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

    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 May-June or to continue to King Of The South 2019 for September-October

KING OF THE SOUTH 2019 JULY-AUGUST




2019 JULY-AUGUST


7/1/2019 Palestinians release businessman who attended US conference
    JERUSALEM – A Palestinian security official on Sunday confirmed the release of a Palestinian man who was arrested after participating in the White Houseled Mideast peace conference in Bahrain last week.    The Palestinian Authority arrested Saleh Abu Mayala on Saturday in the city of Hebron for interrogation.    The security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Abu Mayala had been released late Saturday.    The Palestinian Authority boycotted the Bahrain conference, saying the U.S. is unfairly biased toward Israel.

7/1/2019 Errant missile from Syria-Israel clash lands on Cyprus by Michele Kambas and Daren Butler
Military personnel carry debris on a slope where a missile struck, in Tashkent
(also known as Vouno), in northern Cyprus, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    NICOSIA (Reuters) – An errant missile struck Cyprus early on Monday, skimming the densely populated capital Nicosia and crashing on a mountainside in what authorities described as a spillover from strikes between Israel and Syria.
    The explosion occurred around 1 a.m. (2200 GMT Sunday) in the region of Tashkent, also known as Vouno, some 20 kms (12 miles) northeast of Nicosia, with the impact starting a fire and heard for miles around.
    There were no casualties. But it caused widespread concern on both sides of the ethnically-split island and brought calls for warring parties to respect their neighbors’ safety.
    An Israeli air strike was underway against Syria at the time.    Syrian state media said the Syrian air defenses had fired in response.
    “It is understood that a missile fired from Syria fell here by accident, as a result of being fired in an uncontrolled way by batteries … in response to the intense attacks yesterday evening by Israel,” Kudret Ozersay, the Turkish Cypriot foreign minister, told a news conference.
    “Based on our initial assessment, it is the remains of a missile which is known as S-200 in the Russian system and SA-5 in the NATO system,” he added.
    In a Facebook post earlier, Ozersay said the explosion was thought to have occurred before impact because there were no craters, and debris was found at several different points.
    Cyprus lies west of Syria, and the impact site about 50 kilometers (31 miles) inland.
    Israeli warplanes fired missiles targeting Syrian military positions in Homs – around 310 kilometers (193 miles) from Nicosia – and the Damascus outskirts overnight in an attack that killed at least four civilians and wounded another 21.
BEHAVE CALMLY
    The freak incident was the first time that Cyprus has been caught in the crosshairs of military operations in the Middle East despite its proximity.
    “Undoubtedly we invite Syria, Israel and another countries in the region to take into account the human and material security of neighboring countries, to take the necessary measures and for everyone to behave calmly,” said Ozersay, who is also deputy prime minister of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state recognized only by Ankara.
    The incident was a wake-up call to islanders, said UniteCyprusNow, a pro-unity group.
    “The illusion that a permanent division on land .. will protect us from crises has been shattered with the missile that landed on our head last night,” it said.
    Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
    The aging S-200 is a surface to air missile which analysts said could have a range of up to 400 kilometers (249 miles).
    It is one of the precursors of the S-400, the missile system Turkey plans to buy from Russia and which has rattled relations with Washington.
    Residents told Cypriot media they saw a light in the sky then three loud explosions were heard for miles around, which many initially thought was a plane crash.
    Tashkent is a small village in the foothills of a mountain range rimming northern Cyprus.    Authorities evacuated some homes.
(Additonal reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Can Sezer; Editing by Darren Schuettler, Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Cawthorne)

7/1/2019 Sudan must unite armed forces during political crisis: opposition leader by Khalid Abdelaziz Michael Georgy
FILE PHOTO - Leading Sudanese opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan's last democratically elected
prime minister, who was overthrown in 1989 in a bloodless coup by army officer Omar Hassan al-Bashir,
talks during an interview with Reuters in Khartoum, Sudan, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan must at all costs avoid tensions between a powerful paramilitary unit that controls Khartoum and the regular army or risk more instability following a military coup in April, leading opposition figure Sadiq al-Mahdi said.
    An influential former prime minister, Mahdi called on high-profile military leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, to fully integrate the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which he commands with the regular army to promote unity within the armed forces.
    “The fact that there are tensions between our armed groups must be resolved peacefully,” Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected premier, told Reuters in an interview.
    “Either people fight it out, which would be very bad for Sudan, or they accept a reconciliation process,” said Mahdi, who heads the largest opposition party.
    “All our political forces are going to have their minds concentrated on the need to avoid this civil war and all types of conflicts that are potentially there.”
    Speaking at his sprawling villa surrounded by gardens in the capital, Mahdi said the opposition had floated the idea of merging the forces to the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which has been in charge since President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was overthrown following protests triggered by an economic crisis.
    There are no signs that a conflict is looming between the RSF and the military.    And there are no apparent divisions between Hemedti, deputy head of the TMC, and its leader Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
    But Mahdi, himself toppled by Bashir in 1989, said Sudan can’t afford to take any chances during a turbulent period.
    “All our minds will be concentrated on avoiding this catastrophic development which is very much on the horizon.”    The military has more firepower but taking on the RSF in the capital would inflict mass civilian casualties, say politicians, analysts and opposition figures.
    Bashir is being held along with other former officials at Khartoum’s Kobar prison.
NEGOTIATIONS ON POLITICAL FUTURE HALT
    Mahdi’s moderate Islamic Umma party is among opposition groups who have been pressing for a transition to civilian rule in talks with the TMC that ground to a halt last month.
    The RSF was not immediately available for comment.
    Hemedti has indicated he has political ambitions, delivering frequent public speeches, and promising a brighter future for Sudanese, from the same palace occupied by Bashir.
    “If he looks ahead to a leadership role it will be acceptable if he becomes a civilian citizen, and if he then either forms his own party or joins whatever party he thinks is closer to his ideas,” said Mahdi.
    Unlike many army officers, Hemedti was not educated at military colleges.    His meteoric rise under Bashir caused resentment.    RSF fighters lack discipline, according to analysts and security officials, but are often paid better than soldiers.
    The RSF began as a militia after a war erupted with rebels in Sudan’s Darfur region in 2003.    The force eventually fell under the army’s supervision but only at times of conflicts.
    Huge crowds marched on Sudan’s defense ministry on Sunday to pressure the TMC, and authorities said at least seven people were killed and scores wounded in protests nationwide in the biggest demonstrations since a deadly raid by security forces on a protest camp in central Khartoum three weeks ago.
TIGHT GRIP ON KHARTOUM
    Hemedti said unknown snipers were shooting at civilians and soldiers in Sunday’s incident.
    Bashir recruited Hemedti from Darfur, where his militia — which later evolved into the RSF — was accused by human rights groups of atrocities against civilians in a war against rebels.
    The government denied the allegations.
    Bashir used Hemedti and his men, now deployed across Khartoum armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns mounted on vehicles, to counter perceived threats from rivals under a strategy that helped him stay in power for 30 years.
    “We believe he (Hemedti) must accept now that this (integration of the RSF and army) should be developed.    His force will be part and parcel of a national defense force,” said Mahdi.    This should be done “in a way that will be voluntary with the armed forces.”
Mahdi said chances of reconciliation could be improved by an independent investigation of violence three weeks ago in which witnesses said the RSF led a raid on a protest camp. Opposition medics reported more than 100 people killed.    The government put the death toll at 61, including three security personnel.
(Editing by William Maclean)

7/1/2019 Hundreds gather across Nile from Khartoum after deadly clashes
Locals and relatives of three Sudanese men riddled with bullets chant slogans as they carry the corpses in the
city of Omdurman across the River Nile from Khartoum, Sudan, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    OMDURMAN, Sudan (Reuters) – Hundreds of people gathered in the city of Omdurman across the River Nile from Khartoum on Monday to protest against the ruling military a day after at least seven people died in clashes between security services and protesters.
    Members of the crowd told Reuters they came out after residents found the bodies of three young men riddled with bullets and dressed in civilian clothes close to the river early in the morning.
    At least 600 people blocked off the main road leading to White Nile bridge, which connects Omdurman to Sudan’s capital, and set up barricades as riot police looked on.
    Dozens tearfully chanted “down with military rule” and “blood for blood, we will not accept blood money” near the bodies that were covered in flags.    A bloodied protest banner and megaphone lay nearby.
    It was not possible to verify who had killed the three men, but witnesses said a truck had dumped them there.
    Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across Sudan on Sunday demanding the military hand over power to civilians, in the biggest demonstrations since a deadly raid by security forces on a protest camp in central Khartoum three weeks ago.
    Clashes between protesters and security forces left at least seven people dead and 181 wounded, 27 of them by live fire, Sudan’s state news agency SUNA reported late on Sunday.
    Sudan’s military overthrew president Omar al-Bashir on April 11 after months of demonstrations against his rule.
    Opposition groups kept up those demonstrations as they pressed the military to hand over power, but talks collapsed after members of the security services raided the sit-in protest camp outside the defense ministry on June 3.
    A doctor’s group linked to the opposition said that more than 100 people were killed during the June raid and that the bodies of 40 people had been pulled from the Nile river afterwards.
    The Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) opposition coalition had called for a million people to demonstrate on Sunday – the 30th anniversary of the coup that brought Bashir to power, and the African Union’s deadline for Sudan’s military rulers to hand over to civilians or face further sanctions.
    Sudan is strategically positioned between the Middle East and Africa and its stability is seen as crucial for a volatile region.    Various powers including wealthy Gulf states are vying for influence in the nation of 40 million.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis)

7/1/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan: Russian missile defense system to arrive in 10 days: media by Tuvan Gumrukcu
Russian servicemen sit in the cabins of S-400 missile air defence systems in Tverskaya Street before a rehearsal
for the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two,
in central Moscow, Russia April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said Russian S-400 defenses would begin arriving within 10 days, Turkish media reported, setting the clock ticking on possible U.S. sanctions after his warm meeting with President Donald Trump on Saturday.
    The Turkish financial assets jumped on Monday after a weekend in which Erdogan said Trump had told him at a G20 summit there would be no U.S. sanctions, and the U.S. leader said Turkey had been treated unfairly over the missiles deal.
    Turkey and the United States, NATO allies, have been at odds over Ankara’s decision to purchase the S-400s, with Washington warning of U.S. sanctions if the delivery took place.
    Turkey has dismissed the warnings from Congress and Trump’s top secretaries, saying it would not back down and holding out hope that the White House could protect it from sanctions that could hit its already soft currency and economy.
    Erdogan’s comments offered the most specific timeline yet on the delivery of the ground-to-air missiles that U.S. officials have said are not compatible with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defenses.     “Within 10 days, maybe within one week, the first shipment will have arrived.    I told Trump this openly,” Erdogan was cited as saying on Sunday by Hurriyet newspaper after his meeting with Trump in Japan.
    The United States says the S-400s will compromise its Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, of which Turkey is a producer and buyer.    Washington has also formally started the process of expelling Turkey from the F-35 program, halting the training of Turkish pilots in the United States.
    The Turkish lira strengthened 1.6% on Monday to below 5.70 against the dollar, and Turkey’s main stock index rallied 2.7%.    The dispute over the S-400s has been a key concern for investors this year.
    Turkey’s economy, the largest in the Middle East, is in recession after a currency crisis last year chopped 30% from the lira and sent inflation and unemployment soaring. The lira has dropped another 8% so far in 2019.
    “So (a) green light from Trump to Turkey to go ahead and get S400s — or that is now the Turkish view,” said Tim Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.
    “I would imagine U.S. diplomat and defense department officials are in disbelief — Trump is like the proverbial bull in the China shop.”
    After the Trump-Erdogan talks, the White House said Trump “expressed concern” over the S-400 deal and “encouraged Turkey to work with the United States on defense cooperation in a way that strengthens the NATO alliance.”
INTERPRETING TRUMP
    Speaking to reporters after the G20 summit, where he held bilateral talks with Trump, Erdogan said he believed the dispute over the S-400s would be overcome “without a problem” and added that his U.S. counterpart supported Turkey in the dispute.
    “In our phone calls, when we come together bilaterally, Mr Trump has not said so far: ‘We will impose these sanctions.’    On the S-400s, he said to me: ‘You are right.’    We carried this issue to a very advanced level,” Erdogan said, according to broadcaster NTV.
    “At this advanced level, Trump said: ‘This is injustice’.    This is very important.    I believe that we will overcome this process without any problems,” Erdogan added.
    He said the two leaders had agreed to delegate officials to follow the issue.    He also said Turkish and U.S. foreign and defense ministers would “open the doors” to resolving the matter.
    Buying military equipment from NATO-foe Russia leaves Turkey vulnerable to U.S. retribution under a 2017 law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.    Trump would need to sign off on the sanctions.
    “Even though Trump’s comments were rather positive, this matter does not just end with the president.    There is still a sanctions bill regarding Turkey waiting in the U.S. Congress,” said Cem Tozge, director of Ata Invest.
    “Hence, the uncertainty continues but the market got what it wanted to hear at the weekend.”
    Turkey’s external assets also sailed higher, including dollar-denominated sovereign debt climbing to the highest levels in months.    The cost of insuring exposure to Turkey’s sovereign debt through credit default swaps declined to their lowest level since early April.
    In an effort to sway Turkey away from the S-400s, the United States has offered to supply it with Raytheon Co Patriot missiles.
    Erdogan was quoted by NTV as saying: “One S-400 is worth three Patriots.    If the conditions are even equal to the S-400 (deal), we would buy Patriots, but if they are not, then we have to think of our interests,” Erdogan also said that he hoped the issue of Turkish lender Halkbank, which faces U.S. Treasury sanctions over an Iran sanctions-busting case that has further strained ties between the allies, would be resolved soon, NTV said.
(Additional reporting by Behiye Selin Taner in Istanbul and Karin Strohecker in London; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Catherine Evans)

7/1/2019 U.S. airstrike in Syria kills 6 Al-Qaeda commanders by OAN Newsroom
    U.S. forces in Syria recently struck an Al-Qaeda compound, which reportedly resulted in the deaths of several militants.    In a statement Monday, the U.S. Central Command said the airstrike took place in Northern Syria Sunday and targeted an Al-Qaeda training camp.
    According to military officials, Al-Qaeda militants were plotting attacks on U.S. citizens, allies and America’s interests in the region.
    British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed U.S. airstrikes killed six Al-Qaeda commanders from Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.
    The strike comes after the White House warned against malicious foreign presence in Syria.
    “…the United States would very much like to get rid of foreign forces from Syria. We have no burning, long-time desire to stay there, I can tell you that, but the real issue is the Iranian forces….I include in that the surrogates for Iran and the Quds Force, Shia militia groups, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.” — John Bolton, U.S. National Security Adviser
In this photo taken July 1, 2019, and released by U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar, John Bolton, National Security Advisor of the United
States, speaks to the press at the Chinggis Khaan International Airport near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (U.S. Embassy Ulaanbaatar via AP)
    Israel also conducted its own airstrikes against terror groups entrenched in Syria on Sunday, citing heightened security concerns.

7/1/2019 President Erdogan: President Trump says no sanctions against Turkey by OAN Newsroom
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is insisting there will be no U.S. sanctions if it goes through with a Russian missile purchase.    While speaking to reporters over the weekend, Erdogan said he received personal reassurances from President Trump that sanctions against Turkey would not happen.
    Tension between Turkey and NATO have been on the rise since it announced its intent to purchase a Russian-made missile defense system.
    Turkey maintains the system would not be integrated into the NATO systems and does not pose a threat.
    “On the issue of sanctions, Mr. Trump has clarified the issue in his statement to the press anyway,” stated the Turkish president.    “We listened to him particularly saying that such a thing would not happen.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during his meeting with President Donald Trump on the
sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    Erdogan said the missile system deal has been completed and is now in the delivery process.    The Turkish leader went on to say it would not benefit the country to deny an agreement like that.
    Earlier this month, the Pentagon said it would pull Turkey from participating in its F-35 fighter jet program if it went through with the weapons purchase.

7/2/2019 OPEC makes deal to extend cuts on oil production until March 2020 by OAN Newsroom
    OPEC has agreed to extend its cuts to oil production despite push back from the U.S.    The member nations agreed to the move Monday in hopes of boosting the price of crude oil in the face of a weakening global economy.
    The supply cuts are expected to last until March of 2020.    However, the agreement may not go over well in the U.S. President Trump promised Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations help with Iran as long as they hold up their end of the deal by supplying more oil into the market.
    “Look, I spoke to Saudi Arabia when the oil prices, a year ago, were getting very high.    And I wasn’t so nice."    And I said, “You got to get some more oil into the system because what’s happening is no good.” Khalid Al-Falih, oil minister – Saudi Arabia
    While the move may not score any points in Washington, it is a welcome development for Russia.    Moscow is reliant on its energy exports, which is why it has been pushing OPEC and its allies to reduce oil production since 2017 to keep prices from falling.
Khalid Al-Falih, Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources of Saudi Arabia arrives for a
meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, and non OPEC members, at their
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday July 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
    “And everybody within OPEC and the majority of the countries that were present this morning were lending their support to a nine-month extension,” stated Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih.    “I am certain that non-OPEC members will adopt the recommendation of the JMMC for a nine-month extension.”
    The alliance now needs approval from participating non-OPEC members to make the deal official.    They are expected to approve the extension at a meeting Tuesday.

7/2/2019 Netanyahu says Trump knew in advance of Israel’s Iran archive mission
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting
in Jerusalem, June 30, 2019. Oded Balilty/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he informed U.S. President Donald Trump in advance of what Israel has described as a spy mission in Tehran last year to capture a secret Iranian nuclear archive.
    Netanyahu said in April 2018 that Mossad operatives had spirited thousands of hidden documents out of Tehran that proved Iran had previously pursued a nuclear weapons program. Trump cited the Israeli findings in his decision, a month later, to quit a 2015 deal that had scaled down Iran’s nuclear project.
    Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and has accused Israel of faking the Tehran mission and documents trove.
    Awarding an Israeli national security prize on Tuesday to the Mossad team credited with the so-called “Atomic Archive” capture, Netanyahu said he had discussed the planned operation with Trump when they met at the Davos forum in January 2018.
    “He asked me if it was dangerous.    I told him that there was a danger to it that was not negligible, but that the outcome justified the risk,” Netanyahu said at the closed-door ceremony, according to a transcript issued by his office.
    Netanyahu said that, when he later presented main findings from an Israeli analysis of the documents to Trump at the White House, the president “voiced his appreciation for the boldness.”
    “I have no doubt that this helped to validate his decision to withdraw from this dangerous (Iran nuclear) deal,” he said.
    With the United States having reimposed sanctions on Iran, tensions have been soaring in the Gulf in recent weeks.
    Mossad officials have said the Tehran mission took place in February 2018, but have not given details on how the documents were brought out to Israel.
    Six Mossad officers – four men and two women – received Tuesday’s prize for leading the mission, which also involved “hundreds” of others, the intelligence agency’s director, Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, told an international security forum this week.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/3/2019 At least 44 die as air strike hits Libya migrant detention center: U.N. by Ahmed Elumami
A man walks next to the damaged building of a detention centre for mainly African migrants, after an airstrike, in a suburb of
Tripoli, Libya, July 3, 2019, in this image obtained from social media. Courtesy of Burkan Alghadab/Social Media via REUTERS.
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – An air strike hit a detention center for mainly African migrants in a suburb of the Libyan capital Tripoli late on Tuesday, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 130, the United Nations said.
    It was the highest publicly reported toll from an air strike or shelling since eastern forces under Khalifa Haftar launched a ground and aerial offensive three months ago to take Tripoli, the base of Libya’s internationally recognized government.
    The conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper U.N. plans for an election and create a security void that Islamist militants could fill.
    Haftar’s air force late on Wednesday attacked Tripoli’s only functioning airport, which is in the same area as the detention center, causing its temporary closure to civilian traffic.
    LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari said the strike had destroyed a drones control room at the airport, which also has a military section.
    United Nations Libya envoy Ghassan Salame condemned the strike, saying it “clearly amounts to the level of a war crime.”
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was outraged by the air strike and called for an independent investigation, his spokesman said.
    The U.N. Security Council met on Libya behind closed doors but diplomats said the United States prevented the 15-member body from issuing a statement condemning the incident and calling for a ceasefire.    It was not immediately clear why Washington could not support the statement, diplomats said.
    Libya is one of the main departure points for African migrants fleeing poverty and war to try to reach Italy by boat, but many are picked up and brought back by the Libyan coast guard, supported by the European Union.
    Some 6,000 are held in government-run detention centers in what human rights groups and the United Nations say are often inhuman conditions.
    The UNHCR refugee agency had already called in May for the Tajoura center, which holds 600 people, to be evacuated after a projectile landed less than 100 meters (330 feet) away, injuring two migrants.
    The hangar-type detention center is next to a military camp, one of several in Tajoura, east of Tripoli’s center, which have been targeted by air strikes for weeks.
    Frightened migrants were still at the detention center after the strike, which partially destroyed the hangar.    “Some people were wounded, and they died on the road, on their way running, and some people are still under the debris so we don’t know what to say,” said Othman Musa, a migrant from Nigeria.
    “All we know is we want the U.N. to help people out of this place because this place is dangerous,” he said.
    Clothes, flip-flops, bags and mattresses were littered on the floor next to what remained of limbs of the dead.
Bloodstains coated some walls.
    “Our teams had visited the center just yesterday (Tuesday) and saw 126 people in the cell that was hit.    Those that survived are in absolute fear for their lives,” medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said in a statement.
    By nightfall, some 250 migrants, among them women and children, were still at the partially destroyed detention center, the U.N. migration agency IOM said.
HAFTAR ASSAULT ON TRIPOLI
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) force, allied to a parallel government based in eastern Libya, has seen its advance on Tripoli held up by robust defenses on the outskirts of the capital, and said it would start heavy air strikes after “traditional means” of war had been exhausted.
    His attempt to capture Tripoli has derailed U.N. attempts to broker an end to the chaos that has prevailed in the oil- and gas-producing North African country since the violent, NATO-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    The U.N. called for an independent investigation and for perpetrators to be held to account.
    In a statement, the Tripoli-based government blamed the “war criminal Khalifa Haftar” for the incident.    The LNA denied it had hit the detention center.
    The LNA air campaign has failed to take Tripoli in three months of fighting, and last week lost its main forward base in Gharyan to Tripoli’s forces.
    Both sides enjoy military support from regional powers.    The LNA has been supplied for years by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while     Turkey recently shipped arms to Tripoli to stop Haftar’s assault, diplomats say.
(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing and Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi, Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles in Geneva, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Ulf Laessing and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Gareth Jones and James Dalgleish)

7/3/2019 Trump ‘very fond’ of Palestine’s Abbas, willing to engage on peace plan: Kushner by Steve Holland and Ali Sawafta
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner in the West Bank City
Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 21, 2017. Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/RAMALLAH (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump is fond of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and willing to engage with him, but Abbas was cool to the gesture.
    In a conference call with reporters, Kushner said, “Our door is always open” to the Palestinians.
    The Palestinians have refused to talk to Kushner and other architects of a U.S. peace initiative unveiled at a Bahrain workshop last week.    Kushner at the Manama conference outlined a $50 billion economic revival plan for the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon that is dependent on Israel and the Palestinians reaching a political settlement to their decades-old conflict.
    Trump’s proposals to settling the thorny political issues remain secret and are to be released later this year.    There are doubts among Palestinians as to whether his plan will include the long-standing goal of a “two-state solution” – Israel and Palestine existing side by side in peace.
    “President Trump is very fond of President Abbas,” Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, said.    “He likes him very much personally.    And at the right time if they’re willing to engage I believe that they’ll find that they’ll have an opportunity.    Whether they will be willing to take that opportunity will be up to them.”
    Abbas, asked about Kushner’s remarks in Ramallah, said he would resume dialogue with the United States should the latter assert its recognition of the two-state solution and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
    “You want a dialogue?    If yes, then you need to recognize the two-state solution and that east Jerusalem is occupied and that the international legitimacy is the ground for any dialogue,” Abbas said during an event at his Ramallah office in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    “Send me those words on a piece of paper and the next day I will show up at the White House.    Otherwise, no,” he said.     “Therefore, we are not closing doors with the United States, we are keeping the door narrowly open.    If they like it, they are welcome,” he added.
    In comments likely to raise concerns among Palestinians, Kushner hinted that his peace plan might call on Palestinian refugees to settle where they are and not return to lands now in Israel.
    Whether the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the 1948 war of Israel’s founding, who with their descendants now number around 5 million, would exercise a right of return has been among the thorniest issues in decades of difficult diplomacy.
    Israel has long ruled out any such influx as destabilizing, arguing that refugees should stay where they are or in a future Palestinian state.    But prospects of such a state arising in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are themselves in doubt.
    Asked by a Lebanese reporter whether the United States hoped Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees would accept them permanently in exchange for funding, Kushner declined to answer directly, saying the matter would be addressed later.    But he suggested a comparison with Jews displaced from Middle Eastern countries in 1948, many of whom Israel took in.
    “Look, you have a situation when this whole thing started where you had 800,000 Jewish refugees that came out of all the different Middle Eastern countries and you had 800,000, roughly, Palestinian refugees,” Kushner said.    “And what’s happened to the Israeli – to the Jewish – refugees, is they have been absorbed by different places whereas the Arab world has not absorbed a lot of these refugees over time."
    “I think that the people of Lebanon would love to see a resolution to this issue, one that is fair,” he said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Bill Trott, Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

7/4/2019 Syria’s Assad vows ‘full support’ for Iran after U.K. intercepts tanker by OAN Newsroom
    Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad vows his full support for Iran, after the UK intercepts an Iranian oil tanker.
In a statement Thursday Assad said Syria fully supports the Islamic Republic and the Iranian nation, against, what he calls all acts of aggression.
    Bashar al-Assad says he is fighting foreign-backed terrorists in Syria
        Assad adds, the Ayatollah Regime is fighting to protect its rights, and faces illegal threats by the world powers.     His statement comes after British Royal Marines intercepted an Iranian tanker, bound for Syria, in the Gibraltar Strait.     British Prime Minister candidate Boris Johnson, said the UK will stop Iran’s disruptive behavior.     “I think it would be a great mistake now for Iran to abandon that approach of restraint and go for enrichment of nuclear materials,” said Johnson.    “We do have to think of ways of constraining Iran’s disruptive behaviour in the region.”     Assad also held meetings with his top officials and clerics following the incident, to discuss further cooperation with Iran.

7/5/2019 Sudan military council, opposition reach power-sharing agreement by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the ruling military hand over
to civilians in Khartoum, Sudan, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling military council and a coalition of opposition and protest groups reached an agreement to share power during a transition period leading to elections, setting off street celebrations by thousands of people.
    The two sides, which have held talks in Khartoum for the past two days, agreed to “establish a sovereign council by rotation between the military and civilians for a period of three years or slightly more,” African Union mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt said at a news conference.
    They also agreed to form an independent technocratic government and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into violent events in recent weeks.
    The two sides agreed to postpone the establishment of a legislative council.    They had previously agreed that the Forces for Freedom and     Change (FFC) coalition would take two-thirds of a legislative council’s seats before security forces crushed a sit-in protest on June 3, killing dozens, and talks collapsed.
    The streets of Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city across the Nile River, erupted in celebration when the news broke, a Reuters witness said.     Thousands of people of all ages took to the streets, chanting “Civilian! Civilian! Civilian!
    Young men banged drums, people honked their car horns, and women carrying Sudanese flags ululated in jubilation.
    “This agreement opens the way for the formation of the institutions of the transitional authority, and we hope that this is the beginning of a new era,” said Omar al-Degair, a leader of the FFC.
    “We would like to reassure all political forces, armed movements and all those who participated in the change from young men and women … that this agreement will be comprehensive and will not exclude anyone,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the Transitional Military Council.     “We thank the African and Ethiopian mediators for their efforts and patience.    We also thank our brothers in the Forces for Freedom and Change for the good spirit,” said Dagalo, who heads the Rapid Support Forces accused by the FFC of crushing the sit-in.
    Opposition medics say more than 100 people were killed in the dispersal and subsequent violence.    The government put the death toll at 62.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Diane Craft and Leslie Adler)

7/5/2019 UAE says it will stand with Sudan in ‘good times and bad times’: official on Twitter
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash is seen during preparatory meeting for the GCC, Arab
and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates congratulated Sudan after its military council and opposition reached a power-sharing deal and said it would stand with Khartoum in “good times and bad times,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said.
    “We hope that the next phase will witness the foundation of a constitutional system that will strengthen the role of institutions with broad national and popular support,” Gargash added in a Twitter post on Friday.
    The wealthy Gulf Arab state is a key supporter of the Sudanese authorities and wields major influence in the country.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/5/2019 Kushner: door is always open for Palestinians to engage on plan by OAN Newsroom
    Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner appears to be growing frustrated with Palestinian leadership.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as he attends a working breakfast with President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in Osaka, Japan, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    In a conference call with reporters this week, Kushner said Palestinian leaders made a “strategic mistake” by not participating in discussions regarding his Middle East peace plan.
    Kushner stressed that the door is always open for them, if they “stop saying crazy things and engage.”    Kushner released the economic part of his plan on behalf of the White House in Bahrain last month.
    It includes a $50 billion investment plan to boost the economy for Palestinians.    However, Kushner said that deal will only go into effect, if the political part of his plan is also adopted.

7/5/2019 Pres. Trump discusses regional security issues with his Egyptian counterpart by OAN newsroom
    President Trump touches base with his Egyptian counterpart over the phone.
    On Thursday the world leaders discussed the situation in Libya, where a recent air strike killed at least 53 people and injured more than 100 others.
Mr Trump shakes hands with ‘fantastic guy’ Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the White House last month ( Reuters )
    Both the UN backed government in Tripoli, and the opposing militia have blamed each other for the attack.
    Another hot button issue brought up during the call, was the Trump administration’s “peace to prosperity” plan, which would boost economic development for Palestinians.
    While Egypt sent officials to last month’s workshop, the nation remains hesitant to give its full support for the plan.

7/5/2019 Algerian protesters keep up pressure on country’s rulers
Demonstrators carry banners and flags during a protest demanding the removal of the ruling elite in
Algiers, Algeria July 5, 2019, the day marking the country's independence day. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands Algerians gathered on Friday in the capital to demand the removal of the ruling elite, keeping up pressure for more rapid change after the end of the 20-year rule of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
    The protest, which coincided with Algeria’s Independence Day, was the 20th consecutive Friday crowds had gathered to demand a break with the elite which has dominated the oil and gas producer for decades.
    Several banners held up by protesters referred to an article of the consitution which says the people are the sovereign, while some others read: “We want a free and democratic state” and “We don’t want a military state but a civilian state.”
    Algeria’s army, the country’s most powerful institution, has managed the transition from Bouteflika but wants to overcome the deadlock rapidly through a presidential election, observers say.
    A vote had been initially planned for this week but was postponed by the authorities.
    The army fears instability in neighboring Libya and the Sahel region will encourage armed groups to operate in Algeria to exploit the transition.
    Algeria is an important gas supplier for Europe and a key U.S. partner in the fight against militants in the region.
    “The system is corrupt, fully corrupt.    So we demand the removal of all those who were with Bouteflika’s system,” said 23-year old Slimani Hached who works at a state firm in Algiers.
    Protesters again called for the removal of Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui, who are both seen as close allies of Bouteflika.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Toby Chopra)

7/7/2019 Russian-led assault in Syria leaves over 500 civilians dead: rights groups, rescuers by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A street vendor sells toys next to rubble of damaged buildings
in the city of Idlib, Syria May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – At least 544 civilians have been killed and over 2,000 people injured since a Russian-led assault on the last rebel bastion in northwestern Syria began two months ago, rights groups and rescuers said on Saturday.
    Russian jets joined the Syrian army on April 26 in the biggest offensive against parts of rebel-held Idlib province and adjoining northern Hama provinces in the biggest escalation in the war between Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his enemies since last summer.
    The Syrian Network for Human Rights,(SNHR), which monitors casualties and briefs various UN agencies, said the 544 civilians killed in the hundreds of attacks carried out by Russian jets and the Syrian army include 130 children.    Another 2,117 people have been injured.
    “The Russian military and its Syrian ally are deliberately targeting civilians with a record number of medical facilities bombed,” Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, told Reuters.
    Russia and its Syrian army ally deny their jets hit indiscriminately civilian areas with cluster munitions and incendiary weapons, which residents in opposition areas say are meant to paralyze every-day life.
    Moscow says its forces and the Syrian army are fending off terror attacks by al Qaeda militants whom they say hit populated, government-held areas, and it accuses rebels of wrecking a ceasefire deal agreed last year between Turkey and Russia.
    Last month U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the Russian-Syrian joint military operation had used cluster munitions and incendiary weapons in the attacks along with large air-dropped explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated civilian areas, based on reports by first responders and witnesses.
    Residents and rescuers say the two-month-old campaign has left dozens of villages and towns in ruins.    According to the United Nations, at least 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for the safety of areas closer to the border with Turkey.
    “Whole villages and towns have been emptied,” said Idlib-based Civil Defence spokesman Ahmad al Sheikho, saying it was the most destructive campaign against Idlib province since it completely fell to the opposition in the middle of 2015.
    On Friday, 15 people, including children, were killed in the village of Mhambil in western Idlib province after Syrian army helicopters dropped barrel bombs on a civilian quarter, the civil defense group and witnesses said.
    The heads of 11 major global humanitarian organizations warned at the end of last month that Idlib stood at the brink of disaster, with 3 million civilian lives at risk, including 1 million children.
    “Too many have died already” and “even wars have laws” they declared, in the face of multiple attacks by government forces and their allies on hospitals, schools and markets,” the U.N.-endorsed statement said.
    Last Thursday an aerial strike on Kafr Nabl hospital made it the 30th facility to be bombed durng the campaign, leaving hundreds of thousands with no medical access, according to aid groups.
    “To have these medical facilities bombed and put out of service in less than two months is no accident.    Let’s call this by what it is, a war crime,” Dr. Khaula Sawah, vice president of the U.S.-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which provides aid in the northwest, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Leslie Adler)

7/8/2019 African leaders to launch continentwide free trade zone
    JOHANNESBURG – Several African heads of state gathered in Niger’s capital Sunday to launch a continentwide free trade area that represents an estimated market of $3.4 trillion.    The African Continental Free Trade Area aims to create a single unified market for the continent’s 1.3 billion people and boost economic development.    The agreement has been signed by 54 of Africa’s 55 countries, with only     Eritrea not signing up. Currently, African countries conduct only 16% of their trade with each other, according to the African Union.

