 23 has fueled concerns about an erosion of democracy and unnerved financial markets, including the already ailing lira currency.
    “As a result of the assessments by our organization and authorized boards, we have decided not to take part in the Istanbul City Mayor elections,” Democrat Party leader Gultekin Uysal wrote on his Twitter account.
    The Islamist Saadet (Felicity) Party, which took around 100,000 votes in March, said on Tuesday it would participate in the June contest, a week after its candidate said he was ready to stand down and support the ousted Imamoglu.
    Imamoglu’s surprise victory in March was the first time in 25 years that Erdogan’s AKP or its Islamist predecessors had failed to win control of Istanbul.
    Imamoglu was declared mayor last month after weeks of wrangling over the result and a partial recount, but his mandate was revoked when election authorities ruled that there had been widespread irregularities.
    Ten days after annulling the election, Turkey’s High Election Board faces a barrage of questions from opposition parties, which say there was no legal basis to annul the result.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Frances Kerry)

5/16/2019 Yemen combatants wide apart on sharing vital port revenues by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A ship is seen at Hodeidah port in Hodeidah, Yemen May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Yemen’s warring parties on Thursday failed to agree on how to manage revenues from Hodeidah port that could help relieve the urgent humanitarian needs of millions, delegates and U.N. sources at U.N.-facilitated discussions in Jordan said.
    Both sides differed in separate talks with U.N. teams on how the central bank, which is split into rival head offices, should handle revenues from Hodeidah, a vital import hub, and Yemen’s other main Red Sea ports of Saleef and Ras Isa, delegates said.
    The war has devastated Yemen’s economy, exacerbating an urgent humanitarian crisis with millions of Yemenis on the brink of starvation.    Soaring prices have put basic commodities out of reach for many Yemenis and the central bank has struggled to pay public-sector salaries as foreign exchange reserves evaporated.
    The United Nations said the talks between the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed government had on their agenda how to manage the revenues from the three ports and how to use them to pay public sector employees’ salaries.
    The talks convened less than a week after the Houthis began a unilateral pullout from these ports, handing them over to U.N.-supervised local forces as agreed under a pact with the government last December that had stalled for months.
    The Yemeni Central Bank was moved from the capital Sanaa to the southern port of Aden after the Houthi movement ousted the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power there in late 2014.
    The government delegation at the Amman talks said the insistence of the Houthis not to allow the transfer of port revenues to their central bank office in Aden, the seat of the Riyadh-backed government, meant they had no intention of implementing the economic provisions of the peace deal.
    “Their insistence to divide the Central Bank and its revenues and to send the port revenues to Sanaa means they decided to fail the talks,” Mohammad al-Omrani, a spokesman of the Yemeni government and member of the team, told Reuters.
    The Houthi delegation said they wanted future revenues to be put in a special account under international supervision in the central bank’s Hodeidah branch that is run by their administration in Sanaa, the Houthi-controlled capital.
    Aid officials say hundreds of thousands of civil servants have not received their salaries in more than two years, depriving health, education and sanitation services of the people and resources needed to keep them running.
    “We are saying let’s open a special account where the revenues of the ports are placed and under international supervisions and from which salaries are spent to the benefit of all Yemenis without capitalizing on this politically,” said Ahmed Al Shami, head of the economic committee in the Houthi delegation to the talks.
    He added that the Houthis had no trust in the monetary authorities overseen by the Riyadh-backed government.
    “They did not prove their capability in running the monetary policy or exchange rate or liquidity,” he added, citing rising living costs fluctuations in the local currency that have worsened the plight of Yemenis across the political divide.
    The United Nations, faced with a deadlock over the differing interpretations on sharing port revenues, has put forward a compromise plan to be discussed in another round of talks expected sometime next month, Al Shami told Reuters.
    “It’s a good proposal to an extent,” he added saying it could be the basis of an agreement.    He did not elaborate.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean)

5/17/2019 Exclusive: U.N. says Somali militants using home-made explosives to step up attacks by Katharine Houreld
FILE PHOTO: The scene of an explosion in KM4 street in the Hodan district of
Mogadishu, Somalia October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Somali Islamist insurgents are making their own explosives, according to a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters, as they mount more frequent and deadly attacks.
    The findings are a blow for internationally backed efforts to fight the al Shabaab insurgency, which has repeatedly carried out attacks in East Africa and launched dozens in Somalia this year despite a dramatic increase in U.S. air strikes.
    “For the first time, post-blast laboratory analyses … indicate a clear shift in al Shabaab construction methods, away from the use of military-grade explosives and toward HME (home-made explosives),” said a confidential report by the U.N. panel of experts on Somalia, which was seen by Reuters.
    “Information from a range of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) experts suggests a probable connection between the development of HME by al Shabaab and the recent increased frequency of major attacks in Mogadishu.”
    The analysis was based on at least 20 attacks since July 2018, the report said.
    It specify who did the analysis, but footnotes cited the U.N. Mine Action Service, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and experts who were not named but only identified by the dates on which they were interviewed.
    The U.N. panel declined to comment, and the two organizations did not respond to questions from Reuters.
    Somali government officials could not be reached for comment.    Lt Col Charles Imbiakha, spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, said it could not comment because it had not seen the report.
    Al Shabaab, which wants to rule Somalia in line with a strict interpretation of sharia law, has carried out at least 19 attacks with vehicle-borne bombs that have killed more than five people in Mogadishu since September, the report found.
    Hitherto, the insurgency has mostly relied on military-grade explosives, laboriously harvested by specialists from ordnance such as mines or mortars captured from soldiers or peacekeepers.
    But the attacks have become more frequent, or in some cases more dramatic – most notably the truck bomb that killed more than 500 people in October 2017 at a junction where street vendors were selling petrol.
    Experts have long suspected that that bomb may have used some home-made explosives, but no evidence had been made public.
    The U.N. panel report also does not offer evidence but notes that al Shabaab would have needed explosives from approximately 6,000 mortars to carry out a blast of that size.
    It said al Shabaab bombmakers were now mixing highly explosive nitroglycerine with ammonium nitrate or potassium nitrate – both used in fertilisers – and charcoal, although it did not say where they were being obtained.
    A raid on an underground site in Mogadishu last month recovered components and chemicals that included aluminum paste, which can enhance the thermal effect of a detonation, the report said.
    There are no public statistics on bombings in Somalia.    The U.S. Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization, part of the Pentagon, said it did not track bombings and the Somali government does not release statistics.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington D.C. and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Editing by Alison Williams and Kevin Liffey)

5/17/2019 UAE, keen to maintain safe-haven image, tempers tanker attack response by Alexander Cornwell and Stanley Carvalho
UAE Navy boats are seen next to Al Marzoqah, Saudi Arabian tanker, off the Port of Fujairah, UAE May 13, 2019.REUTERS/Satish Kumar
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates, though a prominent foe of Iran in the Middle East’s power struggles, has tempered its reaction to attacks on oil tankers off its coast in an effort to protect its reputation as a safe and stable business hub.
    While its close ally Saudi Arabia unleashed a barrage of tweets accusing their mutual enemy of ordering drone strikes on its oil installations on Tuesday, the UAE held off blaming anyone for Sunday’s attacks pending an investigation.
    Abu Dhabi pledged restraint and de-escalation during what it called a “difficult situation” caused by Iranian behavior in the region.
    Iran has distanced itself from the attack, which no-one has claimed.    Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said they carried out the drone strike on Saudi oil pumping stations.
    The divergent approach by two crude-exporting heavyweights illustrates the complexities of dealing with Iran, which they see as a destabilizing force in the region.
    Both have lobbied the United States to isolate Tehran, and the two spearhead a military coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government against the Houthis.
    “Sometimes you need to be diplomatic, we can’t destroy our economy’s reputation.    Others are looking to shake our reliability,” said a UAE oil source when asked why the initial UAE statement mentioned commercial vessels and not oil tankers.
    It was Saudi Arabia’s energy minister who revealed that two Saudi tankers had been attacked.
    As Washington and Tehran spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, the UAE is balancing curtailing Iran with protecting its economic interests as the Middle East’s tourism, financial and trading hub.
    A Western diplomat said the UAE was taking a guarded approach because it does not want “trouble at its doorstep.”
    “The UAE is far more pragmatic and strategic, and has more to lose.    Saudi Arabia is the bigger concern for Iran so there is messaging coming out,” said another diplomat.
BUSINESS HUB
    Western diplomats said the UAE, where expatriates are a majority of the population, shared Riyadh’s goals but unlike the kingdom has a diversified economy more exposed to regional shocks.
    “UAE authorities are trying to find a fine balance because this a business hub. You don’t want to prick the bubble,” said a Dubai-based banker handling marine and energy business.    “The right sounds are being made…no alarm bells.”
    Dubai, which lacks the oil wealth of the political capital Abu Dhabi, is more vulnerable.    It has been pinched by a Saudi-led boycott on Qatar and U.S. sanctions on Iran, for which Dubai was a traditional trade hub.    Free zones also depend on unfettered access to Gulf maritime routes.
    The emirate, whose economy is focused on tourism and international business services, is suffering a property downturn and a slowdown in retail as it gears up to host the World Expo trade fair in 2020.
    “It doesn’t pose many risks to Abu Dhabi…but a substantial risk to Dubai, which relies on international businesses and real estate buyers feeling safe there,” said Steffen Hertog, associate professor at London School of Economics.
    “Just tanker incidents are unlikely to affect tourism and business though; it would probably take an attack involving civilian casualties to substantially shift the mood,” he added.
    Analysts say the attacks appear designed to test the resolve of Washington and its Gulf allies without triggering war by exposing weaknesses in the security of a key oil-shipping route.
    If push comes to shove the UAE has deep enough pockets to bail out the economy for months or years, said Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East programme at CSIS.
    “In the view of many Emirati officials, the threat from Iran is serious and enduring.    If it takes a little bit of pain to get to a more secure place, they’re willing to make that investment.”
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal, Davide Barbuscia, Saeed Azhar and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/17/2019 Saudi-led coalition in Yemen strikes Sanaa, casualties reported by Abdulrahman Al-Ansi
People carry their belongings at the site of an air strike launched by the
Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
    SANAA (Reuters) – The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen carried out several air strikes on the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Thursday after the Iranian-aligned movement claimed responsibility for drone attacks on Saudi oil installations.
    The Sanaa strikes targeted nine military sites in and around the city, residents said, with humanitarian agencies reporting a number of casualties.
    Rubble filled a populated street lined by mud-brick houses, a Reuters journalist on the scene said.    A crowd of men lifted the body of a women, wrapped in a white shroud, into an ambulance.
    Houthi-run Masirah television quoted the Houthi health ministry as saying six civilians, including four children, had been killed and 60 wounded, including two Russian women working in the health sector.
    Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said two hospitals it supports in Sanaa took in 48 injured and four dead people as a result of the strikes.    Preliminary reports indicated five children were among those killed, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen said.
    A coalition statement carried by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, said the Sunni Muslim alliance struck military bases and facilities and weapons storage sites with the aim of “neutralizing the ability of the Houthi militia to carry out acts of aggression.”
    “The sorties achieved its goals with full precision,” the coalition said.    It had urged civilians to avoid those targets.
    A later statement said “the possibility of an accident” had been referred to a body set up by the coalition to investigate claims.
    One resident reported a strike near a densely-populated district, where flames and clouds of smoke could be seen. A car was half-buried under rubble and twisted metal on a street lined with bystanders.
    “There was an air strike near us, in the middle of an area packed with residents between Hael and Raqas (streets),” Abdulrazaq Mohammed told Reuters.    “The explosion was so strong that stones were flying.    This is the first time our house shakes so much.”
    Sanaa has been held by the Houthi movement since it ousted the internationally recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power there in late 2014.    The coalition has previously targeted suspected drone and missile storage sites in the city.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the strikes and called on international and human rights bodies “to act according to their responsibility to prevent the repetition of these crimes,” the state news agency IRNA reported.
IRANIAN TOOLS
    Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister on Thursday accused Iran of ordering Tuesday’s armed drone attack on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom.
    “The terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts,” Prince Khalid bin Salman tweeted.
    The Houthis said they were responsible for the attack, which did not disrupt oil output or exports.    The group denies being a puppet of Tehran or receiving arms from Iran, and says its revolution is against corruption.
    The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee denied that Iran directed the strike and said the movement manufactures its drones locally.    Tehran also denies providing arms to the Houthis.
    “We are not agents for anyone,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi told Reuters.    “We make decisions independently and do not take orders for drones or anything else.”
    The coalition described the drone attack as a “war crime.”
    The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that the Western-backed coalition, of which it is a main member, would “retaliate hard” for any Houthi attacks on coalition targets.
    The Sanaa air strikes and renewed fighting in Yemen’s Hodeidah port that breached a U.N.-sponsored truce in the Red Sea city, could complicate peace efforts to end the four-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
    The coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western nations, intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore Hadi’s Aden-based government.
    The warring parties agreed last December at U.N.-sponsored peace talks on a ceasefire and troop withdrawal deal in Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis that became the focus of the war last year.
    The pact, the first major breakthrough in over four years, stalled for months amid deep suspicion among all parties, but special envoy Martin Griffiths secured some progress when the Houthis started withdrawing from three ports last Saturday.
    Pro-coalition troops are expected to pull back as well under the deal once the two sides work out details for a broader phase two redeployment in Hodeidah, the main entry point for Yemen’s commercial and aid imports and the Houthis’ key supply line.br> (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden, Reuters team in Sanaa and Asma Alsharif and Lisa Barrington in Dubai, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by Angus MacSwan, Toby Chopra and Michael Perry)

5/17/2019 Turkey says U.S. scrapping trade deal contradicts goals by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkey and U.S. flags are seen in this picture illustration taken August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The U.S. decision to end its preferential trade agreement with Turkey contradicts their $75 billion bilateral trade target, Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said on Friday, but welcomed Washington’s move to halve tariffs on steel imports.
    The White House said on Thursday it was terminating Turkey’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, given its level of economic development.    It also halved tariffs on Turkish steel imports to 25%.
    “Lowering the tariffs to 25% from 50% is positive, but we expect the lifting of all obstacles to bilateral trade,”     Pekcan wrote on Twitter, saying they affected U.S. companies, too.    She said she work would continue to boost the trade volume
    The United States imported $1.66 billion worth of goods in 2017 from Turkey under the GSP, or 17.7 percent of total imports from Turkey, the U.S. Trade Representative website said.    Imports include vehicles, vehicle parts, jewelry and precious metals.
    The United States had begun reviewing the NATO ally’s status in the program last August when the two countries were embroiled in a diplomatic row.    Ankara had been hopeful that Washington would not go ahead with the move, saying it ran contrary to the two countries’ trade goals.
    Turkey was one of 120 countries that participate in the GSP, the oldest and largest U.S. trade preference program.    It aims to promote economic development in beneficiary countries and territories by eliminating duties on thousands of products.
    During last year’s spat, President Donald Trump imposed higher steel tariffs to put pressure on Turkey to release an American pastor detained on terrorism charges.
    The pastor was released last October, but the friction in part sparked a currency crisis that tipped Turkey’s economy into recession last year, knocking nearly 30 percent off the lira’s value over the year as a whole.
LIRA UNDER PRESSURE
    The lira has weakened as much as 15 percent further this year, partly from concerns about a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election and the risk of U.S. sanctions.    It fell again on Friday after the latest U.S. moves.
    The currency stood at 6.0600 against the dollar at 1000 GMT, easing from a close of 6.0475 on Thursday.
    “The U.S. decisions were negatively priced, but the decisions do not have a clear economic impact,” said a treasury desk trader at one bank.    “Markets will monitor political statements regarding relations between the two countries, given the risks that they have recently entailed.”
    Ties between Ankara and Washington remain tense over disagreements ranging from Turkey’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system, which could trigger sanctions, to diverging interests in Syria.
    U.S. officials say Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400s would jeopardize its role in building F-35 fighter jets as well as its purchase of the aircraft, which Washington says would be compromised by the Russian system.
    Turkey wants the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan in which 250 people were killed.    Gulen denies the allegation.
(Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; writing by Daren Butler; editing by Jonathan Spicer, Larry King)

5/17/2019 Algeria election may be postponed, protests continue by Lamine Chikhi
Demonstrators gesture towards police officers during an anti-government protest in Algiers, Algeria May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s imminent presidential election looks likely to be postponed, a source said on Friday, as protesters returned to the streets for the 13th successive Friday to demand the removal of the nation’s ruling elite.
    After two decades in power, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit last month under pressure from protesters and the army, but demonstrations have continued seeking political reforms and the removal of all officials belonging to the old guard.
    A presidential election is scheduled for July 4.
    But a source familiar with the matter said the vote was to be delayed due to difficulties of organizing the logistics in time and opposition on the street.
    “There won’t be elections on July 4,” he told Reuters, asking not to be named.
    Hundreds of protesters began gathering again on Friday, calling for the resignations of the interim president, Abdelkader Bensalah, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, appointed by Bouteflika days before he stepped down.
    “No to elections of shame. Remove Bensalah and Bedoui first,” read one banner held up in downtown Algiers.
    The Constitutional Council, which is overseeing the transition, was expected to issue a statement on the election process shortly.    The deadline for would-be presidential candidates to collect and submit 60,000 signatures is May 25.
    The source told Reuters the vote could be delayed until the end of the year, with names in the air to run the transition including conservative former minister Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi and technocrat and former prime minister Ahmed Benbitour.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/17/2019 Germany designates BDS Israel boycott movement as anti-Semitic by Joseph Nasr and Riham Alkousaa
FILE PHOTO: Visitors walk inside the glass dome of the Reichstag building, the seat of the German lower house of
parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke - RC180CE99100/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The German parliament voted on Friday to condemn as anti-Semitic a movement that calls for economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian land, grant Arab citizens equal rights and recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
    In a move welcomed by Israel, a majority of lawmakers in the Bundestag voted in favor of a motion to label the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as an entity that uses anti-Semitic tactics to fulfill its political goals.
    “The argumentation patterns and methods used by the BDS movement are anti-Semitic,” read the motion submitted by .Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, their Social Democrat coalition partners as well as the Greens and Free Democrats.
    Securing Israel’s survival has been a priority for Germany since the defeat of the Nazi dictatorship that committed the Holocaust, in which an estimated six million Jews were murdered.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the Bundestag decision in a statement on Twitter.
    “I hope that this decision will bring about concrete steps and I call upon other countries to adopt similar legislation,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
    The BDS condemned the motion as anti-Palestinian.
    “The German establishment is entrenching its complicity in Israel’s crimes of military occupation, ethnic cleansing, siege and apartheid, while desperately trying to shield it from accountability to international law,” it said on Twitter.
    Lawmakers from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party abstained during the symbolic vote.    They had submitted their own motion calling for a total ban of the BDS in Germany.    That motion was defeated.
    A majority of the far-left Die Linke party voted against the motion.    The party also submitted its own proposal, which called to oppose the BDS and commit the German government to work toward a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on U.N. Security Council resolutions.    Its motion was also defeated.
    The latest battle between the BDS and the Israeli government has been over the Eurovision Song Contest final, which takes place in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
    In the run-up to the event, the BDS has called on artists, music fans and broadcasters to avoid the event, arguing it amounts to “whitewashing” Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
    With Friday’s Bundestag motion, Germany has effectively backed Israel’s position that international boycotts are discriminatory and anti-Semitic.
    The motion said a BDS campaign calling for Israeli products to be labeled with “Don’t Buy” stickers was reminiscent of the Nazi-era boycott of Jewish businesses, known in German as “Judenboykott,” which used slogans such as: “Don’t buy from Jews.”
    Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, welcomed the Bundestag decision.
    “It (the motion) has broader European significance given that BDS makes no attempt to build coexistence and peace between Israel and all of its neighbors,” he wrote on Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Frances Kerry)
[It was good to see that the above entities put the BDS in its place, which the Palestinians should distance themselves from it also, as well as Hamas, Hezbollah influence if they want a solution.].

5/17/2019 Egypt’s President Sisi pardons 560 prisoners
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi speaks at his swearing-in of the second presidential term,
at a ceremony, at the House of Representatives in Cairo, Egypt, June 2, 2018 in this handout picture
courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has pardoned 560 prisoners, the majority of whom were accused of supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, two judicial sources said on Friday.
    Of those pardoned, 482 were imprisoned on charges related to the Brotherhood, a decades-old Islamist political movement with a mass following, the sources said.
    A prominent journalist, Abdel Halim Qandil, who was sentenced in 2017 to three years in prison on charges of insulting the judiciary, was also pardoned.
    The pardoned prisoners also included two women who organized demonstrations outside metro stations last year after fare hikes.
    The prisoners are expected to be released on Friday.    The pardons were announced in the official gazette late on Thursday.
    The Brotherhood won the first free elections after the 2011 uprising that ended autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, but was toppled by the army after a year in power.
    Since then, the group has been banned and hundreds of its followers have been jailed.    The Brotherhood says it is a non-violent movement and denies any relationship to violent insurgencies waged by al Qaeda and Islamic State militants.
    Rights activists say Sisi has overseen a relentless crackdown on dissent in Egypt since 2014.    At least 60,000 people have been jailed on political grounds, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate.
    Sisi has denied holding political prisoners and his backers say the measures were necessary to stabilize Egypt after its 2011 uprising.
(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Mohamed Wali; Writing by Lena Masri, Editing by William Maclean)

5/18/2019 On Eurovision final day, Israelis cheer as Palestinians protest by Rami Ayyub
Israeli policemen patrol the area near the beach on the eve of the 2019 Eurovision
song contest final in Tel Aviv, Israel May 18, 2019 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – As singers made last-minute preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv on Saturday, Israeli police threw a high-security cordon around the venue to head off attacks, or protests by boycotters who have urged fans to shun the event.
    Armed police stood at elevated positions around the Expo Tel Aviv complex, with patrol cars and police motorcyclists at junctions as fans passed through metal detectors and multiple security checks.    Farther south, near Jaffa, an area of beach was sealed off for the “Eurovision Village” spectators pavilion.
    The 41-country international singing competition has been a focus of pro-Palestinian calls to stay away from this year’s event, in protest against Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza.
    No finalists or broadcasters have pulled out, but the organizers also have security inside the hall in case activists try to disrupt the live televised final on Saturday night or performers hold an on-stage protest.
    Israel says the calls to boycott the competition because it is being held in Israel are discriminatory and anti-Semitic, which the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement denies.
    The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence is the bookies’ favorite to win the glass microphone trophy, sitting at 3/4 according to Oddschecker on Saturday.
    Australia’s entry has also crept up the favorites list, helped by a spectacular stage show performed by Kate Miller-Heidke in a full ball gown atop a moving pole.
MADONNA DEFENDS DECISION TO ATTEND
    Pop star Madonna arrived earlier in the week, ahead of her planned guest performance.    Defending her decision to take part, the 60-year-old singer issued a statement saying she would always speak up to defend human rights, and that she hoped to see “a new path toward peace.”
    But at an event organized by pro-Palestinian activists on Saturday morning, around 60 people boarded a boat in Jaffa port to hear critics voicing opposition to Israel’s staging of the competition.
    Some campaigners wore shirts saying “Eurovision: I’m not your Toy,” a play on the song “Toy” by the Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, whose win at last year’s competition brought the 2019 finals to Israel.
    The event was organized by Zochrot, an Israeli NGO which advocates for Palestinians to have the right to return to lands that they fled or were driven from during the 1948-49 war that surrounded Israel’s founding. Israel rules out any such right.
    Umar al-Ghubari, the tour guide, said that Eurovision fans were due to celebrate near where the pre-1948 Palestinian neighborhood al-Manshiyya was destroyed 71 years ago.
    “The Israelis don’t want to tell this story.    They want to show everything as normal,” said Ghubari.
    But Israelis enjoying their weekend in Tel Aviv said they were proud to be hosting the event.    “I’m very excited, it’s great that it’s come to Tel Aviv,” said Alan Liferow, 58, an Israeli accountant from Ein Sarid.    “It’s showing Israel in a very positive light.”
    Yafa Levy, 61, from Ramat Hasharon, said most people did not care about the boycott.    “With all that is happening against Eurovision and Israel, the show goes on,” she said.
    There were fears for the event in early May, when Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militants engaged in three days of fighting, including hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza and Israeli air strikes into the Palestinian enclave.
    Israeli newspapers said Israel had extensively deployed its Iron Dome aerial defence system in advance of the contest.
(Additional reporting by Rahaf Ruby in Tel Aviv; Written by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/18/2019 Lebanese budget deficit will be below 9% of GDP: finance minister
FILE PHOTO: Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil talks during a news conference at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Lebanese state draft budget for 2019 will have a deficit below 9% of gross domestic product (GDP) and it may be less than 8.5% of GDP, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Saturday, according to broadcaster LBC.
    Khalil made the comments in a discussion with reporters.    The deficit was 11.2% of GDP in 2018.
    Lebanon has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world at around 150% of GDP.
    Khalil, writing on his Twitter feed, said the draft budget includes a saving of around 1 trillion Lebanese pounds ($663 million) in debt servicing costs, without giving further details.
    “The debate on the budget must end tomorrow so that we end the atmosphere of anarchy and rumors,” Khalil said, an apparent reference to conflicting statements and reports about proposed cuts in the budget that have fueled protest and strikes.
    Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said earlier this month that Lebanon was far from bankruptcy but failure to pass a “realistic” budget that brings down the deficit would be tantamount to a “suicide operation” against the economy.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/18/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says will jointly produce S-500s with Russia after purchase of S-400s
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks at North Atlantic Council Mediterranean Dialogue Meeting
in Ankara, Turkey, May 6, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that the purchase of S-400 defense systems from Russia was a done deal, adding that Ankara would also jointly produce S-500 defense systems with Moscow.
    U.S. officials have called Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 missile defense system “deeply problematic,” saying it would risk Ankara’s partnership in the joint strike fighter F-35 program because it would compromise the jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
    However, Erdogan told a televised question and answer session with university students in Istanbul that Turkey had carried out technical work and found that such a problem did not exist.
    “They (the U.S.) are passing the ball around in the midfield now, showing some reluctance.    But sooner or later, we will receive the F-35s.    (The U.S.) not delivering them is not an option.”
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; editing by Diane Craft)
[This now shows that Erdogan has developed his own agenda as a King of the South and the U.S. may need to start notice concerns about his actions in the Middle East, and remove any access of U.S. weapon systems that could now be used to aim at Turkey, who is a NATO country.].

5/18/2019 Erdogan: West’s economic manipulation will be thwarted after Istanbul vote re-run
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the
Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 8, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the West was putting pressure on the Turkish lira, inflation and interest rates, but that these “games” would be thwarted after a re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election in June.
    “Ahead of the last election, the West tried to corner us by applying pressure on the currency, interest rates and inflation,” Erdogan said on Saturday in a televised question and answer session with university students in Istanbul.
    “All these games will be thwarted once we get over the election,” he said, after Turkey’s election board ruled on a re-run of March’s election, which was won by the main opposition candidate in a shock loss for Erdogan’s party.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
[Now Erdogan is blaming the US for his economic issues and a loss of an election and he is going to fix it.].

5/18/2019 Saudi crown prince discusses regional developments with Pompeo: ministry by Ali Abdelaty
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 14, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS
    JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince discussed regional developments, including efforts to strengthen security and stability, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Media Ministry tweeted on Sunday.
    The announcement came hours after the Saudi king invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits to discuss the implications of this week’s attacks against oil installations in the kingdom and commercial ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty, writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

5/19/2019 Saudi Arabia says it seeks to avert war, ball in Iran’s court by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference with
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that it wants to avert war in the region but stands ready to respond with “all strength” following last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets, telling Iran that the ball was now in its court.
    Riyadh has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.    Two days earlier, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
    Iran has denied involvement in either operation, which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.
    “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference.
    “It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.”
    Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks.[L5N22U0PA]
    “The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement.
    Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim ally the UAE has not blamed anyone for the tanker sabotage operation, pending an investigation.    No-one has claimed responsibility, but two U.S. government sources said last week that U.S. officials believed Iran had encouraged the Houthi group or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry it out.
    The drone strike on oil pumping stations, which Riyadh said did not disrupt output or exports, was claimed by the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in a war in Yemen since 2015.
    The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, derided Riyadh’s call to convene Arab summits, saying in a Twitter post that they “only know how to support war and destruction.”
    A Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attack on vessels near the UAE’s Fujairah emirate, a main bunkering hub lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
SAUDI PRINCE CALLS POMPEO
    Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran.”    This stance was echoed by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday.
    “We are not pursuing war but we are also not afraid of war,” Major General Hossein Salami was cited as saying by the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
    Washington has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, trying to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero, and beefed up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats to United States troops and interests.
    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed regional developments, including efforts to strengthen security and stability, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Media Ministry tweeted on Sunday.
    “We want peace and stability in the region but we will not sit on our hands in light of the continuing Iranian attack,” Jubeir said.    “The ball is in Iran’s court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be.”
    He said the crew of an Iranian oil tanker that had been towed to Saudi Arabia early this month after a request for help due to engine trouble were still in the kingdom receiving the “necessary care.”    The crew are 24 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
    Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are arch-adversaries in the Middle East, backing opposite sides in several regional wars.    In a sign of the heightened tension, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq.
    Bahrain on Saturday warned its citizens against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return.    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty in Cairo and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Stephen Kalin and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Diane Craft and Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/19/2019 Saudi Arabia to convene Arab leaders over recent attacks
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
    JEDDAH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits to discuss the implications of this week’s attacks against the kingdom and neighboring United Arab Emirates, the foreign ministry said on Saturday.
    The meetings are set for May 30 in Mecca, the ministry said on Twitter.
    Four commercial ships were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, and two days later drones attacked oil installations west of the Saudi capital Riyadh.
(Reportong by Stephen Kalin; editing by Diane Craft)

5/19/2019 Trump, Saudi Arabia warn Iran against Middle East conflict by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference with
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
    RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new threat to Tehran on Sunday, tweeting that a conflict would be the “official end” of Iran, as Saudi Arabia warned it stood ready to respond with “all strength” and said it was up to Iran to avoid war.
    The heightened rhetoric follows last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket into Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” on Sunday, home to government buildings and foreign embassies.
    “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.    Never threaten the United States again!” Trump said in a tweet without elaborating.
    Riyadh, which emphasized that it does not want a war, has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.    Two days earlier, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
    response, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) began “enhanced security patrols” in the international waters of the Arabian Gulf area on Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said on Sunday.
    Iran has denied involvement in either incident, which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.
    “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference on Sunday.
    “It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.”
    Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks.
    “The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement.
    The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said in its statement about increased maritime patrols that GCC countries were “specifically increasing communication and coordination with each other in support of regional naval cooperation and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf,” with navies and coast guards working with the U.S. Navy.
    Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim ally the UAE has not blamed anyone for the tanker sabotage operation, pending an investigation.    No-one has claimed responsibility, but two U.S. government sources said last week that U.S. officials believed Iran had encouraged the Houthi group or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry it out.
    The drone strike on oil pumping stations, which Riyadh said did not disrupt output or exports, was claimed by the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in a war in Yemen since 2015.
    The Houthi-controled SABA news agency said on Sunday, citing a military source from the group, that targeting Aramco’s installations last week was the beginning of coming military operations against 300 vital military targets.
    Targets include vital military headquarters and facilities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, as well as their bases in Yemen, the source told SABA.
    The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, derided Riyadh’s call to convene Arab summits, saying in a Twitter post that they “only know how to support war and destruction.”
    A Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attack on vessels near the UAE’s Fujairah emirate, a main bunkering hub lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
    In Baghdad, Iraq’s military said a Katyusha rocket fell in the middle of the Green Zone without causing any losses.
    “We are aware of an explosion in the International Zone (Green Zone) outside of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on May 19.    There were no U.S. or coalition casualties, and Iraqi Security Forces are investigating the incident,” said Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, in a statement.
    The Green Zone was regularly targeted by mortars during the U.S. occupation of Iraq that ended in 2011 and rockets have occasionally been fired into it since then.
SAUDI PRINCE CALLS POMPEO
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “i>illusion it can confront Iran.”    This stance was echoed by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday.
    “We are not pursuing war but we are also not afraid of war,” Major General Hossein Salami was cited as saying by the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
    Washington has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, trying to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero, and beefed up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats to United States troops and interests.
    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed regional developments, including efforts to strengthen security and stability, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Media Ministry tweeted on Sunday.
    “We want peace and stability in the region but we will not sit on our hands in light of the continuing Iranian attack,” Jubeir said.    “The ball is in Iran’s court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be.”
    He said the crew of an Iranian oil tanker that had been towed to Saudi Arabia early this month after a request for help due to engine trouble were still in the kingdom receiving the “necessary care.”    The crew are 24 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
    Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are arch-adversaries in the Middle East, backing opposite sides in several regional wars.    In a sign of the heightened tension, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq.
    Bahrain on Saturday warned its citizens against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return.    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.
(This story corrects to Iran from Iraq in headline.)
(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai, Nandita Bose in Wahsington, Ali Abdelaty in Cairo, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Stephen Kalin, Ghaida Ghantous and David Lawder; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Potter and Chris Reese)

5/19/2019 U.S. to encourage investment in Palestinians as first part of peace plan by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump boards Air Force One for travel back to Washington, DC at
John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, New York, U.S., May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House will unveil the first part of President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan when it holds an international conference in Bahrain in late June to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, senior U.S. officials said on Sunday.
    The “economic workshop” will bring together government officials and business leaders in an effort to jump-start the economic portion of the peace initiative, which is also expected to include proposals for resolving thorny political issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the officials said.
    Trump has touted the coming plan as the “deal of the century,” but Palestinian officials have rebuked the U.S. effort, which they believe will be heavily biased in favor of Israel.
    Trump’s Middle East team, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and regional envoy Jason Greenblatt, appears intent on focusing initially on potential economic benefits, despite deep skepticism among experts that they can succeed where decades of U.S.-backed efforts have failed.
    “We think this is an opportunity to take the economic plan that we’ve worked on for a long time now and present it in the region,” a senior Trump administration official said
.
    The participants in the June 25-26 conference in Manama, the first phase of the peace plan’s rollout, are expected to include representatives and business executives from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, including some finance ministers, the administration official said.
    A second U.S. official declined to say whether Israeli and Palestinian officials were likely to take part.
    “Our position is clear: we will neither participate in the economic segment nor in the political segment of this deal,” said PLO senior official Wasel Abu Youssef.
    The Palestinian Authority has boycotted the U.S. peace effort since late 2017 when Trump decided to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of U.S. policy.
    But the senior U.S. official said several Palestinian business leaders “have shown a lot of interest” in the conference.
    A spokesman for Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said: “We have not yet received an invitation.”
INVESTMENT IN GAZA?
    U.S. officials had said earlier the peace plan would be rolled out after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends in early June.    But the announcement of the investors workshop appears to set the stage for a sequenced release of the plan, starting with the economic plan, and later, at some time not yet clear, the political proposals.
    The senior U.S. official said the conference would show the people of Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, that “there are donor countries around the world willing to come in and make investments.”
    The Trump administration has sought to enlist support from Arab governments.    The plan is likely to call for billions of dollars in financial backing for the Palestinians, mostly from oil-rich Gulf states, according to people informed about the discussions.
    Saudi Arabia has assured Arab allies it would not endorse any U.S. plan that fails to meet key Palestinian concerns.
    Though the plan’s authors insist the exact contents are known only to a handful of insiders, Trump’s aides have disclosed it will address the major political issues such as the status of Jerusalem.
    They have said they expect Israelis and Palestinians will both be critical of some of the proposals.
    Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a recent meeting at the United Nations attended by Greenblatt that the United States seemed to be crafting a plan for a Palestinian surrender to Israel and insisted “there’s no amount of money that can make it acceptable.”
    Chief among the Palestinians’ concerns is whether the plan will meet their core demand of calling for them to have an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip — territory Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
    Kushner has declined to say whether the plan includes a two-state solution, a central goal of other recent peace efforts that is widely endorsed internationally.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)

5/19/2019 Rebels say Syrian army fails to retake Latakia mountain by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Atmeh camp for the displaced, in Atmeh town, Idlib province,
Syria May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian rebels held onto a commanding position in a mountain range in the coastal province of Latakia, the ancestral home of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after government forces were forced to withdraw.
    They said the army’s attempt was the latest of several costly campaigns to try to seize the Kubayna mountain, after it mounted an offensive last month with Russian air power to retake main highways and trade arteries around Idlib and northern Hama now in rebel hands that have fragmented the country’s war-torn economy.
    The northwest represents the last big piece of territory held by rebels opposed to Assad.    The coastal province of Latakia is home to the Assad family’s Alawite minority.
    “Whoever controls Kubayna ensures a large stretch of territory is effectively under their firing range.    The regime wants it to protect its coastal villages from rebel fire,” said Major Youssef Hamoud, spokesman for the Turkey-backed group of mainstream rebels called the National Army.
    An official from Tahrir al-Sham, the latest incarnation of the former Nusra Front which was part of al Qaeda, said poison gas was used in the army’s attack on their position on the mountain slopes in an attempt to regain control.
    Abu Baraa al-Shami, a fighter based there, told Reuters that several fighters suffered choking symptoms.
    The army denied that claim and said it was continuing to fight terrorism, with state media earlier saying the military had struck at al Qaeda terrorists in the last jihadist foothold in Latakia province that has long been a launching pad for drone attacks on the main Russian base of Hmeimim nearby.
    The eviction of jihadists from commanding positions in the mountains would bring the army closer to securing parts of Idlib and a main highway that connects the cities of Latakia and Aleppo.
    The fighting has continued even after Russia agreed with Turkey to a 72 hour halt following an upsurge in violence in northwest Syria that has sparked an exodus of tens of thousands to the safety of border areas with Turkey, residents and opposition sources have said.
    Russia’s defense ministry confirmed on Sunday a “unilateral ceasefire” in the Idlib buffer zone in a move the opposition said showed the failure by Moscow and the army after almost three weeks of intensive strikes to bring a rapid collapse in rebel lines.
    “They are facing stiff resistance in areas that had fallen to the army,” said Hamoud, adding many of their fighters from a nearby stretch of territory to the north protected by the Turkish army had joined their compatriots in fronts.
    Later, residents and a rescue service said jets believed to be Russian conducted at least six raids on residential areas in the town of Kfr Nubl in southern Idlib in the first reported aerial strikes after a 48-hour lull.
    The army has so far gained three significant areas, the last being the town of Hawayz on Friday after taking Qalaat al Madiq and the town of Kfar Naboudah.
    Two senior Western diplomats following Syria say the aim appears to be to take control of the main cities of Maarat al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun on the main highways in Idlib.
    The campaign that began in earnest late last month has also killed dozens, destroyed hundreds of civilian homes, more than a dozen hospitals and food stores, according to opposition-based rescuers and Western aid agencies.
    Both Moscow and Damascus deny indiscriminate bombing of civilians and say they seek to crush radical Islamist groups.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in MOSCOW, Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)

5/19/2019 Blast injures South African tourists near Egypt’s Giza pyramids
A damaged bus is seen at the site of a blast near a new museum being built
close to the Giza pyramids in Cairo, Egypt May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Fahmy
    CAIRO (Reuters) – An explosion targeting a tourist bus injured at least 12 people on Sunday, mostly South African tourists, near a new museum being built close to the Giza pyramids in Egypt, two security sources said.
    A third security source said the bus was carrying 25 South African tourists from the airport to the pyramids area, and that four Egyptians in a nearby car were also injured by broken glass.
    Security and judicial sources said a rudimentary device containing nails and pieces of metal had been detonated remotely on the perimeter of the Grand Egyptian Museum, not far from the site of a roadside blast that hit another tourist bus in December.
    Pictures posted on social media showed a bus with some of its windows blown out or shattered, and debris in the road next to a low wall with a hole in it.
    One witness told Reuters he heard a “very loud explosion” while sitting in traffic.
    South Africa’s foreign ministry said three of its citizens would remain in hospital in Egypt for treatment and the rest would return home.
    The museum is due to open next year as the new home for some of the country’s top antiquities on a site adjoining the world-famous Giza pyramids.    It is part of an effort to boost tourism, a key source of foreign revenue for Egypt.
    The sector has been recovering after tourist numbers dropped in the wake of a 2011 uprising and the 2015 bombing of a Russian passenger jet.
    There was no damage to the museum from the blast, which happened 50 meters from its outer fence and more than 400 meters from the museum building, the Antiquities Ministry said in a statement.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
    Egyptian security forces are waging a counter insurgency campaign against Islamist militants, some with links to Islamic State, that is focused in the north of the Sinai Peninsula.
    Attacks outside Sinai have become relatively rare, though there have been several security incidents in recent months in Giza, across the Nile from central Cairo.
    In December, three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian guide were killed and at least 10 others injured when a roadside bomb hit their tour bus less than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Giza pyramids.
(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, Haithem Ahmed, Mostafa Salem and Alexander Winning; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Potter and Daniel Wallis)

5/19/2019 Saudi energy minister says attacks put security of oil supply at risk
Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih speaks to the media before the OPEC 14th Meeting of the
Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday that recent attacks on Saudi energy assets had put security of oil supply at risk but not affected his country’s output.
    He also called on Saudi Arabia’s partners to condemn the attacks.
    Four commercial ships were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last Sunday, and two days later drones attacked oil installations west of the Saudi capital Riyadh.
    Falih was speaking in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, ahead of a ministerial panel meeting of top OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Dale Hudson)

5/20/2019 Qatar not invited to emergency Arab summits in Saudi Arabia: Qatari official
FILE PHOTO: The Qatari flag is seen at a park near Doha Corniche, in Doha, Qatar February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar has not been invited to two regional summits called to discuss attacks on Saudi oil assets, a Foreign Ministry official said on Monday.
    Saudi King Salman on Saturday proposed holding the two meetings in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of last week’s drone strikes on oil installations in the kingdom and attacks on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed an economic and diplomatic boycott on Qatar since June 2017 over allegations that Doha supports terrorism and is cosying up to regional foe Iran. Qatar denies the charges.
    “Qatar, which is still isolated from its neighbours, did not receive an invitation to attend the two summits,” the director of the Foreign Ministry Information Office said on Twitter, citing State Minister for Foreign Affairs Soltan bin Saad al-Muraikhi.
    The Saudi Foreign Ministry and government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of ordering the drone strikes and said while it did not want war to break out in the region, it was ready to respond strongly.    The UAE has not blamed anyone for the sabotage acts against the tankers pending an investigation and said it was committed to de-escalation.
    Iran has denied it carried out either attack.
    The UAE on Sunday said that the current “critical circumstances.” in the region required a “unified Arab and Gulf stance.”
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Lisa Barrington and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/20/2019 Oil rises after OPEC+ says to keep output cuts by Ahmad Ghaddar
FILE PHOTO: Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in
Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    LONDON (Reuters) – Oil hit multi-week highs on Monday after OPEC indicated it was likely to maintain production cuts that have helped boost prices this year, while escalating Middle East tensions provided further support.
    Brent crude was up by 34 cents to $72.55 a barrel by 0928 GMT, having earlier touched $73.40, the highest since April 26.
    U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 24 cents at $63 a barrel, after hitting a three-week high of $63.81
.
    Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday there was consensus among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied oil producers to drive down crude inventories “gently” but he would remain responsive to the needs of a “fragile market.”
    United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei earlier told reporters that producers were capable of filling any market gap and that relaxing supply cuts was not the right decision.
    OPEC data indicates oil inventories in the developed world rose by 3.3 million barrels month-on-month in March, and were 22.8 million barrels above their five year average.
    A gathering of the so-called Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in Saudi Arabia over the weekend did not make any solid recommendations, leaving a decision on policy for a meeting of OPEC and its allies next month in Vienna.
    “While not explicitly mentioned in the statement (of the JMMC), uncertainty on how many Iranian and Venezuelan oil barrels will be lost due to U.S. sanctions was probably the main reason the group kicked the can down the road,” UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo said.
    OPEC, Russia and other non-member producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1 for six months to try to prevent inventories from increasing and weakening prices.
    Adding to the bullish sentiment is rising tensions in the Middle East.
    U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Tehran on Sunday, tweeting that a conflict would be the “official end” of Iran, while Saudi Arabia said it was ready to respond with “all strength” and it was up to Iran to avoid war.
    The rhetoric follows last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” that exploded near the U.S. embassy.
    Another bullish signal for crude was a second week of declines in U.S. drilling operations, with energy companies cutting oil rigs to the lowest since March 2018.
    The rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell by 3 to 802, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services unit said on Friday.
(GRAPHIC: U.S. Rig count, https://tmsnrt.rs/2X8Myf7)
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo and Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Mark Potter)

5/20/2019 Saudi Arabia to curb oil inventories, raise production to balance prices by OAN Newsroom
    Saudi Arabia has signaled a possible reduction in oil inventories, which could push oil prices even higher.    While speaking at an OPEC meeting Sunday, the country’s oil minister said members of the oil cartel have reached an agreement on a possible reduction in oil inventories.    He said the wind down would take place gradually ahead of a new round of OPEC+ talks in June.
    OPEC and Russia are considering increasing oil output in the second half of this year, which could offset the expected increase in oil prices. However, officials have also warned U.S.-Iranian tensions could push oil prices higher.
Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid al-Falih prepares to chair a meeting of energy ministers from
OPEC and its allies to discuss prices and production cuts, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, May 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
    “Nobody knows what Iran is producing or exporting — I think it’s highly, highly speculative,” stated Saudi Minsiter of Energy Khalid al-Falih.    “I know that there are a lot of monitoring agencies, a lot of analysts who are throwing all kinds of numbers, but its highly uncertain what Iran is actually exporting to the market.”
    The minister also said OPEC and Russia will defend their interests in — what he calls — a highly unpredictable global energy market.

5/20/2019 Libyan gunmen halt water pipeline to besieged Tripoli by Ahmed Elumami
FILE PHOTO: A fighter loyal to Libyan internationally recognised government walks inside a building
at outskirts of Tripoli, Libya May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Gunmen have cut off the main water pipeline to Libya’s besieged capital, Tripoli, spelling more misery for residents already reeling from weeks of fighting.
    The United Nations said the water blockage was a possible war crime as Libya’s internationally recognized government accused forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, which have been trying to capture Tripoli, of being behind the blockage.
    The group on Sunday raided a station of the Great Man-Made River Project, a pipe network supplying ground water from the Sahara, the company said.    The gunmen forced employees to turn off the pipes at the installation 400 km (250 miles) south of Tripoli.
    The eastern forces of Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) launched an assault on Tripoli in early April and are bogged down in southern suburbs by fighters loyal to the U.N.-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj.
    In past attacks on the pipeline, which was one of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s few development projects, it has taken up to two days for households to notice water shortages in the coastal city of 2.5 million people.
    The Tripoli government blamed a group that also cut the water supplies in 2017, saying its commander, Khalifa Ehnaish, belonged to Haftar’s forces.
    The LNA denied that.    Ehnaish could not be reached.
    “Considering this was a closure of the valves in an LNA-controlled area, the complicity of Ehnaish with the LNA in orchestrating this cannot be discounted,” said Emad Badi, a non-resident scholar with the Middle East Institute.
    Fighting in the battle for Tripoli has killed at least 510 people, forced 75,000 out of their homes, trapped thousands of migrants in detention centers, and flattened some southern suburbs.
    It has also forced the closure of schools, split families on different sides of the front line, and brought power-cuts.
    The conflict is one of the most serious flare-ups in years of chaos since the 2011 toppling of Gaddafi, and has sharpened Gulf divisions over Libya.
(Additional reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Leslie)

5/21/2019 Countries fueling Libya conflict must be stopped: U.N. envoy by Michelle Nichols
Libya's U.N. Ambassador Elmahdi Elmajerbi, attends a United Nations Security Council meeting
at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Libya is on the brink of a civil war that could “lead to the permanent division of the country,” a top U.N. official warned the Security Council on Tuesday as he urged the world body to stop countries that were fueling the conflict with weapons.
    U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame did not name any countries supplying arms to the U.N.-recognized government of national accord (GNA) or rival eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
    But he referenced recent arms deliveries to both parties. Libya has been subject to a U.N. arms embargo since 2011, however the government is allowed to import weapons and related materiel with the approval of a U.N. Security Council committee.
    “Without a robust enforcement mechanism, the arms embargo into Libya will become a cynical joke.    Some nations are fueling this bloody conflict; the United Nations should put an end to it,” Salame told the Security Council.
    Any action by the U.N. Security Council is unlikely as it has been deadlocked over how to deal with the latest violence.
    The most recent flare-up in the conflict in Libya – which has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 – began in early April, when Haftar’s LNA advanced on the capital Tripoli.    The LNA is now bogged down in southern suburbs by fighters loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s GNA.
    GNA-allied forces received a shipment of armored vehicles and arms on Saturday.    Pictures and videos posted on their Facebook pages showed what appeared to be dozens of Turkish-made BMC Kirpi armored vehicles in Tripoli’s port.
    Salame described the delivery as a “blatant and televised breach of the arms embargo,” adding that the LNA had been receiving “ongoing deliveries of banned modern weaponry.”
    Since 2014, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have provided Haftar’s LNA with military equipment such as aircraft and helicopters, according to U.N. sanctions monitors.    They reported earlier this month they were investigating the likely use of an armed drone by the LNA or a supporting “third party” in a recent attack on GNA-affiliated forces.
    “Many countries are providing weapons to all parties in the conflict without exception,” Salame told the Security Council.
    The UAE and Egypt see Haftar’s forces as a bulwark against Islamists in North Africa.
    However, Salame warned the focus of Haftar’s forces on Tripoli had created a security vacuum in the south that was being exploited by Islamic State and al Qaeda militants.
    “Libyan forces that had in the past courageously defended their country against these terrorist groups are now busy fighting each other,” he said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Paul Simao)

5/22/2019 Saudi Arabia, UAE to attend U.S.-led Palestine investment meeting
A smoke trail is seen as a rocket is launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel August 20, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will participate in a conference next month in Bahrain aimed at encouraging investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Israel-Palestinian peace plan.
    The “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop, to be hosted on June 25-26 in cooperation with the United States, has already been rebuffed by Palestinian officials and business leaders who want their political demands to be addressed in any solution to the decades-old conflict.
    The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Islamist group Hamas have called for an Arab boycott of the meeting.
    The Saudi minister of economy and planning will attend, state news agency SPA reported on Wednesday.    The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said Abu Dhabi would also send a delegation.
    The Palestinian Authority has boycotted U.S. peace efforts since late 2017 when Trump decided to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of U.S. policy.
    The Trump administration has sought to enlist support from Arab governments.    The plan is likely to call for billions of dollars in financial backing for the Palestinians, mostly from oil-rich Gulf states, according to people informed about the discussions.
    Saudi Arabia has assured Arab allies it would not endorse any U.S. plan that fails to meet key Palestinian demands which include Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, a right of return for refugees displaced by the Arab-Israeli wars, and a freeze on Israeli settlements in lands claimed by the Palestinians.
    The U.S. initiative follows a recent upsurge in cross-border fighting between Gaza militants and Israel.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; editing by Jonathan Oatis, William Maclean)

5/22/2019 Turkey preparing for possible U.S. sanctions over S-400s: minister by Orhan Coskun
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
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s defense minister said it was preparing for potential U.S. sanctions over its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, even while he said there was some improvement in talks with the United States over buying F-35 fighter jets.
    Turkey and the United States have been at odds on several fronts including Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400s, which cannot be integrated into NATO systems.    Washington says it would jeopardize Turkey’s role in building Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, which it says would be compromised by S-400s.
    While Washington has warned that Ankara faced sanctions under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) if it presses on with the deal, Turkey has said it expected U.S. President Donald Trump to protect it.
    Speaking to reporters late on Tuesday, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey was fulfilling its responsibilities in the F-35 project and expected the program to continue as planned.    He said buying the S-400s was only meant to meet Turkey’s defense needs and posed no threats.
    “We are doing whatever normal bilateral agreements mandate.    Though there are some issues from time to time, we are pleased that there has been no sharp turn until now… Turkey is also making preparations for the potential implementation of CAATSA sanctions,” he said.
    “In our talks with the United States, we see a general easing and rapprochement on issues including the east of the Euphrates, F-35s and Patriots.”
    Turkey’s lira has been sliding in part on concerns over the U.S. sanctions, which would hit an economy already in recession after a currency crisis last year.    Among its other disputes with Washington is strategy in Syria east of the Euphrates River, where the United States is allied with Kurdish forces that Turkey views as foes.
    Akar said linking the S-400s purchase with that of the F-35s is “another hurdle” and noted that nine NATO partners have a stake.
    “There is no clause anywhere in the F-35 agreement saying one will be excluded from the partnership for buying S-400s,” he said.    “Turkey has paid $1.2 billion.    We also produced the parts ordered from us on time.    What more can we do as a partner?
    In trying to persuade Turkey to give up the Russian missiles, the United States has offered to sell its rival Raytheon Co. Patriot missile defense systems, which Akar said Ankara was evaluating.    He said Turkish and U.S. officials were working on price, technology transfer and joint production issues on the latest U.S. offer in late March.
    The minister also said conceptual work on the SAMP-T defense systems with the Franco-Italian EUROSAM consortium were expected to be completed in October.    He said EUROSAM had offered to install a SAMP-T battery in Turkey and that scouting work would be carried out.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans, Jonathan Spicer and Peter Graff)

5/22/2019 Istanbul’s ousted mayor says billions wasted under Erdogan’s AKP by Ezgi Erkoyun
FILE PHOTO - Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), who was elected mayor
after the March 31 elections, addresses his supporters after the High Election Board (YSK) decided
to re-run the mayoral election, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party spent 80 million lira ($13 million) in three years on an Istanbul city website, the ousted opposition mayor said on Wednesday, part of what he said was a wider misspending of billions of lira of public money.
    Ekrem Imamoglu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), served less than three weeks as mayor after his narrow victory over the AKP in March was annulled two weeks ago following appeals by Erdogan’s party.
    The decision to re-run the vote on June 23 has brought international criticism and accusations from Turkey’s opposition of eroding democracy.    It has also unnerved financial markets and thrown a spotlight on the AKP’s management of Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub during its long years in power.
    Preparing for the second vote, Imamoglu has sought to highlight alleged extravagance and waste under the AKP which, together with its Islamist predecessor parties, has ruled Istanbul with a budget of nearly $4 billion annually for a quarter century.
    “80 million lira were spent on Istanbul municipality’s website in three years,” Imamoglu told a news conference, setting the tone for his new campaign for election in the re-run.    “We could set up websites for all of Turkey’s municipalities with this money.”
    An AK Party election official could not immediately be contacted for comment and the party’s spokesman did not address Imamoglu’s claims in a news conference later on Wednesday.
WE WILL WIN AGAIN
    Istanbul municipality has previously defended its record and denied specific accusations that it overspent on cars for management, saying some of the vehicles were used by employees of vital services including the city’s waterworks.
    Imamoglu’s surprise victory in March, by just 13,000 votes from a turnout of nearly 9 million voters, was challenged by the AKP and annulled by electoral authorities who said some polling stations did not have the right officials monitoring voting – a violation they ruled may have swayed the result.
    He said that during the 18 days he held office the municipality already cut water and transport fees, and pledged to overhaul a system he said had benefited only a few people.
    “We will change this system of waste together.    Istanbul Municipality is not the property of a handful of people,” he said, without specifying whom he was accusing.
    “I have been in the office for 18 days and you see how jealous some people are, they would crack in 1,800 days,” Imamoglu said, referring to the mayor’s five-year term.
    Istanbul’s debt increased 4.5 times to 27 billion lira since 2014 while its annual budget deficit ballooned 20-fold to 4 billion lira, Imamoglu said.
    If the budget were properly managed, around 5 billion lira could be saved and spent on residents, he said, promising to spend on education, support for poor households and green spaces.
    “Do not lose your hope, we will win this election again, once more, do not give up,” Imamoglu said in remarks addressed to supporters.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)
[Could you imagine a Muslim AK Party was going to let a Republican People's Party take over, which shows you how Islamic philosophy works, and I thought it could not get any worse that the screw up in the 2016 elections in some Florida counties trying to change the counts in certain districts, but they blew it and lost anyway.    The desperate Democrats may want to learn from the AKP and their Islamist predecessors so they can win the 2020 elections.].

5/22/2019 Turkish election board cites polling station irregularities in annulment decision
FILE PHOTO - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gets off a vintage tram at
Taksim Square in central Istanbul, Turkey, May 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) on Wednesday cited a series of irregularities, notably in the appointment of polling station officials, in justifying its annulment of March’s mayoral election in Istanbul.
    In a 250-page document it released more than two weeks after announcing that the ballot – which resulted in a razor-thin defeat for President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party – was to be re-run on June 23, the YSK said the irregularities were sufficient to have an impact on the outcome.
    “The irregularities were regarded as incidents which …undermined election credibility,” said the document.    Four of the 11-member panel, included its head, voted against the annulment decision.
    Final results from the March 31 election gave victory to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), ending a 25-year rule by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors.
    However, after weeks of appeals by the AKP and its nationalist MHP allies, the election board decided on May 6 to annul the mandate of CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.
    The decision to reverse what was a rare election setback for Erdogan was described by Turkey’s Western allies as incomprehensible.    Critics said one of the last checks on his ever-tighter hold on power had suffered a damaging blow.
    “It is a legal requirement that the heads of polling station be chosen from the list of civil servants,” Wednesday’s YSK document said.
    Polling station heads were appointed in an illegal way for 754 ballot boxes and that this affected the result, given that the difference between the two top candidates was just 13,729 votes, it said.
    Seven members of the electoral board voted in favor of the annulment, while four opposed it.    Those against included YSK head Sadi Guven, who said the irregularities were not sufficient to justify voiding the election.
    “Appeals after the election to the formation (of polling station committees) cannot alone be brought forward as a reason to annul the elections,” Guven said in Wednesday’s YSK statement.
    The YSK had faced harsh criticism from opposition parties, who said the annulment had no legal basis and destroyed the last bastion of democracy under Erdogan.

5/22/2019 Turkey’s AK Party says nothing wrong with intelligence meetings with Syria despite tensions
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan looks on during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
in the Kremlin in Moscow, April 8, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The AK Party of President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday there was nothing wrong with Turkey’s intelligence agency meeting Syrian counterparts to prevent conflict – even though Ankara has backed rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
    The AKP was responding to a Turkish media report of high-level contact between senior Turkish and Syrian representatives.
    AKP spokesman Omer Celik did not confirm that any meeting took place, but added that it would be natural despite years of antagonism between Erdogan and Assad.
    Turkey’s Aydinlik newspaper quoted journalists who met Assad as saying that a Syrian committee had met Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT).
    Erdogan has called Assad a terrorist and said several times during Syria’s eight-year conflict that he must go.    But with support from Russia and Iran, Assad has recaptured large parts of Syria, driving rebels from most of their former strongholds.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in December Turkey and other countries would consider working with Assad if he won a democratic election.    In February, Erdogan said Turkey has maintained low level contact with the Damascus government.
    “Our intelligence agencies and our elements in the field can hold any meeting they like at any time they like to prevent some humanitarian tragedies or in line with some needs,” Celik said on Wednesday.
    Turkey has carried out two operations in Syria to drive the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it considers a terrorist organization, from its borders and push back Islamic State militants.
    Ankara has also recently cooperated with Russia, a major ally of Assad, to contain the fighting in northwestern Syria, an effort that has come under strain from the recent surge of fighting in Idlib, the last major insurgent stronghold.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)
[They will probably regret they put Assad back in charge of Syria.].

5/22/2019 Libyan commander Haftar told Macron no ceasefire for now: French presidency by Marine Pennetier
FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, speaking on Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron, ruled out a ceasefire and said he wanted to rid the capital of militias that had “infested” the U.N.-backed government, a French presidential official said.
    The flare-up in the conflict in Libya – which has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 – began in early April, when Haftar’s Libyan National Army advanced on the capital Tripoli.    The LNA is now bogged down in southern suburbs by fighters loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA).
    Macron and French officials have for weeks repeated their official support for the GNA and have called for an unconditional ceasefire.    But some European countries, including France, have also supported Haftar as a way to fight Islamist militants in the country.
    “The distrust we see between the Libyan actors is stronger than ever today,” said the official after the meeting between Macron and Haftar in Paris.
    “When the question of the ceasefire was put on the table, Haftar’s reaction to this was to ask: ‘negotiate with whom for a ceasefire today?'” the official said.
    The battle for Tripoli has killed at least 510 people, forced 75,000 out of their homes, trapped thousands of migrants in detention centers, and flattened some southern suburbs.    It has also forced closures of schools, split families on different sides of the front line, and brought power cuts.
    “He (Haftar) considers that the GNA is completely infested by militias and it is not for him to negotiate with representatives of these militias,” the official said.
    The official said Macron had asked Haftar to make a public step toward a ceasefire and Haftar responded by saying that an inclusive political dialogue was necessary and he would be ready for it if the conditions for a ceasefire were in place.
    However, the official said Haftar had given no indication as to when he would be ready for any potential talks.
    Speaking on Euronews television on Wednesday, Serraj also appeared to rule out a ceasefire, warning that the fighting would not stop until Haftar’s troops had pulled back east.
    The United Nations’ Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, said on Tuesday the current fighting could be the start of a long and bloody conflict in the country that could permanently divide it.
    “We can clearly see the impasse that exists today between the desire of the international community to say that there must be a ceasefire and a resumption of political discussions and the way in which Haftar sees things with his explanation of the lack of legitimacy of the interlocutors (on the other side),” the French official said.
    The official also said Haftar had rejected suggestions he or forces loyal to him were benefiting from oil sales in the east of the country.
(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing in Tunis; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Frances Kerry)

5/23/2019 Trump administration may use Iran threat to sell bombs to Saudis without Congress’ approval: senator by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO - Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) speaks after the senate voted on a resolution ending U.S. military support
for the war in Yemen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to use a loophole and rising tensions with Iran to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, even though Congress blocked such sales for months over concerns about civilian deaths in the war in Yemen, Senator Chris Murphy said on Wednesday.
    “I am hearing that Trump may use an obscure loophole in the Arms Control Act and notice a major new sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia (the ones they drop in Yemen) in a way that would prevent Congress from objecting. Could happen this week,” the Democratic senator warned on Twitter.
    Congressional aides said there are provisions of the Arms Control Act, which sets rules for international arms transactions, that would allow a president to approve a sale without congressional review in case of a national emergency.
    In this case, they said the Republican president would cite rising tensions with Iran as a reason to provide more military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important U.S. partner in the region.    Trump has touted arms sales to the Saudis as a way to generate U.S. jobs.
    Trump previously declared an influx of immigrants a national emergency to bypass Congress and get $6 billion to build his wall along the Mexican border.    Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans voted to block the move, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.
    It was not immediately clear what equipment would be sold to Saudi Arabia or when any sale might go ahead.
    However, any such plan would run into resistance in Congress, from Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats like Murphy, even in the Senate, where Republicans have a slim majority.
    A handful of Republicans recently voted with Democrats in a failed effort to override Trump’s veto of a resolution that would have ended U.S. support for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen’s devastating civil war.
    Many lawmakers from both parties have also expressed anger over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
    Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest congressional allies, told CNN he would oppose the administration if it decided to go around Congress, citing Khashoggi’s killing.
    “We are not going to have business as usual until that issue is dealt with,” Graham said.
    The State Department declined comment.    The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
    The top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees, who review major international weapons deals, have been approving sales of defensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia.
    But they have been putting “holds” – or blocking – the sale of offensive weapons like bombs, anti-tank missiles, small-diameter rockets and large mortars.
    Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Foreign Relations Democrat, has been blocking the sale of Raytheon Co’s precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for about a year over concerns about the war in Yemen.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

5/23/2019 Exodus grows from northwest Syria in intensified fighting
FILE PHOTO: Mustafa Karim, a taxi driver, is pictured in front of his destroyed house in Aleppo's
Salaheddine district, Syria April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Thousands more people have fled violence in northwest Syria, the United Nations and a medical agency said on Thursday, as an army assault on the last big rebel enclave met a counter-attack.
    President Bashar al-Assad launched his offensive at the end of April in Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces with an intense bombardment, saying insurgents had broken a truce.
    This week, rebels rolled back some government advances on the main battlefront, retaking the town of Kafr Nabouda.
    Government forces are buttressed by Russian air power, while the main jihadist group that dominates Idlib has been reinforced by Turkey-backed rebels.
    Eight years into the civil war, Assad has retaken most of Syria and rebels still fighting him are squeezed into the northwest.    Turkey-backed groups hold a strip of territory on the border, and Kurdish-led fighters hold the northeast.
    This week’s fighting brought a big increase in air strikes, with bombs falling on towns and villages across the southern part of the enclave, said a British-based war monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
    Some 600 air strikes hit the rebel enclave on Thursday, the Observatory said, killing six civilians.
THOUSANDS FLEE, HUNDREDS DIE
    More than 200,000 people have now fled the violence since the end of April, the United Nations said, and are in urgent need of food and protection.
    The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), which provides assistance to health facilities, said the number of displaced this month had spiked to more than 300,000.
    Most of the displaced have sought refuge along the border with Turkey, the UOSSM said, with camps springing up in the shadow of the frontier wall.
    However, 44,000 people have moved to the regional capital Idlib and another 50,000 have gone to Maarat al-Numan, another large town where the Observatory said an air strike on a marketplace killed 12 people on Tuesday night.
    The bombardment has used both conventional air strikes by war planes and “barrel bombs” – improvised explosives dropped by helicopter – according to the Observatory and rescue services.
    Since the end of April, there have been 20 attacks on healthcare facilities and one on an ambulance, the United Nations said, putting 19 facilities that serve at least 200,000 people out of action.    Some were hit more than once, it said.
    The Observatory said 669 people have been killed since the end of April, 209 of them civilians.    The UOSSM said 229 civilians had been killed in that period.
    Rebels fighting on the mountainous western edge of the enclave said on Sunday that the army had shelled them with poison gas, leading some to suffer choking symptoms.
    The U.S. State Department warned it would respond “quickly and appropriately” if that was proven.
    However, U.S. Syria envoy James Jeffrey said on Wednesday that Washington did not have confirmation that poison had been used.Rebels said they had not documented the attack because they were under bombardment when it occurred.
    Syria’s government denies using chemical weapons.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/24/2019 Defying Congress, Trump sets massive arms sales to Saudis, UAE by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the Oval Office to speak to the news media before boarding Marine One to depart
for travel to Japan from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, saying there is a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress and cleared the sale of $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
    The Trump administration informed congressional committees on Friday that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of such sales.
    In documents sent to Congress and seen by Reuters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed a wide range of products and services that would be provided to the three countries.    They include Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp.
    Some lawmakers and congressional aides had warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons deals like the sale of the Raytheon-made bombs to the Saudis, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead by declaring a national emergency.
    Lawmakers had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, concerned about the huge civilian toll of the two countries’ air campaign in Yemen and human rights abuses like the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
    Congressional sources said Friday’s order included all the defense equipment that members of Congress had been blocking.
    “I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.
    Menendez is one of the members of Congress who reviews such sales because he is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    Another, the Republican Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Jim Risch, said he had received formal notification of the administration’s intent to move forward with “a number of arms sales.”
    In a statement, Risch said, “I am reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”
    The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    In his memorandum to Congress justifying the sale, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran.    “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.
    Congressional aides questioned the contention that the weapons had to do with Iran, saying the equipment and services listed by the administration includes large amounts of offensive weapons, like the PGMs and tank ammunition.
    They said lawmakers have not been blocking defensive equipment such as Patriot missile defense systems that have been sold to the Saudis.
    “This is all materiel that arguably could be used in the Yemen military operation.    The defensive stuff we’ve cleared,” one congressional aide said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by James Dalgleish)
[Poor little Democrat who did not get told, but that is we do not need him to tell our enemies of what we are doing idiot.].