7/8/2019 UAE troop drawdown in Yemen was agreed with Saudi Arabia: official by Aziz El Yaakoubi
FILE PHOTO - Soldiers from the United Arab Emirates walk past a military vehicle at the airport
of Yemen's southern port city of Aden August 12, 2015. REUTERS/Nasser Awad
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates had been planning its recent troop drawdown in Yemen for over a year and coordinated its move with key ally Saudi Arabia, a senior Emirati official said on Monday.
    The UAE, a leading member of the Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, is reducing its military presence as worsening U.S.-Iran tensions threaten security closer to home, Reuters reported last month.
    The Gulf state has pulled some troops from areas including the southern port of Aden and the western coast, but says it remains committed to the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
    The drawdown “was not a last-minute decision” and had been discussed extensively with Riyadh, said the official, who declined to be named.
    “Our discussion over our redeployment has been ongoing for over a year and it has been heightened after the signing of the Stockholm agreement in December,” the official told reporters in Dubai.
    The official said the port city of Hodeidah was most affected by the decision because of a holding ceasefire under a U.N.-led pact reached last year in Sweden to pave the way for talks to end the war.
    Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, became the focus of the war last year when the coalition tried to seize the port, the Houthis’ main supply line. Under the deal, which has yet to be fully implemented, both the Houthis and pro-coalition Yemeni forces would withdraw.
    “It makes a lot of sense for us to redeploy away from Hodeidah.    By connection, Assab in Eritrea has also been affected because it was a staging ground for our operations in Hodeidah,” the official said, adding that troop movements in other areas of Yemen are “tactical and based on our needs.”
    Abu Dhabi has a major military base at the Eritrean Red Sea port of Assab.
    “We are not worried about a vacuum in Yemen, because we have trained a total of a 90,000 Yemeni forces,” the official said.    “This is one of our major successes in Yemen.”
IRAN TENSIONS
    Asked about the drawdown, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said member countries played different roles and contributed whatever capabilities they could.
    “The United Arab Emirates… and the coalition countries continue to achieve their operational and strategic goals and reach the final status of restoring the legitimate Yemeni government,” Colonel Turki al-Malki told reporters in Riyadh.
    Diplomats have said the UAE prefers to have forces and equipment on hand should tensions between the United States and Iran escalate further after attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and Tehran’s downing of a U.S. unmanned drone.
    The UAE has been urging de-escalation of regional tensions.
    “Many people asked if this is also linked to the current rise of tensions with Iran.    I would say fundamentally no… But of course we cannot be blind to the overall strategic picture,” the official said.    “It is very much to do with moving to from what I would call a military-first strategy to a peace-first strategy.”
    Washington is in talks with allies about gathering a global coalition to protect vital oil shipping lanes in and near the Strait of Hormuz.
    The official said a collective mechanism was needed to protect energy and maritime security.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by William Maclean)

7/9/2019 Netanyahu warns Iran it is within range of Israeli air strikes, citing Iranian threats
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during the weekly cabinet meeting
at his office in Jerusalem July 7, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Iran on Tuesday that it is within range of Israeli air strikes, citing what he described as Iranian threats to destroy Israel.
    “Iran recently has been threatening Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said at an Israeli air force base, where he viewed a squadron of advanced U.S.-built F-35 warplanes.
    “It should remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran, and certainly Syria,” he said in a YouTube video clip filmed at the base, with an F-35 in the background.
    Last week, a senior Iranian parliamentarian was quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency as saying that if the United States attacked Iran, Israel would be destroyed in half an hour.
    Israel has long said that every option is on the table in ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon, and has backed pledges to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria by carrying out air strikes there.
    Tehran denies seeking nuclear arms.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/10/2019 U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah are an ‘assault’ on Lebanon: Berri
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri chairs a parliamentary session in
Beirut, Lebanon, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – New U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah, including two Lebanese lawmakers, amount to an assault on the country and its parliament, Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wednesday.
    The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on three top officials from Iran-backed Hezbollah on Tuesday: Amin Sherri and Muhammad Raad, members of Lebanon’s parliament, as well as Wafiq Sada, who coordinates with Lebanon’s security agencies.
    It marks the first time the U.S. Treasury has designated a Lebanese MP under a sanctions list targeting those accused of supporting terrorist organizations.    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions were part of efforts to counter Hezbollah’s “corrupting influence” in Lebanon.
    Washington classifies Hezbollah, a heavily armed Shi’ite political and military movement that wields major influence in Lebanon, as a terrorist group.
    “It is an assault on the parliament and as a result an assault on all of Lebanon,” Berri, a Shi’ite ally of Hezbollah, said in a statement.
    Lebanon’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds fell and the cost of insuring exposure to its debt rose on Wednesday after the sanctions.
    Meanwhile, 5-year credit default swaps (CDS) jumped 17 basis points (bps) from Tuesday’s close to 925 bps, according to IHS Markit.    CDS last traded at these levels in January, when fears of a potential debt restructuring rattled Lebanon investors.
    “These sanctions are unwarranted and do not serve financial stability,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a senior Berri aide, said on Tuesday night in a TV interview.    “Lebanon and its banks are committed to all the legislation and there is no justification at all for escalating these sanctions.”
    Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad told Lebanese al-Jadeed TV the move was “an insult to the Lebanese people” and a blow to the country’s sovereignty.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean)
[Trump is telling you that if you harbor Iranian terrorist expect sanctions which is what Hezbollah is and is not getting free money from Iran now, and is why the Lebanon government is struggling financially now.].

7/10/2019 Turkey rejects Greek, EU claims that drilling off Cyprus illegitimate by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz sets sail in Izmit Bay, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea,
off the port of Dilovasi, Turkey, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Wednesday it rejected Greek and European Union assertions that Turkish drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus was illegitimate, and said they showed the EU could not be an impartial mediator on the Cyprus problem.
    The foreign ministry said Turkey’s Fatih ship had started drilling to the west of the Mediterranean island at the start of May and its Yavuz ship had recently arrived east of Cyprus and would also carry out drilling.
    Cyprus says Turkey’s actions are contrary to international law.    Turkey and the internationally recognized government of the divided island have overlapping claims in that part of the Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural gas.
    The Yavuz drillship dropped anchor on Monday to the south of Cyprus’ Karpasia peninsula, a jutting northeastern panhandle. It triggered a strong protest from Nicosia and a rebuke from the European Union.
    In June, EU leaders warned Turkey to end drilling in waters around the island or face action from the bloc.
    “We reject the statements by the Greek Foreign Ministry and EU officials which describe these activities of our country as illegitimate,” the Turkish foreign ministry statement said.
    Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Several peacemaking efforts have failed and the discovery of offshore resources has complicated the negotiations.
    “It has become clear that the European Union is incapable of taking on a role as an impartial mediator in negotiation processes regarding a resolution to the Cyprus problem,” the ministry said.
    Ankara, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus, says 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 which is recognized only by Turkey.
EU MEETING
    The foreign ministry said the Fatih ship was drilling in fields within the continental shelf that Turkey had declared to the United Nations, and for which Turkish state energy company Turkish Petroleum (TP) had issued licenses in 2009 and 2012.
    The Yavuz vessel was drilling on behalf of Cypriot Turks in a field for which TP had issued a license in 2011, it said.
    It said Greece deserved the title of “Europe’s spoiled child” and that EU member Cyprus had together with Athens for years violated international law and dragged the eastern Mediterranean toward instability.
    “Being a member of the European Union does not give them the right to usurp the legitimate rights and interests of Cypriot Turks,” the ministry said.
    EU diplomats are meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss any possible sanctions on Turkey over the drilling before EU foreign ministers meet on Monday.
    Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said any measures were not an end in themselves, but aimed at sending specific messages to Turkey.
    “On their own, these measures … cannot and will not stop the destabilizing behavior of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean or more generally,” he told Cyprus’s Sigma TV.
    “But it is important to send the message to Turkey that its actions are not going unobserved by the European Union,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Athens and Gabriela Baczysnka in Brussels, Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Potter)

7/10/2019 Turkey warns United States against harmful steps over Russian S-400s
FILE PHOTO: A Russian serviceman walks past S-400 missile air defence systems before a parade marking the anniversary of the
victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in central Moscow, Russia April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey called on the United States on Wednesday to avoid steps harmful to bilateral relations after the U.S. State Department spokeswoman reiterated Ankara would face “real and negative consequences” for acquiring Russian S-400 defense systems.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesman said the comments by the State Department’s Morgan Ortagus on Tuesday were not in line with the spirit and content of talks between presidents of the two countries at the G20 summit last month.
    “We invite the U.S. side to avoid taking wrong steps, excluding diplomacy and dialogue, that will harm relations,” spokesman Hami Aksoy said, adding Ankara had still not received a response to its proposal to set up a working group to look into the impact of the S-400 purchase.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting President Donald Trump in Osaka that the United States did not plan to impose sanctions on Ankara for buying the S-400s, which he said would arrive in the first half of July.    Trump said Turkey had not been treated fairly but did not rule out sanctions.
    The United States says the S-400s are not compatible with NATO’s defense network and could compromise its Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and planning to buy.
    Turkey could face expulsion from the F-35 program and other U.S. sanctions if it goes ahead with the S-400 delivery.    Washington has already halted training of Turkish pilots in the United States on the aircraft.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)
[Turkey choose your side, take a loss either way you decide.].

7/10/2019 Assad hits a wall in Syrian war as front lines harden by Tom Perry and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: Turkish soldiers stand on a watch tower at the Atmeh crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border,
as seen from the Syrian side, in Idlib governorate, Syria May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad’s assault in the northwest has been met with a painful rebel counterpunch that underlines Turkish resolve to keep the area out of his hands and shows why he will struggle to take back more of Syria by force.
    More than two months of Russian-backed operations in and around Idlib province have yielded little or nothing for Assad’s side. It marks a rare case of a military campaign that has not gone his way since Russia intervened in 2015.
    While resisting government attacks, the insurgents have managed to carve out small advances of their own, drawing on ample stocks of guided anti-tank missiles that opposition and diplomatic sources say have been supplied by Turkey.
    “They’re even targeting personnel with these missiles … it means they are comfortably supplied,” a rebel source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing rebel military capabilities.    Turkey’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on reports that Ankara has stepped supplies of arms to rebels.
    With Turkey committed to the rebels, the battle for the northwest stands in stark contrast to a campaign in the southwest a year ago, when Western and Arab states stood by as Assad and his Russian- and Iranian-backed allies took the area.
    Despite Russian backing in the latest fighting, questions have arisen over whether Assad and his allies are entirely on the same page when it comes to the northwest, where Turkey has deployed forces in agreement with Russia and Iran.
    Moscow has appeared keen to preserve its ties with Ankara even as its air force bombs in support of Assad: Turkey says Russia has intervened to stop attacks on Turkish forces from Syrian government-held territory. [nL8N2400PX]
    And this time there has been no sign of a major role for Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces that have helped Assad to victories in parts of Syria that are of greater interest to Iran, including territory near Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.
    The capture of the southwest a year ago remains Assad’s last big gain.    The prospects of further advances have been obstructed not only by Turkish interests in the northwest but also the presence of U.S. forces in the east and northeast.
    American troops are still supporting Kurdish-led fighters following a reversal of President Donald Trump’s decision last December to pull them all out.
    After more than eight years of war, this leaves Syria carved up into areas of U.S., Russian, Turkish and Iranian influence that seem unlikely to be stitched back together any time soon.
    “We could see the front lines harden and remain like that for some time, where either the appetite or capability to fight through them is not there on the part of the regime or its allies,” said a Western diplomat speaking anonymously in order to offer a candid assessment
BONE-BREAKING BATTLE
    The Idlib area is dominated by Tahrir al-Sham, the jihadists formerly known as the Nusra Front.    Proscribed as a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council, the group has set aside past conflict with Turkish-backed rebels to defend the northwest.
    Colonel Mustafa Bakour, a commander in the Jaish al-Izza rebel group, said coordination among rebels was a major factor in foiling government attacks.
    “I expect the battles to continue for a time because it has become a bone-breaking battle,” he said in written answers to questions from Reuters.
    The government campaign of air strikes and barrel bombing that began in late April was followed by the capture of around 20 villages.    This led to a rebel counter-attack in early June that seized ground the government has been unable to recover.
    The Syrian government has described its operations as a response to militant violations of ceasefire agreements.
    Russia says action was needed to stop attacks from being launched from Idlib, including drone strikes on its nearby air base.    President Vladimir Putin said in April a full-scale operation in Idlib was impractical for now.
    Though the government has not declared the goals of the campaign, rebel sources believe it was to capture two highways that pass through rebel-held territory.
    Some 300,000 people fleeing bombardment have moved toward the Turkish border since April, prompting the United Nations to warn that Idlib was on the brink of a “humanitarian nightmare.”
    For Ankara, the Syrian opposition’s last major state sponsor, preventing another major influx of Syrian refugees is of paramount importance: Turkey already hosts 3.6 million of them.
    While accusing the Syrian government of targeting civilians and its military observation posts in the Idlib area, Turkey has stopped short of blaming Russia, instead saying it would continue to cooperate with Moscow over the northwest.
    The Turkish foreign ministry, in a written response to questions from Reuters, also said “necessary messages have been sent to Russian officials to end the attacks on our observation points and civilians” in the Idlib area.
    Hundreds of civilians have been killed, as have many fighters on both sides, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
    Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman described the operation as “a failure on all levels” for Russia and Damascus.
    A Russian private military contractor who was based near Idlib province told Reuters that rebel fighters there are far more professional and motivated than their adversary. Pro-government forces cannot win the battle for Idlib unless Moscow helps them on the ground, he said.
    A second Western diplomat said the government had suffered heavy casualties for minimal gains, which was “deeply embarrassing.”    “Turkey is trying to tell them ‘you cannot take this militarily.    You have to negotiate’,” the diplomat said.
    A regional source close to Damascus described the escalation since April as a limited confrontation, saying Russia’s ties with Turkey were the main brake on any full-scale assault to take the entire northwest.
    “Of course the regime has the desire to recover Idlib by force, but … without the Russians it can’t, because there are many militants and the Russians are completely committed to the Turks,” the source said.    “It is expected that the situation in Idlib will stay as it is for a long time.”
(GRAPHIC: Syrian civil war in the northwest link: https://tmsnrt.rs/2G4KyOO).
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun, Zeynep Arica and Ece Toksabay in Turkey, Laila Bassam in Beirut and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Giles Elgood)

7/10/2019 Exclusive New: chemical weapons team to launch first Syria investigations by Anthony Deutsch
FILE PHOTO: A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the
sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abdullah
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – A new team established by the global chemical weapons watchdog to attribute blame for the use of banned munitions in Syria will investigate nine alleged attacks during the country’s civil war, including in the town of Douma, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.
    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created in 1997 as a technical body to enforce a global non-proliferation treaty. Until now it had been authorised only to say whether chemical attacks occurred, not who perpetrated them.
    Last June, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) was established by the OPCW’s member states during a special session, a move that has brought deeper political division to the U.N. -backed agency.    Now it has identified the locations of its first investigations to be conducted in the coming three years.
    A document circulated to OPCW member states, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said the team “has identified a non-exhaustive provisional list of incidents on which it intends to focus its investigative work” between 2014 and 2018.
    The British-led proposal creating the 10-member team was supported by the United States and European Union, but opposed by Russia, Iran, Syria and their allies.
    Syria has refused to issue visas to the team’s members or to provide it with documentation, OPCW chief Fernando Arias said in comments to member states published last month.
    There were reports of dozens of fatalities on April 7, 2018, after an attack on Douma, at the time held by rebels but besieged by pro-government forces.
    U.S. President Donald Trump blamed the attack on Syrian forces and launched missile strikes on Syrian government targets a week later with the backing of France and Britain.
    The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its military backer Russia deny using chemical weapons and accuse insurgents of staging the attack to implicate Syrian forces.
SARIN, CHLORINE
    A Russian representative to the OPCW in The Hague did not respond to requests seeking comment.
    Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, agreeing to open itself up to OPCW inspections and averting threatened military action by then U.S. President Barack Obama.
    As part of a deal brokered with Russia, Damascus promised to completely destroy its chemical weapons capabilities, but attacks with banned munitions have been widespread and systematic during the civil war, which began in 2011.
    A United Nations-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) carried out the task of assigning blame for chemical weapons attacks, but Russia vetoed a resolution to extend its mandate beyond November 2017.
    The JIM concluded in a series of reports that the Syrian military used both nerve agent sarin and chlorine as weapons, while Islamic State insurgents used sulphur mustard gas on the battlefield.
    The new team at the OPCW is focusing on sites of chemical attacks where culprits have not yet been identified by the JIM.
    In addition to Douma, the team will investigate: two attacks in Al-Tamanah, in the northwestern region of Idlib, in 2014; one in Kafr-Zita, northern Hama, also in 2014; one in Marea, northern Aleppo, in 2015; three attacks in Ltamenah, also in Hama, in 2017; and one in Saraqib, Idlib, in 2018.
    The OPCW concluded in a March 1 report that a chemical weapons attack occurred in Douma, most likely with chlorine. It did not assign blame.
    As of this year, Syria had not fully disclosed its chemical weapons programme or explained why inspectors have continued to find traces of prohibited nerve agents or their chemical precursors at multiple locations.
    Syria has acknowledged, after more than five years, that it carried out research and development activities on nerve agents it has never admitted having.
    “This adds to the growing evidence of deliberately false declarations by Syria, destruction of possible evidence, and the alarming likelihood that Syria continues to possess” banned chemical agents, Canada’s ambassador to the OPCW, Sabine Nolke, told delegates attending meetings at the OPCW in The Hague this week.
    “Continued possession of these chemicals by Syria lends additional credence to existing allegations of their use by the regime,” she said.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

7/10/2019 Lebanon PM: US sanctions won’t affect government by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri chairs a parliamentary session in
Beirut, Lebanon, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday that U.S. sanctions targeting Hezbollah MPs moved in a “new direction” from existing measures, but would not affect government work.
    The sanctions against two Hezbollah MPs and one of the Shi’ite Muslim movement’s top security officials widen a U.S. campaign that Washington says has designated 50 Hezbollah-linked individuals and entities since 2017.
    It marks the first time the United States has targeted lawmakers in the heavily armed, Iran-backed organisation which is listed as a terrorist group by Washington but is also part of Lebanon’s coalition government.
    The move weighed on Lebanese sovereign bonds on Wednesday.
    “No doubt, it has taken a new direction… but this will not affect the work we are doing in parliament or the ministers,” Hariri said in a statement.
    “It is a new matter that we will deal with as we see fit … The important thing is to preserve the banking sector and the Lebanese economy and, God willing, this crisis will pass sooner or later,” he said.
    The newly designated Hezbollah members are MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Raad and Wafiq Safa, whose role includes coordinating with Lebanon’s security agencies.
    Hezbollah’s political clout in Lebanon has widened since an election last year yielded a parliamentary majority for the group and its political allies.
    Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shi’ite Hezbollah ally, called it “an assault on parliament” and on all of Lebanon, while President Michel Aoun said the country ‘regrets’ the measures and will follow up with U.S. authorities.
MEDAL OF HONOUR
    Hezbollah has not issued a formal statement about the latest sanctions. Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar told Lebanese broadcaster LBC on Wednesday the sanctions were a “medal of honour.”
    “The American action is an attack on national sovereignty and it is a government duty to defend this sovereignty and protect it,” he said.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions were part of efforts to counter Hezbollah’s “corrupting influence” in Lebanon.    Washington has also reimposed sanctions on Iran since quitting from world powers’ nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018.
    Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a senior Berri aide, said late on Tuesday the sanctions against Hezbollah were “unwarranted and do not serve financial stability.”    “Lebanon and its banks are committed to all the legislation and there is no justification at all for escalating these sanctions,” he said.
    Lebanon’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds fell and the cost of insuring exposure to its debt rose on Wednesday after the sanctions move.
    Meanwhile, 5-year credit default swaps (CDS) jumped 17 basis points (bps) from Tuesday’s close to 925 bps, according to IHS Markit. CDS last traded at these levels in January, when fears of a potential debt restructuring rattled Lebanon investors.
    “It’s the sanctions, but the market has been a bit weaker this week.    As we go into the summer holidays, liquidity is also likely to worsen so outsized moves might also occur,” said Anthony Symond at Aberdeen Standard in London.
    Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.    The government aims to avert a financial crisis with long-delayed reforms to put state finances on a sustainable path.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Karin Strohecker in London, Editing by Tom Perry, William Maclean)

7/11/2019 Hezbollah: New sanctions widen U.S. assault on Lebanon
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters via
a screen in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Thursday that new U.S. sanctions against three of its officials, including two MPs, have widened Washington’s assault on Lebanon.
    The move marks the first time the United States has targeted lawmakers of the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which is part of Lebanon’s coalition government.
    “It has widened the assault on Lebanon and its people.    It is rejected and denounced,” Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said in TV comments.    “It will not change anything in our convictions.”
    The sanctions widen a U.S. campaign that has designated 50 Hezbollah-linked individuals and entities since 2017.    Washington classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
    The three new officials are MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Raad, as well as Wafiq Safa, whose role includes coordinating with Lebanon’s security agencies.
    Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday the sanctions moved in “a new direction” than existing measures but would not affect government work.
    The U.S. sanctions weighed on Lebanese sovereign bonds on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry, Editing by Tom Perry, William Maclean)

7/11/2019 Blast causes deaths in Syria’s rebel-held Afrin
People gather at the site of a car bomb blast in front of a church in Qamishli, Syria July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A car bomb killed 11 people and wounded many others on Thursday in Syria’s Afrin city, which Turkey-backed rebels captured from Kurdish fighters last year, medical sources and a monitor said.
    The blast struck an entrance to the city, killing civilians including children, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group said.
    The Observatory and the medical sources said many other people had been injured in the explosion, some very badly.
    Afrin lies north of Aleppo near the border with Turkey.    It was held by the Kurdish YPG militia until last year when rebels seized it and the countryside around it in a Turkey-backed offensive.
    Later in the afternoon, a car bomb exploded in front of a church in the northeast city of Qamishli, which the YPG controls, a witness and state news agency SANA said.
    While major fighting has died down, for now, in many parts of Syria, there is still much insecurity, with bombings and other attacks targeting civilians in areas controlled by all sides in the conflict.
    In June, a car bomb in Azaz, a town near Afrin also controlled by Turkey-backed rebels, killed at least 10 people when it struck in a busy marketplace on a Ramadan night.

7/10/2019 Trump, Netanyahu discuss Iran threat, sanctions in call: statements
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about his administration's environmental policy during a
speech in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Donald Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran on Wednesday, the White House said, the same day the U.S. president threatened to “substantially” increase sanctions on Tehran to curb its nuclear activities.
    Iran recently started enriching uranium beyond a limit established in a 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, a deal from which Trump withdrew. Trump has since intensified economic sanctions on Tehran, and tensions have escalated.
    “The two leaders discussed cooperation between the United States and Israel in advancing shared national security interests, including efforts to prevent Iran’s malign actions in the region,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said on Thursday.
    Netanyahu’s office said the leaders discussed Trump’s latest warning – issued by tweet on Wednesday – to further tighten sanctions.
    “The prime minister expressed his appreciation for the president’s intention of increasing the sanctions against Iran,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis)

7/11/2019 Israeli troops mistakenly kill Hamas man in Gaza: military by Nidal al-Mughrabi
ATTENTION EDITORS - SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB Palestinian Hamas militants carry the body of their
comrade Mahmoud Al-Adham, 28, during his funeral in the northern Gaza Strip July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers mistakenly shot an operative of Islamist group Hamas on Thursday who had been trying to stop Palestinians approaching the Israel-Gaza border, the Israeli military said.
    The health ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, identified the dead man as Mahmoud al-Adham, 28, and said he was shot near Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the territory.
    “An initial inquiry suggests that a Hamas restraint operative arrived in the area of the security fence because of two Palestinians who were wandering in the area,” the Israeli military said in a statement.
    “In retrospect, it appears that the IDF (Israel Defense Force) troops who arrived at the location misidentified the Hamas restraint operative to be an armed terrorist and fired as a result of this misunderstanding,” it said, promising a review.
    The last round of violence in the Gaza Strip and neighboring southern Israel was in May, with hundreds of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes over three days before a ceasefire was brokered.
    With an eye to avoiding broader confrontation, Hamas has occasionally deployed its men, mostly armed, at the border to keep Palestinians away from the fence, where often violent anti-Israeli demonstrations that began in March 2018 have drawn lethal fire.
    Palestinian officials said Egyptian mediators had arrived in the region for talks with officials on both sides that were planned before the border incident.    The mediators were expected to arrive in Gaza late on Thursday.
CRIMINAL ACT
    In a statement, Hamas’s armed wing said Israeli forces had deliberately targeted a fighter “on duty” near the border.
    “The occupation bears responsibility for the consequences of such a criminal act,” it said, referring to Israel.
After the fighting in May, a ceasefire was brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations.
    But tensions have remained high, with Hamas accusing Israel of failing to abide by the terms – never publicly confirmed by Israeli leaders – of a truce deal to ease a blockade of Gaza.
    Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza have continued to spark fires in southern Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is running in a September election – held out the prospect on Thursday of Israeli military action.
    “We are preparing for a campaign that will be broad and also surprising,” he said in Ashkelon, a southern Israeli city that has been a target of Hamas rocket attacks.
    On Sunday, an 89-year-old Israeli woman, hurt while running for shelter during the fighting in May, died of her injuries, Israeli health authorities said.
    Rockets and missiles fired from Gaza killed four other Israelis during those hostilities.    Gaza health officials put the number of Palestinian dead at 21, saying more than half of them were civilians.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Gareth Jones)

7/11/2019 Saudi Arabia moves to secure Yemen Red Sea ports after UAE drawdown by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Mohamed Ghobari
FILE PHOTO: A Yemeni soldier is pictured near a poster portraying Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
and Yemen's President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi outside a hospital renovated by Saudi Arabia in Aden,
Yemen December 13, 2018. Picture taken December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Nael Shyoukhi/File Photo
    DUBAI/ADEN (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s military in Yemen has moved in to secure two strategic Red Sea ports and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait after its leading ally the United Arab Emirates substantially reduced its presence there, four sources familiar with the matter said.
    The UAE has drawn down its numbers in some parts of Yemen, where it had set up large bases amid a four-year-old multi-layered war that is widely seen as a proxy battle between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Two Yemeni military commanders and two Yemeni government officials told Reuters that Saudi officers had taken command of military bases at the ports of al-Mokha and al-Khokha, which Emirati forces had used to back their campaign in nearby Hodeidah and to monitor the coastline.
    Riyadh has also sent an unspecified number of troops to the southern port city of Aden and Perim Island, a small volcanic rock in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb shipping lane where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden.
    The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition and the UAE government did not respond to requests for comment.
    A senior Emirati official has said the UAE is not leaving a vacuum in Yemen as it trained about 90,000 local fighters and remains committed to the coalition and the Yemeni government.    The UAE discussed extensively its troop redeployment with Riyadh, the official said.
    The change in command is not expected to significantly affect the course of the war, nor a U.N.-backed ceasefire in Hodeidah which was signed last year in Sweden between the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-aligned Houthis.
    Riyadh has remained supportive of U.N. peace efforts despite an uptick in Houthi missile and drone strikes on airports in southern Saudi Arabia over the last two months.
    But by expanding the Saudi presence on the ground, the move could intensify international criticism of the kingdom’s role in a war that has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and killed hundreds of civilians in errant air strikes on hospitals, schools and markets.
NARROW STRIP
    The change coincides with growing tensions between Washington and Tehran, with the United States seeking to form a military coalition to protect international shipping from Iranian attacks off the coast of Yemen and near the Strait of Hormuz on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula.
    On Thursday, three Iranian vessels tried to block a British tanker passing through Hormuz.
    Iran has threatened to close the strategic waterway in response to U.S. calls to reduce its oil exports to zero.
    Perim Island, in the middle of Bab al-Mandeb, was under the control of the UAE military since 2015, when the coalition intervened in Yemen’s war, until recent weeks as Saudi Arabia took over along with Yemeni coast guards, the sources said.
    The UAE, a member of the Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition battling the Houthis, and the Yemeni forces it supports had captured a series of western coastal towns to form a narrow strip of control.
    Tens of thousands of Yemeni and Sudanese troops are positioned in the area and on the southern outskirts of Hodeidah, where warring parties agreed on a ceasefire to pave the way for talks to end the war.
(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Stephen Kalin and William Maclean)

7/11/2019 Four killed as car bomb targets funeral in Libya’s Benghazi: sources
Damaged cars are seen at the site where a car bomb hit a funeral of a former senior military commander
at Huwari cemetery in Benghazi, Libya July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman al-Warfalli
    BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – At least four people were killed and 33 wounded when a car bomb hit a funeral of a former senior military commander in the east Libyan city of Benghazi, a spokesman for the eastern administration’s interior ministry said.
    The funeral at Benghazi’s Huwari cemetery was for Khalifa Mismari, the assistant commander of Libya’s special forces under former leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was toppled in 2011, a military source said.
    A Reuters witness saw two burned out cars at the scene of the blast.
    According to the military source, the current head of the special forces, Wanis Bukhamada, was attending the funeral but was unharmed.
    Since 2014, Libya has been divided between rival political and military factions based in Tripoli and the eastern part of the country.
    The special forces have become a key unit aligned with Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who controls eastern Libya.
    Since early April, Haftar has been waging an offensive to try to take the capital Tripoli, in the west of the country, though his campaign has stalled.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ahmed Elumami and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

7/12/2019 Russia delivers missile system to Turkey in challenge to NATO by Sarah Dadouch and Ezgi Erkoyun
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen sit in the cabins of S-400 missile air defense systems in Tverskaya Street
before a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany
in World War Two, in central Moscow, Russia April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia began delivery of an advanced missile defense system to Turkey on Friday, a move expected to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally and drive a wedge into the heart of the Western military alliance.
    The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to a military air base near the capital Ankara, the Turkish Defense Ministry said, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia which Washington had struggled for months to prevent.
    The United States says the Russian military hardware is not compatible with NATO systems and that the acquisition may lead to Ankara’s expulsion from an F-35 fighter jet program.
    Investors in Turkey have been unsettled by the deal.    The Turkish lira weakened to 5.717 against the dollar from 5.683 before the ministry announced the arrival of the S-400 consignment to the Murted Air Base, northwest of Ankara.
    “The delivery of parts belonging to the system will continue in the coming days,” Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate said.    “Once the system is completely ready, it will begin to be used in a way determined by the relevant authorities.”
    At least two Russian Air Force AN-124 cargo planes flew to Turkey on Friday morning, data from plane tracking website Flightradar24 showed.    Turkish broadcasters showed footage of one plane parked at airbase and a second one landing at around 12.30 pm (0930 GMT).
    Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation confirmed on Friday it had started delivering the S-400 systems and that the deliveries would continue in accordance with an agreed schedule, the RIA news agency reported.
ERDOGAN-TRUMP TALKS
    Turkey says the system is a strategic defense requirement, particularly to secure its southern borders with Syria and Iraq. It says that when it made the deal with Russia for the S-400s, the United States and Europe had not presented a viable alternative.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting President Donald Trump at a G20 summit last month that the United States did not plan to impose sanctions on Ankara for buying the S-400s.
    Trump said Turkey had not been treated fairly but did not rule out sanctions. U.S. officials said last week the administration still plans to impose sanctions on Turkey.
    Under legislation known as Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets purchases of military equipment from Russia, Trump should select five of 12 possible measures.
    These range from banning visas and denying access to the U.S.-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking transactions with the U.S. financial system and denying export licenses.
    Washington says the S-400s could compromise its Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and planning to buy.
    Turkey could also face expulsion from the F-35 program under the sanctions.    Erdogan has dismissed that possibility, but Washington has already started the process of removing Turkey from the program, halting training of Turkish pilots in the United States on the aircraft.
    Investors in Turkey have been concerned about the impact of potential U.S. sanctions on an economy which fell into recession after a currency crisis last year.
    The S-400 acquisition is one of several issues which have frayed ties between the two allies, including a dispute over strategy in Syria east of the Euphrates River, where the United States is allied with Kurdish forces that Turkey views as foes.
    The detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey has also strained relations, along with disagreements over Iran, Venezuela and Middle East policy.    Turkey has long demanded Washington hand over a Muslim cleric which Ankara holds responsible for an attempted coup in 2016.
    The Murted base was formerly known as Akinci Air Base and was used by putschist soldiers in the failed 2016 coup.
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Maxim Rodionov in Moscow; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

7/12/2019 Hezbollah reduced its forces in Syria: Nasrallah
A man smokes a hookah as he watches Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speak on television
inside a coffee shop in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah has cut down its forces in Syria as fighting died down though it still has fighters all over the country, its leader said on Friday.
    “There are no regions in Syria that we have fully emptied out, but there is no need for the numbers to stay the same,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.    “We have reduced the forces based on the needs of the current situation.”
    The heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi’ite movement has played a vital role in helping President Bashar al-Assad’s military reclaim much of Syria.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/12/2019 Hezbollah leader says U.S. seeking to talk
Men hold their phones as they watch Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speak on television
inside a coffee shop in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The leader of Hezbollah said on Friday that Washington was seeking to open channels of communication despite ramping up sanctions against the Iran-backed movement’s officials.
    U.S. President Donald “Trump’s administration is seeking to open channels of communication to Hezbollah in Lebanon through mediators. …     These are the American pragmatists,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV without elaborating.
    There was no immediate comment from the U.S. State Department on the assertion.
    New sanctions this week marked the first time the United States has targeted lawmakers of the heavily-armed Shi’ite Hezbollah, which is part of Lebanon’s coalition government.
    The U.S. Treasury added three Hezbollah figures to its sanctions list, including two Lebanese MPs and a security official.
    The move widens a U.S. campaign that since 2017 has designated 50 people and entities linked to Hebzollah, which Washington classifies as a “terrorist” organization.
    Nasrallah called the new sanctions “an honor” that came as “part of the ongoing battle” against Hezbollah and its allies.
    “What’s new is the affront to the Lebanese state,” Nasrallah said.
    “At the end of the day, Hezbollah is an important part of the country.    The Lebanese government will tell the Americans, as it has before, that these are a part we can not ignore.”
    A U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday that the message was that the rest of the Lebanese government “needs to sever its dealings” with these officials.
    Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday that the sanctions moved in a “new direction,” but would not affect government work.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, editing by G Crosse)

7/12/2019 Air strikes on Syrian rebel enclave intensify: monitor
White Helmets stand on partially destroyed building after air strikes hit residential buildings in northwest
Syria, in this picture grab taken from a video, July 12, 2019. White Helmets via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Air strikes targeted rebel-held cities in northwest Syria on Friday, a war monitor reported, widening bombardment of the last major insurgent enclave to areas that had mostly escaped it.
    The strikes killed three people in Idlib and three in Maarat al-Numan, two of the largest cities in the region, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
    Another nine people were killed elsewhere in the enclave, it said.
    President Bashar al-Assad’s government, backed by Russia, has waged a major assault against the northwestern enclave since the end of April in a battle the Observatory says has killed nearly 2,450 people.
    Syria’s eight-year war has killed half a million people, driven half the pre-war population of 22 million from their homes, inspired a wave of militant attacks around the globe, and dragged in regional and world powers.
    Aid agencies say the scale of bombardment in the north west risks further humanitarian disaster.    Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled toward the Turkish border.
    While both Idlib city and Maarat al-Numan were heavily targeted by airstrikes in earlier phases of the war, they have not been a major focus of bombardment in recent months, with the military more focused on hitting areas near the front lines.
    There was a surge of violence this week on the area of Tel Hamamiyat on the southwestern edge of the enclave, where pro-government al-Watan newspaper and rebel statements reported major fighting.
    A spokesman for the local government controlling most of the enclave, which is held predominantly by jihadist factions, said Friday prayers had been suspended in several cities due to the air strikes.
    More than two months of Assad’s Russian-backed assault in and around Idlib province have yielded little or no military gains, marking a rare case of a campaign that has not gone his way since Moscow joined his war effort in 2015.
    Turkey, which backs some rebel groups in northwest Syria and controls an adjacent zone along its own border, agreed a truce last year with Russia to reduce warfare around the enclave.
    Those areas, and the quarter of Syria east of the Euphrates river which is held by U.S.-backed Kurdish groups, are the only parts still out of Assad’s control.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall in Beirut and Sarah Dadouch in Istanbul; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/13/2019 Russia delivers more air defense equipment to Turkey
FILE PHOTO: First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are seen after unloaded from a Russian plane at Murted Airport,
known as Akinci Air Base, near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. Turkish Military/Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia flew a fresh shipment of advanced air defense equipment to Turkey on Saturday, the Turkish Defence Ministry said, continuing to implement a deal that is likely to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally.
    The ministry said a fourth Russian cargo plane landed at the Murted air base near the Turkish capital Ankara, a day after three huge Russian air force AN-124 planes offloaded equipment at the base.
    Washington has tried for months to prevent the deal, arguing that the Russian S-400 air defense system is incompatible with NATO systems.    It also says that if the S-400s are deployed near U.S. F-35 jets, which Turkey is buying and helping to produce, they would undermine the stealth fighter planes’ defenses.
    U.S. officials had warned that Turkey would be thrown off the F-35 program if it took delivery of the S-400s, and would also face sanctions under U.S. legislation seeking to prevent countries from buying military equipment from Russia.
    Turkey says S-400 is a strategic defense requirement, above all to secure its southern borders with Syria and Iraq.    It says that when it made the deal with Russia for the S-400s, the United States and Europe had not presented a viable alternative.
    The dispute between the countries with the two largest armies in NATO marks a deep division in the Western military alliance, which was forged after World War Two to counter Moscow’s military power.
    Reaction from Washington was limited on Friday, with acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying the U.S. stance had not changed. Esper later spoke with Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar.
    “Minister Akar told his U.S. counterpart that Turkey remains under a serious air and missile threat and that purchase of S-400 defense systems was not an option but rather a necessity,” a Turkish Defence Ministry statement said.
    Investors in Turkey have been unsettled by the deal and the prospect of sanctions, a year after a dispute with Washington over the trial of a U.S. pastor in Turkey contributed to a financial crisis which drove Turkey’s economy into recession.
    The Turkish lira weakened as much as 1.6% to 5.7780 against the dollar on Friday, before recovering somewhat.
    Russia’s TASS news agency quoted an unnamed military-diplomatic source on Friday as saying that a further delivery – of 120 guided missiles – would be carried out by ship at the end of the summer.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/13/2019 Thousands demonstrate in Sudan to mark 40 days since deadly crackdown by Nadine Awadalla, Eltayeb Siddig and Khalid Abdelaziz
Sudanese protesters march during a demonstration to commemorate the 40 days anniversary of the sit-in
massacre in Khartoum North, Sudan July 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Tens of thousands demonstrated in cities across Sudan on Saturday, witnesses said, to mark 40 days since security forces killed dozens when they stormed a protest camp in the capital Khartoum.
    The demonstrations were the first since the ruling military council and civilian opposition agreed in principle to a power-sharing arrangement ahead of elections.    The deal has yet to be finalised and signed.
    A meeting between the two sides planned for Saturday was postponed to Sunday, a leader of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition told Reuters.    But the military council denied the meeting was being delayed.
    “Saturday’s session will discuss the constitutional document as determined by the mediation,” state news agency SUNA said, citing the council.
    African Union mediator Mohamed Hassan Lebatt had said on Thursday the council and the FFC would meet on Saturday to study and ratify a constitutional declaration.    They had agreed to a political declaration that determines the transition’s different institutions, he said.
    After the meeting, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which leads the FFC, said: “The draft constitutional declaration is ‘not final’ and is not open to final signature in its current form.”
    The constitutional declaration’s signing was pushed to Sunday for further consultations based on FFC’s wishes, Lebatt said on Sky News Arabia earlier on Saturday.
    In Khartoum on Saturday, thousands protested on Sitteen Street, a major thoroughfare in the capital, a Reuters witness said.    Some lit candles to remember those killed at the protest camp on June 3, while others lit the torches on their mobile phones.
    “We came out to express our opinion and convey our voice and salute the memory of our eternal martyrs,” said protester Mostafa Sayed Ahmed.
    Six vehicles belonging to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), each carrying about six men armed with assault rifles and sticks, drove through a portion of Sitteen Street as protesters chanted “Civilian!” at them, a Reuters witness said.
    “The fate of the former regime, to us, until now, is vague and many things are unclear,” said Osama Iskandar, a young protester, referring to the government of Omar al-Bashir, who was overthrown by the military on April 11.
    “We will be on the Sudanese street level until our demands are fulfilled,” he said.
    A Reuters witness also saw more than 20 RSF vehicles carrying men in riot gear at Abu Janzir Square in the heart of Khartoum.
    “Look at these crushed people,” said Hussein Ismail, a middle-age demonstrator who was chanting “We either get their rights or die like them!
    “Their demands are clear, which are a civilian government, a democratic state, which is a people that calls for justice and peace and love.”
    Several hundred also demonstrated in Khartoum’s Burri neighborhood, a working-class district and the cradle of many of the protests.    RSF troops stood on roads surrounding Burri, armed with sticks.
    “Blood for blood, even if (we get) civilian rule!” protesters chanted.
    Security forces used barbed wire to block a main road leading to the Defence Ministry compound, the site of the protest camp crushed by security forces in June, a Reuters witness said.
    At least 128 people were killed during the raid and in the two weeks that followed, according to doctors linked to the opposition. The government confirmed at least 61 deaths.
    Across the Blue Nile, hundreds protested in the neighborhoods of Shambat and al-Mazad in Khartoum North.
    In Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, hundreds demonstrated on al-Arbaeen Street, a major artery.    Thousands also turned out in Wad Madani, capital of Jazeera state, while others protested in Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea state, and Al-Ubayyid, capital of North Kordofan.
    General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the Transitional Military Council and head of the RSF, which controls Khartoum and whose members are accused of violently dispersing the sit-in outside the Defence Ministry, defended the latter’s role in maintaining security.
    “Rapid Support are not angels, but we prosecute every offender,” Dagalo, known by his nickname Hemedti, said in a televised speech.    “Were it not for Rapid Support, Khartoum’s situation would have been different.”
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Eltayeb Siddig and Khalid Abdelaziz; Additional reporting by Alaa Swilam; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Ros Russell and David Holmes)

7/14/2019 New migrants brought to Libya center hit by deadly air strike by Aidan Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Migrants are seen with their belongings in the yard of a detention centre for mainly African migrants, hit by an
air strike, in the Tajoura suburb of Tripoli, Libya July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – More migrants have been moved to a detention center in Libya’s capital where an air strike killed more than 50 last week, despite a risk it could be hit again which led to survivors being evacuated, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday.
    Around 95 migrants were moved to the Tajoura center in Tripoli on Thursday, some rounded up in the local community and others transferred from another detention center in the city, the aid group said.
    Earlier in the week migrants left at the center after the July 3 bombing — some of whom were sleeping in the open for fear of another strike — were either released or evacuated, following appeals from the United Nations.
    An official at the Tajoura center who asked not to be named said that following the evacuations, “we have resumed work and started receiving more (migrants).”    He declined to give more details.
    The center was hit as forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar intensified their efforts to wrest control of Tripoli from forces aligned with the internationally recognized government, which is based in the capital.
    The fighting is the latest escalation in a conflict that developed after former leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.
    People smugglers exploited the turmoil to send hundreds of thousands of migrants on dangerous journeys across the central Mediterranean, though the number of crossings dropped sharply from 2017 amid an EU-backed push to block departures.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive on Tripoli in early April, which soon stalled.    The fighting has left more than 1,000 dead, including more than 100 civilians, according to the World Health Organization.
    Migrant detention centers are nominally under the government but often controlled by armed groups.    Aid workers and rights groups say abuse including beating and forced labor is rife, and have long appealed for their closure.
    But the centers have continued to operate, repeatedly caught in the crossfire of fighting whilst receiving new arrivals from boats intercepted by Libya’s EU-backed coastguard.    The Tajoura center, which is next to a miliary camp, was also hit by a projectile in May.
    The United Nations said last week it had information that guards had shot at migrants at Tajoura as they tried to flee the air strike.    The interior ministry in Tripoli denied the report.
    This week, 419 migrants, including around 90 who had just been intercepted at sea, left the Tajoura center for a facility run by the U.N. refugee agency.    It tries to evacuate refugees and asylum seekers from Libya, though the process is slow.
    Sam Turner, MSF’s Libya head of mission, said it was an “outstanding contradiction” for migrants to be released from the center in recognition that it was not safe, only for more to be brought in days later.
    “The Tajoura detention center does pose a very high risk of being targeted as part of the wider conflict, in addition to the risks that refugees and migrants are exposed to by the conflict in general and by the conditions of detention,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Writing by Aidan Lewis)

7/14/2019 Israeli court halts park entry ban deemed racist by Arab citizens by Rami Ayyub
Visitors walk past an Israeli flag at a park in the northern Israeli town of Afula, July 13, 2019. REUTERS/Rami Ayyub
    AFULA, Israel (Reuters) – A court on Sunday ordered a predominantly Jewish town in northern Israel to lift a ban on non-resident visitors to its parks, a prohibition that a rights group said was aimed at keeping Arabs out.
    The town of Afula denied the edict was racially motivated.
    In instructing the town to lift the order, Judge Danny Sarfati stopped short of accusing it of racism and cited a legal opinion by Israel’s attorney general, who said municipal parks were public property open to all.
    Afula imposed the prohibition a month ago, effectively cutting off access to the 10-hectare (25-acre) park by residents of nearby Arab villages who frequented the popular site.
    “This [ban] was really to exclude Palestinian citizens from entering the park,” said Fady Khoury, a lawyer with Adalah, an Arab rights group that raised the challenge in Nazareth district court.
    Lawyers for Afula, a city of 50,000 people, contended the restrictions stemmed solely from a desire to reduce overcrowding during the summer months and keep maintenance costs down.
    “We don’t argue with the law,” Avi Goldhammer, a lawyer for the city, said after the court ruling.    “If the law permits everyone to come inside this park, OK.”
    Israel’s Arab citizens make up 21% of the population and often identify as Palestinian.    They were angered last year by the passage of a “nation-state” law declaring that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supported the bill, said the legislation did not detract from the equal individual rights enjoyed by all of Israel’s citizens.
    On Saturday, guards inspected identification cards at several entrances to Afula Municipal Park, where families strolled past playgrounds and petting zoos and joggers ran along trails lined with Israeli flags.
    In the nearby Arab village of Sulem, Shua’a Zoabi said he often brought his children to the park in Afula.
    “There is no space for our kids to play in our village. Public investment here is terribly low,” Zoabi said.
    The ban, he said, was a “racist restriction” against Arabs, many of whom contend that their communities face discrimination in areas such as health, education and housing.
    Israel’s Arab minority are mainly the descendents of the Palestinians who remained in their communities or were internally displaced during the 1948 war that surrounded Israel’s creation.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)

7/15/2019 Erdogan says Trump can waive sanctions on Turkey for Russian defense purchase
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey,
July 10, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has the authority to waive sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of Russian air defense systems and should find a “middle ground.” in the dispute, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
    Erdogan’s comments came two days after NATO member Turkey took delivery of the first consignment of advanced Russian S-400 missile defense system parts, despite warnings from Washington that the move would trigger U.S. sanctions.
    Broadcaster Haberturk quoted Erdogan as telling Turkish journalists that Trump “has the authority to waive or postpone CAATSA,” referring to U.S. sanctions designed to prevent countries buying military equipment from Russia.
    “Since this is the case, it is Trump who needs to find the middle ground,” Erdogan said, according to Haberturk.
    Trump expressed sympathy for Turkey’s position when he met Erdogan at a G20 summit in Japan last month, saying Ankara had bought the S-400s from Moscow because the previous U.S. administration would not sell it the Patriot defense system made by Raytheon Co.
    “Right now, I don’t believe Trump is of the same opinion of those below him and he has said this in front of all the world’s media,” Erdogan said.    “By buying the S-400s, we are not getting ready for war.    We are trying to guarantee peace and our national security.”
    Despite Trump’s warm words, U.S officials said last week the administration still planned to act.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Washington Post in an interview published late on Sunday “the law requires that there be sanctions and I’m confident that we will comply with the law and President Trump will comply with the law.”
    U.S. officials have said Turkey could also be thrown off the F-35 stealth fighter jet program in addition to the threatened CAATSA sanctions, meaning it would no longer be part of the production process or be able to buy the jets it has ordered.
    The Pentagon says the S-400s would pose a threat to the jets if they were operating in the same region.    Erdogan said Turkey had orders for more than 100 F-35s made by Lockheed Martin and expected Washington to remain committed to the deal.
    Erdogan said Turkey still wanted to buy Patriot missile defense systems from Washington and the two countries should be aiming to increase trade and work on “comprehensive defense cooperation.”
    “Trump has always viewed this positively,” he said.    "… Now, at a time when we are discussing mutual trade volumes of $75 billion, $100 billion, will we be dealing with this gossip?    Why should we?    We are strategic partners, let’s do what strategic partnership entails.”
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Mike Stone; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Catherine Evans and Paul Tait)

7/15/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says Russian S-400s will be fully deployed by April 2020 by Sarah Dadouch
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a ceremony marking the third anniversary
of the attempted coup at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the Russian S-400 missile defence system, parts of which have been delivered to Turkey over the past four days, would be fully deployed in April 2020.
    Turkey’s purchase of the Russian system has raised tensions with its NATO allies, particularly the United States, which has warned Turkey that it will respond with sanctions.
    Speaking at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on the third anniversary of 2016’s attempted coup, Erdogan said eight planes had already brought parts of the Russian system and more were coming, as he had repeatedly promised.
    “With God’s permission, they will have been installed in their sites by April 2020,” he told the crowd.
    “The S-400s are the strongest defence system against those who want to attack our country.    God willing, we are doing this as a joint investment with Russia, and will continue to do so.”
    U.S. officials have said that in addition to being hit with legislation aimed at preventing countries from purchasing military equipment from Russia, known as CAATSA, Turkey could be thrown off the F-35 stealth fighter jet program.
    That would mean it would no longer make F-35 parts or be able to buy the jets it has ordered.
    On Sunday, Erdogan said that U.S. President Donald Trump has the authority to waive sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of Russian air defence systems and should find a “middle ground” in the dispute.
    Tensions between Turkey and Western allies have risen in recent months over the purchase of the S-400 system, with a series of other actions taken by the NATO member state compounding the situation.
    German and Austrian ministers said on Monday that the European Union would endorse a symbolic punishment for Turkey over what it calls “illegal” drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus and threaten harsher sanctions unless Ankara changes tack.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said on Sunday that Turkey will continue drilling for gas in waters off Cyprus if the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government does not accept a cooperation proposal put forward by Turkish Cypriots.
    After sacking the central bank governor this month, citing differences over the timing of rate cuts, Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey would make serious cuts to interest rates and aims to reduce inflation to single digits by the end of the year.
    In his first remarks since taking office nine days ago, new governor Murat Uysal was reported as hinting at rate cuts, saying there was “room for manoeuvre” in monetary policy.
    Turkey’s benchmark interest rate was hiked to 24% last September to stem a sharp fall in the lira and has remained there to prevent renewed losses in the currency as the economy tumbled into recession.
    Ratings agency Fitch downgraded Turkey’s sovereign rating to BB- on Friday, saying the central bank chief’s dismissal heightened doubt over the authorities’ tolerance for a period of slower growth.
    On Monday, agency S&P Global said Turkey’s credit rating is only likely to be affected by U.S. sanctions if they specifically target the country’s banks.
(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/15/2019 Saudi vice minister of defense says met with U.N. envoy to Yemen
Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman attends the annual Moscow Conference
on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow, Russia April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi vice minister of defense Khalid bin Salman stressed Saudi support for a political solution in Yemen in a meeting with U.N. special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths on Monday.
    The vice minister said in a tweet that he met with the special envoy to “emphasize our commitment to the wellbeing of the Yemeni people, and the need to end Iran’s interference in Yemen.    I also stressed our support for a political solution, and the need for the Houthis to implement their signed agreements, including Stockholm.”
    Yemen’s warring parties agreed on Monday on new measures to enforce a ceasefire and facilitate a troop pullback from the flashpoint port of Hodeidah, the United Nations said.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

7/15/2019 Saudi Arabia to support indebted Lebanon, say ex-PMs after meeting king
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's former Prime Minister and a candidate for the parliamentary election Najib Mikati,
casts his vote at a polling station in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is preparing to support Lebanon through its economic challenges, three Lebanese ex-premiers indicated after meeting Saudi King Salman in Jeddah on Monday.
    After years of backsliding, heavily indebted Lebanon faces financial crisis without economic reforms to put public finances on a sustainable footing, its leaders say.    Parliament is due to vote this week on a state budget that aims to slash the deficit.
    The International Monetary Fund has called for “significant fiscal adjustment and structural reforms” and said deposit inflows into the country’s banking sector had virtually stopped.
    Saudi Arabia was a historic backer of the Lebanese state and mainly Sunni allies in Beirut.    But ties have been strained in recent years as heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah, backed by Riyadh’s regional enemy Tehran and part of Lebanon’s current coalition government, has grown in influence.
    In a shift away from its attempts to pressure Lebanon over Hezbollah’s role, Saudi Arabia stopped warning its citizens against flying to Beirut this year.
    Former Lebanese premier Fouad Siniora said Monday’s talks centered on resuming Saudi backing and were important in terms of economic support.
    A second ex-PM, Najib Mikati, said Riyadh would “extend a hand of support” and two countries were preparing to sign 20 deals.    The third, Tammam Salam, said Riyadh showed “a desire to support Lebanon in this phase” through agreements which the two sides would soon ratify.
    Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari said the talks pointed to “a promising future” with stronger ties between the two sides.
    In January, the Saudi finance minister said the kingdom would support Lebanon “all the way” to protect its stability.    The same day, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Qatar said it would buy $500 million in U.S. dollar bonds issued by Beirut to support the Lebanese economy.
    A Qatari government source said last month that Qatar had bought some Lebanese government bonds as part of the planned $500 million investment.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry in Beirut, Lisa Barrington and Maha el Dahan in Dubai; Editing by Peter Graff and John Stonestreet)

7/16/2019 France, Britain, Egypt, UAE, U.S., Italy call for immediate end of Libya violence
FILE PHOTO: A migrant picks up clothes from among rubble at a detention centre for mainly African migrants that was hit by an
air strike in the Tajoura suburb of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France, Britain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, United States and Italy on Tuesday called for an immediate end of hostilities around Tripoli and warned of attempts by “terrorist groups” to take advantage of the political void in Libya.
    The six countries reiterated in a rare joint statement their deep concern over the ongoing hostilities in Tripoli and called for an immediate de-escalation, end of the current fighting, and urged a rapid return to the political process under the auspices of the United Nations.
. (Reporting by John Irish; editing by Sarah White)

7/17/2019 Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition sign political accord
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese people chant slogans and wave their national flag as they celebrate, after Sudan's ruling
military council and a coalition of opposition and protest groups reached an agreement to share power during a transition period
leading to elections, along the streets of Khartoum, Sudan, July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.
    The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.
    Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.
    The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.
    At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition.    The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.
    A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.
    General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).
    Ibrahim al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.
    “We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.
    Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a U.S. list of states that support terrorism.
    The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.
POWER-SHARING DEAL
    Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.
    They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.
    The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.
    The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.
    The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.
    But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.
    The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.
(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Angus MacSwan)

7/17/2019 Turkish diplomat, one other shot dead in Kurdish capital
A restaurant where Turkish diplomats were killed is seen in Erbil, Iraq July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) – At least two people including a Turkish diplomat were shot dead on Wednesday in a rare attack in the capital of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, local security officials and Turkey’s foreign ministry said.
    A gunman opened fire at a restaurant in Erbil where Turkish diplomats were dining before fleeing in a car driven by an accomplice, two Kurdish security officials and a witness said.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility as security forces began a search for the attackers.
    Turkey, Iraq’s central government in Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in Erbil condemned the attack, which took place weeks after Turkey launched a new military offensive against Kurdish separatist militants based in northern Iraq.
    Ankara’s main enemy in Iraq is the PKK group, which has based fighters in the mountainous border region, north of Erbil, during its decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.
    Turkey and the ruling Kurdish party in Erbil, the KDP, have blamed the PKK for other Turkey-related incidents in northern Iraq including the storming of a Turkish military camp earlier this year.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry said one of those killed on Wednesday was a diplomat working at its consulate to semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.
    A statement from the Kurdish internal security service said two people were killed – the diplomat and another civilian – and one other person was wounded.
    The Kurdish officials and Iraqi state television earlier said three people were killed and that they were all Turkish diplomats and included the deputy consul.
    One witness told Reuters that an attacker entered the restaurant and started shooting before he fled in a car that was waiting for him outside.
TURKEY FIGHTS KURDISH MILITANTS
    It was a rare major security incident in Erbil, where a new president and prime minister, part of a clan that has controlled the KDP for decades, recently took office.    The KDP has said it will continue to cooperate closely with Ankara against the PKK.
    “Nobody invited them (the PKK) here,” Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said in an interview with Reuters this month.
    “We disapprove of their activities and … of their presence here.    We understand the concerns of the neighboring countries about security issues,” he said, adding that Erbil would look to strengthen relations with Turkey.
    Ankara’s forces have regularly carried out air raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq and in May dropped commandos on mountain ridges in a new operation against the militants.
    Turkey has called for Baghdad to take a more active role in helping it eliminate the PKK, and has waged offensives in recent years against PKK allies in northern Syria.
(Reporting by Ali Sultan, Raya Jalabi in Baghdad, Ali Kucukgocmen and Sarah Dadouch in Istanbul; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed, John Davison; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

7/17/2019 Syrian air strike on village market kill at least 12: rescuers
A motorbike burns after an airstrike in this screen grab taken from a social media video said to be taken in Idlib, Syria on July 16, 2019.
Picture taken July 16, 2019. White Helmets/social media via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    AMMAN (Reuters) – At least 12 people were killed and scores wounded on Tuesday in aerial strikes believed to have been carried out by the Syrian air force on a popular market in a village in opposition-held northwestern Syria, rescuers and residents said.
    Residents and rescuers said bombs dropped on Maar Shoreen village in southern Idlib province by planes which monitors said were Syrian army jets left a trail of death and destruction and wounded scores in a main street of the village’s market.
    Videos released on social media by activists purportedly showed footage of charred bodies lying on the streets alongside badly burnt people being carried by rescuers.    Reuters was unable immediately to independently verify the footage.
    Hundreds of civilians have been killed since a Russian-led assault on the last rebel bastion in northwestern Syria began nearly two months ago, rights groups and rescuers said.
    The Russian defense ministry denies it targets civilians and Syrian state media said the army on Tuesday launched strikes on al Qaeda militants in the vicinity of Maar Shoreen, destroying their bases and killing scores of “terrorists.”
    The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which monitors casualties and briefs various United Nations agencies, said in its latest report that the Russian-Syrian alliance had targeted 31 civil defense facilities, 37 medical centers and 81 schools in 11 weeks of relentless bombing.
    It said 606 civilians were killed, including 157 children.
    “O God, people have become charred. It’s doomsday,” said Abdullah al Idlibi, a rescuer from the civil defense team.
    Russian jets joined the Syrian army on April 26 in attacking parts of rebel-held Idlib province and adjoining northern Hama province in the biggest escalation in the war between Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his enemies since last summer.
    Residents and rescuers say the campaign has left dozens of villages and towns in ruins.    According to the United Nations, at least 330,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for the safety of areas closer to the border with Turkey.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean)

7/18/2019 Protesters take to streets to declare new Ethiopian region by Kumerra Gemechu
Donkeys walk past a billboard that reads “Welcome to Sidama National Regional State
on the outskirt of Hawassa, Ethiopia July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    HAWASSA, Ethiopia (Reuters) – Protesters in the Ethiopian city of Hawassa blocked roads and burned tires on Thursday after security forces thwarted a meeting of activists to declare a new region for their Sidama ethnic group, witnesses said.
    The declaration would be a test of whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government can stick to its commitment to peaceful political reforms amid increasing demands from competing ethno-nationalist groups.
    Hawassa is the capital of the multi-ethnic Southern Nations region but some Sidama – who make up the largest group there – want it as the capital of their own new entity.
    Almost all shops were closed and few cars were on the streets in Hawassa on Thursday as protesters wearing traditional red, white and yellow striped Sidama scarves and hats marched to the venue of a planned meeting of Sidama elders and youth.
    But activists told Reuters that security forces prevented them from accessing the meeting venue, and that mobile data had been blocked in an apparent move to impair their means of communication.
    There were no immediate reports of violence.    Ethiopian authorities had no immediate comment on the situation in Hawassa, 275 km (170 miles) from the national capital Addis Ababa.
    On Tuesday, the National Election Board tried to defuse the situation at the last minute by promising the Sidama they could hold a referendum on having their own region within five months.
    But some activists said they had already requested a referendum a year ago with no response.    The constitution guarantees the right to a referendum within a year, but does not say what should happen if it is not held.
    The federal system in Africa’s second most populous country is designed to allow larger ethnic groups a degree of autonomy.
    But smaller communities like the Sidama, who comprise about 5% of Ethiopia’s 105 million people, say they have been sidelined.    In addition to the Sidama, at least eight more ethnic groups are campaigning for their own regions.
    The Horn of Africa country has seen an explosion of violence since Abiy began his reforms, which have included ending bans on political parties, releasing political prisoners and welcoming home rebel groups.
(Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/18/2019 Syrian rebels say Moscow deploys ground forces in Idlib campaign by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A Syrian soldier takes selfies pictures as Russian military vehicle is seen in convoy during
re-opening the road between Homs and Hama in Rastan,Syria June 6, 2018. REUTERS/ Omar Sanadiki
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Russia has sent special forces in recent days to fight alongside Syrian army troops struggling to make gains in a more than two month assault in northwestern Syria to seize the last opposition bastion, senior rebel commanders said.
    They said although Russian officers and troops had been behind front lines directing the operations, using snipers and firing anti-tank missiles, this was the first time Moscow had sent ground troops on the battlefield in the campaign that began at the end of April.
    “These special Russian forces are now present in the battlefield.    The Russians are intervening directly now,” said Captain Naji Mustafa, spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) coalition of rebel factions.
    Russian ground forces entered the battle with government forces to seize the strategic Humaymat hilltops in northern Hama that fell into rebel hands last week, regaining it after previous successive attempts by the army failed.
    “When (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad’s forces failed to advance, Russia then intervened directly … after bombing the area with more than 200 sorties,” Mustafa said.
    Russian defense ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
    More than two months of Russian-backed operations in and around Idlib province have yielded little or nothing for Russia and its ally President Bashar al Assad.
    It is a rare case of a military campaign that has not gone in Russia’s favor since it intervened in 2015.
    “Russia did not only fail but has been exposed to defeat,” Mustafa said.
    The head of a major rebel group said Moscow’s deployment of undisclosed numbers of ground forces came only after elite Syrian troops known as the Tiger Forces and allied militias were unable to make “any significant territorial gains.”
    “The Syrian army found itself in a crisis and were forced to ask for Russian troops on the battlefield,” said Jamil al-Saleh, the head of Jaish al Izza rebel group.
    Al Saleh echoed views of the opposition that the Russians and their allies who had won every major battle with the opposition since Moscow intervened in Syria had miscalculated the strength and motivation of the rebels.
    “In light of the size of artillery and aerial bombing, the Russians and the regime had expected to seize large areas,” Al Saleh said.
    Rebels contacted by Reuters said supplies of weapons including guided anti-tank missiles by Turkey had not only made it a costly battle for the Russians and their allies but repelled ground assaults.
    The Russian-led assault has not only left dozens of villages and towns in ruins but according to the U.N. has forced over 300,000 civilians to flee to the safety of areas closer to the Turkish border.
    Another rebel official said Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces that had so far refrained from joining the Russian-led assault were now entering the battlefield.
    “The Iranians have brought reinforcements and are now fighting on several fronts,” said Mohammad Rashid, a spokesperson for Jaish al-Nasr, a Turkey-backed rebel group fighting the Syrian army.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow, editing by Chris Reese)

7/18/2019 Netanyahu to become longest-serving Israeli prime minister by OAN Newsroom
    Benjamin Netanyahu is set to make history by becoming Israel’s longest serving prime minister.    The Israeli leader will surpass the record held by the country’s founding father David Ben-Gurion this Saturday.
    The 69-year-old has established strong ties with the U.S. and President Trump.    The pair shared common goals such as the recognition of     Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, and the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.
FILE – In this April 7, 2019 file photo, a man walks by an election campaign billboard showing Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
the Likud party leader, in Tel Aviv, Israel. As Netanyahu becomes Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, he is solidifying his place as the
country’s greatest political survivor and the most dominant force in Israeli politics in his generation. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)
    Netanyahu has held his position since 1996, and thanked voters for their continued support on election night:
    “I am very moved that the people of Israel put their trust in me again, for the fifth time, a greater trust even.”
    However, Netanyahu is still facing some challenges.    He failed to form a parliamentary majority following his election in April, so the country is holding a do-over vote in September.    Netanyahu also faces a possible indictment on corruption charges.

7/18/2019 UN: 90K refugees in dire conditions in Syrian camp, more resources needed by OAN Newsroom
    The United Nations is sounding the alarm over a dire humanitarian situation in Syrian refugee camps.    In a statement Wednesday, the intergovernmental organization said up to 70,000 displaced persons still remain in the al-Hol camp in Northern Syria.
    Up to 90-percent of the camp’s population are women and children, who fled from areas controlled by the Islamic State or affected by fighting. 20,000 of these children come from Syria, and another 10,000 are from Iraq.
Women and children related to fighters of the Islamic State group are gathered at an
overcrowded al-Hol camp in Hasakeh province, Syria. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)
    According to the UN, some of the displaced persons still sympathize with ISIS, while others continue to incite violence among the refugee population.
    “There are a number of elements around that and also not everybody is the same in the camp, I mean there is a scale of grades between more extremism and less extremism there, so education is absolutely fundamental,” stated Fran Rquiza, Syria representative for UNICEF.    “So, we really call for the countries to repatriate their children and help them to grow in a completely different environment.”
    UN officials urged efforts to improve basic health care, food, and sanitation at the camp as well as a quicker de-radicalization of its residents.