5/24/2019 U.S. deploys 1,500 troops to Middle East, blames Iran for tanker attacks by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Roberta Rampton
An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the "Patriots" of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140 flies over the U. S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham
Lincoln (CVN 72), in Arabian Sea, May 22, 2019. Picture taken May 22, 2019. Garrett LaBarge/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States announced on Friday the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East, describing it as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran as it accused the country’s Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for this month’s tanker attacks.
    U.S. President Donald Trump publicly announced the 1,500 figure, which had been previously reported by Reuters, and described it as a defensive measure.    The troops include personnel manning missile defense systems, aerial surveillance to spot threats and engineers to fortify defenses.
    “We want to have protection in the Middle East.    We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan.
    The deployment marks a reversal of sorts for Trump, who only on Thursday said he thought more troops were unnecessary.    Trump has sought to detangle the U.S. military from open-ended conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan.
    The deployment is relatively small, compared with the about 70,000 American troops now stationed across a region that stretches from Egypt to Afghanistan.    In addition, some 600 of the 1,500 “new” troops are already in the Middle East manning Patriot missiles, and will see their deployments extended.
    Eager to avoid escalation with Iran amid already heightened tensions, Pentagon officials stressed the defensive nature of the deployment in a news briefing and noted that none of the troops would be heading to hot spots like Iraq or Syria.
    “These are defensive forces,” said Katie Wheelbarger, one of the Pentagon’s most senior policy officials.
    The Trump administration this month ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East, citing intelligence about possible Iranian preparations to attack U.S. forces or interests.
ATTACKS ON TANKERS
    Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, on Friday described U.S. intelligence portraying a new Iranian “campaign” that used old tactics, and stretched from Iraq to Yemen to the waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital maritime chokepoint for the global oil trade.
    Gilday accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates earlier this month — in what could be a foreshadowing of the conclusion of ongoing investigations into the incident.
    “The attack against the shipping in Fujairah, we attribute it to the IRGC,” Gilday said, explaining that the Pentagon attributed limpet mines used in the attack directly to the IRGC.
    He declined to describe “the means of delivery” of the mines, however.
    Gilday also accused Iran-backed “proxy” forces of carrying out a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone last week.
    The Pentagon did not provide any evidence to support its claims, but said it hoped to further declassify intelligence supporting them.    Iran has dismissed the accusations entirely and accuses the United States of brinkmanship with its troop deployments.
    Trump played down the potential for military conflict in the region, saying he believed Iran did not want a confrontation with the United States — even as Washington tightens sanctions with a goal of pushing Iran to make concessions beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal.
    Trump pulled out of the international deal between Iran and six major world powers last year.
    “Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight.    And I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” Trump said.
    “But they cannot have nuclear weapons,” he continued.    “They can’t have nuclear weapons.    And they understand that.”
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Phil Stewart; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Paul Simao and Susan Thomas)

5/24/2019 Thousands of Algerian protesters demand reforms, presidential vote delay by Hamid Ould Ahmed
A demonstrator carries a banner as she walks past police officers standing guard during an anti-government protest
in Algiers, Algeria May 24, 2019. The banner reads: "Give me my freedom". REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the capital and other Algerian cities on Friday to demand the postponement of a presidential election and the removal of the ruling elite following the end of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20-year-rule last month.
    A political source meanwhile told Reuters the interim government was expected to extend the current transition period to allow time for preparations for the election.
    Friday’s protest marked the 14th consecutive week of demonstrations.    They have continued through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan although numbers of the crowds are smaller than at the peak of the anti-Bouteflika protests.
    They are calling for political reforms and the removal of all the clique of officials who have governed the North African nation since independence from France in 1962.
    Bouteflika’s removal paved the way for a transition period that is due to end with a presidential election on July 4.    But demonstrators now demand the resignation of interim officials in charge of supervising the vote, including interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, who replaced Bouteflika for 90 days until the election, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.
    “No to the July 4 election,” protesters draped in national flags chanted as they marched in central Algiers.    Many held up banners that read: “Bensalah go, Bedoui go.”
    Similar protests broke out in Algeria’s other main cities, including Annaba, Oran and Constantine.
    The political source said the transition period, which is due to end a few days after the scheduled July 4 election, could be extended by at least three months.
    “Time is running out and organizers have not finished preparations for the vote,” the source said.
    Armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah said last week that elections were the only way to get out of the crisis, but did not mention a date for the vote.
    He reietrated calls for appeasement, mentioning the army’s positive response to demonstrators’ demands for the prosecution of people seen as corrupt.
    Bouetflika’s youngest brother Said and two former intelligence generals have been put in custody on charges of harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority.
    Several businessmen have also been detained over allegations of involvement in corruption cases.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/24/2019 Iraqi protesters urge Baghdad to stay out of U.S.-Iran showdown by Ahmed Aboulenein
Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather during a protest calling for neutrality during the ongoing
tensions between neighbouring Iran and the USA, in Baghdad, Iraq May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of a populist Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric urged political and factional leaders on Friday to stay out of any conflict between Baghdad’s two biggest allies, Iran and the United States.
    Protesters from the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr, who once led Shi’ite militiamen against U.S. forces and is also vocally critical of Iranian influence in Iraq, chanted “no to war” and “yes to Iraq” in central Baghdad and the southern city of Basra.
    Iraqis worry that their country will be caught up in any escalation of U.S.-Iranian tensions, which spiked earlier this month when President Donald Trump’s administration said it had sent additional forces to the Middle East to counter alleged threats including from Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
    Politicians and Shi’ite paramilitary leaders have called for calm and the Iraqi government has tried to position itself as a mediator between the two sides.
    “We’ve just recovered from Islamic State. Iraq must not be used as a base to try to harm any country.    America doesn’t want Iraq to be stable,” said protester Abu Ali Darraji.
    There was speculation that Sadr would speak to demonstrators in Baghdad but he did not appear.    The firebrand leader, whose political bloc came first in Iraq’s parliamentary election last year, is a friend of neither Washington nor Shi’ite Iran.
    The United States once described Sadr as the most dangerous man in Iraq, and designated his militia at the time, the Mehdi Army, a bigger threat to its forces than al Qaeda during an insurgency against U.S. troops after their 2003 invasion.
    Sadr campaigned last year on a platform of Iraqi nationalism, opposed to both U.S. and Iranian influence in the country.
    Amid rising U.S.-Iran tension, a rocket was fired last week into Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone which houses government buildings and diplomatic missions, but caused no casualties.    No group claimed responsibility; U.S. officials say they strongly suspect Iran’s local allies.
    The attack came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders that if they failed to keep in check powerful Iran-backed militias, Washington would respond with force.
    U.S. intelligence had showed militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to Iraqi security sources.
    After pulling out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Trump restored U.S. sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions themselves.
    Iraq has said it will send delegations to Washington and Tehran to help calm tensions.
    Both Iran and the United States say they do not want war, but security officials and analysts warn that a small incident could spark a new spiral of violence in the volatile region.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/25/2019 Israelis protest moves to grant Netanyahu immunity, limit Supreme Court
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the
Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019. Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday against legislative steps that could grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and limit the power of the country’s Supreme Court.
    The demonstration in Tel Aviv was attended by nearly all opposition parties, a rare show of unity for Israel’s splintered political system.    Police did not say how many people attended.    A Reuters photographer estimated about 20,000 were present, while organizers put the figure at 80,000.
    In office for the past decade, Netanyahu won a fifth term in April despite an announcement by Israel’s attorney general in February that he intended to charge him with fraud and bribery.    The prime minister is a suspect in three graft cases.
    Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing, calling the allegations a political witch-hunt.    The right-wing leader has said that with a renewed public mandate to govern he has no plans to resign, even if charged.
    Although the prime minister is under no legal obligation to step down if charged, Netanyahu loyalists in his Likud party have pledged to seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution for him while he is in office.
    Expecting legal challenges, they also have been advocating legislation that would annul any Supreme Court ruling rescinding immunity.
    Since the election, Netanyahu has not said whether he would seek immunity.
    On May 13, Netanyahu said on Twitter that his policy had always been to preserve a strong and independent Supreme Court, but that changes were needed in order to restore balance between Israel’s executive, legislative and judiciary branches.
    The opposition has described any attempt to shield Netanyahu or put limitations on Israel’s highest court as threats to Israeli democracy.
    Yair Lapid, one of the leaders of the main opposition party, the centrist Blue and White, said on Saturday at the demonstration that Netanyahu was trying to crush the Supreme Court in order to keep out of prison.    “He’s destroying the country,” Lapid said.    “We won’t let him.”
    Netanyahu is trying to form a new coalition with right-wing, ultranationalist and religious parties that would give him control of 65 of the 120 seats in parliament, which has already been sworn in.
    Most of the parties expected to join his coalition have expressed support for granting immunity to Netanyahu and limiting the powers of the Supreme Court, branded by some rightists as too liberal and interventionist.
    However, Netanyahu has only until Wednesday to produce a government and he has not yet secured a deal with any party. Negotiations came to an impasse this week when the factions failed to agree on a new conscription law for Israel’s military.
    According to Israeli law, if Netanyahu fails to form a government by May 29 the president can ask another member of the Knesset legislature to try.
    No political party has ever won an outright majority in Israel’s Knesset, making coalition governments the norm.
    Coalition talks have often been protracted with deals signed at the very last minute.
    Netanyahu is due to attend a pre-trial hearing over the graft charges with the attorney general, set for October.
(Additional reporting by Rahaf Ruby and Ammar Awad; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

5/25/2019 Turkey sends weapons to Syrian rebels facing Russian-backed assault: Syrian sources by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
People walk past a damaged building in the city of Idlib, Syria May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Turkey has equipped an array of mainstream Syrian rebels it backs with fresh supplies of weaponry to help them try to repel a major Russian-backed assault, senior opposition officials and rebel sources said on Saturday.
    Russia is backing the Syrian army’s large aerial and ground assault as it seeks to gain control of the last big stretch of rebel-held territory in the northwest of the country.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched the assault last month, saying rebels had breached an existing ceasefire, triggering a civilian exodus by bombarding Idlib and adjacent areas.    It has been the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and his enemies in Idlib province and a belt of territory around it.
    Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days after failing to persuade Russia in recent meetings of a joint working group that it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees pouring into Turkey, two senior opposition figures said.
    In doing so Turkey signaled its readiness to preserve its influence in northwestern Syria, where it has beefed up its troop presence in a dozen military bases that were set up under a de-escalation deal with Russia, a senior rebel commander said.
    Turkish officials were not immediately available to comment.
    Overnight, a Turkish military convoy arrived at a base in northern Hama near rebel-held Jabal al Zawiya, where Russian and Syrian jets have been pounding for weeks, a rebel and a witness said.
    The delivery of dozens of armored vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and so-called TOW missiles, helped roll back some Syrian army gains and retake the strategically located town of Kfar Nabouda, one senior opposition figure said.
    The TOW missile had been the most potent weapon in the arsenal of rebel groups battling Assad during the conflict.    It was extended by Western and Arab foes of Assad until a CIA-led program of military support to help moderate rebels was suspended in 2017.
    A Western intelligence source said Washington had given a “greenlight” for the Turkey-backed mainstream rebels to use the TOW missiles, which had been in storage in the latest campaign.
    Washington, which has criticized Russia’s latest campaign and urged a ceasefire, also said it saw signs that Assad has used poison gas in the latest offensive and warned that it would respond “quickly and appropriately” if this were proven.[L5N22Y5MO]
    Assad has denied such allegations throughout the war.
    A spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), Captain Naji Mustafa, did not confirm or deny any new supplies by Turkey, saying rebels had long had a big arsenal of weapons from anti-tank to armored vehicles “alongside material and logistical support by our Turkish brothers.”
    The retreat from Kfar Nabouda was an upset to a Russian goal of a speedy military campaign to gain another slice of heavily populated Idlib province.
    In the last 24 hours, the Syrian army has been sending large troop reinforcements ahead of opening a new front, a source in touch with Syrian army commanders told Reuters.
    The Syrian army said on Saturday it continued to intensify its attacks on what it called terrorist hideouts in the northwest.
    A Turkey backed-rebel grouping called the National Army, which operates in northwestern border areas near Turkey, has been allowed to join mainstream rebel factions along the frontlines.
    “Large numbers of our fighters have joined with all their weapons to repel the assault,” said Major Youssef Hamoud, their spokesman.
    The rebels’ readiness to put aside differences that once led to bloody internecine fighting has united jihadists and mainstream rebels for the first time in years.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Frances Kerry and Dan Grebler)

5/26/2019 Libya’s Haftar rules out Tripoli ceasefire, dismisses U.N.-led talks: newspaper
FILE PHOTO: 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
    PARIS (Reuters) – Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar has ruled out a ceasefire in the battle for Tripoli and accused the United Nations of seeking to partition Libya, according to an interview published by French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) began an offensive in early April to take Tripoli from fighters loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) which has the backing of the United Nations.
    The LNA, which is allied to a parallel government in the east, has not been able to breach the southern defenses of Tripoli.    The fighting has killed at least 510 people, forced 75,000 out of their homes and trapped thousands of migrants in detention centers.
    “Of course, the political solution is still the goal. But to get back to politics, we must first finish with militias,” Haftar told the newspaper.
    Haftar also said the head of U.N. mission to Libya, Ghassan Salame, was no longer impartial.
    “Partition of Libya is maybe what our adversaries want.    This is maybe what Ghassan Salame also wants.”
    The flare-up in the conflict in Libya – which has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 – began in early April, when the LNA advanced on the capital.
    Even though France and other Western countries officially back the Libyan government, some have supported Haftar as they see him as a bulwark against Islamist militias in the country.
    Macron had asked Haftar in a meeting held in Paris this week to make a public step toward a ceasefire, without much luck, a French official told Reuters.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

5/26/2019 U.S. military in region is ‘weakest’ in history: Iran deputy Guards chief
FILE PHOTO: Flight dec crew remove ordnance from an F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier
USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), in Arabian Sea, May 22, 2019. Matt Herbst/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The U.S. military presence in the Middle East is at its “weakest in history,” a deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards was on Sunday quoted by the semi-official news agency Fars as saying.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, and his administration says it has built up the U.S. military presence in the region.
    It accuses Iran of threats to U.S. troops and interests.    Tehran has described U.S. moves as “psychological warfare” and a “political game.”
    “The Americans have been present in the region since 1833 and they are now at their weakest in history in West Asia,” said Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy Guards commander, according to Fars.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Keith Weir)

5/26/2019 Lebanese PM: new budget start of ‘a long road’ to economic safety
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri reacts, after the announcement of the new government
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Lebanese draft state budget for 2019 is the start of a “long road” and shows Lebanon is determined to tackle public sector waste, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said, after his unity cabinet wrapped up marathon talks on the plan.
    The budget finalised by the government on Friday cuts the deficit to 7.5% of GDP from 11.5% in 2018.    It is seen as a critical test of Lebanon’s will to launch reforms that have been put off for years by a state riddled with corruption and waste.
    “The 2019 budget is not the end.    This budget is the beginning of a long road that we decided to take in order to lead the Lebanese economy to safety,” Hariri said in a speech at a Ramadan iftar meal on Saturday.
    Lebanon’s bloated public sector is its biggest expense, followed by the cost of servicing a public debt equal to some 150% of GDP, one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens.
    The government, which groups nearly all of Lebanon’s main political parties, met 19 times to agree on the budget. Hariri said the budget for 2020 would not take that much time “because now we know what we want to do.”
    “The 2019 budget is the beginning of the process of what we want to do in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks sent by his office.
    The cabinet is due to meet on Monday at the presidential palace to formally seal the process before the budget is referred to parliament.
    The budget could help unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year for infrastructure investment, if it wins the approval of donor countries and institutions.
    Hariri said the budget was a message to the Lebanese, financial markets and friendly foreign states that Lebanon was determined to “address the weakness, imbalance and squander in the public sector.”
    Measures to rein in the public sector wage bill include a three-year freeze in all types of state hiring and a cap on extra-salary bonuses.    State pensions will also be taxed.
    A big chunk of the deficit cut stems from tax increases including a 2% import tax and a hike in tax on interest payments.
    The government also plans to cut some $660 million from the debt servicing bill by issuing treasury bonds at a 1% interest rate to the Lebanese banking sector.
    Fears the budget would lead to cuts to state salaries, pensions or benefits triggered weeks of strikes and protests by public sector workers and military veterans.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

5/26/2019 Sudan protest groups calls for strike starting next Tuesday
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration along the streets of
Khartoum, Sudan May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A coalition of Sudanese protest and opposition groups on Friday called for two days of strikes in private and public enterprises next week as part of pressure on military rulers to hand over power to civilians.
    The announcement, issued in a statement posted on social media, comes after talks between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and an alliance of protest groups on the composition of a sovereign body to lead the country during a three-year transition to democracy.
    Talks were adjourned in the early hours of Tuesday, with no date set for resumption, but sources said contacts were continuing at a low level trying to reach a compromise.
    Last month, Sudan’s military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir following months of protests against his three decades in power.    The military has promised to hand over power to an elected government after a transitional period.    Sudan, one of Africa’s largest countries, is important for efforts to bring stability to an important area stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya.
    In a statement distributed on social media, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) called for a strike starting at private and public enterprises that will include various professional sectors starting on Tuesday.
    “The strike will continue for two days, and involved gathering at the protest squares in the national and state capitals,” the statement said.
    The transitional military council has called for establishing a civilian government of technocrats.    It has also said it was ready to share power with civilians in a transitional sovereign body but has been demanding overall control of the body.
    A representative of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in the DFCF said both sides were looking at proposals to break the impasse, including a rotating presidency, and for decisions to be made by a two-third majority rather than a simple majority, adding that a deal could be reached before next Tuesday.
    In remarks published on Wednesday, the deputy head of the transitional council told an Egyptian newspaper that the military wanted to hand power to a democratically elected government as soon as possible.
    But Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is widely known as Hemedti and leads the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), said the military were impatient for a solution.
(Reporting by Hesham Hajali in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by David Gregorio)

5/27/2019 Oil steadies as trade fears balance Mideast tension and supply cuts by Alex Lawler
FILE PHOTO: An oil well pump jack is seen at an oil field supply yard near
Denver, Colorado, U.S., February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Oil steadied on Monday, trading below $69 a barrel, as concern over the U.S.-China trade dispute and global economic outlook offset support from Middle East tensions and supply cuts.
    Figures on Monday showed that profits for Chinese industrial companies shrank in April while new orders for U.S.-made capital goods fell more than expected in a further sign that the economy is slowing.
    The main factor preventing crude prices from rising on the geopolitical news is the concern about the global economy, said Petromatrix oil analyst Olivier Jakob.
    “The macroeconomic outlook does not look good,” Jakob said.
    Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 5 cents at $68.74 a barrel by 0839 GMT, having fallen by about 4.5% last week. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 36 cents at $58.27.
    Both crude contracts registered their biggest weekly price declines of the year last week.    Public holidays in the United States and Britain on Monday limited participation, keeping volumes low.
    Rising tension between the United States and Iran, with Washington’s announcement on Friday that it would deploy more troops to the Middle East, has had little impact on the market so far.
    “This move further increases tensions in the regions, but with the U.S. and UK markets closed today and most of the geopolitical tension likely already priced in to the market, effects on crude prices may remain subdued,” JBC Energy said in a report.
    Money managers cut their net long U.S. crude futures and options positions – bets on rising prices – in the week to May 21, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday.
    Oil supply cuts – both voluntary and those resulting from U.S. sanctions – have boosted prices this year and are still keeping a floor under prices.
    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, an alliance known as OPEC+, has been cutting supply to tighten the market.
    U.S. sanctions on OPEC members Iran and Venezuela have curbed their crude exports, reducing supplies further.
    Brent’s price structure remains in backwardation, with prices for prompt delivery higher than those for future dispatch, suggesting a tight balance between supply and demand.
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by David Goodman)

5/27/2019 Israel moves towards new vote as Netanyahu struggles to form government by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting
at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019. Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel moved closer towards a new election on Monday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a government after last month’s national ballot remained deadlocked.
    In a preliminary vote, parliament decided to dissolve itself.    In order to disperse and set an election date, legislators would still have to hold a final vote, likely to take place on Wednesday.
    Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has until 2100 GMT on Wednesday to put a government together, after being delegated the task by President Reuven Rivlin following the April 9 poll.
    In a televised address following the initial vote in parliament, Netanyahu pledged to continue pursuing coalition talks and said a new vote would be unnecessary and costly.
    “A lot can be done in 48 hours,” he said.    “The voters’ wishes can be respected, a strong right-wing government can be formed.”
    In power for the past decade and facing potential corruption indictments, Netanyahu has struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would ensure him a fifth term.
    Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and is due to argue against the attorney-general’s intention to indict him on fraud and bribery charges at a pre-trial hearing in October.
    U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on Netanyahu’s political woes in the face of political brinkmanship by the Israeli leader’s erstwhile ally, former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman.
    “Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever,” Trump tweeted, using Netanyahu’s nickname.    “A lot more to do!
    Although a second national election in the same year – unprecedented for Israel – would pose new political risks for Netanyahu, it would pre-empt Rivlin from assigning coalition-building to another legislator once Wednesday’s deadline expires.
CONSCRIPTION STALEMATE
    Divisions between Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and United Torah Judaism over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students have plunged the coalition talks into stalemate.
    The five parliamentary seats that Yisrael Beitenu won in the April ballot are crucial to Netanyahu gaining a parliamentary majority.
    Likud took 35 of the legislature’s 120 seats, the same number as its main rival, the centrist Blue and White party, but had the pledged support of a bigger right-wing bloc.
    In a standoff with United Torah Judaism, Lieberman has demanded ultra-Orthodox must share other Israeli Jews’ burden of mandatory service.    Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should be largely exempt from conscription as they have been since Israel was founded in 1948.
    But some commentators and members of Likud have suggested Lieberman’s real motive is to ultimately succeed Netanyahu and lead Israel’s right-wing, using the conscription bill and coalition stalemate to weaken him politically.
    “Avigdor Lieberman’s only interest is to seize control of the national camp by toppling Netanyahu,” deputy foreign minister and Likud member Tzipi Hotovely told Army Radio.
    Lieberman, who resigned his defense post in Netanyahu’s outgoing cabinet last November over policy towards the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, said he was acting only out of principle.
    In his speech, Netanyahu welcomed the supportive remarks of Trump, with whom he has been in lock-step over policies towards the Palestinians and Israel’s Iranian foe.
    “He (Trump) is right,” he said.    “We have an infinite number of things to do, security challenges … economic challenges.”
    But Netanyahu said he had failed “so far, including tonight” to persuade Lieberman “to avoid an election.”
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/27/2019 Israel open to U.S.-mediated talks with Lebanon on sea border
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an interview with
Reuters in Cairo, Egypt January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel voiced openness on Monday to U.S.-mediated talks with Lebanon on resolving a dispute over the neighbors’ maritime border that has dogged Mediterranean oil and gas exploration.
    Such talks, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s office said in a statement after he met U.S. envoy David Satterfield, could be “for the good of both countries’ interests in developing natural gas reserves and oil” by agreeing a border.
    There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or U.S. officials.
    Technically at war since Israel’s founding in 1948, Israel and Lebanon have long disagreed on border demarcations, a dispute affecting a sea area of about 860 sq km (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.
    Waters in one of those blocks are also claimed by Israel, which kicked off a gas bonanza in the eastern Mediterranean almost a decade ago with the discovery of two huge gas fields.
    The dispute has led to years of brinkmanship with both sides promising to protect their resources and warning about encroachment.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/28/2019 Nechirvan Barzani elected president of Kurdistan Region of Iraq
FILE PHOTO: Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani shows his ink-stained finger after casting his
vote at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Erbil, Iraq May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Regional lawmakers elected Nechirvan Barzani as president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, a spokesman for the regional parliament told Reuters on Tuesday.
    Barzani, who had been serving as regional prime minister, won 68 votes from the 84 lawmakers present.    The regional legislature has 111 seats in total.
    He is the nephew of the previous and only other holder of the office, Masoud Barzani.
(Reporting by Azad Lashkari; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by John Stonestreet)

5/28/2019 Oil defies trade fears as prices rise on tight supply by Noah Browning
FILE PHOTO: Pump jacks operate at sunset in an oilfield in Midland, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Tuesday, supported by tighter global supplies that have helped to offset persistent worries that demand will be hurt by the continuing U.S.-Chinese trade conflict.
    Brent crude rose by 23 cents, or 0.3%, to $70.34 a barrel by 1055 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was up 52 cents, or 0.9%, at $59.15.
    U.S. crude futures were trading for the first time since Friday after a long holiday weekend.
    Investors, however, remain concerned that the trade war between the United States and China could hit the global economy and dent fuel consumption.
    Brent futures last week registered a decline of 4.5% and WTI was slid by 6.4% for its biggest weekly loss since December.
    “Oil prices lack direction because the oil market currently finds itself caught between supply risks and concerns about demand,” Commerzbank said in a note.
    “A whole host of poor economic data from the major economic areas of the U.S., China and Europe, plus the entrenched situation in the trade talks, are not good news for the demand outlook.”
    On the flip-side, crude has gained support from supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies since the start of the year, with political tensions in the Middle East another bullish influence.
    No political solution appears forthcoming to end U.S. sanctions that have largely taken Iranian and Venezuelan crude out of global markets.
    “Brent is likely to resume its upward trend in line with its fundamentals, which are tight,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, global oil strategist at BNP Paribas in London.
    “This tightness is reflected in the generic front-month Brent futures time-spread.    Backwardation is very steep at $1.33 a barrel – the last time we sustained such deep backwardation was in 2013, when spot Brent was trading above $100 a barrel.”
    Backwardation, a market structure where the spot price is higher than the price of crude in later months, tends to indicate tight supplies and a drawdown in inventories.
    OPEC and allies including Russia are due to meet over June 25-26 to discuss output policy.
    Khaled al-Fadhel, oil minister of OPEC member Kuwait, said he expects the market to approach balance in 2019 as global inventories fall and demand remains strong.
    I believe the market is expected to be balanced during the second half of 2019, more towards the end of the year,” he told Reuters, adding that the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran “has yet to be felt.”
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Edmund Blair and David Goodman)

5/28/2019 Prime Minister Netanyahu confirms Israeli strike on Syrian anti-aircraft weapon system by OAN Newsroom
    Israel launched a retaliatory strike against Syria after one of its planes was targeted by anti-aircraft fire.    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the news in a statement Monday.
    The prime minister explained how the Syrian weapon system unsuccessfully tried to hit an Israeli jet during a routine flight earlier in the day.    He said Israeli Defense Forces destroyed the system in response, leaving at least one person dead and another injured.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting
at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. (Photo/Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)
    Netanyahu claimed Israel would not tolerate any aggression, and would continue to respond with full force:
    “A short time ago, the Syrian army tried to hit an Israeli plane, and did not succeed.    The Air Force, in response, destroyed the launcher from which the shots were fired.    Our policy is clear, we are not prepared to tolerate any aggression against us and we will retaliate against it forcefully and decisively.”
    The move comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East over Iran’s role in Syria and neighboring regions.

5/28/2019 Senior White House Adviser Kushner to meet with King of Jordan, attend Bilderberg Meeting by OAN Newsroom
    Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner is set to visit Jordan to discuss an upcoming conference on Middle East peace.    He will meet with King Abdullah Wednesday in an effort to persuade the country to participate in a U.S. organized ‘Peace and Prosperity’ summit in Bahrain next month.
    The conference will revolve around the future of the Palestinian economy, and the Trump administration is expected to release the economic chapter of its Middle East peace plan.    Jordan hasn’t said if it will be part of the summit, which is being boycotted by the Palestinian authority.
FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2019, file photo, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner attends a conference
on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)
    Meanwhile, Kushner is also set to attend this year’s Bilderberg Meeting in Switzerland.    According to reports, the White House official will meet with top business and political leaders from around the world this week.
    The meeting will be held in the Swiss city of Montreux, and will include about 130 people from 23 countries.    Attendees are set to discuss a list of topics, including Brexit, the ethics of artificial intelligence, the importance of space and so-called climate change.

5/28/2019 Trump envoys Kushner, Greenblatt in Middle East to seek support for peace plan by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner speaks with guests after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered remarks
on immigration reform in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is leading a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week seeking support for a late June workshop aimed at helping the Palestinians, a White House official said on Tuesday.
    Kushner, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz began their trip in Rabat and were to travel to Amman and Jerusalem, arriving in Israel on Thursday.
    Kushner also will attend the Bilderberg conference in Montreux, Switzerland, where he is expected to be a speaker, at the end of the week and then will meet U.S. President Donald Trump in London when the latter makes a state visit there next week.
    The trip is similar to one that Kushner and Greenblatt took in February to Gulf states to drum up support for the economic portion of a Middle East peace plan they have been developing on behalf of Trump.
    The official said one reason for this week’s trip is to bolster support for a June 25-26 conference in Manama, Bahrain, in which Kushner is to unveil the first part of Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
    The plan, touted by Trump as the “deal of the century,” is to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Arab donor countries before grappling with thorny political issues at the heart of the conflict.
    Palestinian leaders have been sharply critical of the effort. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said they will participate, and a senior U.S. official said officials from Qatar have said privately their country was expected to attend as well.
    The Russian foreign ministry took a dim view of the conference in a statement on Tuesday, saying the United States was attempting to “impose an ‘alternative vision’ of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement.”
    “The Palestinian leadership has already categorically refused to take part, saying that the PLO will not surrender to anyone its exclusive rights to make crucial decisions regarding the realization of Palestinians’ national aspirations,” it said.
    Participants in the conference in Manama are expected to include 300 to 400 representatives and business executives from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and possibly some Palestinian business leaders.
    A source familiar with the planning said it appeared Egypt, Jordan and Oman, as well as the G7 countries, also would send representatives to the conference.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Susan Thomas, James Dalgleish and Dan Grebler)

5/28/2019 U.S. may suspend training of Turkish pilots for F-35 jets over Russia missile deal by Humeyra Pamuk and Phil Stewart
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) – The United States is seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots on advanced F-35 fighter jets as Ankara moves ahead with plans to purchase a Russian missile defense system despite objections from Washington, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
    The two NATO allies have argued for months over Turkey’s order for the Russian S-400 defenses, which Washington says are incompatible with the Western alliance’s defense network and would pose a threat to American F-35 stealth fighters which Turkey also plans to buy.
    The two sources, who are familiar with Turkey’s role in the F-35 program and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a final decision had not yet been made.
    The deliberation follows signs that Turkey is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on May 22 that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and said Russian personnel may come to Turkey.
    Turkish pilots have also been training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.    It was unclear whether a decision to suspend their training would mean they would have to leave the country, or would be allowed to remain at the base until a final decision is made about Turkey’s future in the F-35 program.
    The United States has said plainly that Turkey cannot have the S-400 and be part of the F-35 program.    The F-35 is made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
    If Turkey was removed from the program, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between the two allies, experts say.
    “Washington is signaling that while it would rather not break military ties with Turkey, it is ready to do so if Ankara does not change its mind regarding the S-400 purchase,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute.
    Strains in ties between Washington and Ankara already extend beyond the F-35 to include conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey.
DONE DEAL
    The Pentagon and State Department declined to comment on any deliberations about the pilots. But Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews noted discussions are taking place with Ankara on potentially buying the Patriot missile defense system.
    Andrews said the Patriot system, made by Raytheon Co., “remains a robust, NATO-interoperable alternative to the S-400 for (Turkey’s) national defense requirements.”
    On Monday, Turkish broadcaster Haberturk quoted Akar as saying in an interview that the delivery of the S-400 may not happen in June, when Turkey previously said the missiles were due to arrive.    He added the agreement was a done deal, however.
    “They may not make it by June but they will come in the months ahead.    The process has begun,” he was quoted as saying.
    Objecting to Ankara’s planned Russian defense purchase, the United States in late March halted delivery of equipment related to the F-35 to Turkey, which is both a buyer and a production partner in the program.    The move was the first concrete step of what could eventually be the full removal of Turkey from the F-35 program.
    The United States has warned that if Turkey takes delivery of the Russian system, it will also trigger U.S. sanctions under CATSAA, a law calling for sanctions against countries procuring military equipment from Russia.
    Turkey has said that as a NATO member it poses no threat to the United States and the sanctions should not apply.
    Ankara has also increasingly pinned its hopes on President Donald Trump to protect it from such penalties.
    U.S. officials have called Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 system “deeply problematic.”    Washington and other NATO allies that own F-35s fear the system’s radar will learn how to spot and track the jet, making it less able to evade Russian weapons.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Phil Stewart; editing by Tom Brown, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

5/28/2019 U.S. calls Russian, Syrian air strikes ‘reckless escalation’ in Syria
A satelite overview image of Kafr Nabudah that shows damaged and destroyed buildings, Idlib Province, Syria
May 26, 2019. Picture taken May 26, 2019. Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States continues to be alarmed by Syrian government and Russian air strikes in northwest Syria and believes they are a “reckless escalation” of violence, the State Department said on Tuesday.
    Government air strikes, backed by Russia, have focused on the south of Idlib province and nearby parts of Hama, uprooting nearly 250,000 people.    The bombing has killed 229 civilians and injured 727 others, according to the UOSSM medical charity.     “Indiscriminate attacks on civilians and public infrastructure such as schools, markets and hospitals is a reckless escalation of the conflict and is unacceptable,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
    “The violence must end,” Ortagus said.
    Hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to President Donald Trump last week arguing that the United States should remain engaged with the conflict in Syria, saying they were “deeply concerned” about extremist groups in the country.
    Many U.S. lawmakers, Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, have been deeply concerned about Syria policy since December, when Trump decided to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.    Trump later agreed to leave a small U.S. presence to help keep pressure on Islamic State.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu; editing by Grant McCool)

5/28/2019 Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton arrives in UAE for talks
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during a graduation ceremony at the
U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo
    DOHA (Reuters) – Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday ahead of talks scheduled for Wednesday, he said in tweet, amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran.
    “Just landed in the UAE.    Looking forward to meeting with our Emirati allies tomorrow to discuss important and timely regional security matters,” Bolton posted on Twitter.
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after an attack this month on oil tankers in the Gulf.
    Washington, a close ally of Iran’s regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, blamed the attacks on Tehran, which denied the accusations.
    Bolton said last week that the United States had “deep and serious” intelligence on threats posed by Iran, without providing details.
    Washington has deployed a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.
    Separately on Tuesday Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said his country was ready to engage in dialogue with Gulf Arab countries in order to address the escalating tensions during a visit to Doha, the final stop in a three-country tour that included Kuwait and Oman.
    Saudi Arabia will host two emergency Arab summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss the implications of recent drone strikes on oil installations in the kingdom, and the vessel attacks off the UAE coast.
(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/28/2019 Satellite images show fields in northwest Syria on fire
A satellite overview image that shows smoke from fires in Hbit, Idlib Province, Syria May 26, 2019.
Picture taken May 26, 2019. Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – New satellite images show fields, orchards and olive groves burning in northwest Syria, where the army has waged an assault against rebels in their last major stronghold.
    Government air strikes, backed by Russia, have focused on the south of Idlib province and nearby parts of Hama, uprooting nearly 250,000 people.    The bombing has killed 229 civilians and injured 727 others, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) charity.
    The rescue service, which works in opposition territory, said shelling and air raids killed 24 people in villages in the northwest on Tuesday, including children.
    In photos by satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe Inc, plumes of dark smoke rise from the countryside around al-Habeet village in Idlib and the small town of Kafr Nabouda in Hama.
    The before and after images, collected at the start and end of last week, show patches of scorched earth, fields blackened by fire, and clusters of destroyed buildings.    Some of the fires appear to be still burning.
    Mustafa al-Haj Yousef, head of the Idlib civil defense, said government warplanes had been pounding crop fields, sparking dozens of fires.
    Syrian state news agency SANA said on Tuesday that militants had shelled villages in the northern Hama countryside, damaging houses and burning wheat fields.
    While al-Habeet is in the hands of insurgents, government forces recaptured Kafr Nabouda on Sunday, the third time it changed hands in the latest fighting.    State media said the army seized it from Tahrir al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front until it broke away from al Qaeda.
    The army onslaught in the northwest over the past month marks the most intense escalation between President Bashar al-Assad and his insurgent enemies since last summer.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Khalil Ashawi in Syria; Editing by Frances Kerry and Dan Grebler)

5/29/2019 Exclusive: Islamic State suspects sent by U.S. from Syria to Iraq by Raya Jalabi and Alissa de Carbonnel
FILE PHOTO: Islamic state fighters and their families walk as they surrender in the village of
Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo
    BAGHDAD/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. forces have quietly sent at least 30 suspected foreign Islamic State fighters captured in Syria last year and in late 2017 to stand trial in Iraq, interviews with the men, Iraqi sources and court documents show.
    Three of the men have been convicted of IS membership and sentenced to death by Iraqi courts, while five have been given life sentences.    Four of them told Reuters they were tortured in prison, a claim Reuters was unable to verify.
    Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) denied that detainees were transferred to their custody from Syria in 2017 and 2018, and denied the detainees’ claims of torture.
    While the fate of thousands of IS fighters captured in Syria remains unresolved, the roughly 30 suspected foreign jihadists were transferred to Iraq in 2017 and 2018 after they were captured by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), according to Iraqi court files, U.S. detention records, intelligence and judicial sources as well as people familiar with the matter.
    The U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East, declined to comment on Reuters’ findings, but acknowledged the challenges posed by detainees captured by Kurdish militias, whose authority is not internationally recognized.
    “The issue of foreign terrorist fighters in SDF custody in Syria is an extremely complex problem,” spokesman Captain Bill Urban said.
    The United States wants countries to take responsibility for their foreign fighters through “prosecution, rehabilitation programs, or other measures that sufficiently prevent detainees from re-engaging in terrorism.” he said.
    “We remain engaged with a wide range of international partners to ensure that these foreign terrorist fighters never threaten anyone again.”
    Eight men convicted for their role in IS – from Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, Egypt and Morocco – were interviewed by Reuters during their appearances in Iraqi courts.
    They said that after being captured in Syria by U.S.-backed SDF forces they were interrogated about their roles in Islamic State by the SDF and U.S. forces.    They said they were then held, mostly in solitary confinement, at U.S. military bases in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region or in Jordan before being handed into Iraqi custody.
    The SDF declined to comment on the question of prisoner transfers, referring Reuters to Iraqi authorities.    The SDF has said it wants to get rid of foreign fighters because it is not in a position to put them on trial.
HUMAN RIGHTS
    U.S. President Donald Trump is pressing European nations to take back their nationals from among more than 2,000 suspected foreign fighters captured during the final battles to destroy the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria earlier this year.
    The U.S. and European allies have held talks with Baghdad on a possible bulk transfer of prisoners from Syria to be prosecuted in Iraq since the start of the year, Western diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials say.
    While there is no common European policy on how to handle detained foreign fighters from Europe, Iraq has shown it is willing to prosecute.
    Prisoner transfers are not prohibited under international law if they come with human rights guarantees, but that applies to transfers between states – not a non-state actor such as the SDF.
    “The sub-contraction of trials … to an ill-resourced, under-funded, ill-equipped criminal justice system in Iraq can only be described as an abrogation of responsibility,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur for human rights while countering terrorism.
    Iraqi judicial officials did not respond to requests for comment.
    But some prisoners have already been sent to Iraq.
    An Iraqi military intelligence source said foreign IS detainees had been handed over by the SDF to U.S. forces in 2017 and 2018 inside Syrian territory, and were transported by air to Iraq.
    Among them is Belgian Bilal al-Marchohi, 23, who was sentenced to death on March 18.    A spokesman for Belgium’s prime minister declined to comment on his case, but a consular official was present at his trial.
    Marchohi said he was shuttled between multiple facilities in Syria before being taken to Iraq.    He was held by the SDF in a house and a former school, then moved to a facility “where there were only Americans” and next flown – blindfolded and bound – by helicopter to another site.    Marchohi said he was kept in solitary confinement, under constant bright lights with few toilet breaks.
    “The Americans threatened me, my wife and kids,” he said.    “They said, ‘we can put a bullet between your two eyes.'
    He said he signed a blank confession, which was later filled out by Iraqi authorities to detail his activities in Syria.    It appeared to have been changed later to show he was arrested in Iraq, according to his court file, seen by Reuters.    In the court file, there is also a reference to his detention by the U.S. military for two months at base in Iraq.
    The other seven suspected fighters who spoke to Reuters in Iraq said they were also arrested by the SDF, or by the SDF and U.S. forces, in Syria and then held in U.S. detention.
    Foreign militants like Marchohi – who served in the IS religious police, according to court documents – held elite status within IS ranks.    At their trials, judges described the men as battle-tested fighters.
    German Levent Ozgurt, 24, said he was detained near Aleppo in Syria by the SDF in November 2017 and also flown by helicopter to a U.S. base in northern Iraq, where he was held in solitary confinement.
    The German foreign ministry said it had no evidence of his transfer from Syria to Iraq.
    Marchohi and Ozgurt said they were told by U.S. forces that they would be repatriated when their interrogations ended.
    Instead, they were handed to Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), which they said beat them, held them in stress positions and gave them electric shocks via cattleprods to their genitals.
    Marchohi showed Reuters scarring he said was from beatings and electric shocks.    Ozgurt showed Reuters similar marks on his back at a court appearance where he was sentenced to death on Dec. 4. Germany’s ambassador to Baghdad was present at the trial.
    The eight detainees also told Reuters confessions used to prosecute them were falsified.    Six said they were coerced into thumbprinting the typewritten confessions through torture.    Iraqi authorities denied the claims.
    CTS spokesperson Sabah al-Naaman said any claims that detainees were transferred to their custody from Syria in 2017 and 2018 were untrue, and denied they had been tortured.
    “IS members know how to tell lies to mislead judges in order to evade prosecutions,” Naaman said.
(Additional reporting by Phillip Stewart and Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/29/2019 Bolton says Iranian naval mines likely used in UAE tankers attacks by Lisa Barrington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during a graduation ceremony at the
U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin/File Photo
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday that naval mines “almost certainly from Iran” were used to attack oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates this month and warned Tehran against new operations.
    Bolton said the “prudent and responsible” approach taken by the United States, which has beefed up its military presence in the region, had made it clear to Iran and its proxies that such actions risked a “very strong” U.S. response.
    He was speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi ahead of emergency summits of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Thursday called to discuss the implications of the tanker attacks and drone strikes two days later on oil pumping stations in the kingdom.
    The UAE has not yet blamed anyone for the sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, near Fujairah emirate, a major bunkering hub just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
    Riyadh has accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes, which were claimed by the Iran-aligned Houthis who have been battling a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in a four-year conflict seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Iran has denied involvement in either attack.
    “I think it is clear these (tanker attacks) were naval mines almost certainly from Iran,” Bolton said.    “There is no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who is responsible for this and I think it’s important that the leadership in Iran know that we know.”
    There was no immediate response from Iran to the comments by Bolton, who did not provide evidence to support his statement.
    The U.S. official declined to comment on the specifics of an investigation into the attacks in which the United States, France, Norway and Saudi Arabia are taking part, but said the countries and ship owners involved could do so.
MOUNTING TENSIONS
    A UAE bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker were also hit.    France has a naval base in Abu Dhabi.
    Bolton said the tanker attacks were connected to the strike on oil pumping stations on the kingdom’s East-West pipeline and a rocket attack on the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
    He said there had been a fourth unsuccessful attack on Saudi Arabia’s Yanbu port a few days before the tanker operation but that it was unclear if it was linked to the others.    Saudi officials were not immediately available to comment.
    Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated since President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and reimposed sanctions, notably targeting Tehran’s key oil exports.    Iran says it will not be cowed by what it has called psychological warfare.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signaled on Wednesday that talks with the United States might be possible if Washington lifted sanctions and met its commitments under the nuclear deal, state television said.
    Sunni Muslim allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE have backed sanctions against Shi’ite Iran, a fellow OPEC producer but a regional foe, and have lobbied Washington to contain Tehran.
    Bolton said the United States was trying to be “prudent and responsible” in its approach and was discussing next steps with Gulf allies.
    “I support what we are doing so far.    The point is to make it clear to Iran and its surrogates that these kind of activities risk a very strong response from the Americans.”
SHOW OF FORCE
    Washington said it was sending 1,500 troops to the region after speeding up deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and sending bombers and additional Patriot missiles.
    Bolton said the United States was bringing in engineering capabilities “to help harden facilities associated with U.S. and partner military bases.”    He voiced concern about perceived threats from the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
    “We are very concerned about the Quds Force and Qassem Soleimani using Shi’ite militia groups and others in Iraq as indirect ways to attack our embassy in Baghdad, consulate in Erbil, our various bases around the country,” he said.
    The U.S. Combined Air Operations Center is based in Qatar and its navy Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.    The U.S. air force also uses al-Dhafra airbase in Abu Dhabi.
    Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi visited Oman, Kuwait and Qatar this week.    He said on Tuesday that Tehran was ready to engage in dialogue with Gulf countries.
(Additional reporting Asma Alsharif and Dubai newsroom; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Jon Boyle)

5/29/2019 Trump envoys Kushner, Greenblatt in Middle East to seek support for peace plan by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner speaks with guests after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered
remarks on immigration reform in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is leading a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week seeking support for a late June workshop aimed at helping the Palestinians, a White House official said on Tuesday.
    Kushner, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz began their trip in Rabat and were to travel to Amman and Jerusalem, arriving in Israel on Thursday.
    Kushner also will attend the Bilderberg conference in Montreux, Switzerland, where he is expected to be a speaker, at the end of the week and then will meet U.S. President Donald Trump in London when the latter makes a state visit there next week.
    The trip is similar to one that Kushner and Greenblatt took in February to Gulf states to drum up support for the economic portion of a Middle East peace plan they have been developing on behalf of Trump.
    The official said one reason for this week’s trip is to bolster support for a June 25-26 conference in Manama, Bahrain, in which Kushner is to unveil the first part of Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
    The plan, touted by Trump as the “deal of the century,” is to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Arab donor countries before grappling with thorny political issues at the heart of the conflict.
    Palestinian leaders have been sharply critical of the effort.
    “We didn’t mandate anyone to negotiate on our behalf, and if anyone wants to trade the interests of the Palestinians for their own benefit, let them do it out of their own pockets,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.
    “We urge all Arabs who have accepted to go to Bahrain to reconsider out of respect for the Palestinians,” he said.
    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said they will participate, and a senior U.S. official said officials from Qatar have said privately their country was expected to attend as well.
    The Russian foreign ministry took a dim view of the conference in a statement on Tuesday, saying the United States was attempting to “impose an ‘alternative vision’ of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement.”
    “The Palestinian leadership has already categorically refused to take part, saying that the PLO will not surrender to anyone its exclusive rights to make crucial decisions regarding the realization of Palestinians’ national aspirations,” it said.
    Participants in the conference in Manama are expected to include 300 to 400 representatives and business executives from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and possibly some Palestinian business leaders.
    A source familiar with the planning said it appeared Egypt, Jordan and Oman, as well as the G7 countries, also would send representatives to the conference.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Susan Thomas, James Dalgleish and Jon Boyle)

5/29/2019 Netanyahu hours away from deadline for forming coalition govt by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the
Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019. Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had until late Wednesday to form a new ruling coalition with a recalcitrant ally or face the possible end of a decade of combative leadership of Israel.
    As the hours ticked by, there was no sign of a breakthrough in talks with far-right former defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman.    Parliament began a full-day debate on a motion to dissolve itself and call a new election if no deal is struck.
    Political sources said Netanyahu was seeking agreement with the leaders of parties in the legislature for a mid-September election day.
    Netanyahu had declared himself the winner of a national ballot last month, but he now has until midnight (2100 GMT) to tell President Reuven Rivlin whether he has put together an administration, and his political future hangs in the balance.
    Failure to forge a coalition would take the task out of the 69-year-old Netanyahu’s hands, with Rivlin asking another legislator, either from the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party or from the opposition, to try.
    That presidential move, which would sideline Netanyahu, can be avoided with a coalition agreement deal or if parliament approves an election.
    Political commentator Chemi Shalev, writing in the left-wing Haaretz daily, said a last-minute agreement was still possible and Netanyahu would still be the favorite to win a new poll.
    But he said Netanyahu’s critics now find themselves fantasizing about a world without him.
    “It’s not an easy task, given his decade in power and the four more years he supposedly had coming.    Young Israelis can’t even begin to imagine an Israel without him: Netanyahu as prime minister is all they’ve ever known,” Shalev wrote.
    Lieberman has stuck to his guns in a battle with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, a member of Netanyahu’s current interim government, to limit traditional military draft exemptions for Jewish seminary students.
    Without the support of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, which has five seats in the 120-member Knesset, Netanyahu cannot put together a majority government of right-wing and religious factions led by Likud.
    Political commentators said that as the prospects dimmed for a compromise with Lieberman, Netanyahu would focus his efforts on enlisting the 61 votes needed in parliament to approve a new election.
    The brinkmanship six weeks after the closely contested April ballot poses another challenge to Netanyahu’s decade-long rule and deepens political uncertainty in a country riven with division.
PEACE PLAN
    A new election could also complicate U.S. efforts to press ahead with President Donald Trump’s peace plan in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    Even before it has been announced Palestinians have rejected it as a blow to their aspirations for statehood.
    The White House team behind the proposal, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, is in the Middle East to drum up support for an economic “workshop” in Bahrain next month to encourage investment in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.    The group is due in Israel on Thursday.
    Lieberman said on Wednesday he was not backing down in what he termed a matter of principle over the conscription issue, and he denied Likud allegations his real intention was to oust Netanyahu and lead a “national camp.”
    “I am not an vengeful man and I don’t hold a grudge,” said Lieberman, who last year resigned as defense chief in a dispute with Netanyahu over policy toward Gaza.
    Despite looming indictments in three corruption cases, Netanyahu had appeared to be on course for a fifth term as head of a right-wing bloc after he squeezed past centrist challenger Benny Gantz, a former head of the Israeli armed forces.
    Public attention had been focused less on coalition-building and more on moves Netanyahu loyalists were planning in parliament to grant him immunity and to pass a law ensuring such protection could not be withdrawn by the Supreme Court.
    Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the cases and is due to argue at a pre-trial hearing in October against the attorney-general’s intention, announced in February, to indict him on bribery and fraud charges.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/29/2019 Jordan’s king tells Trump adviser peace possible only with a Palestinian state by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Jordan's King Abdullah meets with Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner in
Amman, Jordan, May 29, 2019. Yousef Allan/Royal Palace/Handout via Reuters
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s King Abdullah told U.S. President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner on Wednesday that a lasting Middle East peace can come only with the creation of a Palestinian state on land captured by Israel in a 1967 war and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    Kushner is leading a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week. U.S. officials have said the trip, which began in Rabat and will include Jerusalem, is partly aimed at bolstering support for a late June conference in Bahrain, in which Kushner is to unveil the first part of Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
    A palace statement said >.
    Jordan is worried the plan could jettison the two-state solution that is backed by the United Nations and most countries around the world.    The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, all territory Israel captured in the 1967 war.
    Jordanian officials have also been worried the plan would challenge King Abdullah’s religious custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem.    Amman has been particularly sensitive to any changes of status in Jerusalem after the Trump’s administration’s decision to recognize it as Israel’s capital.
    Jordanian officials have also been worried by the U.S drive to dismantle the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.
    Jordan hosts the largest concentration of U.N.-registered Palestinian refugees.    Officials have expressed concern that Trump’s peace plan would eventually pave the way for revoking the right to return for refugees in the kingdom.
    Trump has touted the U.S. peace plan as the “deal of the century,” but the Palestinians have boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and anticipate the plan will fall far short of their core demands.
    Dozens of Jordanians holding placards denouncing Kushner’s visit staged a small protest on Tuesday night near the heavily fortified U.S. embassy in the Jordanian capital.
    “The deal of the century will not pass.    Down with the U.S.,” chanted protesters who included figures from Jordan’s mainstream Islamist movement, the country’s largest opposition group.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Stephen Powell and Frances Kerry)

5/30/2019 How U.S. sanctions over a Russian weapon could rattle Turkey by Jonathan Spicer
Turkey and U.S. flags are seen in this picture illustration taken August 25, 2018.
Picture taken August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is on the cusp of facing U.S. sanctions over its decision to buy a Russian S-400 missile defense system, leaving its already soft currency and economy vulnerable and raising questions over its position within NATO and the region.
    If no solution is found in coming weeks and U.S.-Turkish tensions continue to worsen, tit-for-tat sanctions could hit trade between the allies and prolong a recession in Turkey that has already tested President Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on power.
    Turkey also risks being rapidly cut out of the production and use of American F-35 fighter jets, which could mark a step toward a re-evaluation of its 67-year membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
    “It’s very complex to resolve because both U.S. and Turkish officials see this as a reflection of a larger geo-political balancing,” said Galip Dalay, visiting scholar at the University of Oxford’s politics and international relations department.
    “Sanctions would have a very consequential effect on Turkey, but probably not mark a breaking point in its U.S. relationship,” he said.
    Ankara and Washington have squabbled for months over the Turkish plan to buy the S-400s, which the United States says is incompatible with the Western alliance’s defense network and poses a threat to the F-35s that Turkey also plans to buy.
    Turkey says defending its territory poses no threat to allies, and stresses it has met all NATO obligations.
    Both sides are entrenched even while they have repeated a desire to avoid so-called CAATSA sanctions, which by U.S. law would be triggered when the Russian anti-aircraft weapon arrives on Turkish soil, possibly as soon as July.
    An agreement to delay shipment of the S-400s could still open the door to U.S. President Donald Trump convincing Erdogan to turn his back on what the Turkish leader has repeatedly called a “done deal” with Russia.
    The pair agreed on Wednesday to meet on the sidelines of a G-20 conference on June 28-29.
    Yet Ankara’s ties with Moscow have been strengthening, and Turkey’s defense minister said last week Turkish military personnel were in Russia for S-400 training.    In response, the United States is considering halting the training of Turkish pilots on F-35 stealth fighters in Arizona.
    The showdown comes as the Russia-backed Syrian army escalates an assault on some Turkish-backed rebels near Turkey’s border.    More broadly in the Middle East, the United States is ramping up pressure on Turkey and other nations to isolate Iran including blocking all Iranian oil exports.
    “If the U.S. sanctions are bad, Turkey could reconsider its decision to comply with U.S. sanctions on Iran,” said Dalay.
‘PATH TO ESCALATION’
    Washington wants Ankara to buy its alternative Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries and has made an offer that expires on June 4, according to a person familiar with the matter.
    If Ankara accepts delivery of the S-400s as planned, the U.S. Congress has moved to block delivery of F-35s to Turkey and remove it from the list of nations working together to build them.
    The delivery would also force Trump to select five of 12 possible sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, which targets purchases of military equipment from NATO foe Russia.
    The sanctions range from banning visas and denying access to the U.S.-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking any transactions with the U.S. financial system and denying export licenses.
    Trump may initially choose milder options targeting individual Turks rather than the government, a decision that could buy time for more diplomacy even while it may prompt Congress to separately impose tougher sanctions.
    “There is a U.S. reticence to completely block the military-industrial relationship with Turkey,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.
    Yet U.S. sanctions of any sort would likely hammer the Turkish lira, which has shed 14% of its value against the dollar this year in part due to fraying U.S. ties.
    Last year, a separate set of U.S. sanctions and tariffs over a jailed U.S. pastor helped set off a currency crisis that knocked 30% off the lira, tipped Turkey into recession and rattled emerging markets around the world.
    Ratings agency Moody’s said this month that Turkey’s political risk is “high” and warned that the S-400s could trigger not only U.S. but also NATO sanctions.
    Turkey has a track record of responding in kind to foreign sanctions and tariffs.
    Ulgen said any sanctions dispute could escalate into tariffs that harm U.S.-based Lockheed Martin Corp’s business with Turkish industrial companies, and even threaten future upgrades to Turkey’s existing fleet of F-16 jets.
    “Heavier sanctions could follow if the United States finds itself on a path to escalation with Turkey, beyond the usual rhetoric,” he said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Editing by William Maclean)
[What part of Turkey has trouble understaanding that you do not do that.    So you lose and also the Trust of NATO.].

5/30/2019 General’s growing political clout poses a risk to Sudan’s transition by Michael Georgy
FILE PHOTO: General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and deputy head of the
Transitional Military Council (TMC) delivers an address after the Ramadan prayers and Iftar organized by
Sultan of Darfur Ahmed Hussain in Khartoum, Sudan May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Six weeks after a coup d’etat in Sudan, high-profile military leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo is evolving into an increasingly influential political force.
    The involvement of so powerful a military chief in politics could undermine efforts to create a democracy in the northeast African country and provoke army officers who are wary of his ambitions, opponents and Western diplomats say.
    Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, is deputy chairman of Transitional Military Council (TMC) that has been running Sudan since President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s fall in April.
    Unlike junta leader Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Hemedti has grabbed the limelight, often delivering speeches in public as Sudan navigates a volatile transition period after a 30-year dictatorship.
    “Hemedti is playing an increasingly prominent role, ranging beyond his core security brief.    This suggests an ambition to play a longer-term political role,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.
    “A more prominent leadership role for Hemedti would undermine the clear popular demand for civilian leadership in Sudan.”
    In his rise from humble beginnings as a desert livestock trader to one of Bashir’s most trusted aides in a country of constantly shifting alliances, Hemedti has shown his determination and skill at maneuvering behind the scenes.
    A tall, imposing figure who has an office in the presidential palace, Hemedti is backed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the widely feared paramilitary fighters who number in the tens of thousands and control the capital Khartoum.
    Hemedti also gained vital support from oil powers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after he sent RSF forces to back them in Yemen’s civil war.    The Gulf Arab states pledged $3 billion in aid between them to Sudan last month.
POLITICAL AIMS POSE RISKS
    The general’s growing political strength is welcomed by some Sudanese.
    “Hemedti has been getting stronger. He is a patriot who helped lead the revolution,” said travel agent Mu’min Hamed.    “He is the one handling the affairs of the state.    I think he could lead the country.”
    Others regard him as a symbol of the past.
    “The military council does not want to hand over power to civilians because the generals would be vulnerable to prosecution over human rights abuses,” said university student Mahmoud al-Zeyn.
    His emergence could complicate an already delicate stage of Sudan’s planned transition to democracy.
    Tensions are mounting between the TMC and an alliance of protest and opposition groups who want a quick handover of power to civilians.    Political analysts and Western diplomats say his advance could also be opposed by some officers, who believe he did not deserve his rapid rise through the military.
    Born in 1975, Hemedti is the youngest member of the TMC and unlike its other generals has never attended a military college.    His success was largely due to his close ties to Bashir.
    RSF fighters, armed with assault rifles, machine guns mounted on trucks and rocket-propelled grenades, are better paid than some army officers.    They were hardened by the war in Darfur against rebels who rose up against the government.
    “There is no junior or senior army officer who accepts what Hemedti is doing,” said political analyst Faisal Saleh.
    There are no signs of hostility between the RSF and the army.    Ties between junta leader Burhan and Hemedti appear strong.
    “He is trying to cooperate as much as possible with the army,” said Khalid al-Tagani, a prominent newspaper editor and political analyst.
    But this does not rule out the possibility of violence, especially if Hemedti pushes hard to consolidate his position, according to Western diplomats and political analysts.
    “I don’t expect a civil war like in Libya or Syria.    But in the long term it could turn into confrontation,” said Saleh.
SHREWD OPERATOR
    Hemedti used to be a commander of Arab militias that were later transformed into the RSF and were accused by human rights groups of genocide in the Darfur war that began in 2003. Bashir’s government denied the allegations.
    Hemedti now portrays himself as a man of the people who can heal a country which has suffered from multiple armed rebellions, U.S. sanctions, poverty and economic crises.
    When unrest over economic hardships erupted in December, Hemedti said the protesters’ demands were legitimate and spoke out against corruption.    Realising Bashir could not cling to power in the face of a mass uprising, he ensured his forces did not join a crackdown in which dozens of protesters were killed.
    Hemedti fires up audiences in simple, colloquial Arabic that has wide appeal across Sudan.
    “We can’t please everyone, but we will try to be active in everyone’s problems, the real problems.    Because every shepherd is responsible for his sheep,” Hemedti told army officers at the Khartoum prison where Bashir is held.
    Hemedti has paid airport workers their salaries for three months, told the RSF to crack down on the smuggling of flour and other commodities, and offered to help indebted prisoners.
    He has also sought to show he can handle foreign policy. On a trip to Saudi Arabia this month, he met its powerful crown prince and said he would back the kingdom against any threats and attacks from its rival, Iran, according to a TMC statement.
    Hemedti recently spoke for nearly 20 minutes after breaking the Ramadan fast to an audience including the top official in the U.S. embassy and the Saudi ambassador, as well as local and international media. He said he favored “real democracy.”
    “Democracy is consultation … that’s it, we want real democracy,” he said in his speech, which was punctuated by applause and laughter.    “We want a man who comes in through the ballot box.    We want free and fair elections.”
(Reporting by Michael Georgy, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

5/30/2019 Saudi Arabia gathers Arab leaders over attacks on oil assets by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Marwa Rashad
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf is seen attends during preparatory meeting for the GCC,
Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Arab leaders gather in Saudi Arabia on Thursday for emergency summits that Riyadh hopes will deliver a strong message to Iran that regional powers will defend their interests against any threat following attacks on Gulf oil assets this month.
    Saudi and the United Arab Emirates, which have lobbied Washington to contain their foe Iran, have said they want to avoid war after drone strikes on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and the sabotage of oil tankers off the UAE coast.
    Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes, which were claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.    A top U.S. security official said Iranian mines were “almost certainly” used in the tanker. operation.    Tehran denies any involvement.
.     Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf told a gathering of his counterparts in Jeddah ahead of the summits that the attacks must be addressed with “strength and firmness.”
    “While summit leaders are likely to discuss how best to avoid a war, King Salman is equally determined to defend Saudi and Arab interests amid increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy, wrote in an opinion piece published by Al Arabiya.
    He said the meetings of Sunni Muslim Gulf leaders and Arab leaders at midnight in Mecca would discuss Shi’ite Iran’s “interference” in Arab affairs.
    Tensions have risen between the United States and Iran after Washington quit a multinational nuclear deal with Iran, re-imposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Gulf.
    U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Wednesday that the attack near a UAE bunkering hub was connected to the strike on pumping stations on the kingdom’s East-West pipeline — both alternative oil shipping routes to the Strait of Hormuz — and a rocket attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone.
    “There is no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who is responsible for this and I think it’s important that the leadership in Iran know that we know,” Bolton said of the operation against four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers.
    He said the United States was trying to take a “prudent and responsible” approach but warned Tehran against any new attacks.
    An Iranian official dismissed Bolton’s remarks as “a ludicrous claim.”    The Islamic Republic has said it would defend itself against any military or economic aggression.
GULF FAULTLINES
    During the U.S. adviser’s visit to Abu Dhabi, officials activated a defense cooperation agreement signed earlier this year between the United States and the UAE, which hosts a U.S. air base.
    Gulf states have a joint defense force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the 39-year-old alliance has been fractured by a dispute that has seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC Egypt impose a political and economic boycott on Qatar since mid-2017.
    Saudi King Salman invited Qatar’s ruler, whose country is home to the largest U.S. military base in the region, to the Mecca summits.    Qatar said Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani would attend, the highest level Qatari official to visit the kingdom since the rift.
    Iraq and Oman, which have good ties with Tehran and Washington, have said they are working to reduce tensions.    Doha, which shares a giant gas field with Iran, has offered to help.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a trip to Iraq this month that Tehran wanted balanced ties with Gulf neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.
    One of the UAE’s main newspapers said in an editorial, which are usually state-approved, that the offer was “bizarre.”
    “No Mr Zarif.    We are not buying your ‘nice neighbor’ routine,” said the front-page editorial in Gulf News daily.
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

5/30/2019 President Trump: It’s a shame Netanyahu is facing second election by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reportedly be forced to run for election a second time.    He met with senior adviser Jared Kushner on Thursday, and assured Israel will continue to hold its “unbreakable bond” with the U.S. despite the news.
    Israel’s parliament voted to dissolve after Netanyahu was unable to form a ruling coalition, which annulled his reelection victory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before voting in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Israel’s parliament has voted to dissolve itself, sending the country to an unprecedented second snap election this year as
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition before a midnight deadline. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
    In a recent statement, President Trump said the move was disappointing:
    “…it’s too bad what happened in Israel.    It looked like a total win for Netanyahu, he’s a great guy.    He’s a great guy and now they’re back in the debate stage, and they’re back in the election stage.    That is too bad because they don’t need this.    I mean, they’ve got enough turmoil over there. It’s a tough place.    I feel very badly about that.”
    Experts have said the decision could conflict with the White House’s unveiling of its Middle East peace plan.    Officials initially planned to roll out the deal after Netanyahu had formed his new government.