7/18/2019 U.N. calls out Saudi Arabia, UAE for not paying Yemen aid pledges by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U. N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA)
Mark Lowcock attends a news conference for the launch of the "Global Humanitarian Overview 2019"
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Decemer 4, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock called out Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday for only paying a “modest proportion” of the hundreds of millions of dollars they pledged five months ago to a humanitarian appeal for Yemen.
    Both countries each promised $750 million at a U.N. fundraising event in February that was seeking $4 billion, but Saudi Arabia has so far only paid $121.7 million and the United Arab Emirates about $195 million, according to U.N. figures.
    Saudi Arabia leads a Western-backed military coalition which intervened in Yemen in 2015 in a bid to restore the government ousted from power by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.    The United Arab Emirates is a key member of the coalition.
    “Those who made the largest pledges – Yemen’s neighbors in the coalition – have so far paid only a modest proportion of what they promised,” Lowcock told the U.N. Security Council, adding that as a result the U.N. appeal was only 34 percent funded compared with 60 percent at this time last year.
    The Saudi and UAE missions to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    The United Nations describes the situation in Yemen – where the four-year war has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine – as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
    The United States has paid more than $288.7 million to the U.N. Yemen appeal, making it the largest donor for 2019. Washington sells billions of dollars worth of weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
    “We join the call today for all donors to step up assistance in Yemen, and to fulfill their financial commitments,” senior U.S. diplomat Rodney Hunter told the Security Council.
    The World Food Program (WFP) said on June 20 it had started a partial suspension of aid in Yemen, citing failure to reach a deal with the Houthis on controls to prevent the diversion of food away from vulnerable people.    The decision affects 850,000 people in the capital Sanaa.
    “We have been negotiating all night long and as of this moment we have an agreement in principle, but it’s not in a signed agreement as of yet,” David Beasley, executive director of the WFG, told the Security Council.
    He said once an agreement was signed, WFP could have food on the streets in Sanaa within days.
    U.N.-led mediation efforts in Yemen have been focused on implementing a deal agreed by the parties in Sweden in December on a ceasefire and troop pullback in Yemen’s Hodeidah region.
    “My hope is that progress in Hodeidah will finally allow us to focus on the political process, and I hope that we will see this before the end of this summer,” U.N. Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

7/18/2019 Turkish defense firms set to lose billions after F-35 removal by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base
outside the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish defense companies helping to build F-35 stealth fighter jets are set to lose work worth billions of dollars after Washington said it was removing Turkey from the program over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system.
    Eight Turkish firms have been involved in producing the advanced fighter jets, supplying hundreds of items including parts for cockpit display systems and landing gear, on contracts the Pentagon said would have been worth $9 billion over the course of the program.
    The head of Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate acknowledged on Thursday that the U.S. decision to move the work elsewhere – and the potential for additional U.S. sanctions – would be a setback for those companies.
    Ismail Demir said the losses would be only temporary, arguing that the companies could emerge stronger in the long run.    But analysts said the move was a major blow to firms which had worked on the jet production for a decade, and would also limit Turkey’s access to new defense technology.
    “I don’t know how companies will try to compensate for this, as they have been part of an established production chain since 2007,” Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and a former Turkish diplomat, told Reuters.
    Turkish companies involved in the program are Roketsan, Havelsan, Alp Aviation, Ayesas, Kale Aerospace, Tubitak-SAGE, the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), and the Turkish leg of the Dutch Fokker Elmo, according to the F-35 official website.     None of the companies were immediately available to comment.
    Demir said they would evaluate how to compensate for their losses.    Kale Group said in April that if Turkey were to be excluded from the F-35 project, any lost sales would be offset by turning to civil aviation.
    But Ulgen said that finding swift alternatives to such highly specialized work was not easy.
    “What can a factory that produces a part for the body of the F-35 do? What can it change into, where can it go? … This isn’t the automotive sector, where you make a part for a BMW and then sell it to Ford when there is a change,” Ulgen said.
    Unal Cevikoz, Deputy Chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, put the value of contracts that would be canceled at $12 billion and said many jobs were at stake.
    “These firms have almost 30,000 employees.    What are these people going to do?” he said in a statement.
RUSSIA COULD STEP IN
    Announcing Turkey’s suspension from the program on Wednesday, the Pentagon said that Turkish companies produced more than 900 parts for the F-35.
    The supply chain would be transferred to mainly U.S. factories in a move that would cost the United States between $500 million and $600 million, it said.
    Washington had warned for months that it would act if Turkey took delivery of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, arguing that the S-400’s radar and tracking software would undermine the F-35’s stealth capabilities if the two were deployed together.
    Turkey dismissed those concerns, saying that the two countries should set up a working group to assess any threat posed by the S-400s.
    On Friday it took delivery of the first S-400 parts, finally sealing the deal with Moscow and marking a breach with Washington and other NATO allies.
    As well as losing its role in F-35 production, Turkey’s planned purchase of more than 100 jets is being canceled and it also faces sanctions under a 2017 law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
    That could further damage the Turkish defense industry, deal another blow to an economy in recession and accelerate Turkey’s drift away from its Western allies.
    Russian news agencies on Thursday cited Sergei Chemezov, the head of Russian state corporation Rostec, as saying Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara wants them.
    “The F-35 move isn’t a determining decision on its own, but it is an important indication on the direction of the relations in the current context.    Turkish-American ties are more damaged than we have seen in our recent history,” Ulgen said.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

7/19/2019 Three dead as unrest rumbles in Ethiopia’s southern Hawassa city by Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians walk on an empty street during a clash between the Sidama youth and a securities after
they declared their own region in Hawassa, Ethiopia July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – At least three people have died in Ethiopia’s southern city of Hawassa, hospital authorities said on Friday, amid a showdown between state security forces and some local activists who want to declare a new region for their Sidama ethnic group.
    The threat of large-scale violence in Hawassa city center on Thursday was largely averted after a Sidama opposition party agreed to delay declaring their own region and accept a government offer to hold a referendum in five months.
    The threat to unilaterally declare a new region was a direct challenge to the authority of the Ethiopian federal government, which oversees nine regions in the nation of 105 million people.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, appointed by the ruling coalition last year, has been widely praised for political reforms in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.
    But many Ethiopian activists are now using their greater freedoms to demand more rights, sometimes for their own ethnic groups. At least eight other ethnic groups beside the Sidama also want their own regions.    The tensions sometimes spark violence.
    In Hawassa, not all Sidama people accepted the decision to delay the declaration.    Some activists were still on the streets on Friday and most shops were still closed.
    Local police told Fana Broadcasting that relative peace prevailed in Hawassa and nearby areas and they are working to restore peace in areas affected by the violence.
    “Efforts are underway to put under control the violence which started in Hawassa and later spread to the neighboring Sidama woredas (district),” regional state Police Commissioner Tewodros Woldemichael told Fana.
    Police arrested individuals who took part in the violence that resulted in loss of life and properties, according to Fana.
    Hawassa Referral Hospital has received 12 injured civilians in the last two days, three of whom died, said general manager Zinaw Serniso.     Some had fractured bones after being hit with batons and others had been shot, he said.
    One man shot in the head died on Thursday, and two more shot in the leg and abdomen died on their way to the hospital on Friday, he said.
    “The decision by top Sidama administrators to accept a belated referendum meant the zone didn’t self-declare and so a major confrontation was avoided yesterday,” said William Davison, an analyst from Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
    “But that decision was not accepted by all of the youthful activists, who complained they were not consulted and were further angered when security forces prevented public meetings being held to discuss the situation.”
    Organized groups in towns outside Hawassa are ransacking houses, business and also robbing people, said Million Tumato, president of the opposition Sidama Liberation Movement.
    He confirmed three civilians had been killed in Hawassa and said 15 others had been killed in outlying areas.
    Reuters could not immediately confirm the deaths or the circumstances surrounding them.
    “At this moment, we cannot calm our people,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kumerra Gemechu in Hawassa, Writing by Katharine Houreld, Editing by William Maclean)

7/19/2019 Algerian protesters return to streets for demand reforms by Hamid Ould Ahmed
Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest demanding the removal of the ruling elite
in Algiers, Algeria July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Algerians returned to the streets in the capital Algiers and other cities on Friday to demand radical political reforms and the departure of the ruling elite.
    Protesters are now seeking more freedoms and the removal of the remaining symbols of the old guard, after they forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to end a 20-year-rule on April 2.
    Chanting "A new democratic republic and a state of law,” protesters held up banners reading: “They all go,” “Our demands are legitimate” and “It is time to listen to the voice of the street.”
    The Algerian army, the main player in the North African country’s politics after the resignation of Bouteflika, has been seeking to hold presidential election as the only way out of the crisis.
    But authorities had postponed a presidential vote previously planned for July 4, citing a lack of candidates.    No new date has been set for the vote.
    The military has tried to appease protests by helping the judiciary to meet demands for the prosecution of people suspected of corruption.
    Several former senior officials, including ex-prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal have been placed in custody over charges including “dissipation of public funds.”
    But protests continue to demand the removal of officials the demonstrators see as part of an elite that has governed the nation of 44 million people since independence from France in 1962.
    Anti-government protests now seek the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, a former head of the upper house of parliament, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.
    “There is no solution but to bring new people to rule our wealthy country,” said 37-year-old school teacher Ahmed Chami, marching in Algiers.    “Our pressure will continue.”
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/19/2019 Lebanese veterans tussle with security forces in budget protest
Veterans tussle with the Lebanese army and police during a protest over cuts to their
pension service at downtown Beirut, Lebanon July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Maria Semerdjian
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Dozens of Lebanese veterans tussled with security forces in Beirut on Friday as they tried to reach parliament in a protest against any cuts to their benefits in the state budget.
    The protesters, some waving Lebanese army flags and wearing camouflage trousers, breached coils of barbed wire as they sought to approach the parliament building where MPs were voting on the budget.
    Lebanon, one of the world’s most heavily indebted states, is seeking to slash the deficit with the aim of steering the public finances towards a sustainable path.
    The draft budget submitted by the government to the parliament included a cut in veterans’ benefits and a freeze on early retirement from the military.
    Parliament has however been reviewing the budget and the final articles concerning army retirees are not yet clear.
(this story corrects the day in lead).
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/19/2019 Lebanon’s parliament passes 2019 state budget: PM on TV
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference
in Beirut, Lebanon, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament passed a “reforming” 2019 state budget on Friday, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said, without giving details on its deficit target as his coalition government seeks to bring the public debt under control.
    The budget is seen as a critical test of Lebanon’s ability to address years of economic mismanagement and corruption that have led it to build up one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP.
    “This is a reforming budget and it was difficult,” Hariri said after three days of parliamentary debate on the budget, adding that passing it was an achievement.
    Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said passage of the budget was a message to the international community, including credit rating agencies.
    However, details of the final budget, including the deficit target, were not released.    Hariri said details would be issued on Saturday or Monday.
    The budget plan the government originally proposed to parliament envisaged cutting the deficit to 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 11.5% in 2018, but parliament’s budget committee said last week it aimed to cut it to 6.6%.
    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called into question even the government’s 7.6% target, estimating that its initial budget plan would in fact have produced a deficit of about 9.75% of GDP.
    Budget proposals have included both cuts in spending and increases in revenue, particularly from higher tax on interest.    The measures have sparked opposition among some groups.
    Army veterans tussled with security forces in the streets around the parliament on Friday as they attempted to barge through a cordon to protest against any cuts to their benefits in the budget.
    In a sign of the political difficulties in cutting spending, Defence Minister Elias Bou Saab said proposed cuts in benefits and pensions for military personnel would be reduced.
    The government’s biggest expenses are debt financing, public sector pay and subsidies to the country’s electricity provider.    It passed a plan this year to resolve its expensive electricity crisis.
    Finance Minister Khalil has also said the government plans to shave some $660 million from debt servicing costs through issuing low interest treasury bills.
    The IMF has said that buying such low-interest debt would worsen the central bank’s balance sheet and undermine its credibility.    It added that there should be no pressure on private banks to buy the debt instead.
    Khalil said on Thursday that Lebanon needed a plan to manage its public debt to “liberate the public budget from the burden of a deadly accumulation of debt and debt service.”
    Leading Lebanese politicians have said the coalition government must soon start talks on its 2020 budget plan, which the IMF said should also include further cuts to the deficit.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall and Laila Bassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/19/2019 U.S. authorizes deployment of troops, resources to Saudi Arabia
U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) attend the
Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The acting U.S. defense secretary has authorized the deployment of U.S. military personnel and resources to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said on Friday, adding the move would provide “an additional deterrent” in the face of “emergent, credible threats.”
    Riyadh had previously said it had approved hosting U.S. forces to boost regional security and stability.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Makini Brice, editing by G Crosse)

7/19/2019 Lockheed awarded $1.48 billion Saudi missile defense contract: Pentagon
The logo of Lockheed Martin is seen at Euronaval, the world naval defence exhibition in
Le Bourget near Paris, France, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.48 billion contract to build the THAAD missile defense system for Saudi Arabia, bringing the total value of the deal to $5.36 billion, the Pentagon said on Friday.
    The new contract was a modification to a previously awarded agreement to produce the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor for Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said.
    In November 2018, Saudi and U.S. officials signed letters of offer and acceptance formalizing terms for Saudi Arabia’s purchase of 44 THAAD launchers, missiles and related equipment.
    In April Lockheed was awarded a $2.4 billion contract for THAAD interceptor missiles, some of which are slated to be delivered to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
    The latest contract is for interceptor support items.
    Lockheed Martin, the biggest U.S. arms maker, builds and integrates the THAAD system, which is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Raytheon, another U.S. firm, builds its advanced radar.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Tom Brown)

7/19/2019 Saudi king approves hosting U.S. troops to enhance security in the region: SPA
FILE PHOTO - Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends 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
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman approved hosting U.S. forces in the Kingdom to boost regional security and stability, the state news agency (SPA) reported on Friday.
    The decision aims “to increase joint cooperation in defense of regional security and stability and to preserve its peace” SPA said, quoting a ministry of defense official.
. (Reporting by Alaa Swilam and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Chris Reese)

7/20/2019 Saudi king approves hosting U.S. troops to enhance regional security: SPA
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz is seen during the 14th Islamic summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
in Mecca, Saudi Arabia June 1, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman approved hosting U.S. forces in the country to boost regional security and stability, the state news agency (SPA) reported on Friday.
    The U.S. Defense Department confirmed the move in a statement, saying it would deploy troops and resources to Saudi Arabia to “provide an additional deterrent” in the face of “emergent, credible threats.”
    The gesture comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran in the Gulf that have impacted global oil markets. [O/R]
    On Friday, Iran said it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, but denied Washington’s assertion that the U.S. Navy had downed an Iranian drone nearby earlier this week.
    The decision on hosting U.S. forces aims “to increase joint cooperation in defence of regional security and stability and to preserve its peace” SPA said, quoting a Ministry of Defence official, without giving further details.
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deployment would include about 500 U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia, and is part of a boost in the number of U.S. troops in the Middle East that the Pentagon announced last month.
    In June, the Pentagon said it would deploy 1,000 troops to the Middle East but did not say where they were going.
    Relations between Washington and Tehran worsened last year when President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.
    Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing nuclear weapons, in return for lifting sanctions.    But sanctions have since been reimposed, badly hurting Iran’s economy.
    Trump has said he considers Saudi Arabia an important partner in the Middle East and counterweight to the influence of Iran.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam and Marwa Rashad; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chris Reese, G Crosse and Leslie Adler)

7/20/2019 Pompeo expresses disappointment over Turkey’s acquisition of Russian missiles
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the hemispheric anti-terrorism summit
in Buenos Aires, Argentina July 19, 2019. Natacha Pisarenko/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Turkey’s Foreign Minister on Saturday and expressed disappointment over the country’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
    Washington had opposed Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missile defense system and threatened to impose sanctions.    Since then, President Donald Trump has been unclear over whether his administration was planning such an action.
    Several Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers on Thursday pressed Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey over the purchase.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

7/21/2019 White House’s Kushner to finalize Palestinian economic plan on Middle East tour – official
FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks about immigration during a cabinet meeting
at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner will lead a U.S. delegation on a tour of the Middle East to finalize details of his proposed $50 billion economic development plan for the Palestinians, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, an administration official said on Sunday.
    Kushner, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, State Department official Brian Hook and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz are expected to make make stops in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the official said.
    They leave late this month and return to Washington in early August.
    The official said the purpose of the trip is to “continue on the momentum that was created at the workshop in Bahrain and finalize the economic portion of the plan.”
    They will also discuss the possibility of locating the development fund in Bahrain, the official said.
    Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and the plan’s main architect, sought to build support for his ambitious economic proposals for the Palestinian territories at an international meeting in Bahrain in June.
    Palestinians poured scorn on the Trump administration’s $50 billion investment plan to help achieve Middle East peace, but U.S. Gulf Arab allies said the economic initiative had promise if a political settlement is reached.
    Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week discussed creation of the fund with World Bank President David Malpass, the official said.    The World Bank has a role in managing the fund.
    The delegation was not expected to discuss Trump’s long-awaited political plan for the Middle East, and when it will be released remains unclear.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Shumaker)

7/22/2019 Turkey will retaliate if U.S. imposes sanctions over S-400s: minister
FILE PHOTO: First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane at Murted Airport,
known as Akinci Air Base, near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. Turkish Military/Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey would retaliate against what it called an unacceptable threat of U.S. sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defenses, its foreign minister said on Monday, adding he thinks President Donald Trump wants to avoid such measures.
    Turkey began receiving deliveries of the surface-to-air S-400 systems earlier this month, prompting the United States to begin removing the NATO ally from its F-35 stealth fighter program over security concerns.
    “If the United States portrays an adversarial attitude towards us, we will take retaliatory measures, as we’ve told them. This is not a threat or a bluff,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber.
    “We are not a country that will bow down to those who show a animosity towards Turkey,” he said, reiterating a threat of retaliation that Turkey made last month.
    Cavusoglu added that he did not expect the U.S. administration to take such action.
    Trump does not want to impose sanctions on Turkey and he frequently says that his administration and the previous U.S. administration is also responsible for Turkey not being able to buy Patriot systems.    This is true,” Cavusoglu said.
    Last week, The United States announced that it was beginning the process of removing Turkey from the program for the F-35 stealth jets, the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, which is used by NATO and other partner countries.
    Turkey, like other partners in the F-35 program, was part of the manufacturing supply chain for the high-tech jet aircraft, producing some 900 parts.    A U.S. official said it would cost some $500 million to $600 million to shift F-35 manufacturing from Turkey.
    Separately, the TASS news agency cited Sergei Chemezov, head of Russia’s Rostec state conglomerate, as saying that Russia and Turkey were in talks about the possibility of jointly manufacturing some components of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system in Turkey.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)
[As you can read that Obama, Biden, and Kerry policies have led to the situation ocurring now, just like the illegal actions to help Hillary to try to steal an election, and both have failed.].

7/22/2019 Israel demolishes Palestinian homes near West Bank barrier by Ali Sawafta
An Israeli military bulldozer demolishes a building near a military barrier in Sur Baher, a Palestinian village on the edge
of East Jerusalem in an area that Israel captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East War July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    SUR BAHER, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli forces began demolishing Palestinian homes near a military barrier on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Monday, in the face of protests and international criticism.
    Bulldozers accompanied by hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers moved into Sur Baher, a Palestinian village on the edge of East Jerusalem in an area that Israel captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.
    Palestinians fear the razing of buildings near the fence will set a precedent for other towns along the route of the barrier, which runs for hundreds of kilometers around and through the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    The demolition is the latest round of protracted wrangling over the future of Jerusalem, home to more than 500,000 Israelis and 300,000 Palestinians, and sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
    Israeli forces cut through a wire section of the barrier in Sur Baher under cover of darkness early on Monday, and began clearing residents.
    Bulldozers and mechanical diggers began tearing down homes on both sides of the barrier as security forces prepared a partly constructed nine-storey building for demolition.
    “They have been evacuating people from their homes by force and they have started planting explosives in the homes they want to destroy,” said Hamada Hamada, a community leader.
    Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in June that the structures violated a construction ban.    The deadline for residents to remove the affected buildings, or parts of them, was Friday.
    But Palestinian owners said their buildings lay within areas run by the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    “I built this house stone by stone.    It was my dream to live in this house.    Now I am losing everything,” said Fadi al-Wahash, 37, his voice breaking as a bulldozer destroyed his unfinished three-floor house.
    “I had a permit to build from the Palestinian Authority.    I thought I was doing the right thing,” he said.
    Israeli Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said 700 police and 200 soldiers were involved.
    “Despite an order from the military commander, the residents there are making their own law, building.    There are hundreds of illegal structures,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
    “To my regret there is no sufficient governance there.    But it is not just that there are hundreds of structures there — several dozens of them sit almost on the route of the separation fence, endangering the security forces that operate there.”
    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Palestinians would complain to the International Criminal Court about the demolitions in Sur Baher.
    “The cabinet condemns this grave aggression.    This is a continuation of the forced displacement of the people of Jerusalem from their homes and lands — a war crime and a crime against humanity,” Shtayyeh said.
DEMOLITION PREPARATIONS
    Sur Baher’s political geography is complicated. Parts of the sprawling village lie inside the municipal boundary of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and parts outside the barrier, in the West Bank.    But some lies in between: just outside the Jerusalem line but still on the Israeli side of the barrier.
    Palestinian officials said some of the threatened structures lie within their areas of control.
    The Palestine Liberation Organization issued a statement in the build-up to the demolition accusing the Israeli court of aiming “to set a precedent to enable the Israeli occupying forces to demolish numerous Palestinian buildings located in close proximity” to the barrier.
    Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, and other U.N. officials called on the Israeli authorities last week to halt the demolition plans.    They said 17 Palestinians faced displacement from the plans to level 10 buildings, including dozens of apartments.
    The European Union issued a statement saying: “The continuation of this policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace.”
    But the Israeli Supreme Court’s three-judge panel ruled unanimously in favor of demolition.    “The petitioners took the law into their own hands when they began and continued building structures without receiving a special permit from the military commander,” it said.
    The court said construction close to the barrier could provide cover for attackers.
    Israel credits the obstacle — projected to be 720 km (450 miles) long when complete — with stemming Palestinian suicide bombings and shooting attacks.    Palestinians call it a land grab designed to annex parts of the West Bank, including Israeli settlements.
    The International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an advisory opinion in 2004 that building the barrier on occupied territory was “contrary to international law.”
    Israel dismissed the non-binding decision as politically motivated and says the barrier played a key role in drastically reducing the number of attacks.
(Writing by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/22/2019 At least seven killed in bomb attack in Somalia’s Mogadishu
Workers are seen on a construction site as smoke billows from the scene of an
explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – At least seven people were killed and 27 others wounded when a bomb went off outside a hotel near the international airport in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Monday, medical officials said.
    The Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia’s weak U.N.-backed government, claimed responsibility for the attack.
    The city’s Madina hospital received seven bodies and 27 people with injuries, 17 of them serious, said Nura Hassan, a nurse at the hospital.
    The blast went off at the first checkpoint on the road that leads to Mogadishu airport, said Farah Hussein, a shopkeeper who witnessed the attack.
    Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator, then turned on each other.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/22/2019 Turkey will launch operation in Syria if safe zone not established: minister
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in
Riga, Latvia May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that if a planned safe zone in northern Syria is not established, and if threats continue against Turkey, Ankara will launch a military operation east of the Euphrates river.
    Turkey has been 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.
    In an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber, Cavusoglu also said he hopes an agreement will be reached after talks on Monday with U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, who is visiting Turkey.
    Ankara wants YPG fighters to withdraw from the border area, while Washington wants guarantees that its Kurdish-led allies in the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Syria will not be harmed.
    Cavusoglu said on Monday that talks with the United States on the safe zone have slowed, adding that Turkey had told Washington that it should not use the fighting in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province as a pretext for disregarding the proposed safe zone further east.
    He repeated Turkey’s frustration that a deal with the United States for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the town of Manbij had still not been implemented, more than a year after it was agreed, and warned that Turkey will act unilaterally if talks on the safe zone stall.
    If the safe zone is not established and threats towards our country continue, we will launch the operation in the east of the Euphrates,” he said.
    “The Americans sent Jeffrey and said there were new proposals in the talks that will start today.    We hope an agreement can be reached on this. Concrete steps are needed on this now.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans)

7/22/2019 Nigerian police, Shi’ite group clash in capital, at least three dead by Abraham Achirga
A police officer walks past a photographer after the Shi'ite group set an ambulance and a fire engine
on fire at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerian police and Shi’ite Muslim protesters clashed in the capital Abuja on Monday, with at least one demonstrator, one journalist and a senior policeman killed, highlighting one of the security challenges faced by the country with Africa’s biggest economy.
    A youth leader who was among the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) protesters said he saw six dead bodies, while a Reuters correspondent in Abuja spotted one corpse, vehicles ablaze and bloodstains along a main street following bursts of gunfire.
    Police said a senior officer was killed and three other policemen were injured during the protest, and police had arrested 54 suspects who would be brought to court.
    A reporter died after being shot during the rally, international organization the Committee to Protect Journalists Africa tweeted.    The local television station, Channels TV, confirmed the tweet.
    A spokesman for Islamic Movement in Nigeria said 11 people were killed and at least 30 others injured.    He said the police attacked a peaceful march in the capital Abuja, where they were marching to demand for their leader Ibrahim Zakzaky to be freed.
    Ibrahim Musa, president of the Media forum of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, said in a statement that trouble started when the police prevented the group who are on a peaceful protest from accessing their way in Abuja.
    The clashes in Abuja’s business district, which lasted for about an hour, underscored the security problems in Africa’s top oil producer and most populous nation – a country that is central to regional stability.
    In recent days, bandits in the northwest killed at least 37 people, Islamist insurgents are suspected to have kidnapped aid workers in the northeast and pirates abducted Turkish sailors in the Gulf of Guinea.
    IMN members regularly take to the streets of Abuja to call for the release of Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015.    They say Zakzaky requires medical help. Live ammunition and teargas have reportedly been used by security forces in recent weeks.
    IMN youth leader Abdullahi Muhammed said he saw more than 20 casualties in Abuja on Monday, including people who had been shot in their legs and stomach.    “I have seen six corpses,” he said, adding that police had taken away many of the bodies.
    He said the protest began as a peaceful march but police “started shooting with live ammunition at us.”
    Nigerian broadcasting company Channels TV said in a tweet that one of its reporters was shot in the stomach.
    The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said IMN protesters set two of its vehicles on fire.
    In a statement, Amnesty International called on the Nigerian authorities to investigate the incident and bring to justice those responsible.
‘SECURITY FOR EVERY CITIZEN’
    The inspector general of police said he had briefed President Muhammadu Buhari on the situation.
    “The president asked us to make sure we provide security for every citizen of this country and not to leave any space that some group of people will create breakdown of law and order,” he told reporters in Abuja.
    Clashes between police and Zakzaky’s backers have raised fears that IMN might turn to violent insurgency as did Sunni Islamist group Boko Haram after police killed their leader in 2009.
    Zakzaky has been held in detention since December 2015, when the army killed roughly 350 of his followers at his compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in northern Kaduna state.
    Zakzaky faces trial on charges of murder, culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, disruption of public peace and other offences following the 2015 violence. He has pleaded not guilty.
    Buhari, a former military ruler, began a second four-year term in May after winning re-election in February following a campaign in which he vowed to improve security nationwide.    He has repeated that pledge in the last few days.
    The presidency, in a statement on Friday, urged IMN members to cease their protests on the grounds that the matter was being dealt with in the legal system and not the government.
(Reporting by Abraham Achirga, Afolabi Sotunde, Paul Carsten, Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram, Angela Ukomadu, Libby George and Garba Muhammad in Lagos; editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean and Lisa Shumaker)

7/23/2019 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says ‘it’s important to keep up pressure’ on Iran by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stressed the importance of maintaining pressure on Iran amid rising tensions with the Middle Eastern country.
    During a joint press conference with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry Tuesday, Netanyahu said U.S. sanctions against Iran have begun working and it’s important they continue to work.    He also said Iran cannot be allowed to disrupt the flow of oil in international waters.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)
    The prime minister stressed the importance of keeping up pressure to address Iranian aggression:
    “If I had to say what are the three things that we have to do in the face of Iranian aggression, it is pressure, pressure and more pressure to force Iran to abandon its nuclear and regional ambitions.”
    Netanyahu also said it’s very important for the nations of the world to profess their desire stop Iranian hostility.    His remarks come amid escalated tensions with Iran after it captured British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz last week.

7/23/2019 Trump hopes to decide soon on when to release Mideast peace plan: envoy by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO - Jason Greenblatt (C), U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, arrives to visit
Kibbutz Nahal Oz, just outside the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump hopes to decide soon on when to release a plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians that “will not be ambiguous,” his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday.
    Greenblatt and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner have spent two years developing the plan, made up of political as well as economic components, which they hope will provide a framework for renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
    “President Trump has not yet decided when we will release the political portion of the plan, and we hope to make that decision soon,” Greenblatt told the 15-member Security Council.
    While Greenblatt did not reveal any details of the “60-or-so”-page plan, he said the conflict could not be solved using global consensus, international law and references to U.N. resolutions – sparking strong rebuttals from council members.
    “For us, international law is not menu a la carte,” Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen told the council.
    “There are other instances where U.S. representatives here insist on international law, insist on the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, for instance on North Korea,” Heusgen said.
    Several council members, including Russia, Britain, France and Indonesia, echoed Heusgen.
    “Security Council resolutions are international law, they merely need to be complied with,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.
    France would support any peace effort “so long as this aligns with the approach that we have set out together, so long as this adheres to international law, specifically all resolutions of the Security Council,” French U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said.
    The U.S.’ Middle East proposal has two major components – a political piece that addresses core issues such as the status of Jerusalem, and an economic portion that aims to strengthen the Palestinian economy.
    Kushner and Greenblatt have not said, however, whether it calls for a two-state solution, a goal of past peace efforts.
    “A comprehensive and lasting peace will not be created by fiat of international law or by these heavily wordsmithed, unclear resolutions,” Greenblatt said.    “The vision for peace that we plan to present will not be ambiguous, unlike many resolutions that have passed in this chamber.”
    He said it would provide enough detail for people to see “what compromises will be necessary to achieve a realistic, lasting, comprehensive solution to this conflict.”
    Greenblatt called on the Palestinians “to put aside blanket rejections of a plan they have not even seen” and show a willingness to engage in talks with Israel.    He also urged the Security Council to encourage the parties back to the negotiating table.
    Nebenzia suggested a visit by the Security Council to the region was overdue and could be helpful.    The United States has long objected to a council visit, which has to be agreed by consensus, diplomats said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Paul Simao and G Crosse)

7/23/2019 On hard road to reform, Lebanon may need old friends by Tom Perry and Tom Arnold
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri chairs a parliamentary session in downtown Beirut, Lebanon
July 16, 2019. Picture taken July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT/LONDON (Reuters) – Heavily indebted Lebanon has passed a budget seen as a “first step” towards fixing its public finances but still has much to do to steer the country away from crisis.
    Investors are waiting to see if Gulf Arabs will offer a lifeline that may provide some breathing space.
    Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens, after years of big budget deficits rooted in waste, corruption, and sectarian politics.
    The government is now trying to put the public finances on a more sustainable footing with a budget to cut the deficit and a plan to fix the state-run power sector, which bleeds funds while inflicting daily power cuts on Lebanese.
    After years of backsliding, the impetus to reform has grown due to economic stagnation and a virtual halt in the flow of dollars into Lebanon’s banks from abroad.    Lebanon has depended on such flows from its diaspora to finance the current account and the state budget deficits.
    The government hopes the state budget approved by parliament last week will help confidence by slashing the deficit.    An international support group for Lebanon, including donor states, welcomed it as “an urgently needed first step” and urged further reforms.
    But many doubt the government can meet its goals.    The IMF says this year’s deficit is likely to be well above a targeted 7.6% of national output – and donors are still waiting to see important parts of the power plan implemented.
    Foreign reserves, while still large relative to the size of the economy, have been falling.    This has led banks to launch a new bid to attract dollars by offering 14% a year to depositors willing to lock up large sums for three years – funds which the banks redeposit at the central bank for yet higher returns.
    Lebanon’s risks are reflected in the cost of insuring its debt, which surged back to the highest of any government in the world after briefly easing in the wake of parliament approving the budget on Friday, signaling an elevated risk of default.
    “We believe investor malaise towards Lebanon is unlikely to dissipate soon,” said Yacov Arnopolin, senior portfolio manager at Pimco, one of the world’s biggest asset managers.
    “While the significantly delayed budget passage is a step in the right direction, much remains to be done before the country is on a sustainable trajectory,” he said.    “Foreign investors have been spooked by deposit flight.”
    Bank deposits, which have grown consistently on annual basis since the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, have dipped by about 1.7% in the first five months of 2019.
    Such outflows are typically seen at times of major shocks, such as the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, economists say.
SMALL STEPS FOR A BIG CRISIS
The budget included some politically tricky measures, such as a three-year freeze on state hiring.    More difficult ideas were torpedoed, such as a public sector pay cut, and critics say the government also avoided the main problem: corruption.
    The major deficit reduction measures include hiking tax on the interest paid on bank deposits and government bonds, a new import duty, and a plan to cut debt servicing, though it is not yet clear how that will be achieved.
    “It is small steps for a big crisis.    We have a very difficult situation that needs drastic steps, drastic measures, and none of them are being taken,” said Sami Gemayel, head of the Christian Kataeb Party, one of the few parties not represented in Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s unity government.
    Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani told Reuters the budget was a good step but fell short of what is needed.
    “I expect the sense of urgency to rise over the next few months and trigger a series of major reform activities,” he said.    The impact of these would be seen in the 2020 budget.
    Hariri hopes reforms will unlock about $11 billion pledged at a Paris conference last year to finance investment.
    “We think this budget is a decent start.    The deficit will show a contraction,” a Western diplomat said, adding: “They need to crack on with implementation of reforms but also with the 2020 budget.”
    A recent IMF mission said this was “an important moment for Lebanon” and the budget and power sector reform plan were “very welcome first steps on a long road.”
    It also noted that deposit inflows had virtually stopped and the central bank’s foreign reserves had dropped by around $6 billion since early 2018 despite continued central bank operations to support them.
DEEP-POCKETED SPONSORS
    Investors now hope that Gulf Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, may offer financial backing after a delegation of former Lebanese prime ministers met King Salman.
    One of them, Najib Mikati, said Riyadh would “extend a hand of support.”    The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon said the visit heralded a promising future for ties which have been strained with the growing power of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah.
    Saudi Arabia has yet to spell out what it might do.
    Its rival, Qatar, has also signaled readiness to help, saying last month it had bought Lebanese bonds as part of a planned $500 million investment to support Lebanon.
    Farouk Soussa, senior Middle East and North Africa economist with Goldman Sachs, said Lebanon’s deteriorating foreign exchange liquidity was “the real near-term pinch.”
    “The real challenge is to stimulate capital inflows, either from depositors or investors,” he said.    Gulf support would “underpin investor confidence by sending a strong signal that Lebanon can rely on deep-pocketed sponsors,” he added.
    Goldman Sachs remains bearish on Lebanon, said Sara Grut, emerging markets strategist with the bank.
RED FLAGS
    Alongside the fiscal crunch, the role of the central bank is also in focus.
    The IMF mission said the central bank had skilfully maintained financial stability in difficult circumstances for some years, but the challenges have grown.
    It called for action to increase the resilience of the financial sector through a stronger central bank balance sheet and increased bank capital buffers.    The central bank should gradually phase out its financial operations and step back from government bond purchases, it said.
    Toufic Gaspard, an economist who has worked as an adviser to the IMF and to the Lebanese finance minister, said Lebanon was in “absolutely” its worst ever financial shape.
.     He says debate about fiscal problems has diverted attention from central bank “financial engineering” operations, which he called “the most important risk.”
    “The central bank has been buying dollars because of falling reserves.    However this is not the problem per se, the problem is that for many years it has been paying very generous interest rates to banks,” he said.    “These are red flags.”
    Gaspard wrote a paper in 2017 saying the policy was resulting in “mounting losses” for the central bank, which has not published a profit and loss account since 2002.
    The central bank said at the time that its interest rate policies were in line with Lebanon’s risk profile.    It said it is required annually to report its balance sheet and profit and loss accounts to the finance minister, and the central bank “continues to generate sustained and substantial profits.”
(Writing by Tom Perry; Edting by Giles Elgood)

7/24/2019 Turkey has ‘no patience left’ with U.S. on Syria safe zone by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that new U.S. proposals for a safe zone in northern Syria fall short and Turkey was running out of patience as Washington appears to be stalling in efforts to seal an agreement.
    U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey held talks in Ankara this week on the zone and other issues, including progress on a roadmap agreed last year for the northern town of Manbij to be cleared of the Kurdish YPG militia.
    The militia has been the main U.S. ally on the ground in Syria during Washington’s fight against Islamic State.
    However, Turkey has been infuriated by U.S. support for the YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization, and has repeatedly demanded that Washington cut its ties.
    Following the U.S. decision to withdraw from northern Syria, the NATO allies agreed to create the safe zone, which Turkey says should be controlled by its forces and also cleared of the YPG.
    But at a news conference in Ankara on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said that the two countries had failed to agree on how deep the safe zone would be, who would control it and whether the YPG would be completely removed from the area.
    “We got the impression that they want to enter a stalling process here as in Manbij,” Cavusoglu said.    “We need to reach an agreement regarding the safe zone as soon as possible because we have no patience left.”
    Cavusoglu also said that U.S. military officials meeting with a YPG leader on Monday – the same day as Jeffrey’s talks at the Foreign Ministry – indicated Washington was not sincere.
    The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said in a statement later on Wednesday that the two sides were committed to accelerated and concrete progress on the Manbij roadmap, adding that Jeffrey had “forthright, positive, and productive” talks during his visit.
    “There was an overall discussion on Syria and specifically for the northeast, both sides committed to accelerated and concrete progress on the Manbij roadmap, and discussed detailed proposals to enhance Turkey’s security along the Turkish border in northeast Syria,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
POSSIBLE INCURSION
    Earlier this year, President Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish military would launch a military offensive into northern Syria to clear the region of YPG militants, in a move that would have marked Turkey’s third cross-border operation in as many years.
    However, the operation was later put on hold after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. soldiers from the region.    Turkey has since said that Washington has stalled progress on the Manbij roadmap and warned that it would mount its offensive if necessary.
    On Monday, Cavusoglu said that if the safe zone in northern Syria was not established, and threats against Turkey continued, Ankara would launch its military operation east of the Euphrates river.
    His comments came after Turkey’s army made reinforcements to its troops along the border with Syria in recent weeks, with the defense minister and other generals visiting military posts in the area for inspections.
    On Wednesday, Cavusoglu repeated that there was no progress on the Manbij roadmap and reiterated that Turkey had “run out of patience” and would launch its cross-border operation unless an agreement on the safe zone could be reached.
    “We had a military operation (on the agenda) before, but we halted it over Trump’s request,” Cavusoglu said, adding that an agreement on the safe zone needed to be reached.    “Otherwise, we will do what is necessary ourselves and we are determined.”
    Ankara is also working with Russia and Iran, allies of the Syrian government, to establish a constitutional committee – a long-awaited step in stalled effort to resolve the country’s civil war.
    Asked about the details of a recent phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Cavusoglu said the establishment of the constitutional committee could be announced in the coming days.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans, Peter Graff and Alison Williams)

7/24/2019 U.S. sees European maritime security effort in Gulf as ‘complementary’ by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford arrives to testify before
a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on the proposed FY2020 budget for the Defense Department
on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
    KABUL (Reuters) – The United States believes a proposed European initiative to bolster maritime security in the Gulf would complement ongoing U.S. efforts there instead of being a “stand-alone” operation, the top U.S. general said on Wednesday.
    Washington in June first proposed some sort of multinational effort open to all allies and partners to bolster maritime security in the Gulf after accusing Iran of attacking oil tankers around the Strait of Hormuz, a critical maritime chokepoint between Iran and Oman.
    Britain called this week for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the strait after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker, raising questions about whether the U.S. initiative would move ahead separately.
    Asked about the British proposal, U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his discussions “right now wouldn’t indicate that that’s a stand-alone effort that’s separate from ours.”
    “I view that as a European contribution to maritime security that would be complementary, if not integrated, with what the United States is doing,” Dunford told a small group of reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan.    He did not say whether he had discussed the matter directly with Britain.
    Dunford said the U.S. military’s Central Command, which is headquartered in Tampa, Florida, would host a “force generation conference” on Thursday on the U.S. initiative.    Such events usually aim to see what kinds of military assets partner nations might be able to contribute.
    Washington’s major European allies have distanced themselves from President Donald Trump’s Iran strategy and opposed his decision last year to abandon an international agreement that gave Iran access to trade in return for accepting curbs on its nuclear program.
    Reuters reported on Tuesday that the British proposal for a European-led initiative had won some support in European capitals and quoted one diplomat saying it was easier to rally around the British proposal than the American one.
NOT LINKED TO ‘MAXIMUM PRESSURE’
    U.S. officials have sought to distinguish their new maritime effort from Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which has sought to force Tehran back to the negotiating table by imposing harsh sanctions.
    They stress that the United States is not creating a coalition to confront Iran militarily and say the new initiative will not be operational in the way that, say, the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had been.
    Instead, it is about increasing intelligence sharing, surveillance and international presence to deter more attacks on tankers in the waterway, like the ones seen in recent months.
    “This is not related to the pressure campaign on Iran.    It’s focused on freedom of navigation,” Dunford said.
    Under a plan initially detailed on July 9, the United States would provide coordinating ships and lead surveillance efforts while participants in the coalition patrolled nearby waters and escorted commercial vessels with their nation’s flags.
    The United States would not escort other nations’ commercial vessels.
    Dunford said the U.S. plan would allow “those countries that are going to escort their ships to have the benefit of the information and the situational awareness that we have every day.”
    Dunford stressed that, in some ways, the initiative was already underway – albeit on a small scale.
    “We shared intelligence in the two British operations that have taken place over the last 10 days,” Dunford said.
    “So, to me, it grows as contributions increase and as countries decide to escort the ships that have their flag.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

7/24/2019 Lebanese police to probe rock band for ‘insulting religion’: lawyer
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou' Leila performs during the
Ehdeniyat International Festival in Ehden, Lebanon, August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese police will investigate a complaint against the rock band Mashrou’ Leila for insulting religion, a lawyer in the case said on Wednesday.
    The lawyer, Christine Nakhoul, said she had submitted the complaint against the band to the prosecutor’s office, which was directing it to the police.
    The Lebanese group has an openly gay vocalist and its songs have stirred controversy with lyrics tackling oppression, classism, sectarianism and homophobia.
    On Monday, church leaders called for a concert that Mashrou’ Leila is due to give at a music festival next month to be canceled.
    The plaintiff in the case against the band, Philippe Seif, said his complaint alleged that the band had insulted religious icons on its social media pages.
    Mashrou’ Leila made no comment on Tuesday beyond a statement it had made on Monday over calls for its concert to be canceled.
    “We are not on some sort of mission to arbitrarily blaspheme and disrespect people’s religious symbols,” it said in Monday’s statement.
    The Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Jbeil (Byblos) said most of the band’s songs “violate religious values” and it was not becoming for the festival to host concerts “directly at odds with Christian faith.”
    The Byblos International Festival has not yet commented on the matter.     Rights group Amnesty International has called on Lebanese authorities to ensure that the concert goes ahead and to “take the necessary measures to ensure the band is protected from this spiteful campaign.”
(Reporting by Ayat Basma and Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

7/24/2019 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu praises House for passing anti-BDS resolution by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the House of Representatives after the passing of its anti-BDS resolution.    In a video tweeted out Wednesday, Netanyahu commended lawmakers efforts for approving the resolution, which opposes the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
    The resolution doubles down on support for a two-state solution.    It says the BDS movement “undermines” that goal, because it demands concessions of one party alone and encourages Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure.
    The resolution passed by an overwhelming 398-to-17 vote.    16 of the 17 lawmakers opposing the resolution were progressive Democrats, who argued the legislation would hinder free speech.

7/24/2019 U.S. blocks U.N. rebuke of Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes: diplomats by Michelle Nichols
A combination photo shows a Palestinian building blown up by Israeli forces in the village of Sur Baher which sits on either side
of the Israeli barrier in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday blocked an attempt by Kuwait, Indonesia and South Africa to get the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes on the outskirts of Jerusalem, diplomats said.
    Israel said the 10 apartment buildings demolished on Monday, most of them still under construction, had been built illegally and posed a security risk to Israeli armed forces operating along a barrier that runs through the occupied West Bank.
    U.N. officials, who had called on Israel to halt the demolition plans, said 17 Palestinians faced displacement.
    Kuwait, Indonesia and South Africa circulated a five-paragraph draft statement, seen by Reuters, to the 15-member Security Council on Tuesday that expressed grave concern and warned that the demolition “undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for just and lasting peace.”
    Such statements have to be agreed by consensus and on Wednesday the United States told its council counterparts it could not support the text, diplomats said.    A revised three paragraph draft statement was circulated, but the United States again said it did not agree with the text, diplomats said.
    The United States has long accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias and shielded its ally from council action.
    The demolition of the Palestinian buildings is part of the latest round of protracted wrangling over the future of Jerusalem, home to more than 500,000 Israelis and 300,000 Palestinians.
    The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as the capital, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner have spent two years developing a peace plan they hope will provide a framework for renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
    Greenblatt told the Security Council on Tuesday a peace plan cannot rely on global consensus, inconclusive international law and “unclear” U.N. resolutions, sparking pushback from several countries.    He said a decision on the release of the political component of the U.S. plan would be made “soon.”
    The buildings demolished on Monday were near what Israel describes as a security barrier.    The initial draft Security Council statement described the construction of the wall by Israel as contrary to international law.
    Israel credits the barrier – projected to be 720 km (450 miles) long when complete – with stemming Palestinian attacks.    Palestinians call it a land grab designed to annex parts of the West Bank, including Israeli settlements.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)

7/25/2019 Turkey, U.S. will continue discussing planned Syria safe zone: officials
FILE PHOTO: A Turkish flag flutters on a military vehicle on the border of Manbij city, Syria November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish and U.S. officials will continue to hold talks on a planned safe zone in northern Syria, Turkish military officials said on Thursday, a day after Ankara warned that it would launch a cross-border operation if an agreement was not reached.
    On Wednesday, Turkey said it had run “out of patience” with the United States on the safe zone.    It added that Washington was stalling progress, just as it did with a roadmap agreed to clear the northern Syrian town of Manbij from the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.
    On Thursday, the military officials said that around 1,000 YPG militants remained in Manbij despite the agreement with Washington to clear the region, and added that Turkey’s expectations had not been met.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

7/25/2019 Algeria names panel to oversee dialogue, hold presidential election by Hamid Ould Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: Algerians protest in Algiers against the appointment of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah
and demand radical changes to the political system, April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian interim president Abdelkader Bensalah has set up a six-member panel to oversee a national dialogue and hold a presidential election aimed at ending months of political crisis, the presidency said on Thursday.
    President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down on April 2 after 20 years in power, under pressure from mass protests demanding the removal of the ruling elite and the prosecution of people suspected of corruption.
    Authorities has canceled a presidential election previously planned for July 4, citing a lack of candidates.    No new date has been set.
    The panel, led by former parliament speaker Karim Younes, also includes two experts in law, an economic expert and two politicians.
    “The dialogue will cover all aspects related to the organization of this election, its necessary conditions … and the date of the election,” the statement quoted Bensalah as telling the panel at a meeting on Thursday.
    “The dialogue must be inclusive of the whole political class, national figures and civil society.”
    The army is now the main player in Algerian politics, and its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, has repeatedly urged the opposition to cooperate in the holding of an election as soon as possible.
    The panel will immediately start consultations with people willing to take part in the dialogue, the statement said.
    “National dialogue remains the only way that can guarantee a peaceful outcome in line with what Algerians are expecting,” Younes said.    “We are aware of the national impasse in which we live.”
    In a bid to appease protesters, the judiciary has started corruption investigations involving several former senior officials.
    Many prominent businessmen and ex-officials, including former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, have been placed in custody on charges including “dissipation of public funds.”
    Protesters are now demanding the departure of Bensalah, a former head of the upper house of parliament, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who are regarded by demonstrators as part of the old guard that has governed the North African country since independence from France in 1962.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/26/2019 U.N. says Syria air strikes killed at least 100 civilians in past 10 days
FILE PHOTO: A White Helmets member uses a saw on rubble after an airstrike in this screen grab taken from a social media
video said to be taken in Idlib, Syria on July 16, 2019. White Helmets/social media via REUTERS/File Photo
    GENEVA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Air strikes by the Syrian government and its allies on schools, hospitals, markets and bakeries have killed at least 103 civilians in the past 10 days, including 26 children, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Friday.
    “These are civilian objects, and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent pattern of such attacks, that they are all being hit by accident,” Bachelet said, adding that the rising toll had been met with “apparent international indifference.”
    The government began its offensive against the rebel enclave in northwest Syria, the last area of active insurgent opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, at the end of April, saying it was responding to violations of a truce.
    Idlib and surrounding areas of the northwest were included in a “de-escalation” deal last year between Assad’s main ally Russia and Turkey, which backs some rebel groups, to reduce warfare and bombardment.
    Over the past three months, the offensive has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes or temporary shelters to seek refuge near the border with Turkey and has killed hundreds of civilians, according to war monitoring groups.
    Both the Syrian government and its Russian ally, whose air power has been critical to Damascus’ military gains in recent years, deny targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.
(Reporting by Tom Miles and Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/26/2019 Erdogan says Turkey to turn elsewhere if U.S. will not sell F-35s
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in
Ankara, Turkey, July 26, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey would turn elsewhere for fighter jets if the United States will not sell it the F-35 jets, adding that a U.S. decision to cut Ankara from the program would not deter it from meeting its needs.
    The United States said last week it was removing NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 program, as long threatened, after Ankara purchased and received delivery of Russian S-400 missile defenses that Washington sees as a threat.
    Washington has also threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, though Ankara has dismissed the warnings.    It has instead put its trust in sympathetic comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Turkey was treated “unfairly”    However, Trump has not ruled out sanctions on Turkey.
    Erdogan, speaking publicly about the strained U.S. ties for the first time in 11 days, said he hoped U.S. officials would be “reasonable” on the question of sanctions, adding that Turkey may also reconsider its purchase of advanced Boeing aircraft from the United States.
    “Are you not giving us the F-35s? Okay, then excuse us but we will once again have to take measures on that matter as well and we will turn elsewhere,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.
    “Even if we’re not getting F-35s, we are buying 100 advanced Boeing aircrafts, the agreement is signed… At the moment, one of the Boeing planes has arrived and we are making the payments, we are good customers,” he said.    “But, if things continue like this, we will have to reconsider this.”
    Russia’s Rostec state conglomerate said Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 jets to Turkey if Ankara requested them.    But, Turkish officials said on Thursday there were no talks with Moscow on alternatives to the F-35 jets for now.
    Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues.    Turkey has also been infuriated with U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, a main U.S. ally in the region that Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.
    Ankara has warned that it would launch a military operation in northern Syria to wipe out the YPG if it could not agree with Washington on the planned safe zone in the region, saying it had run “out of patience.”
    However, Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is determined to destroy the “terror corridor” east of the Euphrates river in Syria no matter how talks on the safe zone conclude, as Ankara ramped up its threats of an offensive.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

7/26/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will destroy militants in north Syria regardless of U.S. talks
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is shown during a visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia, July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is determined to destroy the “terror corridor” east of the Euphrates river in Syria regardless of how talks conclude with the United States on a planned safe zone in the country’s north, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.
    Turkey has ramped up its warnings of a possible incursion into northern Syria in recent days, saying it had run “out of patience” with Washington over the safe zone talks and adding that it would launch its operation if an agreement was not reached.
    “Those who put their trust in foreign powers in the region will be put under ground,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.    “We will find a lasting solution to terror.”
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

7/26/2019 Hezbollah denies using Lebanon’s port for arms smuggling
FILE PHOTO - Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters
via a screen in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah group on Friday denied using Beirut’s sea port to import arms in response to an accusation by Israel’s United Nations envoy this week.
    “I completely deny the claim of the Israeli representative in the Security Council that Hezbollah uses the Beirut port to transfer weapons or weapon components into Lebanon,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a television speech.
    He added that the Israeli comments were aimed at bringing multinational forces to impose controls over Lebanon’s sea, air and land borders.
    Israel’s U.N. ambassador Danny Danon said on Tuesday that in 2018 and 2019 “Israel found that Iran and the Quds Forces have begun to advance the exploitation of civilian maritime channels.”    He said Beirut port “is now the Port of Hezbollah.”
    Lebanon’s U.N ambassador Amal Mudallali said the accusation was tantamount to “direct threats” to Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure.
    Iran set up Hezbollah in the early 1980s to battle Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000.    Israel and Hezbollah fought another brief war in 2006 and Israel has called Hezbollah the biggest threat on its borders.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Angus McDowall; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/26/2019 Israeli troops kill Palestinian at Gaza border protest: medics
Palestinian demonstrators protest against the Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes as an
Israeli police vehicle is seen, in the village of Sur Baher which sits on either side of the
Israeli barrier in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian on Friday afternoon during weekly protests along the border with Israel, Gaza health officials said.
    Thousands of Palestinian gathered along the frontier, and the Israeli army said some in the crowd hurled explosive devices and grenades toward the border fence separating Gaza from Israel in the southern Gaza Strip.
    One military vehicle was reported damaged, though no soldiers were hurt.
    A military spokeswoman said troops responded with riot dispersal means and opened fire in accordance with standard operating procedures.
    Gaza’s Health Ministry said one Palestinian was killed and 40 others were wounded throughout the day.
    It was the first fatality in a few weeks, with Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations working to keep the border calm.
    Gaza officials say about 210 Palestinians have been killed since the weekly protests began more than a year ago.    In that time an Israeli soldier was also shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier and another was killed during an undercover raid into Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, editing by G Crosse)

7/27/2019 Oman’s top diplomat in Iran talks amid mounting Gulf tensions
Oman's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah shakes hands with Iran's Foreign Minister
Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran, Iran July 27, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs held talks with Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday, Iranian state media reported, as tensions mount in the Gulf between Tehran and Washington.
    Oman maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran and has previously been a go-between for the two countries, which severed diplomatic relations after the 1979 Iranian revolution.
    Washington and Tehran are in a protracted stand-off over Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and tensions have flared after Iran downed a U.S. drone over the Gulf and the United States said it brought down at least one Iranian drone, which Tehran denied.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, state television reported, without giving details of the talks.
    “The visit was conducted in the framework of bilateral relations and continuous consultations of the two countries with the aim of exchanging views on recent regional developments, bilateral relations, …and international issues,” state television reported.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom)

7/27/2019 55 bodies recovered from Libya shipwreck: aid worker
Bags containing the bodies of migrants who died after their wooden boat capsized off the coast of Komas, are seen in the hangar belonging
to an anti-illegal migration department in the town east of the capital Tripoli, Libya July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman al-Sahili
    KOMAS, Libya (Reuters) – Fifty-five bodies have been recovered so far off the Libyan coast, an aid worker said on Saturday, after a wooden boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized on Thursday.
    Search operations are continuing to find other missing migrants, a member of Libyan Red Crescent told Reuters by phone.
    It was unclear how many people were on board and how many are still missing and feared to have been drowned after what the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR described as “the worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year.”
    Red Crescent member Abdulmenam Abu Sabay said the boat, which capsized near Komas, some 120 km (74.6 miles) east of Tripoli, was carrying 350 people, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa.
    The Libyan navy on Thursday put the number of migrants on board at 250 and the UNHCR said up to 150 were feared dead.
    Libyan coast guards and local fishermen rescued 134 migrants on Thursday.
    “We do not have enough capability to carry out our operations.    Citizens help us with their own vehicles,” Abu Sabay said.
    “The bodies are still in bags in a hangar and we are waiting for security authorities’ permission to bury them,” he added.    The hangar belongs to a department set up to fight illegal migration.
    Libya is a hub for migrants and refugees, many of whom try to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats.
(Reporting By Ahmed Elumami and Ayman Sahili; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

7/27/2019 Nigerian court grants permission to declare Shi’ite group terrorists by Paul Carsten
FILE PHOTO: An ambulance and a fire engine set on fire by a Shi'ite group are seen at the
Federal Secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    ABUJA (Reuters) – A Nigerian court has granted the government permission to label a local Shi’ite Muslim group a terrorist organisation, the solicitor general told Reuters on Saturday.
    Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) have been marching in the capital Abuja calling for the release of their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015 despite a court order to release him.
    The protests have often turned violent.    An IMN spokesman said at least 20 of the group’s members were killed this week during demonstrations.
    Dayo Apata, Nigeria’s solicitor general, confirmed in a mobile text message that a federal court in Abuja had granted the government permission to proscribe the IMN, a move offering the authorities the chance to clamp down harder on the group.br>     An IMN spokesman said they had not received any formal notice but said marches would continue.
    Zakzaky’s office said plans to ban the movement had been considered since 2015 and it was not surprised by the move. A court in northern state of Kaduna is set to decide on Zakzaky’s bail application on Monday.
    The Shi’ite group can appeal the order.
(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Edmund Blair)

7/27/2019 Sudan says 87 killed when security forces broke up protest in June
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese people celebrate and wave their national flag, after Sudan's ruling military council and
a coalition of opposition and protest groups reached an agreement to share power during a transition period
leading to elections, along the street of Khartoum, Sudan, July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The head of a Sudanese investigation into the violent break up of a protest by security forces said on Saturday that 87 people were killed and 168 wounded in the June 3 incident in Khartoum, citing a higher death toll than previous official estimates.
    Fath al-Rahman Saeed, the head of the investigative committee appointed by the public prosecutor, said some members of the security forces fired live ammunition at protesters who were holding a sit-in to demand the military cede power.
    He told a news conference that three officers had violated orders by moving forces into the sit-in area outside the Defense Ministry, a focal point for protests that had led to the ouster of long-time President Omar al-Bashir on April 11.
    Saeed said 17 of those killed were in the square occupied by protesters in the worst bout of violence since Bashir was toppled, adding that 48 of the wounded were hit by bullets.
    An order was also issued to whip protesters, he added.
    The Health Ministry had previously put the death toll at 61, while opposition medics have said 127 people were killed and 400 wounded in the dispersal.
    “Some outlaws exploited this gathering and formed another gathering in what is known as the Columbia area, where negative and illegal practices took place,” Saeed said.
    “It became a security threat, forcing the authorities to make necessary arrangements to clear the area,” he said.
    There was no immediate reaction to his comments from the opposition coalition Forces of Freedom and Change, which is negotiating with the ruling military council to finalize an agreement for a three-year transition to elections.
    The committee found that some members of the joint force tasked with clearing the Columbia area “exceeded their duties and entered the sit-in square … and fired heavily and randomly,” leading to the killing and wounding of some protesters.
    Saeed gave the ranks and initials of eight officers he said had been charged with crimes against humanity, which is punishable by death or life imprisonment under military law.    He did not give their full names.
    A brigadier general, referred to only as A. A. M., mobilized a riot force of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, on the orders of two senior officers but not members of Sudan’s top leadership, and told them to whip protesters, Saeed said.
    Saeed said the committee had not uncovered any incidents of rape, although the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights cited local medics as saying women had their clothes torn off and were raped.
    It was not possible for Reuters to independently verify the reports of rape.    Activists say Sudanese women are reluctant to publicly say they were raped to avoid any social sigma.
    Sudan’s military council, which took power after former military officer Bashir was deposed, has previously denied any rape took place.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Mark Potter and Edmund Blair)

7/28/2019 Israel says Arrow-3 missile shield passes U.S. trials, warns Iran by Dan Williams
Israel's U.S.-backed Arrow-3 ballistic missile shield is seen during a series of live interception tests over Alaska, U.S.,
in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on July 28, 2019. Courtesy Israel Ministry of Defense via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s U.S.-backed Arrow-3 ballistic missile shield has passed a series of live interception tests over Alaska, Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, casting the achievement as a warning to Iran.
    Jointly manufactured by U.S. firm Boeing Co, Arrow-3 is billed as capable of shooting down incoming missiles in space, an altitude that would destroy any non-conventional warheads safely.    It passed its first full interception test over the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and was deployed in Israel in 2017.
    “The performance was perfect – every hit a bull’s eye,” Netanyahu, who doubles as defense minister, said in a statement announcing the three secret tests.
    Israel views the Arrow-3 as a bulwark against the ballistic missiles fielded by Iran and Syria.
    Iran has been locked in a spiraling confrontation with the United States over its nuclear program and missile projects.
    Washington said last week that Iran appeared to have tested a medium-range ballistic missile that flew about 1,000 km (620 miles). Tehran said such tests were for defensive needs.
    “Today Israel has the capabilities to act against ballistic missiles launched at us from Iran and from anywhere else,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.    “All our foes should know that we can best them, both defensively and offensively.”
    Arrow-3’s Alaska trials had been expected last year but were postponed, following earlier difficulties in testing the system.
Its first full trial, scheduled in 2014, was aborted due to what designers said was a faulty flight by the target missile.    Follow-up     Israeli tests in late 2017 and early 2018 were also called off at short notice due to technical problems.
    The system’s success in Alaska was held up by both Israel and the United States as a sign of the strength of their alliance.
    The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, attended Sunday’s meeting of Netanyahu’s cabinet, where he and the ministers watched a video of an Alaska missile interception.
    Israel’s Ministry of Defense said that, as part of the Alaska tests, Arrow-3 was successfully synched up with the AN-TPY2 radar – also known as X-band – which provides the United States with extensive global coverage. Israel hosts an X-band battery.
    “We are committed to assisting the government of Israel in upgrading its national missile defence capability to defend the state of Israel and deployed U.S. forces from emerging threats,” Vice Admiral John Hill, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defence Agency, said in a statement.
    Arrow-3 and an earlier generation system, Arrow-2, serve as the top tier of an integrated Israeli shield built up with U.S. backing to withstand various potential missile or rocket salvoes.    The bottom tier is the short-range Iron Dome interceptor while David’s Sling shoots down mid-range missiles.
    Also involved in Arrow’s manufacturing are Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the Elisra Company, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems Ltd.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Susan Fenton)

7/28/2019 Sudan extends ceasefire with southern rebels by Denis Dumo
FILE PHOTO: Malik Agar, head of the northern branch of the Sudan People?s Liberation Movement (SPLM),
speaks during a news conference in Khartoum, July 3, 2011. REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    JUBA (Reuters) – Sudanese and South Sudanese officials agreed late on Saturday with the leader of an alliance of armed factions operating along their joint border to extend a ceasefire and grant humanitarian access to some areas affected by conflict in Sudan.
    Sudan says neighboring South Sudan has been giving refuge to Malik Agar, one of many rebels in Sudan.    The two countries share a long and porous border, and have a history of supporting armed groups on each others’ territories after oil-rich South Sudan became independent in 2011.
    Sudan and Agar signed a ceasefire on April 17 covering the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions, a week after Sudanese President Omar al Bashir was overthrown after 30 years of rule.    That agreement was due to expire at the end of July.
    Peace talks will continue as rebel factions from Sudan’s Darfur region are expected to arrive in Juba on Sunday from Addis Ababa.
    Saturday’s talks were attended by Tut Gatluak, South Sudan’s presidential envoy on security; General Mohamed Hamadan Dagalo, deputy chief of Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military council; and Agar, head of a loosely affiliated group of armed opposition groups.
    Sudan faces armed insurrections across the country and protests by citizens enraged by decades of economic mismanagement and habitual human rights abuses by the security forces.    Many protesters against Bashir and the military council that succeeded him have been killed.
    Sudan’s ruling military council and the Forces for Freedom and Change, an umbrella group of Sudanese political and armed factions, agreed a three-year power-sharing deal this month, although many details remain to be resolved.
    Agar was not part of that deal.    This weekend’s negotiations in Juba centered on armed groups operating in regions that share a border with South Sudan.
    “The visit by the Transitional Military Council to Juba today has centered on issues of peace negotiations with Sudanese oppositions groups from South Kordofan, Nubia Mountain and Darfur,” said Guatlak.
    Agar, who heads a group known as the SPLM-North, said he wanted to agree a common position with the Forces for Freedom and Change.    In the meantime the ceasefire would be extended and aid agencies given access, he said.
    “We … renewed the cessation of hostilities and opening of humanitarian corridors to the areas that are affected."
    “This (negotiation) process has to be done by the President of South Sudan because he has the leverage over armed groups that are operating in Sudan,” Agar said.
(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by David Holmes)

7/28/2019 Nigeria bans local Shi’ite group after protests
FILE PHOTO: Members of the police head down Banex road during their operation to disperse members of the
Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) from a street in Abuja, Nigeria July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s government has banned a Shi’ite Muslim group whose followers have been holding protests to demand the release of their detained leader, accusing the group of inciting violence.
    At least 20 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria have been killed over the past week during a series of protests that have shown little sign of abating, raising pressure on the government.
    Nigerian police have responded with teargas and gunfire to the protests and a court on Saturday granted the government permission to label the group a terrorist organization.
    The group, Nigeria’s biggest Shi’ite organization, can appeal the ruling.    Its members have been marching in the capital Abuja calling for the release of leader Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015 despite a court order to release him.
    He was arrested after a clash in which the army killed roughly 350 of his followers at his compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in northern Kaduna state. A court in Kaduna is set to decide on Zakzaky’s bail application on Monday.
    In a statement, a spokesman for the Shi’ite group said it had not seen any formal notice of a ban and accused the government of seeking to block its leader from being released. Kaduna state government declined to comment.
    In a tweet, the Nigerian presidency said it had only outlawed criminal behavior and that Shi’ites were free to observe practices like daily prayers and pilgrimages to Mecca.
    “The proscription of Islamic Movement of Nigeria has nothing to do with banning the larger numbers of peaceful and law abiding Shi’ites in the country from practicing their religion,” the presidency said in a tweet.
(Reporting by Paul Carsten; Additional reporting by Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha, editing by Deepa Babington and Sonya Hepinstall)

7/29/2019 Ramaphosa is ‘last hope’ for South Africa, Chinese diplomat says by Alexander Winning and Joe Bavier
FILE PHOTO: Cyril Ramaphosa speaks after taking the oath of office at his inauguration as South African president
at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is the “last hope” for Africa’s most advanced economy, but his government must turn incentive policies into laws to secure more Chinese investment, a senior Chinese diplomat told Reuters.
    China is South Africa’s largest trading partner and has pledged more investment than any other country since Ramaphosa embarked on a drive last year to attract $100 billion of new investment to lift the economy out of a slump.
    While it has attracted some $55 billion in total pledges – including from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well – the drive has so far done little to ease crippling unemployment or boost economic growth.
    “President Cyril Ramaphosa is the last hope of this country,” Lin Songtian, China’s ambassador to South Africa, told Reuters.
    But while African nations have seen a boom in infrastructure development over the past decade, he said projects proposed by the South African authorities had lacked feasibility studies capable of reassuring the Chinese government and banks of their profitability and sustainability.
    Policies of extending incentives, including tax breaks, to attract foreign capital also did not do enough for Chinese investors, who Lin said wanted to see favorable conditions enshrined in an investment law approved by parliament.
    “To date there are no major infrastructure projects from China here.    Why?    Because we don’t only need the concept of a project,” Lin said.
    Upgrading South Africa’s antiquated railway network, modernizing Durban port and reforming power firm Eskom would also help bring in Chinese money.
    The heavily indebted state-owned utility has been forced to implement blackouts as it struggles to meet demand.    It has been kept afloat by government bailouts but is regularly cited by ratings agencies as one of the main threats to South Africa’s creditworthiness and economic growth.
    China Development Bank agreed to lend Eskom $2.5 billion during President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Africa last year.
    “Eskom is a debt trap.    China gave them some loans before. And now they become very cautious. … Eskom is not an issue of money.    It’s the issue of operation mechanisms, management, capacity,” Lin said.
POOR BUT INDEPENDENT
    Earlier this month Ramaphosa came out in defense of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei [HWT.UL], which is helping to bring its 5G technology to South Africa but is a favorite target of U.S. President Donald Trump.
    With around 80 percent of the continent’s communications infrastructure already built by Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE, Lin said the kind of pressure the United States was exerting on its European allies not to sign deals with Huawei could never work in Africa.
    “This continent is poor, but they are independent.    And they will not compromise to the Americans,” said Lin, who previously headed China’s foreign ministry’s African affairs department.
    He also shot back at U.S. accusations that Chinese lending for large-scale infrastructure projects was leaving Africa with unsustainable debt.
    China agreed to restructure a portion of Congo Republic’s debt, allowing it to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund this month.
    With number of African countries facing unsustainable debt expected to turn to the IMF for help in the coming years, Congo was seen as a test case for how Beijing would interact with the Fund.
    While Lin said China was always open to working with the IMF, he said a boom in African Eurobond issues in recent years was more to blame for the continent’s debt woes.
    “If it goes for electricity, roads, industrial parks and follows the concept of intensive development, temporary debt is okay and will be paid back when the country gets developed,” he said.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning and Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/29/2019 U.N. calls for Eid truce in Libya, warns foreign support fueling conflict by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame 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) – A United Nations envoy called on Monday for a truce to be declared in Libya around Aug. 10, and warned that an influx of weapons from foreign supporters in violation of an arms embargo was fueling the conflict.
    The truce should be declared to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the Security Council, and be accompanied by confidence-building moves like an exchange of prisoners and remains and release of those arbitrarily detained.
    Libya has been riven by violence since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since April, the eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) under Khalifa Haftar has been trying to take Tripoli from forces allied with the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), but the LNA offensive has bogged down on the capital’s outskirts.
    “In the course of the current fighting, serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties have been committed,” Salame told the 15-member Security Council.
    “More than ever, Libyans are now fighting the wars of other countries who appear content to fight to the last Libyan and to see the country entirely destroyed in order to settle their own scores,” he said.
    The warring parties both enjoy military support from regional powers.    Haftar’s forces have been supplied for years by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while Turkey recently shipped arms to Tripoli to stop Haftar’s assault, diplomats say.
    “Armed drones, armored vehicles and pickup trucks fitted with heavy armaments, machine guns, recoilless rifles, mortar and rocket launchers, have been recently transferred to Libya with the complicity and indeed outright support of foreign governments,” Salame said.
    Following a truce, Salame proposed a high-level meeting of concerned countries be convened to “cement the cessation of hostilities, work together to enforce the strict implementation of the arms embargo to prevent the further flow of weapons to the Libyan theater; and promote strict adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law by Libyan parties.”
    He said this should then be followed by a meeting of leading and influential Libyans to agree on a way forward out of the conflict.
    “This triple action will require consensus in this council and amongst the member states who exert influence on the ground,” Salame said.
    In a statement earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council called for the warring parties to commit to a ceasefire and urged other countries not to intervene or exacerbate the conflict.
    Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said the council would discuss Salame’s proposals to work out how best the body could support the United Nations.
    The Security Council has struggled to unify on how to deal with the renewed violence.    Shortly after Haftar began his offensive, the United States and Russia both told council colleagues that they could not support a resolution that would have called for a ceasefire in Libya.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