5/31/2019 Rivalry with former ally clouds Netanyahu’s path - Lieberman spearheads another Israeli election by Josef Federman, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s complicated relationship with an angry former protege has sent Israeli politics into uncharted waters.
    By triggering an early election, Avigdor Lieberman has raised questions about the political future of the long-ruling prime minister who is bracing for expected criminal charges in a corruption case.
    He also has emerged as a feared kingmaker who could continue to threaten Netanyahu.
    “They’ve been going at each other for years,” said Reuven Hazan, a professor in the political science department at Hebrew University.
    In coalition negotiations over the years, he said that Lieberman has seemingly enjoyed dragging out talks “until the last minute.”
    The latest showdown, in which Lieberman blocked Netanyahu from forming a coalition government, was the culmination of years of up-anddown relations between student and mentor.    It ended in a vote early Thursday morning that dissolved parliament less than two months after elections and triggered another national vote in September.
    In a further embarrassment to the infuriated Netanyahu, it happened just as President Donald Trump’s Mideast team was arriving to promote a peace initiative.    A lengthy Israeli election campaign adds even more uncertainty to the U.S. plan.
    The rivals continued to exchange insults Thursday, with Lieberman accusing Netanyahu of creating a “cult of personality” and the prime minister accusing Lieberman of being a “serial toppler” of governments.
    Lieberman, a 60-year-old former nightclub bouncer, immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet republic of Moldova in the 1970s.
    He got his start in politics as an aide to Netanyahu, serving as his chief of staff during his first term as prime minister in the late 1990s.    He quickly resigned, however, to protest concessions Netanyahu made to the Palestinians and launched a new party, Yisrael Beitenu, appealing primarily to fellow Soviet immigrants.
    That set the stage for one of the longest and strangest relationships in Israeli politics. While the U.S.-educated Netanyahu has cultivated an image as a telegenic and worldly statesman, Lieberman speaks in a dour, Russian-accented monotone.     The sharp-tongued Lieberman has been the source of countless controversies. He has referred to Arab lawmakers as terrorist “collaborators,” calling for them to face the death penalty, and he led a failed attempt to require Arab citizens to take a loyalty oath.     Yet he has proven to be a valuable ally to Netanyahu, briefly merging their parties earlier this decade.    He has used his influence to secure top posts, including foreign minister and defense minister, but also has feuded with him.
    “Lieberman is very astute,” said Ashley Perry, a former adviser.    “He is a chess player literally and figuratively as he thinks long term and he sees the situation long term.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows a map from President Donald Trump
during statements to the press in Jerusalem on Thursday. ARIEL SCHALIT/AP

5/31/2019 Israeli forces kill Palestinian trying to cross border: officials
Relatives of Palestinian teenager Abdullah Ghaith hug each other as they react at a hospital
in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager who was trying to climb a security fence and cross into Israel from the occupied West Bank on Friday, an Israeli official and Palestinian witnesses said.
    Palestinian witnesses told Reuters the 16-year-old had tried to climb the border fence near Bethlehem in the West Bank to visit Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
    Palestinian health officials said the teenager died from a gunshot and a 21-year-old was also shot and wounded.
    A spokesman for Israel’s border police said that troops had shot a Palestinian who tried to infiltrate into Israel by scaling the fence and the incident was being investigated.
    Israel has been on high alert during the month-long Ramadan holiday, particularly after a stabbing attack in Jerusalem early on Friday in which two Israelis were injured and the assailant was killed.
    There have been sporadic Palestinian street attacks on Israelis since U.S-brokered peace talks broke down in 2014.
    Palestinians say many of the attacks are at least partly born out of frustration at Israeli restrictions. Israel says the attacks are fueled by incitement and sometimes motivated by assailants’ personal problems.
    Palestinians have said access to the holy city through West Bank check points has been relatively open, with all women and men over the age of 40 being allowed in.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Editing by William Maclean)

5/31/2019 Palestinian stabs Israelis, shot dead by police: spokesman
Israeli security personnel patrol the area outside Damascus gate following a security
incident by the gate in Jerusalem's old city, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian stabbed two Israelis in Jerusalem on Friday, wounding one of them critically, before being shot dead by police, an Israeli police spokesman said.
    The attack occurred on the last Friday of the Ramadan holiday, when thousands of Muslim worshippers were expected to come to a holy site in Jerusalem’s old city and police had deployed extra units to the area.
    One Israeli was critically injured in the stabbing attack and a second sustained moderate wounds, police said in a statement.
    “Terrorist shot by police who responded,” the statement said.    A spokesman added that the Palestinian was killed.
(Reporting by Roleen Tafakji and Sinan Abu Mazer; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/31/2019 Iranians, Iraqis march to back Palestinians, reject Trump Mideast plan
Iraqi Shi'ite Muslims march during a parade marking the annual al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) on the last Friday
of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Baghdad, Iraq May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    DUBAI/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Iranians marking the annual “Quds (Jerusalem) Day” in the Islamic Republic on Friday condemned a planned Middle East peace plan touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as the “deal of the century.”
    State television said state-sponsored marches were being held in 950 communities across Iran and showed demonstrators carrying banners with slogans such as “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine” and “Death to America” and “Death to Israel
    Marchers also set fire to a Trump mask and Israeli and U.S. flags, according to pictures on Iranian news websites.
    Trump’s plan is to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Arab donor countries before grappling with thorny political issues at the heart of the conflict.    Palestinian officials have already spurned it, believing it will be heavily biased in favor of Israel.    Iran said it would fail.
    “No to the deal of the century” read a banner splashed across the news screen on state TV, which also showed a Quds Day march in neighboring Iraq’s capital Baghdad, where thousands of fighters from powerful Shi’ite militias took to the streets.
    “Al-Quds day in Baghdad, in other Iraqi provinces, and across the world, expresses rejection of the ‘deal of the century’, which is being planned by Trump in order to dissolve the Palestinian cause in own way,” said Mo’een al-Kathem, a member of Baghdad’s provincial council.
    The Iraqi militiamen marched in combat fatigues but were unarmed and did not showcase military vehicles and heavy weaponry, a contrast to previous years when they took the parade as an opportunity to showcase combat prowess.
    Numbers were consistent with annual turnout but there was a noted absence of influential militia leaders who usually mark the day by delivering fiery speeches critical of Israel and expressing gratitude to Iran for its backing.
    Quds Day was launched by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and is held on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
    Opposition to Israel is a cornerstone of Shi’ite-led Iran.    It backs Palestinian and Lebanese Islamist militant groups opposed to peace with Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognize.
BAHRAIN CONFERENCE
    Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite militias are backed and trained by Iran.    They helped retake swathes of land captured by Islamic State alongside Iraqi government forces supported by a U.S.-led international coalition, but tensions between Tehran and Washington have spilled over into Baghdad.
    Nonetheless, Baghdad has sought to calm rising tensions between its two main allies, fearing an outbreak of war would damage Iraq’s fragile internal security.    Militia leaders have vast political influence and have been striking a less inflammatory tone over the past few weeks.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the Trump plan would fail, and President Hassan Rouhani said after joining the march on Friday: “Undoubtedly, the deal of the century will become the bankruptcy of the century and will not lead anywhere,” IRNA reported.
    Speakers at rallies in Iran vowed that Palestinians would defeat Israel.
    “The strategy of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas has led to Israel’s successive defeats in recent years and if Israel makes the smallest move today it faces a barrage of Palestinian missiles,” Revolutionary Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
    Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired around 690 rockets toward Israel during a surge of deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel that lasted about two days in early May, the Israeli military said.
    Speaking after the march in the capital Tehran, parliament speaker Ali Larijani criticized U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states which have expressed support for Trump’s plan.
    “The Saudis, Emiratis and Bahrainis have given their money and are losing their good name … for a phoney American plan,” Larijani said in remarks carried live by state TV.
    Saudi Arabia and the UAE have said they will participate in a planned Bahrain conference to encourage investment in the Palestinian territories by Arab countries as part of the plan.
    Israel, the United States and its chief Sunni Arab ally Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of fomenting tension in the Middle East and of sponsoring terrorism.    Tehran denies this.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; Editing by William Maclean and Alison Williams)

5/31/2019 Turkey says no delay in delivery of S-400s from Russia
FILE PHOTO: People walk past Russian S-400 missile air defence systems before the military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary
of the battle of Stalingrad in World War Two, in the city of Volgograd, Russia February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Maleyeva/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The delivery schedule for Russia’s S-400 missile defence systems to Turkey is continuing as planned, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Friday, dismissing reports that Ankara was evaluating a delay in response to U.S. concerns.
    Turkey’s purchase of the Russian systems has strained its already tense ties with the United States, a NATO ally, which says the S-400s are not compatible with the alliance’s defence network and pose a threat to F-35 stealth fighter jets which Turkey is due to receive.
    Ankara has since proposed forming a working group to assess the U.S. concerns, but has yet to hear back from Washington on that proposal.    The United States has warned of sanctions if Turkey presses ahead with the deal.
    Turkey has said that as a NATO member it poses no threat to the United States and the sanctions should not apply.
    On Monday, broadcaster Haberturk quoted Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar as saying that the delivery of the S-400s may not happen in June, when Turkey previously said the missiles could arrive, but added the agreement was a done deal.
    Aksoy said that procurement of the S-400 systems was continuing as scheduled and the working group offer was still on the table.
    “Reports in some media outlets about Turkey evaluating delaying the S-400 procurement upon the request of the United States do not reflect the truth,” he said in a statement.    “The process of procuring S-400s from Russia is continuing as planned.”
    Objecting to the purchase, the United States in late March halted delivery of equipment related to the F-35 to Turkey, which is both a buyer and a production partner in the program.    The move was the first concrete step of what could eventually be the full removal of Turkey from the F-35 program.
    On Tuesday, sources told Reuters that the United States was seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots on the Lockheed Martin F-35 jets over Ankara’s decision to continue with the S-400 deal.
    The following day, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to meet on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Japan next month, the Turkish presidency said, adding that Erdogan had reiterated Turkey’s working group offer during their phone call.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

5/31/2019 Saudi Arabia says firm stand needed to deter Iran, Iraq demurs by Marwa Rashad and Aziz El Yaakoubi
A journalist watches the speech of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz on tv at the media center
during the 14th Islamic Summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed
    MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told an emergency Arab summit on Friday that decisive action was needed to stop Iranian “escalations” following attacks on Gulf oil assets, as U.S. officials said a military deployment had deterred Tehran.
    The right of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to defend their interests after the attacks on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and tankers off the UAE were supported in a Gulf Arab statement and a separate communique issued after the wider summit.
    Tehran denies any involvement in the attacks and in a sign of regional tensions, Iraq, which has good ties with neighboring Iran and Washington, said it objected to the Arab communique, which stated that any cooperation with Tehran should be based on “non-interference in other countries.”
    “The absence of a firm deterrent stance against Iranian behavior is what led to the escalation we see today,” King Salman told the two consecutive meetings late on Thursday.
    The ruler of the world’s top crude exporter said Shi’ite Iran’s development of nuclear and missile capabilities and its threats on world oil supplies posed a risk to regional and global security.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that attacks on four vessels near a major bunkering hub, just outside the Strait of Hormuz, were “efforts by Iranians to raise the price of crude oil around the world.”
    Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes.    The attacks were claimed by the Iran-aligned Houthi group which has been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen for four years.
    U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday that evidence of Iran being behind the tanker attacks would be presented to the U.N. Security Council as early as next week.
    “The kingdom is keen to preserve the stability and security of the region, to spare it the scourge of war and to realize peace and stability,” King Salman said.
    Iran, which is locked in several proxy wars with Saudi Arabia in the region, rejected what it called “baseless” accusations made at the summit, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
    “We see the Saudi effort to mobilize (regional) opinion as part of the hopeless process followed by America and the Zionist regime (Israel) against Iran,” IRNA quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.
IRAQ PLEA
    Iraqi President Barham Salih, asking the gathering to support Iraq’s stability, said that rising tensions with Iran could spark a war if not managed well and voiced hope that Iran’s security would not be targeted.
    Pompeo has warned Iraqi leaders that if they failed to keep in check Iran-backed militias, which now form part of Baghdad’s security apparatus, the United States would respond with force.
    Tensions have risen between the United States and Iran after U.S. President Donald Trump a year ago withdrew Washington from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, re-imposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Gulf.
    Bolton has said that Iranian mines were “almost certainly” used in the tanker attacks.    An Iranian official dismissed that as “a ludicrous claim.”
    The Islamic Republic has said it would defend itself against any aggression.    Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri has said Tehran was not allowed to pursue development of nuclear weapons as it was banned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    The final communique said regional stability required the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along 1967 borders to include Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
MILITARY DEPLOYMENT
    U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said on Thursday that a repositioning of U.S. military assets in the region had deterred Iran, but that the United States would respond with military force if its interests are targeted.
    The United States has deployed 900 additional troops to the region and extended the stay of 600 other service members, after speeding up deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and sending bombers and additional Patriot missiles.
    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the summit it was time to renew discussions on joint Arab defense mechanisms.
    The United States and the UAE, which hosts a U.S. air base, on Wednesday activated a defense cooperation agreement signed earlier this year.
    Gulf states have a joint defense force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the alliance has been fractured by a boycott imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC Egypt since mid-2017.
    The Gulf communique said the six nations had discussed the GCC defense mechanism during their meeting.
    Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, whose country hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, attended the summits, the most senior Qatari official to visit the kingdom since the embargo.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Ali Abdelaty and Mohamed Elsherifin Cairo, Guy Faulconbridge in London, Lisa Barrington and Sylvia Westall in Dubai, Eric Knecht in Doha and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Grant McCool and Jason Neely)

5/31/2019 Iran rejects ‘baseless’ Arab summit accusations: state media
General view of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2019.
Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Friday rejected what it called “baseless” accusations made at an Arab summit, saying Saudi had joined the United States and Israel in a “hopeless” effort to mobilize regional opinion against Tehran, state media reported.
    Saudi Arabia’s king told an emergency Arab summit that decisive action was needed to stop Iranian “escalations” in the region following attacks on Gulf oil assets, as American officials said a U.S. military deployment had deterred Tehran.
    “Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi… rejected the baseless accusations by the heads of certain Arab countries … and said ‘We see the Saudi effort to mobilize (regional) opinion as part of the hopeless process followed by America and the Zionist regime against Iran’,” state news agency IRNA said.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)
[This is why I put Iran in the King Of The East because they are not in the same mind frame as the South.].

5/31/2019 In Jerusalem, thousands pray at Al-Aqsa on last Friday of Ramadan by Stephen Farrell
Palestinian men spray water on children to cool them down before prayers on the last Friday of the
holy month of Ramadan near the Dome of the Rock, in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and
to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Muslims attended prayers at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem amid tight security on the last Friday of Ramadan, hearing a message of defiance against Israeli control of one of the most sensitive venues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Worshippers, including Palestinians and pilgrims from around the world, sheltered under umbrellas as volunteers sprayed them with water around Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as Temple Mount.
    Security at the site was heavy after an earlier stabbing attack in the city, in which two Israelis were injured and a Palestinian teenager suspected of carrying out the attack was killed by Israeli security forces.
    Later on Friday Muslims celebrate Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power, on which they believe that the sacred text of the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad by Allah.br>     Israel captured the Old City and the rest of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, occupying and later annexing it.
    Palestinians do not recognize Israel’s authority in East Jerusalem, which they want as the capital of a future Palestinian state that also includes the West Bank and Gaza.    They are extremely sensitive to the presence of Israeli security forces in and around the Noble Sanctuary.
    Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank and Jerusalem have not traditionally marked the annual “Quds (Jerusalem) Day” initiated by Iran in 1979 and which coincides with Ramadan’s last Friday.
    There was no mention of Quds Day by Ikrima Sabri, the preacher who delivered the Friday sermon.    But he issued a message of defiance to the crowd, which religious officials estimated at 260,000.
    This is a message to all those who wish to take over Al-Aqsa Mosque and to the attackers and those who storm it: don’t exhaust yourselves, you will never have control over one inch of Al-Aqsa, it is a red line,”< he said in a message apparently aimed at Israelis following recent tensions with security forces.
    But in Gaza, where the Islamist militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad are backed by Iran, Quds Day was commemorated.
    On Thursday Yehya Al-Sinwar, Hamas’s chief in Gaza, restated Hamas’s opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s forthcoming Mideast peace plan.    The first stage of that plan is due to be an economic conference in Manama, Bahrain, where Trump officials will encourage Arab countries to invest in the Palestinian Territories.
    What audacity is Trump announcing?    He wants to sell Jerusalem to the Zionist enemy, and he wants the Arabs to pay the price,” Sinwar told a meeting north of Gaza City.    “This deal will not pass as long as we are alive.”
    Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, addressed the meeting by video-link from Iran.
    “Efforts to convene the Manama conference and the normalization attempts by some come in the course of the infamous conspiracy of the ‘Deal of the Century’ which will fail because of the resistance of the Palestinian people,” Shamkhani, speaking in Arabic, told the audience.
    Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014.    Trump touts the peace plan as the “deal of the century," but the Palestinians have boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and they fear the plan will fall far short of their core demands.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Editing by William Maclean)

5/31/2019 Palestinians say U.S. ‘deal of the century’ will finish off their state by Samia Nakhoul
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City
of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The U.S. blueprint to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, still in draft form after almost two years, is seen by Palestinians, and by some Arab officials and politicians, as a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.
    The initiative, driven by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, was billed by the U.S. president as the “deal of the century.”
    While its precise outlines have yet to be revealed, Palestinian and Arab sources who have been briefed on the draft plan say Kushner has jettisoned the two-state solution – the long-standing U.S. and international formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.
    After several postponements, Washington plans a first formal outing of the economic components of the plan at a “Peace for Prosperity” workshop in June in Bahrain.
    The plan faces possible delays due to political upheaval in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must fight another election after failing to form a government.
    Kushner and Trump, with backgrounds in real estate rather than diplomacy, seem to be approaching this hitherto insoluble conflict as a transaction, three Arab officials briefed on the plan said.
    If the politics keep failing, the reasoning seems to be, then try dangling tens of billions of dollars before the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors – and do a deal that could unlock prosperity for the Palestinians and security for Israel, these officials said.
    Politically, the deal envisages an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control, Palestinian officials briefed on the plan told Reuters.    Palestinians would be left with a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders.    Western and Arab sources confirmed the outline of the plan.
    Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, said “rumours” about an expansion into Egypt’s Sinai desert were false. He declined to give details of the political plan before it is released.
    On the decision not to use the term “two-state solution,” Grenblatt said: “We believe that using certain phrases and labels is not helpful because they lack detail and nuance – they mean different things to different people.    The detailed plan, once released, will show what we think may be best solution for the two parties.”
NOT BUYING IT
    The Palestinians are not buying it.
    “What we’re seeing from the plan is that it will blow up the Palestinians,” one Arab official told Reuters.    “The plan doesn’t give justice to the Palestinians.”
    “The Palestinian cause is being liquidated – no Jerusalem (as capital), no right of return for refugees, no sovereign state. That is why this American project is dangerous,” one senior Palestinian leader told Reuters.
    The deal as outlined so far has been dismissed by President Mahmoud Abbas’ western-backed Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    Abbas has boycotted political dealings with the Trump administration for 18 months.    This followed Trump’s decisions in 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
    Since then, the Trump administration has curtailed aid to the Palestinian Authority, shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation in Washington and cut off finance to UNRWA, the U.N. agency supporting Palestinian refugees.
    Washington meanwhile endorsed Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
    “In practice they have already started implementing ‘the deal of the century’,” the senior Palestinian leader said, “on the ground, step by step.”    “Today, the two-state solution has been scuttled.”
    Abbas is not alone in his view of the U.S. deal.
    It was rejected by the Islamist Hamas movement, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has only given conditional consent to a state in the occupied Palestinian territories.
    The PLO has dismissed the Kushner effort as an attempt to bribe Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation of the West Bank, a prelude to Israel annexing about half their territory and leaving them with scattered cantons.
    Hanan Ashrawi, a moderate Palestinian leader, tweeted that the Kushner plan and the Bahrain conference were just “a handout to make our captivity palatable.”
    Palestinian businessmen have opposed the Bahrain gathering despite a plea by Washington to attend, saying their political demands must be addressed in any peace plan.
    Qatar said economic prosperity cannot be achieved without political solutions acceptable to Palestinians.    Oman said anything that precludes the establishment of a Palestinian state will not be acceptable.     “We are not proposing an economic peace,” Greenblatt said.    “We know that is not acceptable to the Palestinians.    We’ve been very clear that the full plan includes a political component as well.    But the economic plan is an essential component to the full plan.”
MOVING ON?
    Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an influential think-tank and supporter of Israel, wrote after interviewing Kushner this month that the deal is a political disaster that should be abandoned.
    He said positive economic proposals could be lost by the attempt to skirt around Palestinian rights.
    “The only way to protect the long-term viability of the plan’s best aspects is to kill it,” he said.
    Satloff wrote that “unlike a real estate transaction in which one party gets the property and the other party gets the cash, a Middle East peace deal starts and ends with the two parties as neighbors, stuck with each other sharing a duplex for eternity.”
    Kushner meanwhile visited the Middle East this week seeking support for the June 25-26 Bahrain conference.
    The meeting is to talk about the cash.    The U.S. plan expects almost all of this – $50 billion to $70 billion – to be put up by Gulf Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Palestinian sources said.    Yet even that is now moot.
    Saudi Arabia, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the UAE, under Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, want to move on from a Palestinian conflict they believe has held back the Arab world.
    That means uniting with Israel against Iran and concentrating on domestic challenges such as economic reforms and confronting Islamist radicals.
    The Saudi crown prince maintains close ties with Kushner.    But his father, King Salman, has twice said there will be no deal unless Israel meets Palestinian rights to a state.
    “Kushner has been taken by surprise in his meetings in Riyadh recently, where there has definitely been a change in tone – in private and in public – by the Saudis,” said a senior western diplomat.
    Asked for comment, the White House referred to its earlier official statement on Kushner’s February meeting with the crown prince and the king which said they discussed “increasing cooperation” and efforts to facilitate peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
NEW REALITY
    The Palestinian official said it is clear that Israel “is creating a new reality on the ground” with the Trump administration’s help – not least by paving the way for the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
    The Palestinian and Arab officials briefed on the Kushner-Trump plan said its political contours, as explained to them, look like non-starters unless there is a peace deal.
    The essential part is Gaza: where 2 million Palestinians are shut into a strip between Israel and Egypt.    The idea is to expand it into the north of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, creating an area where Palestinians can live and work under Egyptian control.
    “The plan envisions Gaza stretching from Rafah (its southern border) to El Arish and some parts of Sinai.    This area will be a Palestinian expansion in which Palestinians can reside,” the Palestinian leader said.
    Big projects, such as an airport, a seaport, an industrial zone and power stations are envisaged, Palestinian sources briefed on the plan said.
    On the West Bank, the plan is for Israel to annex and join up the settlements, take the Jordan valley and make it the Israeli border with Jordan, and leave the Palestinians a bit less than half as “an autonomous mini-state under some form of self-government,” the senior Palestinian leader said.
    As for Jerusalem, Palestinians would get neighborhoods on the outskirts such as Abu Dis and Beit Hanina and Silwan: “not the real Jerusalem (but) they will tell them this is your Jerusalem,” the Palestinian leader added.
    Western diplomats and intelligence sources worry about how the plan might affect Egypt and Jordan.
    However much money is offered, these sources question whether Egyptians would happily relinquish territory.
    And Jordan fears a Trump-backed Israel is returning to an old theme: Jordan is Palestine and that is where the Palestinians of the West Bank should go, they say.
(This story was refiled to correct spelling of surnames in paragraphs 10 and 37)
(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Eric Knecht, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/1/2019 Saudi King Salman says will resolutely confront aggressive threats
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz is seen during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
May 30, 2019. Picture taken May 30, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said that a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca on Friday would seek to confront threats and work for the future of Arab and Islamic states.
    “We will resolutely confront aggressive threats and subversive activities,” King Salman said on Twitter as the summit began.
    Earlier on Friday, King Salman told an emergency Arab summit that decisive action was needed to stop Iranian “escalations” following attacks on Gulf oil assets, as U.S. officials said a military deployment had deterred Tehran.
(Reporting By Ali Abdelaty; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

6/1/2019 Lebanon’s Hezbollah vows to confront U.S. Middle East plan
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters via a screen during
a rally marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day) in Beirut, Lebanon May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah pledged on Friday to confront the U.S. Middle East plan that President Donald Trump has touted as “the deal of the century.”
    Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the heavily armed Shi’ite movement, said it was unlikely Washington and its allies would launch a war against Tehran as they would pay a heavy price.
    The U.S. military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the region to counter what it called “clear indications” of threats from Iran.
    The U.S. special envoy for Iran says the steps had deterred Tehran.    But he said that Washington would respond to any attacks with military force, as Arab leaders met on Thursday to discuss what they deem a rising threat from Tehran.
    Saudi Arabia’s king told an emergency Arab summit on Friday that decisive action was needed to stop Iranian “escalations” in the region after attacks on Gulf oil assets.
    The United States knows that “war against Iran will not stop at Iran’s borders,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech at a rally marking the annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day.    “The entire region will burn. … All U.S. forces and interests in the region will be annihilated.”
    He said the “balance of power” was preventing a U.S.-Iran war, which he warned would also hit U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.
    Nasrallah described a U.S. blueprint to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, as a “historic crime” that must be stopped.    “This is a religious, moral, humanitarian, jihadi duty,” he said.
    The first stage of the plan, still in draft form after almost two years, is expected to be unveiled at a late June conference in Bahrain.    It seeks to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Arab donor states before grappling with thorny political issues at the heart of the conflict.
    Palestinian and Arab sources briefed on the draft say it has jettisoned the two-state solution – the long-standing U.S. and world formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.
    Nasrallah also denied charges that Hezbollah has factories in Lebanon to produce precision-guided missiles, but said it has enough of those missiles “to change the face of the region.”
    Israel and the United States believe Hezbollah has sought home-grown production of precision-guided missiles that could paralyze Israeli infrastructure.
    Israel sees Lebanon’s Hezbollah, against which it fought a month-long war in 2006, as the biggest threat on its borders.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by Andrew Heavens and Leslie Adler)

6/2/2019 Israel strikes Syria after rockets fired at Golan
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli soldier walks past armoured Israeli military vehicles in the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli military said its aircraft struck Syrian army targets on Sunday after rockets were fired at the Golan Heights, and Syria’s state media said three soldiers were killed in the second such flare-up in a week.
    Syrian television reported big explosions near Damascus before dawn and said air defences had “confronted the enemy.”
    The Israeli military said it struck Syrian artillery and aerial defence batteries in retaliation for Saturday’s firing of two rockets at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
    An Israeli military spokeswoman said it was still unclear who had fired the rockets but the Syrian army was held responsible for any attack launched from Syrian territory.
    “We will not tolerate any firing into our territory and we will respond with great force to any aggression against us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
    On Monday, Israel’s military said it attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft position that had fired on one of its warplanes, and Syrian state media said a soldier had been killed in the incident.
    In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against its regional arch foe Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which it calls the biggest threat to its borders.
    Iran and Hezbollah are fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war, and Israel says they are trying to turn Syria into a new front against Israelis.
    Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.    Israel later annexed the captured territory in a move unrecognized by most of the international community, except for the United States.    President Donald Trump announced U.S.-recognition for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in March.
    The White House said on Wednesday that national security adviser John Bolton and his Israeli and Russian counterparts will meet in Jerusalem this month to discuss regional security issues.    Russia intervened militarily in the Syrian war on Assad’s behalf in 2015, turning the tide of the war.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Ali Abdelaty in Cairo; writing by Angus McDowall in Beirut; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Clarence Fernandez)

6/2/2019 Tunisia PM Chahed elected as leader of new secular party
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed waves during a meeting of the 'Long Live Tunisia' party
in Tunis, Tunisia May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s secular Tahya Tounes party, founded this year, elected Prime Minister Youssef Chahed as its president on Sunday, confirming expectations of his leadership months before parliamentary and presidential elections.
    The new party was formed in January after months of wrangling within ruling coalition party Nidaa Tounes, resulting in the resignation of dozens of leaders.
    The fragile coalition, which also includes the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, is struggling to pass economic reforms demanded by foreign lenders.
    Tahya Tounes party (Long Live Tunisia) includes ministers in the government of Chahed and dozens of lawmakers.    The party said it is seeking a comfortable win in the next elections to pursue stalled economic reforms.
    Elections are due by the end of this year, with Ennahda, Tunisia’s largest party, favoured to win, according to polls.
    Chahed will continue as Prime minister until the next elections and will not resign, political sources said.
    The North African country has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success because protests toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 without triggering the kind of violent upheavals seen in Syria and Libya.
    But nine cabinets since then have failed to resolve Tunisia’s economic problems, including high inflation and unemployment.    Impatience is rising among lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, who have kept the country afloat.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Chris Reese)

6/2/2019 Sisi says Egypt will not accept anything against Palestinian wishes
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the Arab summit in
Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, speaking about the unannounced U.S. Mideast peace plan, said on Sunday that his country would not accept anything undesired by the Palestinians.
    Speaking after breaking the Ramadan fast at a hotel in Cairo, Sisi also appeared to dismiss suggestions that Egypt might make concessions as part of the U.S. plan.
    The blueprint, still in draft form and billed by U.S. President Donald Trump as the “deal of the century,” jettisons the two-state solution to ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Palestinian and Arab sources.
    It envisages an expansion of Gaza into parts of northern Sinai, under Egyptian control, Palestinian officials have told Reuters.
    Referring to the U.S. plan, Sisi said that “Egypt will not accept anything that the Palestinians do not want.”
    “You are asking what’s the story and what does Sisi have in mind, and will he give up anything to anyone,” apparently referring to reports that Egypt could be required to allow areas in Sinai adjacent to the Gaza border to be part of the deal.
    “Can you imagine that I would give something up. … But, why?
(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Peter Cooney)

6/2/2019 Car blast hits rebel-held north Syria
People gather at the site of a car bomb blast in Azaz, Syria June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A car bomb exploded in a north Syrian town held by Turkey-backed rebels on Sunday, killing at least 10 people, rescue workers and medics said, after a war monitor had reported blasts hitting other insurgent-held areas in the northwest.
    The blast was the largest in months to target Azaz, near the Turkish border.    It struck a marketplace that was busy late in the evening after the daily Ramadan fast had finished.
    Turkey-backed Syrian rebels control a strip of territory along the frontier between the countries.
    It adjoins the enclave in northwest Syria that is the only major territory still held by groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has been the target of a government offensive since late April.
    That enclave was also hit by a series of blasts on Sunday said a war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.    Backed by Russian air power and Iran-backed militia groups, Assad has regained control over most of Syria.
    The rebels’ northwest enclave is dominated by the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham group, the latest iteration of the former al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.
    Islamic State militants have repeatedly carried out attacks across northern Syria in areas held by insurgents and by Kurdish-led forces.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Cooney)

6/2/2019 Qatar says it has reservations about Arab statements on Iran
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/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Qatar said on Sunday it has reservations about hardline statements on Iran made at emergency summits of Gulf and wider Arab states called by Saudi Arabia, becoming the second Arab country to reject the statement following Iraq.
    Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, said statements at the summits were not adopted using traditional procedures.
    “The statements condemned Iran but did not refer to a moderate policy to speak with Tehran,” he said in remarks reported by Qatar’s state-owned Al Jazeera television.
    “They adopted Washington policy toward Iran, rather than a policy that puts neighborhood with Iran into consideration,” he added.
    Saudi Arabia’s King Salman convened the emergency summits on May 30 to discuss drone strikes on oil installations in Saudi Arabia and attacks on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the United Arab Emirates coast.
    Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, whose country hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, attended the summits, the most senior Qatari official to visit the kingdom since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed an economic and diplomatic boycott on Qatar in 2017.    The embargo was imposed over allegations that Qatar supports terrorism and is aligning itself with regional foe Iran.    Qatar denies the allegations.
    The right of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to defend their interests after the attacks on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and tankers off the UAE were supported in a Gulf Arab statement and a separate communique issued after the wider summit.
    Tehran denies any involvement in the attacks. In a sign of regional tensions, Iraq, which has good ties with neighboring Iran and with Washington, said it objected to the Arab communique, which stated that any cooperation with Tehran should be based on “non-interference in other countries.”
    U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday that evidence of Iran being behind the tanker attacks would be presented to the U.N. Security Council as early as next week.
    Tensions have risen between the United States and Iran after U.S. President Donald Trump a year ago withdrew Washington from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, re-imposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Gulf.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh,; Editing by Peter Graff and Will Dunham)

6/2/2019 Ultra-nationalist Jews’ visit stokes Palestinian anger at Jerusalem holy site
Palestinians stand near Israeli policemen as clashes erupted with Palestinians on "Jerusalem Day" on the compound known
to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Hundreds of ultra-nationalist Jews guarded by riot police streamed their way into the Jerusalem compound revered both in Judaism and Islam on Sunday, resulting in violence between police and outraged Muslim worshippers.
    The highly provocative visit came during the final days of the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims flock to pray at the compound’s al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam where non-Muslim prayer has been banned since 1187.
    Police fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to disperse worshippers, some of whom threw stones and chairs as the Jewish groups walked across the esplanade in front of the al-Aqsa to angry calls of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great).
    One Palestinian man suffered a head injury, while others were treated from gas inhalation inside the compound, a medic from the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
    Revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, it is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    The director of the al-Aqsa mosque, Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, said the action by the Jewish groups broke with the status quo of the Israeli authorities not allowing such visits in the last 10 days of Ramadan.
    But Sunday coincided with Israel’s annual Jerusalem Day, when Jewish pilgrims, including ultra-nationalists who claim an exclusive right to what once was the site of two biblical temples, walk through the complex under heavy Israeli guard.
    Kiswani said the visit of what he described as up to 800 Jewish “extremists” had not been coordinated with the Muslim authorities at the compound and accused riot police of attacking worshippers.
    Israeli police said they had taken “security measures after disturbances by Arabs.”
    Security at the site has been heavy since a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on Friday in which two Israelis were injured and a Palestinian teenager suspected of carrying out the assault was killed by Israeli forces.
    On Friday, tens of thousands of Muslims attended prayers at al-Aqsa mosque, hearing a message of defiance against Israeli control of the venue.
    Israel claims all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in the 1967 conflict, as its capital.    Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
    Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014 and both sides are still awaiting a promised peace proposal from U.S. President Donald Trump that he has termed the “deal of the century,”
    Palestinians have boycotted the Trump administration since it broke with decades of U.S. policy and international consensus by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. They fear the Trump plan will fall short of their core statehood demand.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/3/2019 Kushner: Palestinians deserve self-determination but uncertain they can govern themselves by Matt Spetalnick and Katanga Johnson
FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law, speaks during a discussion on
"Inside the Trump Administration's Middle East Peace Effort" at a dinner symposium of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy (WINEP) in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the Palestinians deserve “self-determination,” but stopped short of backing Palestinian statehood and expressed uncertainty over their ability to govern themselves.
    Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and an architect of the White House’s yet-to-be-released Middle East peace plan, told the “Axios on HBO” television program it would be a “high bar” when asked if the Palestinians could expect freedom from Israeli military and government interference.
    The Palestinian leadership has boycotted a diplomatic effort that Trump has touted as the “deal of the century.”
    Although Kushner has been drafting the plan for two years under a veil of secrecy, it is seen by Palestinian and some Arab officials as tilting heavily in Israel’s favor and denying them a state of their own.
    Kushner again avoided saying explicitly whether the plan would include a two-state solution, the bedrock of U.S. policy for decades, calling for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
    But he said: “I do think they should have self-determination.    I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan.”
    The Palestinian Authority has said it will not attend a U.S.-sponsored investment conference in late June in Bahrain where the economic component is expected to be unveiled.
    U.S. officials have been vague about the timing for releasing proposals for resolving the thorny political issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    But experts are skeptical of the Trump administration’s chances for success.
    With Israel heading for new elections in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government, uncertainty is expected to further delay the plan’s rollout.
    Asked whether he believed the Palestinians were capable of governing themselves without Israeli interference, Kushner said: “That’s a very good question.    That’s one that we’ll have to see.    The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.”
    The Palestinians, he said, “need to have a fair judicial system … freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions” before the Palestinian areas can become “investable.”
    Asked whether he understood why the Palestinians might not trust him, Kushner said: “I’m not here to be trusted” and that he believed the Palestinian people would judge the plan based on whether “they think this will allow them to have a pathway to a better life or not.”
    The Palestinian leadership has refused to deal with the Trump administration since late 2017 when the president decided to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered his assessment of the plan’s prospects in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders last week, saying: “One might argue” that it is “unexecutable” and it might not “gain traction,” according to an audio recording, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
    He expressed hope, however, that the deal was not simply dismissed out of hand, the Post reported.
    “We’re doing our best to help the Middle East to get a peace plan,” Trump told reporters when asked about the Pompeo recording.    “I understand why (Pompeo) said that. Most people would say it can’t be done.    I think it can be done.”br>< (Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

6/3/2019 Trump urges Israel to ‘get their act together’ amid election turmoil
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for London from the
White House in Washington, U.S., June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, voicing impatience with close ally Israel, said on Sunday he was not happy about electoral upheaval there and urged the Israelis to “get their act together.”
    Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve parliament on Thursday, paving the way for a new election on Sept. 17 after veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government before a midnight deadline.
    Trump is expected to keep up his support for Netanyahu, a right-wing leader who has forged close ties with the U.S. president over their tough stances on the Palestinians and Israel’s arch-foe Iran.
    But the latest uncertainties clouding Israeli politics are expected to further delay the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan, which already faces deep skepticism from many experts.    Palestinians have boycotted the effort, seeing it as heavily tilted in favor of Israel and denying them a state of their own.
    The need to go to the polls again so soon after a closely contested April 9 election in which Netanyahu had claimed victory showed a new weakness in a leader who has been in power for the past decade.
    “Israel is all messed up in their election,” Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving on a European trip.    “They have to get their act together.”
    “Bibi got elected and now they have to go through the process again?    We’re not happy about that,” Trump said.
(Reporting by Katanga Johnson; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney)

6/3/2019 Trump calls on Russia, Syria to stop bombing Idlib province
Displaced Syrians gather during a protest calling for an end to the strikes and for Ankara to open the frontier at the
Atmeh crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib governorate, Syria May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday urged Russia and Syrian government forces to stop bombing Syria’s Idlib province, following a Friday Kremlin statement that signaled Moscow would continue to back a month-long Syrian government offensive there.
    “Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran, are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians.    The World is watching this butchery.    What is the purpose, what will it get you? STOP!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post.
    On Friday, the Kremlin said it was Turkey’s responsibility to stop rebels in Syria’s Idlib province from firing on civilian and Russian targets.    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has long complained to Moscow about the Russian-backed Syrian government strikes against rebels who control the country’s northwest.
    The offensive in Idlib is the biggest escalation of the war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel opponents of his government since last summer, and has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis as Syrians displaced by the fighting seek shelter at the Turkish border.
    More than 200,000 people have fled the violence in Idlib since the strikes began at the end of April, according to the United Nations.
    When asked on Sunday night before departing on a state visit to Britain what he intended to do about the massacre of civilians in Idlib, Trump told reporters he did not like the situation.    “Bad things are happening,” Trump said.
(Reporting by Julia Harte and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Will Dunham)

6/3/2019 Saudi’s Falih says OPEC+ consensus emerging on output deal in second half
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih speaks to the media after the OPEC 14th Meeting of the Joint
Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said consensus was emerging among the OPEC+ group of oil producers to continue working towards oil market stability in the second half of the year, the Saudi-owned Arab News newspaper reported on Monday.
    Oil prices in May sustained their worst monthly fall in six months on worries that trade disputes would hit demand for crude.
    Saudi Arabia produced 9.65 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil in May, a Saudi industry source said, a deeper cut than its target set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+.
    The output target of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia under the OPEC+ supply agreement is 10.3 million bpd.    In April, the country produced 9.742 million bpd, OPEC data shows.    The output cut deal runs until the end of June.
    “We will do what is needed to sustain market stability beyond June.    To me, that means drawing down inventories from their currently elevated levels,” Arab News quoted Falih as saying.
    U.S. crude stockpiles fell less than expected last week, data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Thursday.    Stocks are near their highest since July 2017 and about 5% above the five-year average.
    Feeding bearish market sentiment, the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, are embroiled in a trade war that has stoked fears of a global economic slowdown which in turn would weigh on oil demand.
    But at the same time, U.S. sanctions on OPEC members Venezuela and Iran have slashed their oil exports.
    “Increasing trade friction and potential barriers would certainly have a negative impact on the global economy and oil demand growth.    But the direction of the negotiations (between the United States and China) is hard to predict,” Falih said.
    “You can be sure that we will be responsive … These levels (of volatility) are totally unwarranted in light of both the current market fundamentals, which remain healthy, and the high levels of discipline by OPEC+ producers.”
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in London; Editing by Dale Hudson and Louise)

6/3/2019 At least 13 killed in Sudan protest raid by OAN Newsroom
    At least 13 people are dead in Sudan amid ongoing anti-government protests.    The raid was reportedly conducted by Sudan’s Transitional Military Council on Monday.    The interim government group stormed protests outside its army headquarters in the country’s capital and open fired.
    The incident comes after weeks of stand-off between Sudan’s civilian-based protest alliance and its interim military council in a fight for civilian rule.
A protester wearing a Sudanese flag flashes the victory sign in front of burning tires and debris on road 60, near Khartoum’s
army headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday, June 3, 2019. Sudanese protest leaders say at least 13 people have been
killed Monday in the military’s assault on the sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum. (AP Photo)
    Protesters believe the raid was held by government officials in an act of betrayal against its people.
    “We, as Sudanese, hold the security forces accountable, based on eye witnesses, for the dispersal of the sit-in.    The security forces have betrayed the Sudanese people, from security to police and army, as well as Rapid Security Forces.    People have died, others were injured.” — Walid Farouq, protester.
    This comes after talks collapsed last month between the Sudanese government and opposition protesters.    Officials had discussed how power should be divided, following the overthrow of the country’s long-time president in April.

6/3/2019 Tunnel crossing between Lebanon and Israel went 22 storeys deep
The inside of a cross-border tunnel which Israel said was dug from Lebanon into Israel, is seen during a media tour
organised by the Israeli military near Zar'it in northern Israel, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Gil Eliyahu
    ZARIT, Israel (Reuters) – The Israeli army on Monday showed the inside of a sophisticated tunnel passing deep underground from Lebanon into northern Israel, saying it was intended for use by Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
    The tunnel was rigged with electrical wiring, fuse boxes and communications equipment.    An army spokesman said it began almost a kilometer (mile) away inside Lebanon and reached depths of some 80 meters (265 feet) – about the height of a 22-storey building – as it crossed into Israel, near the town of Zarit.
    It came to light earlier this year during an army operation in which a number of attack tunnels dug by Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah were discovered and sealed off, the military said.
    Hezbollah’s leader, in response to Israel’s tunnel operation, said in January that his group has been able to enter Israel for years.    But he stopped short of acknowledging that the tunnels were the handiwork of Hezbollah, citing the heavily armed group’s policy of “ambiguity” on military matters and a desire to deny Israel a pretext to attack.
    Israel and Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006.    While they have at times traded blows within Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Israel-Lebanon border has mostly been quiet.
    Israel regards Iran as its biggest foe and Hezbollah as the main threat on its borders.    It has waged an increasingly open campaign of military strikes against them both in Syria, where they have fought on the government side in the civil war.
(Reporting by Avi Ohayon; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/4/2019 Erdogan says Turkey committed to Russian missile defense deal
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves a mosque after attending the Eid al-Fitr prayers to mark the end
of the holy month of Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was out of the question for Turkey to take a step back from its deal with Moscow to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
    Speaking to reporters after morning prayers, Erdogan also said an offer from the United States to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey was not as good as the Russian offer.
    “There is a certain step that we took, there is an agreement here and we are committed to it,” Erdogan said of the deal with Moscow.    “It is out of the question for us to take a step back.”
    Turkey’s deal to buy the Russian S-400s, which could be delivered within weeks, has alarmed Washington and Turkey’s other Western NATO allies, who say the Russian system is incompatible with NATO’s defense network and poses a threat to U.S. F-35 fighter jets that Turkey also plans to buy.
    Erdogan said Turkey had offered to set up groups with the United States to work together on the issue, without saying what Washington’s response had been.    He also said Turkey had also been discussing a U.S. offer to sell Patriot missiles.
    “However, unfortunately the U.S. side has not given us an offer as good as the S400s,” he said.
(Reporting by Bulent Usta; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/4/2019 Sudan’s military scraps deal with protest groups, calls for elections within 9 months
Sudanese protesters use burning tyres to erect a barricade on a street, demanding that the country's Transitional
Military Council hand over power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling military council said on Tuesday it was canceling all agreements with the main opposition coalition and called for elections within nine months, following the worst violence since President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April.
    The decision by the Transitional Military Council (TMC) is likely to fuel anger among protest leaders who have demanded preparations for elections during a longer transitional period led by a civilian administration.
    The TMC had been under both domestic and international pressure to hand over power to civilians.
    At least 35 people were killed when security forces stormed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum on Monday amid heavy gunfire, according to a group of doctors linked to the opposition.    The group had earlier said that at least 116 people were wounded.
    The main protest organizers, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), accused the TMC of perpetrating “a massacre” as it broke up the camp, a charge denied by the council.
    TMC spokesman Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi said security forces were pursuing “unruly elements” who had fled to the protest site and caused chaos.
    The camp had become the focal point of pressure on the country’s military rulers to hand over power to civilians.
    Sudan has been rocked by unrest since December, when anger over rising bread prices and cash shortages broke into sustained protests that culminated in the armed forces moving to oust Bashir.
    But talks between a coalition of protesters and opposition parties have ground to a halt amid deep differences over who will lead a transition to democracy that both sides had agreed will last for three years.
    In a televised address in the early hours of Tuesday morning, TMC leader Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said that the opposition coalition was equally responsible for the delay in coming to a final agreement.
    The TMC had decided to cancel all agreements with the protest groups and call for elections within nine months, which he said will be organized under regional and international supervision.
    “Gaining legitimacy and a mandate does not come but through the ballot box,” Burhan said.
    He also announced that a government would immediately be formed to run the country until elections are held.
    The protest organizers have not officially responded to Burhan’s decision.    They had earlier condemned the violence and vowed to escalate protests to force the military rulers to hand over power to civilians.
    Burhan said he regretted the violence that accompanied what he described as “an operation to clean the Nile Street” and said that the violence will be investigated.
    The operation drew condemnation from Europe, the United States and the African Union.
    Sudan has been on a U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism since 1993 that denies the country access to financial markets and strangles its economy.
    Washington lifted a 20-year trade embargo against Sudan in 2017 and was in discussions to remove it from the sponsor of terrorism list when the military stepped in on April 11 to depose Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years.
(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty and Nadine Awadalla; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Sami Aboudi, Sandra Maler and Darren Schuettler)

6/4/2019 Oil prices fall as energy demand set to take a hit amid economic slowdown by Henning Gloystein
FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the
Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Tuesday as an economic slowdown starts to dent energy demand, but markets won some support after Saudi Arabia said a consensus was emerging with other producers about extending supply cuts.
    Front-month Brent crude futures were at $60.97 at 0648 GMT. That was 31 cents, or 0.5%, below last session’s close.
    U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $53.05 per barrel, down 20 cents, or 0.4%, from their last settlement
.
    Oil futures are around 20% below 2019 peaks reached in late April, with May posting the sharpest monthly declines since November.
    Other energy prices, like coal and gas, are also being hit hard by the downturn.
(GRAPHIC: Oil, coal & gas prices – https://tmsnrt.rs/2WG0dO7)
    That has come as financial traders sell out of energy markets amid growing concerns about the outlook for the world economy amid the trade war between the United States and China.
    “The prolonged trade war has sparked fears of a global economic slowdown as well as weaker oil demand,” tanker brokerage Eastport said on Tuesday.
    To prevent oversupply and prop up the market, the Middle East dominated producer club of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), together with some allies including Russia, has been withholding supply since the start of the year to prop up the market.
    The group plans to decide later this month or in early July whether to continue withholding supply.
    Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday that a consensus was emerging among producers to continue working “to sustain market stability” in the second-half of the year.
    Producers are concerned that the economic slowdown will reduce fuel consumption.
    “Slowing economic activity now threatens to derail our base case of robust cyclical (oil) demand growth,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note.
    South Korea’s economy shrank by 0.4% in the first quarter while core inflation slowed to a near 20-year low in May, data showed on Tuesday, pointing to a further economic slowdown in Asia.
    “The continued escalation in trade tensions and broad-based fall in manufacturing … suggest that the downside risks to growth are becoming more prominent,” U.S. bank Morgan Stanley said.
    Further pressuring oil prices and undermining OPEC’s efforts to tighten the market has been surging U.S. output, which has made America the world’s biggest crude producer, at 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd) at the end of May, versus 11.11 million bpd produced in Russia and 9.65 million bpd pumped out of the ground in Saudi Arabia.
    With U.S. production surging, more of its oil is being exported, with a record of six super-tankers scheduled for loading at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) between late May and early June.
(GRAPHIC: Russian, U.S. & Saudi crude oil production – https://tmsnrt.rs/2EUHeFO)
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; editing by Richard Pullin)

6/5/2019 Sudan military chief offers talks as violence death toll hits 60 by Khalid Abdelaziz
A Sudanese protester stands near a barricade on a street, demanding that the country's Transitional Military
Council handover power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s military ruler offered to resume talks with opposition groups without conditions on Wednesday, in an apparent olive branch two days after security forces mounted a deadly raid on a protest camp in central Khartoum.
    Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s offer marked a step-back from the army’s decision to cancel all deals with the opposition after the raid – and came as international criticism of the violence mounted.
    At least 60 people died in the operation and subsequent unrest, medics linked to the opposition said on Wednesday – the worst outbreak of violence since the army ousted president Omar al-Bashir in April following months of mass protests against his rule.,br>     There was no immediate reaction to the military statement from Sudan’s opposition and protest groups, who have kept up their demonstrations since Bashir’s overthrow, pressing the army to hand over power to a civilian government.
    The raid marked a pivotal moment in the development of post-Bashir Sudan – a rift between the powerful military leaders and the opposition groups who had been haggling for weeks over who should lead the transition to democracy.
    Several streets in other parts of the capital were blocked by demonstrators on Wednesday.    Gunfire rang out in the distance, but there were no immediate reports on new clashes.
    Most shops were shuttered on what would usually have been a bustling Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, with minor protests erupting outside mosques after Eid prayers.
    “We in the military council, extend our hands to negotiations without shackles except the interests of the homeland,” al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s ruling military council, said on state TV.
    He praised the uprising’s achievements and reiterated that he was ready to hand over to an elected government.
    The military has denied it was trying to clear the sit-in protest outside the defense ministry on Monday.    Its spokesman said forces moved in to deal with disruptive groups nearby and the violence spread from there.
    Sudan has been rocked by unrest since December, when anger over rising bread prices and cash shortages broke into sustained protests that culminated in the armed forces removing Bashir after three decades in office.
    In the build-up to the raid, talks had ground to a halt between the Transitional Military Council and the main opposition alliance – the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) – amid deep differences over who would lead a transition to democracy.
    Omar al-Degair, a prominent DFCF leader, said on Tuesday the two sides had been close to reaching a final deal on a plan that would have involved a 50-50 military-civilian split on a council to prepare the transition, and a rotating presidency.
    The alliance has already rejected the military’s offer, made since the raid, of elections in coming months     The main protest organizers, the Sudanese Professionals Association, called for an international committee to investigate the deaths in what it branded a “massacre.”
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty; writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens)

6/5/2019 Oil prices slide on U.S. inventory build, equity rally caps losses by Ahmad Ghaddar
FILE PHOTO: Pump jacks operate at sunset in an oilfield in Midland, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
    LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices resumed their slide on Wednesday, dragged down after an unexpected gain in U.S. inventories but with losses capped by a recovery in global equities on hopes of a U.S. Fed rate cut.
    Brent futures were down 29 cents at $61.68 a barrel by 0853 GMT.    U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 50 cents at $52.98 a barrel.
    U.S. crude inventories rose unexpectedly last week, while gasoline and distillate stockpiles built more than expected, data from the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday.
    Crude stocks rose by 3.5 million barrels in the week to May 31 to 478 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 849,000 barrels. [API/S]
    Official numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration are due later on Wednesday.
    “The stock build does not help sentiment in the current market environment,” ING bank said.
    Oil prices have fallen sharply on concerns about slowing demand, but won some respite on Tuesday after a global stock market rally on hopes the Federal Reserve may trim interest rates.    Equities extended gains on Wednesday.
    “Yesterday’s upswing on the back of rising stock markets was halted by an unexpectedly sharp rise in U.S. crude oil and product stocks,” Commerzbank said.
(For a graphic on ‘U.S. crude inventories, weekly changes since 2017’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2XlX17b)
    The oil market has been weighed down by concerns about slowing global growth due to the U.S.-China trade war and President Donald Trump’s threats last week to place tariffs on Mexican imports.
    To prevent oversupply and prop up the market, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, together with allies including Russia, has withheld production since the start of the year.
    The group will set its policy when it meets later this month or in early July.
    Underlining concerns about oversupply, the head of oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, said on Tuesday that Russia should pump at will and he would seek compensation from the government if cuts were extended.
    Russia’s average oil output was 10.87 million barrels per day (bpd) on June 1-3, down from an average of 11.11 million bpd in May, two sources familiar with official data said.
    The decline follows the discovery in mid-April of contaminated Urals crude in the Druzhba pipeline to Europe.
    Further pressuring oil prices and undermining OPEC’s efforts to tighten the market has been a surge in U.S. output to record highs, leading to more American crude being exported.
(For a graphic on ‘Russian, U.S. & Saudi crude oil production’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2EUHeFO)
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Dale Hudson)

6/5/2019 Republican, Democratic senators seek to block Trump Saudi arms sales by Patricia Zengerle
U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are seen during the
G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic U.S. senators said on Wednesday they would introduce legislation to block President Donald Trump’s plan for $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without congressional review.
    Backers said the introduction of the 22 “resolutions of disapproval,” one for each of the 22 arms deals cleared by the Trump administration, was intended to “protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments.”
    The announcement followed furious rejection in Congress late last month of the administration’s declaration that a growing threat from Iran was an emergency that forced it to sidestep lawmakers’ review of major arms deals and approve precision-guided munitions, aircraft engines, mortars and other equipment for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.
    “We are taking this step today to show that we will not stand idly by and allow the President or the Secretary of State to further erode Congressional review and oversight of arm sales,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    Trump’s fellow Republicans control a majority in the Senate but some have been pushing back lately against his proposals.    On Wednesday, hope grew for a deal to avoid U.S. tariffs on Mexican goods after many Republicans opposed the idea because of its potential impact on cross-border trade and U.S. businesses.
    Menendez, and Republican Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who also is a critic of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, led the push for the resolutions.
    Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
    “While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored,” Graham said in a statement.    “Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia.”
    Graham said he expected “strong bipartisan support” for the resolutions.
    Many lawmakers say the powerful crown prince is ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and other rights abuses. The government in Riyadh denies that.
    Two other Republican senators – Rand Paul and Todd Young – and three Democrats – Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Jack Reed – also joined the announcement.
‘EMERGENCY’
    Declaring the emergency, the Trump administration informed congressional committees on May 24 that it was going ahead with 22 military deals worth $8.1 billion, circumventing a long-standing precedent for lawmakers to review major weapons sales.
    The decision angered members of both parties, who worried that Trump’s decision to blow through the review process would eliminate Congress’ ability to prevent not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.
    Separately on Wednesday, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee announced a June 12 hearing titled “What Emergency?    Arms Sales and the Administration’s Dubious End-Run around Congress,” with testimony from Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
    Announcing their plan to introduce the 22 resolutions, the senators said Trump’s “unprecedented” action is at odds with longstanding practice and cooperation between Congress and the executive branch.
    Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said resistance to the arms sale plan could be a sign that some Republicans were willing to constrain the president after backing almost all of his policies.
    “Let’s hope that these murmurings among Republicans … are real and they will actually stand up to him,” Schumer said.
    Reuters reported on Tuesday that lawmakers were working on responses to the administration’s action and could file legislation within days.    A separate set of legislative responses is being considered in the House.
    The Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and House.
    Opponents of the sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE said strong bipartisan support for disapproval resolutions would send a forceful message to the administration – as well as defense contractors and the three countries – that Congress was unhappy about the process and could retaliate.
    They also said it was possible, given the level of congressional anger over Trump’s use of the emergency declaration, that some of the resolutions would garner the two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House needed to override a Trump veto if necessary.
(Additional reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Susan Thomas, James Dalgleish, Bill Trott and David Gregorio)

6/6/2019 Algeria’s interim president calls for dialogue to prepare new elections
FILE PHOTO - 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 interim President Abdelkader Bensalah called on Thursday for all parties to launch an “inclusive dialogue” to prepare for presidential elections, following the constitutional council’s scrapping of a vote set for July 4.
    Bensalah, in a speech broadcast on state television, did not set a date for the new contest.
    The constitutional council on Sunday called off the presidential election planned for July 4 citing a lack of candidates, prolonging a period of political transition and risking more anger from anti-government protesters.
    Demonstrators are expected to return to the streets on Friday to demand Bensalah’s resignation and an end to the dominance of an elite that has ruled Algeria since it won independence from France in 1962.
    Former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika ended his 20-year-long rule two months ago under pressure from protesters.    But protests have continued demanding also the resignation of Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who was appointed by Bouteflika days before he stepped down.
    Armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, who has been managing the transition, has called on political parties and protesters to meet among themselves to discuss a way out of the crisis.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed; editing by William Maclean and Tom Brown)

6/6/2019 African bloc suspends Sudan, demanding end to military rule by Khalid Abdelaziz
A Sudanese protester holds a national flag as he stands on a barricade along a street, demanding that the country's
Transitional Military Council hand over power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The African Union (AU) on Thursday suspended Sudan until the establishment of civilian rule, intensifying global pressure on its new military leaders to stand down after the worst violence since Omar al-Bashir’s fall in April.
    Ethiopia – where the continental bloc is based – planned a mediation effort, with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed due on Friday to meet members of both the ruling Transitional Council (TMC) and the opposition, a diplomatic source said.
    Both sides had been in talks over a civilian-led transition to democracy.    But their already faltering negotiations collapsed when security forces stormed a sit-in protest camp on Monday, killing dozens of people.
    Meeting in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, the AU’s peace and security council invoked its response to interruptions of constitutional rule by suspending Sudan.
    The European Union endorsed the AU’s decision, saying it “establishes clear criteria for the restoration of a peaceful and credible political process” in Sudan.
    It also urged foreign powers to refrain from interference in Sudan’s affairs and called for the release of Yasir Arman, the deputy head of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North who was arrested at his residence in Khartoum on Wednesday.
    Former colonial ruler Britain summoned Sudan’s ambassador to the Foreign Office on Thursday to express its concern.
    The Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) opposition alliance said it was not ready for more dialogue and demanded the military hand over power.
    “The coup council and anyone involved in its crimes since April 11 must be held accountable,” it added in a statement, also demanding dissolution of the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).    Witnesses have said the RSF, which controls Khartoum, led the crackdown on the protest camp.
    The opposition says 108 people have died in violence since Monday, but Sudan’s Health Ministry put the toll at 61 people, including three security personnel it said were stabbed to death.
    The RSF, led by the military council’s deputy leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, emerged from militias that fought insurgents in western Darfur region since 2003.
    The militias are accused of atrocities in Darfur, and Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide – which he denies.    He is now detained in Khartoum.
‘UTTER DEPRAVITY’
    Rights group Amnesty International blamed the RSF for this week’s violence. “The RSF, the special military force which killed, raped and tortured thousands in Darfur, brings its murderous rampage to the capital,” it said.
    “Reports that bodies have been dumped in the river demonstrate the utter depravity of these so-called security forces.”
    The military council says Monday’s raid was targeting criminals in an area adjacent to the camp and got out of hand.
    It said it was the victim of a media smear campaign and has promised an inquiry.
    State news agency SUNA said on Thursday the public prosecutor had questioned a number of witnesses and vowed to complete the investigation as soon as possible.
    The RSF’s high profile on the streets of Khartoum suggests that Dagalo, a former Darfur fighter with a fearsome reputation, is calling the shots, at least when it comes to security.
    He is close to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and has committed Sudanese troops to the military coalition they lead in Yemen’s civil war.
    Although Monday’s raid had been followed by protests with roadblocks and fires, normal movement began to return to the Sudanese capital on Thursday.    Witnesses said traffic was flowing again on main roads, although many shops remained closed.
    Sudan has been rocked since December when anger over rising bread prices and shortages turned into protests against Bashir that culminated in the military removing him after a three-decade rule where he became a pariah in Western eyes.
    After Monday’s events, the military council canceled all prior agreements with the opposition on a democratic transition and announced plans to hold elections within nine months.
    Protesters rejected that.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Additonal reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa, Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Andrew Cawthorne and Peter Cooney)

6/7/2019 Exclusive: U.S. will not accept more Turkish F-35 pilots over Russia defenses – sources by Phil Stewart
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) – The United States has decided to stop accepting any additional Turkish pilots who planned to come to the United States to train on F-35 fighter jets, U.S. officials say, in a clear sign of the escalating dispute over Ankara’s plans to purchase Russian air defenses.
    The two NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s order for Russia’s S-400 air defense system, which Washington says poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealthy fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.
    The United States says Turkey cannot have both, but has avoided taking steps until now to curtail or halt planned training of Turkish pilots in the program, a reprisal that could be seen as an embarrassment in Turkey.
    The two U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters this week on condition of anonymity, left open the possibility the decision could be reversed, perhaps if Turkey altered its plans.    They said the decision so far only applied to upcoming rounds of Turkish pilots and maintenance crews who would have normally come to the United States.
    There has not yet been a formal decision to halt the training of the Turkish pilots and maintenance crews now at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, the sources said.    Still, Reuters reported last week that the step was being seriously considered.
    Four Turkish pilots are currently training at Luke. Two additional Turkish pilots are at the U.S. base working as instructors.    Beyond those six Turkish officers, there are an additional 20 Turkish aircraft maintainers at the base undergoing training as well, the U.S. military says.
    Turkey has expressed an interest in buying 100 of the fighters, which would have a total value of $9 billion at current prices.
STRAINED RELATIONSHIP
    If Turkey were removed from the F-35 program, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between the two allies, experts said.
    But strains in ties between Washington and Ankara already extend beyond the F-35 to include conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey.
    The disclosure of the decision on the pilots follows signs that Turkey is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on May 22 that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and that Russian personnel may come to Turkey.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.
    Kathryn Wheelbarger, one of the Pentagon’s most senior policy officials, said last week that Turkey’s completion of the transaction with     Russia would be “devastating,” dealing heavy blows to the F-35 program and to Turkish interoperability within the NATO alliance.
    “The S-400 is a Russian system designed to shoot down an aircraft like the F-35And it is inconceivable to imagine Russia not taking advantage of that (intelligence) collection opportunity.”
    The Pentagon declined comment on whether it would accept new Turkish pilots.    But it has stressed discussions are taking place with Ankara on potentially selling Turkey Patriot missile defenses, which are made by Raytheon Co.
    Erdogan said on Tuesday, however, that the United States had not “given us an offer as good as the S-400s.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Dominic Evans and Mike Stone; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