7/29/2019 Attack on Yemen market kills more than 10, warring parties trade blame by Mohammed Ghobari
A man injured by an air strike on a market in Yemen's Saada province arrives to receive medical
attention at a local Al Jomhouri hospital in Saada, Yemen July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Naif Rahma
    ADEN (Reuters) – An attack on a market killed at least 10 civilians including children in Yemen’s northern Saada province on Monday, a medical source and the warring parties who blamed each other said.
    The manager of the local Al Jomhouri hospital said 13 people were killed and 23 injured in air strikes in Qatabir district by a Saudi-led coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen. Al Masirah TV said the death toll had risen to 14.
    The Saudi-backed Yemeni government’s information minister, Moammar al-Eryani, said in a Twitter post that the Houthis had fired Katyusha rockets on the market, killing 10 civilians and injuring 20.
    “The attack carried out by the Houthis on Al Thabet market is a terrorist act to spite Yemenis and the tribes of Al Thabet,” the coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement sent to Reuters, adding that the tribes were against the group.    He did not provide further details.
    Pictures taken by a Reuters photographer showed more than nine bodies, some of them torn apart, lined up on a nylon sheet near the morgue.
    “There are two children among the martyrs and 11 children among those injured,” hospital manager Saleh Qorban told Reuters.    Masirah later said four children were killed.
    Saudi Arabia is leading the Western-backed Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government, which was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.
    Al Masirah, citing a Houthi military spokesman, said the group launched drone attacks on a Saudi air base in the south of the kingdom on Monday.    There was no immediate confirmation from the alliance.
    The movement has stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, and the coalition has responded with air strikes on Houthi targets, mostly around Sanaa.
    In August 2018, coalition air strikes killed dozens of people, including children traveling on a bus through a market in Saada.    The alliance initially said it had targeted missile launchers but later admitted that the attack was unjustified.
    Human rights groups have criticized Western countries that provide arms and intelligence to the coalition over air strikes that have killed civilians at hospitals, schools and markets.    The coalition says it does not intentionally target civilians.
    The four-year-old war, that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the long-impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation to the brink of famine, has long been in a military stalemate.
    The Houthis, who say their revolution is against corruption, control Sanaa and most of the main urban centers.    The government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi holds the southern port of Aden.
    The violence could complicate efforts to implement a U.N.- sponsored troop withdrawal agreement in the main port city of Hodeidah that is meant to pave the way for peace talks to end the conflict, which is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen, Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, Samar Ahmed in Cairo and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by William Maclean)

7/30/2019 South African corruption fighter seen amplifying ANC battles by Alexander Winning
FILE PHOTO: Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane listens during a briefing at Parliament in Cape Town,
South Africa October 19, 2016. Picture taken October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – To allies of President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog is a wrecking ball who is abusing her office and could derail efforts to clean up government and turn the economy around.    To Ramaphosa’s opponents, she is holding the country’s top officials to account without fear or favor.
    Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who was plucked from relative obscurity when she was appointed public protector in 2016, denies playing politics.    She says some of her most attention-grabbing investigations were the result of complaints raised by members of the opposition, which she has a duty to scrutinize.
    But her recommendations for disciplinary action against Ramaphosa and one of his closest allies, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, have placed her at the center of a bitter power rivalry in the governing African National Congress (ANC) between supporters of the president and his scandal-plagued predecessor Jacob Zuma.
    Political analysts warn that the powers of Mkhwebane’s office, which played an important role in keeping Zuma in check, can just as easily be used to settle political scores.
    The public protector has authority enshrined in the constitution to investigate alleged wrongdoing by public officials and demand remedial action.
    Because Ramaphosa and others are bound to comply, the consequences of her investigations can be far-reaching.    One danger, analysts say, is that Mkhwebane will tie up Ramaphosa and his allies with questionable investigations, which will take them months to fight in the courts.
    “The public protector is polarising politics and exacerbating factionalism in the ANC,” said Ebrahim Fakir, an analyst at the Johannesburg-based Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute.    “She could distract Ramaphosa from critical tasks like creating jobs and attracting investment.”
ZUMA’S PICK?
    Mkhwebane, who did not respond to questions submitted by Reuters last week, remains an enigmatic figure to many South Africans.
    A former security analyst and mid-level bureaucrat, she worked in the public protector’s office between 1999 and 2005 before moving to the home affairs ministry.    She did a stint in the South African embassy in China before joining the state security agency in 2016.
    When her candidacy was discussed before a parliamentary committee, two opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), said they had been tipped off that she was Zuma’s pick and were worried about her links to the state security agency, a ministry staffed by Zuma loyalists.
    ANC lawmakers, who made up roughly half the members on the parliamentary committee that recommended her nomination, said they found her interview impressive.
    But Mkhwebane had less legal experience than some other applicants, and former colleagues have since raised questions about her competence.
    An official who worked with Mkhwebane at the home affairs ministry told Reuters her approach to the law at that time was reckless.
    Mkhwebane supported a policy change to house refugees in processing camps pending a decision on their status, which would have been in contravention of the constitution and an international refugee convention, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
    Only when home affairs got a legal opinion from the foreign ministry advising against the move did Mkhwebane back down, the official said.
SELECTIVE JUSTICE?
    One of the main accusations against Mkhwebane is that she is selective in the cases she pursues.
    Mkhwebane says she has issued more than 100 reports since she took office and dealt with more than 34,000 complaints.
    Many of those haven’t attracted much media attention.
    But when she has taken on high-profile cases, such as her investigations into an apartheid-era bank bailout by the central bank, a donation to Ramaphosa’s 2017 campaign for ANC leader or an investigative unit set up by Gordhan while he was tax commissioner, they have often ended up in the courts.
    Part of the problem, legal experts say, is that she has made errors that fueled suspicions of bias.
    South Africa’s highest court ruled last week that Mkhwebane’s investigation into the bailout was flawed and that she had misrepresented important facts under oath.
    Pierre de Vos, a constitutional law expert, said her reports concerning Ramaphosa and Gordhan also contained errors.    In blog posts, he described her finding that Ramaphosa had misled parliament about the donation as a “legal and factual mess” and called the Gordhan investigation “irrational.”
    Ramaphosa has said he will challenge Mkhwebane’s findings in court.    A judge on Monday granted Gordhan’s request for an urgent interdict to stay disciplinary proceedings against him.
SECRETIVE APPROACH
    One person who has worked closely with Mkhwebane in her current role said most of her blunders were a product of her secretive approach to investigations.
    The person, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said Mkhwebane did not consult widely and had surrounded herself with people who agreed with her.
    Mkhwebane has said civil society groups are waging a campaign against her and that her office is underfunded and has skills shortages.
    That doesn’t wash with Ramaphosa’s allies.
    ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe said last month that the public protector was playing a political role, while a senior Communist Party official called her a “hired gun.”
    Outspoken ANC officials such as Tony Yengeni, who support more radical policies than Ramaphosa, leapt to her defense, hailing Mkhwebane as “our Lady Justice.”
ORDAINED BY GOD
    After the constitutional court judgment, calls for her removal gained momentum.
    The DA asked the speaker of parliament to schedule an early debate on Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.
    But the ANC, which has around 58% of lawmakers in the lower house, is divided over what should be done with Mkhwebane.
    Removing a public protector before the end of their non-renewable seven-year term is not easy. First a parliamentary committee would have to submit a recommendation to the lower house, then that recommendation would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority.
    The EFF, with 11% of the seats in parliament, would most likely vote against Mkhwebane’s removal, as would a potentially sizeable part of the ANC.
    Ramaphosa doesn’t want to be seen to be counting on the DA, his party’s main rival with 21% of lawmakers, for support.
    “With an investigation hanging over him, Ramaphosa also can’t be seen to be pushing too hard for her removal,” analyst Fakir said.
    Even if such a motion were to pass, Mkhwebane could decide to challenge her removal in court.
    Addressing a sheriffs’ association last month, she was defiant.
    “I strongly believe I was placed in this position by the God that I serve,” she said, “and I believe that only he can remove me if he is of the view that I have failed.”
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Giles Elgood)

7/30/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu defies criticism of posters with President Trump, Russia’s Putin by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is defying criticism over his good relations with President Trump and President Vladimir Putin.
    New campaign posters from Netanyahu’s political party — the Likud-National Liberal Movement — show the prime minister shaking hands with both the leader of the U.S. as well as the leader of Russia.    The posters drew criticism amid attempts to keep the debunked Russia hoax alive.
    Likud officials say the posters are designed to show the success of Netanyahu’s foreign policies and his ability to develop relations with almost anybody.
A campaign billboard shows Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump in Jerusalem, Feb. 4, 2019.
Hebrew on the billboard reads: “Netanyahu is in a different league.” (Oded Balilty/AP Photo)
    Netanyahu reiterated his goal of making Israel a more prominent force in international affairs.     “I think makes Israel particularly significant for Europe is one to seize a bright future, to fashion a bright future, and second to resist the dark past,” he stated.
    The upcoming parliamentary elections in Israel are slated for September 17th.

7/30/2019 Greece says Turkey’s drilling off Cyprus puts security at risk by Renee Maltezou
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias looks on during a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry
(not pictured) following a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Athens, Greece July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece accused Turkey of undermining security in the eastern Mediterranean by drilling for oil and gas around Cyprus, making some of the strongest comments on the issue from Athens’ newly elected government.
    Cyprus has discovered natural gas in areas off the south of the island, but attempts to explore for more are challenged by Turkey, which claims part of the seas around the island as its own.
    “The illegal actions of Turkey, which defy international law are placing the security of the region at risk. As such, they are absolutely condemnable,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told reporters after meeting his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry.
    Turkey and Cyprus do not have diplomatic relations since a decades-old conflict split the island among its ethnic Turkish and Greek Cypriot populations.
    Athens is the closest ally of Cyprus’s Greek Cypriot-led government, a policy which transcends Greece’s otherwise polarized political landscape.
    The discovery of oil and gas reserves in the east Mediterranean has put sharper focus on the Cypriot impasse, which has defied mediation efforts of a small army of diplomats.
    Peace talks between the two sides collapsed in disarray exactly two years ago. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are due to have a rare meeting in Nicosia on Aug. 9.
    The Greek Cypriot side will not discuss potential hydrocarbons finds in peace negotiations, which are held at a community, and not a state level. It considers hydrocarbons a sovereign competency of the internationally recognized government it leads.
    Turkey has sent two drill ships either side of the island to explore for gas.    One of the ships is in waters Cyprus and the EU consider part of the island’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, and the other in Cypriot territorial waters.
    “We discussed this flagrant violation of the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus perpetrated by Turkey,” Dendias said, hours after returning from a trip to Cyprus.
    Egyptian minister Shoukry, who did not mention Turkey by name, said through an interpreter: “We discussed the provocations in the area and how there should be respect to international law, for the provocations to stop.”
    Egypt, Greece and Cyprus cooperate in a range of areas, including energy.
(Writing By Michele Kambas. Editing by Jane Merriman)

7/30/2019 Turkey to send observation team to China’s Xinjiang for Uighur Turks
An elderly man is seen behind a Chinese national flag in the Old City in Kashgar in
Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will send an observation team to China’s Xinjiang region, the Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday after discussing the situation of Uighur Turks with his Chinese counterpart.
    China has faced growing international opprobrium for setting up what it calls vocation training centers to combat extremism in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur people who speak a Turkic language, which many Western countries view as internment camps.
    Turkey is the only Muslim nation to have regularly expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang, including in February at the U.N. Human Rights Council, to China’s anger.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Sarah Dadouch, Writing by Ece Toksabay, Editing by William Maclean)

7/31/2019 Iran says it’s prepared for dialogue if Saudi Arabia also ready
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is seen before meeting with Oman's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah (not pictured) in Tehran, Iran July 27, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran is prepared for dialogue if Saudi Arabia is also ready, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday, according to the IRIB news agency.
    Tensions have spiked between Iran and Saudi Arabia, arch-rivals for predominance in the Middle East, since Riyadh accused the Islamic Republic of carrying out attacks that damaged six oil tankers in the Gulf, an allegation Tehran has denied.
    “If Saudi Arabia is ready for dialogue, we are always ready for dialogue with our neighbors,” Zarif said.    “We have never closed the door to dialogue with our neighbors and we will never close the door to dialogue with our neighbors.”
    The attacks on the oil tankers came as the United States, Saudi Arabia’s major big power ally, toughened sanctions on Iran in a bid to force it into negotiations on stricter limits to its nuclear activity and curbs on its ballistic missile program.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/31/2019 Defense minister says it’s ‘normal’ for Iran to test missiles
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami adjusts a headphone during a
security conference in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s defense minister said on Wednesday it was “normal” for the country to test missiles as part of its defense research, Iranian media reported, after Washington said Tehran had test-fired a medium-range missile last week.
    Brigadier General Amir Hatami stopped short of explicitly confirming the test. A U.S. defense official said last week Iran had launched what appeared to be a medium-range ballistic missile that traveled some 1,000 km (620 miles), and added that the test by Washington’s arch-foe in the Middle East posed no threat to shipping or U.S. personnel in the region.
    “Such things are normal across the world,” Hatami was quoted by the semi-official news agency ISNA as saying, after being asked about the reported missile test.
    “The research programs of the armed forces are drawn up and carried out every year…including missile tests.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump left world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year, arguing that he wanted a wider accord that not only limited Iran’s nuclear activity but also curbed its ballistic missile program and reined in its support for proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.    Trump tightened sanctions on Iran in May to try to scuttle its oil exports.
    Iran has ruled out talks with Washington over its military capabilities, particularly the missile program that it says has only defense and deterrent purposes.    The Islamic Republic denied that its missiles are capable of being tipped with nuclear warheads and says its nuclear program is peaceful.
    On Saturday, Iran said missile tests were part of its defensive needs and were not directed against any country, without confirming last Wednesday’s reported test.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/31/2019 Two-thirds of U.N. Security Council ask U.N. chief for Syria hospital attacks inquiry by Michelle Nichols
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends Lisboa+21 conference
in Lisbon, Portugal June 23, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Two-thirds of the United Nations Security Council – including the United States, Britain and France – asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday to investigate attacks on U.N.-supported medical facilities in northwest Syria, diplomats said.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, began an offensive on the last major insurgent stronghold three months ago that the United Nations says has killed at least 450 civilians and displaced more than 440,000 people.
    The Security Council has been deadlocked on Syria with Russia and China – two of the body’s five veto powers along with Britain, France and the United States – shielding Assad’s government from any action during eight years of war.
    Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Belgium, Peru, Poland, Kuwait, Dominican Republic and Indonesia delivered a demarche – a formal diplomatic petition – to Guterres over the lack of an inquiry into attacks on U.N.-supported facilities.
    “At least fourteen U.N.-supported facilities on the list of deconflicted facilities have been damaged or destroyed in northwest Syria since the end of April,” they told Guterres, according to the agreed request seen by Reuters.
    “We therefore respectfully request that you consider launching an internal U.N. investigation into attacks that have damaged or destroyed U.N.-supported facilities in northwest Syria and report back promptly,” they said.
    They noted that in 2016 former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had used his discretionary power to open an inquiry into an attack on a Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian convoy in Aleppo.
    Guterres’ spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed representatives of 10 member states had met with the secretary-general.    “We will consider their request,” Haq said.
    While the United Nations has shared the locations of humanitarian facilities with the parties to the conflict, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock has told the Security Council that dozens of healthcare facilities have been struck since April.
    “Is that information used as it’s intended, to protect facilities … or is it being used to target facilities?” Lowcock said to reporters on Tuesday after briefing the council for the seventh time since the Syrian government offensive began.
    The 10 members of the Security Council also called on Guterres to investigate why the so-called deconfliction mechanism had failed to deter attacks.
    Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure and questioned the sources used by the United Nations to verify attacks on health centers.
    In a July 16 letter to Guterres and the Security Council, Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said some 119 hospital and health care centers “have been out of commission since being taken over by terrorist groups” and “no longer serve their original purpose and cannot be considered hospitals, health-care centers or even ‘civilian objects’ under humanitarian law.”
    An array of insurgents have a foothold in northwestern Syria.    The most powerful is the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham, the latest incarnation of the former Nusra Front which was part of al Qaeda until 2016.
    British U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce told the Security Council on Tuesday that Ja’afari’s letter was an admission of Syrian government attacks on hospitals.
    “That is a war crime and it deserves the utmost, deep investigation so that those units responsible, those military commanders responsible, and the politicians who give them their instructions, can be brought to justice,” she said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

7/31/2019 Israel approves new homes for settlers, Palestinians in West Bank
FILE PHOTO: Labourers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has approved the construction of 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers and 700 new homes for Palestinians in an area of the occupied West Bank where it has full control, an Israeli official said on Wednesday.
    The announcement for Area C housing came ahead of an expected visit to Israel on Wednesday by U.S. envoy Jared Kushner to discuss a White House plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
    Area C accounts for around 60 percent of the West Bank.    Under 1993 interim accords, Israel has security and administrative control of the area, where most of its West Bank settlements are concentrated.
    The Palestinians want all of the West Bank for a future state.    Most world powers deem the settlements there illegal, but the United States has hinted that it could back Israel keeping some of the settlements under any future peace accord.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/1/2019 Houthi attack on military parade in Yemen kills more than 30: sources by Fawaz Salman and Mohammed Ghobari
Soldiers carry the injured following a missile attack on a military parade during a graduation ceremony
for newly recruited troopers in Aden, Yemen August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement said it launched missile and drone attacks on Thursday on a military parade in Aden, the seat of the Saudi-backed government, that killed more than 30 people according to medical and security sources.
    A Reuters witness saw nine bodies on the ground after an explosion hit a military camp belonging to the Yemeni Security Belt forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, which is a member of the Saudi-led military coalition battling the Houthis.
    The attack killed at least 32 people, a medical and a security source told Reuters.    Medecins Sans Frontieres tweeted that tens of wounded were hospitalized.
    Soldiers screamed and ran to lift the wounded and place them on trucks.    Red berets lay on the ground in pools of blood.
    The Houthi’s official channel Al Masirah TV said the group had launched a medium-range ballistic missile and an armed drone at the parade, which it described as being staged in preparation for a military move against provinces held by the movement.
    A pro-government military source and security sources said a commander, Brigadier General Muneer al-Yafee, a leading figure of the southern separatists, was among those killed.
    “The blast occurred behind the stand where the ceremony was taking place at Al Jalaa military camp in Buraiqa district in Aden,” the Reuters witness said.    “A group of soldiers were crying over a body believed to be of the commander.”
    Yafee had just stepped off the stage to greet a guest when the explosion took place.    Flags of the former South Yemen and those of leading coalition members were fluttering as the military band was waiting for its cue to start playing.
CEASEFIRE
    The Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.
    The government of Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi controls the southern port city of Aden.    The Houthi movement, which says its revolution is against corruption, holds Sanaa and most of the biggest urban centers in the Arabian Peninsula nation.
    The parade “was being used to prepare for an advance on Taiz and Dalea,” Masirah cited a Houthi military spokesman as saying.
    There was no immediate comment from the Yemeni government or the coalition.
    Last month the UAE said it was scaling down its presence in Yemen, pulling some troops from areas including Aden and the western coast deployed for operations against the Houthis in the main port city of Hodeidah, where a U.N.-brokered ceasefire has been in place since last December.
    An Emirati official said the UAE would not leave a vacuum in Yemen as it had trained 90,000 Yemeni forces, drawn from among southern separatists, including Security Belt forces, and coastal plains fighters.
    The Houthis have stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities and the coalition has responded with air strikes on Houthi military sites, mostly around Sanaa.
    Al Masirah said the Houthis launched a long-range ballistic missile on an “important” military site in Dammam in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on Thursday.    There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition or Saudi authorities.
    The escalating violence could complicate U.N.-led efforts to implement a troop withdrawal in Hodeidah, the main entry point for Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, to pave the way for political talks to end the war amid mistrust among all parties and competing agendas of Yemen’s fractious groups.     The more than four-year conflict, widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemenis to the brink of famine.
    In a separate attack in another district of Aden on Thursday, an explosives-laden car blew up at a police station killing three soldiers, a security source said.
    It was not clear if the incidents were related.    Previous car attacks in Yemen have been carried out by Islamist militant groups like al Qaeda.
(Reporting by Fawaz Salman and Mohammed Ghobari; Additional reporting by Mohammed Mokhashef in Aden and Sylvia Westall and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
[IRAN aligned - The Houthi movement, officially called Ansar Allah, is an Islamic religious-political-armed movement that emerged from Sa'dah in northern Yemen in the 1990s.    They are of the Zaidi sect, though the movement reportedly also includes Sunnis.    Founder: Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, in 1992, a spokesperson: Mohammed Abdul Salam, whose headquarters id in Sa'dah, Yemen.    Zaidiyyah or Zaidism (Arabic: adjective form Zaidi or Zaydi; occasionally known as Fivers) is one of the Shia sects closest in terms of theology to the Ibadi and Mutazila schools.    Zaidiyyah emerged in the eighth century out of Shi'a Islam.    Zaidis are named after Zayd ibn ?Ali, the grandson of Husayn ibn ?Ali and the son of their fourth Imam Ali ibn 'Husain.    Followers of the Zaydi Islamic jurisprudence are called Zaydi and make up about 50% of Muslims in Yemen, with the vast majority of Shia Muslims in the country being Zaydi.].

8/1/2019 Aoun warns Lebanese of ‘tough’ measures unless economic sacrifices made
Lebanese President Michel Aoun attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
by the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Russia March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Poolz
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Michel Aoun warned Lebanese on Thursday of the risk of harsh financial measures from international institutions unless sacrifices are made to save the country from economic crisis.
    Aoun’s comments in a speech marking army day appeared to raise the possibility of Lebanon having to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help if government reform efforts fail to bring enough improvement to state finances.
    Lebanon is grappling with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens and years of low economic growth.
    The impetus to enact long-delayed reforms has grown with the slowdown of deposits into its banking sector, a critical source of finance for the state.
    Deposits shrunk slightly in the first five months of the year. Foreign reserves, while still large relative to the size of the economy, have been falling.
    Aoun said Lebanon was going through a hard economic, financial and social crisis that it could overcome “if we are determined to do so.”
    “Interim sacrifice is needed on part of all the Lebanese with no exception in order for the rescue process to succeed,” he said.
    “If we do not all make a sacrifice today and accept to waive some of our benefits, we are running the risk of losing them all, when our country comes to the table of international lending institutions, with all the tough economic and financial schemes that they may impose on us,” he said.
    The Lebanese government has passed a state budget for 2019 that aims to slash the deficit as a percentage of national output.    The IMF said last month the deficit would likely be well above the government’s target of 7.6% from over 11% in 2018.
    The budget included some politically tricky measures, such as a three-year freeze on state hiring.    More difficult ideas were torpedoed, such as a public sector pay cut, and critics say the government also avoided the main problem: corruption.
    The major deficit reduction measures include hiking tax on the interest paid on bank deposits and government bonds, a new import duty, and a plan to cut debt servicing, though it is not yet clear how that will be achieved.
    The IMF, in the concluding statement of an Article IV mission, said Lebanon should adopt revenue measures that include raising value-added tax (VAT) and increasing fuel excises as well as efforts to increase tax compliance.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
[Why don’t you admit it that Hezbollah is not getting money from Iran to put the money into the Lebanese government and it is noticeable that they are puppets of them.    Kick them out of your government and start anew while you can and don't let terrorist run your country and quit building tunnels into Israel.].

8/1/2019 Turkey moves to oversee all online content, raises concerns over censorship
FILE PHOTO: People use computers at an internet cafe in Ankara April 6, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey on Thursday granted its radio and television watchdog sweeping oversight over all online content, including streaming platforms like Netflix and online news outlets, in a move that raised concerns over possible censorship.
    The move was initially approved by Turkey’s parliament in March last year, with support from President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and its nationalist ally.
    The regulation, published in Turkey’s Official Gazette on Thursday, mandates all online content providers to obtain broadcasting licenses from RTUK, which will then supervise the content put out by the providers.
    Aside from streaming giant Netflix, other platforms like local streaming websites PuhuTV and BluTV, which in recent years have produced popular shows, will be subject to supervision and potential fines or loss of their license.
    In addition to subscription services like Netflix, free online news outlets which rely on advertising for their revenues will also be subject to the same measures.
    “The aim of this regulation is to establish the methods and principles to regulate the presentation and provision of radio, television and on-demand broadcast services, the handing of broadcast licenses to media service providers, the granting of broadcasting authorities to platform administrators and the supervision of the broadcasts in question,” the regulation said.
    It said that the content providers that do not comply with the regulation and RTUK’s guidelines would be given 30 days to adjust their content to the required standards or face having their licenses suspended for three months and later canceled.    Thursday’s announcement did not specify what standards the watchdog would expect.
    A spokeswoman for Netflix in Turkey said the platform was closely following developments and wanted to continue providing content for Turkey.
TIGHTENING GRIP
    Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor and cyber security expert at Istanbul Bilgi University, said that the move went against Turkey’s recently announced package of judicial reforms which aimed to address EU concerns about deteriorating human rights.
    “The regulation granting RTUK the authority to censor the internet came into effect today… Soon, access to the Netflix platform or to news outlets broadcasting from abroad… could be blocked,” Akdeniz wrote on Twitter.
    Critics have also voiced concerns that the move will allow the government to tighten its grip on media, which is largely under the influence of Erdogan and his AK Party.
    Kerem Altiparmak, a human rights lawyer, said the move was the “biggest step in Turkish censorship history” and said all outlets producing opposition news would be affected.
    “Everyone who produces alternative news and broadcasts will be impacted by this regulation,” Altiparmak wrote on Twitter.    “Every news report that can be against the government will be taken under control.”
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Birsen Altayli; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)
[Sounds like to me that the Islamist-Muslim country wants to control what the natives can hear about what is going on in the world and what they can send out also, and it reminds me of the “fake news” channels in the USA and I thank God for Fox News and One America Newsroom so I can get real news unless the Democrats find away to block them.    Even Russia is having riots for this very reason.    Even in the U.S. this could happen, wait a minute it did Obama administration controlled all the news for 8 years and anyone who watch them now can see that clearly if they have not been brain-washed by it.].

8/1/2019 Four killed in renewed Sudan protests, opposition medics say by Khalid Abdelaziz and Ahmed Tolba
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese protesters attend a demonstration in front of the defense ministryz
compound in Khartoum, Sudan, May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – At least four protesters were killed and many injured by gunfire in the Sudanese city of Omdurman on Thursday, opposition medics said, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to pile pressure on the country’s military rulers.
    Organizers had called for a million-person march in cities across Sudan in response to the killing of young protesters in El-Obeid, southwest of the capital Khartoum, earlier this week.
    Sudan has been gripped by months of political turmoil that climaxed in the army overthrowing long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in April.    Protesters have kept up their rallies since then, pressing the army to hand over to civilians, accusing the security services of violence and decrying the shortages and economic hardships that triggered the unrest in the first place.
    Thursday’s killings, reported by the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, one of the main protest groups, came as opposition leaders said there had been some progress in talks with the military on a deal to form a new government after Bashir’s ousting.
    Despite signing a deal in July which secured a three-year transition period and a joint sovereign council with a rotating leadership, talks over the wording of a constitutional declaration on the changes have stumbled.
    “The agreement is really now just around the corner,” Satea al-Hajj, a leader in the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition of opposition groups, said in a press conference in Khartoum on Thursday.
    Negotiations were set to restart later on Thursday, the spokesman for the military council said.
IT’S TOO BAD
    The opposition had demanded that members of the sovereign council, which is intended to lead the country until elections are held, should not be granted blanket immunity from prosecution for past crimes.    But FFC leaders said on Thursday they had agreed that they could be granted only ‘procedural immunity’ – meaning top officials could be tried with the permission of two-thirds of the legislative council.
    The opposition leaders said both sides also agreed another key point, reaffirming that the parties included in the FFC would have 67% of the legislative council while the rest will be granted to other opposition and political groups.
    Sudan’s ruling military council did not immediately confirm the details of the agreements.
    In Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, protesters chanted “it’s too bad, it’s too bad, we don’t have an army,” expressing anger at the army for not protecting protesters.
    Footage posted on social media also showed protests breaking out in El-Obeid, the state capital of North Kordofan state, and Wad Medani, the state capital of Jazeera state, southeast of the capital on the Blue Nile.
    The FFC has accused military and paramilitary forces of firing on the high school pupils as they protested over bread and fuel shortages in El-Obeid on Monday.
    The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the main protest group and a leading voice in the FFC, accused the military of failing to protect civilians and of attempting to prevent “the masses from achieving the goals of the revolution.”
    A senior army commander said a security force assigned to guard a bank was responsible for killing children protesting near there, the official SUNA news agency reported on Thursday.    The bank guards were a government security force.
    Opposition groups have also accused the main paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, of killing scores of protesters since Bashir was ousted and the RSF’s role remains a point of contention.
    The FFC said on Thursday that the RSF should be merged into the armed forces, a proposal opposed by Sudan’s ruling generals, said al-Hajj.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad, Nadine Awadalla and Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Giles Elgood, Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Heavens)

8/1/2019 Syrian media report ceasefire agreed in Idlib
People walk past a damaged building in the city of Idlib, Syria May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian state media reported on Thursday that a ceasefire had been agreed in the last rebel bastion in the country, the northwest, where aid agencies say a government offensive is growing bloodier.
    State media, citing a military source, said the ceasefire would take place from Thursday night, as long as rebel fighters implement the terms of a de-escalation agreement brokered last year by Russia and Turkey.
    There was no immediate rebel comment.
    Syrian troops have gained some ground in the area during a Russian-backed offensive that aid agencies warn is growing bloodier.
    Syria’s army seized a handful of villages, fields and hills in the Hama countryside in the past two days, a military media unit for Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shi’ite movement, which fights alongside government forces, said on Thursday.
    The wave of violence in northwest Syria since late April has killed more than 400 civilians and forced more than 440,000 to flee toward the Turkish border, the United Nations said last week.
    The government and its Russian allies accuse the rebels of failing to comply with the terms of the de-escalation agreement which require heavy weapons and jihadist insurgents to be withdrawn from a buffer zone.    State media reports described these as pre-conditions for Thursday’s ceasefire.
    The region – including Idlib province and parts of nearby Hama – is part of the last major stronghold of armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, who has vowed to reclaim all of Syria, though his side has so far not made major advances in this latest assault.
    In rare public comments, the Syrian army’s political chief pledged to seize Idlib if Russia, Assad’s ally, does not reach a diplomatic solution with Turkey, long an opposition backer.
    Air strikes by the Syrian government and its allies have hit schools, hospitals, markets and bakeries, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last week.
    Bombing has escalated in the last four weeks, killing and wounding more people than at any time this year, the non-profit Doctors Without Borders said on Wednesday night.
    At least 33 children were killed since the end of June, the charity Save the Children said last week.    “Bodies, some torn into pieces or burnt beyond recognition, are still being recovered from the rubble,” it said.
    Major General Hasan Hasan, head of the Syrian army’s political bureau, said on Thursday that “the military path to eliminate terrorism in the north is ongoing.”
    He told the pro-government al-Watan newspaper that it would be good if Moscow or Tehran can find a solution through talks with Ankara, which has forces stationed in the northwest.
    “But at the same time, when matters reach a dead end, then the Syria Arab Army which cleansed all these vast areas…will not stop at all, neither at Idlib nor at any area,” he said.
    The dominant force in Idlib is Tahrir al-Sham, the jihadists formerly known as the Nusra Front, and factions backed by Turkey also have a presence in the region.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry and Alaa Swilam; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Peter Graff)

8/2/2019 Saudi Arabia lifts travel restrictions on women, grants them greater control by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: A Saudi woman speaks on the phone in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has allowed adult women to travel without permission and granted them more control over family matters, further eroding a heavily criticized male guardianship system at a time of heightened scrutiny over its human rights record.
    A series of royal decrees published by the official gazette on Friday stipulated that a Saudi passport should be issued to any citizen who applies for it and that any person above the age of 21 does not need permission to travel.
    The amendments to regulations also grant women for the first time the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.
    Riyadh has long endured international censure over the status of women, who rights groups say are often treated as second-class citizens under rules requiring them to get the consent of a male guardian for important decisions throughout their entire lives, regardless of age.
    Muna AbuSulayman, a prominent Saudi influencer and a former talk show host, took to Twitter along with thousands of Saudi women to celebrate what many described as a new era.
    “A generation growing up completely free and equal to their brothers,” she said, referring to the freedom to travel.
    The kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has eased social restrictions, such as lifting a driving ban for women last year, as part of a push to open up the conservative Muslim kingdom and transform the economy.
    Last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents caused a global outcry, however, and the Gulf Arab state has been widely criticized for the arrest and alleged torture of nearly a dozen women activists.
    Several high-profile cases of young women seeking asylum abroad on claims of gender-based repression have added further pressure on Riyadh over the male guardian system.
    Guardianship’s status between law and custom makes it a thorny issue for Prince Mohammed, who indicated last year he favored ending the system but stopped short of endorsing its annulment.
    Other parts of the system remain intact.    Women still need permission from a male relative to marry or live on their own.
    A hashtag calling for marriage without a guardian’s consent was among the top trending along with a hashtag thanking the crown prince and another touting the new travel rules.
SOCIAL CUSTOMS
    The decrees published Friday also covered employment regulations that would expand work opportunities for women, who represent a big portion of unemployed Saudis.    They stipulated that all citizens have the right to work without facing any discrimination based on gender, disability or age.
    Prince Mohammed unveiled an ambitious plan in 2016 to transform the economy by 2030, which envisages increasing women’s participation in the workforce to 30% from 22%.
    Saudi Arabia ranked 141 of 149 countries in the 2018 Global Gender Gap, a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in economic and political participation, health and education.
    Many Saudi officials say the fault lies in implementation and not government policy.
    Without a codified system of law to go with the texts making up sharia, or Islamic law, the Saudi police and judiciary have long cited social customs in enforcing prohibitions on women.    Many aspects of guardianship stem from informal practice.
    “Mohammed bin Salman has dedicated himself to fixing what extremists broke … This is not about openness as some call it, it is about equal rights for all,” a user called Wael tweeted.
    The prince has pushed back against the religious establishment, including by arresting scores of clerics and dissidents.
    Many citizens remain wary of the fast pace of change.
    “We are a Muslim community not a Western one, may God keep our daughters safe from all evils,” said Sarah, a Saudi woman in her late 40s who declined to give her surname.
    “Imagine if your girls grow up and leave you and don’t return, would you be happy?” she told Reuters.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous, Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)

8/4/2019 U.S. State Department welcomes news of ceasefire in northwest Syria by Nandita Bose
FILE PHOTO: Turkish soldiers stand on a watch tower at the Atmeh crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border,
as seen from the Syrian side, in Idlib governorate, Syria May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Saturday said it welcomed news of a ceasefire in Northwest Syria – the last rebel bastion in the country – and urged for an end to attacks on civilians.
    Last week Syrian media reported that the ceasefire would take place as long as rebel fighters implement the terms of a de-escalation agreement brokered last year by Russia and Turkey.
    The wave of violence in northwest Syria since late April has killed more than 400 civilians and forced more than 440,000 to flee toward the Turkish border, according to the United Nations.
    “The United States believes there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict, and only a political solution can ensure a stable and secure future for all Syrians,” the State Department said in a statement.
    “We further believe the only viable path to a political solution is the U.N.-led political process in Geneva, including constitutional reform and U.N.-supervised elections,” the statement said.
    The United States will support the work of U.N. Special Envoy Geir Pedersen and the United Nations to advance a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process that would create a permanent, peaceful, and political end to the conflict, the State Department added.
    The region – including Idlib province and parts of nearby Hama – was part of the last major stronghold of armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, who has vowed to reclaim all of Syria.
    The Department also commended efforts by Turkey and Russia to restore the cease fire they agreed in September 2018.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Susan Thomas)

8/4/2019 U.S. ‘very confident’ it can build maritime initiative in Gulf: Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne hold a joint
news conference in Sydney, Australia, August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that he was “very confident” the United States would be able to build a maritime coalition in the Gulf, despite a lukewarm response from European and Asian allies.
    Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper were speaking alongside their Australian counterparts in Sydney.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Colin Packham; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

8/4/2019 Sudan factions initial pact ushering in transitional government by Khalid Abdelaziz
Deputy Head of Sudanese Transitional Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and Sudan's opposition alliance coalition's leader Ahmad al-Rabiah
hold up signed copies of the constitutional declaration during a signing ceremony in Khartoum, Sudan August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s military rulers and the main opposition coalition initialed a constitutional declaration on Sunday, paving the way for a transitional government following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.
    The two sides reached agreement on Saturday on the shape of a transitional government in lengthy negotiations since Bashir’s overthrow by the army in April.
    The parties are expected to put their final signatures on the agreement on Aug. 17 at a ceremony in Khartoum attended by foreign leaders.
    Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region by the International Criminal Court, was deposed after months of mass protests.    Continuing unrest, during which dozens of demonstrators were killed, has plunged Sudan into turmoil.
    Sunday’s formalities were attended by African Union and Ethiopian mediators, who had helped broker the accord. Those present in the room clapped and cheered as army and civilian representatives held up copies of the agreement.
    Hundreds celebrated in the streets, dancing, chanting revolutionary songs, waving national flags and sounding horns.
    “Today, the civilian state is achieved,” said Nusseibeh Abdullah, a 21-year-old woman.
    One of Sudan’s top generals, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is deputy head of the Transitional Military council that will be superseded by the interim government, said the agreement was a victory for Sudan.
    “We have finally agreed on a constitutional document that will change the course of history for our country,” he said.     Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, some of whose members have been accused of involvement in killing demonstrators who have repeatedly turned out in huge numbers to press for political progress.
TRANSITION
    Despite the optimism, some have cautioned that it is still too early to tell how events will unfold in the lengthy transition period required to prepare for elections after three decades of autocratic rule under Bashir.
    “It is not the first time that Sudan signed some sort of agreement to resolve very difficult political questions,” said Magdi el-Gizouli, a Sudanese academic and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute.
    But he added: “I think if there is reason for optimism, the reason is not in the negotiation rooms, the reason is in this popular movement that doesn’t want to go away.”
    Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Dirir said the agreement “establishes civilian and democratic rule that seeks to build a state of law, a state of equality, a state which does not marginalize its citizens.”
    The agreement was welcomed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which see themselves as influential in Khartoum.    Sudanese troops are currently operating in Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels.
    According to a document seen by Reuters, the formation of a sovereign council, which will run the country during a three-year transitional period leading up to elections, will be announced on Aug. 18.
    A new prime minister will be named on Aug. 20 and a cabinet on Aug. 28.    The cabinet and the sovereign council will meet together on Sept. 1, ahead of the appointment of a legislative assembly in three months.
    The 300-member assembly will serve during the transitional period.    The main opposition coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change, will have 67% of its seats and other political groups not associated with Bashir will have the rest.