6/7/2019 Ethiopian leader Abiy arrives in Sudan to meet head of ruling military council in mediation bid
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister arrived in Khartoum on Friday to meet the chief of Sudan’s ruling military council in a bid to mediate in the political crisis that has followed the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April.
    “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, together with his delegation, arrived in Khartoum, Sudan, this morning for talks,” Abiy’s office said on Twitter.
    A diplomatic source said on Thursday that Ethiopia planned to meet members of both the ruling Transitional Military Council headed by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the opposition.    Abiy’s exact schedule for Friday was not known.
    The Ethiopian initiative follows the worst bloodshed in Sudan since Bashir was ousted by the military after four months of protests against his repressive three-decade rule.
    The opposition says 108 people were killed in the storming of a civilian protest camp on Monday and a subsequent wider crackdown.    The government put the toll at 61 people, including three security personnel.
    The African Union on Thursday suspended Sudan until the establishment of civilian rule, intensifying global pressure on the military leaders to stand down.
    Both sides had been in talks over a civilian-led transition to democracy.    But the already faltering negotiations collapsed in the wake of the crackdown.
    Abiy Ahmed, who took office in Ethiopia last year and introduced political and economic reforms, has won wide praise for his diplomacy skills, including brokering peace with his country’s neighbor and long-time foe Eritrea.
(Story refiled to fix typo in lead)
(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/7/2019 Oil rises as Saudi Arabia signals OPEC deal extension by Shadia Nasralla
FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind an oil pump outside Saint-Fiacre, near Paris, France March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
    LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Friday, climbing further from five-month lows hit this week amid signs that OPEC and other producers may extend their output reduction deal.
    Brent crude futures were up 59 cents at $62.26 a barrel by 1020 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 49 cents to $53.08 per barrel.
    Oil prices jumped after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told a conference in St Petersburg, Russia, that $60 a barrel was too low to encourage investment in the industry.    Crude later pared gains.
    Falih said he did not want to boost Saudi production to make up for a lower oil price and that a return to the price-crash environment of 2014-15 was unacceptable.
    A deal by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers including Russia to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day runs out at the end of this month.
    “On the OPEC side, a rollover is almost in the bag. The question is to calibrate with non-OPEC,” Falih said.
    “I don’t think there will be a need to deepen the cut … I’m hoping it will be an easy decision and that we’ll roll over, but if it’s not, we will be flexible in terms of our position.”
    Supply has also been limited by U.S. sanctions on oil exports from Iran and Venezuela.
    However, demand sentiment remains weak amid fresh signs of a stalling global economy and an intensifying trade war between the United States and China.
    The United States has also threatened to put tariffs on goods from its major trading partner Mexico.
    Mexican and U.S. officials held a second day of talks on Thursday, fuelling optimism a deal could be close, although it was unclear whether Mexican pledges to curb migration were enough to persuade Washington to postpone tariffs.
    “The weak economic data and widening trade conflict have made for a gloomier demand outlook.    In response, we have revised our third-quarter forecast for Brent down to $66 (previously $73),” Commerzbank said in a note.
    Brent is heading for a third week of declines, down more than 3%.
    On Wednesday, Brent and WTI hit their lowest since mid-January at $59.45 and $50.60, respectively, after U.S. crude output reached a record high and stockpiles climbed.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Dale Hudson and Jason Neely)

6/7/2019 Saudi energy minister says OPEC close to agreeing oil pact extension by Katya Golubkova and Olesya Astakhova
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih attends a session of the St. Petersburg
International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Friday that OPEC and its allies should extend oil production cuts at around current levels as the kingdom did not want a fight for market share with the United States or a repeat of the price collapse five years ago.
    Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih also said OPEC was close to agreeing to extend a pact on cutting oil supplies beyond June, although more talks were still needed with non-OPEC countries that were part of the production deal.
    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus Russia and other producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, have a deal to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1.    The pact ends this month and the group meets in coming weeks to decide their next move.
    “On the OPEC side, a rollover is almost in the bag.    The question is to calibrate with non-OPEC,” Falih said at an economic forum in the Russian city of St Petersburg.    “I don’t think there will be a need to deepen the cut.”
    “I’m hoping it will be an easy decision and that we’ll roll over, but if it’s not, we will be flexible in terms of our position in the kingdom,” he said.
    Oil prices are up 16% so far this year thanks in part to the OPEC+ deal. But they have fallen from a peak above $75 in April to below $62 a barrel on concerns about demand due to a U.S.-China trade dispute and slowing economic growth.
    Falih said the last three weeks, when there was a particularly sharp drop, had not been good, adding that a price below $60 would not offer oil firms enough confidence to invest.
    Saudi Arabia has cut supply by more than required by the OPEC+ deal in a bid to stop inventories building up.
    Falih said the kingdom was pumping 700,000 bpd below its 10.311 million bpd target, implying output of about 9.60 million bpd.    “We of course want to drive inventories down,” he said.
    In earlier comments, the minister had said he was unwilling to engage in a race to boost oil output to compensate for lower prices, saying a return to the situation that led to the price crash of 2014-2015 would be unacceptable.
    Falih said the oil market was still not completely stable and said prices were being influenced by factors outside OPEC’s control, even though the market showed some encouraging signs.
    “I think demand is rather healthy,” he said.    “I think sentiment is shaky because of trade issues.    Physical demand is very good. We’re not seeing any decline.    I don’t think there will be a trade war,” the minister said.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova, Dmitry Zhdannikov, Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Tom Balmforth and Alex Lawler; Editing by Dale Hudson and Edmund Blair)

6/7/2019 U.S. starts ‘unwinding’ Turkey from F-35 program over Russia defense deal by Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: U.S. airmen walk next to a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft, as it is moved, on the eve of the
52nd Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States on Friday raised the stakes in its standoff with Turkey over Ankara’s deal to acquire a Russian air defense system, laying out a plan to remove the NATO ally from the F-35 fighter jet program that includes immediately halting any new training for Turkish pilots on the advanced aircraft.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan sent a letter to his Turkish counterpart, seen by Reuters on Friday, that outlined how Turkey would be pulled out the program — unless Ankara changes course.
    Reuters on Thursday first reported the decision to stop accepting more Turkish pilots for training in the United States, in one of the most concrete signs that the dispute between Washington and Ankara is reaching a breaking point.
    The United States says Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defense system poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealthy fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.    The United States says Turkey cannot have both.
    Shanahan’s letter explicitly states there will be “no new F-35 training.”    It says there were 34 students scheduled for F-35 training later this year.
    “This training will not occur because we are suspending Turkey from the F-35 program; there are no longer requirements to gain proficiencies on the systems,” according to an attachment to the letter that is titled, “Unwinding Turkey’s Participation in the F-35 Program.”
    Turkish personnel already in the United States will see their training on the F-35 discontinued at the end of July.
    In his letter, Shanahan also warned Ankara that its deal with Moscow risked undermining its ties to NATO, hurting the Turkish economy and creating over-dependence on Russia.
    “You still have the option to change course on the S-400,” Shanahan wrote.
    The Turkish lira declined as much as 1.5% on Friday before recovering some losses.    The currency has shed nearly 10% of its value against the dollar this year in part on fraying diplomatic ties and the risk of U.S. sanctions if Turkey accepts delivery of the S-400s.
GRACEFUL EXIT?
    Turkey is one of the core partners in the F-35 program and expressed an interest in buying 100 of the fighters, which would have a total value of $9 billion at current prices.
    Turkish companies produce some 937 parts of the F-35, largely for the aircraft’s landing gear and center fuselage, the Pentagon says.    The United States is now planning to move that production elsewhere, ending Turkey’s manufacturing role by early next year.
    The Pentagon believes that it can minimize the impact on the broader program if Turkey abides by the U.S. timeline.
    “What we are doing is working to do a very disciplined and graceful wind down,” Ellen Lord, an under secretary of defense, told reporters at the Pentagon.
    She noted that nothing done to date was “irreversible.”
    But if Turkey were removed from the F-35 program, the ramifications would be felt far beyond the Turkish air force.    It would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship with the United States, experts said.
    Strains in ties between the United States and Ankara already extend beyond the F-35 to include conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey.
    Still, Turkey seems to be moving ahead with the S-400 purchase, regardless of the U.S. warnings.    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.
    Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on May 22 that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and that Russian personnel may go to Turkey.
    The head of Russian state conglomerate Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, was quoted as saying on Friday that the country would start delivering S-400 missile systems to Turkey in two months.
    Erdogan said the United States had not “given us an offer as good as the S-400s.”
    Still, Lord held out hope for Turkey, noting that none of the U.S. decisions so far were irreversible.
    “We’re hopeful that they will stop the acquisition of the S-400.    We would very much like them to stay in the (F-35) program,” Lord said.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans, Mike Stone and Ece Toksabay; editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)

6/7/2019 Russia to start delivering S-400 missile systems to Turkey in two months: Ifax
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
    ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – The head of Russian state conglomerate Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, said the country would start delivering S-400 missile systems to Turkey in two months, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Chemezov added that Russia had finished instructing Turkish specialists on the use of the S-400.
    Tensions between Turkey and the United States are running high over Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defenses, which are not compatible with NATO systems.
(Reporting by Maria TsvetkovaWriting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Editing by William Maclean)
[It will be amusing to me someday if NATO has to use F-35's to take out the Russian S-400 missile sites in Turkey.].

6/7/2019 Ethiopia attempts to mediate Sudan crisis after bloodshed by Khalid Abdelaziz
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed meets Sudan's Head Of Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General
Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan Abdelrahman to mediate in the political crisis that has followed the overthrow of President
Omar al-Bashir at the airport in Khartoum, Sudan June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister on Friday urged Sudan’s military rulers and civilian opposition to exercise “bravery” in trying to agree on a transition to democracy after the worst bloodshed since the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir.
    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who flew to Khartoum from Addis Ababa to try to mediate the country’s crisis, held separate talks with the country’s ruling military council and leaders of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces, an alliance of protesters and opposition parties.
    The visit came days after forces stormed a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry in central Khartoum where demonstrators were demanding civilian rule.    Dozens of people have been killed since Monday.
    Khaled Omar, a leader of the opposition alliance, said Abiy proposed setting up a transitional council comprised of eight civilians and seven military officers with a rotating presidency.
    The opposition demanded that the military rulers take responsibility for the bloodshed, allow an international investigation into the violence and free political prisoners, Omar added.
    But instead of releasing prisoners, security forces arrested Mohammad Esmat, a member of the opposition delegation shortly after he met with Abiy, sources from his party said.
    The military council could not immediately be reached for comment.
    “This amounts to a practical response from the military council that effectively rejects the Ethiopian prime minister’s mediation effort,” Omar told Reuters, adding that the Sudanese opposition would not agree to any deal before all of its conditions are met.
    The military council said it was ready to negotiate at any time, state news agency SUNA reported.
    Although no breakthrough was announced at the end of the one-day visit, an adviser to the Ethiopian prime minister said the talks went well and that Abiy would be returning to Sudan soon.
    The military council and opposition had been in talks for weeks over who should lead Sudan’s transition to democracy.
    But negotiations collapsed after Monday’s violence.    The opposition said it could not talk to untrustworthy rulers.    Opposition medics say 113 people were killed in the storming of the camp and subsequent crackdown.
    The government, however, has put the week’s death toll at 61, including three security personnel.
    Abiy made his visit the day after the Ethiopia-headquartered African Union bloc suspended Sudan, backing the opposition’s demand for civilian rule.
    He was welcomed by Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi, spokesman for the Transitional Military Council. Abiy later hosted a meeting with the opposition alliance.
    “The military and the people and the political forces need to act with bravery and responsibility in taking quick steps to a democratic, reconciliatory transitional period in the country,” he said in a statement.
    Abiy, a reformer who took office last year, has won wide praise for his diplomatic skills, including brokering peace with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor and long-time foe.
ATTACKS ON HOSPITALS
    Stability in Sudan is crucial for a volatile region struggling against Islamist insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya. Various powers, including Russia and the Gulf Arab states, are trying to influence its path.
    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have close ties with the military council, have said they are watching developments with concern and support a renewal of dialogue.
    Russia said on Thursday it opposed foreign intervention in Sudan and the authorities in Khartoum must subdue what it described as “extremists,” a Russian news agency reported.
    Sudan was placed on a U.S. list of sponsors of terrorism under Bashir, an Islamist former general accused of war crimes in the western Darfur region.
    A doctors’ group linked to the protest movement said hospitals were now overcrowded with people injured in this week’s crackdown.     Worsening the situation, five hospitals had been shut down by the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which grew out of Darfur militia, it said.
    “There is a great shortage in medical staff, mainly caused by the military militias targeting doctors and preventing them from reaching hospitals and clinics to perform their duty,” it said.    “For all these reasons, more and more lives are being lost every day.”
    The World Health Organization said some medical staff and patients had been injured during raids into hospitals, and emergency services were being shut down.
    Mobile tent clinics set up to treat injured protesters had been set on fire and destroyed while medical equipment had been looted and some women health workers were reportedly raped, it said.
    “These actions represent a total and unacceptable violation of international human rights law and must stop,” said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
    Rights group Amnesty International and the opposition have blamed the RSF for the violence.
    The military council counters that infiltrators are putting on RSF uniforms.    It says Monday’s raid was targeting criminals in an area next to the camp, but got out of hand.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Lena Masri, Ahmed Tolba and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; writing by Lena Masri; editing by Angus MacSwan, Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean, Toby Chopra and G Crosse)

6/7/2019 Thousands protest in Liberia against corruption, economic decline
People march during a protest to voice discontent towards the presidency of former footballer George Weah, whose policies they see
as having failed to curb economic decline and mitigate corruption, in Monrovia, Liberia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/James Giahyue
    MONROVIA (Reuters) – Thousands of Liberians took to the streets of the capital, Monrovia, on Friday to protest against the corruption and economic decline that many blame on their once hugely popular president, former football star George Weah.
    In a stark contrast to the wild celebrations that greeted Weah’s election victory in 2017, throngs of chanting demonstrators bearing signs calling Weah a “traitor” gathered near the president’s official residence.
    Among protesters’ main gripes: a stagnant economy in which most still live in deep poverty and a scandal in which the country last year lost $100 million in newly printed bank notes destined for the central bank.
    “Weah is not governing our state the right way,” said Ishmael Hassan, who voted for Weah in 2017 but has since become disillusioned.    “The economic situation in our country is going down the drain.”
    Liberia’s economy was hit hard by a 2014-16 Ebola outbreak that killed thousands, low prices for its chief exports, iron ore and rubber, and declining foreign aid.
    The International Monetary Fund in March revised down Liberia’s economic growth forecast for 2019 to 0.4% from 4.7%. Inflation peaked at 28.5% in December, pushing up the price of everyday items.
    Many believed Weah, who grew up in a Monrovia slum before becoming a celebrated striker in some of Europe’s biggest football teams, would bring a new dawn.    Instead, he faces the same criticisms of corruption that dogged his predecessor Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
    A petition delivered by the protest’s organizers to Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean on Friday accused the administration of misusing public funds, violating press freedoms, and failing to adequately fund health and education programs.
    The petition accuses Weah himself of constructing “scores of luxury homes” after he declined to publicly declare his assets.
    “I supported this government, but the way things are going, we want to save the state,” said protestor Bob Blue.
(Reporting by Alphonso Toweh and James Giahyue; writing by Cooper Inveen; editing by Edward McAllister and Sonya Hepinstall)

6/7/2019 ‘You all go’ – thousands of Algerians demonstrate for political reforms by Hamid Ould Ahmed
Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest demanding the removal of the ruling elite in Algiers, Algeria June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – With banners reading “You all go” and “We need new figures,” tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the Algerian capital on Friday for what has become a regular demonstration demanding the removal of the ruling elite.
    After 20 years in power, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit on April 2 under pressure from protesters and the army, but protests have continued, seeking political reforms and the removal of all officials belonging to the old guard.
    This was the 16th consecutive Friday that protesters have taken part in a mass rally.
    There was no official count but a Reuters reporters estimated more people joined than the last four Fridays during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan when most fasted until sunset, but fewer than the weeks before that.
    The demonstrators are pushing for radical change by seeking the departure of senior figures, including politicians and businessmen, who have governed the North African country since independence from France in 1962.
    On Thursday, interim President Abdelkader Bensalah called for all parties to launch an “inclusive dialogue” to prepare for presidential elections, following the constitutional council’s scrapping of a vote set for July 4.
    Bensalah is leading the transition as upper house speaker.    He had initially been elected by parliament for 90 days until elections planned for July 4. No new date has been set, to the anger of protesters.
    Bensalah said on Thursday he would stay in power until a new president had been elected, despite calls from protesters for him to quit.
    One banner held up by protesters read: “Bensalah go.”
    The army, the country’s most powerful institution, has met a number of protesters’ demands including launching anti-graft probes against people suspected of misuse of power and public funds.
    Last month, Bouteflika’s youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs were placed in custody by a military judge over allegations of “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority.”
    At least five businessmen, including the country’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, who is active in food industry and sugar refining, have been detained for alleged involvement in corruption scandals.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Frances Kerry and Toby Chopra)

6/7/2019 Qatar’s emir to visit White House on July 9: White House statement
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani attends the 30th Arab Summit
in Tunis, Tunisia March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo - RC176AC8E610
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will host Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House next month, the White House said in a statement on Friday.
    The two leaders will discuss “economic and security ties” and counterterrorism issues during the July 9 visit, the White House said.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

6/8/2019 U.S. envoy, in interview, does not rule out Israeli annexation in West Bank
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the
Israeli-occupied West Bank April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Israel did not rule out an Israeli move to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, land that the Palestinians seek for a state, in an interview with the New York Times published on Saturday.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the run-up to an April election that he plans to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a move bound to trigger widespread international condemnation and complicate peace efforts.
    The New York Times said that U.S. Ambassador David Friedman had declined to say how Washington would respond to annexation, but remarked:
    “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves.”
    “These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge,” Friedman said.
    The White House has been working on a proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, dubbed by President Donald Trump as “the deal of the century,” but has not disclosed any of its details.
    Most countries view Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory captured in the 1967 war, as illegal.    Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and religious ties as well as security needs.
    Friedman said that, under certain circumstances, “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
    It was unclear which West Bank territories Friedman meant and whether Israel’s retention would be part of a peace accord that includes land swaps – an idea floated in past negotiations – rather than a unilateral move such as annexation.
    The Trump plan had been expected to be unveiled during an economic conference in Bahrain this month.    But a snap election in Israel set for Sept. 17 is likely to delay the roll-out.
    Responding to Friedman’s interview, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat tweeted: “Their vision is about annexation of occupied territory, a war crime under international law.”
    The Palestinian leadership has refused to deal with the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.    Palestinians want the eastern part of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war and annexed in a move unrecognized abroad, as their future capital.
    In March, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel captured from Syria in the same war and later annexed.
    Netanyahu told Army Radio in April that Trump’s Golan step showed it was possible to annex West Bank settlementswithin a gradual process and I prefer to do so with American recognition.”
    He added: “I have been discussing the question of extending sovereignty with the Americans for the past six months.”
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “No plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the U.S., nor is it under discussion.”
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Ali Sawafta in ramallah and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/9/2019 Qatar says U.S. needs Palestinians on board for Middle East peace plan
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
    LONDON (Reuters) – Qatar said on Sunday that there was a disconnect between the Palestinians and the United States over a U.S. blueprint aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, warning that a solution could not be imposed on Palestinians.
    The U.S. blueprint, driven by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, is seen by Palestinians, and by some Arab officials and politicians, as a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.
    “As far as we see, right now there is a disconnect between the Palestinians and the U.S.,” Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said told reporters in London.
    “Our position remains very firm: We are going to support any plan that the Palestinians are willing to accept.”
    Kushner, who has been trying to put together a peace plan, said in an interview broadcast last week that the Palestinians deserve “self-determination,” but stopped short of backing Palestinian statehood and expressed uncertainty over their ability to govern themselves.
    While its precise outlines have yet to be revealed, Palestinian and Arab sources who have been briefed on the draft plan say Kushner has jettisoned the two-state solution – the long-standing U.S. and international formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.
    “It cannot be a solution like, sort of, imposed on the Palestinians – no country in the Arab world can accept that,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
    “If the plan is rejected by one of the parties it means the plan is either unfair or just not realistic,” he said.    “The best scenario is either that both parties accept it or that both parties reject it.”
    Sheikh Mohammed said there would not be a pledging conference.    He praised the economic part of the Kushner plan as being “wonderful” but said it needed a sound political foundation.
. (Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Kevin Liffey and William James)

6/9/2019 Qatar urges de-escalation in U.S.-Iran row
FILE PHOTO: Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, speaks during a news conference
with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Doha, Qatar February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon
    LONDON (Reuters) – Qatar and other countries have been talking to both Iran and the United States about de-escalation, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Sunday, urging both sides to meet and find a compromise.
    “We believe that at one point there should an engagement – it cannot last forever like this,” he told reporters in London on Sunday.    “Since they are not willing to engage in further escalation, they should come up with ideas that open the doors.”
    Sheikh Mohammed said several countries including Qatar, Oman Iraq and Japan had been urging de-escalation with the two sides.
    “All these countries are concerned what escalation could lead to,” he said.    “There were attempts by Qatar and by other countries in the region to de-escalate the situation: we have been speaking to the U.S. and we have been talking to the Iranians as well.”
    “What we are trying to do is really to bridge the gap and create a conversation between the two parties as escalation is not going to benefit anyone in the region,” he said.
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States in recent weeks after Washington reimposed economic sanctions on Iran after pulling out of a big-power nuclear deal, and sending forces to the Middle East in a show of force to counter what U.S. officials called Iranian threats to U.S. troops and interests.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by William James)

6/9/2019 Civil disobedience campaign empties streets of Sudan’s capital by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters use burning tyres to erect a barricade on a street, demanding that the country's
Transitional Military Council hand over power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A campaign of civil disobedience to demand civilian rule left the streets of Sudan’s capital Khartoum largely deserted as the working week began on Sunday, while a 20-year-old man was shot dead in Omdurman, witnesses and opposition medics said.
    Opposition and protest groups had called for workers to stay at home after security forces stormed a protest camp on Monday, killing dozens and dealing a blow to hopes of a peaceful transition after ex-president Omar al-Bashir’s removal in April.
    The Transitional Military Council (TMC) indicated on Sunday that it was willing to listen to the opposition’s demands and restart negotiations, which it halted after the raid.
    The raid came after weeks of wrangling between the TMC that took over from Bashir and the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), an opposition alliance, over who should steer a transition leading to elections.
    The capital was tense on Sunday, with protesters taking to the streets in several neighborhoods amid heavy security.    Security forces fired shots into the air and used tear gas to disperse protesters in Khartoum North, on the other side of the Blue Nile river, witnesses said.
    Few pedestrians or vehicles could be seen in the capital’s streets, according to witnesses. Public transport was barely functioning and most commercial banks, private companies and markets were shut.
    Some state banks and public utility offices were working normally.
    “We will not go back to work until the (Sudanese Professionals) Association announces the end of the strike,” said Ahmad al-Noor, a 46-year-old employee at a private foodstuffs company.    The SPA, which spearheaded the anti-Bashir protests, is part of the DFCF.
    “Sudan must be governed by a civilian government,” Noor said.
    At Khartoum airport, where few flights were operating, travelers crowded the departure hall.    Most travel agencies were closed because of an internet outage, and ticket prices soared.
    State news agency SUNA said Khartoum airport was “operating normally” and reported “complete attendance of employees in different airport units.”
    TMC spokesman Shams El Din Kabbashi said on Sunday the council was willing to restart negotiations with DFCF.    He said they hoped DFCF would not have preconditions but added the TMC would be willing to listen to them.
    In a televised speech following the raid, TMC Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan scrapped all agreements with the DFCF and called for elections within nine months.    The opposition rejected the plans.
    “We regret this escalation in these blessed days and in this delicate circumstance our country is going through,” Kabbashi said on Sky News Arabia.
    “Life is running well in the capital Khartoum and in the states,” he said.    “Life has not been affected much by the disobedience declared today.”
REPLACED
    In Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, 20-year-old Ayman Osama died on Sunday after being shot in the chest at a road barricade, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said on social media, accusing a paramilitary force of killing him.    The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) had no immediate comment.
    In Khartoum North, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.    There were no reports of casualties.
    Demonstrators have been trying to barricade roads in the capital over recent days as a way of sustaining protests.
    Also on Sunday, a well-known Sudanese banking expert said he had turned down an offer from the TMC to become deputy governor of the central bank.
    Mohamed Ahmed Bushra rejected the job “because the current conditions the country is going through and the failure to form a transitional civilian government make it difficult for the central bank to arrange policies to address the economic crisis,” he told Reuters.
    Sudanese state TV meanwhile reported that a senior commander of the RSF, Mohamed Abdallah, had been replaced.
    Witnesses said the RSF, whose leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo is deputy head of the Transitional Military Council, led last Monday’s raid.    Its troops have been heavily deployed on the streets of Khartoum, some with machine guns mounted on their pickup trucks.
    The RSF grew out of the Arab Janjaweed militias accused of committing atrocities in Darfur during a civil war that began in 2003.     Bashir’s government denied allegations that the militias had burned villages and raped and executed civilians in Darfur.
    Opposition medics put the death toll at 118 in the storming of the camp outside Khartoum’s Defence Ministry and subsequent security crackdown.    The government has put last week’s death toll at 61, including three members of the security services.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; writing by Yousef Saba and Mahmoud Mourad; editing by Catherine Evans and Louise Heavens)

6/10/2019 Up to two million Syrians could flee to Turkey if clashes worsen: U.N. by Tom Miles
FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Syrians carry their belongings as they arrive at a refugee camp near the Bab al-Salam crossing,
across from Turkey's Kilis province, on the outskirts of the northern border town of Azaz, Syria February 6, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Up to 2 million refugees could flee to Turkey if fighting intensifies in northwestern Syria as aid funds run dangerously low, the United Nations said on Monday.
    Syria’s Russian-backed military has been pressing an assault on rebels in their last major stronghold with air attacks and ground battles that have already forced tens of thousands to leave their homes.
    “Our fear is if this continues, and if the numbers continue soaring, and if the conflict intensifies, that we could see really hundreds of thousands, a million, two, heading toward the borders with Turkey,” the U.N. Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Panos Moumtzis, said.
    The onslaught since late April, focused mostly on southern parts of Idlib province and adjacent parts of Hama and Latakia, marks the most intense conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and his insurgent enemies since last summer.
    Moumtzis told Reuters in Geneva that the situation was deteriorating and a deal between Russia and Syria to deescalate the fighting there was effectively no longer in place.
    “We see an offensive that is really targeting – or with an impact on – hospitals and schools in civilian areas, in areas where there is the population and urban areas – which really should not be happening according to international humanitarian law,” Moumtzis said.
    Aid organizations have been encouraged to share their locations with the warring parties to avoid being hit.    But after repeated air strikes on hospitals, many aid workers distrust such requests, Moumtzis said.
    “It’s a catastrophe, what has been happening… for the sake of humanity, there has to be an intervention,” he said.
    “A few months ago, we asked to make sure that this nightmare scenario will not take place.    Actually, it’s unfolding in front of our own eyes as we speak.”
    The U.N. appealed for $3.3 billion to cover humanitarian work within Syria this year, and despite generous pledges, it has so far received only $500 million, leaving the aid effort surviving “hand-to-mouth,” Moumtzis said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/10/2019 Sudan protesters stage civil disobedience in latest effort to end military rule by OAN Newsroom
    A civil disobedience campaign, which was launched by protesters demanding civilian rule, has left the streets of Sudan empty and at least four people dead.    Sudanese police fired tear gas and live ammunition as demonstrators tried to close off streets by creating roadblocks as a way of sustaining the protest movement Sunday.
    Earlier in the day, opposition and protest groups in Khartoum had called for workers to stay at home.    This is the latest escalation by protesters demanding an end to military rule, which left streets largely deserted.    Sunday marked the start of the working week in Sudan yet few pedestrians or vehicles could be seen on the streets.    Several restaurants, banks, and other businesses were also shut down.
    “The situation is not normal, everything is closed.    I couldn’t find bread, I couldn’t find anything actually except for these vegetables right here, life is at a standstill,” explained a local resident.
In this frame grab from video shops are closed during a general strike, in the Al-Arabi souk business district
of Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday, June 9, 2019. The first day of the workweek in Sudan saw shops closed and streets empty as
part of a general strike called by protest leaders who are demanding the resignation of the ruling military council. (AP Photo)
    This comes as opposition groups have called for a general strike and civil disobedience campaign to pressure the ruling Transitional     Military Council to hand power to a civilian-led government.    The campaign comes nearly a week after a deadly military raid on a sit-in by protesters outside the army headquarters.    More than 100 people are dead and hundreds of others were wounded since the military crackdown on protesters began.
    The protests began in April after the country’s long-time president was arrested, and military leaders pledged to hand power over to civilians.    However, they have failed to do so. After several rounds of negotiations between protest leaders and the military, talks broke down in mid-May.    This has only added to the social unrest.
    The African Union has suspended Sudan and threatened to implement sanctions if there was no swift transition to democracy.

6/10/2019 Sudan opposition says to nominate members for transitional council by Khalid Abdelaziz
Yasir Arman, the deputy head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), detained in the wake of a deadly raid
on a Sudanese protest sit-in, addresses the media in Juba, South Sudan June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Samir Bol
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s opposition plans to nominate eight members of a transitional council and name a prominent economist to head a government, a leader in the alliance of protesters and opposition groups said on Monday.
    The plan, which appears to build on a proposal by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed presented during a mediation visit to Khartoum last week, could help break a deadlock between the country’s military rulers and the civilian opposition in efforts to agree on a transition to democracy.
    Abiy visited Khartoum on a mediation mission in which he proposed a 15-member transitional council consisting of eight civilians and seven army officers to lead the country to democracy.
    Tensions have soared in Sudan since security forces violently broke up a protest camp in central Khartoum a week ago, killing dozens of protesters.    The opposition have responded by declaring civil disobedience that has curtailed life in the capital.
    An opposition leader said that the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) alliance planned to announce nominating Abdullah Hamdouk, a former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, as new prime minister.
    “This is in addition to announcing eight members of the sovereign council, including three women,” the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
    The source gave no further details.
    Opposition sources have said that an aide of Abiy had been shuttling between the two sides trying to broker a deal after his one-day visit to Khartoum.
    Abiy said on Monday on Twitter he had spoken to the head of the military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, about “mediation progress.”
    The military council, in what could be a gesture to the protesters, announced on Monday that several government troops have been arrested pending legal action, after a preliminary investigation into the dispersal of the protesters last week found evidence of wrongdoing.
REBEL LEADERS DEPORTED
    In Washington, the State Department said that top U.S. diplomat for Africa Tibor Nagy was due to travel to Sudan this week to push for the resumption of talks on a democratic transition.
    Stability in Sudan is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.    Various powers, including Russia and the Gulf Arab states, are trying to influence its path.
    Earlier on Monday, the People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), one of the country’s main rebel groups, said the military rulers had released three of its leaders after several days in detention and expelled them to South Sudan.
    Yasir Arman, the most prominent of the three men and the deputy head of the SPLM-N, was detained last Wednesday after returning from exile following the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April.
    The two others, SPLM-N secretary-general Ismail Jallab and spokesman Mubarak Ardol, were arrested after meeting the visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister as he tried to mediate between the military council and civilian opposition.
    A statement from SPLM-N chairman Malik Agar said the three officials had been “denied access to their accommodation” and deported in a military aircraft to Juba, South Sudan’s capital.
    “This happened despite their rejection of the forceful deportation,” the statement said, adding that the move showed the military council’s intention “not to hand power to the civilians and not to reach peace.”
    The council could not be reached for comment.
    Also on Monday, Deputy U.N. spokeswoman Eri Kaneko told reporters in New York that the military council had decreed to the African Union-U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur to hand over its premises to Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as part of the mission’s withdrawal in 2020.
    “That is not in keeping with our existing agreement with the Sudanese government and our insistence that the facilities be used solely for civilian purposes,” she said.
    Witnesses said the RSF, which grew out of Arab militias that fought in Darfur, led the assault on the protest sit-in in Khartoum last week.
    Opposition doctors say at least 118 people have been killed since the raid on the sit-in a week ago.    The government has confirmed 61 deaths, including three members of the security services.
    The DFCF alliance has tried to sustain the protest movement through a civil disobedience campaign that largely shut down Khartoum on Sunday.
    On Monday, there was a little more movement on the streets and some shops had begun to reopen, including in Khartoum’s central market, but many stores and businesses remained closed.
    “We are against the killing of civilians and we support the (protest movement) but today I returned to work because I earn my income day by day and I am the only source of income for my family and my children,” said Saleh Yaqoub, a 53-year-old shopkeeper.
(Additional reporting by Denis Dumo, Michelle Nichols, Omar Fahmy, and Maher Chmaytelli; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich and James Dalgleish)

6/10/2019 U.S. has not taken up offer to create S-400 working group, Turkey says by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: People walk past Russian S-400 missile air defence systems before the military parade to commemorate the 75th anniversary
of the battle of Stalingrad in World War Two, in the city of Volgograd, Russia February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Maleyeva/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The United States has not yet taken up Turkey’s suggestion of creating a joint working group to try to defuse tensions over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense systems, a senior Turkish defense official said on Monday.
    The two NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s order for the S-400s, which are not compatible with the transatlantic alliance’s systems.
    Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighters and has warned of potential U.S. sanctions if Ankara presses on with the deal.
    Turkey, one of the core partners in the F-35 program and a prospective buyer, has said the S-400s will not impact the jets and has proposed to Washington forming a joint working group to assess U.S. concerns.
    Speaking to reporters after an event in Ankara, Ismail Demir, head of the Turkish Defence Industries Directorate, said Turkey was ready to discuss Washington’s concerns.
    “If the source of the concerns is a technical worry stemming from the S-400s being located in Turkey, we have said repeatedly that we are ready to discuss this,” Demir said.
    “However, the other side (United States) has not taken any steps to form the technical team and discuss this.”
    Demir’s comments come after U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan last week sent a letter to his Turkish counterpart, in which he outlined how Turkey would be pulled out of the F-35 program if it pressed on with the S-400 deal.
    Demir said the Defence Ministry and his directorate were working on sending a response soon.
    Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar is likely to meet with Shanahan in Brussels on the sidelines of a NATO summit planned for June 26-27, a senior Turkish official said.
PATRIOT OFFER
    While Turkey has dismissed U.S. warnings, saying the S-400s were a “done deal” Washington has said discussions are taking place with Ankara on potentially selling Turkey rival Raytheon Co Patriot missile defenses.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow and added that the United States had not “given us an offer as good as the S-400s” on the Patriot systems.
    On Monday, Demir said Turkey responded to the latest U.S. Patriot offer and was waiting for a response, but did not elaborate further.
    In a sign of escalating tensions, sources told Reuters that Washington has decided to stop accepting any more Turkish pilots who planned to train in the United States on the F-35 jets.
    Ties between Ankara and Washington have already been tense over a host of issues, including conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey.    But removing Turkey from the F-35 program would be one of the most significant ruptures of recent times.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Humeyra Pamuk and Mark Potter)

6/10/2019 Abu Dhabi Crown Prince discusses key issues with Russia’s Putin
FILE PHOTO - Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is pictured as he speaks with French Prime Minister Edouard
Philippe (not pictured) during a dinner at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris, France November 21, 2018. Lucas Barioulet/Pool via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said he discussed regional and international issues with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a phone call on Monday.
    A tweet from the crown prince gave no details.
    Tensions in the Middle East have risen as the United States has stepped up pressure on Iran over its missile program and support of proxy groups in regional conflicts.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/10/2019 Palestinians say U.S. ambassador helps Israel to annex part of West Bank by Alan Charlish
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki is seen during preparatory meeting for the GCC,
Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The Palestinian foreign minister said on Monday that comments by the U.S. ambassador to Israel were intended to help Israel annex parts of the occupied West Bank, underscoring the Palestinians’ distrust of the Trump administration.
    The New York Times on Saturday quoted ambassador David Friedman as saying that under certain circumstances, Israel had the right to retain some of the West Bank.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in April he intended to annex Jewish settlements built on land the Palestinians hope will form part of an eventual independent state.
    “It seems that Friedman with his statement is trying to help Netanyahu to have the courage to take such a decision,” Riyad al-Maliki said during a visit to Warsaw.
    “This is really something that the international community has to stand up, has to respond,” he said.
    The United Nations and most countries view Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as illegal.    Israel has expanded its settlements while a peace process aimed at resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been stalemated.
    The White House will present the first part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s separate peace plan when it holds an international conference in Bahrain in late June to encourage investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
    Palestinian officials have rebuked the U.S. effort, which they believe will be heavily biased in favor of Israel.
    The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and Palestinians have seen cuts in U.S. funding that have contributed to their economic distress in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
    Palestinian officials did not attend a Middle East peace conference organized in Warsaw in February.
    “We do trust Poland…but we cannot trust the current U.S. administration after what it did against the Palestinians,” al-Maliki said.
    Al-Maliki said economic issues were not the Palestinians most important concern and focusing on them would not help to bring peace.
    “We have said it many times, that all the money in the world, if it is being put to us in exchange for giving up on our right to Jerusalem as our capital or the right to establish our independent Palestinian state, we will choose the second and not the first.”
(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Writing by Marcin Goclowski, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/11/2019 Turkey chafes at U.S. pressure over Russian defenses by Daren Butler
Turkey and U.S. flags are seen in this picture illustration taken August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Tuesday a U.S. House of Representatives’ resolution condemning Ankara’s purchase of Russian defense systems and urging potential sanctions was unacceptably threatening.
    Relations between the two NATO members have been strained on several fronts including Ankara’s plans to buy Russia’s S-400 air defense systems, the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey, and conflicting strategy over Syria and Iran.
    The standoff threatens to bring U.S. sanctions, which would hurt Turkey’s already recession-hit economy, and raise questions over its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
    The resolution, introduced in May and entitled “Expressing concern for the United States-Turkey alliance,” was agreed in the House on Monday.
    It urges Turkey to cancel the S-400 purchase and calls for sanctions if it accepts their delivery, which may come as soon as July.    That, the resolution said, would undermine the U.S.-led transatlantic defense alliance.
    In response, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its foreign policy and judicial system were being maligned by “unfair” and “unfounded” allegations in the resolution.
    “It is unacceptable to take decisions which do not serve to increase mutual trust, to continue to keep the language of threats and sanctions on the agenda and to set various artificial deadlines,” it added.
PILOT PROGRAM WOUND DOWN
    President Tayyip Erdogan’s government faces a balancing act in its ties with the West and Russia, with which it has close energy ties and is also cooperating in neighboring Syria.
    The United States is also pressuring Turkey and other nations to isolate Iran, including blocking oil exports.
    U.S. officials said on Monday the training of Turkish pilots on F-35 fighter jets had come to a faster-than-expected halt at an air base in Arizona, as Ankara’s involvement was wound down over the S-400 controversy.
    The United States says Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defenses poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.
    “We rarely see it in foreign affairs, but this is a black and white issue.    There is no middle ground.    Either Mr. Erdogan cancels the Russian deal, or he doesn’t,” Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on the House floor on Monday.
    “There is no future for Turkey having both Russian weapons and American F-35s.    There’s no third option.”
    Regardless of the U.S. warnings, Turkey appeared to be moving ahead with the S-400 purchase.    Erdogan said last week it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Andrew Cawthorne)

6/11/2019 New Iraqi Kurdish president’s cousin succeeds him as regional prime minister
FILE PHOTO: Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government's Security Council, speaks
during an interview with Reuters in Erbil, Iraq, November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s Kurdish region named a cousin of its new president to succeed him as prime minister on Tuesday, keeping power in the hands of the family that has governed since the region gained partial self rule after dictator Saddam Hussein’s fall.
    The new prime minister, Masrour Barzani, is a son of former president Masoud Barzani, who stepped down in 2017 after a failed independence bid.    The regional presidency was vacant for more than 18 months until Masoud Barzani’s nephew Nechirvan Barzani was elevated from prime minister and sworn in on Monday.
    The Barzani clan and their Kurdistan Democratic Party have ruled the semi-autonomous Kurdish region since Iraq’s constitution was set up following the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam in 2003.
    They have shared power in the region with their main rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which has appointed presidents for Iraq’s central government in Baghdad under a system designed to balance power among Iraq’s main ethnic and sectarian groups.
    However, the two big Kurdish parties have quarreled lately over the apportionment of posts in the regional government, and resolving that standoff is likely to be the first major task for the new prime minister, who has 30 days to form a government.
    Masrour Barzani, who had been serving as regional security chief, was elected prime minister with 87 votes from the 97 lawmakers present.     The regional legislature has 111 seats in total. Several smaller opposition parties, including the Kurdistan Islamic Group and New Generation movement, boycotted.
    The Barzani family has been at the forefront of Kurdish politics for generations.    Masoud Barzani, a veteran of decades of guerrilla warfare for Kurdish independence, inherited his position as leader of the KDP from his father Mustafa Barzani, who died in 1979.
    Masoud Barzani stepped down as Kurdish president in 2017 after a failed independence bid that prompted a military offensive from Baghdad and a political crisis among the Kurds.
    Smaller opposition parties in the Kurdish region accuse the KDP and PUK of using their combined dominance of the region’s politics to build business empires for the families that lead them.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Peter Graff)

6/11/2019 Sudan civil disobedience campaign keeps businesses in Khartoum shuttered by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters are seen near burning tyres used to erect a barricade on a street, demanding that the country's
Transitional Military Council handover power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Many shops and business stayed closed and troops watched the streets of Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Tuesday, the third day of a civil disobedience campaign called by the opposition to push military rulers to hand over power to civilians.
    The campaign follows a crackdown by security forces which killed dozens of people and the collapse of talks between the military and the opposition which had been aimed at bringing civilian rule to Sudan after the overthrow of the authoritarian president Omar al-Bashir in April.
    The bloodshed has prompted concern from world powers, including the United States, which announced on Monday it was sending its senior diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, to Sudan this week to push for the resumption of talks on a transition.
    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Sudan on a mediation mission last week and opposition sources said he proposed a 15-member transitional council comprising eight civilians and seven military officers with a rotating presidency.
    A leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) said on Monday night that the alliance had decided to nominate eight members to the council and to name Abdullah Hamdouk, a former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, as new prime minister.
    A source said the announcement was due to be made officially on Tuesday.    The military council had made no comment on the report.
REVOLUTION IS ONGOING
    Witnesses said many shops, commercial banks and business remained shuttered on Tuesday.    But movement on the streets appeared more than the previous two days, they said.
    In some areas, people had erected roadblocks of bricks and tires.
    “These barricades are in fact a form of protection against the attacks waged by military forces of various kinds,” opposition leader Khaled Omar told reporters on Monday.
    “The revolution is ongoing and the peaceful methods of resistance continue.    I believe that the revolutionary road taken since December will reach its goal in the end – maybe tonight, a month from now, or a year from now.”
    Security forces, including units of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, manned positions in the streets.    Some lounged around pick-ups mounted with automatic weapons.
    Bashir’s removal by the military ended three decades of repressive rule in this country of 40 million people and followed months of generally peaceful protests.
    But the Transitional Military Council and the DFCF alliance were unable to agree on sharing power in a sovereign council that would run the country during a three-year interim period.
    The council is headed by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan but his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the RSF, is believed to wield considerable power.
    Stability in Sudan is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya. Various powers, including Russia and the Gulf Arab states, are trying to influence its path.
    But the prospects of a new era of democratic rule were dashed when security forces stormed a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry in central Khartoum on June 3, killing dozens of people.
    The United Nations and several Western governments have condemned the crackdown and the African Union suspended Sudan’s membership of the bloc.    The military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
    The military rulers have said that an investigation into the dispersal of the protest camp has concluded that some violations were committed and announced that several government troops had been detained and would be brought to justice.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/11/2019 Israeli Prime Minister: We won’t allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently slammed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and accused him of lying.
    In a statement Monday, Netanyahu insisted that Israel would not allow Iran to develop its nuclear weapons.    His comments come after Zarif claimed Israel was seeking to destroy Iran during a recent press conference.
    “Zarif is lying again — Iran is the one that openly threatens, every day, to destroy the state of Israel,” stated Netanyahu.    “Iran continues to entrench itself militarily in Syria and today, the IAEA reports that Iran is accelerating its nuclear program.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during statements to the press in Jerusalem,
Thursday, May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    Netanyahu went on to emphasize the threat of nuclear weapons, and said such a conflict would impact more than just the Middle East.
    “I repeat: Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons that threaten our existence and endanger the entire world,” he stated.
    The exchange comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, following a series of threats stemming from Iran and its proxy forces.    Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency reportedly confirmed Iran has increased its uranium enrichment activities.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas after their talks
in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 10, 2019. Zarif warned the U.S. on Monday that it “cannot expect to stay safe” after launching what he described
as an economic war against Tehran, taking a hard-line stance amid a visit by Germany’s top diplomat seeking to defuse tensions. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

6/11/2019 Mali massacre victims included 24 children: PM
A man inspects the damage at the site of an attack in the village of Sobame Da, in this still image taken
from a footage released by ORTM and shot on June 10, 2019, Mali. ORTM via Reuters TV
    DAKAR (Reuters) – Bodies recovered from a massacre of almost a 100 people by a Malian ethnic militia included at least 24 children, many of them shot in the back, the prime minister said during a visit to the crime scene on Tuesday.
    Attackers believed to belong to the Fulani ethnic group raided the rival Dogon village of Sobane Da, in central Mali, between Sunday and Monday.
    They killed at least 95 people and burned houses to the ground, in an escalation of the tit-for-tat ethnic slaughter that has engulfed the mostly Saharan nation this year.
    “All these victims of horror and barbarity remind us of our responsibility as leaders to reinforce and accelerate security,” said Boubou Cisse, who became prime minister in April after his predecessor stepped down following an earlier massacre by Dogon gunmen on a Fulani village in March.
    “May the soul of these innocent victims of discord and hatred rest in peace.”
    Violence between Dogon hunters and Fulani herders has killed hundreds since January, including an attack in March in which gunmen killed more than 150 Fulani, one of the worst acts of bloodshed in Mali’s recent history that forced a resignation by its then prime minister and government.
    Islamist militants have long exploited tensions between ethnic groups in the Sahara and Sahel to boost recruitment and sow chaos, efforts which now appear to be bearing fruit.
    Figures from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) show intercommunal violence overtaking jihad as a leading cause of death in Mali for the first time this year.
    Malian authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the latest atrocity, and local officials say 35 bodies have so far been identified at the massacre site.
    Malians have grown increasingly frustrated by failures of the government of President Boubacar Keita to protect them from both jihadist onslaughts and ethnic reprisals.
    Despite a 4,500-strong French force in the Sahel region, jihadist attacks have multiplied since they first intervened in 2013 in an effort to push back Islamists and allied Tuareg rebels who had taken over the northern half of the country, while ethnic conflicts have turned bloodier than ever.
(Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/11/2019 Cholera surge stalks Yemen’s hungry and displaced
A boy, cholera patient, lies on a bed as he receives medical care at a health center in the village
of Islim, in the northwestern province of Hajjah, Yemen June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Eissa Alragehi
    HAJJAH, Yemen (Reuters) – In the last two weeks Dr Asmahan Ahmed has seen a surge in suspected cholera cases arriving at her health center in Abs, a small, Houthi-held town in northwest Yemen.
    “Every day there are 30-50 cases, no fewer.    Suddenly it became like this,” she said in the 15-bed diarrhea treatment center.
    Yemen is suffering its third major cholera outbreak since 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened to try to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government after it was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
    The conflict has put 10 million people at risk of famine in the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.
    Cholera causes profuse diarrhea and fluid loss which can kill within hours.    Children, the elderly and those weakened by years of poor nutrition are most at risk.
    The World Health Organization said last week that Yemen had seen more than 724,000 suspected cholera cases and 1,135 deaths this year, but that case numbers had stabilized in recent weeks.
    In the clinic, limp children’s faces are covered with flies and their chests heave as they breathe while receiving intravenous fluid tubes in their feet and wrists.
    The recent influx means some patients are forced to lie on the floor and the center has run out of some medicines.
    Cholera is spread through dirty water, which more and more Yemenis are forced to drink as water resources are scarce in the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation.
    Pumps are needed in many parts of the country of 30 million people to bring water to the surface.    Fuel shortages have dramatically increased clean water prices.
    “We rely on wells which are uncovered and very dirty … We and livestock drink from these wells, as do children,” said Qassem Massoud, a young man standing at a rural well where people haul water up using plastic containers on string.
    Others fill containers from a muddy pool as donkeys drink alongside.
    Dr Abdelwahab al-Moayad said Yemen’s internally displaced were particularly at risk.
    “The number of cases are increasing by the day and if it continues we would consider it a humanitarian disaster,” he said.
    A breakthrough in U.N.-led peace efforts last December, the first in more than two years, had sparked hope for improved humanitarian and aid access.
    But implementation of a ceasefire and a troop withdrawal initiative in the main port of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions, has dragged on for six months.    Violence has continued in other parts of Yemen.
    Since the deal, more than 255,000 people have been displaced, U.N. migration agency figures show.
    The Houthis, who say their revolution is against corruption, control the biggest population centers.    The Saudi-backed government is based in the southern port of Aden.
(Reporting by Reuters TV in Yemen; writing by Lisa Barrington; editing by Jason Neely)

6/11/2019 Egypt, Jordan, Morocco to attend U.S.-led Palestinian conference: officials by Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: A woman holding a Palestinian flag gestures in front of Israeli forces during a protest marking the 71st anniversary of
the 'Nakba', or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's
independence in 1948, at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Egypt, Jordan and Morocco have informed the Trump administration they will attend a U.S.-led conference in Bahrain this month on proposals for boosting the Palestinian economy as part of a coming U.S. peace plan, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
    Egypt and Jordan’s participation is considered especially important since historically they have been key players in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and are also the only Arab states to have reached peace agreements with Israel.
    However, Palestinian leaders’ decision to boycott the June 25-26 conference in Manama has raised doubts about its chances for success.    They have shunned a broader diplomatic effort widely referred to as U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” but which Palestinians see as likely to be heavily tilted in favor of Israel and denying them a state of their own.
    In a letter dated June 10 to foreign diplomats in the Palestinian areas, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said: “Our presence in Manama would only be used as a legitimization of the initiative that aims at depriving us of our rights.”
    Despite that, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a chief architect of the long-delayed peace plan, is pressing ahead with arrangements for the Bahrain meeting, where the economic components are expected to be unveiled as the first step in the plan’s rollout.
    Acceptance of the invitation to the conference by Jordan and Egypt will bring to the table two countries that border both Israel and Palestinian areas.
    Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have previously confirmed their attendance, a White House official said.
    The official declined to say what level of representation the countries would send. U.S. officials have said they were inviting economic and finance ministers, as well as business leaders from the region and around the world, to discuss investment in the troubled Palestinian economy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
    Global financial bodies including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank also plan to be present.
    U.S. officials have been vague about the timing for the second phase of their initiative, which would be the release of proposals for resolving thorny political issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    With Israel heading for new elections in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet a deadline to form a government, uncertainty is expected to further delay the full release of the plan.
    Most experts are skeptical the Trump administration can succeed where decades of U.S.-backed efforts have failed.
    The Palestinian leadership has rejected diplomatic contacts with the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and then moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.    Palestinians want the eastern part of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as their future capital.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Tom Brown)

6/12/2019 Turkey says U.S. letter on F-35s not in line with spirit of alliance
U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan welcomes Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar
to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey on Wednesday criticized a letter from Washington on Ankara’s eventual removal from the F-35 fighter jet program, saying the language used did not suit the spirit of alliance between the two NATO allies.
    Writing to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar last week, U.S. acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan outlined how Turkey would be pulled out of the F-35 program unless Ankara changes course from its plans to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
    Akar, cited by his ministry in a statement, said Ankara was working on a response to the letter and that it would be sent to the United States in the coming days.
    He added that he was set to speak with Shanahan by phone and that they would meet in person at a NATO meeting at the end of the month.     “In the contacts we will make, whether via mail or a meeting in person, all topics are on the table and we are continuing to openly and clearly express… our known views."
    “We will continue to maintain the same attitude and stance.”
    In what has become a major point of disagreement between the NATO allies, the United States has long pushed Turkey to stop its purchase of the Russian S-400s, saying the system would compromise the F-35s.
    Turkey has repeatedly said the purchase of the missile system was a “done deal.”    Ankara has proposed that the two allies form a working group to assess the impact but says it has yet to hear back from Washington.
    Russia said on Tuesday it plans to deliver its S-400s, which are not compatible with NATO systems, to Turkey in July, setting the clock ticking on a U.S. threat to hit Ankara with sanctions if it goes ahead with the deal.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk/Mark Heinrich)

6/12/2019 U.S. joins diplomatic push to salvage agreement in Sudan by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: A Sudanese protester holds a national flag as he stands on a barricade along a street, demanding that the country's
Transitional Military Council hand over power to civilians, in Khartoum, Sudan June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The top U.S. diplomat for Africa on Wednesday joined an international effort to press Sudan’s military rulers and the opposition toward a deal on a transition to democracy two months after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir.
    An Ethiopian envoy has said that the military and opposition groups have agreed to resume talks on the formation of a transitional council that collapsed after the violent dispersal of a protest sit-in on June 3.
    Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, met on Wednesday with the main opposition coalition and held talks with Sudan’s acting Deputy Foreign Minister Ilham Ibrahim.
    Before the meetings, the State Department said Nagy was going to urge the parties to work toward an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations.    The United States also on Wednesday named veteran diplomat Donald Booth as its envoy to Sudan.
    After meeting Nagy, the main opposition coalition said that it would only participate in indirect talks and it would impose other conditions.
    “We have informed the Ethiopian prime minister that we refuse to have direct negotiations with the transitional military council,” said Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces.
    “The point of contention between us is clear and our terms are clear; we are talking now about issues of transition to civilian rule and the rights of martyrs.”
    The bloodshed has drawn expressions of concern from world powers including the United States, which imposed sanctions on Sudan under Bashir over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur.
    Stability in the nation of 40 million is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.
    The military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which between them have offered $3 billion in aid.
OPTIMISM
    “The current detente in Sudan calls for optimism and we call for the establishment of an agreement that will drive the transitional phase through a real and stable partnership,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter.
    He also praised the role of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who flew to Khartoum last week on a mediation mission and is expected to return this week.
    The June 3 crackdown led to at least 118 deaths, according to opposition-linked medics.    The government has confirmed 61 deaths, including three security personnel.
    Sudan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador, Irfan Siddiq , on Wednesday to protest his remarks, SUNA reported.    As authorities tried to disperse the main protest site last week, he tweeted: “No excuse for any such attack.    This.    Must.    Stop.    Now.”
    Talks between the military and the opposition were already deadlocked before the crackdown as the two sides struggled to agree on the make-up of a sovereign council that will oversee the transition.
    In Khartoum, employees returned to work on Wednesday and store owners opened their shops, after the alliance of protesters and opposition groups suspended a three-day campaign of strikes and civil disobedience.
    Many people lined up outside ATMs and banks that had closed first for the Eid holiday at the start of June and then because of the strike.
    Sudan is still suffering an internet outage. Some side streets that had been closed by protesters were still partially blocked by remnants of barricades.    Rubbish bins not emptied for days were overflowing.
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Dubai and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; writing by Lena Masri and Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/13/2019 Yemen’s Houthis strike Saudi airport, coalition vows to retaliate by Maher Chmaytelli and Sylvia Westall
Debris is seen at Saudi Arabia's Abha airport after it was attacked by Yemen's Houthi groupin in Abha, Saudi Arabia June 12, 2019. Saudi Press
Agency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. QUALITY FROM SOURCE
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The Saudi-led military coalition vowed to respond firmly to a missile attack by Yemeni Houthi forces on a civilian airport in southern Saudi Arabia on Wednesday that wounded 26 people.
    The Western-backed, Sunni Muslim alliance that has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen said the early morning strike was proof of Iranian support for what it called cross-border terrorism.
    The coalition said a projectile hit the arrivals hall at Abha airport, causing material damage.    Three women and two children were among the wounded, who were of Saudi, Yemeni and Indian nationalities, it said in a statement.
    The Houthis said on their media channels that they fired a cruise missile at Abha airport, which is about 200 km (125 miles) north of the Yemen border and serves domestic and regional routes.
    “Evidence indicates Iran’s Revolutionary Guards supplied the Houthis with the weapon that targeted Abha airport,” Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV quoted the coalition as saying.
    There was no immediate Iranian response.
    The Saudi civil aviation body told Reuters flight traffic was currently running normally at the airport.    The Houthi media center said the strike destroyed the control tower.    The coalition’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Reuters could not independently verify the claim.
    The attack follows an armed drone strike last month on two oil-pumping stations in the kingdom that were claimed by the Houthis.    Saudi Arabia accused Iran of ordering the attack, a charge that Tehran and the Houthi movement deny.
    The coalition said the strike on Abha airport could amount to a war crime and it would take “urgent and timely” measures in response.
    Saudi deputy defense minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said on Twitter late on Wednesday that Houthis will be confronted with unwavering resolve.
    “Appropriate measures will be taken to confront and deter these terrorist militias,” bin Salman said.
    “The Iranian regime is the only party in the region that has been pursuing reckless escalation,” he added.
    A Houthi military spokesman on Tuesday threatened that the group would target every airport in Saudi Arabia and that the coming days would reveal “big surprises>”
    The alliance intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government that was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.
    The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say their revolution is against corruption.
    A Houthi military spokesman said the attack on Abha airport was a response to the coalition’s crimes against Yemen.    “The most modern American systems could not intercept the missile,” he said in comments carried by the group’s media center.
    The coalition spokesman did not immediately respond when asked if the projectile had been intercepted by the kingdom’s Patriot missiles before hitting the airport.
    The Houthis have previously targeted Saudi cities with drones and missiles, most of which have been intercepted.    In March 2018 an Egyptian was killed in Riyadh by missile shrapnel.
    The nearest Patriot battery to Abha airport is about 20 km to the north, said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East & Africa editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly.    “A cruise missile might be able to come in at a sufficiently low altitude that it could not be engaged before reaching its target,” he said.
    The Houthis stepped up their attacks following a lull last year ahead of U.N.-led peace efforts.    The coalition has responded by carrying out air strikes on Houthi-held Sanaa.
    Senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid told Reuters in Abu Dhabi that Wednesday’s attack was a “provocation that is unacceptable” and risked undermining the U.N. efforts.
    The United Nations is deeply concerned about the attack, deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.
    “We urge all parties to prevent any such further incidents, which risk escalating the current situation, pose a serious threat to national and regional security and undermine the U.N.-led political process,” Haq said.
    The attack comes against a backdrop of heightened U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington’s move to tighten sanctions on Tehran and to reinforce its military presence in the Gulf.
    The escalation in violence could threaten a fragile U.N.-led peace initiative in Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, which handles the bulk of the impoverished country’s commercial and aid imports and is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Sylvia Westall; Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Marwa Rashad in Riyadh and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker)

6/13/2019 Algerian ex-PM Sellal in custody over graft allegation, state TV says by Hamid Ould Ahmed
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal arrives for the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and
the Government of the African Union in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s supreme court on Thursday remanded former prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal in custody over allegations of corruption, state television reported.
    Sellal is one of the closest associates of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be detained since protests broke out in February, demanding the prosecution of people the protesters regarded as corrupt.
    Sellal, who served as prime minister and Bouteflika’s campaign managers several times, is under investigation over “dissipation of public funds.”
    His lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
    On Wednesday, the same court had ordered the detention of another former prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, for alleged involvement in corruption, including “awarding illegal privileges and dissipation of public funds.”
    A judge at the supreme court confiscated the passport of former transport and public works minister Abdelghani Zaalane and ordered him to show up at the court once a month, state TV reported on Thursday, after saying on Wednesday he was detained.
    Bouteflika stepped down on April 2 under pressure from the army, which is now the main decision-maker.    Its chief of staff, Ahmed Gaed Salah, has urged the courts to speed up prosecution of people suspected of involvement in corruption.
    Bouteflika’s youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have been placed in custody by a military judge for “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority.”
    Several prominent businessmen, some of them close to Bouteflika, have been detained pending trial.
    Protesters are now seeking the departure of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, both seen as part of the elite that has ruled the North African country since independence from France in 1962.
    Authorities have postponed a presidential election previously planned for July 4, citing a lack of candidates.    No new date has been set for the vote.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; editing by Kevin Liffey, Larry King)

6/13/2019 Turkey rejects ultimatums, says will not back down on Russian S-400s
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 - RC1BFE102410
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will not back down from its decision to buy Russian S-400 missile defense systems and rejects any ultimatums on the issue, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday in response to U.S. warnings about the purchase.
    Cavusoglu was responding to a question about a letter in which U.S. acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan warned Turkey that it would be pulled out of the F-35 fighter jet program unless Ankara changed course from its plans to install the S-400s.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

6/13/2019 Iraqi Shi’ite groups deepen control in strategic Sunni areas by John Davison
FILE PHOTO: A car drives past graffiti in a street in Mosul, Iraq October 27, 2018.
Picture taken October 27, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal/File Photo
    MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – The only sign that Sunni-majority Mosul’s newest and busiest marketplace is in Shi’ite Muslim hands is a small plaque in the office of its leaseholder from Baghdad.
    “The Imam Hussein Market,” it reads, dedicated to the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson and most revered Shi’ite imam.
    Banners of Shi’ite leaders that militiamen erected after helping drive out the Sunni extremists of Islamic State two years ago have been removed amid fears of renewed sectarian tension.
    Iraq’s second city, once a recruitment center for Sunni officers in Saddam Hussein’s army, became an al Qaeda hotbed after the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled the dictator, and later the base from where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014.
    Iranian-backed Shi’ite paramilitary groups that played a crucial role in driving out IS have since become dominant in the city, if less visibly than before.
    But Shi’ite religious authorities are now quietly seeking to formally take over state land and property they say is historically Shi’ite – something that has incensed Sunni officials.
    In the Imam Hussein marketplace, an area of some 60 shops and stalls, they have established a lucrative foothold.
    Shi’ite paramilitary groups deny accusations by local officials that they provide at least the implied threat of force to back up Shi’ite claims of land ownership.
    But many Iraqi Sunnis view the growth of Shi’ite land control and investment in areas once held by IS as a sign of the expanding power of the militias and influence of Iran. [nL8N1XN33U] [nL5N20136K]
    “Today in Iraq, the last word goes to whoever has force, and that’s what these groups have.    Law means nothing,” said Mosul lawmaker Shirwan Dubardani.
    The areas the Shi’ite groups and authorities are seeking to acquire lie in a strategic corridor of territory stretching from Tehran to Beirut.    Greater Shi’ite control there, whether by Iranian allies or others, is important for Iran as it seeks to offset U.S. economic sanctions. [nL8N23H1VV]
    It comes at a time when Iran has been expanding its influence in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, while asserting its readiness to take on its Saudi and U.S. enemies.
    There is also evidence of further Iranian-linked Shi’ite expansion in Iraq.    North of Baghdad on the way to Mosul – and near a military base hosting U.S. forces – an Iranian-backed militia offered to buy an area where it built a shrine to an Iranian general killed fighting IS in 2014, the owner of the land said.
    The owner refused, but cannot return with the area sealed off by policemen linked to the militia.    “They’re not satisfied with controlling land – they want formal, legal control,” he said, declining to be named for fear of reprisals.
    In Mosul, it is religious authorities, not militias, that are seeking property, particularly older shrines and mosques.
    Iraq’s Shi’ite endowment office – a government body that administers religious sites and real estate – is using legal recourse, incentives and influence to invest in several areas of Mosul, according to local authorities, business owners, investors and documents seen by Reuters.
    Such claims could be explosive.
    “We sometimes worry that armed force will be used, by either side,” said Mosul Mayor Zuheir al-Araji.
    Officials in the city accuse the Shi’ite endowment and armed groups of unlawful land grabs to make money and force demographic change.
    Shi’ite armed groups and investors deny this, saying all property takeovers are legal and those lands rightfully Shi’ite.
    The Shi’ite endowment did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Its Mosul branch declined several requests.    The Iraqi prime minister’s office declined to comment on the issue.
    The Sunni endowment says it owns all state religious land in Mosul including sites claimed by Shi’ites.    But the battle over legal ownership of areas claimed by both sects is intractable.    A complex legal process for solving disputes favors those with power, analysts say.
MONEY, CHARM AND THREATS
    In the past year, the Shi’ite endowment issued notices asserting ownership of several sites in Mosul that it had long claimed, handing leases for attached commercial areas to investors.
    More recent claims have stalled pending appeals by Sunni officials and the town hall.    But the marketplace is already operating as a Shi’ite endowment-owned area.
    “The Shi’ite endowment has rights to this land, which historically was a Shi’ite cemetery,” said Uday Muhsin, the market leaseholder.
    He pays 170 million dinars yearly ($143,000) to the endowment which he says goes to a fund for wounded Shi’ite fighters and victims of Islamic State.
    Last year, Muhsin began leasing the deserted site opposite the tomb of Nabi Yunis (the Prophet Jonah), which was destroyed by IS.    He rents it out to local traders, and showed papers from city authorities letting him do so.
    Market vendors said the rent of roughly $200 per month is about half what they would pay in areas administered by the Sunni endowment.
    It is one way of winning local support and securing control, Sunni officials say.    They say the takeover was illegal and dispute the area’s Shi’ite heritage – the basis for the endowment’s claim to it.
    “People accept it because it’s done in an attractive way.    They’re poor and need the money,” Mosul’s Sunni endowment director Abu Bakr Kanaan said.
    But behind paperwork and lower rent there is the implied threat of force, said Kanaan and shopowners in another area the Shi’ite endowment claimed last month.
    “A Shi’ite investor came to 20 stores on this road, saying we must sign new rental agreements with him,” said Abu Mohammed, who owns a shop that abuts state religious property in the Old City managed by the Sunni endowment.
    The investor produced a document from the Shi’ite endowment, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, declaring ownership of the area and leasing him the properties for around $40,000 per year.
    “He was charming at first, and was offering better rent.    But when we hesitated he threatened to throw us out.    He clearly had connections and force behind him,” said Abu Mohammed.    He declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals.
    Harith Hasan, an Iraq expert at the Carnegie Middle East Centre, said the Shi’ite endowment “often reinforces its guardianship not only through the legal process but also by allying with groups that are present on the ground.”
    Paramilitaries in Mosul denied involvement but said they had once intervened to “calm things down” between the two sides.
    “The Sunni endowment chief doesn’t accept the idea that the Shi’ite endowment can take land in Mosul,” said Hayder Abu Hadma, a deputy commander in the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the official grouping of Iraq’s Shi’ite paramilitaries.
    “But he knows very well there are many Shi’ites here and 20 to 30 Shi’ite shrines,” he said.
SECTARIAN SYSTEM
    Under Saddam a single endowment ministry ran all state religious lands, which Shi’ites persecuted by the dictator complained left them unable to oversee their heritage.
    The ministry disbanded after 2003, replaced by separate Shi’ite and Sunni endowment offices.    When a mosque or shrine is claimed by both, a committee with representatives from both sides must decide.    It often cannot, leaving decisions pending and benefiting whoever has sway in courts or on the ground.
    In recent years the Shi’ite endowment “has been in a better position to advance its claims, given the support it has enjoyed from Shi’ite Islamist parties that dominated the government and parliament,” Hasan said.
    Around Mosul, once a melting pot for ethnic and religious groups along the ancient Silk Road, IS destroyed Shi’ite shrines.    Now many PMF groups see defense of shrines as their primary task.
    “They think they have the right to our religious sites because IS blew up Shi’ite property.    It’s all about money, from investment and rent to attracting pilgrims who would eventually visit,” Kanaan said.
    Sunni authorities acknowledge the Shi’ite heritage around Mosul.    But they say most heritage inside the city is Sunni.
    Mayor Araji hopes the Shi’ite endowment will stop claiming property, which would encourage stability.
    After the chaos that followed the end of IS, things were now more under control, he said.    “But we need Baghdad’s support.    We can’t bring law and order on our own.”
(Reporting by John Davison; Additional reporting by Jamal Badrani, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Ghazwan Hassan in Tikrit; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/13/2019 U.S. steps up efforts to broker peace in Sudan, sends special envoy to Khartoum by OAN Newsroom
    The State Department is sending a special envoy to Sudan amid mounting civil disobedience in the country’s capital. According to an announcement Wednesday, the U.S. dispatched two top diplomats to Khartoum.
    The envoy will meet with opposition leaders and government officials in hopes of quickly deescalating tension between the interim government and civilians.    The U.S. diplomats are calling for an end to the attacks on civilians, an end to the militias which allegedly carry out the government attacks, and an independent investigation into recent violence.
    This comes after an attack on pro-democracy protesters last week, which left more than 100 people dead.
Sudanese Americans rally outside the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in solidarity with Pro-democracy protests in Sudan.
Pro-democracy protest leaders in Sudan on Saturday called on Sudanese to take part in acts of civil disobedience in a bid to pressure the military
to hand over power after the deadly break-up of their main sit-in in the capital of Khartoum earlier this week. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
    “People are in a state of terror and great fear.    All Sudanese people are uncertain.    They are very afraid. People are unable to leave their houses, they are unable to go to work, they are unable to do anything.    Everything is on hold.    The situation is very bad.    People cannot eat, they cannot leave, they cannot work.    You can be sitting at home and still be in a state of terror, worried about the passing gangs.” — Idris Mohamed, Sudanese citizen
    Since the U.S. has stepped up efforts to broker peace, opposition leaders have agreed to resume talks with the interim government.