8/4/2019 Turkey to launch offensive in Kurdish-controlled area in northern Syria: Erdogan by Sarah Dadouch
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reviews a guard of honour at the airport in Bursa, Turkey, August 4, 2019. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential
Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will carry out a military operation in a Kurdish-controlled area east of the Euphrates in northern Syria, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, its third offensive to dislodge Kurdish militia fighters close to its border.
    Turkey had in the past warned of carrying out military operations east of the river, but put them on hold after agreeing with the United States to create a safe zone inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the Kurdish YPG militia.
    But Ankara has accused Washington of stalling progress on setting up the safe zone and has demanded it sever its relations with the YPG.    The group was Washington’s main ally on the ground in Syria during the battle against Islamic State, but Turkey sees it as a terrorist organization.
    Erdogan said both Russia and the United States have been told of the planned operation, but did not say when it would begin.    It would mark the third Turkish incursion into Syria in as many years.
    “We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab.    Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan said on Sunday during a motorway-opening ceremony.
    Asked about Erdogan’s comments, a U.S. official told Reuters: “Bilateral discussions with Turkey continue on the possibility of a safe zone with U.S. and Turkish forces that addresses Turkey’s legitimate security concerns in northern Syria.”
    Overnight, three Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters were killed during clashes with the YPG, state-owned Anadolu Agency reported on Sunday.    It said the YPG tried to infiltrate the front lines in Syria’s al-Bab area, where Turkey carved out a de facto buffer zone in its 2016 “Euphrates Shield” offensive.
    Clashes such as these are frequent in the area, but casualties tend to be rare.
    On Thursday, the Kurdish-led administration running north and east Syria issued a statement objecting to Turkish threats to attack the area.
    “These threats pose a danger on the area and on a peaceful solution in Syria, and any Turkish aggression on the area will open the way for the return of Daesh (Islamic State), and that aggression will also contribute to the widening of the circle of Turkish occupation in Syria,” the statement said.
    It called on the international community to take a stance that stops Turkey from carrying out its threats.
(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch and Irem Koca; Additional reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry)

8/4/2019 Israeli army in no rush to go fully robotic by Dan Williams
An exhibitor shows the operating suite of an Israeli armoured vehicle during a display of future systems
at Elyakim Military Base in northern Israel August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    ELYAKIM ARMY BASE, Israel (Reuters) – Israel, a world leader in hi-tech, is around 30 years away from its ambition of deploying robot forces, and for now will chose between three prototypes of semi-automated armored vehicles to cocoon its troops in battle, defense officials said on Sunday.
    Israel has long eyed a future robot army as a means of reducing the use of soldiers on its combustible fronts with Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, just as its air force has increasingly relied on pilotless drones.
    The country draws most of its military personnel from teenage conscripts.
    An unveiling of Israel’s newly-developed operating suites for ground fighting vehicles made clear it plans to keep soldiers at the controls, albeit entirely insulated from the outside: Hatches battened, the cabins will have smart-screens, fed by outside cameras and sensors, instead of windows or ports.
    “Now the people will be sitting in the tank, it’s closed, they are far better protected, and they can advance without worrying about snipers or other things,” said Brigadier-General Yaniv Rotem, head of the Defense Ministry’s development unit.
    The prototype suites, designed by Israel’s top three defense firms as they compete for an army tender, include artificial intelligence systems billed as spotting enemy fighters and directing the vehicle’s counter-fire at them automatically.
    Asked why Israel was not eliminating human involvement entirely and operating the vehicles remotely, Rotem told reporters: “At the end of the day, it is the man in the vehicle who takes the decision.    You need someone who thinks more than a machine.”
    The Defense Ministry, he said, was separately devoting “a lot of discussion” to a potential robot army of the future.
    “Our vision (is), 30 years from now, a lot of autonomous capability,” he said.
    A second defense official said that while the suites could in theory be remote-operated, disruptions or delays in the signal would potentially impede their effectiveness in battle.
    Two of the competing systems appeared inspired by video games and other home technologies, appealing to young soldiers.
    State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries’ has Xbox-style controls.    Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, also state-owned, has a vehicle simulator with touch-screens and animation whose terrain and characters’ garb recall Afghanistan – a nod to the U.S. Army, whose officers also inspected the display on Sunday.
    The third Israeli bidder, Elbit Systems Ltd. < ESLT.TA >, came up with adapted air force helmets whose inside visors provide a 360-degree view of the vehicle’s exterior.    Rotem said Israel was already incorporating the helmets among its Merkava tank crews.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

8/4/2019 Ceasefire gives wary Syrians in Idlib respite from strikes
People ride on their motorbikes along a street at the clock square in the city of Idlib, Syria
August 3, 2019. Picture taken August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano
    IDLIB, Syria (Reuters) – Shopkeepers and residents in Syria’s Idlib city have found relief from air strikes but remain wary after a ceasefire halted fierce government bombing against the rebel foothold.
    For three months, an army offensive backed by Russia has killed at least 400 people in northwest Syria and uprooted more than 440,000, the United Nations says.
    Since Damascus declared a ceasefire on Thursday night, its warplanes have not mounted air strikes, though the combatants are still shelling each other.
    Idlib lies in the last major chunk of territory rebels hold after facing defeat across much of Syria at the hands of Damascus with its allies Russia and Iran.
    At the weekend, the streets of Idlib city buzzed with cars and people.    Some stopped by market stalls to look at clothes, while others lined up at kiosks to buy juice.
    “Before, there was panic. Every time the warning sirens rang, the market became empty right away,” Mhamad al-Omar, who sells cold drinks, told Reuters.    “Now that there’s a bit of calm, there’s traffic today Praise God… People are tired.”
    Air strikes have hit schools, hospitals, markets and bakeries in the latest assault, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last week. Damascus, which denies striking civilians in the eight-year-old war, says it has been responding to militant attacks.
    “The ceasefire is good for everyone. But we don’t know what’s waiting for us,” said Munaf Daher, a college student in Idlib.    “We hope it will be good and people will keep coming back to their homes, this is the biggest joy.”
    Hasan Abdelallal, a local aid worker who was displaced from his city of Aleppo in 2016, said people had started returning after weeks of living in olive groves near the Turkish border.
    “But we don’t know what will happen under the table,” he added.
    Other residents also said they remained cautious after a series of truce deals or Russian-Turkish talks that have failed to end the fighting.
    Under its deals with Moscow, Ankara has forces stationed on the ground in the Idlib region at a dozen military positions.
    Rebel factions have agreed to the latest ceasefire while reserving the right to respond to attacks.
    Syrian state media said on Thursday the ceasefire would depend on militants fulfilling a Russian-Turkish deal that tried last year to create an Idlib buffer zone.    The terms include jihadists and heavy weapons leaving the zone.
    The dominant force in Idlib is the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – formerly the Nusra Front – though Turkey-backed rebels also operate there.
    HTS has rejected conditions of the 2018 “de-escalation deal” such as relinquishing its weapons.    Its leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani was cited on Saturday night as saying his fighters would not withdraw from that zone.
    In recent years, the population of the northwest – which U.N. estimates put at 3 million – has ballooned with civilians and rebels whose hometowns went back under state rule.
    Ahmed Hmeid, who owns a vegetable shop, said the ceasefire would at least let people enjoy the upcoming Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.
    “People had been scared of the bombing on the markets the most, the massacres,” he said.    “Now there is some safety, one percent safety, people are coming out, seeing each other.”
(Reporting by Reuters TV, additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Ellen Francis in Beirut)

8/5/2019 Explainer: UAE military drawdown raises stakes in south Yemen by Ghaida Ghantous
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers rush to help the injured following a missile attack on a military parade during a graduation
ceremony for newly recruited troopers in Aden, Yemen August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Attacks on Yemeni forces that form a core component of the Saudi-led military coalition in the south of the country risk further destabilizing Aden, seat of the government, and complicating United Nations peace efforts.
    The Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which the alliance has been battling for more than four years, launched a missile attack on United Arab Emirates-backed Security Belt forces in the southern port city, a coalition stronghold, that killed 36 soldiers on Thursday.
    The strike on a military parade was the worst violence to hit Aden since southern separatists forces, including Security Belt units, clashed with the Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2017 in a power struggle.
    Analysts say the Houthis may be testing any weaknesses in the coalition following the UAE military drawdown in the south and western coast announced in June, which appears to have also emboldened Islamist militant groups in Yemen who carried out separate deadly attacks on southern forces last week.
WHY IS ADEN SIGNIFICANT?
    The Houthis have stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, but this is the first serious attack by the group on Aden since it was captured by the coalition in 2015.
    The Western-backed, Sunni Muslim alliance intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted Hadi’s government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
    The Houthis, who hold most urban centers including Sanaa and the main port of Hodeidah, have no traction in the south, where the UAE has armed and trained some 90,000 Yemeni troops drawn from southern separatists and coastal plains fighters.
    The Houthis appear to be testing dynamics on the ground after the UAE withdrew some troops and hardware from the area, the only territory seized by the coalition in the war and where Saudi Arabia holds less sway.
    “There seems to be an attempt to test where and how the balance of power can shift,” said Elizabeth Dickinson of the International Crisis Group think tank.
    The attacks on southern security forces are also likely to heighten tensions between southern separatists and Hadi’s government over who should control southern Yemen.
    The war has revived old strains between north and south Yemen, formerly separate countries that united into a single state in 1990 under slain former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
    The Southern Transitional Council blames Hadi’s government for the area’s security and economic woes and has instigated protests in the past.    Adding to tensions, southern forces were hit in two attacks within two days claimed by Islamic State and al Qaeda, among Yemen’s many destabilizing forces.
    The Council on Thursday called for restraint following the parade attack, which killed a Security Belt commander who was a leader among southern separatists, after many of its followers took to social media to threaten northerners in Aden.
WHY IS THE UAE SCALING DOWN ITS PRESENCE?
    There are many reasons: war fatigue, Western criticism and rising Iran tensions that pose a risk closer to home.
    Abu Dhabi says its decision has been in the making for months and was a natural progression after a ceasefire went into effect last December in Hodeidah, which became the focus of the war last year when the coalition tried to seize it.
    Diplomats say the UAE accepted there could be no military solution due to global criticism of coalition air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians and a humanitarian crisis that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
    Pressure by Western allies, including those that supply arms and intelligence to the coalition, to end the war that has killed tens of thousands, and heightened U.S.-Iran tensions, which risk triggering a direct confrontation in the Gulf, added impetus to the UAE decision.
    A senior Emirati official said the UAE remained part of the coalition and would not leave a vacuum in Yemen as it continues to back the local forces it has built up to combat the Houthis and Islamist militant groups.
    Diplomats have said Abu Dhabi’s move is building momentum for a U.N.-sponsored nationwide truce in the Arabian Peninsula nation this year, but that this would require a de-escalation of tensions between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia.
WHERE DO PEACE EFFORTS STAND?
    Seven months on from the Stockholm pact, there has only been a unilateral Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah ports.    It has yet to be matched with a redeployment of coalition-backed forces that would pave the way for a full pullout by both sides.
    U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths is shuttling between Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to salvage the deal, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts in over four years and a gateway to launching talks on a political framework to end the war.
    A major sticking point in the Sweden pact remains agreeing on who would ultimately control Hodeidah amid deep mistrust among all parties.    The port handles the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid supplies and is critical for feeding the long-impoverished country’s 30 million population.
    If broader political talks on a transitional ruling body materialize they would have to include Yemen’s fractious parties, including southern separatists.
(Additional reporting by Reuters team in Yemen and Sylvia Westall in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Andrew Cawthorne)

8/5/2019 Nineteen dead in explosion due to Cairo car crash: ministry
People extinguish a fire from a blast outside the National Cancer Institute, Cairo, Egypt August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Shokry Hussien
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Nineteen people died and 30 were injured in an explosion resulting from a car crash in central Cairo, Egypt’s health ministry said on Monday.
    There was no official statement indicating that the explosion was an attack.
    The blast happened when a car driving against traffic on Cairo’s Nile corniche road collided with three other cars, the interior ministry said in a separate statement.
    It triggered a blaze that forced the partial evacuation of a nearby hospital, National Cancer Institute, the health ministry said.
    Shortly after the explosion, blazing cars could be seen in the roadway as passers-by struggled to help the injured.
    Later in the morning, investigators scoured the scene amid a heavy police presence.    The hospital building showed apparent damage up to the third floor, a Reuters witness said.
    Egypt’s public prosecutor is investigating the incident, sources told Reuters.
(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed, Alaa Swilam and Mahmoud Reda Mourad, Writing by Nafisa Eltahir and Nadine Awadalla; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/5/2019 Turkey says all parties should cooperate in eastern Mediterranean
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference during a visit to Riga, Latvia May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on all parties in the eastern Mediterranean to cooperate with Turkey to solve problems in the area.
    Turkey has sent two drilling ships to explore for gas in the waters off the divided island of Cyprus, prompting accusations from Greece that it is undermining security in the region.
    Speaking in Ankara, Cavusoglu also said that Turkey will continue to defend the interests of Turkish Cypriots.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans)

8/5/2019 Iraqis choose refugee camps over ruined homes
A displaced Iraqi woman, who returns to camp after trying to go home and find the conditions in
their towns unbearable, with lack of services and destroyed buildings, receives aid at Hassan Sham camp, east of
Mosul, Iraq July 29, 2019. Picture taken July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Rashid
    HASSAN SHAM CAMP, Iraq (Reuters) – Despairing of the corpses and debris littering the streets, many Iraqis have left their homes in areas liberated from Islamic State two years ago and voluntarily returned to the displacement camps that housed them during and after the fighting.
    The militants sei zed large swathes of the country in 2014 and were finally defeated in December 2017.    The northern Nineveh province, particularly its capital Mosul and its Old City district, saw some of the worst fighting.
    “I saw havoc in the Old City.    All houses and building are in complete ruin.    I saw in my own eyes corpses.    I saw a hand of a woman,” said Sabiha Jassim, 61, who has since gone back to the Hassan Shami camp for displaced people.     Jassim says she also left because there was no drinking water or access to medical treatment for her ailing husband, both of which are available at the camp.
    In Hassan Sham camp alone, more than 200 families like Jassim’s have returned this year after having initially gone home. Local officials said many had done so but refused to provide a complete figure.
    Islamic State militants ravaged and looted the areas they occupied, leaving behind houses, mosques, and churches in ruin. Some have gone underground and are still active in these areas.
    Bodies and destroyed buildings are still a regular sight two years on.    In contrast, the camps provide residents with security and comparatively comfortable lives.
    “People prefer to live in the refugee camp rather than to stay in Mosul because they say that there is security in the camp.    In addition to that means of living are available in the camp more than in the city of Mosul,” said Mahabad Abdul-Haqi, the Hassan Sham camp deputy director.
    The central government says it will need up to $100 billion to rebuild Mosul but local officials say it has not done enough.
    “Government offices do not provide adequate services, and residents are suffering.    Everything in Nineveh province is unnatural. People see only its appearance, not its essence.    If life were really normal in the province, I don’t think a citizen would leaves their home or city,” said Ali Khudier, a member of the Nineveh provincial council.
    “I know well that Mosul residents love their city like their soul, but people start quitting on even their souls because of Mosul’s deteriorating conditions and quality of life.”
    Even Iraqis who were once affluent find themselves returning to the camps in search of a better life.
    “My husband was a goldsmith, we were rich but because of the current conditions, things turned upside down.    So, I was forced to come back to the camp because I don’t have a source of income,” said Aisha Ahmed who now resorts to selling her share of government-provided rations for $8 to get by.
    “No one helps, neither from the government or rich people.    And even the rich have become poor in such circumstances.    I didn’t see assistance, so I decided to come back to the camp.”
(Reporting by Youness Qais; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein, editing by Ed Osmond)

8/5/2019 Saudi Arabia women’s rights reforms may still be thwarted by custom by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin
A Saudi woman leaves Dammam railway station in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi officials have hailed as “historic” new rights granted to women in Saudi Arabia that further dismantle its heavily criticized guardianship system, but male relatives could still find ways to thwart these freedoms.
    Thousands of Saudi women took to social media to celebrate royal decrees on Friday that allow women above 21 to travel without permission as of the end of August.    Women also now have the right to register births, marriages and divorces, to be issued official family documents and be guardians to minors.
    Experts, however, say male relatives can still obstruct women defying their wishes through legal avenues or informal routes in the ultra-conservative kingdom, where it will take time to change views on gender and social customs.
    “We need enforcement of these laws and the establishment of reporting mechanisms when these policies are not being upheld, as well as watchdog organizations,” said Hala al-Dosari, a U.S.-based Saudi women’s rights expert.
    Male guardians can still file cases of disobedience and absence from home against women, Dosari said.    The government recognizes filial disobedience as a crime.
    “These two cases, punishable by imprisonment and flogging, are representative of the wider legal control of women’s autonomy by men that still needs to be dismantled,” she added.
    It would be especially important to see how Saudi courts deal with challenges by male guardians, said Tamara Wittes, senior fellow at Brookings Institution.
    Riyadh has long endured international censure over the guardianship system that assigns each women a male relative – a father, brother, husband or son – whose approval was needed for various big decisions throughout a woman’s life.
    Without a codified system of law to go with the texts making up sharia, or Islamic law, the Saudi police and judiciary have long cited social customs in enforcing prohibitions on women.
    Some aspects of the guardianship system remain intact, including requirement for permission to marry, a legal necessity in many Gulf Arab states for Muslim marriages.
    Some Saudi women still have doubts.
    “Our culture and upbringing will prevent us from traveling without our guardian approval even if it is our right,” Riyadh resident Bodoor, who declined to provide her surname, told Reuters, motoring her mother around the capital after a ban on women driving was lifted last year.
REPRESSION AND REFORM
    Riyadh’s new envoys to the United States and Britain hailed the decrees as a signal of the kingdom’s will to reform at a time of heightened scrutiny of its human rights record after last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents caused an outcry and strained ties with Western allies.
    Princess Reema bint Bandar, ambassador to Washington, tweeted that this was “history in the making.”
    “This may seem like a small step but it is, nonetheless, transformative for Saudi women,” Prince Khaled bin Bandar said in a statement issued by the embassy in London.
    De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was praised abroad and at home after coming to power in 2017 for loosening social restrictions and opening up the economy.    He reined in the religious morality police, allowed public concerts and cinemas and eased restrictions on gender mixing.
    But his image has been tarnished by Khashoggi’s killing and the detention and alleged torture of almost a dozen women’s rights activists arrested last year shortly before and after the lifting of the driving ban.    He has also arrested scores of clerics in a crackdown on dissent.
    Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said long overdue reforms were a bittersweet victory since women who championed them remain imprisoned or facing unfair trials. Saudi officials deny the allegations, including those of torture.
    Few charges have been made public but those against at least some of the activists relate to contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and human rights groups.
    “Repression and reform go hand in hand in Saudi. Women activists represent a major threat to his (prince’s) rule, they speak the language of rights,” said Madawi al-Rasheed, visiting professor at London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre.
    “The crown prince wants to take all the credit, he is presenting these reforms as a gift to the Saudi citizens not as their rights,” she said, adding that authorities need to ensure new regulations will not be reversed or abandoned later on.
    In contrast to large media coverage of the lifting of the ban on driving, neither state TV nor the news agency announced Friday’s decrees, which were published in the official gazette.
    A member of the kingdom’s advisory Shura Council, Hoda al-Helaissi, said there will likely be resistance by some.
    “But like all changes and reforms that have taken place in the Kingdom, this too will become matter-of-fact,” she said.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Lisa Barrington, Ghaida Ghantous and Andrew Cawthorne)

8/6/2019 Any Turkish incursion into Syria ‘unacceptable,’ will prevent it: Pentagon chief by Idrees Ali
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper arrives in Auckland, New Zealand August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Idrees Ali
    TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday any Turkish operation into northern Syria would be “unacceptable” and the United States would prevent unilateral incursions, as tensions between Washington and Ankara simmer.
    On Sunday, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey, which already has a foothold in northwest Syria, will carry out a military operation in a Kurdish-controlled area east of the Euphrates in northern Syria.
    “Clearly we believe any unilateral action by them (Turkey) would be unacceptable,” Esper told reporters traveling with him to Japan.
    “What we’re going to do is prevent unilateral incursions that would upset, again, these mutual interests… the United States, Turkey and the SDF share with regard to northern Syria,” Esper said.
    The SDF stands for the Syrian Democratic Forces.    With U.S. backing, the SDF, which includes the Kurdish YPG militia, have taken control over the last four years of much of northeastern Syria from Islamic State militants.    Ankara sees the YPG as a terrorist organization.
    Esper said the United States did not have any “ambition” to abandon the SDF, but stopped short of guaranteeing that the United States would protect them in case of a Turkish operation.
    A team from the Pentagon was in Turkey to speak with Turkish officials about the issue and Esper said he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached with Ankara.
    Esper suggested that a Turkish operation into northern Syria could affect the SDF’s focus on ensuring Islamic State did not retake the territory it once held in Syria and the ability of the U.S.-backed forces to hold the thousands of alleged Islamic State fighters in detention.
    The Turkish-led campaign, which has for months been delayed due to resistance from Washington, is aimed at evicting Kurdish YPG forces from a string of border town in Raqqa and Hasaka provinces.
    Ankara has accused Washington of stalling progress on setting up a safe zone inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the Kurdish YPG militia.
    This week, Erdogan said both Russia and the United States had been told of the planner operation, but did not say when it would begin. It would mark the third Turkish incursion into Syria in as many years.
    Ties between the two NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues, including the United States’ removal of Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program after Ankara bought and took delivery of Russian S-400 missile defenses that Washington sees as a threat.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Darren Schuettler)

8/6/2019 Secretary of State Pompeo calls on more than 60 nations to protect Persian Gulf by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling on world leaders to deter Iran from securing the Persian Gulf.    In an interview with Australian media over the weekend, Pompeo introduced a global coalition to promote freedom of navigation and commerce in the Western Asia waterway.    This comes days after Iran reportedly seized a privately-owned Iraqi oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz.
    “Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, has demonstrated its willingness to pull commercial vessels from the sea…it put mines on six ships, it pulled a British vessel from the waters, it’s still holding that ship and we just think that’s wrong and needs to be protected against,” stated Pompeo.    “And the best way to do that is deterrence, to create stability, so what we’ve asked 60 plus nations to do is provide assistance in deterring from and securing the Strait of Hormuz…so that commercial vessels can travel through there.”
    The White House official says the proposed operation will aim to protect world economies dependent on the passage without instigating a violent conflict.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne take part in an onstage interview
at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)
    “We want to make sure we have a comprehensive program, so that Iran won’t do something that will either A; risk that there will be a kinetic conflict, which is something the United States certainly doesn’t want, but second, that we protect the Australian economy, and the Japanese economy, and the South Korean economy, who each depend on goods being able to flow through that strait,” explained the U.S. secretary of state.
    During his stay in Sydney, Pompeo reportedly convinced Australian leaders to give “serious consideration” in joining the coalition.    The Australian government says it is concerned by the heightened tensions in the region, but has not yet made a decision.

8/6/2019 Turkey readies for action as U.S. talks on Syria safe zone struggle by Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a ceremony at
Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Deep differences between Turkey and the United States over the scope and command of a planned “safe zone” in northeast Syria raise the prospect of Turkish military action unless the two countries break months of deadlock in talks this week.
    Turkey has twice sent troops into northern Syria in the last three years and President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday a third incursion was imminent, targeting Kurdish-controlled territory east of the Euphrates river.
    Ankara views the Kurdish YPG militia, which plays a leading role in the Syrian Democratic Forces that hold sway over hundreds of miles (km) of Syria’s northeast border region, as terrorists who pose a grave security threat to Turkey, saying they must be driven back from frontier areas.
    Washington, which armed and backed them in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, wants to protect its military partners and has resisted Turkey’s demands for full control of a long strip of land that would extend 32 km (20 miles) into Syria.
    Military delegations from both countries are meeting in Ankara this week, the latest attempt in months of talks on setting up the safe zone which they agreed to form as President Donald Trump’s administration reduces troop numbers in Syria.
    Three Turkish officials who spoke to Reuters expressed impatience that the talks have yet to yield results, and warned that Ankara was ready to act on its own.
    “For some time, Turkey’s armed forces have deployed on the Syrian border.    All the necessary preparations for an operation are complete,” a senior Turkish official said.
    “If we have to do this business on our own, we will.    Of course the sensitivities of the countries with which we cooperate are important but they finally have to understand us.    Every passing day is a loss.”
‘TOUGH POSITION’
    The safe zone impasse is just one of several disputes between the two NATO partners.    Turkey angered the United States last month by buying Russian missile defense equipment, and the two countries are also split over Washington’s Iran sanctions and refusal to extradite a Muslim cleric wanted by Ankara.
    Both sides have made their frustration clear.
    Trump’s special envoy for Syria said after an earlier round of talks on the safe zone last week that Turkey had taken a “pretty tough” position.    “The Turks want a deeper zone than the one we think makes sense,” James Jeffrey said.
    Washington has proposed a two-tiered zone, with a 5-kilometre (three-mile) demilitarized strip bolstered by an additional 9 km cleared of heavy weapons – stretching in total less than half the distance into Syria that Turkey is seeking.
    The United States has sought, with little sign of success, military contributions from European allies to police the area.
    Turkey has said it must have ultimate authority over the safe zone, another point of divergence with the United States.
    “When Ankara says it wants to control the 32-km zone, the United States can never agree to that,” said Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the U.S. think-tank Foreign Policy Research Institute.
    Given that negotiations had “flatlined,” he said Turkey was likely to act unilaterally and pointed to several potential military targets including areas around the northern Syrian town of Manbij and the border towns of Tel Abyad or Kobane.
    U.S. forces operate to varying degrees in all three areas, meaning American troops could risk being caught up in hostilities if Turkey does take action.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday any Turkish operation into north Syria would be “unacceptable” and the United States would prevent unilateral incursions. He said he hoped this week’s talks in Ankara would succeed.
    A Turkish security official said that differences between the two sides over the depth of the zone were narrowing but had not been completely bridged.
    “(The United States) reached a point close to our proposal but a full agreement could not be reached,” he said, adding that Turkey insisted on the full 32 kilometers, as Trump himself endorsed in a January tweet.
    “Fundamentally we want what Trump said to be implemented.    It is not normal for talks to go on this long,” he said.
    While Turkish officials are keen not to alienate the president, who has been far more sympathetic about Turkey’s purchase of the Russian defense systems than the U.S. Congress, Erdogan repeated on Tuesday that Ankara was committed to clearing Kurdish fighters from its southern flank.
    “Turkey cannot feel safe as long as this structure along our southern border, which is growing like a cancer, is not eliminated,” he told Turkish diplomats in Ankara.
    “If we don’t do what is necessary today, we will have to do so by paying a high price later,” Erdogan said, signaling a new operation into Syria after the 2016 Euphrates Shield incursion and last year’s Olive Branch operation to drive Kurdish YPG fighters from the northern Syrian region of Afrin.
    “God willing, we will take the process we started with the Euphrates Shield to a very different level very soon,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/6/2019 Aden attack exposes splits in Yemen’s anti-Houthi alliance by Fawaz Salman and Mohammed Mukashaf
Vice President of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council, Hani Ali bin Buraik, addresses a
news conference in Aden, Yemen August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Wael al-Qubati
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s southern separatists on Tuesday accused an Islamist party of complicity in last week’s deadly attack on Aden, the seat of government, exposing rifts in the Saudi-backed coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
    The separatists and Islamist party are united in their wider war on the Houthis, but have rival agendas for Yemen, and frictions between them over Thursday’s attack could destabilize the southern port city that is the coalition’s sole stronghold.
    The missile strike killed 36 Security Belt soldiers, who are part of the southern separatists, at a military parade.    It was claimed by the Houthis, whom the military alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has battled since 2015.
    The Aden violence, along with an escalation in Houthi missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, has complicated U.N. peace efforts to end a four-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
    The UAE-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) said the attack aimed to give Islamist party Islah an upper hand in Aden.
    “This attack was planned to make all of Aden fall into the hands of Islah,” STC Vice-President Hani Ali Brik said.
    Islah, an important ally of internationally recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is tolerated by Saudi Arabia but viewed with suspicion by the UAE.
    “Therefore, do not blame our people if they take to the streets to demand the removal of this government from southern lands,” the STC vice-president added at a press conference.
    There was no immediate comment from Islah or Hadi’s government, nor was there any response in Islah-affiliated media.    Islah is viewed by the UAE as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is designated a terrorist group by Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.
    The attack was the worst violence to hit Aden, a coalition stronghold, since southern separatists clashed with Hadi’s government in 2017 in a power struggle.
IRAN ACCUSED
    Saudi and Yemeni officials have publicly accused Iran of being behind the attack and a separate one in Aden that day claimed by militant group Islamic State.
    Tehran denies any involvement in Yemen.
    The Western-backed, Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen against the Houthis after they ousted Hadi’s government from power in the capital Sanaa in the north in 2014.
    The government is now based in Aden while the Houthis control most other urban centers.
    The war has revived old strains between north and south Yemen, formerly separate countries that united into a single state in 1990 under slain former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
    Local officials and residents in Aden said many northerners in the city had been expelled to nearby Houthi-held territories in recent days in a move condemned by Hadi’s prime minister and the United Nations’ human rights body.
    Analysts say the Houthis may have attacked the parade precisely to exploit coalition weaknesses after the UAE in June said it had scaled back its presence in the south and western coast, where it has armed and trained some 90,000 troops.
    “The attack proves that the priority remains (to combat) the Houthi coup, extremism and terrorism,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted on Tuesday, without mentioning the STC accusations against Islah.
    Western allies, some of which supply arms and intelligence to the coalition, have pressed for an end to a war widely seen in the region as a proxy between Saudi Arabia and Tehran.
    The Houthis deny being puppets of Tehran and say their revolution is against corruption.
(Reporting by Fawaz Salman and Mohammed Mukhashaf; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