6/13/2019 UN official calls for end to violence in West Africa by OAN Newsroom
    The United Nations is calling for an end to violence in West Africa, following a surge of attacks between rival ethnic groups.
    A UN representative for Mali told the Security Council on Wednesday, the vicious cycle of violence must be stopped. The official warned if the violence does not end, people will eventually take justice into their own hands.
    His remarks come just days after attackers reportedly raided a village in Mali’s central region, torching homes and fatally shooting multiple people.    At least 35 people were killed in the attack.
Mahamat Saleh Annadif is pictured. (AP/Photo)
    “This hellish, vicious cycle of violence must be stopped at the risk that everyone will take justice in their own hands.    It is necessary to emphasize the importance of the fight against impunity.” — Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Rep. of the Secretary General – Mali
    Malians have grown increasingly frustrated by failures of the local government to halt the ongoing Jihadist onslaughts and ethnic reprisals.

6/13/2019 Sudan’s military rulers meet U.S. diplomats, Bashir charged with corruption by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses the National Dialogue Committee meeting at the
Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The head of Sudan’s ruling military council held talks on Thursday with the senior U.S. diplomat for Africa, who was visiting Khartoum to encourage a transition to democracy two months after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir.
    Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, met with Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said the council, which released a photo of the meeting. Veteran diplomat Donald Booth, who was appointed U.S. envoy to Sudan on Wednesday, was also present.
    “Burhan expressed Sudan’s aspiration to strengthen its relations with the United States as a superpower that has a positive role which the Sudanese people looks up to,” the military council said in a statement.
    The United States was helping the ongoing political negotiations between the council and the opposition, it added.
    Stalled talks between the council and an alliance of opposition groups over who should control a three-year transition towards elections collapsed after a June 3 raid on a protest sit-in that left dozens dead.
    The bloodshed in Sudan has prompted concern from world powers including the United States, which sanctioned Sudan under Bashir over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur.
    Trade sanctions were lifted in 2017 but Sudan is still on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which prevents it from accessing badly needed funding from international lenders.    Washington previously said it will not take Sudan off the list while the military remains in power.
    Stability in the nation of 40 million is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.
    The military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which between them have offered $3 billion in aid.
    Nagy already met with the opposition alliance and held talks with Sudan’s acting Deputy Foreign Minister Ilham Ibrahim on Wednesday.
    Earlier on Thursday Sudan’s state prosecutor’s office said that Bashir had been charged with corruption after the completion of an investigation.
    Bashir was overthrown and arrested in a coup by the military on April 11 after months of mass protests against his autocratic 30-year rule.
    The charges were related to laws on “suspected illicit wealth and emergency orders,” the public prosecutor’s office said without giving more details.
    Bashir had already been charged in May with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters.
    Prosecutors had also ordered his interrogation on suspicion of money laundering and financing terrorism.
    It has not been possible to get a comment from Bashir since his removal.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Lena Masri; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)

6/13/2019 Israel strikes Hamas in Gaza, calling attack response to rocket fire
A Palestinian fisherman rows a boat in the sea off the coast of the southern Gaza Strip June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    SDEROT, Israel (Reuters) – Israeli aircraft attacked a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after a Palestinian rocket strike, the Israeli military said, in the first serious cross-border flare-up since a surge in fighting last month.
    A second rocket launched in the evening hit a house in the Israeli border town of Sderot but caused no casualties, police said. There was no immediate comment from Palestinian factions.
    The latest hostilities followed Israel’s closure of offshore waters to Gaza fisherman on Wednesday in what it said was a response to incendiary balloons launched across the frontier that caused fires in fields in southern Israel this week.
    In a statement, the military said fighter planes attacked “underground infrastructure” in a compound belonging to the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza.    There were no injuries.
    The military said it was responding to a rocket fired from Gaza overnight that was intercepted by Iron Dome air defenses.    Israel signaled it was trying to contain the confrontation.
    “There’ll be another (military) campaign in the Gaza Strip,” security cabinet minister Yoav Gallant told Reshet 13 TV.
    “We will decide the timing and we will decide the conditions.    And I will not play into Hamas’ hands when it is the one that wants do this (escalation).”
    In two days of heavy fighting in early May, projectiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel, local health officials said, and Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, according to Gaza health authorities.
    A ceasefire mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations ended that round of violence.
    Some two million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the small coastal enclave.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/13/2019 Libya parliament chief allied to Haftar rules out talks before Tripoli captured by Mahmoud Mourad and Ahmed Elumami
FILE PHOTO: A fighter loyal to Libya's U.N.-backed government (GNA) fires a mortar during clashes with forces loyal
to Khalifa Haftar on the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
    CAIRO/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – The head of the Libyan parliament aligned with eastern forces trying to seize the capital from the internationally-backed government said on Thursday there could be no peace talks until they had captured the city.
    Forces led by Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in early April but the assault has stalled in the face of resistance from local armed groups aligned with the U.N.-recognized government there.
    Haftar and his backers say they are trying to free the capital from militias which they blame for destabilizing Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.
    Haftar’s critics accuse him of trying to seize power through force and deepening a conflict between factions based in the east and west of the sprawling North African country.
    The campaign on Tripoli has left at least 653 dead and displaced more than 93,000, according to the United Nations, as well as causing extensive material damage.
    Aguila Saleh, head of a parliament that relocated to eastern Libya in 2014 during a previous battle for Tripoli, said “the campaign to liberate Tripoli is not easy.”
    “More than two million Libyans are living in the capital and these armed groups are using people and buildings as shields,” Saleh told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Cairo late on Wednesday.
    He said that Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) was refraining from using heavy weapons to limit damage to property.
    “The army could have carried out a powerful operation and used all kinds of weapons but these are Libyans and we will save any drop of blood, no matter what.”
    He rejected any proposals for the LNA to withdraw or agree to a ceasefire.    “The (military) operation must be resolved. The political solution should in any case come even after the liberation of the Libyan capital,” said Saleh.
    “If someone could get these groups out peacefully, then the army would return to the barracks,” he added, referring to the Tripoli armed groups.
    Haftar’s offensive has upended United Nations-led plans to stabilize Libya after years of conflict that have left the oil-rich nation divided and caused living standards to plummet.
    On Thursday morning, a war plane belonging to the U.N.-backed government crashed on a farm in the western city of Misrata, some 211 km (13 miles) east of Tripoli, two residents said.
    The pilot died, they added.
    There was no immediate comment by the Tripoli forces.
(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/13/2019 Islamic state claims responsibility for Tajikistani prison riot
A still image, taken from a video footage and released by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on May 20, 2019, shows relatives of inmates reacting
after reports about deadly riots inside a prison in the city of Vakhdat, Tajikistan. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/ via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Islamic State claimed responsibility for a prison riot in Tajikistan last month in which 32 people were killed, the militant group’s online publication said on Thursday.
    Islamic State said in its weekly Al-Nabaa newspaper that the “attackers are of the caliphate soldiers.”    It did not provide evidence to support its claim.
(Reporting By Ali Abdelaty; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/14/2019 Tremors across Jordan as Trump Mideast peace plan revives old fears by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump walks down the West Wing colonnade with Jordan’s King Abdullah as he
welcomes the King to the White House in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s King Abdullah reacts angrily to any suggestion that he might accept a U.S. deal to end the Arab-Israeli conflict that would make his country a homeland for Palestinians.
    Speaking to the armed forces in March, he rejected the idea of Jordan as an alternative state for Palestinians, saying: “Don’t we have a voice in the end?
    Already facing economic discontent at home, Abdullah must navigate diplomatic moves by his U.S. allies that are upturning a regional status-quo that has underpinned Jordan’s internal politics and foreign relations for decades.
    After Israel’s creation in 1948 Jordan absorbed more Palestinians than any other country, with some estimates that they now account for more than half the population.
    Any changes to the international consensus on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, long buttressed by U.S. policy, therefore reverberate harder in Jordan than anywhere else.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-promised “Deal of the Century” to resolve the conflict is still secret, though leaked details suggest it dumps the idea of a full Palestinian state in favor of limited self-rule in part of the Occupied Territories, which would undermine Palestinians’ right to return.
    It envisages an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control, with Palestinians also having a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders, the leaks say.
    Jordanian fears about what the plan portends for the region, for their Palestinian citizens, and for the politics of their own country, have been aggravated by Trump’s readiness to upturn U.S. policy.
    American officials deny contemplating making Jordan a Palestinian homeland, pushing it to take a role in governing parts of the West Bank or challenging the right of King Abdullah’s dynasty to custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
    But Trump’s radical approach to the issue, and recent statements by his ambassador to Israel that it had a right to annex some of the West Bank have done little to assuage Jordanian concerns.
PALESTINIANS IN JORDAN
    Few subjects in Jordan are more politically charged than the role, presence and future there of Palestinians.    The issue is so sensitive that the government publishes no data on how many of its 8 million citizens are also of Palestinian descent, though a recent U.S. congressional report put it at more than half.
    Despite the U.S. denials, Jordanians fear that Trump is returning to an old Israeli theme: that Jordan is Palestine and that is where the Palestinians of the West Bank should go.
    It could not have come at a worse time for the 57-year-old Abdullah, whose country is facing economic challenges that led to protests and a change of government last year.
    While many Palestinians are integrated in Jordan, and many descendants of refugees have never set foot in their original homeland, some native Jordanians have never acknowledged that they will stay permanently.
    They fear Trump’s plan could alter the demography and politics of a nation shaped by the presence of Palestinians, who hold full citizenship but are marginalized and seen as a political threat by some people of Jordanian descent.
    But Abdullah’s decision that Jordan should attend an economic conference that is part of the U.S. plan showed that despite mounting alarm at home, Amman cannot ignore pressure from richer, more powerful allies in the West and the Gulf.
INTERNAL WORRIES
    Maintaining unity between citizens of Jordanian and Palestinian descent has been critical to the ruling family’s role as a unifying force in a country where tribal and clan loyalties hold sway.
    The king is already facing anger from the “Herak” opposition, drawn from Jordanians of native descent, who say Trump’s plans will tear apart a state patronage system that has cemented their own loyalty to the monarchy.
    Retired army officers have held small weekly protests in opposition to a deal.
    “No to eroding our national identity and dismantling the state,” said Saad Alaween, a prominent Herak dissident, referring to the deal.
    Some warn the monarch not to accept a plan that could give their compatriots of Palestinian origin more political rights in an electoral system tilted in favor of native Jordanians.
    Rumors that the plan could lead to Jordan taking in Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria, or that it would merge with a rump of Palestinian territory in bits of the West Bank, have also led to alarm.
    In a sign of his concerns, the king has even met lawmakers from the once outcast Islamist movement in an attempt, say officials, to win the backing of the largest opposition grouping with support in large cities and Palestinian camps.
    “Trump wants to buy and sell Jordan and create a new regime.    We are behind the king in opposing this,” said Muraed al-Adaylah, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
    Abdullah also inspired a shake-up in the intelligence establishment – long seen as a guardian of Jordan’s stability – to solidify the internal front and mitigate any fallout from the deal in the months to come, insiders say.
    In the army – whose loyalty to the crown is deeply meshed with Jordanian national identity – there are also signs of concern.
    “Jordan is a country that has sovereignty and history, and will say its word at the right moment,” said General Mahmoud al-Friehat, the army’s chief of staff.
FOREIGN PRESSURE
    Jordan’s long-term strategic and economic policy is based on close relations with the West and the Gulf – an approach that underlay its decision to make peace with Israel in 1994.
    Abdullah has made repeated visits to Washington, where officials say he was not told details of the White House plan.
    That has only accentuated the sense of alarm among a political establishment that sees a day of reckoning coming with Trump’s deal, two officials and a politician said.
    The royal palace has pointed to demonstrations in dozens of rural towns and cities as a message to Washington that it cannot impose a solution that permanently settles Palestinians in Jordan against its will.
    Jordan has traditionally turned to monarchies in the Gulf to shore up its economy.    However, their focus has shifted to their rivalry with Iran, cutting financial support and leaving Jordan more exposed than ever.
    “Our Gulf allies are too beholden to Washington … to extend the level of support that can help us withstand the growing pressures,” said a senior official.
    Although Jordan will join the conference to roll out the economic parts of Trump’s plan, it will deliver a message there that no cash offers can replace a political solution to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, officials say.
    Still, some think economically challenged Jordan could profit from any plan that promises billions in aid and project finance.
    Some businessmen have already positioned themselves to benefit and this month a prominent MP, Fawaz al-Zubi, said Jordanians should be open-minded about anything they could gain from it.
    In the camps where 2.2 million of Jordan’s registered refugees live, bitter realism seems to prevail.
    Ibrahim Anabtawi, a second-generation refugee with six children, said that like others in the camp he had dug up old United Nations ration cards to prove their rights in case any new deal offered compensation.
    “I won’t forget I am a Palestinian or give up the right of return,” said Anabtawi.    But he added: “I have been persecuted all this time and no one stood by us.    I now want anything that this deal and Trump offers.”
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Giles Elgood)

6/14/2019 Yemen’s Houthis, in tit-for-tat, launch fresh attacks against Saudi Abha airport
Damage of Saudi Arabia's Abha airport is seen after it was attacked by Yemen's Houthi group
in Abha, Saudi Arabia June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal al Nasser
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthi group carried out new drone strikes on a Saudi airport on Friday after a series of air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition against the capital Sanaa, residents and both sides of Yemen’s war said.
    The Iran-aligned group said it has launched several drone strikes against Abha regional airport in southern Saudi Arabia, the Houthi television channel reported, two days after it claimed responsibility for a missile attack against the same airport.
    The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in 2015 in Yemen’s civil war to restore the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said it intercepted five drones that targeted Abha airport and Khamis Mushait in the same region.
    The Western-backed coalition, which had vowed to respond to Wednesday’s missile attack on Abha airport, said on Thursday it had destroyed Houthi military assets on the outskirts of the Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
    A statement from the alliance said the operation targeted “foreign experts from terrorist organizations working with the Houthis” but did not identify their nationality or say whether they had been hit.
    It was unclear if there were any casualties following Friday’s drone strikes.    Wednesday’s missile attack had wounded 26 people, Saudi authorities said.
    Coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates accuse Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah of supporting the Houthis, a charge all three deny.
    “The targets that were destroyed in Yemen include missile depots, weapons and manufacturing plants,” said a coalition statement carried on Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV.
    The Houthi-run Masirah TV said coalition airplanes bombed three sites, including military targets belonging to Houthi forces, on the outskirts of Sanaa.    Residents told Reuters the strikes had targeted military camps west and north of the city.
    The Houthis have stepped up missile and drone attacks against Saudi cities as tensions have risen between Iran and Gulf Arab states allied with the United States.    Last month, the group carried out drone strikes on two Saudi oil pumping stations.
    Tehran and Washington have engaged in a war of words since the United States reimposed sanctions on Tehran and increased its military presence in the Gulf.
    The Yemen conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis say they took up arms against corruption.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden and Mohammed El Sherif in Cairo, Lisa Barrington in Dubai, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker)

6/14/2019 Distrust between Sudanese parties makes direct talks impossible: U.S. official by Aidan Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Tibor Nagy, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, speaks during a news conference on the case
of Sudan, in the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Outside mediation is needed to defuse Sudan’s crisis because the ruling military council and opposition distrust each other too deeply for direct talks following a deadly raid on a protest camp, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa said on Friday.
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Tibor Nagy also said he had met victims of the June 3 raid during a visit this week to Khartoum and he described their accounts as “harrowing.”
    The raid, in which opposition-linked doctors say more than 100 people were killed, led to the collapse of stalled talks over a political transition toward elections and civilian rule following the overthrow of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April.
    The military ousted and arrested Bashir after 16 weeks of protests, setting up a transitional council and entering talks with an alliance of protest and opposition groups that then stalled over who would lead a three-year transition.
    Nagy, speaking in a telephone briefing from Addis Ababa, said Washington’s newly named envoy to Sudan, veteran diplomat Donald Booth, would focus on supporting mediation efforts led by the African Union and IGAD, an African trade bloc.
    “Why mediation, why not direction negotiation between the parties?    The two parties absolutely do not trust each other in any way,” Nagy said.
    While in Khartoum, Nagy met opposition groups and civil society as well as military council head Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
FRANK” EXCHANGE
    The conversation with Burhan “was about as frank and direct as possible … it was quite an exchange of views and obviously we did not agree on some of the key points,” Nagy said.
    “From our point of view we mentioned that the events of June 3 constituted a 180 degree turn in the way events were going, with murder, rape, pillaging by members of the security forces.”
    Washington believes there has to be an investigation into the incident that is “independent and credible,” he said.
    “We spoke to some of the victims, including an American citizen who was shot, and those accounts were harrowing and very persuasive.”
    The Sudanese government has confirmed 61 deaths in the sit-in raid.
    Shams El Din Kabbashi, the military council spokesman, said on Thursday there had been excesses and deviations from a plan devised after the council ordered military leaders to clear the sit-in.
    Some officers have been arrested in connection with the raid and the results of an investigation will be announced on Saturday, he said.
    Stability in Sudan, which has been grappling with an economic crisis, is seen as crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.
    Wealthy Gulf states are among the foreign powers trying to influence the path of the nation of 40 million.
    The United States imposed sanctions on Sudan under Bashir which were largely lifted in 2017.    But Sudan remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, preventing it from accessing badly needed funding from international lenders.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/14/2019 Senegal police detain protesters amid outcry over gas deal
Anti-riot police deploy during a protest calling for clarity and justice over a report alleging
Senegalese President Macky Sall's brother, Aliou Sall, who had been involved in fraud related to two offshore gas
blocks developed by British Petroleum (BP) in Dakar, Senegal June 14, 2019, REUTERS/Sylvain Cherkaoui
    DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegalese riot police fired tear gas and detained more than 20 people on Friday at an unsanctioned protest in Dakar over a BBC report of allegations the president’s brother was involved in fraud related to two offshore gas blocks developed by BP PLC.
    Prosecutors have said they will open an investigation following the publication of the BBC report earlier in June.    The report has caused public outcry and cast a shadow over Senegal’s energy plans years before the first oil and gas starts flowing.
    Opposition groups had called for a peaceful protest for Friday, but the authorities did not give permission.
    A Reuters witness in central Dakar saw police firing tear gas canisters and detaining protesters, who chanted slogans such as ‘We are Senegalese!    It’s too much!’
    It was not possible to estimate the size of the protest as it was not localized in one part of the city.    The situation was calm by the evening.
    The BBC report said that, in a previously unpublished arrangement, BP had agreed to pay Timis Corporation, a firm run by Romanian-Australian tycoon Frank Timis, about $10 billion in royalty payments for its stake in the two blocks.
    The BBC said that, based on documents it had reviewed, a secret payment of $250,000 was made by Timis to a company run by the president’s brother, Aliou Sall.    He has denied receiving the payment and called the report “totally false.”
    Timis has not been reachable for comment, but told the BBC in a statement that there had been “no wrongdoing whatsoever.”
    The blocks are currently operated by BP, which has said it “rejects any implication that it acted improperly.”
    The blocks, called Cayar Offshore Profond and St. Louis Profond, have caused controversy since 2012, when a previously unknown company called Petro-Tim was unexpectedly awarded the license despite having no known track record in the industry.    Soon after, the president’s brother was hired at the company.
    Protests against that deal erupted in Dakar in 2016, casting a shadow over President Macky Sall’s first term.
(Reporting by Diadie Ba and Yvonne Bell; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Grant McCool)

6/14/2019 Southern EU leaders back Cyprus in gas dispute with Turkey by Chris Scicluna
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, French President Emmanuel Macron,
Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte
and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades attend the Southern EU Countries summit at Auberge de Castille in Valletta,
Malta June 14, 2019. Department of Information-Malta/Handout via REUTERS
    VALLETTA (Reuters) – Heads of European Union Mediterranean states offered full support on Friday for fellow EU member Cyprus in a dispute with Turkey over the ownership of offshore natural gas deposits.
    The discovery of lucrative energy reserves has exacerbated tensions between Turkey and Cyprus which date to an ethnic conflict in 1974 that split the island between its Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations.    The Turkish-speaking northern part of Cyprus proclaims independence, recognized only by Turkey.
    Cyprus said this week it had issued arrest warrants for the crew of a Turkish drill ship it accused of infringing territory over which it claims the right to explore for oil and gas.
    Turkey has overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore research in the Mediterranean and argues that Turkish Cypriots also have a right to a share of the newfound resources.    Ankara said reports of the arrest warrants “crossed the line.”
    EU leaders in Malta threw their weight behind Cyprus.
    “Turkey must stop its illegal activities in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus,” said French President Emmanuel Macron.    “The European Union will not show any weakness on this subject.”
    Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: “It’s important to signal that the EU should take specific measures if Turkey does not stop its infringing behavior.    Whoever doesn’t respect international law must suffer the consequences.”
    Turkey has bid for EU membership, but its candidacy is frozen, with the EU executive in May saying its hopes of joining were fading because of backsliding on rights and rule of law.
    The gathering in Malta came a week ahead of a full summit of EU leaders, which falls at a time when a number of top jobs in Europe are up for grabs — including new heads of both the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB).
    Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he hoped the southern EU leaders could work together to make sure their interests were respected.
    “I hope to get everyone’s agreement for greater cohesion on the part of the southern EU states.    Sometimes we make the mistake of splitting, while other groups, like those in the north, are more united,” he said.
    Earlier this week a government source in Rome said Italy was ready to back a French candidate to lead the ECB as part of a plan to ensure an Italian retained a seat on the central bank executive board.
    Conte, who leads a government that includes the anti-immigrant far-right League, also expressed disappointment that the EU had yet to agree a comprehensive immigration policy, with promises unfulfilled to disperse migrants across the bloc.
    “It is unacceptable that we continue to declare abstract solidarity for all, but then fail to translate this into concrete measures,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Antonio Denti, Crispian Balmer, Joan Faus, George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Peter Graff)

6/14/2019 France’s Macron sides with Cyprus on dispute with Turkey
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a news conference during the Southern EU Countries Summit in
front of the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta, June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
    VALLETTA (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron urged Turkey to stop “illegal activities” in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone and said the European Union would not back down on the issue.
    European Union members have pressured Turkey to drop its plans for offshore drilling for natural gas in an area claimed by the Cypriot authorities as part of their exclusive economic zone around the island.
    “I want to reiterate my solidarity with Cyprus and my support and respect for its sovereignty.    Turkey must stop its illegal activities in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone,” Macron said after a summit of Southern European Union heads of states on Friday in Malta.
    “The European Union will not show weakness on this matter,” he said.
    Separately, the French president argued for euro zone reforms to continue after the bloc’s finance ministers took steps toward tighter integration without reaching agreement on hotly disputed matters such as a common budget for the area.
    “This first step is not enough and we must go much further,” Macron said.
    “We need a stability function for the euro zone, a European guarantee for deposits.”
    The finance ministers are set to hold more discussions over financing sources and a common budget.
(Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey; Editing by Inti Landauro and Hugh Lawson)

6/15/2019 Saudi-led coalition hits Houthi positions in Yemen’s Sanaa: Saudi state TV
FILE PHOTO: A view of the old quarter of Sanaa, Yemen November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – A Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on Iran-allied Houthi forces in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, Saudi state television reported early on Saturday, part of an escalation of tit-for-tat strikes that has stoked regional tensions.
    The strikes hit air-defence systems and other military positions in the Houthi-controlled city, days after the Houthis launched a missile attack on a Saudi airport, according to the TV report.
    The Western-backed, Sunni Muslim coalition has been battling the Houthis in Yemen since 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government that was forced out of Sanaa by the Houthis.
    The Houthis have stepped up drone and missile attacks on cities in neighboring Saudi Arabia in recent months as tensions have risen between Iran and Gulf Arab states allied with the United States further afield across the Middle East.
    The Yemen conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    But the Houthis have denied taking any orders from Tehran and say they took up arms against corruption.
    Yemen’s civil war has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of famine, the United Nations and aid agencies have said.
    Saudi authorities says the Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport on Wednesday wounded 26 people.
    Campaign group Human Rights watch condemned that attack.    “Unlawful Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen never justify Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
    The escalation in violence could threaten a fragile U.N.-led peace initiative in Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, which handles the bulk of the impoverished country’s commercial and aid imports and is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Andrew Heavens)

6/15/2019 Saudi energy minister says hopes to balance oil market before next year
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, is seen after the OPEC 14th Meeting of the Joint
Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    KARUIZAWA, Japan (Reuters) – Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Saturday that he hopes oil producers will be able to balance the oil market before next year.
    “We hope that we will balance the market before next year. We are working on it,” Falih told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of G20 energy and environment ministers in Karuizawa, Japan, when asked about the current oil market situation.
    Falih said earlier this month that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was close to agreeing to extend a pact on cutting oil supplies beyond June, although more talks were still needed with non-OPEC countries that were part of the production deal.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by Christian Schmollinger)

6/15/2019 Ousted Sudan president to be sent for trial soon, prosecutor says by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech inside Parliament in Khartoum, Sudan April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will stand trial soon on corruption charges, while 41 former officials from his government are being investigated for suspected graft, the chief prosecutor said on Saturday.
    Bashir’s trial will be a test of how serious the country’s transitional military council is about trying to erase the legacy of Bashir, ousted in April after 30 years of autocratic rule that saw South Sudan secede and the economy deteriorate.
    Chief prosecutor Alwaleed Sayed Ahmed Mahmoud said the former president would be referred for trial after a one-week period for objections expires.
    “Forty-one criminal cases have been opened against symbols of the former regime, and measures to capture and investigate will completed next week,” he added in a news conference in Khartoum, without giving further details.
    Separately, a committee set up by the military council to investigate a deadly crackdown on a sit-in protest camp in central Khartoum earlier in June found that several officers were responsible.
    The protest camp outside the Defence Ministry became a focal point for demonstrators demanding that the military hand over power to civilians.
WIDENING RIFT WITH PROTESTERS
    Dozens of people were killed in the operation to disperse the protesters.    The violence has led to a widening rift between them and the ruling military council, raising fears that the country could descend into chaos.
    The military council had said the dispersal of the protest camp came about when a campaign against criminals using an area next to the sit-in strayed from its course, and it added that two separate teams would investigate the crackdown.
    “The committee concluded that a number of officers with various ranks were responsible for clearing the protest site,” the military investigative committee said in a statement read out on state TV, adding that the officers were not part of the force assigned to deal with the criminals.
    The statement gave no details on the fate of the officers, but a military council spokesman on Thursday said that some of them were in custody.
    An alliance of protesters have rejected the state-sponsored investigation and demanded an independent probe.
    Responding to reports that he had been consulted on the dispersal of the protest site, Mahmoud said that he had attended a meeting with military heads to discuss judicial supervision of a plan to clear the area used by criminals, but that the idea of dispersing the camp had not been discussed.
    He said he agreed for police to launch the operation in what is locally known as “Columbia,” provided that it be carried out under supervision of the state prosecutor’s office and without using live ammunition.
    Opposition-linked medics have said 118 people were killed in the crackdown, while the military council has put the toll at 61.
    Bashir’s ouster followed months of protests that erupted in December over cash shortages and rising bread prices.    Dozens of people were killed in the mostly peaceful demonstrations.
    Earlier this week, the prosecutor’s office said it had completed an investigation into the former leader and charged him with offences related to “suspected illicit wealth and emergency orders.”
    A judicial source said in April that military intelligence had searched Bashir’s home and found suitcases loaded with more than $351,000 and 6 million euros, as well as 5 million Sudanese pounds.
    Bashir had already been charged with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters, and prosecutors have also ordered that he be questioned on suspicion of money laundering and terrorism financing.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty in Cairo; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Helen Popper)

6/16/2019 Saudi seeks oil supply protection as U.S. and Iran face off by Asma Alsharif
FILE PHOTO: An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters
between Gulf Arab states and Iran, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia called for swift action to secure Gulf energy supplies and joined the United States in blaming Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in a vital shipping route that have raised fears of broader confrontation in the region.
    Thursday’s tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman exacerbated the antagonistic fallout from similar blasts in May that crippled four vessels.    Washington, already embroiled in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, has blamed Tehran and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince also accused Iran on Saturday.
    Iran has denied any role in the strikes on the tankers south of the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for oil from Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, and other Gulf producers.
    Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said there must be “a rapid and decisive response to the threat” to energy supplies, market stability and consumer confidence, his ministry said on Twitter.
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview with Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, blamed Iran and called on the international community to take a “decisive stand” against the attacks.
    “The kingdom does not want a war in the region but it will not hesitate to deal with any threats to its people, its sovereignty, or its vital interests,” the crown prince said.
    The U.S. military released a video on Thursday that it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind the explosions that damaged the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous.
    “Iran did do it and you know they did it because you saw the boat,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Fox News on Friday.
    The United States has tightened sanctions on Iran since Washington withdrew from a 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and global powers last year.    Washington’s stated aim is to drive Iranian oil exports, the mainstay of its economy, to zero.
    Tehran has said that if its oil exports were halted, it could block the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel of water separating Iran and Oman through which passes a fifth of the oil consumed globally.
(Graphic: Attacks in Gulf of Oman – https://tmsnrt.rs/2X8ePpU)
ENERGY SECURITY
    Oil prices have climbed 3.4% since Thursday’s attacks.    Ship insurers said insurance costs for ships sailing through the Middle East have jumped by at least 10%.
    Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said in Japan at a meeting of energy ministers from the G20 group of nations that the kingdom is committed to ensuring stability of global oil markets.
    Japanese Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said ministers agreed on the need to “work together to deal with the recent incidents from (an) energy security point of view.”
    Trump, who pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal under which world powers agreed to ease international sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear work, said any move to close the Strait of Hormuz would not last long.
    He also said he was open to holding talks with Iran, although Tehran said it had no plans to negotiate with the United States unless it reversed a decision on the nuclear deal.
    Tehran and Washington have both said they have no interest in a war.    But this has done little to assuage concerns that the arch foes could stumble into conflict.
    A U.S. official told Reuters a surface-to-air missile was fired from Iranian territory on Thursday morning at a U.S. drone that was near Front Altair following the attack on the tanker.    The missile did not hit the drone, the official said.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the United States was “planning various contingencies” when asked if more military forces would be sent to the area, but added that the focus was on building an international consensus.
    “We also need to broaden our support for this international situation,” he told reporters on Friday.
CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
    As well as blaming Iran for the tanker attacks, Washington has said Tehran was behind May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations.    Tehran has denied all those charges.
    Britain has backed the United States in blaming Iran for the tanker attacks.    On Saturday, Iran summoned the British ambassador to complain about its “unacceptable stance,” ISNA news agency reported.
    Other nations have urged caution.    Germany said the video released by the U.S. military was not enough to prove Iran’s role, while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation to determine responsibility.
    China and the European Union called for restraint.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani renewed Iran’s threat to continue scaling back compliance with the nuclear deal unless other signatories to the pact show “positive signals.”
    He did not specify what Iran wanted in his comments to a meeting of Asian leaders in Tajikistan.
    France and other European signatories to the nuclear deal have said they wanted to save the accord.    But many of their companies have canceled deals with Tehran, under pressure from the United States.
(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia, Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe, Yuka Obayashi in Karuizawa; Writing by Edmund Blair and Bill Trott; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis)

6/16/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan sees Russian S-400s delivery starting in July: NTV
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses bussiness people during a meeting in
Ankara, Turkey, May 2, 2019. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he expected Russian S-400 missile defense systems to start arriving in Turkey in the first half of July, broadcaster NTV reported on Sunday, a development set to fuel tensions with NATO ally Washington.
    The S-400s are not compatible with NATO’s systems and have been a growing source of discord between Turkey and the United States in recent months.
    “We discussed the S-400 subject with Russia.    Indeed the S-400 issue is settled,” Erdogan was cited as telling reporters on his plane returning from a visit to Tajikistan, where he attended a summit and met Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    “I think they will start to come in the first half of July,” he added, giving a more specific forecast than he has in the past.
    U.S. acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan this month outlined how Turkey would be pulled out of the F-35 fighter jet program unless Ankara changed course from its plans to buy the missile systems.
    Erdogan said he would discuss the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump when they meet at this month’s G-20 summit.
    “When someone lower down says different things, then we immediately make contact with Mr Trump and try to solve issues with telephone diplomacy.    Matters don’t take long there,” he said.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/16/2019 Blast-hit tankers to be assessed off UAE coast
FILE PHOTO: An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between
Gulf Arab states and Iran, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The two oil tankers crippled in attacks in the Gulf of Oman last week that Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran are being assessed off the coast off the United Arab Emirates before their cargos are unloaded, the ships’ operators said on Sunday.
    Damage assessment on Japan’s Kokuka Courageous and preparation for ship-to-ship transfer of its methanol cargo would start after authorities in Sharjah, one of the UAE’s seven emirates, complete security checks, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said.
    Thursday’s attacks, which also hit Norwegian tanker Front Altair, have heightened tensions between Iran and the United States and its Gulf allies after similar blasts in May struck four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE.
    In a show of military strength, the Royal Saudi Air Force flew in joint formation with U.S. F-15 fighter jets over the Gulf Arab region, Saudi state news agency SPA said on Sunday.
    Foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday Britain was “almost certain” Iran was behind attacks, adding that London did not believe anyone else could have done it.
    Tehran has denied any involvement in the attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for global oil supplies.
    The Front Altair is sitting off the coast of Sharjah’s Khorfakkan port while the Kokuka Courageous is anchored closer to shore off the emirate’s Kalba port, according to Refinitiv Eikon ship tracking data.
    “Our crew remain on board the Kokuka Courageous.    They are safe and well,” Bernhard Schulte said in a statement.
    The Kokuka Courageous’s 21 crew members were returned to the vessel by the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet after being rescued.
    The crew of the Front Altair, who had been picked up by Iranian boats, departed Iran from Bandar Abbas airport to Dubai International Airport on Saturday, the ship’s operator Frontline said.
    A specialist team will inspect the Front Altair before deciding on how to unload its naphtha cargo.    The ship is now being towed toward the offshore part of Fujairah emirate, the company said.
FINGER POINTED AT IRAN
    It was not clear who would take part in assessing the tankers.    After the May 12 attacks, in which a Norwegian-registered tanker was also hit, the UAE launched an investigation in cooperation with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Norway and France, which has a naval base in Abu Dhabi.
    The UAE has said the probe shows that a state actor was behind last month’s operation, without naming a country, and that naval mines were most likely used.
    The United States and Saudi Arabia have directly blamed Iran for the attacks on the six vessels.    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday urged the international community to take a “decisive stand” but said Riyadh does not want a war.
    The attacks have raised fears of broader confrontation in the region where the United States has boosted its military presence over perceived Iranian threats.
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran heightened after the United States last year quit a 2015 international nuclear pact with Iran and re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
    Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in several proxy wars in the Middle East, including in Yemen where the Iran-aligned Houthi movement has claimed drone strikes on oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia last month and a missile attack which hit a civilian airport in the south of the kingdom last week.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous, Keith Weir and Mark Potter)

6/16/2019 Libya PM Serraj will not sit down with rival Haftar to end war by Ulf Laessing
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa Al-Sarraj of Libya speaks during a high-level meeting on addressing large movements of refugees
and migrants at the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s internationally recognized Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj said on Sunday he was not prepared to sit down with eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to negotiate an end to the two-month offensive against Tripoli.
    His comments to Reuters suggest low prospects for a ceasefire soon in the battle for Libya’s coastal capital, where Serraj and his administration are based.
    In the latest turmoil since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) force has been unable to take Tripoli despite fighting that has caused havoc in southern suburbs and displaced tens of thousands of people.
    “I will not sit down again with this person because what he has done in past years shows he won’t be a partner in the political process,” the 59-year-old Serraj said in an interview at his wood-paneled office in central Tripoli.
    The longest-serving in a succession of Tripoli-based prime ministers since 2011, Serraj has met Haftar, a 75-year-old former general in Gaddafi’s army, six times in the past few years.
    The last meeting was in February in Abu Dhabi as foreign powers sought to broker a power-sharing deal between the rival eastern and western administrations.
    “He was only trying to gain time,” Serraj said, pointing out that his rival had sent planes to bomb Tripoli.
    Serraj struck a defiant tone, saying his troops, from armed groups in western cities, would continue to fend off Haftar, whom he views as a would-be dictator like Gaddafi.
    “Our primary military goal is to defend Tripoli,” he said.    “In the coming days there will be positive news … progress,” he said, without giving further details.
    Calls from abroad for a ceasefire have fallen on deaf ears, particularly given diplomatic divisions over Libya.
OIL VULNERABILITY
    Egypt and the United Arab Emirates back Haftar and have armed him since 2014 as a perceived bastion against Islamists, according to U.N reports.    Haftar depicts himself as the man to reunite Libya and combat jihadists.
    Most Western countries work with Serraj and Turkey recently sent him arms.    France and other countries have proposed an unconditional ceasefire – without putting real pressure on Haftar – which would allow his troops to stay in western Libya.
    But Serraj’s camp has rejected that. “You cannot ask the person defending himself to cease fire,” he said.
    In Sunday’s interview, he backed a U.N. blueprint for a national conference to prepare for elections by year-end.
    “Libyans should meet to overcome this (current) struggle for power,” Serraj said.
    The prime minister said he was concerned the OPEC member’s oil facilities could become embroiled in the conflict.
    Libya produces around 1.25 million barrels a day, the Tripoli-based economy minister told Reuters last week.
    “For us, it is very important that oil production continues,” he said.    “But there are dangers coming from the other side which has turned ports into military positions.”
    State oil firm NOC has repeatedly warned its facilities could become dragged into the conflict.    Last week, state oil firm NOC accused an LNA commander of arriving with 80 soldiers at the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf.
    The LNA controls all major oilfields and most ports.
    Serraj said his forces would avoid attacking any oil facilities even if the LNA was stationed there.
    The war was hurting Libya’s development and basic services as funding had to be diverted to equip troops and treat the wounded, he said.    “There could be a (national power) blackout anytime,” he said.
    As well as threatening to disrupt oil supplies, there are fears the conflict will increase migration across the Mediterranean to Europe and encourage jihadists to exploit the chaos.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/16/2019 Israel to attend U.S.-led Palestinian conference
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) – Israelis will attend a U.S-led conference in Bahrain next week on proposals for the Palestinian economy as part of a coming peace plan, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Sunday.
    The United States has billed the gathering as a workshop to boost the Palestinian economy as part of a broader effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    A source briefed on the event told Reuters Israel would send a business delegation but no government officials to the June 25-26 workshop, which is being boycotted by the Palestinian leadership.
    “Israel will be at the Bahrain conference and all the coordinations will be made,” Katz told Israeli Channel 13 News in New York.
    On Twitter, Katz later added that Israel’s representation had yet to be decided and that the country’s high-tech and innovation capabilities could greatly benefit development in the region.
    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what level of representation Israel was expected to have at the conference.
    U.S. officials have said they are inviting economy and finance ministers, as well as business leaders, to Bahrain to discuss investment in the Palestinian territories.
    Palestinian leaders have spurned the conference, alleging pro-Israeli bias from Washington.
    The Palestinians say the still unpublished U.S. peace plan falls short of their goal of statehood.    They blame a halt in U.S. aid and Israeli restrictions for an economic crisis in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
    A White House official said on Tuesday that Egypt, Jordan and Morocco planned to attend the conference.
    Egypt and Jordan’s participation is considered particularly important because they have historically been major players in Middle East peace efforts and are the only Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel.
    One of the sources briefed on the event told Reuters that U.S. and Bahrain had deliberated over whether a non-official Israeli presence was preferable to a government-level delegation, given that Israel currently has a caretaker government in place, pending a September election.
    A second source said Israel would be sending a private business delegation.
    Trump’s plan faces delays due to political upheaval in Israel, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government last month and must fight a second election this year, set for Sept. 17.
    Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said the unveiling of the peace plan may be delayed until November, when a new Israeli government is expected to be in place.
    “Had the election not been called again perhaps we would have released it during the summer,” Greenblatt said at a Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on Sunday.
    “If we wanted to wait until a new government is formed we really do have to wait until potentially as late as November 6 but we’ll decide that after Bahrain,” said Greenblatt.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne/Mark Potter/Jane Merriman)

6/16/2019 Israel launches ‘Trump Heights’ on Golan, but construction may lag by Rami Amichay
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a ceremony to unveil a sign for a
new community named after U.S. President Donald Trump, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    BERUCHIM, Golan Heights (Reuters) – Israel approved in principle on Sunday a new community named after U.S. President Donald Trump on a contested frontier zone with Syria – but construction looked likely to lag given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political stumbles.
    The “Trump Heights” project is intended to cement ties after Trump broke with other world powers to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the plateau in March.
    At a special cabinet session in Beruchim, a sparse clutch of homes just 12 km (7.5 miles) from the Golan Heights armistice line with Syria, Netanyahu unveiled a sign labeled “Trump Heights” in English and Hebrew.
    The sign was decorated with the Israeli and U.S. flags and planted on a patch of synthetic grass.
    Israel captured the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed and settled it – moves not accepted by most world powers, who deem it to be occupied Syrian territory.
    Ongoing hostilities between Israel and Syria, and internal Syrian fighting that drew Iranian-backed auxiliaries to back Damascus and deploy near the Golan, helped Netanyahu make his case for Trump to recognize the Israeli claim of sovereignty.
    Trump similarly delighted Israelis – while appalling other world powers – by recognizing Jerusalem as their capital and withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    Trump is a great friend of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
    “He has torn the mask off this hypocrisy which doesn’t recognize the obvious.”
DUMMY RESOLUTION
    Israeli authorities hope a revamping of Beruchim, home to an aging immigrant community from the former Soviet Union, to “Trump Heights” might bring a resident influx.
    But a June 12 memorandum from Netanyahu’s office showed the plan was far from implementation: it lacks earmarked funds as well as final approval for its precise location and name.
    “In this (cabinet) resolution, it is proposed that the name of the community, if it is founded, be ‘Trump Heights’,” said the memorandum, signed by a deputy legal counselor, Yael Cohen.
    The hesitancy was in part due to the fact that Netanyahu heads a caretaker government, having failed to form a coalition after coming ahead in Israel’s April 9 election.    The conservative four-term premier must now contest a Sept. 17 vote.
    In such an interval, Cohen wrote, legal rulings “require, as a general rule, restraint in decision-making” by the cabinet.
    Netanyahu’s center-left rivals ridiculed Sunday’s ceremony.
    “Whoever reads the small print on the ‘historic’ resolution understands that it is a dummy-resolution,” tweeted Zvi Hauser, an ex-Netanyahu cabinet secretary now with an opposition party.
    Netanyahu’s political flailing has tested the patience of Trump, who earlier this month said Israel was “all messed up” over the election and needed to “get their act together.”
    The upheaval appears to have put a spanner in the works of a long-awaited U.S. proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    Trump advisers had predicted the plan would be made public this month, but officials now say that is unlikely to happen until after the September election.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
[I bet Chuck Shumer is disgusted that Trump is the go to guy instead of him, that’s because they know the difference between a snake and a God-fearing man.].

6/16/2019 Sudan’s Bashir charged with corruption, in first appearance since April by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses the National Dialogue Committee meeting at the
Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ex-president Omar al-Bashir was charged with corruption-related offences on Sunday, as he appeared in public for the first time since he was overthrown and detained in April.
    Looking much the same as prior to his removal by the military, he was driven to the prosecutor’s office in Khartoum.
    He was charged with illicit possession of foreign currency and accepting gifts in an unofficial manner, prosecutor Alaa al-Din Abdallah told media, adding that Bashir would be given the chance to respond to the accusations.
    His trial will be a test of how serious the country’s transitional military council is about trying to erase the legacy of his autocratic 30-year rule, marked by widespread violence, economic collapse and the secession of South Sudan.
    Bashir was charged last month with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters, and prosecutors also want him questioned over suspected money laundering and terrorism financing.
    Sudan’s chief prosecutor said on Saturday that 41 former officials from Bashir’s administration were being investigated for suspected graft.
POLITICAL PARALYSIS
    The military overthrew and detained Bashir on April 11 after 16 weeks of street protests against his rule.
    But despite his ouster, Sudan remains paralyzed by a political standoff between a transitional military council and a coalition of protesters and opposition parties demanding a civilian-led administration during a planned transition to democracy.
    Talks on a power-sharing deal have collapsed, and tensions soared on June 3 when security forces stormed a protest camp in Khartoum being maintained as a way to press military rulers to hand over power.
    Protesters put the number of dead from the incursion at 128, and the health ministry at 61.
    Military investigators on Saturday said that government officers of various ranks were found to have been responsible for the dispersal of the camp without approval.
    Addressing supporters at the presidential palace, the deputy head of the military council said on Sunday it was ready to accept nominees for top government positions proposed by the coalition.
    “We are actually not in dispute and we are partners in this glorious revolution,” General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said.    “They say a technocratic government and we are ready.”
(Reporting by Eltayeb Siddig; Writing by Yousef Saba and Sami Aboudi; Editing by John Stonestreet)

6/16/2019 Intel launches project to help Israeli tech start-ups by Tova Cohen
Intel CEO Robert Swan speaks during a roundtable event with members of the media in Tel Aviv, Israel June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Intel Corp launched a project on Sunday to help start-ups in Israel develop technologies in artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems, and said it planned to bring the scheme to other countries as well.
    The 20-week program, called Ignite, will offer business and technical support to up to 15 start-ups, the California-based company said, adding it would not take equity stakes in the start-ups now, but might do so eventually.
    Intel is one of the biggest employers and exporters in Israel, where many of its new technologies are developed, and this year said it was investing 40 billion shekels ($11 billion) to expand its manufacturing operations there.
    “Israel has the deep skill base in AI, autonomous systems and the underlying technologies critical to these inflections that make it a natural choice to launch our Ignite program,” said CEO Bob Swan.
    Intel paid $15.3 billion to buy Israeli autonomous-vehicle technology company Mobileye two years ago.
    “I have absolutely no regrets with the acquisition of Mobileye,” Swan told reporters in Tel Aviv, adding that since its purchase Mobileye had doubled its penetration into the high-growth industry of autonomous driving vehicles.
    Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department added Huawei Technologies Co to its so-called “Entity List” – a move that bans the telecom giant from buying parts and components from U.S. companies without U.S. government approval.
    China is an important market for Intel and Huawei is a large customer.
    “What we intend to do is be very focused on serving customers around the world but at the same time abide by the rules.    We aren’t shipping anything that’s specified on the entity list,” Swan said.
(Reporting by Tova Cohen, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and Mark Potter)

6/16/2019 Istanbul candidates clash on TV before election test for Erdogan by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: AK Party candidate for mayor in Istanbul, Binali Yildirim, is seen inside of the party
headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Istanbul’s mayoral candidates argued over the election they contested in March and their policy plans in a rare televised debate on Sunday, a week before a re-run vote seen as a test of Turkish democracy and President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party.
    In the first debate of its kind in Turkey in nearly two decades, AKP candidate Binali Yildirim faced the opposition’s Ekrem Imamoglu, who won the initial vote in March but was ousted from city hall when the result was annulled in May.
    Yildirim, a former prime minister, narrowly lost the contest in what was one of the biggest election setbacks for Erdogan since the AKP first came to power in 2002.    His party also lost control of the capital Ankara.
    But in a decision last month that raised new questions over Turkey’s institutional independence, the High Election Board scheduled the re-run on June 23 after a series of AKP complaints that the initial vote was marred by irregularities.
    “Strange thing happened when your votes were counted,” Yildirim said on Sunday, describing the March contest.    “Votes were stolen,” he said, without naming any culprit.
    “Who stole votes for God’s sake?” responded Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), saying the election board had made no such allegation in its decision to annul the vote.
    “We are conducting a struggle for democracy,” Imamoglu said during heated exchanges.    “It is a struggle for Istanbul, for normalization, for a clean administration free of arrogance.”
    The three-hour event, which ranged from Turkey’s economic troubles and the large numbers of migrants in Istanbul to the shortage of green spaces in the city of 15 million, was broadcast on all major channels.    Large screens were also set up in the streets.
CHANGE IN CAMPAIGN STRATEGY
    The country’s last prominent televised debate between political leaders was in October 2002, when Erdogan faced then-CHP chairman Deniz Baykal a week before the parliamentary election that marked the AKP’s breakthrough.,br>     The party’s campaign for this month’s contest is vastly different from the lead-up to the March 31 vote when Erdogan delivered tough nationalist messages at mass rallies each day.    This time he is keeping a low profile.
    In a speech on Sunday, he questioned why foreign media were so interested in “just a mayor being elected,” stressing that the city council was dominated by his AK Party.
    Opinion polls have consistently shown Imamoglu leading, in some cases by several percentage points.
    The rebooted AKP campaign has focused on Yildirim and a more conciliatory tone as it seeks to win over voters who have deserted the party and its nationalist MHP party allies.
    Erdogan launched his own political career as Istanbul mayor before leading the AK Party to power.    The AKP and its Islamist predecessors had controlled Istanbul and Ankara for 25 years before March’s electoral defeats.
    The election is being closely watched in financial markets, with the political uncertainty weighing on the lira, which was hit by a crisis last year and is still under pressure due to Turkey’s fraying ties with the United States.
    Final results from the March election showed the CHP’s Imamoglu earning 48.80% of votes, while Yildirim had 48.55%.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, John Stonestreet and Sonya Hepinstall)

6/17/2019 In Algeria, conservatives weigh in against pressure for Western-style democracy by Lamine Chikhi
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold flag during anti government protests in Algiers, Algeria April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    HAIZER, Algeria (Reuters) – While tens of thousands of Algerians have been gathering for four months in the capital to demand sweeping political reforms, former fighters who led the last confrontation with the establishment have been warning people not to rock the boat.
    In the 1990s, they drove an uprising against the military after it canceled a landmark multiparty election that Islamists were poised to win.    This time they say protests could bring a repeat of the chaos and bloodshed their actions unleashed.
    “I deeply regret what happened in the 1990s,” once such fighter, Sheikh Yahya, said at his home in Haizer, a village in the Kabyle mountains 120 km (75 miles) east of the capital Algiers where he now works as a butcher.
    “This is why I will never participate in any action that might end up violent.”
    Some 200,000 people died in Algeria’s decade-long civil war, leaving many Algerians fearful of radical change now that longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has given into the pressure from the streets and stepped down.
    Following Bouteflika’s departure in April, the protesters have been pressing for the exit of the entire elite in control since the North African country’s independence from France in 1962 – the same cause the jihadists took up arms for in 1991.
    But Yahya and other former jihadists now support the army and other security forces, the strongest part of that elite.    It also includes business tycoons and former independence fighters in Algeria’s ruling FLN party as well as labor unions in a state-dominated economy sustained by oil and gas production.
    The ex-fighters are Salafists, a literalist Sunni school of Islam whose adherents range from the radical jihadists of Islamic State to an overwhelming majority which shies away from politics.
    Salafi influence in Algeria is far wider than their numbers – an estimated one in 40 people – would suggest, analysts say.    This makes their anti-protest messages a significant counterweight to calls for radical change.
    “Algeria has around 18,000 mosques, most of them are under Salafi influence,” said political analyst Mohamed Mouloudi. One Salafi cleric has a website with a million followers.
    By contrast leading Sufis, a more inclusive Sunni school that most Algerians belong to, have kept a low profile since the ouster of Bouteflika, their most high-profile member.
    Salafists are social conservatives heavily influenced by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis.    They reject both political Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which led Egypt in a 2012-2013 interlude from military-backed rule, as well as Western influence – from clothing to political systems.
    They were part of the reason the 2011 Arab Spring pro-democracy movement bypassed Algeria, after Sheikh Ali Ferkous, a Salafi icon, declared “unrest is forbidden in Islam,” and they continue to argue that stability is paramount.
MILITARY CHIEF, CONSERVATIVE LEADER
    The Army chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, played a key role in toppling Bouteflika by saying the president’s poor health made him unfit for office.
    Upper House Chairman Abdelkader Bensalah became interim president but is now under pressure from demonstrators to quit, due to his links with Bouteflika and pledge on June 6 to stay in office until elections, which have been postponed indefinitely.
    A group of protesters and some Salafi clerics have suggested Bensalah hands over to former conservative minister Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, son of well-known cleric Bachir Ibrahimi who played a role in the independence war against France from 1954 to 1962.
    Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi is a fierce opponent of Bouteflika, who did not allow him to set up a political party.    Ibrahimi, 87, has promised to end of what he called “dirty money,” referring to corruption under Bouteflika, and introduce transparency.
    “Ibrahimi is one of the rare clean politicians in Algeria who can reconcile the youth with politics.    We believe he can play a very positive role,” said Seif Islam Benatia, a dentist prominent among protesters who encompass a wide array of views.
    Yahya, who spoke to Reuters with two of his fellow former fighters Akli and Mohamed sitting alongside, also supports Ibrahimi, as well as army chief Salah.    “We want stability to remain,” he said.
    Their village lies in what was known in the 90s as the “triangle of death” — the flashpoint of the civil war, which the army said it was fighting to prevent Taliban-style rule.    The mountains with its caves and valleys were ideal hiding ground for fighters to store arms and prepare ambushes on the army.
    Yahya gave up the fight in 2006 after accepting amnesty from Bouteflika and persuaded others to make peace with the state.
    Algeria’s welfare state rewarded him with $6,000 in aid to build a modest house where the ground floor serves as his poultry butchery.    Two sons got jobs at state firms — a livelihood they fear losing if chaos erupts.
GIFT FROM GOD
    Salafists have been quietly working to influence society, identifiable here, as elsewhere, by their long beards, white robes and short trousers emulating the Prophet Mohammad.
    Their clout can be seen in Haizer, where Yahya’s house is a gathering point for youth, neighbors and other ex-fighters he persuaded to lay down arms.
    “Marches, protests, unrest and all the tools used in democracies to topple leaders are illicit in Islam,” Yahya said.
    Such messages resonate in Algeria, analysts say, because many people fear protracted unrest would undermine a state that provides jobs, health insurance and housing.
    They also undermine Islamist political parties, which have struggled since the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which almost took power in 1991, was banned the following year.
    “Salafi are influential because they focus on the youth, and society,” Mouloudi told Reuters.    “Political Islam’s leaders are divided, fragmented and hold little influence politically.”
    In Algiers, some of the young protesters, who include many women and some children, oppose any kind of Islamist takeover.
    “We want radical change, but I don’t want to end up with Islamists ruling the country,” said Nadia Beigacem, 21, who studies English at Algiers University and does not wear a veil.    “Western democracy is my model, not the Saudi Arabian model.”
    Rather than Ibrahimi, she wanted a young Algerian as leader, like former U.S. President Barack Obama or French President Emmanuel Macron.    “We are a young nation,” she said.
    Salafist leader Ferkous has not commented on recent protests but other followers have rejected them.    “What is forbidden remains forbidden, even if everyone does it,” said Mohamed Al-Habib, a prominent Salafist in a video message.
    The weekly Friday protests have been continuing, but numbers have declined in recent weeks, indicating the resignation of Bouteflika and prosecution of his younger brother and closest former advisor Said and others have slowed their momentum.
    “After chaos and 200,000 people killed, we now have peace and stability, this is a gift from God,” Yahya said.
    “Let’s preserve it.”
(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Philippa Fletcher)

6/17/2019 Aleppo’s scattered business owners have yet to return home by Angus McDowall
Zakariya Azizeh, a Syrian cloth merchant points at a shop in Khan Khair Bek at the
old city of Aleppo, Syria April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
    ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) – In the old khan, a stone courtyard off Aleppo’s medieval souk, most of the 41 cloth shops are deserted.    Many of the owners moved elsewhere or went abroad to escape fighting in the historic Syrian city, a major economic center before the war.
    “Some started new work outside Syria and won’t return.    Some who stayed opened new shops in other parts of the country,” said Mohammed Abu Zeid, one of two cloth merchants still operating.
    Syria’s economy has been upturned by eight years of war that partitioned the country between rival forces and displaced millions of people.    Hundreds of thousands of workers were conscripted into the army or joined rebel groups and Western powers have imposed sweeping sanctions.
    Any recovery will largely depend on whether people return home, including local business owners.    The empty stores in Khan Khair Bek show that most have stayed away and it may be some time before business resumes.
    Although parts of western Aleppo, which was held by the government through the war, still have busy shopping areas, the city’s factories and wholesale trading businesses have been devastated by war damage and the departure of traders.
    Textiles were a mainstay of Aleppo business until the start of the war in 2011.    The khan in the Souk al-Zarb section of the battered Old City was a textile hub.    Merchants kept their wares and conducted wholesale business in the shops.
    When Reuters first visited in early 2017, weeks after the fighting ended, the khan was closed and the domed entranceway was waist-deep in debris including bullet casings and the tail fin of a mortar bomb.
    Thirteen shop owners moved abroad, mostly to Egypt or Turkey. Of those still in Syria, six moved to Damascus or other cities, and started new businesses.    Another seven who remained in Aleppo have also stopped dealing in cloth, Abu Zeid said.
    Ten others are working in the cloth trade from market stalls or rented shops in other parts of Aleppo. Just two, Abu Zeid and Zakariya Azizeh, reopened in the khan earlier this year.    They did not know the whereabouts of several other neighbors.
    About half Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million were uprooted during the conflict, with more than 5 million seeking refuge abroad.
    Some refugees have started returning, but most are unwilling to go back yet, citing a fear of reprisals, the danger of renewed conflict, economic hardship and problems with paperwork.
ECONOMIC TROUBLES
    Azizeh said he was trying to persuade his former neighbors to come back.
    “We cannot export and we have banking problems from sanctions.    The system depends on credit, but I haven’t any money,” he said.
    President Bashar al-Assad said Syria now faces an economic war waged through Western sanctions.    They make any movement of money in or out of Syria very difficult, paralyzing trade even with close allies such as Russia and Iran and making any return to Syria less attractive for business owners.
    Abu Zeid believes most of the those who left the khan will eventually return.    Many still own their premises.
    “This is the best khan for import-export.    The others, they tell us ‘one month, two months, we will come back’,” he said.
    His cousin, Ahmed Abu Zeid, 63, a cousin of Mohammed Abu Zeid, has continued doing some business from home as it would cost several thousand dollars to replace stock and repair his war-damaged shop, near a mulberry tree.
    “We all worked here from when we were children.    I used to climb this tree and so did my son,” he said.    He hopes his grandson Ahmed, 8, will one day work there too.
DAMAGE
    The two main centers of Aleppan business – the Old City souk and the industrial zones on the city’s outskirts – were on the front lines and suffered from heavy shellfire and looting.
    Shops and warehouses were stripped of their inventories, factories and workshops of their equipment and machinery. Many are pocked with bullet or shell holes and filled with rubble.
    Aleppo’s power plant was destroyed and electricity supplies from other parts of government-held Syria are limited.    Water provision is patchy.    One of the main industrial zones, Belleramoun, is near a front line and has been repeatedly shelled by rebels.
    In the souk outside the khan, a group had gathered to chat on plastic chairs.    They recited lists of friends and neighbors who had left.
    “Some of them have come back to see what the situation is like.    When they see it, they go away again,” said Mohammed Fadel, dressed in a suit and waving a lit cigarette as he spoke.
    He had two shops in the souk, both now closed, and a textile workshop with four machines and 400 workers running round the clock and exporting across the Middle East, Fadel said.
    He now plans to leave Syria and go to live in the Netherlands, where his son is.
    “What can I do?     I sit here all day doing nothing,” he said.
(Editing by Anna Willard)

6/17/2019 Palestinian contractors poised for riches from Israeli tech firm’s takeover by Rami Ayyub and Tova Cohen
A logo of Mellanox Technologies is seen at their building in Yokneam, Israel March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    RAWABI, West Bank/TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Palestinian engineers working for Israeli chip designer Mellanox Technologies are poised to share a $3.5 million payout when the company’s takeover by U.S. chip supplier Nvidia Corp is completed.
    Mellanox is one of a handful of Israeli firms that have begun to collaborate with the emerging Palestinian tech scene, bypassing the political conflict to tap a growing pool of engineers at costs they say are comparable to hiring from engineering expertise in India or Ukraine.
    The chip maker offered stock options to more than 100 Palestinian engineers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip when it hired them as contractors, even though they are not permanent staff, as a shortage of engineers in Israel makes their skills highly sought after by multinationals.
    Mellanox says its Palestinian designers and coders, outsourced through software firm ASAL Technologies, will now be able to exercise those options after Nvidia’s $6.8 billion takeover closes at the end of 2019, and stand to collectively earn as much as $3.5 million.
    “We’re very proud they have equity, the same as all other employees in the company,” Mellanox Chief Executive Eyal Waldman told Reuters in an interview.
    “Thirty, forty thousand dollars for an employee in the West Bank or in Gaza is a lot of money,” Waldman added, noting that unemployment there hovers at around 40 percent.
    The median daily wage in the West Bank is $28 and just $11 in Gaza, according to the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute.
    ASAL CEO Murad Tahboub said 125 of his 350 employees work exclusively for Mellanox, which makes products that connect databases, servers and computers, and they were given options in a bid to reduce job hopping among workers.
    “(Mellanox) saw value, they saw loyalty in the relationship,” Tahboub said in his office in a bustling high-tech centre in Rawabi, the first Palestinian planned city in the West Bank.    “The Israeli market provides an opportunity for the whole Palestinian high-tech sector.”
    ASAL’s other clients include Microsoft, Intel and Cisco.    Tahboub said his engineers designed 70 percent of Cortana, the virtual assistant created by Microsoft.
High-tech provides a unique opportunity for Palestinians, whose universities produced around 3,000 engineers in 2018, Tahboub said.
    Still, Tahboub said Israeli restrictions – particularly curbs on the movement of goods and people in and out of the West Bank and Gaza – deter multinationals from investing in or outsourcing from the Palestinian territories.
    “(Investors) avoid risk.    Why should I invest in a startup in Palestine if I’m not sure if the owner of that startup can travel to the U.S.?,” Tahboub asked.
    Those challenges are intimately felt in Gaza, whose economy has suffered from years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades.    Economic cooperation between Israel and Gaza is mostly limited to merchants importing goods, including cement and petrol.
    Both Mellanox and ASAL agree tech can be a major boost for Gaza, and they plan to increase their joint remote workforce in Gaza from 25 engineers currently.
    Waldman hopes the two companies’ collaboration will help improve relations and reduce tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
    “The more positive friction there is between the two people the better it is for us, for the environment, for the Israelis, for the Palestinians,” Waldman said.    “I think we can have an impact.”
(Reporting by Tova Cohen in Tel Aviv and Rami Ayyub in Rawabi; Editing by Susan Fenton)

6/17/2019 Greece may pursue sanctions against Turkey amid gas disputes by OAN Newsroom
    The EU is being urged by Greek officials to take action against Turkey amid reports Ankara has started drilling for oil near Greece. Over the weekend, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras threatened Turkey with sanctions if those claims prove to be true.
    A Turkish vessel has been docked just outside of Cyprus for about two months, and is said to be encroaching on Cyprus’ commercial economic zone.    The Mediterranean region has been the source of conflict between the nations over access to its resources.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras walks from his office to make a statement to the press
in Athens, on Thursday, June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
    Tsipras said he wants to use the upcoming EU summit to push back against Turkey:
    “The message we want to send today is a message of absolute security (for the Greek people), but also that whoever violates the sovereign rights of Greece, whoever violates the sovereign rights of Cyprus – which is a member state of the European Union – and whoever violates international law in the region, should know that there will be consequences.”
    In the meantime, Turkey has received some support from southern EU leaders, who defended its right to drill in the Mediterranean.

6/17/2019 Egypt’s ousted Islamist president Mursi dies after collapsing in court by Nadine Awadalla and Enas al-Ashray
FILE PHOTO: Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Mursi greets his lawyers and people from behind bars at a
court wearing the red uniform of a prisoner sentenced to death, during his court appearance with
Muslim Brotherhood members on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, June 21, 2015. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, the first democratically elected head of state in Egypt’s modern history, died on Monday aged 67 after collapsing in a Cairo court while on trial on espionage charges, authorities said.
    Mursi, a top figure in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, had been in jail since being toppled by the military in 2013 after barely a year in power, following mass protests against his rule.
    His death is likely to pile up international pressure on the Egyptian government over its human rights record, especially conditions in prisons where thousands of Islamists and secular activists are held.
    The public prosecutor said he had collapsed in a defendants’ cage in the courtroom shortly after addressing the court, and had been pronounced dead in hospital at 4:50 p.m. (1450 GMT).    It said initial checks had shown no signs of recent injury on his body.
    The Muslim Brotherhood described Mursi’s death as a “full-fledged murder” and called for masses to gather at his funeral in Egypt and outside Egyptian embassies around the world.
    Mursi’s family previously said his health had deteriorated in prison and that they were rarely allowed to visit.
    His son said authorities were refusing to allow the family to lay him to rest in the family burial grounds in his native Nile Delta province of Sharqiya.
    Abdullah Mohamed Mursi also told Reuters that authorities were only communicating with the family through their lawyers.
    “We know nothing about him and no one is in touch with us, and we don’t know if we are going to wash him or say a prayer to him or not,” Abdullah said.
    Amnesty International called for an “impartial, thorough and transparent” investigation into Mursi’s death.
    “The news of Mohamed Mursi’s death in court today is deeply shocking and raises serious questions about his treatment in custody,” the group said in a statement.    “Egyptian authorities had the responsibility to ensure that, as a detainee, he had access to proper medical care.”
    British MP Crispin Blunt, who had led a delegation of UK lawmakers and lawyers last year in putting out a report on Mursi’s detention, slammed the conditions of Mursi’s incarceration.
    “We want to understand whether there was any change in his conditions since we reported in March 2018, and if he continued to be held in the conditions we found, then I’m afraid the Egyptian government are likely to be responsible for his premature death,” he said in remarks to the BBC.
DECADES OF REPRESSION
    After decades of repression under Egyptian autocrats, the Brotherhood won a parliamentary election after a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak and his military-backed establishment in 2011.
    Mursi was elected to power in 2012 in Egypt’s first free presidential election, having been thrown into the race at the last moment by the disqualification on a technicality of millionaire businessman Khairat al-Shater, by far the Brotherhood’s preferred choice.
    His victory marked a radical break with the military men who had provided every Egyptian leader since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.
    Mursi promised a moderate Islamist agenda to steer Egypt into a new democratic era in which autocracy would be replaced by transparent government that respected human rights and revived the fortunes of a powerful Arab state long in decline.
    But the euphoria that greeted the end of an era of presidents who ruled like pharaohs did not last long.
    The stocky, bespectacled engineer, born in 1951 in the dying days of the monarchy, told Egyptians he would deliver an “Egyptian renaissance with an Islamic foundation.”
    Instead, he alienated millions who accused him of usurping unlimited powers, imposing the Brotherhood’s conservative brand of Islam and mismanaging the economy, all of which he denied.
STATE OF ALERT
    Security sources said the Interior Ministry had declared a state of alert on Monday, notably in Sharqiya.
    Mursi had been in court for a hearing on charges of espionage emanating from suspected contacts with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which had close ties to the Brotherhood.
    His body was taken to the Tora prison hospital, state television reported.    A heavy security presence was outside the prison on Monday night.
    Mursi’s lawyer said his health had been poor in jail.    “We had put in several requests for treatment, some were accepted and others were not,” the lawyer, Abdel-Menem Abdel-Maqsood, told Reuters.
    Mursi was serving a 20-year prison sentence for a conviction arising from the killing of protesters during demonstrations in 2012, and a life sentence for espionage in a case related to the Gulf state of Qatar.    He had denied the charges.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan mourned his fellow Islamist as a martyr.
    “Putting doubts aside, he has become a martyr today with the fulfilment of God’s order. … Our prayers are with him,” Erdogan said.
    “Condolences to all my brothers who walked the same path as he did.    Condolences to the people of Egypt.    Condolences to his family and those close to him.”
    The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas said Mursi had “served Egypt and the (Muslim) nation and the Palestinian cause.”
    Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a backer of Mursi and his Brotherhood, tweeted his condolences to Mursi’s family “and to the brotherly Egyptian people.”
(Reporting by Nayera Abdullah and Enas al-Ashray; Additional reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Haithem Ahmed in Cairo, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Kucukgocmen in Turkey; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Toby Chopra and Richard Chang)

6/17/2019 Iraqi Shi’ite cleric warns politicians to form government within 10 days
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who's bloc came first, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi,
who's political bloc came third in a May parliamentary election, in Najaf, Iraq June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged political blocs on Monday to pressure the prime minister to form a complete cabinet within 10 days, warning that his supporters would take a “new stance” if they failed to do so.
    Sadr, who leads a large parliamentary bloc, has rallied his supporters to stage mass protests against previous governments, and has implied this could take place against the current government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
    “I call on all political blocs to charge the prime minister with completing the cabinet formation process within 10 days,” Sadr said in a letter released by his office.
    “Otherwise we will have another position … and you are aware of our stance.”
    Sadr’s Saeroon political bloc came first in a May 2018 general election.    He has called for independent candidates to be put forth for several key cabinet positions which remain vacant over disagreement between powerful parties.
    Abdul Mahdi began his term in October, but has yet to fill interior and defense posts.
    Sadr, who presents himself as a nationalist who opposes the involvement of both the United States and Iran, Iraq’s two mains allies, scored a surprise victory in the May vote by promising to fight corruption and improve services.
    The other largest political bloc includes candidates backed by Iran who have tried to push an interior candidate linked to Iran-backed militias.
    A wild card in Iraq’s turbulent politics driven largely by sectarian interests, he has frequently mobilized tens of thousands of followers to protest against government policies and corruption.
    His militia, previously known as the Mehdi Army, staged two violent uprisings against U.S. occupation forces after the invasion.    Iraqi and U.S. officials described him at the time as the biggest security threat in Iraq.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by John Davison and Lisa Shumaker)

6/17/2019 U.N. food chief warns aid suspension in Yemen likely to start this week by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: The convoy of a team from the United Nations and the World Food Program crosses from Houthi-controlled areas to a
government-controlled areas to reach grain mills in an eastern suburb of Hodeidah, Yemen February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations food chief David Beasley warned on Monday that a phased-suspension of food assistance in Yemen was likely to begin later this week over a diversion of aid and lack of independence in Houthi-controlled areas.
    Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), called on the Houthis to “simply let us do our job.”
    “If we do not receive these assurances then we will begin a phased suspension of food assistance, most likely toward the end of this week.    If and when we do initiate suspension we will continue our nutrition program for malnourished children, pregnant women and new mothers,” he told the U.N. Security Council.
    Beasley said WFP had been unable to implement agreements with the Houthis on the registration of people in need and the rollout of a biometric system – using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition – to support aid delivery.
    “We are now assisting feeding over 10 million people per month but as the head of the World Food Programme I cannot assure you that all the assistance is going to those who need it most,” Beasley said.
    “Why?    Because we are not allowed to operate independently and because aid is being diverted for profit and or other purposes,” he told the 15-member council.
    The Houthis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Beasley’s remarks.    However, earlier this month Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, told Reuters the WFP insisted on controlling the biometric data in violation of Yemeni law.
    In a statement, the U.N. Security Council “condemned the misappropriation of humanitarian assistance and aid by the Houthis … and reiterated their call for the rapid, safe and unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies and personnel into and across the country.”
    A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government that was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis in 2014.
    The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say their revolution is against corruption.
    Beasley said that aid diversion was not limited to just Houthi-controlled areas, but “when we face challenges in areas controlled by the government, we have received cooperation to address the issues.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bill Trott)

6/17/2019 U.S. says could sanction Turkish defense firms beyond F-35 suppliers by Andrea Shalal
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
    LE BOURGET, France (Reuters) – Washington is looking at imposing financial sanctions on Turkish firms beyond those that build parts for the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet, over Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian air defense system, a top Pentagon official said on Monday.
    Chief arms buyer Ellen Lord said U.S. officials viewed Turkey as an important NATO ally and urged it to drop its plans to buy the Russian-built S-400 air defense system so that its companies could continue to build critical parts for a wide range of other U.S. weapons systems beside the F-35 fighter jet.
    Discussion has focused so far mainly on the high profile F-35 program. But Lord’s comments at the Paris Airshow reflected growing concern in Washington about Turkey’s refusal to reverse its purchase of the S-400 system.
    Lord said the issues were being kept separate for now, but an inter-agency U.S. government group was looking at potential sanctions against a wider range of Turkish firms under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
    “We have bifurcated the S-400 and F-35 impact from (the) impact to the rest of our defense and commercial industry,” Lord told reporters.    “Everything outside of the F-35 from a defense perspective, we have reviewed within the department and that would be subject to any CAATSA sanctions.”
    She said no decisions had been made, but a decision to proceed with sanctions would hit Turkish industry hard.
    “There have been no decisions made on that point. However it would be very, very significant for Turkey,” Lord said, noting that the U.S. industry was resilient and could find other sources for the Turkish parts.
    “That’s not really what we want to do,” she said.    “We want to find a way to continue to work with Turkey.”
    Turkish firms build 937 parts for the stealth fighter, and Ankara had planned to buy 100 of F-35 fighters, which would have a total value of $9 billion at current prices.    The Pentagon now plans to move that production to U.S. sites and elsewhere, ending Turkey’s manufacturing role by early next year.
    Turkish officials argue that Ankara is fulfilling its responsibilities in the F-35 project and expected the program to continue as planned.    They say buying the S-400s is only meant to meet Turkey’s defense needs and posed no threats to the F-35.
    Ralph Acaba, president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, said Turkish firms build components for the company’s Patriot missile defense system, although Turkey does not own or operate that system.
    He said Turkish firms were important, reliable suppliers, but Raytheon was constantly looking at alternatives, based on risk assessments.    He declined to provide details on the total amount of Turkish content on Raytheon weapons systems.
    “No matter what happens, we’re going to meet our contractual obligations to our customers,” he said.
    Rick Edwards, executive vice president of Lockheed’s international division, said the most significant program involving Turkish content was the F-35. But he said the impact to Turkish industry if all U.S. defense orders were canceled would be significant.
    “If all American work disappeared … that would have a pretty severe economic impact on those companies,” he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

6/17/2019 Ousted Istanbul mayor leading re-run polls after TV debate: pollster by Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO - Binali Yildirim, Istanbul mayoral candidate of the ruling AK Party (AKP), greets media members as
he arrives at Lutfi Kirdar Convention Center in Istanbul, Turkey, June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The Turkish opposition candidate for Istanbul mayor who was ousted from office when his March victory was annulled bested his ruling party rival in a rare TV debate, a pollster said on Monday, putting him in the lead ahead of a June 23 re-vote.
    In the first debate of its kind in Turkey in nearly two decades, ruling AK Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yildirim on Sunday faced the main opposition CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu, who won an initial vote on March 31 before he was ejected from city hall.
    Defeat for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP in Istanbul, where he launched his political career and served as mayor in the 1990s, would be a huge symbolic shock and a broader sign of dwindling support amid an economic downturn.
    In a poll of more than 30,000 city residents on Monday morning, polling firm Mak Danismanlik found that 46% of respondents said Imamoglu was more successful than his rival, versus 44% for Yildirim.    The CHP candidate was likely to get the votes of 65% of those who shied away from the ballot box in March, it found.
    “Imamoglu talked more about what he would do, while Yildirim focused more on what he had already done.    Usually, those who offer a future projection tend to do better in elections,” Mehmet Ali Kulat, owner of Mak Danismanlik, told Reuters.
    Kulat added that, as of Monday morning, Imamoglu was 1.5 percentage points ahead of his rival according to the latest polls.
    In an interview with Reuters, Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the debate was a boost.
    “We are at a very good point…I am very clear in my opinion that after last night there isn’t at all a drop in support,” he said, adding he expects an even larger margin of victory this coming Sunday.
    Pro-AKP newspaper columnists said Yildirim’s performance was superior and a hashtag spread on Twitter – translated as “lightning strikes” – suggested he made a mark.
    Yildirim, a former prime minister, narrowly lost in March by some 13,000 votes in what was one of the biggest election setbacks for Erdogan since the AKP first came to power in 2002.    His political alliance retained a majority of the nationwide vote, but also lost control of the capital Ankara.
    The re-run ordered by the High Electoral Board, and praised by Erdogan, has drawn international criticism and deepened fears about the erosion of rule of law in Turkey.
(Additional reporting by Zeynep Arica, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Humeyra Pamuka and Toby Chopra)

6/17/2019 Arab League head warns no Mideast peace deal without Palestinian state
FILE PHOTO - Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab League's foreign ministers meeting to discuss
unannounced U.S. blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, in Cairo, Egypt April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The head of the Arab League warned on Monday that attempts to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict will be in vain without the establishment of a Palestinian state on all territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s comments appeared directed at a still unpublished peace plan that U.S. President Donald Trump has dubbed the “deal of the century.”    As part of the plan, a U.S.-led conference will be held next week in Bahrain on proposals for the Palestinian economy.
    The Palestinian leadership is boycotting the conference, saying Trump’s peace plan is likely to be heavily weighted in favor of Israel and to quash their aspirations for statehood in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
    While the precise outlines of the draft plan have yet to be revealed, Palestinian and Arab sources who have been briefed on it say it jettisons the two-state solution.
    “Whatever is rejected by the Palestinian or the Arab side is unacceptable,” Aboul Gheit said during an event at the Arab League.
    “What is acceptable from our side as Arabs as a solution is the establishment of a Palestinian state on the June 4, 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital,” he added.
    Based in Egypt, the Arab League is often seen as a talking shop rendered ineffective by regional rivalries, but it remains the main forum for Arab opinion on international matters.
    Saudi Arabia and Egypt are its most influential members.
    Aboul Gheit said that Israel’s acceptance of an Arab Peace Initiative drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002, which offers Israel normal ties in return for withdrawal from territory captured in 1967, was the only acceptable solution for Arab states.
    “If (Israel) chooses the only reasonable and accepted way from our side as Arabs, which is the establishment of a Palestinian state … it will be accepted in the region as a normal regional partner,” he said.
    Last week, a White House official said Egypt, Jordan and Morocco planned to attend the Bahrain conference.
    Palestinians urged Egypt and Jordan to reconsider their attendance at the U.S.-led conference in Bahrain, voicing concern it would weaken any Arab opposition to Washington’s coming peace plan.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Ahmed Tolba, Editing by Aidan Lewis and Toby Chopra)

6/18/2019 Egypt’s ex-president Mursi buried in Cairo, Islamists mourn by Aidan Lewis
FILE PHOTO - Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood's newly formed Justice and Freedom Party gestures
during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, May 28, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s former president Mohamed Mursi was buried in a small family ceremony in Cairo early on Tuesday, a day after he suffered a fatal heart attack in court, his sons said, as tributes poured in on social media.
    The first democratically elected head of state in Egypt’s modern history, who was deposed by the army in 2013, was laid to rest next to the graves of other leading members of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, Abdullah Mohamed Mursi told Reuters.
    “We washed his noble body at Tora prison hospital, read prayers for him at the prison hospital,” another son, Ahmed Mursi, wrote on Facebook.
    The Muslim Brotherhood has described Mursi’s death as a “full-fledged murder” and called for mass gatherings to mark his passing.
    The streets of Egypt’s capital – where authorities have cracked down on Islamists since Mursi’s ousting – were quiet on Tuesday morning.     But Turkey, which supported Mursi’s Islamist presidency, said it would hold symbolic funerals across its 81 provinces later in the day.
    Other former allies of Mursi and opponents of Egypt’s current president, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, expressed their condolences in social media posts, some condemning the conditions in which Mursi had been held.
    Mursi died on Monday after collapsing in a Cairo court while on trial on espionage charges, authorities and a medical source said.    The 67-year-old had been in jail since being toppled after barely a year in power, following mass protests against his rule.
PRESSURE
    There was a heavy security presence on Monday night around the Cairo prison where Mursi had been held and in Sharqiya, where security sources said the interior ministry had declared a state of alert.
    There was no noticeable increase in security in central Cairo on Tuesday morning. Egyptian media, which is tightly controlled, gave the news little attention.
    Just one of the major daily newspapers, the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm, put the story on its front page, with other newspapers ignoring the news or carrying a small item on inside pages with no mention that Mursi had been president.
    Mursi’s death will increase international pressure on the Egyptian government over its human rights record, especially conditions in prisons where thousands of Islamists and secular activists are held.
    Amnesty International called for an open investigation. A British parliamentary panel reported last year that Mursi received inadequate medical treatment for his diabetes and liver illness and was being kept in solitary confinement, which they warned could put his life in danger.
    The death also comes at a sensitive moment for Egyptian authorities. Under Sisi, who as army chief led Mursi’s ouster, they have conducted a relentless crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its followers, but say the group presents a continuing security threat.
    The Brotherhood says it is a non-violent movement.
TRIBUTES
    Turkey’s president, Qatar’s emir and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas all paid tribute to Mursi and Iran expressed regret over Mursi’s death.
    “With great sadness and deep sorrow I received the news of the passing of Dr Mohamed Mursi.    I ask God to accept him with his great mercy,” former leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi.
    “An independent and transparent international investigation must be carried out to find the cause of the death,” Amr Darrag, ex-minister of planning and international Cooperation under Mursi said on social media.
    “The Egyptian people won’t let this crime pass lightly even after a while,” he added.
    Yemeni Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karman said: “I mourn, for myself and all the free people of the world, the death of great striver in the path of freedom great president Mohamed Mursi …. President Mursi has gone and Sisi, one of the curses that befell Egypt, has remained.”
    Egyptian-born leading Muslim Brotherhood cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi issued a statement mourning Mursi from his exile in Qatar where his presence has infuriated both Egypt and its Sunni Gulf allies.
(Reporting By Ali Abdelaty, Lilian Wagdy, Ahmed Tolba and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Andrew Heavens)

6/18/2019 Qatar sends technical experts to Israel, eyeing new Gaza power line by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
A fuel tanker arrives at the Gaza power plant, in the central Gaza Strip June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Qatari technical delegation held talks in Israel and the Gaza Strip this week about helping pay for a proposed new power line between them, officials on both sides said on Tuesday, marking a potential expansion of Doha’s aid efforts for Palestinians.
    Qatar has in recent years funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into relief projects in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which it views as helping stave off privation and fighting with Israel.
    The intervention is approved by Israel but has gone largely unacknowledged by rightist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, along with U.S.-allied Arab leaders, has cold-shouldered Doha for its ties to Iran and Islamist groups like Hamas.
    Spearheading the Qatari drive has been envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi, who Palestinian officials said this week brought $10 million to Gaza, via Israel, to disburse to the poor.
    It was the third such Qatari cash infusion in three months, said the officials, who requested anonymity.    But this time Al-Emadi was accompanied by Qatari electricity and water experts.
    They met with the Israel Electric Corporation in Tel Aviv on Sunday, and in Gaza with energy officials on Monday, to discuss a Qatari offer to pay for the completion of a new Gaza electricity line, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
    Qatar had no immediate comment.    Al-Emadi has previously spoken of Doha’s willingness to take part in the project, whose cost he put at around $60 million.
    The new line – known as Line 161 – would provide 100 megawatts to Gaza, which currently gets a total of 120 megawatts from Israel, short of the 500 megawatts to 600 megawatts that Palestinians say the blockaded enclave needs.
    Beside averting some of Gaza’s chronic blackouts, an improved electricity supply would also help power sewage pumps and prevent water contamination plaguing 2 million Palestinians.
    “It will make a difference,” said a Palestinian official.    “Maybe we will not have electricity 24/7, but people may begin to feel there isn’t a power crisis anymore.”
    An Israeli official said, however, that Line 161 would take around three years to complete and that it was not clear if or when the caretaker Netanyahu government might approve it.    The prime minister’s office had no immediate comment.
    Netanyahu is running for reelection in September having failed to put together a new conservative coalition after coming ahead in an April ballot – partly due to far-right accusations that he has not been tough enough on Hamas.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/18/2019 Kuwait ruler to visit Iraq amid Gulf tensions: KUNA
FILE PHOTO - Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during
the Arab summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait’s ruling emir will visit Iraq on Wednesday, state news agency KUNA reported, saying the trip comes amid escalating regional tensions after attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
    Six tankers have been hit in the past month in two attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes, and Washington and Riyadh have accused Iran of being behind them, which Tehran denies.
    Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s visit “comes amid rising and unprecedented tensions and developments witnessed by the region, particularly the acts which targeted the safety of oil supplies through destruction and strikes on oil and commercial vessels”, KUNA said.
    Kuwait has described the tanker attacks as a threat to international peace and security, without assigning blame.
    The emir, who has worked to repair relations with Iraq following its 1990 invasion of his country, has acted as a regional mediator on various occasions.    It will be his second visit to Iraq since becoming ruler, KUNA said.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Alison Williams and Ed Osmond)

6/18/2019 Turkey orders arrest of 128 military personnel over suspected Gulen links: Anadolu
FILE PHOTO: U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in
Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has ordered the arrest of 128 military personnel over suspected links to the network accused by Ankara of orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency said on Tuesday.
    Police were looking for just over half of the suspects in the western coastal province of Izmir and the rest across 30 other provinces, Anadolu said.
    They were suspected of being supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkish authorities of masterminding the failed putsch three years ago. Gulen has denied any role.
    More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, while about 150,000 people from the civil service, military, and elsewhere have been sacked or suspended from their jobs under crackdowns since the attempted coup.
    Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have criticized the scope of the crackdown, saying Erdogan has used the abortive coup as a pretext to quash dissent.
    The government has said the security measures are necessary due to the gravity of the threat Turkey faces, and has vowed to eradicate Gulen’s network in the country.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/18/2019 Tremors across Jordan as Trump Mideast peace plan revives old fears by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump walks down the West Wing colonnade with Jordan’s King Abdullah as he
welcomes the King to the White House in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s King Abdullah reacts angrily to any suggestion that he might accept a U.S. deal to end the Arab-Israeli conflict that would make his country a homeland for Palestinians.
    Speaking to the armed forces in March, he rejected the idea of Jordan as an alternative state for Palestinians, saying: “Don’t we have a voice in the end?
    Already facing economic discontent at home, Abdullah must navigate diplomatic moves by his U.S. allies that are upturning a regional status-quo that has underpinned Jordan’s internal politics and foreign relations for decades.
    After Israel’s creation in 1948 Jordan absorbed more Palestinians than any other country, with some estimates that they now account for more than half the population.
    Any changes to the international consensus on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, long buttressed by U.S. policy, therefore reverberate harder in Jordan than anywhere else.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-promised “Deal of the Century” to resolve the conflict is still secret, though leaked details suggest it dumps the idea of a full Palestinian state in favor of limited self-rule in part of the Occupied Territories, which would undermine Palestinians’ right to return.
    It envisages an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control, with Palestinians also having a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders, the leaks say.
    Jordanian fears about what the plan portends for the region, for their Palestinian citizens, and for the politics of their own country, have been aggravated by Trump’s readiness to upturn U.S. policy.
    American officials deny contemplating making Jordan a Palestinian homeland, pushing it to take a role in governing parts of the West Bank or challenging the right of King Abdullah’s dynasty to custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
    But Trump’s radical approach to the issue, and recent statements by his ambassador to Israel that it had a right to annex some of the West Bank have done little to assuage Jordanian concerns.
PALESTINIANS IN JORDAN
    Few subjects in Jordan are more politically charged than the role, presence and future there of Palestinians.    The issue is so sensitive that the government publishes no data on how many of its 8 million citizens are also of Palestinian descent, though a recent U.S. congressional report put it at more than half.
    Despite the U.S. denials, Jordanians fear that Trump is returning to an old Israeli theme: that Jordan is Palestine and that is where the Palestinians of the West Bank should go.
    It could not have come at a worse time for the 57-year-old Abdullah, whose country is facing economic challenges that led to protests and a change of government last year.
    While many Palestinians are integrated in Jordan, and many descendants of refugees have never set foot in their original homeland, some native Jordanians have never acknowledged that they will stay permanently.
    They fear Trump’s plan could alter the demography and politics of a nation shaped by the presence of Palestinians, who hold full citizenship but are marginalized and seen as a political threat by some people of Jordanian descent.
    But Abdullah’s decision that Jordan should attend an economic conference that is part of the U.S. plan showed that despite mounting alarm at home, Amman cannot ignore pressure from richer, more powerful allies in the West and the Gulf.
INTERNAL WORRIES
    Maintaining unity between citizens of Jordanian and Palestinian descent has been critical to the ruling family’s role as a unifying force in a country where tribal and clan loyalties hold sway.
    The king is already facing anger from the “Herak” opposition, drawn from Jordanians of native descent, who say Trump’s plans will tear apart a state patronage system that has cemented their own loyalty to the monarchy.
    Retired army officers have held small weekly protests in opposition to a deal.
    “No to eroding our national identity and dismantling the state,” said Saad Alaween, a prominent Herak dissident, referring to the deal.
    Some warn the monarch not to accept a plan that could give their compatriots of Palestinian origin more political rights in an electoral system tilted in favor of native Jordanians.
    Rumors that the plan could lead to Jordan taking in Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria, or that it would merge with a rump of Palestinian territory in bits of the West Bank, have also led to alarm.
    In a sign of his concerns, the king has even met lawmakers from the once outcast Islamist movement in an attempt, say officials, to win the backing of the largest opposition grouping with support in large cities and Palestinian camps.
    “Trump wants to buy and sell Jordan and create a new regime.    We are behind the king in opposing this,” said Muraed al-Adaylah, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
    Abdullah also inspired a shake-up in the intelligence establishment – long seen as a guardian of Jordan’s stability – to solidify the internal front and mitigate any fallout from the deal in the months to come, insiders say.
    In the army – whose loyalty to the crown is deeply meshed with Jordanian national identity – there are also signs of concern.
    “Jordan is a country that has sovereignty and history, and will say its word at the right moment,” said General Mahmoud al-Friehat, the army’s chief of staff.
FOREIGN PRESSURE
    Jordan’s long-term strategic and economic policy is based on close relations with the West and the Gulf – an approach that underlay its decision to make peace with Israel in 1994.
    Abdullah has made repeated visits to Washington, where officials say he was not told details of the White House plan.
    That has only accentuated the sense of alarm among a political establishment that sees a day of reckoning coming with Trump’s deal, two officials and a politician said.
    The royal palace has pointed to demonstrations in dozens of rural towns and cities as a message to Washington that it cannot impose a solution that permanently settles Palestinians in Jordan against its will.
    Jordan has traditionally turned to monarchies in the Gulf to shore up its economy.    However, their focus has shifted to their rivalry with Iran, cutting financial support and leaving Jordan more exposed than ever.
    “Our Gulf allies are too beholden to Washington … to extend the level of support that can help us withstand the growing pressures,” said a senior official.
    Although Jordan will join the conference to roll out the economic parts of Trump’s plan, it will deliver a message there that no cash offers can replace a political solution to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, officials say.
    Still, some think economically challenged Jordan could profit from any plan that promises billions in aid and project finance.
    Some businessmen have already positioned themselves to benefit and this month a prominent MP, Fawaz al-Zubi, said Jordanians should be open-minded about anything they could gain from it.
    In the camps where 2.2 million of Jordan’s registered refugees live, bitter realism seems to prevail.
    Ibrahim Anabtawi, a second-generation refugee with six children, said that like others in the camp he had dug up old United Nations ration cards to prove their rights in case any new deal offered compensation.
    “I won’t forget I am a Palestinian or give up the right of return,” said Anabtawi.    But he added: “I have been persecuted all this time and no one stood by us. I now want anything that this deal and Trump offers.”
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Giles Elgood)

6/18/2019 Turkey says U.S. tone and approach not befitting partnership spirit: defense ministry
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan welcomes Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar
to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has repeated its discomfort to the United States over the tone and approach of a letter sent by Washington, saying it was not befitting the ally spirit, over Ankara’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, the Turkish defense ministry said on Tuesday.
    Earlier this month, U.S. acting Secretary of Defence Pat Shanahan sent his Turkish counterpart a letter warning that Ankara would be pulled out of the F-35 jet program unless it changes course from its plans to install the defenses.
    Turkey also expressed the importance to continue working on finding a solution to problems with dialogue, defense ministry said in a statement on its website.
(The story corrects headline and first para to add dropped word ‘not’)
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk)

6/18/2019 U.S., Turkey remain in dialogue over S-400, F-35 dispute: top NATO general
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Forces in Europe Commander Tod D. Wolters speaks during NATO Baltic air policing
mission takeover ceremony in Siauliai, Lithuania August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    LE BOURGET, Paris (Reuters) – U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar remain in contact about Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian air defence system, and may meet during NATO meetings in Brussels next week, NATO’s commander told Reuters.
    U.S. General Tod Wolters said the military-to-military relationship between the United States and NATO remained “absolutely, positively solid,” despite Washington’s decision to cancel Turkey’s purchase of F-35 stealth fighters if it proceeds with its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system.
    “We won’t co-locate those two assets, the S-400 and the F-35,” Wolters said at the Paris Airshow.    “I know there’ll be follow on dialogue to work on … details between Minister Akar and Secretary Shanahan.    As a matter of fact there may the opportunity to meet next week at the ministerials in NATO.”
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter)

6/18/2019 Syria says it does not want to fight with Turkey by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem speaks during a meeting with Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Syria does not want to see fighting with Turkey, its foreign minister said on Tuesday, after Turkey said one of its observation posts in Syria’s Idlib region was attacked from an area controlled by Syrian government forces.
    Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war, and Turkey, long a backer of rebels, co-sponsored a de-escalation pact for the area that has been in place since last year.
    But the deal has faltered in recent months, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee.    Idlib is the last remaining bastion of anti-government rebels after eight years of civil war.
    “We hope that our military and the Turkish military do not fight. This is our principled stance,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters in Beijing, standing alongside the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi.
    “What we are fighting is terrorists, especially in Idlib, which is Syrian territory, part of our country,” Moualem said in Arabic comments translated into Chinese.
    The dominant force in the Idlib region is Tahrir al-Sham, the latest incarnation of the former Nusra Front that was part of al Qaeda until 2016.    Others, including some with Turkish backing, also have a presence.
    “The question now is, what does Turkey want to do in Syria?    Turkey is occupying part of Syrian soil, and has a military presence in certain parts of Syria,” Moualem added.
    “Are they protecting the Nusra Front?    Are they protecting certain terrorist forces including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement?” he said, referring to an extremist group China blames for attacks in far western Xinjiang with operations elsewhere.
    “This question needs to be asked of Turkey, what are their actual aims?    We are fighting those terrorist groups and organizations.    The whole world believes those people we are fighting are terrorists.”
    Since April, Syrian government forces have stepped up shelling and bombing of the area, killing scores of people.
    The rebels say the government action is part of a campaign for an assault that would breach the de-escalation pact.
    The government and its Russian allies say the action is in response to rebel violations, including the presence of fighters in a demilitarized zone.
    China has long urged that a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war be found and has hosted Syrian government and opposition figures.
    Wang said that China will continue to support Syria to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and fight against terror, and will help with Syria’s economic reconstruction efforts.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Darren Schuettler)

6/18/2019 U.N. chief urges Russia, Turkey to stabilize Syria’s Idlib ‘without delay’
FILE PHOTO - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the R20
Austrian World Summit in Vienna, Austria, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey on Tuesday “to stabilize the situation without delay” in northwest Syria.
    “I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib, and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors,” he told reporters.    “Even in the fight against terrorism there needs to be full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.”
    The U.N. Security Council is due to be briefed behind closed doors later on Tuesday on the situation in northwest Syria.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/18/2019 Greece, Cyprus pressure EU to act over Turkey gas drilling as Ankara digs in
FILE PHOTO - Turkish Minister of Energy Fatih Donmez speaks during a ceremony to mark the completion of the
sea part of the TurkStream gas pipeline, in Istanbul, Turkey November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL/ATHENS (Reuters) – Cyprus and Greece heaped pressure on the EU on Tuesday to take action against Turkey over gas drilling in disputed waters, as Ankara said it would step up exploration in a move that could further strain ties with Western allies.
    Turkey and Cyprus are at odds over natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean in a long-simmering conflict which has escalated in the past month, with Cyprus threatening to jeopardize European Union enlargement talks if it does not take action against Ankara.
    Ankara, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone, known as an EEZ, fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey or of Turkish Cypriots, who have their own breakaway state in the north of the island recognized only by Turkey.
    Cyprus says that defining its EEZ is its sovereign right.
    A Turkish drilling ship, the Fatih, has been anchored west of Cyprus since early May and recently began drilling.
    Turkey’s energy minister Fatih Donmez was quoted as saying on Tuesday that a second ship, the Yavuz, would be dispatched to the area on Thursday.
    “We are now at around 3,000 meters deep.    We target to drill to around 5,000-5,500 meters deep from sea level,” Donmez was quoted as saying by Anadolu news agency.    “We have 100-120 days of a schedule for this task.    We will have reached our targeted point at the end of July,” he said.
CALL FOR ACTION
    EU member Cyprus and its close ally Greece have urged Brussels to take action against Turkey for what they regard as a clear infringement of Cyprus’s sovereign rights.    In a phone conversation with European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Brussels should “unreservedly condemn” Turkey’s actions.
    Cyprus on Monday threatened to block any agreement to admit new members to the EU unless Brussels toughens its line toward Turkey.    On Tuesday, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he was confident the EU would take a tougher stance toward Turkey.
    The Fatih is in an area Turkey considers its continental shelf, while the Yavuz would be dispatched to an area Turkish Cypriots consider they have rights over. The Turkish Cypriots, supported by Ankara, claim a share in any offshore wealth as a partner in the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.
    The United States and the EU have previously expressed deep concern over Turkey’s plans.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday its relations with the EU had fallen hostage to the Cyprus issue and that the bloc’s recent statements had a completely Greek perspective.    It also backed a proposal by Turkish Cypriots for a joint energy commission that Greece has rejected.
    Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.    Several peacemaking endeavors have failed and the discovery of offshore resources has increasingly complicated peace negotiations.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Michele Kambas and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Gareth Jones)

6/18/2019 Erdogan attacks Istanbul’s ousted mayor days before poll re-run by Ezgi Erkoyun and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures
in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan June 15, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attacked Istanbul’s ousted mayor on Tuesday, days before a crucial re-run of the municipal vote, accusing him of being aligned with a U.S.-based cleric blamed by Ankara for orchestrating a 2016 failed coup.
    Ekrem Imamoglu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), narrowly beat the candidate of Erdogan’s AK Party in a March mayoral contest.    After AK Party appeals, the election commission annulled the result and ordered a re-run on June 23.
    That decision has brought international criticism and accusations from Turkey’s opposition of eroding democracy.    It has also unnerved financial markets and thrown a spotlight on the AKP’s management of Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub during its long years in power.
    After staying relatively quiet on the mayoral race in recent weeks, Erdogan said on Tuesday Imamoglu was in cahoots with the network of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of masterminding the July 15, 2016 failed coup.
    “Where does he stand? He is with the Gulenists,” said Erdogan, speaking on top of a bus in the working class Istanbul district of Sultangazi, referring to followers of Gulen.
    Erdogan cited tweets sent by Imamoglu on the day of the coup but offered no other evidence.
    Imamoglu has denied any links with the group. In one tweet posted on July 16, 2016, Imamoglu said Turkey should overcome the attempted coup by pursuing democracy and peace. It was not immediately clear which tweet Erdogan alluded to.
    A spokeswoman for Imamoglu was not immediately available on Tuesday for comment.
    The AKP’s loss of Istanbul in the March 31 local elections was one of the biggest setbacks for Erdogan since his Islamist-rooted party swept to national power in 2002.    The AKP also lost control of the capital Ankara.
    Some commentators said Erdogan had ratcheted up his rhetoric after a televised debate on Sunday between Imamoglu and the AKP’s mayoral candidate, Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister and close ally of the president.
    Polling company Mak Danismanlik said Imamoglu had bested his rival in the debate, earning a lead ahead of Sunday’s vote.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/18/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri addresses his supporters during a commemoration ceremony marking the
13th anniversary of the assassination of his father in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir//File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday called for parliament to quickly approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes.
    The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 percentage points from last year to 7.6% by cutting spending and raising taxes and other fees.
    “What I want during the debate is for us to be responsible and united, and not contradictory,” Hariri said in a statement, addressing cabinet ministers as to their comportment during the parliament debate.
    Parliament’s finance committee is debating the draft budget and has suggested amendments, local newspapers reported. It will then put the budget to the full assembly to ratify it.
    Parliament is mostly composed of parties that are also present in the coalition government and which supported the budget there.
    Since the budget was agreed there have been fierce arguments between parties in the coalition over several subjects, though these have not targeted the budget.
    Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP, and the International Monetary Fund has urged it to cut spending.
    “We have held 19 cabinet meetings to agree on this draft budget and these sessions were not for fun, but for deep, detailed debate over every clause and every idea,” Hariri said.
    “For this reason, I consider it the responsibility of each of us in government to have ministerial solidarity…to defend in parliament the decision that we have taken together,” he added.
    After the 2019 budget is agreed, the cabinet must quickly start working on the 2020 budget and on approving the first phase of a program of investments toward which foreign donors have offered $11 billion in project financing.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall, editing by Ed Osmond)

6/18/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will receive Russian defense system ‘very soon’
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves a mosque after attending the Eid al-Fitr prayers to mark the
end of the holy month of Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey would take delivery of a Russian S-400 missile defense system “very soon” after telling Russian President Vladimir Putin there was “no turning back” on the deal, which has strained ties with Washington.
    The United States has repeatedly said the S-400s are not compatible with NATO’s systems and has warned of sanctions and other consequences if the batteries are delivered to Turkey.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[You are dealing with a Islamic Muslim country that steals back an election because they think they can, and now thinks they can just mix weapon systems of enemy countries, so they are very tyrannical and we wonder if they should even be in NATO.].

6/19/2019 Staff evacuated as rocket strikes near foreign oil firms in Iraq by Aref Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed
An Iraqi soldier stands next to a military vehicle at the entry of Zubair oilfield after a rocket struck the site of residential
and operations headquarters of several oil companies at Burjesia area, in Basra, Iraq June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani
    BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – A rocket hit a site in southern Iraq used by foreign oil companies on Wednesday, including U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, wounding three people and threatening to further escalate U.S.-Iran tensions in the region.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack near Iraq’s southern city of Basra, the fourth time in a week that rockets have struck near U.S. installations.
    Three previous attacks on or near military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and Mosul caused no casualties or major damage.    None of those incidents were claimed.
    An Iraqi security source said it appeared that Iran-backed groups were behind the Basra incident.
    “According to our sources, the team (that launched the rocket) is made up of more than one group and were well trained in missile launching,” the security source said.
    He said they had received a tip-off several days ago that the U.S. consulate in Basra might be targeted but were taken by surprise when the rocket hit the oil site.
    Hostility between the United States and Iran has been rising since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers in May last year.
    Trump has since reimposed and extended U.S. sanctions on Iran, forcing states to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.     Tehran has threatened to abandon the nuclear pact unless other signatories act to rein in the United States.     The U.S. face-off with Iran has reached a new pitch following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in May and June that Washington blames on Tehran.    Iran denies any involvement.
    While the long-time foes say they do not want war, the United States has reinforced its military presence in the region and security analysts say that violence could nonetheless escalate.
    Some Western officials have said the recent attacks appear designed to show Iran could sow chaos if it wanted to.
    Iraqi officials fear that their country, where powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim militias operate in close proximity to some 5,200 U.S. troops, will become an arena for any violent escalation.
    The United States has pressed Iraq’s government to rein in Iran-backed paramilitary groups, a tall order for a cabinet that suffers from its own political divisions.
OIL EXPORTS UNAFFECTED
    Iraq’s military said three people were wounded in Wednesday’s strike by a short-range Katyusha missile.    It struck the Burjesia site, west of Basra, which is near the Zubair oilfield operated Italy’s Eni SpA.
    Police said the rocket landed 100 meters from the part of the site used as a residence and operations center by Exxon. Some 21 Exxon staff were evacuated by plane to Dubai, a security source said.
    Exxon had evacuated its staff from Basra after a partial U.S. Baghdad embassy evacuation in May and Exxon’s staff had just begun to return.
    Burjesia is also used as a residential and operations headquarters by Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Eni., according to Iraqi oil officials.
    The oil officials said operations including exports from southern Iraq were not affected by the incident.
    A separate Iraqi oil official who oversees foreign operations in the south said the other foreign oil firms had no plans to evacuate and would operate as normal.
    A spokesman for Shell said its employees had “not been subject to the attack … and we continue normal operations in Iraq.”
SPATE OF INCIDENTS
    Wednesday’s rocket strike fits into a pattern of attacks since May, when four tankers in the Gulf and two Saudi oil pumping stations were attacked.
    They have been accompanied by a spate of incidents inside Shi’ite-dominated Iraq, which is allied both to the United States and fellow Shi’ite Muslim Iran.
    The attacks in Iraq have caused less damage but have all taken place near U.S. military, diplomatic or civilian installations, raising suspicions they were part of a concerted campaign.
    A rocket landed near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last month causing no damage or casualties.    The United States had already evacuated hundreds of diplomatic staff from the embassy, citing unspecified threats from Iran against U.S. interests in Iraq.
    Iran backs a number of Iraqi Shi’ite militias which have grown more powerful after helping defeat Islamic State.
    Iraqi officials say that threats from Iran cited by Washington when it sent additional forces to the Middle East last month included the positioning by Iran-backed militias of rockets near U.S. forces.
    Rockets hit on or near three separate military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul in three separate attacks since Friday.
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jon Boyle)

6/19/2019 Staff evacuated as rocket strikes near foreign oil firms in Iraq by Aref Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed
Iraqi soldiers sit on a tank at the entry of Zubair oilfield after a rocket struck the site of residential and operations
headquarters of several oil companies at Burjesia area, in Basra, Iraq June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani
    BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – A rocket hit a site in southern Iraq used by foreign oil companies on Wednesday, including U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil, wounding three people and threatening to further escalate U.S.-Iran tensions in the region.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack near Iraq’s southern city of Basra, the fourth time in a week that rockets have struck near U.S. installations.    A second rocket that landed in another nearby area did not explode, one official said.
    Three previous attacks on or near military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and Mosul caused no casualties or major damage. None of those incidents were claimed.
    An Iraqi security source said it appeared that Iran-backed groups in southern Iraq were behind the Basra incident.
    “According to our sources, the team (that launched the rocket) is made up of more than one group and were well trained in missile launching,” the security source said.
    He said they had received a tip-off several days ago the U.S. consulate in Basra might be targeted but were taken by surprise when the rocket hit the oil site.
    Iranian officials have made no comment about the attack but have strongly denied all other allegations against them of attacking energy tankers and facilities in the region.
    Abbas Maher, mayor of the nearby town of Zubair, said he believed “groups linked to regional powers,” a reference to Iran, had specifically targeted Exxon to “send a message” to the United States.
    U.S.-Iranian hostility has risen since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers in May last year.
    Trump has since reimposed and extended U.S. sanctions on Iran, forcing states to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.     Tehran has threatened to abandon the nuclear pact unless other signatories act to rein in the United States.
    The U.S. face-off with Iran reached a new pitch following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in May and June that Washington blames on Tehran.    Iran denies any involvement.
ESCALATION FEARED
    While the long-time foes say they do not want war, the United States has reinforced its military presence in the region and analysts say violence could nonetheless escalate.
    Some Western officials have said the recent attacks appear designed to show Iran could sow chaos if it wanted.
    Iraqi officials fear their country, where powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim militias operate in close proximity to some 5,200 U.S. troops, could become an arena for escalation.
    The United States has pressed Iraq’s government to rein in Iran-backed paramilitary groups, a tall order for a cabinet that suffers from its own political divisions.
    Iraq’s military said three people were wounded in Wednesday’s strike by a short-range Katyusha missile.    It struck the Burjesia site, west of Basra, which is near the Zubair oilfield operated Italy’s Eni SpA.
    Police said the rocket landed 100 meters from a part of the site used as a residence and operations center by Exxon.    Some 21 Exxon staff were evacuated by plane to Dubai, a security source said.
    Zubair mayor Maher said the rocket was fired from farmland around 3-4 km (2 miles) from the site.
    A second rocket landed to the northwest of Burjesia, near a site of oil services company Oilserv, but did not explode, he said.
    “We cannot separate this from regional developments, meaning the U.S.-Iranian conflict,” Maher said.
    “These incidents have political objectives … it seems some sides did not like the return of Exxon staff.”
EXPORTS UNAFFECTED
    Exxon had evacuated its staff from Basra after a partial U.S. Baghdad embassy evacuation in May and staff had just begun to return.
    Burjesia is also used as a headquarters by Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Eni., according to Iraqi oil officials.
    The officials said operations including exports from southern Iraq were not affected.
    A separate Iraqi oil official, who oversees foreign operations in the south, said the other foreign firms had no plans to evacuate and would operate as normal.
    A Shell spokesman said its employees had “not been subject to the attack … and we continue normal operations in Iraq.”
    Eni said its operations were also proceeding as normal after the rocket exploded “several kilometers” from its facilities.
    Wednesday’s rocket strike fits into a pattern of attacks since May, when four tankers in the Gulf and two Saudi oil pumping stations were attacked.
    They have been accompanied by a spate of incidents inside Shi’ite-dominated Iraq, which is allied both to the United States and fellow Shi’ite Muslim Iran.
    The attacks in Iraq have caused less damage but have all taken place near U.S. military, diplomatic or civilian installations, raising suspicions they were part of a campaign.
    A rocket landed near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last month causing no damage or casualties.    The United States had already evacuated hundreds of diplomatic staff from the embassy, citing unspecified threats from Iran.
    Iran backs a number of Iraqi Shi’ite militias which have grown more powerful after helping defeat Islamic State.
    Iraqi officials say threats from Iran cited by Washington when it sent more forces to the region last month included the positioning by Iran-backed militias of rockets near U.S. forces.
    Rockets hit on or near three separate military bases housing U.S. forces near Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul in three separate attacks since Friday.
    Iraq and Kuwait issued a joint statement during a visit by Kuwaiti ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah calling for “wisdom” to avoid an escalation in the region.
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai, Stephen Jewkes in MilanWriting by John DavisonEditing by Clarence Fernandez, Jon Boyle, Andrew Cawthorne, Alison Williams, William Maclean)

6/19/2019 Explainer: What is at stake in Istanbul’s election re-run? by Jonathan Spicer and Humeyra Pamuk
People watch a televised debate between Istanbul's mayoral candidates Ekrem Imamoglu of Republican People's Party (CHP)
and Binali Yildirim of AK Party (AKP) at a cafe in central Istanbul, Turkey, June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Voters in Istanbul will head back to the polls on Sunday to choose a mayor, after Turkey’s election authority scrapped the results of a March vote in which President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party lost to the main opposition.
    The rerun has ramifications far beyond city hall.    Erdogan described the initial vote there and elsewhere in March as a “matter of survival” for Turkey.
    Here are some of the reasons the vote is so significant.
POWER BASE
    Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub and where Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey for 16 years, began his rise to power, serving as the city’s mayor in the 1990s.
    Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) had not lost an election there for nearly two decades before the March 31 vote, won narrowly by opposition candidate Erkrem Imamoglu before the High Election Board canceled the result on May 6 following AKP appeals.    Polls suggest the rerun will bring another tight result.
PERSONALITIES
    Imamoglu, former mayor of Istanbul’s Beylikduzu district, was little known across Turkey before he pulled off the upset win for the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP).
    Since then, his profile has risen throughout the country and beyond as a possible chief antagonist to Erdogan, who only three months ago appeared to have an unassailable grip on power.
    During days of recounts after vote, which gave Imamoglu a lead of just 13,000 in a city of 16 million, fans in football stadiums chanted for him to be given the mayoral post.
    With his signature rimless eyeglasses and “Everything will be fine” slogan on billboards across Istanbul, he has avoided criticizing Erdogan, focusing instead on local policy.    But in the re-run campaign he has also targeted what he has called “the unjust and lawless” decision to annul the March vote.
    His opponent, the AKP’s Binali Yildirim, 63, was a former Turkish prime minister and longtime transport minister under Erdogan who led the Islamist-rooted AKP from 2016-2017 and was handpicked by the president for the mayoral race.
    Erdogan campaigned hard on his behalf, holding up to eight rallies each day before the March 31 vote, most of them broadcast live on several channels, asking voters to back the AKP “as a matter of survival” for Turkey.
    Yildirim initially ran a low-key campaign but has now challenged voters to stand up against “those plotting games against our country.”
ECONOMY
    Last year Turkey’s economy tipped into recession after a currency crisis that, at its worst, halved the value of the lira and threatened to pull down the world’s other emerging markets.
    After a partial recovery, the currency has slid again since just before the March election and is down 11 percent against the dollar so far this year.    The decision to annul the mayoral vote and schedule the June re-run prompted one of the sharpest selloffs. The weakness has also hit Turkish stocks and bonds.
    Investors have cited uncertainty over the outcome in Istanbul, as well as strained U.S.-Turkish ties, declining central bank reserves, and a months-long trend of Turks snapping up foreign currencies, which has been met by a range of measures to shore up the lira.
    A second CHP victory in Istanbul would transfer control over a city that accounts for a third of Turkish economic output and has a budget close to $4 billion.
DOMESTIC POLITICS
    Erdogan’s AK Party failed to win control of other large cities, including Ankara, in the March 31 local elections, even though the party had made an alliance with nationalists.
    For Imamoglu, a second and definitive win could be the start of a fresh political career which could see him present a challenge to Erdogan.
    In recent years there has been repeated media speculation that prominent AKP politicians might break away to establish a new political party.    Some analysts say a defeat for the AK Party in the Istanbul rerun could speed up such preparations, although party officials deny there is any emerging split.
    Erdogan had been expected to implement cabinet changes in response to the election setback, but those plans were put on hold after the re-run decision.    A cabinet reshuffle may be back on the cards in case of an AKP defeat.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
    The result of the Istanbul mayoral election could have an indirect impact on Turkey’s foreign policy at a time when Ankara is locked in a diplomatic row with its key NATO ally Washington and under pressure from Moscow to intervene in northern Syria.
    Turkey has been at loggerheads with the United States for months over Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian missile defense system, which Washington says is incompatible with NATO’s defence network and could compromise its F-35 fighter jets – an aircraft Turkey is also planning to buy.
    The United States is threatening to slap sanctions on Turkey unless it scraps the plan to buy the Russian S-400s. Erdogan has refused to back down and repeatedly said the missile system will be delivered in July.
    While Ankara is hoping President Donald Trump will waive any sanctions, an electoral defeat in Istanbul could highlight discontent among voters over Erdogan’s policies and embolden any voices within his government critical of his uncompromising stance in the diplomatic row with Washington.
    Turkey is also in talks with the United States over the establishment of a safe zone across its border in northeastern areas of Syria, which has been torn by civil war for eight years.    Moscow, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whom Ankara wants gone, is pressing Turkey to rein in the rebels.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

6/19/2019 Erdogan says opposition candidate’s alleged insult could bar him from Istanbul mayoralty
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets supporters during a ceremony
in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan intensified pressure on the opposition candidate in a re-run election for mayor of Istanbul by saying he would be barred from taking office if found guilty of insulting a provincial governor.
    Ekrem Imamoglu, from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), narrowly beat the candidate of Erdogan’s AK Party in a March mayoral contest.    After AKP appeals, the election commission annulled the result and ordered a re-run on June 23.
    The AKP’s loss of Istanbul in the March 31 local elections was one of the worst setbacks for Erdogan since his Islamist-rooted party swept to national power in 2002.    The AKP also lost control of the capital Ankara.
    After keeping quiet on the mayoral race in recent weeks, Erdogan accused Imamoglu of being in cahoots with the network of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkish authorities of masterminding a failed military coup in July 2016.
    Erdogan also said Imamoglu would face consequences for allegedly insulting the governor of Ordu, a Black Sea province north of Istanbul, while campaigning there.
    In a radio show on Wednesday, Erdogan said the governor, Seddar Yavuz, was set to take the matter to court.
    “I cannot know right now what decision the judiciary will make. But the decision by the judiciary could block (Imamoglu’s) path in this (election),” he said.
    Turkish media said Imamoglu got into a row earlier this month at Ordu airport after being barred from using the VIP lounge. AKP supporters said that in a heated exchange with airport officials Imamoglu called Yavuz “a dog.”    Imamoglu denied this, saying he used a different word that sounded similar.
    “This is a plot to pull the arguments on this issue to another level.    He’s not the governor of the state, but rather of the ruling party, and that is how this should be seen,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said on Wednesday.
    Erdogan previously said Imamoglu could not serve as mayor unless he apologized for the alleged insult, but Kilicdaroglu rejected this position, saying Istanbul’s mayor would be elected by the people, not appointed by Erdogan.
    The decision to re-run the Istanbul mayoral election has drawn international ire and accusations from Turkey’s opposition that Erdogan is gradually dismantling democracy.
    It has also unnerved financial markets and thrown a spotlight on the AKP’s management of Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub during its long years in power.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen with additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Mark Heinrich)

6/19/2019 Tired of treading softly, Turkey’s Erdogan back on election warpath by Orhan Coskun, Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has gone on the warpath against the main opposition days ahead of a re-run of a mayoral vote in Istanbul, scrapping plans to avoid divisive rhetoric that some officials in his ruling AK Party believed would alienate voters.
    Standing atop a bus in Istanbul on Tuesday, Erdogan claimed the opposition’s mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu aligned with coup plotters, without presenting evidence, and later warned of unspecified actors targeting Turkey’s independence.
    After weeks of keeping an uncharacteristically low profile, the president re-inserted himself into the campaign with his usual confrontational style.
    The switch is a risk for Erdogan and the AK Party (AKP), which suffered a shock defeat in Istanbul in March local elections – a loss that some in his party believed was in part due to the president’s uncompromising style.
    The loss marked one of his biggest setbacks in 16 years in power, and the AKP challenged the result.
    According to interviews with five party officials, as well as their advisers, Erdogan and his party had decided in recent weeks to effectively air-brush the president from the campaign ahead of the June 23 Istanbul vote, including erasing his face from highway-side billboards and cancelling dozens of planned rallies across the city.
    AKP officials had concluded that Erdogan’s uncompromising approach had become a liability with some key voters in Istanbul, especially Kurds and AKP supporters who were turned off by his polarizing rhetoric, the party insiders said.
    By laying low, Erdogan also could have distanced himself in the event of another defeat, advisers added.
    But things changed earlier this week with internal party polling showing Imamoglu slightly ahead, prompting Ergodan to intervene, according to two of the people.
    In recent days, “Erdogan had asked party officials if it is possible to arrange a meeting or a rally to make a speech every day in Istanbul” ahead of the vote, a senior AKP official said.    “That’s the new strategy.”
    Defeat on Sunday for Erdogan’s hand-picked mayoral candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, would serve as a further embarrassment for the president after the AKP succeeded in annulling the March result.
    It would also weaken what only three months ago appeared to be his iron grip on power as Turkey battles recession, jockeys in war-torn Syria, and balances its U.S. and Russian ties.
    It may embolden challengers to his rule, although it wouldn’t immediately affect the balance of power in Ankara.
    An AKP spokesman declined to comment on the shifting strategy.
    In public appearances in recent days, Erdogan urged supporters to help him rally voters this weekend.
    “We can’t hand our Istanbul to these liars,” Erdogan said in a speech on Tuesday, referring to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its mayoral candidate Imamoglu.
    Imamoglu has denied any links with the coup plotters.
    “I know things will be said,” Imamoglu said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber late Tuesday.    He added: “These attacks are the attacks of those who cannot digest that we are ready for the task.”
STRATEGY ‘BACKFIRED’
    Erdogan, the country’s most dominant political figure since the modern Turkish state’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, launched his own career in Istanbul and had served as its mayor.
    The AKP and its Islamist predecessors had for 25 years controlled the city, which has a budget of close to $4 billion and accounts for a third of the country’s economic output.
    Ahead of Turkey’s local elections in March, Erdogan held up to eight rallies a day addressing thousands of voters and millions more on live television. He delivered tough nationalist messages, asking voters to support the AKP as “a matter of survival.”
    “The Erdogan campaign strategy backfired, especially among Kurds and middle-class conservatives,” in part because of his polarizing rhetoric said Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford.
    After Erdogan’s Istanbul mayoral candidate Yildirim lost by some 13,000 votes, the AKP complained that the election was marred by irregularities.
    Last month, Turkey’s High Election Board scheduled the re-run, a move that opponents said was politically influenced and heightened concerns about eroding rule of law and institutional independence.
    According to AKP officials and insiders, the party is targeting the 1.7 million voters who stayed home on March 31, particularly conservative Kurds and AKP supporters looking for more focus on fixing the country’s stalled economy.
    “People who didn’t vote and disenchanted voters, as well as Kurdish voters, will be a major factor,” said one AKP official, who added that the party was looking to boost turnout from an already high 84 percent in March to 94 percent.
    The party had in recent weeks emphasized a face-to-face campaign in areas that had relatively low overall turnout and high Kurdish populations, officials say.
    That included bringing several elderly Kurdish leaders from the country’s southeast to the city to build support in small neighborhood gatherings, sources close to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) told Reuters.
    But a return to a prominent role for Erdogan in the campaign in the past few days followed fresh polling data and a debate on Sunday between the two mayoral candidates.
    Imamoglu, who won the March vote, was gaining momentum, according to figures published Monday by polling firm Mak Danismanlik.    Internal polls from the two leading parties showed the CHP candidate enjoying a narrow lead over the AKP’s Yildirim as of last week.
    “Erdogan looked at the internal polls and saw that Yildirim still lagged behind, so he decided to go all in,” said one source close to the party with knowledge of the recent polling.    “But it could have the opposite impact on voters and push them away.”
COURTING KURDS
    In Istanbul’s working-class Esenyurt district, where turnout was low in March and the CHP ousted the AKP, resident Halil Cetin said Erdogan should step back.
    “This survival rhetoric was too much at the center and people were annoyed by this, saying ‘This is a municipal vote, what kind of a survival issue could there be?'” said Cetin, originally from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Diyarbakir region.    Yildirim “resonates?,” he added.     Among the overtures the AKP has made to Kurds in recent weeks was lifting a years-long ban on lawyers visiting jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, a move that prompted several Kurdish lawmakers and thousands of prison inmates to end hunger strikes.
    But such gestures were unlikely to make a meaningful impact on Kurdish voters, said HDP Group Chairman Saruhan Oluc.    “These little acts have no chance of creating a positive response,” he said in an interview.
    The economy remains another key challenge for AKP and Erdogan, who have seen support hurt by last year’s currency crisis that tipped Turkey’s economy into recession, devalued the lira by 30% and sent inflation soaring.
    “The economy is problematic. The voters are heavily influenced by the developments in the economy and we see the impact of that by them not going to the ballot box,” the senior AKP official said.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul and Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Cassell Bryan-Low)

6/19/2019 Sudan military council head says it’s ready to negotiate with opposition by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration along the streets of Khartoum, Sudan
May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The head of Sudan’s ruling military council said on Wednesday it was ready to meet an opposition alliance to negotiate the country’s transition toward democracy, after talks collapsed following the deadly dispersal of a protest sit-in.
    “We are ready to continue negotiations with the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces,” Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said.    “We do not deny its role in the uprising or in the popular revolution, their leadership of the masses.”
    Talks between the military council and the DFCF alliance had stalled before collapsing altogether when security forces stormed a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry on June 3, killing dozens.
    They had been wrangling for weeks over who would control a sovereign council to lead Sudan to elections: civilians or the military.
    Burhan said the alliance should return to talks without preconditions.
    “The solution must be satisfactory for all the Sudanese people,” he said.    “We pledge to you and pledge to the people that we will not accept any solution that excludes any faction of the Sudanese people.”
    The opposition had called for an international inquiry to be opened into the sit-in dispersal before they would rejoin talks.
    There have been no direct talks since the dispersal, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the African Union have been trying to mediate between the sides.
    The military overthrew and detained then President Omar al-Bashir on April 11 after 16 weeks of street protests against his 30-year autocratic rule.
    Burhan renewed the military’s denial of its involvement in the dispersal.
    “We all know that we pledged to all the Sudanese people that we would not disperse that place and that is a promise we made and we did not lie to anyone,” he said.
    The military council had said the dispersal of the protest camp came about when a campaign against criminals using an area next to the sit-in strayed from its course.
    “The committee concluded that a number of officers with various ranks were responsible for clearing the protest site,” a military investigative committee said in a statement read out on state TV, adding that the officers were not part of the force assigned to deal with the criminals.
    The statement gave no details on the fate of the officers, but a military council spokesman on Thursday said that some of them were in custody.
    State television on Sunday said tribal leaders, known as the National Administration, had given the military council a mandate to form a technocratic government.
    Addressing the largely toothless body at the presidential palace, the deputy head of the military council said on Sunday it was ready to form a technocratic government, a remark that suggested the council may seek to navigate the transition alone.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba, Editing by William Maclean)

6/19/2019 Turkey to push for trial of Egypt government over Mursi death
A woman holds a flag with a picture of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a symbolic funeral prayer for the former
Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi at the courtyard of Fatih Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed to try to ensure the Egyptian government is tried in international courts for the death of former president Mohamed Mursi, who suffered a fatal heart attack in a Cairo court earlier this week.
    “Muhammed Mursi flailed on the courtroom floor for 20 minutes and the authorities did not help him.    This is why I say Mursi did not die, he was murdered,” Erdogan told supporters at an election rally in Istanbul.
    “We, as Turkey, will follow this issue and do everything possible for Egypt to be tried in international courts for Mursi’s death,” he said, calling on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to take action toward this end.
    He spoke a day after he called Mursi a “marytr” and said he did not believe the former president died due to natural causes.
    Mursi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist group which is now banned in Egypt, died on Monday after collapsing in a Cairo court while on trial on espionage charges.
    The 67-year-old – the first democratically elected head of state in Egypt’s modern history – had been in jail since the army commanded by Egypt’s current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled him in 2013 after barely a year in power following mass protests against his rule.
    Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party supported Mursi’s short-lived Egyptian government, and many Brotherhood members and supporters have fled to Turkey since its activities were banned in Egypt.
    Erdogan added he would raise the issue at the G20 summit in Japan at the end of the month.
    Rights groups have called for an investigation into Mursi’s death and raised questions about his treatment in prison.    Egypt’s government has dismissed accusations that he was badly treated.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, William Maclean)
Symbol of what God?

6/20/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says he believes U.N. will look into death of Egypt’s Mursi
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he believed the United Nations will look into the “suspicious” death of Islamist former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and hold those responsible accountable.
    Mursi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is now banned in Egypt, suffered a fatal heart attack in a Cairo court on Monday while on trial on espionage charges.
    “I believe the United Nations will put Mursi’s suspicious death on its agenda and hold those responsible accountable,” Erdogan said in a speech at a rare news conference with foreign journalists in Istanbul.
    Erdogan has vowed to seek the Egyptian government’s “trial” in international courts over Mursi’s death, calling on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to act. He also called Mursi a “martyr” and said he did not believe he died due to natural causes.
    Egypt’s foreign ministry denounced Erdogan’s comments on Thursday, calling them “crude violations.” against Egypt.
    The 67-year-old Mursi, the first democratically elected head of state in Egypt’s modern history, had been in jail since the army commanded by Egypt’s current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled him in 2013 after barely a year in power following mass protests against his rule.
    Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party supported Mursi’s short-lived Egyptian government, and many Brotherhood members and supporters have fled to Turkey since its activities were banned in Egypt.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

6/20/2019 After years of war and drought, Iraq’s bumper crop is burning by Ahmed Aboulenein and Maha El Dahan
A farmer reacts on his field, which was burned by fire, in al-Hamdaniya, near Mosul, Iraq
June 12, 2019. Picture taken June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    BAQUBA/NINEVEH PLAINS, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi farmer Riyadh woke on May 13 to find his wheat crop ablaze.    In his fields in Diyala province, he found the remains of a mobile phone and plastic bottle which he believes was an explosive device detonated in the night to start the fire.
    Riyadh and his neighbors in Sheikh Tami village put out the blaze and saved most of his crop but hundreds of other farmers in Iraq have been less fortunate since Islamic State urged its supporters to wage economic warfare with fire.
    Since the harvest began in April, crop fires have raged across Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces while the government, battered by years of war and corruption, has few resources to counter a new hit-and-run insurgency.
    The government in Baghdad is playing down the crisis, saying very few fires have been started deliberately and only a fraction of the country’s farmland has been affected.
    But officials in Iraq’s breadbasket province Nineveh warned that if the fires spread to storage sites, a quarter of this year’s bumper harvest could be at risk, potentially ending Iraq’s dream of self-sufficiency after years of disruption due to drought and Islamic State rule.
    Iraq declared victory over Islamic State in December 2017 but the militants have regrouped in the Hamrin mountain range which extends into the northern provinces – an area described by officials as a “triangle of death.”
    In recent weeks, IS has published detailed instructions online about how to carry out hit-and-run operations and weaken the enemy by attrition – without taking losses.
    “It looks like it will be a hot summer that will burn the pockets of the rejectionists and apostates, as well as their hearts,” Islamic State wrote in its al-Naba newspaper last month, referring to Shi’ite Muslims and Sunnis who do not subscribe to its interpretation of Islam.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said last week that only about a 10th of the fires were the result of sabotage, with the rest caused by electrical faults, cigarette butts or faulty agricultural machinery.
    He said just 40,000 donums (10,000 hectares) of wheat and barley had been destroyed by fire nationwide, a tiny proportion of the estimated 13 million donums of cultivated land.
    “We are following up on the issue but it must not be blown out of proportion,” he told a weekly news conference on June 11.
‘INVISIBLE HANDS’
    Figures cited by federal officials, however, don’t tally with data given by officials and farmers in 10 areas of Diyala, Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces visited by Reuters.    Based on their figures, at least 145,000 donums had gone up in flames in those areas alone by June 16.
    The prime minister said there had been 262 fires nationwide this year, but Salahuddin’s civil defense chief told Reuters there were 267 fires during May in that province. Officials in Diyala also said the federal figures were too low.
    In Nineveh, which accounts for almost half Iraq’s cultivated land with 6 million donums devoted to grain, officials recorded 180 fires between May 18 and June 11. By June 10, 65,000 donums of wheat and barley had gone up in flames in the province, well above Baghdad’s estimate for all of Iraq.
    “Some days we have 25 fires reported,” Nineveh’s agriculture chief Duraid Hekmat told Reuters in his Mosul office.
    During a 48-hour visit to Nineveh, Reuters witnessed five major fires and thick black smoke regularly clouded the skies.
    Nevertheless, Nineveh is still expected to produce 1.3 million tonnes of grain this year, which would help it regain its status as the country’s breadbasket.
    In the town of Alam in Salahuddin, council chairman Jassem Khalaf has spent much of this year’s harvest consoling distraught locals who have lost a combined 250 hectares to fire.
    On May 15, his entire 50 donums of land caught fire too, destroying an estimated 60 tonnes of wheat that would have earned him 40 million Iraqi dinars ($34,000).
    “It went up in flames in a moment,” he said, standing in his scorched field of blackened crops holding a lone golden bushel.
    Khalaf was adamant some of the fires were man-made and said they could have been caused by Islamic State, or other groups.
    “In the past we would hear of one field being burned once every few years.    This year, the situation is out of the ordinary,” he said.    “Maybe there is short-circuiting, but there are also culprits and hidden hands.”
TALE OF MANY ARSONISTS
    While scorching temperatures and tinder-dry fields in Iraq lead to fires every year, local officials said there are far more than usual this season and they’re finding more evidence that blazes have been started deliberately.
    Islamic State has claimed responsibility for burning hundreds of hectares of farmland in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahuddin provinces as well as Syria.    But it was impossible to determine how many fires had been started by the militants.
    The challenge for the government is even greater because some have taken advantage of fires sparked by militants to start their own – to settle scores or ethno-religious feuds, farmers said.
    Some farmers accused Shi’ite militias of burning the land of Sunni farmers they believe supported IS during their reign.    They also said some security forces were burning fields to flush out insurgents holed up in farms.
    Reuters could not verify their accusations and neither the militias nor security forces were immediately reachable for comment.
    Local officials said the kind of device discovered by Riyadh in his burnt fields in Diyala was an example of just one method being used to start fires this year.
    Riyadh, who declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals, shared a photo of the device.    Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the evidence.
    Local officials said magnifying glasses have been found in many scorched fields in western Nineveh and south of Mosul.    They said gunpowder had been placed under the lenses in the hope it would ignite under prolonged exposure to the sun.
    “This gunpowder doesn’t go in one direction, it goes into several directions to spread into a wide fire,” said Nineveh’s agriculture chief Hekmat.
    Explosive devices have also been planted to target fire trucks as they arrive to battle the flames.    Two of the 53 fire engines serving Nineveh province have been hit, stretching already meager resources, said Colonel Hossam Khalil, chief of Nineveh’s civil defense unit.
    “It is not enough, but we are working with what we have,” he told Reuters.
SILO RISK
    Hazem Jebbo, a farmer in the Christian town of Qaraqosh southeast of Mosul, knows the blaze that destroyed most of his crops was not started by Islamic State. He blames the authorities for negligence.
    Jebbo, 63 fled in 2014 when Islamic State burnt down his 100 olive trees, used his chicken coop as a shooting range and dug tunnels beneath his house.    He returned to pick up the pieces in 2017.    ?For two years nothing grew due to drought but then the rain came and his crops flourished.
    But a bullet-riddled electricity pole in the middle of one field fell over on May 31 and the live wire sparked a fire.    The district’s only fire truck arrived swiftly but its water pump failed and Jebbo lost 122 donums, the bulk of his crops.    Forty other farmers lost land that day as the blaze spread.
    Jebbo said he had begged the local authorities to fix the damaged pole for more than a year.    They did – an hour after the fire had died down.
    “Let them hear me carefully,” he said in tears in the charred remains of his farm.    “Their negligence burned hundreds of donums, led to these losses.”
    In Nineveh, agriculture chief Hekmat said grain silos were now his biggest concern, a worry shared by security experts.
    “All our efforts are stored there.    If something happens to these areas it will be a catastrophe,” he said.
    Abdul Khalek Jassem, director of the Bazwaya silo in Nineveh, said they had stationed security forces at the entrance of the silo, which can hold up to 130,000 tonnes of wheat.    The center has a single checkpoint manned by a Shabak paramilitary force affiliated to Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias.
    Jassem reassured that all was under control, as thick black smoke rose from a new blaze in the fields beyond the silo. The emergency services took an hour to arrive and the fire had killed one person by the end of the day.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Maha El Dahan; additional reporting by Moayed Kenany; editing by David Clarke)

6/20/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan’s struggles to court Kurds in battle for Istanbul by Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party is struggling to win over Istanbul’s Kurdish voters, a group it considers a key constituency in the electoral battle for control of Istanbul, despite softening its polarizing rhetoric.
    Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) has been targeting Kurdish voters in the hopes of securing victory in a re-run of a mayoral election in the city on Sunday.    But the efforts – which include adopting a more conciliatory stance than in the run up to the March election – are falling flat due to doubts about the party’s sincerity, according to voters, Kurdish politicians, and pollsters.
    The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) won the mayoral vote in Istanbul on March 31 – a stinging setback for the president and his party, which had long-controlled the city.    They now have a second chance after election authorities annulled the first vote following AKP complaints of election irregularities.
    A loss on June 23 for AKP’s mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim, who was hand-picked by Erdogan, would serve as a further embarrassment for the president after March’s defeat.    It would also deal a symbolic blow to his power as Turkey battles recession, jockeys in war-torn Syria, and balances its U.S. and Russian ties.
    Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city – accounting for nearly a fifth of Turkey’s population of 82 million – with a budget of about $4 billion.
    An AKP spokesman declined to comment.
    Party officials say they believe the strategy is having a positive impact, including drawing support from conservative Kurds who had voted for the party in the past but stayed home in March.
KEY CONTRIBUTION
    Kurdish voters account for about 15% of the roughly 10.5 million eligible voters in Istanbul.    They mostly support the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) or the centre-right AKP, which attracts conservative Kurdish voters.
    The AKP received a potential major boost late on Thursday when state-owned Anadolu news agency reported that jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan had called on the HDP to be “neutral” in the election, implying they should abstain.[L8N23R5YS]
    However, there was no immediate reaction from the HDP to the report and Ocalan’s lawyers said they would issue a statement on Friday.
    In March’s mayoral race, HDP supporters tended to vote for the main opposition, the secularist, centre-left CHP, while many conservative Kurdish voters stayed home, pollsters say.
    CHP’s mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu received some 13,000 more votes than AKP’s Binali Yildirim – marking the first time in 25 years that AKP or its predecessor had lost control of the city.
    The loss triggered a re-calibration of the AKP’s election strategy after Erdogan’s polarizing campaigning in March was judged to have backfired and alienated Kurdish voters.
    According to AKP officials and insiders, the party is targeting the 1.7 million voters who stayed home on March 31, particularly conservative Kurds and AKP supporters looking for more focus on fixing the country’s stalled economy.
    “Kurds will have a big impact on the result of this election,” said a source close to AKP.    “Of course, if we can secure a contribution from the Kurds, if there is a rise in their votes, it will make a seriously positive contribution.”
    At a rally days before the March 31 vote, Erdogan called out a pro-Kurdish opposition leader and said: “If you want to live in Kurdistan, there is a Kurdistan in northern Iraq.    Take all the terror lovers with you, clear off and live there.”
    But two months later, that rhetoric is absent ahead of the re-run.    Instead the party has focused on a “softer messages towards Kurds and a more moderate stance are helping,” according to a source close to the AKP.
SOFTER STANCE
    A softer stance was on display earlier this month when the AKP’s Istanbul candidate, Binali Yildirim, visited Diyarbakir in the mainly Kurdish southeast.    He greeted a crowd in Kurdish and spoke of Kurdistan being represented in Turkey’s first parliament, established by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1920.
    Yildirim’s gesture coincided with easing tensions in the southeast as jailed militant leader Ocalan was allowed to meet his lawyers for the first time since 2011 and brought an end to a hunger strike by his supporters.
    The lifting of the years-long ban on lawyers visiting Ocalan was seen as an overture towards the Kurds.    AKP has also brought some Kurdish community leaders from the southeast to build support in small gatherings, according to people close to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
    But polling suggests the change in tack is having limited impact.    A voter survey conducted by Turkish pollster Konda last weekend put the main opposition’s candidate Imamoglu in the lead with 54 percent, and AKP’s Yildirim on 45 percent.    A survey by another pollster for the AKP in May put Imamoglu three percentage points ahead.
    After a televised debate between the two candidates on Sunday, pollster Mehmet Ali Kulat, owner of polling firm Mak Danismanlik, said Imamoglu was slightly ahead of his rival in a survey of 30,000 city residents.
    Hakan Bayrakci, head of polling firm Sonar Arastirma, said he expected HDP voters who did not vote in the previous election to come out in support for the CHP on June 23.
‘THIS IS TRICKERY’
    The pro-Kurdish HDP has come out more solidly in support of the main opposition’s candidate, Imamoglu, dismissing Yildirim’s speaking in Kurdish and referencing Kurdistan as a “cheap election ploy.
    “You deny the Kurdish people’s language, culture and identity.    But when the elections get close, you say Kurdistan and speak Kurdish,” HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan told a rally in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district on Saturday.
    “Who are you kidding?    Kurds won’t vote for you,” she said.
    Selahattin Demirtas, the former HDP leader jailed since 2016 on terror-related charges, issued a series of tweets on Tuesday to galvanize his party’s supporters behind Imamoglu.    “Because together we are great.    Nothing will be great enough without the HDP,” Demirtas wrote, echoing Imamoglu’s campaign slogan “everything will be great.”
    In Esenyurt, a district with a relatively high Kurdish population and where HDP won 22% of the vote in last year’s parliamentary election, Reuters interviewed more than a dozen voters, none of whom indicated a change in their voting intention, despite the change in campaigning tone.
    Tuncay Ulu, a 62-year-old Kurd, said he had voted for the main opposition party’s mayoral candidate, Imamoglu, in March and planned to do the same this weekend, saying the AKP’s overtures would not win Kurdish votes over.
    “This is trickery, they treat people like herds.    It has no impact because people know what they are doing,” he said.
    But, civil engineer Cemal Ankay voiced opposition to Imamoglu, questioning his appreciation for the HDP support.
    “He is ungrateful,” the 39-year-old said, complaining that Imamoglu went to the Black Sea region rather than the southeast during campaigning.    “He is acting as if he did not get support from the Kurds,” he said, adding he would vote for Yildirim.
(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay, Orhan Coskun, Yesim Dikmen and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Cassell Bryan-Low and Alexandra Hudson)

6/20/2019 Turkey sends second ship to drill near Cyprus, EU warns of action
Turkish Navy frigate TCG Fatih (F-242) is seen next to Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz at Dilovasi port
in the western city of Kocaeli, Turkey, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    DILOVASI, Turkey/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Turkey launched a second drilling ship on Thursday which will conduct natural gas operations off the northeast coast of Cyprus for three months, a move which risks aggravating a conflict with Cyprus over jurisdiction rights for oil and gas exploration.
    Turkey and the internationally-recognized government of Cyprus have overlapping claims in that part of the Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural gas.
    Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said at the launch of the vessel, Yavuz, it would operate in a borehole near Cyprus’ Karpas Peninsula, and reach a depth of 3,300 metres (3,609 yards).
    Turkey already has a ship offshore Cyprus, and Cyprus last week issued arrest warrants for its crew.
    European Union leaders warned Turkey on Thursday to end its gas drilling in disputed waters or face action from the bloc, after Greece and Cyprus pressed other EU states to speak out.
    At an EU summit in Brussels, leaders issued a formal statement saying Turkey’s drilling is “illegal” and that the bloc “stands ready to respond appropriately.”
    “The European Council underlines the serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations,” leaders said, using the official title of their summit.    “The European Council calls on Turkey to show restraint.”
    The statement also threatened “targeted measures”: EU code for possible travel bans and asset freezes of Turkish companies and individuals involved in the drilling.
    The dispute has escalated in the past month and also risks straining Ankara’s relations with its western allies.
    Ankara, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, claims that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone, known as an EEZ, fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey or of Turkish Cypriots, who have their own breakaway state in the north of the island recognized only by Turkey.
    Cyprus says that defining its EEZ is its sovereign right.
    Donmez said unilateral agreements made between Cyprus and the regional countries that attempted to “steal” the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots had “no legal validity.”
    “Turkey will continue its operations in its own continental shelf and in areas where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has licensed Turkiye Petrolleri without stopping,” Donmez said, referring to Turkey’s main oil exploration company.
    “We are warning actors from outside the region that are forming cooperations with Cyprus: Do not chase illusions that will yield no results,” he said.
    The bloc will now ask its foreign service, the European External Action Service, to put forward options, the statement said.
    Cyprus has threatened to jeopardize the EU membership bids of North Macedonia and Albania if the bloc does not take action against Ankara.
    One senior EU official said that, aside from sanctions, one option was to end talks with Turkey over extending a customs union, which already allows tariff-free trade with the EU for industrial goods but not services or agriculture.
    Another option could be formally suspending Turkey’s status as an official candidate to become a member of the European Union, although talks have been frozen for over a year.
    Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.    Several peacemaking endeavors have failed and the discovery of offshore resources has increasingly complicated peace negotiations.
(Reporting by Can Sezer and Ezgi Erkoyun in Dilovasi and Robin Emmott in Brussels; writing by Ali Kucukgocmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Daren Butlers, Alexandra Hudson and Jonathan Oatis)

6/20/2019 U.S. redoubles sanctions threat over S-400 as Erdogan vows retaliation by Jonathan Spicer and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir
Putin, during their meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 14 February 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The U.S. government on Thursday said economic sanctions over Turkey’s planned purchase of a Russian missile defense system remained a “very viable” option, even as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan vowed to retaliate if that occurred.
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper told reporters on a teleconference that the United States and other NATO allies remained in discussions with Turkey about resolving the dispute.
    “Seeking resolution is still within the realm of possible today, but imposition of sanctions remains a course of action and a very viable one at this point,” Cooper said during a visit to Brussels, where NATO is headquartered.
    In Istanbul, Erdogan, speaking at a rare news conference for foreign media, repeated that the purchase of Russian S-400 systems was a done deal and said the United States should think carefully before imposing sanctions on a NATO member.
    “I do not see any possibility of these sanctions happening,” Erdogan said.    However, if they did, “we will have sanctions of our own.”
    Washington has repeatedly threatened to impose sanctions unless Ankara backs down from the S-400 purchase.    Erdogan said the delivery of the system would start in the first half of July.
    His expectation of no sanctions appeared largely based on his personal relationship with President Donald Trump.    “I say this very openly and sincerely, our relations with Trump are at a place that I can call really good. … In the event of any issues, we immediately work the phones,” Erdogan said.
    He said he would discuss the issue with Trump at the G20 summit in Japan at the end of June, and that the problem was largely with other U.S. officials.    “When we have talks with those below Trump, we see that many cannot agree with our officials, and one example is the S-400,” he said.
    Cooper said there was no disagreement among U.S. officials or with other NATO members over the issue.
    Turkey and the United States have been at loggerheads over the issue for months. Washington says the S-400 is incompatible with NATO’s defense network and could compromise its F-35 fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping build and planning to buy.
    Buying military equipment from Russia leaves Turkey liable to U.S. retribution under a 2017 law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.
    Turkey faces expulsion from the F-35 program, which would cost Turkish Aerospace Industry (TAI) and other companies well-paying orders, but the sanctions could be extended to other Turkish companies that produce components for U.S. firms.
    Even minor U.S. sanctions could prompt another sharp sell-off in the Turkish lira.    A 30 percent slide in the currency drove the Middle East’s largest economy into recession last year.    It has fallen another 10 percent this year, and markets remain on edge.
    Erdogan said Turkey wanted to buy Patriot missiles from the United States but that offer was in no way comparable to Russia’s.
    Cooper said the United States and other NATO allies had remained very persistent in offering Turkey alternative missile defense systems, but gave no details on what, if anything, had been done to sweeten the original offers submitted.
    Erdogan said Turkey would appeal to international courts and ask for its F-35 payments to be refunded if needed.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Canan Sevgili in Turkey, and Andrea Shalal in Paris; writing by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Daren Butler, John Stonestreet and Jonathan Oatis)

6/20/2019 In Libya’s anti-Haftar bastion, a resolve to fight hardens by Ulf Laessing
A general view shows a warehouse used to repair guns and trucks of forces opposing troops
of Khalifa Haftar in Misrata, Libya June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ulf Laessing
    MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – In a warehouse packed with rocket launchers, grenades and rifles in the Libyan city of Misrata, workers sweat in the summer heat as they install an anti-aircraft gun on a pickup truck.
    They are preparing to defend Tripoli, 200 km (125 miles) to the east, against military commander Khalifa Haftar, a self-proclaimed foe of Islamists who launched a surprise attack in April against a U.N.-backed government based in the capital.
    Initially shocked by the audacity of Haftar’s assault, armed groups in western Libya have improved coordination and revived armories from Libya’s 2011 revolution against Muammar Gaddafi in order to equip their fighters.
    Their early disarray allowed Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) force, allied to a parallel administration in eastern Libya, to reach Tripoli’s southern outskirts.
    But since then defenders drawn from Misrata and Tripoli have managed to hold off Haftar’s attack, even regaining some turf.
    Western diplomats expect a long war — possibly until year-end — as both sides seem confident of their prospects and enjoy backing from foreign powers who are not pushing for a ceasefire.
    Such turmoil could disrupt oil flows and increase migration across the Mediterranean – a nightmare scenario for European countries: Libya has become the main conduit for African migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe.
    For now, both sides seem intent on a military solution.
    Turkey has supplied drones and armored trucks to Tripoli’s defenders, diplomats and Tripoli officials say.    This has helped balance out previous supplies by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to LNA, they say.
    Perhaps as important is the fighting spirit in Misrata, the main bastion against Haftar, where the largest mobilization is underway since 2011 when the city helped topple Gaddafi.
WORKSHOP
    Thousands fighters have skipped their regular jobs to rush to the Tripoli front, supported by women cooking meals, rich businessmen and mechanics like Haj Sadoun and by his team of technicians.
    “I started this workshop in 2011 during the revolution and have never stopped.    I’ve developed the (weapons) skills since then,” he said, standing in his warehouse.    A dozen gun trucks were parked waiting to be served.
    Some 10 trucks are serviced daily by workmen who repair their mounted guns or fix protective metal plates.
    It’s not only armed groups who support Sadoun — a donation box at the entrance to his premises is used by businessmen and residents to keep him going.
    His warehouse contains stockpiles of old guns looted from Gaddafi’s arsenals and now stored for use as spare parts.    Among the weapons lies an ammunition box that carries the name “Jamahiriya” — a term used by Gaddafi for Libya.
    Misrata’s fighters make up the main force defending Tripoli, where armed groups are less organized and tend to have flexible loyalties: Major Tripoli groups have not fully mobilized against Haftar, apparently seeking to keep their options open.
    Misratis say the Tripli groups lack the “Misrata spirit” developed in 2011 when Gaddafi besieged the city for three months.    Misratis tend to see Haftar, an ex-general from Gaddafi’s army, as a copy of the autocrat.
FRONTLINE
    Misrata’s troops already fought a war with Haftar in 2014 when the LNA flew air strikes to stop an advance of the city’s force on Tripoli, held then by a government allied to Haftar.
    This time Haftar, who seems himself as a bastion against Islamists, has not sent planes to bomb the Misrata’s air, port and steel plant, which some diplomats take as sign he wants to make a deal with the Misratis in the end.
    While the city is known for its armed groups and Islamists, it also home to businessmen, many of whom did well under the old regime — it has Libya’s biggest port, and steel and dairy firms serving the whole country.
    Misrata is feeling the economic pinch: For example, foreign banks have become reluctant to open letters of credit for the steel plant, said its chairman Mohamed al-Faqih.
    But this has not shaken his resolve.    “God willing we will finish the barbarian attack of the criminal Haftar,” he said.
    Other community leaders rule out peace talks with Haftar.
    “With Haftar a deal is not possible anymore.    Even if we lost 100,000 we would keep fighting,” said Mohamed Raed, a lawmaker and chairman of the al-Nasseem dairy firm — Tripoli fighters are supplied with his ice cream.
    “We have more than 30,000 fighters in Misrata but so far we have sent only 6,000,” he said.
    For their part, diplomats estimate Tripoli’s defenders at 3,000, similar to the dispatched LNA force.    Only 1,000 are at the frontline, the rest are in forward bases, a diplomat said.
    Both sides have rejected a ceasefire. Misrata officials say their forces will try take Tarhouna, a town southeast of Tripoli controlled by LNA. Haftar has been recruiting there.
    “If Tarhouna is gone then Haftar lost the war,” said Raed.
    The LNA itself has strengthened positions near the central city of Sirte, controlled by Misrata.
    “Every day 150 to 200 women prepare meals to support our revolutionaries (fighters), meals, cakes,” said Halima Traim, who heads a Misrata charity.    “We do this for our nation.”
(The story amends to “Libyan” from “Libya” in paragraph 1.)
(Editing by William Maclean)

6/20/2019 Hamas chief details terms for calm with Israel by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh attends a meeting with members of international media
at his office in Gaza City June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said on Thursday that two industrial zones, a new power line and a hospital would be built for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as part of truce understandings between his Islamist group and Israel.
    The deal, brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, has not been publicly acknowledged by Israel, which deems Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement a terrorist organization and shuns direct negotiations.
    In a briefing to foreign media, Haniyeh accused Israel of failing to comply fully with the understandings and of repeatedly reducing the size of Gaza’s fishing zone, which he said was to be widened to 18 miles under the deal.
    Israel, which cites security concerns for its naval blockade of Gaza and strict border controls, has temporarily narrowed or closed the zone in recent weeks in what it said was a response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave.
    Haniyeh accused Israel of non-compliance with the ceasefire and of delaying any launching of the projects stated in the deal.    “The understandings are in danger because of the non-compliance by the occupation to implement the required obligations,” Haniyeh said.
    But he said Palestinian factions in Gaza were committed to maintaining calm by stopping the balloon launchings and night-time demonstrations along the border that have led to clashes with Israeli forces.
    “We want to afford a dignified life for our Palestinian people and we want to spare our people repeated aggressions (by Israel),” said Haniyeh.
    He did not say when construction of the two industrial zones and the hospital would start, but he noted that funds from Qatar would be used to purchase a new power line from Israel and create new jobs.
    Some two million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    Qatar has in recent years funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into relief projects in Gaza, viewing the aid as a way to stave off privation and fighting with Israel.    Unemployment in Gaza, which has a population of two million, is at 52 percent.
    Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, and the group has fought three wars with Israel since then.
    In two days of heavy fighting in early May, projectiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel, local health officials said, and Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, according to Gaza health authorities.     A ceasefire mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations ended that round of violence.
(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Cawthorne)

6/21/2019 U.S. cannot unilaterally remove Turkey from F-35 program: Turkish defense official
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
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States cannot unilaterally remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program as the partnership agreement does not allow it, Turkey’s head of Defense Industries Directorate said on Friday.
    “No single country can say they don’t want you and then remove you from the program,” Ismail Demir told reporters.
    “This isn’t part of the agreement, this isn’t something you can just say ‘I exclude you’ about.    The F-35 project is a partnership and nowhere in the agreement does it allow a unilateral removal of one country,” he said.
    Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads for months over Turkey’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system.    The United States says the S-400s are incompatible with NATO’s defense network and could compromise its F-35 fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping build and planning to buy.
    In a letter to Turkey, the Pentagon has warned Ankara will be pulled out of the F-35 program unless it changes course.    Washington has already stopped accepting more Turkish pilots for training in the U.S. and halted delivery of equipment related to the program.
    The United States says Turkey’s S-400 acquisition poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35s.    It has threatened to impose sanctions on Ankara under its Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the possibility of which has spooked investors and helped cause a selloff in the lira this year.
    Demir said such sanctions could have a brief impact on Turkey’s defense industry.    “Our defense industry produces parts for the F-35, so in the event of sanctions being imposed, our industry would experience a rough patch, but we’ll then get passed this,” he said.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

6/21/2019 Jailed militant leader tells Kurdish party to be neutral in Istanbul vote by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Pro-Kurd protesters take part in a demonstration in support of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party
(PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan in Strasbourg, France, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan called on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to remain neutral in this weekend’s Istanbul re-run election in a statement released on Friday which could influence the contest’s outcome.
    The HDP has supported the opposition against President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP), playing a key role in the narrow defeat of the AKP mayoral candidate in the March vote, which election authorities later annulled due to irregularities.
    From his prison cell on an island south of Istanbul, where he has been held for 20 years, Ocalan continues to wield considerable influence among Kurdish supporters of the HDP and made his latest statement after meeting his lawyers on June 18.
    “The democratic alliance approach of the HDP should not be made a part of current election discussions.    The importance of the democratic alliance is that it…insists on its neutral position in elections,” Ocalan wrote.
    He did not say whether HDP supporters should vote or not on Sunday.    The HDP has not yet responded to the statement.
    State-owned Anadolu agency reported details of the letter on Thursday night.    Shortly after, Erdogan appeared in a TV interview to comment in detail on the letter, saying it showed a “power struggle” within the Kurdish movement.
    Erdogan’s AKP is trailing in polls ahead of the Sunday election, and has been struggling to win over Kurdish voters despite a softening of previous rhetoric that alienated Kurds.
    Ocalan is the founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States.    It launched an insurgency in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
    Despite his isolation and being reviled in Turkish media as “terrorist chief” and “baby killer,” Ocalan has at times come to prominence in Turkey, whether at the time of peace talks several years ago, or to intervene in hunger strikes by his supporters.
    Last month, several HDP lawmakers and thousands of prison inmates in Turkey ended a hunger strike in response to Ocalan’s request.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

6/21/2019 Hundreds of Jordanian Islamists protest against Trump peace plan by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Jordanian protesters hold Jordanian national flags as they chant slogans during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's "Deal of the Century," after the Friday prayer in Amman, Jordan, June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Hundreds of Jordanian Islamists marched in the capital on Friday to denounce Washington’s peace plan to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and demand their government boycott a conference in Bahrain next week that will examine the project.
    Emerging from the main Husseini mosque in downtown Amman after Friday prayers, the protesters, among them leaders of the mainstream Islamist movement that organized the march, chanted “O Trump, O Trump, go away from us.    Jordan is steadfast and we will never kneel.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-promised “Deal of the Century” peace plan has hit a political nerve in Jordan, where millions of citizens of Palestinian refugee origin live alongside native Jordanians.
    While details of the secret peace plan are still sketchy, Trump’s approach has stirred old fears of any attempt to settle the conflict in a way that would suit Israel but forgo Palestinian rights at Jordan’s expense.
    The protesters chanted slogans against Amman’s participation in the U.S. sponsored workshop in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain next Tuesday which Washington has billed as an economic overture to its long delayed peace initiative.
    “No to normalization with Israel… down, down with the Bahrain conference,” shouted angry protesters who mixed pro-Islamic chants and anti-Western rhetoric.
    Some demonstrators carried placards saying “Down with Bahrain workshop” as hundreds of police stood by and cordoned off a main street in the heart of the capital’s downtown area.
    Although Jordan will join the conference to roll out the economic parts of Trump’s plan, it will deliver a message there that no cash offers can replace a political solution to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, officials say.
    “We have come to say in one voice that as Jordanians we reject the Bahrain workshop.    It is shame on those who participate,” said Murad al Adaylah, the head of the Islamic Action Front,(IAF) the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group.
    While the kingdom has a peace deal with Israel and maintains strong security ties, many Jordanians resent Israel and identify with the Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
    Some businessmen and officials however privately say economically challenged Jordan could profit from any Middle East peace plan that promises billions in aid and project finance.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean)

6/21/2019 Erdogan’s chief antagonist seeks a lasting victory in Istanbul by Humeyra Pamuk and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu addresses his supporters
during an election rally in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Three months ago Ekrem Imamoglu was a little-known politician in a fringe Istanbul district who was attempting the near-impossible: to unseat Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party from Turkey’s largest city after 25 years in power.
    Today – after having pulled off victory in March to become Istanbul mayor, only to be ousted in May – he has emerged as a national sensation and figurehead for the Turkish opposition.
    His victory over the AK Party (AKP) in the municipal vote dealt Erdogan one of the worst setbacks in his 16 years of power.    But Imamoglu had been in office less than three weeks when Turkey’s High Election Board annulled the results, citing irregularities, after weeks of appeals by the AKP.
.     Now the 49-year-old is trying to win again in a re-run of the mayoral vote on Sunday, this time against an AKP machine that has zeroed in on him with accusations of lying and terrorist associations as well as legal threats.
    Imamoglu has denied the allegations from Erdogan, Turkey’s foreign minister and his AKP mayoral opponent Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister.
    In response the former businessman has tried to stick to the low-key inclusive message that handed him a narrow victory in the first campaign.    There are indications the scrapping of the election results, which many voters say was unjust, has actually served to bolster his popular support.
    Recent polls give Imamoglu of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) a lead of as much as nine percentage points over Yildirim of the Islamist-rooted AKP, far larger than his 0.2 percentage-point victory on March 31.
    With his signature rimless eyeglasses and “Everything will be fine” slogan on billboards across Istanbul, Imamoglu has sought to leverage the election board’s decision to annul the results over irregularities including polling officials who were not civil servants."
    “Of course we have a different agenda item in this election and that is democracy (for which) we are at a turning point,” he told Reuters this week.    “Our emphasis on the injustice and lawless intervention … will continue until the last minute.”
BIG RALLIES
    On Thursday Erdogan, who served as Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s, accused Imamoglu of cheating in a televised debate by seeing the questions ahead of time, without citing evidence.
    The Turkish leader has accused Imamoglu of being in cahoots with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says is a terrorist and blames for a 2016 failed putsch.    He also said Imamoglu allegedly insulted the governor of Ordu, a Black Sea coastal province, and added that if prosecuted over the issue, he could be barred from office even if he wins.
    The annulment of Imamoglu’s victory, and attacks on his character, have however had the effect of raising his profile at home and abroad.
    His rallies this month before thousands of CHP supporters, including on a three-city tour of Turkey’s Black Sea coast, are a far cry from the small face-to-face gatherings and Facebook videos favored in his initial campaign.
    “Do you know what a political party opting to hurl constant insults and slander at its opponent shows?"    It shows that they know they have lost,” he told a rally on Wednesday.
    Some media commentators have even earmarked him as a potential presidential candidate.
    “There’s this expectation that he is likely to be the face of the opposition,” said Deniz Zeyrek, a journalist at opposition newspaper Sozcu.    “I believe he will be in Turkey’s political future, even if he loses.”
    Imamoglu has also been the subject of feature articles in Western magazines and newspapers.    This month he authored a column in the Washington Post, pledging to win again.
    “I see little reason why Imamoglu would lose votes on June 23,” said Howard Eissenstat, nonresident senior fellow at Washington-based think-tank the Project on Middle East Democracy.
    But he added that Imamoglu would want to win with a bigger margin to earn a definitive victory and put an end to any potential claims of irregularities.
    However some academics warn that Imamoglu could overplay his hand.
    “His challenge is to use the cult of victimhood but still be defiant,” said Galip Dalay, visiting scholar at the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations.
    “Too many big things – rallies, comments on national issues – that could backfire.”
(Additional reporting by Eylul Aytan, Ece Toksabay, Zeynep Arica and Jonathan Spicer; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Pravin Char)

6/21/2019 Seven killed in Baghdad blast at Shi’ite mosque: police sources
Police tape cordon is seen at the site of a bomb attack at a Shi'ite Muslim mosque in the
Baladiyat neighbourhood of Baghdad, Iraq June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A bomb blast killed seven people at a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in eastern Baghdad on Friday and wounded more than 20, police sources said.
    The explosion took place in the Baladiyat neighborhood. A senior police source said that either a suicide belt or improvised explosive device had been used in the attack, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
    The source said the death toll was expected to rise with many of those wounded in serious condition.
    It was a rare attack on a Shi’ite place of worship in the Iraqi capital.
    Sunni extremists carried out high-profile bombings of Iraqi Shi’ite sites during the worst of the country’s sectarian violence after the U.S. invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Baghdad’s security improved significantly with the defeat of Islamic State in 2017 and bomb attacks of any kind in the city have been rare since then.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by John Davison; editing by John Stonestreet)

6/22/2019 Exclusive: White House’s Kushner unveils economic portion of Middle East peace plan by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is interviewed by Reuters at the Eisenhower
Executive Office Building in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Saturday outlined a $50 billion Middle East economic plan that would create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, and fund a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.
    The “peace to prosperity” plan, set to be presented by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an international conference in Bahrain next week, includes 179 infrastructure and business projects, according to details of the plan and interviews with U.S. officials.    The approach toward reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process was criticized by the Palestinians on Saturday.
    The ambitious economic revival plan, the product of two years of work by Kushner and other aides, would take place only if a political solution to the region’s long-running problems is reached.
    More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.    Some of the projects would be in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, where investments could benefit Palestinians living in adjacent Gaza, a crowded and impoverished coastal enclave.
    The plan also proposes nearly a billion dollars to build up the Palestinians’ tourism sector, a seemingly impractical notion for now given the frequent flareups between Israeli forces and militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza, and the tenuous security in the occupied West Bank. (For factbox with more on the plan see)
    The Trump administration hopes that wealthy Gulf states and nations in Europe and Asia, along with private investors, would foot much of the bill, Kushner told Reuters.
    “The whole notion here is that we want people to agree on the plan and then we’ll have a discussion with people to see who is interested in potentially doing what,” Kushner told Reuters Television.
    The unveiling of the economic blueprint follows two years of deliberations and delays in rolling out a broader peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians.    The Palestinians, who are boycotting the event, have refused to talk to the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in late 2017.
    Veteran Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi dismissed the proposals on Saturday, saying: “These are all intentions, these are all abstract promises” and said only a political solution would solve the conflict.
    Kushner made clear in two interviews with Reuters that he sees his detailed formula as a game-changer, despite the view of many Middle East experts that he has little chance of success where decades of U.S.-backed peace efforts have failed.
    “I laugh when they attack this as the ‘Deal of the Century’,” Kushner said of Palestinian leaders who have dismissed his plan as an attempt to buy off their aspirations for statehood.    “This is going to be the ‘Opportunity of the Century’ if they have the courage to pursue it.”
    Kushner said some Palestinian business executives have confirmed their participation in the conference, but he declined to identify them.     The overwhelming majority of the Palestinian business community will not attend, businessmen in the West Bank city of Ramallah told Reuters.
    Several Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, will also participate in the June 25-26 U.S.-led gathering in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, for Kushner’s rollout of the first phase of the Trump peace plan.    Their presence, some U.S. officials say privately, appears intended in part to curry favor with Trump as he takes a hard line against Iran, those countries’ regional arch-foe.
    The White House said it decided against inviting the Israeli government because the Palestinian Authority would not be there, making do instead with a small Israeli business delegation.
POLITICAL DISPUTES REMAIN
    There are strong doubts whether potential donor governments would be willing to open their checkbooks anytime soon, as long as the thorny political disputes at the heart of the decades-old Palestinian conflict remain unresolved.
    The 38-year-old Kushner – who like his father-in-law came to government steeped in the world of New York real estate deal-making – seems to be treating peacemaking in some ways like a business transaction, analysts and former U.S. officials say.
    Palestinian officials reject the overall U.S.-led peace effort as heavily tilted in favor of Israel and likely to deny them a fully sovereign state of their own.
    Kushner’s attempt to decide economic priorities first while initially sidestepping politics ignores the realities of the conflict, say many experts.
    “This is completely out of sequence because the Israeli-Palestinian issue is primarily driven by historical wounds and overlapping claims to land and sacred space,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for Republican and Democratic administrations.
    Kushner acknowledges that “you can’t push the economic plan forward without resolving the political issues as well.”    The administration, he said, will “address that at a later time,” referring to the second stage of the peace plan’s rollout now expected no earlier than November.
    Kushner says his approach is aimed at laying out economic incentives to show the Palestinians the potential for a prosperous future if they return to the table to negotiate a peace deal.
    Kushner stressed that governments would not be expected to make financial pledges on the spot.
    “It is a small victory that they are all showing up to listen and partake.    In the old days, the Palestinian leaders would have spoken and nobody would have disobeyed,” he said.
TRAVEL CORRIDOR
    Kushner’s proposed new investment fund for the Palestinians and neighboring states would be administered by a “multilateral development bank.”    Global financial lenders including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank plan to be present at the meeting.
    The fund would include “accountability, transparency, anti-corruption, and conditionality safeguards” to protect investments.
    A signature project would be to construct a travel corridor for Palestinian use that would cross Israel to link the West Bank and Gaza.    It could include a highway and possibly a rail line.    The narrowest distance between the territories, whose populations have long been divided by Israeli travel restrictions, is about 40 km (25 miles).
    Kushner said that if executed the plan would create a million jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, reduce Palestinian poverty by half and double the Palestinians’ GDP.
    But most foreign investors will likely stay clear for the moment, not only because of security and corruption concerns but also because of the drag on the Palestinian economy from Israel’s West Bank occupation that obstructs the flow of people, goods and services, experts say.
    Kushner sees his economic approach as resembling the Marshall Plan, which Washington introduced in 1948 to rebuild Western Europe from the devastation of World War Two.    Unlike the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan, however, the latest initiative would put much of the financial burden on other countries.
    President Donald Trump would “consider making a big investment in it” if there is a good governance mechanism, Kushner said. But he was non-committal about how much the president, who has often proved himself averse to foreign aid, might contribute.
    Economic programs have been tried before in the long line of U.S.-led peace efforts, only to fail for lack of political progress.    Kushner’s approach, however, may be the most detailed so far, presented in two pamphlets of 40 and 96 pages each that are filled with financial tables and economic projections.
    In Manama, the yet-to-released political part of the plan will not be up for discussion, Kushner said.
    The economic documents offer no development projects in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.
    What Kushner hopes, however, is that the Saudis and other Gulf delegates will like what they hear enough to urge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to consider the plan.
    The message Kushner wants them to take to Ramallah: “We’d like to see you go to the table and negotiate and try to make a deal to better the lives of the Palestinian people.”
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Ramallah; Editing by Ross Colvin and Chizu Nomiyama)
[THE QUESTION IS CAN YOU BUY MIDEAST PEACE BETWEEN PALESTINIANS AND ISRAEL WITH ALL THE HATERS IN THE BACKGROUND?
    Daniel 9:27 "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."
    So is he the (Antichrist) who shall confirm the covenant (make a covenant) for one week (seven years); and in the middle of that week he will break the covenant?
    God has blessed Trump for his appraisal of Israel as his policies are working in this world so far but I think soon there will be an entity that will step out of the limelight to the world who has the influence to all parties to make this plan take place.    So the question is who will that be?
].

6/22/2019 Palestinians reject Kushner ‘economy first’ approach to Mideast peace by Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: A crossed out logo of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is seen in Ramallah,
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo
    GAZA CITY (Reuters) – Palestinian officials on Saturday dismissed proposals unveiled by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner for big money projects to form the first economic portion of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan.
    Senior Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Hanan Ashrawi said Kushner’s plans were “all abstract promises.” and said only a political solution would solve the conflict.
    Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, was more blunt, saying: “Palestine isn’t for sale.”
    An Israeli cabinet minister welcomed the plan.
    The Trump administration’s $50 billion Middle East economic plan calls for creation of a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, according to U.S. officials and documents reviewed by Reuters.
    One proposal is for the construction of a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.
    The “peace to prosperity” plan is set to be presented at an international conference in Bahrain next week by Kushner, who told Reuters that Palestinian leaders should consider the initiative.
    “This is going to be the ‘Opportunity of the Century’ if they have the courage to pursue it,” he said.
    However Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator and member of the executive committee of the PLO, said only a political solution that ended Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories would solve the conflict.
    Speaking to Reuters by phone from the West Bank city of Ramallah, she said: “If they really care about the Palestinian economy they should start by lifting the siege of Gaza, stopping Israel stealing our money and our resources and our land and opening up our territorial waters, our air space and our borders so we can freely export and import.”
    She said the Trump administration’s stance was an “entirely wrong approach,” adding: “They can end the occupation, which is the most basic requirement for prosperity.    There can be no prosperity under occupation.”
    Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the plan looked promising.
    “What’s been published until now looks good and even very good.    We are always in favor of developing the Palestinian economy, ending the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, ensuring economic prosperity in the Palestinian communities,” he told Israeli Reshet TV.
    “The entire world wants to help the Palestinians except for the Palestinians themselves.”
MANAMA MEETING
    No Palestinian officials belonging to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ PLO and Palestinian Authority will attend the conference in Bahrain.    The White House said it decided against inviting the Israeli government because the PA would not be there.
    Several Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, will participate in the June 25-26 U.S.-led gathering in Manama.
    Their presence, some U.S. officials say privately, appears intended in part to curry favor with Trump as he takes a hard line against Iran, those countries’ regional arch-foe.
    The economic revival plan would take place only if a political solution to the region’s long-running problems is reached.
    More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.    Some of the projects would be in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, where investments could benefit Palestinians living in adjacent Gaza, a crowded and impoverished coastal enclave.
    In Gaza, Hamas official Ismail Rudwan also rejected Kushner’s proposals.
    The armed Islamist group is the main internal rival to Abbas, whose power base is in the West Bank.    But both are in rare agreement over the Trump administration.
    “We reject the ‘deal of the century’ and all its dimensions, the economic, the political and the security dimensions,” Rudwan told Reuters.
    “The issue of our Palestinian people is a nationalistic issue, it is the issue of a people who are seeking to be free from occupation. Palestine isn’t for sale, and it is not an issue for bargaining.    Palestine is a sacred land and there is no option for the occupation except to leave,” he said.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

6/22/2019 Arab ministers to discuss financial support for Palestinian Authority: agency
Public servants of the Palestinian Authority queue to receive their salaries outside a bank in Gaza City May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Arab finance ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss helping the Palestinian Authority cope with a deepening cash crunch amid a persistent dispute with Israel over payments to families of jailed and deceased militants.
    The meeting comes ahead of a U.S.-led economic conference in Bahrain expected to call for a $50 billion global investment fund for the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon which the Palestinian Authority is boycotting.
    The Palestinian Authority sees the economic conference as an attempt to circumvent its demands for the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    The Palestinian Authority has been struggling to pay civil servants salaries since February when Israel announced it was deducting five percent of the revenues it transfers monthly to the PA from tax collected on imports that reach the occupied West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Israeli ports.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to accept any of the tax revenues, which totaled 700 million shekels ($193 million) in January and which account for about half of the PA’s budget, since the Israeli decision.
    “This emergency meeting … is being held in coordination with the Palestinian side to discuss providing the financial safety net to support the State of Palestine,” Egyptian state news agency MENA quoted Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Hussam Zaki as saying.
    Israel has said the five percent it deducts from Palestinian revenues represents the amount the PA pays to families of Palestinians jailed in Israel or killed while carrying out attacks or during clashes 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.
    The Palestinian Authority said in March it was cutting civil servants’ salaries by half.    Only its lowest-earning employees, or the 40 percent of its workforce who earn 2,000 Israeli shekels or less a month, would be paid full salary, it said.
    Zaki said the meeting was a follow-up to an Arab foreign ministers meeting held at the Arab League in Cairo in April in which they agreed to activate a $100 million financial safety plan for the Palestinians.
    Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said in March that 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.
    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, putting further pressure on Palestinian finances.
    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.
(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Chris Reese)

6/22/2019 Sudan’s main opposition coalition says agreed to mediator draft agreement
Supporters of Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the military council and head of paramilitary Rapid Support Forces
(RSF), cheer as he arrives at a meeting in Aprag village, 60 kilometers away from Khartoum, Sudan, June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s main opposition coalition said on Saturday it had received a draft agreement from the Ethiopian mediator and had agreed to all of its points defining the country’s governmental structure for the transitional period.
    A draft of the Ethiopian proposal seen by Reuters suggested that the sovereign council would be made up of seven civilians and seven members of the military with one additional seat reserved for an impartial individual.
    Babikr Faisal, a spokesman for the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition, gave no details on the contents of the agreement.
    “Our acceptance of the Ethiopian mediation proposal pushes all the parties to face their responsibilities toward continuing to effort a political solution,” the coalition later said in a statement.
    “Therefore we demand that the document be approved by the military council in order to move the situation in Sudan (forward).”
    The ruling generals and the coalition have been wrangling for weeks over what form Sudan’s transitional government would take after the military deposed and detained long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.
    In May, the parties came to an initial agreement that gave two-thirds of a transitional legislative council to the FFC coalition and allowed them to nominate candidates for a merit-based cabinet of ministers. The Ethiopian draft seen by Reuters suggested this would remain the case.
    However, both sides were deadlocked on whether civilians or the military would control a new sovereign council to lead Sudan toward elections.
    The coalition was meant to meet the Ethiopian envoy on Saturday, Faisal said, but the meeting was postponed.
    Talks between the military and the opposition alliance collapsed when security forces stormed a protest sit-in outside the Defence Ministry on June 3, killing dozens.
    There have been no direct talks since them, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the African Union have been trying to mediate between the sides.
    The opposition accused the military council of ordering the sit-in’s dispersal using force and wants an international inquiry. Witnesses said the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, headed by the military council’s deputy, carried out the violence.
    The military said a crackdown on criminals spilled over to the sit-in area, but some officers have been detained for presumed responsibility.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; additional reporting by Mohamed el-Sherif in Cairo; writing by Nadine Awadalla; editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and G Crosse)

6/23/2019 Istanbul votes in mayoral re-run, in test for Turkish democracy, Erdogan by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen
A woman shows a ballot paper at a polling station during a mayoral election re-run in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Millions of Istanbul residents voted on Sunday in a re-run of a mayoral election that has become a referendum on President Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and a test of Turkey’s ailing democracy.
    In the initial March 31 vote, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate secured a narrow victory over Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) in Turkey’s largest city, a rare electoral defeat for the president.
    But after weeks of AKP appeals, Turkey’s High Election Board in May annulled the vote citing irregularities.    The opposition called the decision a “coup” against democracy, which has raised the stakes for round two.
    “It is really ridiculous that the election is being re-run.    It was an election won fair and square,” said Asim Solak, 50, who said he was voting for the opposition candidate in the CHP stronghold of Tesvikiye.
    “It is clear who canceled the election.    We hope this election re-run will be a big lesson for them,” he said.
    Polling stations across Istanbul opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), with 10.56 million people registered to vote in a city which makes up nearly a fifth of Turkey’s 82 million population.    Voting ends at 5 p.m.    Results will be announced in the evening.
    Real estate agent Bayram, 60, said he voted for the AKP’s candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, as he believed foreign powers the United States, Europe and Israel supported the opposition.
    “All of these will want a piece from Istanbul and then there will be chaos.    The enemy of my enemy is my friend.    All these foreign powers don’t like Erdogan, so he is my friend,” he said after voting in Kagithane district, an AKP stronghold.
HIGH STAKES
    Erdogan has repeated his line that “whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey.”    A second loss in the city, where in the 1990s he served as mayor, would be embarrassing for Erdogan and could weaken what until recently seemed to be his iron grip on power.
    Turkey’s economy is in recession and the United States, its NATO ally, has threatened sanctions if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses.
    A second AKP loss could also shed further light into what CHP mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu said was the misspending of billions of lira at the Istanbul municipality, which has a budget of around $4 billion.
    “If Imamoglu wins again, there’s going to be a chain of serious changes in Turkish politics,” journalist and writer Murat Yetkin said.
    “It will be interpreted as the beginning of a decline for AKP and for Erdogan as well,” he said, noting that the president himself had called the local elections “a matter of survival.”
    Another Imamoglu win could eventually trigger a national election earlier than 2023 as scheduled, a cabinet reshuffle, and even a potential adjustment in foreign policy, Yetkin added.
    To narrow the roughly 13,000-vote gap in March, the AKP re-calibrated its message recently to court Kurdish voters, who make up about 15% of voters in the city of 15 million.
    The campaign received a twist when jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan urged the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to stay neutral in the vote.    The HDP, which backs Imamoglu, accused Erdogan of trying to divide Kurds.
LOCAL PROTESTS
    Having campaigned hard ahead of the March vote, a strategy that many within AKP believe has backfired, Erdogan initially kept a low-profile this month. But last week he returned to his combative campaigning and targeted Imamoglu directly, including threatening him with legal action, raising questions over whether the AKP would accept a second defeat.
    Polls have shown Imamoglu, a former district mayor, retaining a lead over his AKP rival.    Some polls put him up to 9 percentage points ahead, with his more inclusive message resonating with some voters.
    The decision to re-run the vote drew international criticism and accusations from Turkey’s opposition of an erosion in the rule of law.    Residents in several districts took to the streets banging pots and pans in protest.
    Some voters told Reuters that an AKP victory on Sunday could lead to bigger protests.
    The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul, Turkey’s business hub, and potential delays in broader economic reforms, have kept financial markets on edge.    Turkey’s lira currency tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down nearly 10% this year in part on election jitters.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Ece Toksabay and Eylul Aytan; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Gareth Jones and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

6/23/2019 Kushner’s economic plan for Mideast peace faces broad Arab rejection by Stephen Kalin, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Mohamed Abdellah
A member of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas patrols the border area with Egypt,
in the southern Gaza Strip, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    RIYADH/AMMAN/CAIRO (Reuters) – Arab politicians and commentators greeted U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East $50 billion economic vision with a mixture of derision and exasperation, although some in the Gulf called for it to be given a chance.
    In Israel, Tzachi Hanegbi, a cabinet member close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, described Palestinians’ rejection of the “peace to prosperity” plan as tragic.
    Set to be presented by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner at a conference in Bahrain on June 25-26, the blueprint envisions a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab economies and is part of broader efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestininan peace process.
    “We don’t need the Bahrain meeting to build our country, we need peace, and the sequence of (the plan) — economic revival followed by peace is unrealistic and an illusion,” Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said on Sunday.
    The lack of a political solution, which Washington has said would be unveiled later, prompted rejection not only from Palestinians but also in Arab countries with which Israel would seek normal relations.
    From Sudan to Kuwait, commentators and ordinary citizens denounced Kushner’s proposals in strikingly similar terms: “colossal waste of time,” “non-starter,” “dead on arrival.”
    Egyptian liberal and leftist parties slammed the workshop as an attempt to “consecrate and legitimize” occupation of Arab land and said in a joint statement that any Arab participation would be “beyond the limits of normalization” with Israel.
    While the precise outline of the political plan has been shrouded in secrecy, officials briefed on it say Kushner has jettisoned the two-state solution – the long-standing worldwide formula that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
ANOTHER TRAGEDY
    The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the Bahrain meeting, saying only a political solution will solve the problem. It said Kushner’s “abstract promises” were an attempt to bribe Palestinians into accepting Israeli occupation.
    The White House has not invited the Israeli government to Bahrain.
    On Israel Radio, Hanegbi said Washington had tried to create “a little more trust and positivity” by presenting an economic vision but had touched a raw nerve for Palestinians.
    “They are still convinced that the whole matter of an economic peace is a conspiracy, aimed only at plying them with funds for projects and other goodies only so they will forget their nationalist aspirations.    This is of course just paranoia, but it’s another tragedy for the Palestinians,” he said.
    U.S.-allied Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will take part in the Bahrain gathering along with officials from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. Lebanon and Iraq will not attend.
    “Those who think that waving billions of dollars can lure Lebanon, which is under the weight of a suffocating economic crisis, into succumbing or bartering over its principles are mistaken,” parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, said.
    Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which wields significant influence over the government, has previously called the plan “an historic crime” that must be stopped.
    Thousands of people marched through the Moroccan capital Rabat on Sunday to express their solidarity with the Palestinians and their opposition to the Kushner plan.
    “We came here to speak in one voice as Moroccans and express our rejection of all conspiracies that target the Palestinian cause,” Slimane Amrani, vice secretary general of the kingdom’s co-ruling Islamist PJD party told Reuters.
    Arab analysts believe Kushner’s economic plan is an attempt to buy off opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land with a multi-billion dollar bribe to pay off the neighboring hosts of millions of Palestinian refugees to integrate them.
    After Israel’s creation in 1948, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon absorbed the most Palestinian refugees, with some estimates that they now account for around five million.
NO HARM IN LISTENING
    In recent years, Iran’s bitter rivalry with a bloc led by Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has increasingly pushed the Arab-Israeli struggle into the background.
    While Riyadh and its allies have welcomed Trump’s harder line against Tehran, which has cast itself as the guardian of Palestinian rights, critics accuse Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s holiest places, of abandoning the Palestinians.
    Muslim scholars in the region, who would have in the past rallied popular opinion in support of the Palestinians, were largely silent hours after the plan was released, in a sign of a crackdown on dissent in several Arab countries.
    Saudi Arabia has detained several prominent clerics in an apparent move to silence potential opponents of the kingdom’s absolute rulers.    Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority, al-Azhar, has yet to issue a statement.
    Riyadh has assured Arab allies it would not endorse anything that fails to meet key Palestinian demands.
    Ali Shihabi, who heads the Arabia Foundation which supports Saudi policies, said the Palestinian Authority was wrong to reject the plan out of hand.
    “It should accept it and work on delivering the benefits to its people and then move forward aggressively with non-violent work … to seek political rights,” he tweeted.
    Emirati businessman Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor also criticized the Palestinians’ refusal to go to Bahrain.
    “There is no harm in listening to what will be placed on the table,” he wrote last month.
    Yet even in the Gulf, backing for Kushner’s plan is limited.
    “The deal of the century is a… one-sided concession, the Arab side, while the occupier wins everything: land, peace and Gulf money,” said Kuwaiti parliamentarian Osama Al-Shaheen.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Mohammed Abdellah, Amina Ismail, Nadine Awadalla and Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo; Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Samia Nakhoul, Tom Perry and Ellen Francis in Beirut; Ghaida Ghantous, Alexander Cornwell, Hadeel Al Sayegh, Sylvia Westall and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Eric Knecht in Doha; Michael Georgy in Khartoum, Ahmed Hagagy in Kuwait and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Samia Nakhoul, Keith Weir and Gareth Jones)

6/23/2019 Turkey’s opposition headed for big Istanbul win, in blow to Erdogan by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen
A woman looks for her name on a voters list, before voting at a polling station during
a mayoral election re-run in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition headed for a decisive victory on Sunday in Istanbul’s re-run election, dealing one of the biggest blows to President Tayyip Erdogan during his 16 years in power and promising a “new beginning” in the country’s largest city.
    Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), was leading with 54% of votes versus 45% for Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) candidate, with more than 99% of ballots opened, Turkish broadcasters said.
    “Today, 16 million Istanbul residents have renewed our faith in democracy and refreshed our trust in justice,” Imamoglu told supporters.
    His AKP opponent, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, congratulated him and wished him “all the luck” in serving Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial hub. Erdogan also tweeted his congratulations to the CHP candidate.
    Imamoglu had won the original mayoral election on March 31 by a narrow margin that prompted the Islamist-rooted AKP to demand a re-run, citing what it said were voting irregularities.
    The High Election Board’s decision to grant that request drew sharp criticism from Turkey’s Western allies and from Erdogan’s opponents at home, stirring concerns about the rule of law and raising the stakes in a re-run that many Turks saw as a test of their country’s democracy.
    Broadcasters put the CHP’s lead on Sunday at about 700,000 votes, eclipsing the roughly 13,000-vote margin in March.     The election board said it would announce the election results as soon as possible.
JUSTICE AND LOVE
    Imamoglu, a former businessman and district mayor who waged an inclusive campaign and avoided criticising Erdogan, said he was ready to work with the AKP to tackle Istanbul’s problems, including its transport gridlock and the needs of its Syrian refugees.
    “In this new page in Istanbul, there will from now on be justice, equality, love, tolerance; while misspending (of public funds), pomp, arrogance and the alienation of the other will end,” he said.
    The handover of power in the mayor’s office could shed further light on what Imamoglu said was the misspending of billions of lira at the Istanbul municipality, which has a budget of around $4 billion.
    Erdogan himself served as Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s before he embarked on a national political career, dominating Turkish politics first as prime minister, then as president.    He presided over years of strong economic growth but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of dissent.
    If confirmed, this second defeat in Istanbul would be a major embarrassment for the president and could also weaken what until recently seemed to be his iron grip on power. He had campaigned hard in Istanbul and had targeted Imamoglu directly with accusations of lying and cheating.
    Analysts say the loss could set off a cabinet reshuffle in Ankara and adjustments to foreign policy.    It could even trigger a national election earlier than 2023 as scheduled, though the leader of the AKP’s nationalist ally played down that prospect
    “Turkey should now return to its real agenda, the election process should close,” MHP party leader Devlet Bahceli said.    “In this context, talking of an early election would be among the worst things that can be done to our country.”
    Turkey’s economy is now in recession and the United States, its NATO ally, has threatened sanctions if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defences.
    The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul and potential delays in broader economic reforms have kept financial markets on edge.    Turkey’s lira currency tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down nearly 10% this year in part on election jitters.
(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Daren Butler, Ece Toksabay, Eylul Aytan and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/23/2019 Turkey’s opposition leads based on initial results in Istanbul re-run
Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), accompanied by his wife Dilek,
casts his ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Cansu Alkaya
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition was leading with 53.6% of votes versus 45.4% for President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party in Istanbul’s high-stakes re-run mayoral election, with nearly 95% of the city’s ballots opened, CNN Turk said on Sunday.
    The election was seen as a test of the Turkey’s ailing democracy, and a loss would be a blow to Erdogan who campaigned hard and whose ruling party and its predecessors have run the city for 25 years.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

6/23/2019 Turkey’s AK Party candidate says opposition leading Istanbul vote count
Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), speaks next to his wife Dilek and
son Semih after casting their ballots at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s AK Party candidate for Istanbul mayor Binali Yildirim said on Sunday his opposition rival Ekrem Imamoglu was ahead for now, offering his congratulations and saying he hoped Imamoglu would serve the city well.
    Yildirim, speaking minutes after Turkish broadcasters said Imamoglu had 53.6% of the votes after nearly 95% of the ballots had been opened, said the election showed that Turkey’s democracy was functioning perfectly.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans)

6/23/2019 Ethiopia’s army chief, three others killed in failed regional coup by Dawit Endeshaw
Nigusu Tilahun, Press Secretary at the office of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, and his deputy Billene Seyoum address
a news conference on the attempted coup in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s army chief of staff and the head of the northern state of Amhara were killed in two separate but related attacks when a general tried to seize control of Amhara in an attempted coup, the prime minister’s office said on Sunday.
    Amhara state president Ambachew Mekonnen and his adviser were shot dead and the state’s attorney general was wounded in the regional capital of Bahir Dar on Saturday evening, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said in a statement.
    In a separate attack the same night, Ethiopia’s army Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen and a retired general were both shot dead in Seare’s home in Addis Ababa by his bodyguard.    The two attacks were linked, the statement said, without giving details.
    Abiy’s office named Amhara state security head General Asamnew Tsige as responsible for the foiled coup, without giving details of his whereabouts.    Asamnew was released from prison last year after receiving an amnesty for a similar coup attempt, according to media reports.
    Abiy took office just over a year ago and embarked on unprecedented reforms in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country and one of its fastest-growing economies.
    But the premier’s shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies, while his government is struggling to rein in powerful figures in Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources.
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, said the attacks were probably prompted by disaffection over Abiy’s rise to power and his sweeping reforms.
    “There are vestiges of the old regime in power.    Some of the elites are very unhappy with some of the reforms that… Abiy is taking for a variety of reasons including, I’m sure, some ill-gotten gains,” Nagy told reporters in Pretoria, South Africa.
    “It’s certainly not clear sailing for him (Abiy) from now on.    He has an incredible number of issues he has to deal with,” said Nagy, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia.
    The shooting in Bahir Dar occurred when the state president – an ally of Abiy – was holding a meeting to decide how to put a stop to the open recruitment of ethnic Amhara militias by Asamnew, one Addis-based official told Reuters.
    Asamnew had advised the Amhara people to arm themselves in preparation for fighting against other groups, in a video spread on Facebook a week earlier and seen by a Reuters reporter.
    Abiy donned military fatigues to announce the attempted coup on state television on Saturday evening.    Residents of Bahir Dar, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) northwest of Addis, said there was at least four hours of gunfire on Saturday evening and some roads had been closed off.
    “The situation in the Amhara region is currently under full control by the Federal Government in collaboration with the regional government,” Abiy said in Sunday’s statement.
    The U.S. Embassy tweeted it had heard reports of gunfire in Addis Ababa on Saturday night, and some residents told Reuters they heard six shots in a suburb near the country’s Bole International Airport around 9:30 p.m. local time.
    The capital was quieter than usual on Sunday, with fewer cars or pedestrians on the streets.
    Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, the head of special forces in Amhara, told state television that “most of the people who attempted the coup have been arrested, although there are a few still at large.”
    He did not give details about Asamnew.
STRUGGLE FOR REFORMS
    Since taking power, Abiy has released political prisoners, removed bans on political parties and prosecuted officials accused of gross human rights abuses, but his government is battling ethnic bloodshed once held in check by the state’s iron grip.
    Now some of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups are disputing the boundaries of the country’s nine federal states, or arguing that they too should have regional governments, claims that threaten the dominance of other groups.
    Amhara is home to Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group of the same name and their native tongue, Amharic, is also the country’s official language.
    Anti-government protests that lasted three years and eventually forced former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign in 2018 had begun in the neighboring state of Oromia but quickly spread to Amhara.
    Demonstrators were angered by grievances over land rights, political and economic marginalization – issues that Abiy is now racing to address.
    “He (Abiy) seems to be dismantling the EPRDF (ruling coalition) and is entertaining thoughts of altering the architecture of federalism, but he hasn’t given any clear direction he’s heading in,” said Matt Bryden, the head of regional thinktank Sahan Research.
    “That uncertainty is creating a lot of competition and … driving a lot of the friction and violence.”
    Abiy also changed many senior security officials when he came to power, Bryden said, creating more uncertainty that allowed armed groups that would once have been quashed to flourish.
    Abiy’s changes have not gone unchallenged. A year ago, he survived a grenade attack that killed two people at a rally.    In October, hundreds of soldiers marched on his palace demanding more pay.    He defused the situation by doing push-ups with them but later accused them of trying to derail reforms.
    The internet was down across Ethiopia on Sunday, although the government made no statement about this.    Authorities have cut off the internet several times previously for security and other reasons.
    Ethiopia is due to hold parliamentary elections next year, although the electoral board warned earlier this month that they were behind schedule and that instability could cause a problem for polling.    Several opposition groups have called for the elections to be held on time anyway.
(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld in Nairobi and Joe Bavier in Pretoria; Writing by Elias Biryabarema and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Gareth Jones)

6/23/2019 Ethiopian, African Union mediation needs to be unified – Sudan military council
FILE PHOTO: Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers secure the area as they wait for the arrival of
Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the military council and head of RSF, before a meeting
in Aprag village, 60 kilometers away from Khartoum, Sudan, June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling military council said on Sunday that Ethiopia and the African Union needed to unify their efforts to mediate between the council and an opposition coalition on the structure of the country’s transitional government.
    The generals and the opposition coalition have been wrangling for weeks over what form Sudan’s transitional government should take after the military deposed long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.
    Both Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the African Union (AU) have been trying to mediate between the sides.
    The council’s spokesman, Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi, said on Sunday the council had rejected Ethiopia’s proposal, which the opposition coalition agreed to on Saturday, but had agreed in principle to the AU’s plan.
    “The African Union’s initiative came first,” said Kabbashi, adding that the council had not studied the Ethiopian initiative, which he described as unilateral.
    A draft of the Ethiopian proposal seen by Reuters suggested that a ruling sovereign council would be made up of seven civilians and seven members of the military, with one additional seat reserved for an impartial individual.
    Details of the AU proposal were not immediately known.
    “We asked the mediators to unite their efforts and submit a joint paper as soon as possible to return the parties to negotiations,” Kabbashi said at a news conference at the presidential palace.
NO “DICTATIONS
    Yasser al-Atta, a member of the military council, said: “The president (of the military council) clarified that he gave the mediators until tomorrow to present the joint vision.”
    “We do not accept dictations from any country,” Atta added.    “Saudi Arabia and the UAE have not and will not dictate political or economic conditions.”
    The two oil-rich Gulf countries between them pledged $3 billion in financial and material support to Sudan in late April.
    Talks between the ruling generals and the Forces for Freedom and Change coalition collapsed when security forces stormed a protest sit-in outside the Defence Ministry on June 3, killing dozens.
    The military said a crackdown on criminals spilled over to the sit-in area, but some officers have been detained for presumed responsibility.
    The makeup of the sovereign council was the main outstanding sticking point between the two sides before the talks collapsed.    The military council canceled all agreements it had reached with the coalition after the sit-in’s disperal.
    “The reality has changed, and calls for bringing other political forces, together with the Forces for Freedom and Change, into government,” Atta said on Sunday.
    Separately, Atta said the military council had not yet been notified of a court ruling a lawyer said was issued on Sunday ordering telecoms operator Zain Sudan to restore internet services.    Internet access has been restricted since the security forces broke up the protest sit-in on June 3.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/23/2019 In border camps, Syrians rely on doctors in trucks and tents by Khalil Ashawi
A pediatrician measures a displaced Syrian refugee child at a mobile clinic, in north Azaz, Syria June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashaw’
    AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – The Syrian war has inflicted all kinds of hardships on Najwa Abdelaziz but she still manages to make light of one of them.    “The uprising ruined my teeth,” she jokes while getting dental care for the first time in years in the back of a truck.
    The 33-year-old could not find help for her toothache even after she fled Islamic State rule and took refuge in northwest Syria.    But a dentist in a mobile clinic has now arrived at the Rayyan camp where she lives with her husband and four children in a tent among the trees.
    “We kept getting uprooted, so we were cut off from doctors,” said Abdelaziz, whose family was smuggled out of Raqqa city some three years ago.
    They wound up in Syria’s northwest corner, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.    The camps are overflowing, the doctors are too few, and many hospitals have collapsed under government bombing.
In the camps along the Turkish border, often the only healthcare for people like Abdelaziz comes from mobile doctors and makeshift clinics in tents.
    “Many just take pills and stay silent about the pain,” said Bassel Maarawi, 57, the dentist who goes around seven camps in the border strip held by Turkey-backed rebels.
    The dental mobile clinic stays at each camp a few months at a time, treating dozens of patients every day who can not go into town to see a doctor.
    It belongs to the Independent Doctors Association, a Turkey-based Syrian group also running a free camp facility including a clinic for women, children, and internal medicine as well as a pharmacy.
    Maarawi himself was uprooted in late 2016 from his city of Aleppo, where the army crushed rebels with Russia and Iran’s help after a bitter siege.
    The children he treats now, living in the dirt and drinking filthy water, often suffer from malnutrition.    “Many people were displaced recently which really affected them mentally, you can see it when they come in,” he said.
    A new wave of fighting has sparked yet another exodus, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing an army offensive in northwest Syria since April.
    At a camp for some 14,000 people in the border village of Shamarin, Ammar al-Omar runs a physiotherapy clinic inside a large tent.
    The staff – a medical professional and three volunteers he trained – made most of the equipment themselves and get by on just a few donations.    They treat everything from back pain to battle wounds for patients including rebel fighters and paralyzed children.
    “There are many injuries because of the fierce bombing,” Omar said.    “The patients can’t afford food let alone transportation.”
    Um Mhamad, 29, has carried her son from another camp nearby and walked to the tent clinic for more than two years.    An injury at birth had crippled the six-year-old boy, whose family was shuttled out of Aleppo in 2016.
    “He used to not move at all,” she said.    “Today, he can crawl and turn on both sides and stand up.”
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Azaz; Editing by Louise Heavens)

6/24/2019 Turkey’s opposition strikes blow to Erdogan with Istanbul mayoral win by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer
Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), greets supporters
at a rally of in Beylikduzu district, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s opposition has dealt President Tayyip Erdogan a stinging blow by winning control of Istanbul in a re-run mayoral election, breaking his aura of invincibility and delivering a message from voters unhappy over his policies.
    Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 54.21% of votes, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency – a far wider victory margin than his narrow win three months ago.
    The previous result was annulled after protests from Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which said there had been widespread voting irregularities.    The decision to re-run the vote was criticized by Western allies and caused uproar among domestic opponents who said Turkey’s democracy was under threat.
    On Sunday, tens of thousands of Imamoglu supporters celebrated in the streets of Istanbul after the former businessman triumphed over Erdogan’s handpicked candidate by almost 800,000 votes.
    “In this city today, you have fixed democracy.    Thank you Istanbul,” Imamoglu told supporters who made heart signs with their hands, in an expression of the inclusive election rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his campaigning.
    “We came to embrace everyone,” Imamoglu said.    “We will build democracy in this city, we will build justice.    In this beautiful city, I promise, we will build the future.”
    The High Electoral Board has yet to announce the formal results, but Erdogan has already congratulated Imamoglu for his victory and Imamoglu’s rival, Binali Yildirim, of the ruling AK Party wished him luck as mayor barely two hours after polls closed.
WANING SUPPORT
    Erdogan has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, becoming the country’s most dominant politician since its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, nearly a century ago.
    His AK Party has strong support among pious and conservative Turks and its stewardship of Turkey’s economy through a decade and a half of construction-fueled growth helped Erdogan win more than a dozen national and local elections.
    But economic recession and a financial crisis have eroded that support, and Erdogan’s ever-tighter control over government has alarmed some voters.
    Turkey’s lira tumbled after the decision to annul the March vote and is down 8% this year in part on election jitters. It firmed to 5.72 overnight from Friday’s close of 5.8140 but eased back to 5.7750 by 0500 GMT.
    Imamoglu won support even in the traditionally pious Istanbul districts, once known as AK Party strongholds, ending the 25-year-long Islamist rule in the country’s largest city.
    “This re-run (election) was one to put an end to the dictatorship,” said Gulcan Demirkaya, a 48-year-old housewife in Istanbul’s AKP-leaning Kagithane district.    “God willing, I would like to see him as the president in five years’ time.    The one-man rule should come to an end.”
    The results are likely to trigger a new chapter in Turkish politics, with the country’s top three cities now held by the opposition, and could trigger cracks within Erdogan’s AK Party, while bringing the economic troubles more to the center.
    “This is definitely going to have an impact on the future of Turkish politics given the margin of victory.    It’s alarming sign for the AKP establishment,” said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels and former Turkish diplomat.
    Analysts say the loss could set off a Cabinet reshuffle in Ankara and adjustments to foreign policy.    It could even trigger a national election earlier than 2023 as scheduled, although the leader of the AKP’s nationalist ally played down that prospect.
    “Turkey should now return to its real agenda, the election process should close,” MHP party leader Devlet Bahceli said.    “Talking of an early election would be among the worst things that can be done to our country.”
    The uncertainty over the fate of Istanbul and potential delays in broader economic reforms have kept financial markets on edge.    Threats of sanctions by the United States if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses have also weighed on the markets.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Dominic Evans; and Peter Cooney)
[Can Erdogan and the Islamist party overthrow this election?    If it does manage then that lets me know how severe and corrupted Islam is.].

6/24/2019 U.S. to unveil ‘economy first’ approach to Mideast peace at Bahrain conference by Matt Spetalnick and Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: A footbridge leads from the Western Wall to the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and
to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    MANAMA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The first stage of President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan will be launched in Bahrain on Tuesday at a conference the White House touts as a bid to drum up $50 billion in investment but which Palestinians deride as an “economy first” approach doomed to fail.
    The two-day international meeting, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been billed as the first part of Washington’s long-delayed broader political blueprint to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to be unveiled at a later date.
    But neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments will attend the curtain-raising event in the Bahraini capital, Manama.
    There will be close scrutiny as to whether attendees such as Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states show any interest in making actual donations to a U.S. plan that has already elicited bitter criticism from Palestinians and many others in the Arab world.
    Bahrain, a close American ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been making preparations for weeks.
    Although the event is supposed to focus on economics, Gulf Arab states hope it will also be used to show their solidarity with the Trump administration over its hard line against Iran, a senior Gulf diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
    Under the plan, donor nations and investors would contribute about $50 billion to the region, with $28 billion going to the Palestinian territories – the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip – as well as $7.5 billion to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion for Lebanon.
    Among 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5 billion transport corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.
    “I laugh when they attack this as the ‘deal of the century,’” Kushner told Reuters, referring to the lofty nickname that Trump’s peace plan has assumed over the past two years.
    “This is going to be the ‘opportunity of the century’ if they have the courage to pursue it.”
    Kushner, a senior Trump adviser who like his father-in-law comes from the world of New York real estate, is presenting his plan in a pair of pamphlets filled with graphs and statistics that resemble an investment prospectus – in fact, he has repeatedly called it a “business plan.”
PEACE TO PROSPERITY
    Expectations for success are low.    The Trump team concedes that the economic plan – billed “Peace to Prosperity” – will be implemented only if a political solution to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts is reached.
    Any such solution would have to settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, satisfying Israel’s security concerns and Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory in Palestinians want to build that state.
    In an interview with Al Jazeera set to air on Tuesday, Kushner offered a rare glimpse into the possible political contours of the plan, saying a deal would not adhere to the Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi-led plan that has been the Arab consensus on the necessary elements for a Palestinian deal since 2002.
    “I think we all have to recognize that if there ever is a deal, it’s not going to be along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative.    It will be somewhere between the Arab Peace Initiative and between the Israeli position,” Kushner told Al Jazeera.
    The Arab Peace Initiative calls for a Palestinian state drawn along borders that predate Israel’s capture of territory in a 1967 war as well as a capital in east Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees, points rejected by Israel.
    Hanging over the entire initiative are persistent questions about whether the Trump team plans to abandon the “two-state solution,” which involves creation of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.
    The United Nations and most nations back the two-state solution and it has underpinned every peace plan for decades.
    But the Trump team – led by Kushner, Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman – has consistently refused to commit to it, keeping the political stage of the plan a tightly guarded secret.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, has his own domestic problems, facing an election, and possible corruption charges after a long-running police investigation.    He denies any wrongdoing.
    “We’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.    Although no Israeli government ministers will attend, an Israeli business delegation is expected.
    Palestinian leaders have boycotted the workshop, and are refusing to engage with the White House – accusing it of pro-Israel bias after a series of recent Trump decisions.    Kushner told Reuters that “some” Palestinian businessmen would be present, but declined to name them.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was scathing about its prospects of success.
    “Money is important.    The economy is important.    But politics are more important.    The political solution is more important,” he said.
    Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, has found itself in rare agreement with its arch-rival Abbas.
    “The Palestinian people only and no one else can represent the Palestinian cause,” Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said.
    He said the Trump approach “seeks to turn our political cause into a humanitarian cause, and to merge the occupation into the region.”
    Kushner said that even without the Israeli and Palestinian governments represented, the presence of Israeli business officials and journalists with their counterparts from the Arab world would be significant at a time of rising tensions with Iran.
    “People realize that the real threat to that region is Iran and their aggression, and Israel and a lot of the other Arab states have a lot more in common today than they did before,” he said.
    David Makovsky, a Washington-based Middle East expert, agreed that although the principal focus of the event was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Iran is higher on the chain of interest right now.”
    But Makovsky, whom the White House has invited as an observer, said the Trump/Kushner plan would ultimately succeed or fail on how it addressed the big underlying issues, not the money.    “No one believes you can solve this thing economically without addressing the political issues.”
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Stephen Farrell; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Rami Ayyub in Ramallah; Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Peter Cooney)

6/24/2019 U.S. calls on allies to protect their own interests in the Strait of Hormuz by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sunday, June 23, 2019,
before boarding a plane headed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss forming a “global coalition” with European and Middle Eastern allies to crack down on the Iranian regime.
    During the first leg of his visit he met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who have thrown their support behind the White House’s high pressure campaign against Tehran.    In a recent tweet, Pompeo said he also discussed maritime security with the pair.
    Secretary Pompeo: “Productive meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud today to discuss heightened tensions in the region and the need to promote maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz.    Freedom of navigation is paramount.”
    He appeared to be referencing reports that Iran was behind the recent attacks on two oil tankers in the Straight of Hormuz.    For years the U.S. military has served as a guard dog to protect the valuable trade route, which is something President Trump has expressed frustration over.    Lawmakers, including Pompeo, have called for foreign allies to do more to protect their own interests in the waterway.
    U.S. especial envoy to Iran Brian Hook touched on the matter during a recent interview.
    “Iran has been engaging in these attacks that affect many countries around the world…this is not limited to the United States and Saudi and UAE — I think what’s required is an international response,” said Hook.    “There’s an opportunity for counties to play a role contributing maritime security, so that we can deter any future attacks by Iran on oil tankers.”
FILE – This June 13, 2019 file image, released by the U.S. military’s Central Command, shows damage and a suspected mine
on the Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman near the coast of Iran. A series of attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf
has ratcheted up tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and raised fears over the safety of one of Asia’s most vital energy trade
routes where about a fifth of the world’s oil passes through its narrowest at the Strait of Hormuz. (U.S. Central Command via AP, File)
    Tension between Tehran and the White House hit a fever pitch following those attacks.    Over the weekend, reports emerged the White House launched cyber strikes against the Iranian military after the country shot down a U.S. drone, but Tehran claimed the attacks were unsuccessful.
    In the meantime, the administration is moving forward with another round of tariffs designed to cripple the country’s economy.    Iran’s foreign minister said he was in talks with leaders from several countries, including China, India and Russia to establish trade “backchannels” in the hopes of side-stepping those sanctions.
    As the back and forth continues, the president has signaled he’s open to negotiate an easing of financial penalties under the condition Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.    However, Iran’s recent actions suggest they will remain defiant toward the White House, leaving the door open to a possible military confrontation.

6/24/2019 Pompeo discusses Iran with Gulf allies amid escalating crisis by Stephen Kalin and Asma Alsharif
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz at Al Salam Palace in
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia June 24, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Iran and maritime security with rich Gulf Arab allies during a trip to the region on Monday after President Donald Trump called off a military strike to retaliate for Tehran’s downing of a U.S. drone.
    A senior U.S. State Department official said the United States is building a coalition with its allies to protect Gulf shipping lanes by having “eyes on all shipping” following recent attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Iran.
    Pompeo arrived in the United Arab Emirates after meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia where talks covered protection for ships in the Gulf.
    “Freedom of navigation is paramount,” Pompeo tweeted from the Saudi city of Jeddah.
    Senior U.S. official told reporters en route to Abu Dhabi that the U.S. Navy was building a “Sentinel” program for “proactive deterrence.”    He said a coalition of nations would provide both material and financial contributions, but did not name the countries.
    “What the Iranians are doing by shooting down American drones, shooting at other drones in the region not even necessarily over the Gulf, anywhere, is to prevent us from having eyes on them,” the official said.
    A second U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the plan aimed to see U.S. partners providing the majority of ships that would be positioned in intervals in the Gulf of Oman or the Strait of Hormuz, keeping watch.
    “It’s not in operation (yet) but it’s something we’re looking at with our partners,” the official said, describing the concept.
    In his meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Pompeo pressed him on increased maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz.
    “We’ll need you all to participate, your military folks,” Pompeo said.    “The President is keen on sharing that the United States doesn’t bear the cost of this,” he added, noting that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and “another 20 countries” would “need to help advance” the exercise.
    Tehran has denied any involvement in the explosive blasts that have hit six vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, near the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes.
    The U.S. official said the deterrents include cameras, binoculars and ships, including from the United States.
MOBILIZING ALLIES
    In an apparent sign of how quickly the United States has mobilized diplomatic efforts as the confrontation escalates, Pompeo thanked King Salman for meeting on “such short notice.”
    Pompeo and Prince Mohammed reiterated that the “two countries stand side by side in confronting the hostile Iranian activities and in combating terrorism,” the Saudi media ministry said.
    The United States has protected the strait for decades with its naval Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that other countries, including China and Japan, should protect their own ships there.
    “There will be military ships from foreign countries, from a broad coalition of countries who participate in this. I don’t think they’re escorting. I think they’re observing,” the U.S. official said.
    It was not clear what role Saudi Arabia and the UAE would play in the coalition.
    Relations between longtime foes Iran and the United States have deteriorated since Trump withdrew Washington a year ago from a 2015 accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
    Tensions have flared following the tankers attacks, Iran’s downing of the drone last week, and repeated attacks on Saudi airports and oil installations by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.
KHASHOGGI MURDER
    Pompeo did not discuss last year’s murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi Arabia’s king on Monday and it was unclear whether the issue was raised in a separate meeting with the crown prince.
    “It did not” come up, the official said of Pompeo’s meeting with the king.    He could not confirm if the case was raised with the crown prince, whom Pompeo met later.
    A U.N. report last week called for the crown prince and other senior officials to be investigated, given credible evidence against them.
    The Trump administration is pressing the Saudis to show progress toward holding to account those behind the killing of Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
    The murder tarnished the crown prince’s international standing.    The CIA and some Western countries believe he ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Maha El Dahan and Sylvia Westall in Dubai and Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; editing by Peter Graff, William Maclean and James Dalgleish)

6/24/2019 Palestinians rally against Kushner’s economic peace plan by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub
Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest against Bahrain's workshop for U.S.
peace plan, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
GAZA/RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Palestinians burned portraits of President Donald Trump as they protested in both the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Monday against U.S.-led plans for a conference on their economy in Bahrain.
    Many Palestinian business groups have said they will boycott the June 25-26 event, billed as part of Washington’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and spearheaded by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
    Down with Bahrain, down with Trump, down with the Manama conference,” chanted crowds in Gaza, which is ruled by the armed Islamist group Hamas.    Some burned large paintings of Trump marked with the words: “Deal of the devil.”
    Leaders in both territories have accused Washington of pro-Israel bias and railed against the conference’s focus on economics, rather than their aspirations for an independent state.
    Kushner told Reuters on Saturday the plan would create a million jobs, halve Palestinian poverty and double the Palestinians’ GDP.
    In the West Bank, hundreds marched through Ramallah’s main squares, waving posters in support of President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Western-backed Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the territory.
    Protesters there burned posters of both Trump and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
    The rallies marked a moment of political unity against the Bahrain conference, despite a 12-year political feud between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas.
A WEDDING WITHOUT THE BRIDE
    “The Manama conference is a comedy show, a wedding without the bride (the Palestinians) … it will not succeed,” said a protester who gave her name as Siham in Gaza City.
    The Bahrain conference will be attended by Gulf Arab states as well as Jordan and Egypt.    Israel is expected to send a business delegation but no government officials.
    Mahmoud Barhoush, 25, said he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at what he called Arab states’ “treasonous” participation.
    “Enough of your running into the arms of Trump and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu,” he said at the Ramallah protest.
    Other demonstrators criticized the lone Palestinian businessman named as an expected attendee in Bahrain, Ashraf Jabari.    A U.S. official told Reuters that at least 15 Palestinians were expected to attend.
    “Whoever attends is not a Palestinian and is not welcomed in Palestine.    There should be measures taken against them,” said Maisoon Alqadoomi, 32, a Fatah activist from Ramallah.
    Palestinian leaders on Monday renewed their calls for a boycott of the conference.
    “This workshop is simply a political laundry for settlements and a legitimization of occupation,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told journalists ahead of a cabinet meeting.
    In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said: “They (Palestinians) will not sell out their rights for all treasures on earth.”
(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi in Gaza and Rami Ayyub in Ramallah; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
[Iran does not have the finanaces to support Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, ISIS, etc. due to Trump's sanctions and it may force the Palestinians to want to take a deal in the long run and that may inspire the local countries to push them to do so, but it is yet to be known which one will step up to the plate.].

6/24/2019 Pompeo meets Abu Dhabi crown prince, discusses Iran
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates June 24, 2019. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday discussed countering the threat from Iran in the region with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. Mission in the UAE said.     Pompeo arrived in the UAE capital after a visit to Saudi Arabia.    A senior U.S. State Department official earlier said the United States is building a coalition with its allies to protect Gulf shipping lanes by having “eyes on all shipping,” following attacks on oil tankers that Washington has blamed on Iran.
(Reporting by Mohamed El-Sherif, Editing by William Maclean)

6/24/2019 U.S., Taliban aim to firm up date for foreign force exit from Afghanistan by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in
Logar province, Afghanistan Aug. 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Upcoming peace talks between the United States and the Taliban will focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee militants won’t plot attacks from Afghan soil, sources said on Monday.
    A seventh round of talks between the warring sides begins on Saturday in Qatar’s capital of Doha, where U.S. and Taliban negotiators have been trying to hammer out a deal to end to the 18-year-long war since October.
    “Once the timetable for foreign force withdrawal is announced, then talks will automatically enter the next stage,” said Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha.
    “We don’t need to wait for the completion of the withdrawal, both withdrawal and talks can move forward simultaneously.”
    The focus of the talks has been a Taliban demand for the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces and a U.S. demand the Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for militant attacks.
    Two other main issues in the process are a ceasefire and talks between the rival Afghan sides – the insurgents and the Western-backed government.
    But the Taliban have long refused to talk to the Afghan government, denouncing it as foreign “puppet,” and fighting has seen no let-up.
    Two other sources with knowledge of the talks said the sixth round in May ended with unease on both sides, but since then informal meeting had taken place to work out what can be agreed on.
    The U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has also held informal meetings with the Taliban leadership in Doha.
    “Based on my recent visits to Afghanistan and Qatar, I believe all sides want rapid progress,” Khalilzad said on Twitter.
    Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat has been leading the talks to secure a political settlement with the hardline Islamist group that now controls more Afghan territory than at any time since being toppled in 2001 by U.S.-led forces.
    About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.
    At least 3,804 civilians were killed in the war last year, according to the United Nations.    Thousands of Afghan soldiers, police and Taliban were also killed.
    Nevertheless, the Taliban leader vowed this month to sustain the fight until their objectives were reached.
    In March, a draft agreement was reached on the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban to cut ties with militant groups such as al Qaeda.
    A Taliban source said both sides were expecting some clarity and results on the prime issues in the new round talks.
    “A ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks will not be discussed during the seventh round,” said the Taliban source, who declined to be identified.
    Some Afghan government officials side fear the United States and the Taliban will strike a deal on the withdrawal of foreign forces, enabling the United States to get out of an unpopular war but leaving government forces to battle on alone.
(Additional reporting, writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/25/2019 New Istanbul mayor’s star power could be a challenge for Erdogan by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Orhan Coskun and Jonathan Spicer
Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), greets supporters at
a rally of in Beylikduzu district, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Istanbul’s new mayor now shoulders the expectations of Turkey’s long-subdued opposition after he emerged from obscurity to deal President Tayyip Erdogan the biggest election blow of his career.
    Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) won a decisive victory on Sunday, his second in three months after authorities annulled an earlier vote. His first task is to take the reins from Erdogan’s AK Party which, along with its Islamist predecessor parties, has run the city for 25 years.
    But after winning over some AKP voters and increasing his initial razor-thin victory margin 60 times, Imamoglu’s back-to-back victories have led to talk that he could use Istanbul as a platform to challenge Turkey’s all-powerful president.
    Erdogan himself served as mayor of Turkey’s largest city before launching onto the national stage to become the country’s dominant political leader.    The months-long controversy over the re-run municipal election has already earned Imamoglu recognition well beyond Istanbul.
    His inclusive campaign contrasted with the combative and confrontational AKP rallies, and as a practicing Muslim representing a traditionally secularist party, he has also blurred the sharp dividing lines of Turkey’s polarized politics.
    So far Imamoglu, 49, has dismissed rumors that his victory could prompt a presidential bid, saying he is focused on the five-year mayoral term ahead of him.    Officials from the CHP have also said such an issue was not on their agenda.
    “It would not be right of us to say that he has a certain plan for the future,” Suleyman Celebi, a CHP lawmaker in Istanbul who worked on Imamoglu’s campaign told Reuters.
    “We must not be in a position where we say that we earned a victory and are therefore seeking something else at this stage.”
    However, a victory speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters on Sunday night was seen by some as a prelude to a potential presidential bid by Erdogan’s chief antagonist.
    “I am calling to all my citizens: Yes, I am a project.    I am a project of the Republic, of the Republic of Ataturk,” Imamoglu said, referring to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.    “Partisanship is over now.    There is merit and ethics, rights, law and justice from now on.”
POWER STRUGGLE
    Translating victory in a single city onto the national political map would put Imamoglu up against a giant of modern Turkish politics who – despite recent setbacks – has still triumphed in more than a dozen elections since 2002.
    “The key question is whether the Erdogan administration moves on and focuses on urgently required economic reforms or intensifies efforts to prevent Imamoglu from using his mayorship to build a much stronger political momentum to challenge Erdogan and the AKP for power in the 2023 parliamentary and presidential elections,” said Michael Every, senior strategist at Rabobank.
    Some of Imamoglu’s opponents, who believe his ultimate ambition goes beyond Istanbul, say he would be over-reaching if he tries to challenge Erdogan.
    “From the image he’s built, Imamoglu does not appear to be aiming to remain a mayor,” said a senior AKP official who declined to be named.    “He will probably try to continue his political career with a presidential bid.    Efforts on that front will be very difficult for him.”
    He already faces significant challenges in Istanbul, where he will have to tackle the possibility of years of friction between the presidency and the country’s commercial hub.
    With the AKP holding the majority of seats in the municipal council as well as overall control of the country, Erdogan has said Imamoglu may not be able to carry out his plans.
    “It won’t be that easy for him to work as mayor,” the AKP official said.    “There will be difficulties stemming from the fact that he’s not from the same party as the central government.”
    The CHP said any efforts to shackle Imamoglu may backfire on the AKP, given that one of Imamoglu’s first acts in his 18 days in office before his first mandate was annulled was to broadcast all municipal council sessions live on social media.
    “Let them go ahead and oppose these (projects) and block something that will benefit the people. When they do such a thing, the place they will fall to politically will be very negative,” CHP Deputy Chairman Oguz Kaan Salici told Reuters.
WAVE OF HOPE
    Yet Imamoglu, a former businessman and mayor of an Istanbul district, is riding a wave of hope for an opposition that has suffered years of defeat and disappointment.
    With his upbeat slogan – “Everything will be great” – he energized supporters and attracted voters beyond his party’s core constituency.
    On election night Imamoglu addressed Erdogan directly to say he is ready to work “in harmony” with the president to solve Istanbul’s problems, which range from concerns over millions of Syrian refugees to a traffic deadlock.
    If Imamoglu aims to keep the path to a 2023 presidential run open, he will have to keep doors open to other parties.    In Istanbul, his party ran in alliance with the breakaway Iyi Party nationalists and possibly had decisive help from the pro-Kurdish HDP party which did not field a candidate.
    Those arrangements would be tough to replicate nationally, but Imamoglu showed on Sunday he can break down party divisions, attracting about 4% of those who voted for his AKP rival in March, based on the results and polling by Istanbul Economics.
    “Those who used the language of love, a positive rhetoric and approached everyone without discrimination won,” CHP Deputy Chairman Muharrem Erkek told Reuters.
    “Hope and love won this process. Mr Imamoglu represents the future.”
(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Anna Willard)

6/25/2019 Turkey will lose F-35 warplane if Russia arms deal goes ahead, U.S. says by Robin Emmott
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
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States will stop Turkish forces flying and developing its F-35 stealth jets if Ankara goes ahead with the purchase of a Russian air defense system, the U.S. envoy to NATO said on Tuesday.
    Washington and its allies have urged fellow NATO member Ankara not to install the S-400 system, saying that would let the technology learn how to recognize the F-35s, which are built to avoid tracking by enemy radars and heat sensors.
    But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan vowed anew on Tuesday to press on with the S-400 purchase despite allies’ concerns.
    “We will hopefully start to receive the S-400 systems we purchased from Russia next month,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in parliament.    “Turkey is not a country that needs to seek permission or bow to pressures.    The S-400s are directly linked to our sovereignty and we will not take a step back.”
    Turkey has said its S-400 deal with Russia is final, exacerbating a diplomatic rift with the United States already widening over conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff.
    “Everything indicates that Russia is going to deliver the system to Turkey and that will have consequences,” Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said in Brussels.br>     “There will be a disassociation with the F-35 system, we cannot have the F-35 affected or destabilized by having this Russian system in the alliance,” she told reporters.
    The United States says the jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., give NATO forces a number of technological advantages in the air, including the ability to disrupt enemy communications networks and navigation signals.
    Turkey produces parts of the F-35s fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays.    Hutchison said Ankara was an important partner in that production but that security concerns about Russia were paramount.
    “So many of us have tried to dissuade Turkey,” she said.
PROBLEMS WITH ALTERNATIVES
    The United States offered Turkey the more expensive Patriot anti-missile defense system, and then with a discount, but there were issues with the U.S. ability to deliver the Patriots quickly.    Turkey also says that NATO allies have not helped it during times of heightened security concerns, and it therefore had to seek alternatives, and Russia came into the picture.
    Germany and the United States stationed Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries in Turkey on a temporary basis in 2013 but moved them out in 2015, citing demands on assets elsewhere.
    Washington also warned Ankara that it will face U.S. sanctions over the agreement with Moscow, a move that could deal a significant blow to Turkey’s ailing economy and its defense industry.
    Turkey has dismissed the U.S. warnings, saying it would take the necessary measures to avoid complications, and proposed to form a joint working group with Washington to assess concerns.    It has said U.S. officials have yet to respond to the offer.
    The Pentagon has already stopped training Turkish pilots on the jets.
    Erdogan is expected to discuss the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Japan later this week.    One senior NATO diplomat said that was probably the last chance of finding a solution.
    NATO defense ministers, who meet for two days in Brussels from Wednesday, are not planning to formally raise the issue, but there could be some diplomacy in informal meetings, diplomats said.
    “It’s not over until its over, but so far Turkey has not appeared to retract from the sale,” Hutchison.    “The consequences will occur, we don’t feel there’s a choice in that.”
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Mark Heinrich)
[Erdogan you need to do a reset since you seem to be losing everything lately.].

6/25/2019 Palestinian refugees say Trump cannot bury right of return by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
A Palestinian refugee dances as she takes part in a rally against Bahrain's economic workshop for U.S. Mideast
peace plan, at Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus, Syria June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
    BAQAA CAMP, Jordan (Reuters) – A U.S. Middle East peace plan is stirring anger and apprehension in Palestinian refugee camps around the region by raising the prospect that a long-cherished dream of returning to former homes in what is now Israel will be forever crushed.
    In camps around the region, Palestinians staged strikes, burned Israeli and U.S. flags and played nationalist songs from loudspeakers to protest against a plan they say could result in their permanent expulsion from ancestral homes.
    The Trump administration launches a $50 billion economic initiative at an international meeting starting in Bahrain on Tuesday as the first part of its broader political blueprint to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    While the plan’s political details remain secret, for many Palestinians the project has reawakened fears that leaders of Arab countries, including of those that host the refugee camps, could reduce support for the Palestinian cause in return for economic incentives.
    “This deal will not go through and we won’t accept the sale of Jordan or Palestine,” said Ibrahim Abu Sayed, a resident of Baqaa camp on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital Amman and also a deputy in the Jordanian parliament.
    Washington should not bribe Jordan and other countries with much needed economic projects such as those that it plans to unveiled at the Bahrain meeting, others said.
    “There is nothing wrong with creating investments but not at the expense of accepting facts on the ground and revoking the Palestinian right of return.    That is sacred and cannot be given up,” Khalil Atiyeh, a prominent deputy of Palestinian origin.
    In Baqaa, home to more than 150,000 people, many shops heeded calls by local activists for a general strike to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan.
    A large banner in the heart of the crowded camp read “No to permanent settlement.    This is a red line.”
I STILL DREAM OF RETURNING
    Some shops blasted nationalist songs on loudspeakers that hailed “armed struggle” against Israel and denounced Arab leaders whom many blame for their plight.
    Some shops hoisted black flags with posters that reject their permanent settlement in Jordan, a country that has absorbed the bulk of the Palestinians who fled or were driven out of their former homes in the wake of Israel’s creation.
    For Palestinian refugee Omar al Aidi, his home is a symbol of his dream that he will one day return to his family’s former home.
    “The camp for me is Palestine.    I am prisoner … All the Arab leaders have sold Palestine,” said the vegetable vendor, one of about 2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.
    “I see Palestine in the camp, in its alleys and the smell of its streets, everything reminds me of Palestine, and I still dream of returning,” the 43-year old, a second generation refugee whose family originally came from a village near TulKarm in the West Bank.
    Even young Palestinians who have never seen their ancestral homes yearn one day to return.    Many families keep the keys to old homes their parents and grandparents left behind after the creation of Israel in 1948.
    Many fear the U.S. administration’s effort to strip refugee status from Palestinians by cutting aid to the U.N. agency that supports over five million Palestinians across the region was an attempt to liquidate their cause.
    “If the camp is dismantled, our cause, our dignity would be lost and we would have nothing,” said Abdullah al Najar, 56, from a village near Hebron.
    In the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, refugees set fire to the U.S. and Israeli flags during a protest against the Bahrain conference.
    “It will not pass even if the entire world meets to impose it because the Palestinian people is unified in rejecting the sale of its land and cause,” said Fouad Othman of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine during the protest.
    Palestinian flags and banners attacking the U.S. initiative were held aloft during a protest in central Beirut against the plan.    “The deal of the century is a failed attempt to erase Palestinian rights,” said one.
    “We reject the Bahrain conference because, unfortunately, it makes an offer to the Palestinians where they take some money – which neither the Americans nor the Israelis will pay, but some Arab and Gulf rulers – in exchange for the Palestinians selling their rights,” Hamas official Ahmed Abdel Hadi said.
    “We are against the deal of the century … we don’t need money … we need our country and land,” said Ali al-Qayyam, who was taking part in the protest.
    In the once teeming Yarmouk camp in Syria, pro-Damascus Palestinian factions held a rally denouncing the peace plan.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting Reuters TV Beirut and Amman and Kinda Makieh in Damascus, Editing by William Maclean)

6/25/2019 Syrians returning home to reach one million once safe zone created: Erdogan
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament
in Ankara, Turkey, June 25, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he believed the number of Syrians returning from Turkey to their homeland will reach one million once a safe zone is established in northeast Syria along their shared border.
    Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrians – the largest number in any one country of Syrians displaced during the eight-year-old civil war.     Tensions between Turks and Syrians flare up on occasion in the host country.
    Turkey is in talks with the United States over the establishment of a safe zone across its border in northeast Syria, where the United States supports the Kurdish YPG militia. Ankara sees the YPG as a terrorist organization.
    Ankara wants YPG fighters to withdraw from the area so as to secure its border, and Washington wants guarantees that its Kurdish-led allies in defeating Islamic State in Syria will not be harmed.
    Turkey and the United States have also been working to implement an agreement over the Syrian town of Manbij, a process which Turkish military sources told Reuters in April was proceeding more slowly than desired.
    Speaking in Ankara to lawmakers from his AK Party, Erdogan said: “We are trying to extend the safe zones along our borders as much as we can for the Syrian refugees in our country to be able to return home."
    “At the moment, 330,000 people have returned, but I believe that when the problems in Manbij and the east of Euphrates are resolved, this will reach one million very quickly.”
(Reporting by Nevzat Devrenoglu and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/26/2019 U.S. pushes Middle East economic plan in face of Palestinian disdain and doubts by Matt Spetalnick
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference
in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS
    MANAMA (Reuters) – The Trump administration sought on Wednesday to win support for an economic plan it says will be a foundation for Israeli-Palestinian peace but which Palestinians and many other Arabs dismiss as pointless without a political solution to the decades-old conflict.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner opened a international meeting in Bahrain on Tuesday evening by urging Palestinians, whose leadership is boycotting the event, to think outside the “traditional box” for an economic pathway that he said was a precondition for peace.
    International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, told the first panel session that the Fund’s experience in conflict-riven countries around the world showed it can be a struggle to generate economic growth in such an environment.
    Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the event.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close Trump ally, said Israel was open to the proposal.
    In Gaza on Tuesday, the Islamist group Hamas and its rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas convened a gathering of leaders and activists in a rare show of unity to voice their rejection of the Manama conference.
    Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh criticized Arab states participating in the workshop, which 300 delegates are attending including Israeli and Palestinian businessmen.
    The conference aimed to finish off the Palestinian cause under the cover of economic and financial benefits, he said.
    “The (Palestinian) people, who have been fighting for one hundred years, did not commission anyone to concede or to bargain. Jerusalem is ours, the land is ours, and everything is ours,” Haniyeh said.
    Although U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates discreetly support the plan, several Arab states, such as Lebanon, have stayed away while others including Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab nations that have reached peace with Israel, have sent deputy ministers.
    The presence of Sunni Muslim Gulf states in Manama showed they want to encourage closer ties to Israelis – with whom they share a common foe in Shi’ite Iran – that have largely been under the table, said David Makovsky, a U.S.-based Middle East expert attending the event.
    “(But) it’s clear they won’t bypass the Palestinians and do anything they don’t want,” he told Reuters.
(GRAPHIC: Milestones in Trump’s Palestinian policy – https://tmsnrt.rs/2FtJXGi)
HARD SELL
    Washington hopes wealthy Gulf oil producers will bankroll the plan, which expects donor nations and investors to contribute $50 billion to Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies.
    Saudi minister of state Mohammed Al-Sheikh told the panel that Kushner’s plan was bolstered by inclusion of the private sector as a similar proposal, relying heavily on state funding, had been attempted during the Oslo interim peace deals of the 1990s that eventually collapsed.
    “While I accept that peace is essential, back then it was the hope of peace that got them actually excited and moving,” Al-Sheikh said.
    But the “economy first” approach toward reviving the moribund peace process could be a hard sell as the political details of the plan, almost two years in the making, remain secret.
    On Tuesday Riyadh reiterated that any peace deal should be based on a Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that calls for a Palestinian state drawn along borders which predate Israel’s capture of territory in the 1967 Middle East war, as well as a capital in East Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return – points rejected by Israel.
    Kushner said on Monday the plan would not adhere to the Arab initiative.
    It is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the “two-state solution,” which involves creation of an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.
    The United Nations and most countries back the two-state solution, which has underpinned every peace plan for decades, but Trump’s team has consistently refused to commit to it.
    Any solution must settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, Israel’s security concerns, Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s settlements and military presence in territory where Palestinians want to build that state.
    Palestinian leaders are refusing to engage with the White House, accusing it of pro-Israel bias.    Breaking with the international consensus, Trump in 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating the Palestinians and other Arabs.
(GRAPHIC: Key Indicators for the Palestinian economy – https://tmsnrt.rs/2X8OOaZ )
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE
    The IMF says unemployment stands at 30% in the West Bank and 50% in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ rival in the Israeli-occupied West bank.
    Among the 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.    Some of them have been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.
    “The economic vision has to be linked to resolving the entire conflict, and this doesn’t bring the Israelis and Palestinians any closer together.    So I’m not optimistic this plan can materialize anytime soon,” Makovsky said.
    Even at a break between sessions in Bahrain, differences between the two sides of the Israeli-Arab divide could be seen.
    Israeli businessman Shlomi Fogel was in conversation with a UAE businesswoman.    Asked for their views on Kushner’s approach of tackling economic issues first, Shlomi said: “If we wait for the politicians, it will take forever.    We could do parts of this economic plan with the right support.”
    The Dubai-based businesswoman suggested, however, that the plan was too ambitious to be put into effect anytime soon.
    “There were efforts like Oslo that didn’t work out – and that was because of the Israelis,” she said.    “You can’t assume the economics will work if the politics don’t move.”
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Manama, Rami Ayyub in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Davide Barbuscia, Lisa Barrington, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Nafisa Taher in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/26/2019 Saudi minister says Kushner’s plan could succeed if there is ‘hope of peace’
    MANAMA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s minister of state said that an economic plan presented by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner for the Palestinian territories could succeed since it includes private sector and if “there is hope of peace.”
    “I truly believe it can be done if people do believe that it can be done,” Mohammed Al-Sheikh said at an economic summit in Bahrain to encourage investment in the Palestinian Territories.
    “And the way to make the people on the ground believe is give them hope that this will be sustainable, that this will be everlasting and that ultimately there will be prosperity and there will be sustained development,” Al-Sheikh added.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Nafisa Eltahir in Dubai, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Toby Chopra)
[Mohammad Bin Abdul Malek Al ash-Shaikh, a Saudi minister of state and a member of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.    He is currently one of three Al ash-Shaikhs serving in King Salman’s Government.    Mohammad Bin Abdul Malek was born in Riyadh in 1969, earned a bachelor's degree from Umm Al Qura University and a master's degree in law from Harvard University.    Between 1998 and 2001, he was a lawyer for the World Bank in Washington, D.C, and then went into private practice in New York between 2001 and 2003.    He returned to Saudi in 2003 when he opened his own practice.    In September 2012, he was designated as the Saudi Arabian Government’s representative at the World Bank, and in February 2013 was appointed chairman of the Capital Market Authority (Saudi Arabia) (CMA), the formal name of the Saudi stock market regulator.]

6/27/2019 Trump peace plan conference is blip on Israel’s radar as political, Iran crises swirl by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference
in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A U.S.-led conference in Bahrain designed to drum up investment in the Palestinian economy and pave a path to peace with Israel has gone largely unremarked by Israelis preoccupied with a political crisis and their arch-foe Iran.
    Palestinians, who view the Trump administration as biased towards Israel, boycotted this week’s meeting in Manama.
    It was also held without an official Israeli delegation.
    Organizers said privately this was due to worry about a further dent to the event’s credibility after an election in Israel in April election failed to produce a new coalition government.
    With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing proliferating challengers in a new election due in September, and beset by corruption scandals, the hazier-than-ever peacemaking horizon with the Palestinians drew scant discussion in Israeli media.
    Economy Minister Eli Cohen went as far as to suggest that Bahrain may have closed the door on further diplomacy.
    “We saw that, even in an economic conference where the Palestinians were meant to come and get money, to come and get tools and inducements, to come and develop their economy, they did not come,” he told Israel’s Reshet 13 TV.
    “We see, really, that they do not want a peace accord.    They simply don’t want us here…Again, the Palestinians’ true face has been exposed.”
    The Palestinians, who have shunned the United States since it recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, suspected the conference sought to lure them into surrendering their statehood goal in return for global financial relief.
    It is not clear whether a peace plan promised by the Trump administration will call for a “two-state solution” sought by the Palestinian Authority and backed internationally, which involves creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
    Netanyahu voiced conditional acceptance in 2009 of a future demilitarized Palestinian state.    He has since said its creation would not happen on his watch and that he plans to annex some Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, communities many countries view as illegal.
    Stalled since 2014, peacemaking has been on a backburner for some Israelis, while others feel a need to work for coexistence.
    “This is a matter that’s important to me. We need an end to this situation,” said Jerusalem chef Israel Bachar, 45.It’s a little odd that the Americans held this (Bahrain) conference without convening the two main parties involved. I don’t think it’s helpful to try to impose things from outside.”
    Netanyahu described the Bahrain gathering as part of a U.S. effort “to bring about a better future and solve the region’s problems
    Two days before it opened, he toured the strategic Jordan Valley, the eastern-most part of the West Bank that borders Jordan, with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and said Israel must retain a presence there in any peace deal.
    Israeli journalists were at Bahrain, a rarity for a Gulf state that does not formally recognize Israel.    The resulting coverage focused as much on wider Israeli-Arab contacts and Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community as on the Palestinian no-shows.
    Cohen, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said Arab delegates saw Bahrain as a chance to close ranks with Israel on bilateral commerce and in the face of a common adversary.
    “This was, in fact, a regional summit against Iran,” he said.    “We see here a coalition in the Middle East…They (Arab powers) understand that their security threat is Iran.”
    Washington and Tehran have exchanged threats and heated rhetoric in recent weeks, with a U.S. increasing sanctions on Iran and Iranian forces shooting down a U.S. drone in the Gulf.
    The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University gave a cautious welcome to the initiatives announced in Manama, including a global investment fund for the Palestinians.    But it said these could not trump statecraft.
    “While a willingness to earmark huge investments in economy, infrastructure, education, health, and welfare in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be good news…what is also required is a political plan that is both creative and beneficial to the Palestinians,” INSS scholars Tomer Fadlon and Sason Hadad wrote.
    Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war.    It pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005 and Hamas Islamists, who have called for Israel’s destruction, now rule the enclave.    Palestinians seek both territories for a future state.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)

6/27/2019 U.N. looks for U.S.-Russia understanding to spur Syria peace process by Tom Miles
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen attends a session of the peace talks
on Syria in Kazakhstan April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov -/File Photo
GENEVA (Reuters) – “A deeper understanding” between Russia and the United States is needed to move the Syrian peace process forward, U.N. Syria envoy Geir Pedersen said in an interview published on Thursday.
    Successive U.N. envoys have failed to stop Syria’s eight-year war, which has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and led to an exodus of refugees.
    Pedersen, the fourth man in the job, is trying to arrange a committee to oversee the reform of Syria’s constitution — a modest effort, compared with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s attempt to reach a peace agreement at an international conference in 2012.
    “Obviously, a Constitutional Committee in itself will not change much,” Pedersen said in an interview published by the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.    “But if handled correctly, and if there is political will, it could be a door-opener for a broader political process."
    He told the key players that he needed “a different international set-up,” Pedersen said, and wanted to convene a group of influential states alongside the Constitutional Committee meeting.
    It would include the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and two groups of countries that have been politically active on Syria: the “Astana Group” comprising Iran and Turkey as well as Russia, and the “Small Group,” which includes Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain and the United States.
    “This is indicative of the fact that we are in a new phase … this has been going on for too long, and it should be possible to move forward.    This would, of course, require a deeper understanding between Russia and the U.S. on how to move forward,” he said.    “We are also working on that.”
    Pedersen said he had pressed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition Syrian National Commission on the importance of tackling the issue of people who had been detained or abducted or were missing, and he had appealed to them for “bigger unilateral steps on this.”
(Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Toby Chopra, Larry King)

6/27/2019 Lebanese veterans block highways in budget protest
A Lebanese army veteran burns tires during a protest over a state budget that includes a provision taxing
their pensions, in Naameh, south of Beirut, Lebanon June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hundreds of veterans burned tyres and blocked highways in Lebanon on Thursday to protest a pension tax and benefit cuts in a 2019 budget intended to slash the country’s deficit.
    Parliament is debating the draft budget approved by the cabinet last month.    It aims to cut the deficit to 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 11.5% last year, as Lebanese leaders warn the country faces financial crisis if there is no reform.
    Lebanon’s public debt is 150% of GDP, among the largest in the world.    State finances are strained by a bloated public sector, high debt-servicing costs and subsidies for power.
    Fears of cuts in public-sector pay and pensions sparked protests as the budget was being drawn up earlier this year.    The draft approved by cabinet omitted a proposed temporary public-sector pay cut.
    Still, army veterans object to plans that will affect them in the draft budget, including a 3% cut in their pensions to help support health care and social services, a pension tax and a freeze on early retirement.
    In a reminder of the hurdles facing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s government, plumes of smoke rose early on Thursday as veterans blocked highways for several hours with burning tyres.    Long lines of cars queued on the highway south of Beirut and other parts of the country.
    The veterans waved Lebanese flags and held photos of soldiers who died in service, whose families will also be affected.
    “The political class pushed us to this,” said Abbas Ammar, a first sergeant who retired in 2001.    “All our lives we preserved the security of our country.    These are our rights that we earned.”
    Defence Minister Elias Bou Saab said lawmakers would find solutions for the provisions troubling army retirees.    “Shutting down roads does not benefit the demands (of protesters) and the citizen pays the price,” he said.
    But some drivers stuck in the traffic sympathized with the protesters.    “I have to get work, of course, but this cause is much bigger than that, because we’re also not happy at all with what this government is doing,” said Mohamad Shebli, sitting in his car.
    The main steps to cut the deficit include an increase in tax paid on interest, an import tax and a government plan to issue low-interest treasury bonds to cut debt-servicing costs.
    The central bank governor told Reuters this week he backs government efforts to cut those costs, but an agreement has yet to be reached on how.    Discussions would be held once the budget is approved, he said.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Alaa Kanaan in Beirut; editing by Larry King)

6/27/2019 Palestinian PM expects no political plan from U.S. Bahrain workshop by Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh gestures during an interview with Reuters in his office
in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – A day after the Trump administration wrapped up an international conference meant to lay the economic foundations for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Palestinian premier said it was “divorced from reality” and unlikely to evolve into a political plan.
    Washington billed the two-day workshop in Bahrain as the first stage of its broader blueprint to resolve the Middle East conflict. U.S. Gulf Arab allies said the economic initiative had promise if a political settlement is reached.
    But Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told Reuters on Thursday he felt the initiative “will not really materialize and it’s not going to go anywhere.”
    “Bahrain was just simply a terrible exercise.    I think it’s an economic workshop that has been fully and totally divorced from reality,” he said in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.    “(It was) no more than an intellectual exercise.”
    The Bahrain “Prosperity to Peace” workshop called for a $50 billion investment fund to stimulate the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, more than half to be spent in the Palestinian territories over 10 years.
    But Palestinian leaders boycotted the conference and are refusing to engage with the White House – accusing it of pro-Israel bias after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.    The Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
    The political details of the long-delayed plan, which is spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, remain a secret known only to a handful of people.
    Kushner and Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt say the political elements will be unveiled later, possibly after a second snap Israeli election set for September.
    But Palestinians fear the Trump team may abandon the “two-state solution,” which envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel.
    “We haven’t seen in the paper any reference to (Israeli) occupation, to settlements, to Palestine, to two states, to 1967 borders, to Jerusalem and so on,” Shtayyeh said.
    Of the Israelis, he said: “The debate in Israel today, it’s very unfortunate that it is not between those who want to end occupation and those who want to maintain occupation.    The debate in Israel today is between those who want to maintain the status quo and those who want to annex certain parts of the West Bank.”
    Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, territories where the Palestinians now seek statehood.
    Days before an Israeli election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank if he won.
ECONOMIC WOES
    Shtayyeh, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, was named in March to replace Rami al-Hamdallah, who had spearheaded reconciliation efforts with Fatah’s principal internal rival, the Islamist Hamas, which rules Gaza.
    Few doubt the economist Shtayyeh’s grasp of financial issues facing the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank.    He formerly headed PECDAR, the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.
    But he inherited a government squeezed by steep U.S. aid cuts, the crisis exacerbated by a political dispute with Israel over the withholding of some 5 percent of the approximately $190 million monthly tax revenues that Israel transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
    The mounting financial pressures on the PA have sent its debt soaring to $3 billion, and led to a severe contraction in its estimated $13 billion GDP economy, according to the PA’s top central banker.
    Shtayyeh said the fundamental economic problem was Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank, which meant Palestinians “don’t control our borders, we don’t control our entry points, our exit points, and we have no control of our land.”
    The current financial crisis, he said, had been exacerbated by the tax dispute with Israel.
    Israel said the sum it is withholding is to match stipends sent by the PA to families of Palestinian militants in Israeli jails, payments Israel says encourage attacks.
    The PA has refused to accept any tax transfers until those funds are restored.    The shortfall, Shtayyeh said, had contributed to the PA – the largest employer in the Palestinian Territories – having to cut its own civil servants salaries in half.
    He warned that this situation could soon weaken the PA security forces that work closely with Israel’s military in the West Bank.
    “Can we maintain this situation? I’m not sure about that.    If the policeman has no petrol in his car, he will not be able to maintain law in order in the streets.    That is where the problem is,” he said.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/27/2019 Despite need for Sinai funds, Egypt unlikely to join Kushner plan by Sami Aboudi and Yousef Saba
FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference
in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – A U.S.-proposed $9 billion aid package could tempt Egypt with long-sought financing to transform its strife-torn Sinai peninsula, but analysts say political risks are likely to outweigh any potential financial benefit.
    Egypt has been struggling to launch infrastructure projects for the development of Sinai, where military and security forces have been battling Islamic State-linked militants.
    While authorities say hundreds of militants have been killed or captured since the campaign began last year, the security situation in the governorate remains volatile.
    Officials say creating jobs and developing infrastructure is crucial for fighting the militants, who thrive on poverty and lack of jobs.
    But securing resources and attracting investments into an area where militants still mount regular attacks and which is still officially closed to outsiders is a major challenge.
    Egyptian officials have held discussions with the World Bank on possible financing of development in Sinai.
    An aide to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said last year that the Sinai development plan was expected to cost some 275 billion Egyptian pounds ($16.52 billion) and should be completed by 2022, saying the plan was a “national security issue.”
    Under the $50 billion ‘Peace to Prosperity’ economic plan drafted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner and which was discussed at a two-day conference in Bahrain this week, the Palestinians would received $25 billion while Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon would receive the other half.
    But the $9 billion earmarked for Egypt are linked to a broader political solution for the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    While it has yet to be revealed, Palestinians briefed on the plan say it falls short of their demands for a state on all lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Egypt is one of two Arab states along with Jordan to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, and Sisi and Trump have publicly praised each other.
    Nathan Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University, said Egypt was unlikely to agree to a proposal that could link it more closely to Gaza’s fate.
    “While economic development funds for Sinai are attractive, the purpose of the plan seems to be to tie Gaza and Sinai closer together in a way that Egypt has resisted for political and security reasons,” he said.
FIERCE PALESTINIAN OPPOSITION
    The U.S. plan includes a series of infrastructure projects aimed at facilitating trade between Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Israel.
    It would expand Gaza, a small area where two million Palestinians are shut into a strip between Israel and Egypt, into North Sinai, creating an area where Palestinians can live and work under Egyptian control, according to Arab sources.
    Egyptian security sources say this translates into creating an industrial zone in Sinai where Palestinian workers from Gaza can work and live alongside Egyptians from Sinai.
    Egypt, which has cultivated a good working relationship with Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers, considers the narrow strip crucial for its own stability and might welcome economic opportunities for its residents.
    But with Palestinians flatly rejecting the plan, it is hard to see how any such scheme could be workable.
    Despite intense U.S. pressure on Egypt to join the plan, Sisi and his foreign minister have ruled out going against Palestinian wishes, while strongly dismissing the idea — carried in some media reports — that Cairo might cede land in Sinai as part of the plan.
    Egypt fought wars over Sinai with Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973, and any suggestion that its control of Sinai could be diluted would be sensitive.    Egypt’s decision to cede two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in 2016 led to rare protests and legal challenges.
    “The projects, ideas and figures that came in the Kushner plan are mere theoretical proposals,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, a retired general and member of the board of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies.
    “All that relates to setting up projects in Sinai is subject to the Egyptian sovereignty.    It is an Egyptian decision and no one can impose on us to set up specific projects,” he added.
    Underscoring its reticence, Egypt waited until the last moment to announce it was sending a deputy finance minister to the two-day conference in Bahrain.
    “Egypt can’t politically afford to accept the so-called ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan given the fierce opposition and rejection by the Palestinians and a significant segment of Egyptians as well,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East politics at the London School of Economics.
    “To do so might have costly ramifications at home.”
    Economist Abdul Khalik Farouk dismissed the proposed U.S. aid package to the Palestinians and Arab countries as “a form of bribery” that would do little to bring any real development.
    Estimating that Egypt had received around $850 billion in loans, investments and grants between 1974 and 2010, Farouk said the proposed aid package over 10 years was a drop in the bucket.
    “The money you are referring to… is barely enough to build a few roads and buildings.    These funds have no value,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Mohamed Abdellah, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Aidan Lewis)

6/27/2019 Trump peace plan conference is blip on Israel’s radar as political, Iran crises swirl by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference
in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019. Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Handout via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A U.S.-led conference in Bahrain designed to drum up investment in the Palestinian economy and pave a path to peace with Israel has gone largely unremarked by Israelis preoccupied with a political crisis and their arch-foe Iran.
    Palestinians, who view the Trump administration as biased toward Israel, boycotted this week’s meeting in Manama. {nL8N23X20I}
    It was also held without an official Israeli delegation. Organizers said privately this was due to worry about a further dent to the event’s credibility after an April election in Israel failed to produce a new coalition government.
    With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing proliferating challengers in a new election due in September and beset by corruption scandals, the hazier-than-ever peacemaking horizon with the Palestinians drew scant discussion in Israeli media.
    Netanyahu said on Thursday that the Palestinian leadership chose ideology over the benefit of its own people.
    The conflict “requires a political solution.    But you shouldn’t boycott this important summit in Bahrain just because that’s difficult or has to be carried out in stages,” Netanyahu said at a conference in Jerusalem.    “The economic basis is important for coexistence and eventually for peace.”
    Economy Minister Eli Cohen went as far as to suggest that Bahrain may have closed the door on further diplomacy.
    “We saw that, even in an economic conference where the Palestinians were meant to come and get money, to come and get tools and inducements, to come and develop their economy, they did not come,” he told Israel’s Reshet 13 TV.
    “We see, really, that they do not want a peace accord.    They simply don’t want us here. … Again, the Palestinians’ true face has been exposed.”
    The Palestinians, who have shunned the United States since it recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, suspected the conference sought to lure them into surrendering their statehood goal in return for global financial relief.
    It is not clear whether a peace plan promised by the Trump administration will call for a “two-state solution” sought by the Palestinian Authority and backed internationally, which involves the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
    Netanyahu voiced conditional acceptance in 2009 of a future demilitarized Palestinian state. He has since said its creation would not happen on his watch and that he plans to annex some Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, communities many countries view as illegal.
    Stalled since 2014, peacemaking has been on a backburner for some Israelis, while others feel a need to work for coexistence.
    “This is a matter that’s important to me. We need an end to this situation,” said Jerusalem chef Israel Bachar, 45.    “It’s a little odd that the Americans held this conference without convening the two main parties involved.    I don’t think it’s helpful to try to impose things from outside.”
    Netanyahu described the Bahrain gathering as part of a U.S. effort “to bring about a better future and solve the region’s problems.”
    Two days before it opened, he toured the strategic Jordan Valley, the eastern-most part of the West Bank that borders Jordan, with U.S national security adviser John Bolton and said Israel must retain a presence there in any peace deal.
    Israeli journalists were at Bahrain, a rarity for a Gulf state that does not formally recognize Israel.    The resulting coverage focused as much on wider Israeli-Arab contacts and Bahrain’s tiny Jewish community as on the Palestinian no-shows.
    Cohen, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said Arab delegates saw Bahrain as a chance to close ranks with Israel on bilateral commerce and in the face of a common adversary.
    “This was, in fact, a regional summit against Iran,” he said.    “We see here a coalition in the Middle East…They (Arab powers) understand that their security threat is Iran.”
    Washington and Tehran have exchanged threats and heated rhetoric in recent weeks, with the United States increasing sanctions on Iran and Iranian forces shooting down a U.S. drone in the Gulf.
    The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University gave a cautious welcome to the initiatives announced in Manama, including a global investment fund for the Palestinians.    But it said these could not trump statecraft.
    “While a willingness to earmark huge investments in economy, infrastructure, education, health, and welfare in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be good news…what is also required is a political plan that is both creative and beneficial to the Palestinians,” INSS scholars Tomer Fadlon and Sason Hadad wrote.
    Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war.    It pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005; Hamas Islamists, who have called for Israel’s destruction, now rule the enclave.    Palestinians seek both territories for a future state.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Angus MacSwan and Leslie Adler)

6/27/2019 Lawmakers concerned about violence in Sudan, consider sanctions by OAN Newsroom
    House lawmakers are voicing their concerns over increased violence against pro-democracy protesters in Sudan. During a hearing Tuesday, lawmakers from both parties warned that Sudan’s military has violated human rights since it took over the government.
    This comes after a deadly assault on protesters earlier this month when more than 100 people were killed.    Officials from the State Department have said there will be consequences if violence continues.
Sadek al-Mahdi, who heads the Umma party, speaks during a press conference at his group headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, Wednesday,
June 26, 2019. Al-Mahdi who leading Sudanese opposition figure says