8/6/2019 Libya’s U.N.-backed government steps up defense spending as war drags on
FILE PHOTO: A member of the Libyan internationally recognised government forces is seen during a fight
with Eastern forces, in southern Tripoli, Libya June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Yosri al-Jamal/File Photo
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s internationally recognized government has allocated 40 million Libyan dinars ($28.5 million) for its defense ministry, it said on Tuesday, stepping up spending to fend off an eastern offensive as the war enters a fifth month.
    The government also granted each of its soldiers 3,000 dinars as a reward for fighting the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) force of Khalifa Haftar, which started in April a campaign to take Tripoli in western Libya.
    Authorities gave no details on the military spending.    They had in April budgeted up to 2 billion dinars ($1.43 billion) to cover medical treatment for the wounded, aid for displaced people and other “emergency” war costs.
    The government has since received combat drones and trucks from Turkey to match the build-up of the LNA, which enjoys backing from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, diplomats say.
    The LNA has been unable to breach Tripoli’s southern defenses and lost in July its main forward base in Gharyan.
    The frontlines have not changed in recent weeks but both sides have stepped up air strikes.
    The government did not say how it plans to fund the defense spending.
    According to central bank data, Libya in the first six months earned 11.1 billion dinars from a hard currency transaction fee, imposed last year.
    The budget of war-torn Libya is based on oil and gas revenues and almost entirely used to pay for public salaries, armed groups and fuel subsidies, leaving little money for roads, schools or hospitals.
    The LNA offensive has scuppered U.N. plans to hold a national conference to stabilize a country in trouble since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and prepare elections.
    Diplomats say there is no appetite from both sides to hold a ceasefire.    Haftar is allied to a parallel government in the east.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami,; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Ed Osmond)

8/7/2019 Turkey says drill ships continue work in eastern Mediterranean, another en route by Murad Sezer and Mert Ozkan
Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is escorted by Turkish Navy frigate TCG Gemlik (F-492) in the eastern
Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus, August 6, 2019. Picture taken August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ABOARD THE YAVUZ DRILL SHIP, Eastern Mediterranean (Reuters) – Two Turkish drill ships are continuing operations in the eastern Mediterranean and another ship will join them this month, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said, as a dispute over natural resources there fuels tensions between Turkey and Cyprus.
    EU member Cyprus and Turkey have argued for years regarding the ownership of fossil fuels in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara says Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the resources.
    Turkey rejects agreements the internationally recognized Cypriot government has reached with other Mediterranean states on maritime economic zones.
    Turkey has sent two drilling ships, Fatih and Yavuz, as well as an exploration vessel, to operate in waters off the divided island of Cyprus, prompting accusations from Greece that it is undermining security in the region.
    Aboard the Yavuz drill ship, off the northeastern coast of Cyprus, Donmez told reporters that a second exploration vessel would begin work in the area by the end of August. A Turkish frigate and patrol boat accompanied the Yavuz.
    “Fatih is continuing to drill in the Finike-1 borehole in the areas licensed to Turkey.    Yavuz is continuing its operations in the Karpaz-1 borehole,” he said in comments made on Tuesday but embargoed until Wednesday.
    “The Oruc Reis seismic exploration ship will join this work as of the end of August,” he said.
    Turkey’s operations in the region have drawn a reaction from its Western allies, including the European Union and the United States.
    “We support a peaceful, stable region and we discourage provocative actions by any players,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon said on Tuesday, when asked about Turkey’s moves in the region.
    EU foreign ministers last month suspended negotiations on a comprehensive air transport agreement and decided not to hold further EU-Turkey high-level dialogue for the time being.
    Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief, Greek-inspired coup.    Several peacemaking efforts have failed and the discovery of offshore resources in the eastern Mediterranean has complicated the negotiations.
    On Friday, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci will discuss a way out of an impasse in peace talks, which have been stalled for two years.
    Akinci said the Greek Cypriot side was making unilateral attempts to explore for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean despite repeated Turkish Cypriot proposals to resolve the issue.
    “This doesn’t leave the Cypriot Turkish side and Turkey with any choice other than what we are doing right now,” Akinci told Reuters TV in an interview.
    Speaking to Turkish ambassadors in Ankara on Tuesday, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would continue to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
    “We cannot remain indifferent to the attempts at theft and sabotage that are being carried out under the name of drilling,” he said.
(Reporting by Murad Sezer and Mert Ozkan; Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Athens; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler and Dale Hudson)

8/7/2019 Turkey says U.S. getting closer to its views on north Syria safe zone by Sarah Dadouch
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar (L) and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General
Tod Wolters, speak at a NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the United States is shifting closer to Ankara’s views on a proposed safe zone in northeast Syria, and that its plans for a military deployment there are complete.
    Turkey and the United States, allies in NATO, have been deadlocked for months over the scope and command of the zone, given the presence of Kurdish YPG militia that fought alongside U.S. forces against Islamic State militants but which Ankara sees as terrorists who pose a grave security threat.
    Ankara has accused Washington of stalling on setting up the safe zone spread over hundreds of km (miles) along Syria’s northeastern border and has demanded that the United States sever its ties with the YPG.
    On Wednesday, the third day of fresh Turkish-U.S. talks on the safe zone, Akar described them as “positive and rather constructive,” and that he expected them to finish within hours.
    “In the meeting, we were glad to see that our counterparts approached our viewpoint,” Akar said, according to state-owned Anadolu Agency.
    Akar did not give details on that point.    He added, “Our plans, preparations, the deployment of our units in the field are all complete.    But we said we wanted to act together with our friend and ally, the United States.”
    Washington has proposed a two-tiered safe zone, with a 5-kilometre (three-mile) demilitarized strip bolstered by an additional 9 km cleared of heavy weapons – stretching in total less than half the distance into Syria that Turkey is seeking.
    Turkey has also said it must have ultimate authority over the zone, another point of divergence with the United States.
    Three Turkish officials who spoke to Reuters this week expressed impatience that the talks have yet to yield results, and warned that Ankara was ready to act on its own.
    Turkey has twice sent forces into northern Syria in the last three years, citing security concerns caused by Syria’s eight-year-long civil war, and President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday a third incursion was imminent, targeting YPG-controlled territory east of the Euphrates river.
    U.S. President Donald Trump announced last year that U.S. forces would leave Syria and began an initial withdrawal, a decision applauded by Ankara, and the two NATO allies agreed to create the safe zone.
    On Tuesday, a U.S. Defense Department report warned about a revival of Islamic State in Syria’s northeast, saying U.S.-backed Kurdish groups were not equipped to handle the resurgent jihadist cells without U.S. support.
    “The partial (U.S.) drawdown (has) occurred at a time when these fighters need additional training and equipping to build trust with local communities and to develop the human-based intelligence necessary to confront resurgent (Islamic State) cells and insurgent capabilities in Syria,” the report said.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich)

8/7/2019 Brazil’s top court denies extradition of Erdogan opponent
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during the opening ceremony of a highway in Bursa, Turkey, August 4, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential
Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
    BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request for the extradition of an opponent of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan saying there was no guarantee he would get a fair trial in Turkey.
    Ali Sipahi, a businessman and owner of restaurants in Sao Paulo, is a member of Hizmet, a moderate Islamic movement inspired by U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.    It is considered a terrorist group by the Erdogan government.
    “There is no assurance that the extradited person would be ensured an impartial trial by an independent judge,” Justice Edson Fachin said in his ruling unanimously backed by the five-member second chamber of the Supreme Court.
    Brazil’s chief prosecutor’s office argued before the court against the extradition of Sipahi, who has lived in Brazil for 12 years, saying it had no evidence of terrorist acts committed by Hizmet.
    The Estado de S.Paulo newspaper reported that there are about 300 Turkish citizens linked to Hizmet living in Brazil and Turkey’s government is seeking the extradition of at least 10 of them.
    The Brazilian Justice Ministry did not immediately reply to a request to confirm the other extradition requests.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

8/7/2019 Thousands gather in Israel to protest deportation of foreign workers, families by OAN Newsroom
    Thousands of activists in Israel gathered to protest against the deportation of dozens of Filipino workers and their families.
    Nearly 3,000 protesters gathered outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Tuesday to oppose the upcoming mass deportations, which they claim unfairly targets a minority community.
    The demonstrations come as officials have been working to deport dozens of children of foreign Filipino workers born in Israel over allegations they are in the country illegally because their mothers overstayed their visas.
    Officials say that nearly 30,000 Filipino workers currently reside in the country, where the majority have Israeli-born children.

8/7/2019 U.S. warns against inflaming tensions over Lebanon shooting
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris following a meeting
with French President Francois Hollande, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday the case of a deadly shooting in Lebanon should be handled in a way that achieves justice “without politically motivated inflammation” of tensions.
    Two aides of a government minister were killed in the June 30 shooting that has spawned a political conflict pitting Druze leader Walid Jumblatt against Christian and Druze adversaries who are aligned with the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
    As a result, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s national unity government, which includes the parties to the standoff, has been unable to convene, complicating government efforts to enact badly needed financial reforms.
    Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) said on Tuesday that attempts were underway by allies of President Michel Aoun to fabricate a judicial file against Jumblatt’s party for a political trial.
    In an unusual move, the U.S. embassy said the United States “supports fair and transparent judicial review without any political interference” and said any attempt to use the event “to advance political objectives should be rejected.”
    “The US has conveyed in clear terms to Lebanese authorities our expectation that they will handle this matter in a way that achieves justice without politically motivated inflammation of sectarian or communal tensions,” it added.
    The Free Patriotic Movement, the party founded by Aoun and now led by his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, said it rejected any interference in the judiciary, calling on it not to pay attention to political disputes.
    Allies of Saleh al-Gharib, the minister whose aides were killed in the shooting, have declared the incident an assassination attempt for which they hold Jumblatt’s party responsible.
    Jumblatt’s party says the incident was an exchange of fire initiated by Gharib’s entourage in which two Jumblatt supporters were also wounded.
    The dispute escalated on Tuesday when Jumblatt’s PSP held Bassil responsible for the incident because he had wanted to visit the Chouf region that day against local wishes.
    At a news conference, the PSP accused Bassil of stirring tensions ahead of the incident through references to a historic Christian-Druze conflict in the region.
    In a speech on Wednesday, Bassil said there was an “aggression” on himself and others who were visiting the Chouf to prevent them from entering the mountain region.
    Without naming its sources, leading Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reported this week that Aoun believed Bassil rather than Gharib had been the target of an ambush in the Chouf.
    Jumblatt is a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his party views the incident and its repercussions as part of a wider campaign to weaken his influence over Lebanon’s Druze community to the benefit of pro-Damascus parties.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/7/2019 Clashes erupt in Yemen’s Aden, three dead by Mohammed Mukashaf
Bodyguards of Yemen's southern separatist leaders are seen during a funeral of Brigadier General Muneer al-Yafee
and his comrades killed in a Houthi missile attack, in Aden, Yemen, August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    ADEN (Reuters) – Southern separatists clashed on Wednesday with presidential guards in Aden, the seat of Yemen’s government, and three people were killed and nine injured, local officials and residents told Reuters.
    The violence highlighted a rift within the Saudi-backed coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a more than four-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
    The separatists and the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are nominally united in their battle against the Houthis.
    But they have rival agendas for Yemen’s future, and a missile strike in Aden last week that killed dozens of southern soldiers raised friction between them.
    Just before Wednesday’s clash, hundreds of separatist supporters attended a funeral for some of the southern soldiers and a prominent commander near the hilltop presidential palace.
    As the crowd chanted anti-government slogans, shooting was exchanged with presidential guards.
    Presidential guard Brigadier General Sanad al-Rahwa told Yemeni news outlet Masdar Online that his forces had clashed with armed groups trying to storm the presidential palace and central bank.
    After the funeral, the vice-president of the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), Hani Ali Brik, called on supporters to march on the palace and overthrow the government, but there was no sign such a march had begun.
    Interior Minister Ahmed al-Mayssari said the government had so far practiced restraint to maintain stability in Aden but was “fully ready” to combat any actions targeting the state’s institutions.
    “We call on the Yemeni people not to respond to such calls as they only aim for war and only serve the Houthis,” he said.
    The United Nations’ special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, expressed concern about the flare-up in Aden.
    “I am alarmed by the military escalations in Aden today, including reports of clashes in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace.    I am also deeply concerned by the recent rhetoric encouraging violence against Yemeni institutions,” he tweeted.
    A senior United Arab Emirates (UAE) official, Anwar Gargash, called for calm after the violence, which he described on Twitter as worrying.    He said escalation between the two sides was not acceptable after attacks claimed by Islamic State and al Qaeda in southern Yemen in recent days.
    The UAE supports the anti-Houthi coalition but also backs the southern separatists.
    The Saudi ambassador to Yemen said the only beneficiary of the violence was the Houthis.
PRESIDENT AWAY
    The southern port city of Aden is the temporary home of Hadi’s government, though he himself is in Saudi Arabia and the presidential palace is largely empty apart from soldiers.
    Wednesday’s fracas came after the STC on Tuesday alleged that an Islamist party that is an important ally of Hadi was complicit in last week’s killing of the Security Belt soldiers.
    Separatist commander Brigadier General Muneer al-Yafee was among those who died in the missile attack on the parade.
    “The people of the south are all on the street.    This is a movement by the people that cannot be stopped, except with the government’s downfall,” said one mourner, Abdelhakim Tabaza.
    Warplanes were seen on Wednesday flying over Aden, where rivalries have brought violence in the past too.    In January 2018, southern forces took control after two days of fighting, confining Hadi’s government to the presidential palace.
    After accusing the Islamist party Islah of involvement in Thursday’s missile attack, the STC’s Brik had on Tuesday said: “Do not blame our people if they take to the streets to demand the removal of this government from southern lands.”
    Islah is tolerated by Saudi Arabia but viewed with suspicion by the UAE.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen; Additional reporting by Samar Hassan in Cairo; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry)

8/8/2019 Muslim pilgrims descend on Mecca for haj, Saudis warn against politics by Ahmad Elhamy
Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage in the holy city
of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of white-clad pilgrims, many gripping umbrellas to ward off Saudi Arabia’s blistering summer sun, descended on Mecca this week ahead of the annual haj.
    Saudi officials asked Muslims to focus on rituals of worship, warning against politicizing the rite as wars rage on in the region and at a time of heightened tensions between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim adversary Iran.
    “Haj…is not a place for political conflicts or to raise sectarian slogans that divide Muslims,” Abdulrahman al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, told reporters.
    Mecca Governor Prince Khalid al-Faisal asked worshippers earlier this week to “leave all other matters in your countries to discuss when you are back.”
    Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites and organizing a peaceful haj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
    Authorities said more than 1.8 million pilgrims had so far arrived in the kingdom for the world’s largest annual Muslim gathering, which retraces the route the Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago.
    Outside the Grand Mosque, the world’s largest, temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius as industrial fans sprayed water.
    “All of this is for the sake of the haj,” 43-year-old Fatima Sayed from Giza, Egypt, said of the searing heat.    “We applied twice before but God didn’t permit it, and, thank God, it was a very big surprise that He ordained it for me this year.”
    Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the haj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system.
    Saudi Arabia has made use of technology to manage the flow of millions at the same place at the same time.    This includes electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS, that were introduced after a 2015 crush killed hundreds of people.
    A new highspeed railway linking Mecca and Medina, Islam’s second most sacred site, is being used during the haj season for the first time after its inauguration last September.
    The pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil.    The haj and the umrah, the year-round lesser pilgrimage, generate billions of dollars in revenues from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and gifts.
    Amjad Khan, a pharmacist from Manchester in Britain, said the new measures made the pilgrimage a smoother experience.
    “Here in the company of our brothers from all over the world, it’s a very good feeling,” Khan, 36, said.
(Reporting by Ahmad Elhamy; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/8/2019 Israel says soldier stabbed to death in Palestinian attack in West Bank
Israeli soldiers and a member of Zaka Rescue and Recovery team work near the scene where the
Israeli military said an Israeli soldier was found stabbed to death near a Jewish settlement outside the
Palestinian city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    OFRA, West Bank (Reuters) – The body of an Israeli soldier was found near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Thursday and the military said he had been stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant.
    The soldier, who the military said was in civilian clothes and unarmed, was a student in a Jewish seminary in the West Bank that combines religious studies with service in the armed forces.
    An Israeli military statement said the body was discovered near the settlement of Migdal Oz, north of the city of Hebron, and that the 19-year-old had been killed in a Palestinian attack.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.    Israel Radio said security authorities were looking into whether the soldier, Corporal Dvir Sorek, was killed in a failed kidnapping attempt.
    “We were informed today about a grave stabbing attack,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.    “The security forces are in pursuit, in order to capture the despicable terrorist and hold him to account.”
    Hours later, Netanyahu attended a previously scheduled ceremony in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, where he laid a cornerstone for the construction of 650 new housing units.
    He said Jews would not be driven from the area by Palestinians and “we will deepen our roots in our homeland.”
    The Palestinians seek to end the Israeli occupation of territory seized in the 1967 Middle East and set up their own state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
    Israel said last week it would build 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank – a move Palestinian leaders decried as showing Israel’s “colonial mentality” – but in a rare step it also approved permits for 700 houses for Palestinians.
    Netanyahu, who is courting ultra-nationalist Jewish support ahead of a Sept. 17 election, has hinted that Israel could annex its West Bank settlements – in defiance of world powers that view the enclaves as illegal, which Israel disputes.
    The area of Hebron and surrounding Israeli settlements where the soldier’s body was found have often been a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/8/2019 Israeli soldier found stabbed to death in the West Bank by OAN Newsroom
    A young Israeli solider has died after being stabbed in the West Bank.    The body of the 19-year-old man was reportedly found after a Palestinian attacker allegedly killed him in the city of Hebron.
    According to officials, the soldier was also a student at a Jewish seminary, and was reportedly on his way to Jerusalem to purchase gifts for his school’s staff before being ambushed by the attacker.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli officials are on the hunt for the Palestinian suspect and will bring him to justice.
Israeli troops secure the area where a body of a soldier with stab wounds was found near Gush Etzion
settlement in the West Bank, Thursday, Aug, 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
    “Today, another one of the best of our boys fell from a family that has already made a heavy sacrifice for the land of Israel.    These vicious terrorists come to uproot and we come to plant.    They come to destroy, we come to build.    Our hands will reach those who seek to harm us, we will strengthen our roots in our homeland.” — Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister – Israel
    A spokesperson for the soldier’s family said he liked to write poems and felt connected with nature, adding, his death is a terrible thing.

8/8/2019 Rivals keep fighting in Yemen’s Aden, bystander killed by Mohammed Mukhashaf
Smoke rises during clashes in Aden, Yemen Augsut 8, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    ADEN (Reuters) – Southern separatists and presidential guards fought for a second day on Thursday in Aden, the seat of Yemen’s government, with at least one person killed, residents said.
    That followed three deaths and nine injuries when gunfire erupted between the rivals on Wednesday, complicating efforts to end a more than four-year war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen towards famine.
    The separatists are nominally allied with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in a Saudi-backed coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthis.    But they have rival agendas for Yemen and the separatists accused a Hadi-allied party of complicity in an attack last week on their soldiers.
    After Wednesday’s funeral for some of the troops killed in that missile strike on a parade, separatist supporters fought with guards near the hilltop presidential palace in the Crater district of the southern port city, witnesses said.
    Thursday’s fatality came when fighting flared again and a stray bullet hit a man walking in the street, witnesses and his relatives said.    Sounds of gunfire and heavy weaponry echoed into the evening while smoke and fire could be seen rising.
    With Hadi in Saudi Arabia, the palace is largely empty.
    The two days of violence in Aden come after coalition member the United Arab Emirates, which has armed and trained southern separatist groups, said in late June it had begun to withdraw forces from Yemen.
    Two Yemeni officials told Reuters that Saudi troop and vehicle reinforcements arrived in Aden on Thursday, continuing a build up of Saudi forces in areas vacated by the UAE.
    Media outlets affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) separatists said on Thursday their leader Aidaroos al-Zubaidi had flown into Aden from his home in the UAE.
    “It is very unfortunate that the people of the south are fighting among themselves,” Aden resident and university worker Mohammed Ahmed al-Arshi told Reuters.
    “We hope that everyone is aware of the dangers and impact of any new civil wars because people have had enough of what happened in previous wars.”
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by David Holmes and Andrew Cawthorne)

8/8/2019 Syrian government gains ground from rebels in northwest by Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: Turkish soldiers stand on a watchtower at the Atmeh crossing on the Syrian-Turkish border, as seen
from the Syrian side, in Idlib governorate, Syria, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian government forces seized ground from insurgents in northwestern Syria on Thursday, sources on both sides said, building on advances since the military declared an end to a brief ceasefire earlier this week.
    The humanitarian adviser to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria said the new upsurge in violence in the northwest threatened the lives of millions after more than 500 civilians were killed since late April.
    The Russian-backed army operations resumed on Monday after the government accused neighboring Turkey, which backs some rebel groups in the area, of not abiding by commitments in the truce.    The army’s capture of al-Sakhr in northern Hama province on Thursday followed the taking of two villages on Wednesday.
    A rebel commander said government forces had been able to advance in the northern Hama area due to heavy air and artillery strikes.    “The situation is difficult but recovering the positions we lost is not impossible and we will work on that,” Colonel Mustafa Bakour of the Jaish al-Izza rebel group told Reuters by text message.
    Assad’s side has struggled to make significant gains in more than three months of military operations in the northwest, the last major foothold of rebel groups in Syria.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the eight-year-old conflict, said the advances by Assad’s side over the last two days were its most significant since June, noting that the army was closing in on three rebel-held towns.
    Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said 64 combatants had been killed in the last two days, 40 of them rebels and two dozen government fighters.
    The most powerful insurgent group, the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham, said dozens of government fighters had been killed in an attack on the two villages seized on Wednesday.
    “Every inch of our liberated land will cost (Assad’s side) dearly,” it said in a statement.
    Air strikes and bombardment of the rebel-held area by the Syrian government and Russian forces have uprooted hundreds of thousands of people.
SPECTER OF NEW REFUGEE EXODUS – U.N.
    The United Nations warned that the fresh violence threatens the lives of millions and potentially could drive hundreds of thousands more civilians from their homes.
    “All this is happening at the doorstep of Turkey, so there is a threat for Turkey, a direct impact with massive displacement of people toward the north, heading toward Turkey and of course a threat for the rest of Europe,” said Panos Moumtzis, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Syria’s crisis.
    “We have so far 39 health facilities, 50 schools, water points, markets, bakeries, and multiple civilian neighborhoods who have received a direct hit,” he told reporters in Geneva.
    The Syrian government had said it would agree to the ceasefire on condition militants fulfilled a Russian-Turkish deal last year which aimed to create a demilitarized zone.
    Though Turkey-backed rebel factions operate in Idlib province in the northwest, the dominant force there is the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham group, formerly known as the Nusra Front.
    British foreign minister Dominic Raab criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the resumption of operations.    “Appalled by situation in Idlib and how Assad backed by Russia revoked a ‘conditional’ ceasefire just days after announcing it – a repeated pattern of behavior,” Raab said on Twitter.
    “Attacks on civilian targets are a violation of international humanitarian law – this must stop.”
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this month the United Nations would investigate attacks on U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites in the northwest after two-thirds of the Security Council pushed for an inquiry.
    Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure and questioned the sources used by the United Nations to verify attacks.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Guy Faulconbridge in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/8/2019 Qatar’s Tamim called Trump to discuss relations, Afghan peace talks: state news agency
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani delivers remarks during a dinner with U.S. President Donald Trump
at the U. S. Department of the Treasury in Washington D.C., U.S., July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid Al-Thani called U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday and discussed “strategic cooperation relations between the two countries and the latest regional and international developments,” state news agency, QNA reported.
    The two leaders also discussed the U.S.-Taliban peace talks that Doha hosted recently, QNA added.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

8/8/2019 Lebanon PM says more optimistic after crisis talks
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-HarirI is seen during the meeting to discuss a draft policy statement
at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri indicated that solutions to a political crisis that has paralyzed his government were almost within reach following a meeting on Thursday with President Michel Aoun.
    The crisis spiraled out of a deadly June 30 shooting in the Chouf mountains that pitted groups represented in Hariri’s administration against each other.
    His cabinet has been unable to convene as a result, complicating efforts to enact reforms that are urgently needed to steer the country away from financial crisis.
    “The meeting was positive and the solutions are near to fruition,” Hariri said in a televised statement after the meeting with Aoun that local media said top security official Major General Abbas Ibrahim also attended.
    “I am more optimistic than before. We must just wait a little and God willing you will hear good news,” he said.
    The United States said on Wednesday the case should be handled in a way that achieves justice “without politically motivated inflammation” of tensions.
    Two aides of a government minister were killed in the shooting that generated the standoff pitting Druze leader Walid Jumblatt against Druze and Christian adversaries aligned with the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
    Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and deemed a terrorist group by Washington, said it believed the U.S. statement was aimed at “adding more complication to the current crisis” and to deepen divisions in Lebanon, calling it “blatant intervention.”
    The minister, Druze politician Saleh al-Gharib, declared the shooting incident an assassination attempt for which his allies held Jumblatt’s party responsible.
    Jumblatt’s party says it was an exchange of fire initiated by Gharib’s entourage in which two Jumblatt supporters were also wounded.
    The sides have been at odds over which court should deal with the case.
    The June 30 incident spiraled out of tension over plans by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a Christian politician and Aoun’s son-in-law and an ally of Gharib, to visit the Chouf area.
    Jumblatt’s party on Tuesday held Bassil responsible for the incident, saying he had stirred tensions through references to a historic Christian-Druze conflict in Chouf.
    Bassil responded that there was an “aggression” against him.
    Without naming its sources, leading Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar said Aoun believed Bassil rather than Gharib had been the target of an ambush that day.
    Jumblatt is a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his party views the incident and its repercussions as part of a wider campaign to weaken his influence over Lebanon’s Druze community to the benefit of pro-Damascus parties.
(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson)

8/8/2019 Gazans too poor to afford sheep for Eid sacrifice under blockade, Israel cash row by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinians carry a sheep onto a truck at a livestock market ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival,
in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini
    GAZA (Reuters) – Ali usually marks the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha with his family in the Gaza Strip by sacrificing a sheep, a customary annual ritual for those who can spare the cost.
    But this year the 49-year-old police officer says he cannot afford to buy an animal for the “feast of the sacrifice” holiday, which begins next week, after the Palestinian Authority halved his salary five months ago.
    “I have slaughtered a sheep every year … but this year there is no way I can.    I am ashamed,” said the father of five, who declined to give his last name.
    Gaza has suffered under years of blockade by Israel and Egypt, which cite security concerns for restrictions the World Bank says have severely damaged its economy.    Nearly 80 percent of the enclave’s 2 million residents rely on some form of aid and over half are unemployed.
    Ali said that in March, the PA cut his monthly salary in half, leaving him with of 1,500 shekels ($431).    A sheep costs around $500.
    The PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, still has some 25,000 Gazan civil servants on payroll despite a decade-long feud with rival Hamas which has left the Islamist group in control of the coastal territory.
    Many PA employees across Gaza and the West Bank had their salaries slashed in March amid a dispute with Israel over payments it makes to the families of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
    Israel says the payments fan Palestinian violence, and in February it removed the portion the PA designates for prisoners’ families from taxes it transfers monthly to the body under interim peace accords.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to accept partial transfers, saying the PA is entitled to the entire sum of around 700 million ($197 million) shekels, over half its budget.    The mounting fiscal pressures have squeezed the Palestinians’ $13 billion economy.
    The cuts have put a particular strain on Gaza, where civil servants had already been hit by earlier salary cuts Abbas imposed in 2017 to isolate Hamas.
    “I used to offer a sacrifice every year but this year there is no money,” said Hassan An-Najjar, an unemployed father of six.    He says the cost of a sheep would run out the $500 in welfare he receives quarterly from the PA.
    “I am looking for someone who can sell me a sheep and divide the cost into three or four payments,” An-Najjar, 58, said.
    The median monthly wage in the Strip is around $330, according to the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute.
    The territory’s livestock breeders and farmers say they are desperate for customers ahead of the Islamic holiday, which commemorates God’s testing of Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son.
    “This year I brought only 40 cows and so far I haven’t even sold half of them,” said Gaza farmer Mohammad Al-Balawi.
He says he normally sells 500 each year to people who may also split the animal’s 9,000 ($2,600) shekel price.
    “I have not seen a year as bad as this in my life,” he said.
(Editing by Rami Ayyub and Raissa Kasolowsky)

8/9/2019 Lebanese leaders to meet, paving way for cabinet session
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt gestures as he walks out of the parliament
building in Downtown Beirut November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese leaders will meet on Friday aiming to resolve a political crisis that has paralysed government, paving the way for cabinet to convene for the first time since a deadly June 30 shooting, senior officials said.
    The meeting at the presidential palace will group rival Druze politicians Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
    Jumblatt told Reuters he would attend a reconciliation meeting that would set the stage for cabinet to meet, though the cabinet session had yet to be scheduled.
    A second Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the meeting was to discuss a reconciliation initiative tabled by Berri.
    Two aides of a government minister Saleh al-Gharib, an ally of Arslan, were killed in the June 30 shooting in the Chouf mountains.
    Gharib declared the shooting incident an assassination attempt for which his allies held Jumblatt’s party responsible.
    Jumblatt’s party says it was an exchange of fire initiated by Gharib’s entourage in which two Jumblatt supporters were also wounded.
    The sides have been at odds over which court should deal with the case.
    With both sides represented in Hariri’s cabinet, government has been unable to convene as a result, complicating efforts to enact reforms that are urgently needed to steer the country away from financial crisis.
(Reporting by Tom Perry/Laila Bassam; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

8/9/2019 Assad forces widen offensive in Hama after rejecting U.S.-Turkish ‘safe zone’ proposal by OAN Newsroom
    The Syrian army is continuing its offensive in the northwestern province of Hama.    According to military officials in Damascus Thursday,     Assad forces regained control of two towns from local militant groups.    Syrian officials have accused local militants of violating conditions of a ceasefire reached earlier this month.
    International monitors expressed concern over the rising number of civilian deaths amid the ongoing operation, and urged for the creation of a “safe zone” in the area.    However, Assad officials are rejecting those calls.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu talks during a conference in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday Aug. 8, 2019.
Cavusoglu hailed the agreement reached with the United States as a “good start.” He said however, that Turkey would not
allow plans for the establishment of the so-called safe zone to be stalled or delayed. (Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP, Pool)
    “We refuse this agreement totally.    Also, if there is a political Kurdish party in Syria that works in order to satisfy Turkey and America, but the other Kurdish brothers, they are all calling to protect Syria’s safety, sovereignty and unity.    When two foreign countries — Turkey and the U.S — agree on making maps and safe zones in a third country — Syria — it is a violation of our sovereignty and international law.” — Naiim Akbik, attorney – Syria.
    Observers say continuous fighting on the ground could undermine peace talks between Assad officials and Syrian rebels.

8/10/2019 Muslims at haj gather on Mount Arafat to atone for sins by Ahmad Elhamy
Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in their
holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Two million Muslims gathered at Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat on Saturday amid the summer heat and regional tensions for a vigil to atone for their sins and seek God’s forgiveness as part of the annual haj pilgrimage.
    Pilgrims clad in white robes signifying a state of purity spent the night in a sprawling encampment around the hill where Islam holds that God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail.    It is also where Prophet Mohammad gave his last sermon.
    Other worshippers who had been praying in the nearby Mina area ascended in buses or on foot from before dawn.    Some carried food, carpets for camping and fans to keep cool as temperatures rose toward 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
    Zaid Abdullah, a 30-year-old Yemeni who works in a supermarket in Saudi Arabia, said he was praying for his own country, where war has killed tens of thousands of people and caused the world’s worse humanitarian crisis, and for Muslims around the globe.
    “We can tolerate the heat because our sins are greater than that,” he said as he approached the granite hill also known as the Mount of Mercy.    “We ask God to alleviate the heat of the hereafter.    As for the heat of this life, we can bear it.”
    Taxi driver Khaled Maatouq said he was seeking an end to fighting in his native Libya: “I pray that God unites us.”
    For others, the pilgrimage is a form of relief.    Egyptian merchant Ramadan al-Jeedi said he was grateful to accompany his mother after his father died last year.
    “It’s the greatest feeling, to feel that God the almighty chose us to be in this place,” he said.
    Saudi Arabia has said more than two million pilgrims, mostly from abroad, have arrived for the five-day ritual, a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey.
    Among them are 200 survivors and relatives of victims of the attacks on two New Zealand mosques in March.
    The pilgrims will spend the day on Mount Arafat.    By sunset they will move to the rocky plain of Muzdalifa to gather pebbles to throw at stone columns symbolizing the devil at Jamarat on Sunday, which marks the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.
IRAN TENSIONS
    Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and organizing the pilgrimage.
    A perennial concern is the potential for disease spreading among pilgrims, who spend five days in close quarters, often eating outside and sleeping on the ground near holy sites.
    The world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past also seen stampedes, fires and riots, with authorities sometimes struggling to respond. Hundreds were killed in a crush in 2015, the worst disaster to strike haj for at least 25 years.
    Tensions are particularly high this year between Saudi Arabia, ruled by Sunni Muslims, and Shi’ite Muslim Iran.
    The seizure of commercial vessels and attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway separating the rival countries, have unsettled shipping lanes linking Middle Eastern oil producers to global markets.
    The area has become the focus of a standoff between Tehran and Washington, which has beefed up its military presence in the Gulf since May.
    Pilgrimage is also the backbone of a Saudi plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil.    The haj and year-round umrah generate billions of dollars in revenue from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and gifts.
    Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020 and the umrah number to 30 million by 2030.
(Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

8/10/2019 U.N. Secretary-General expresses concern over clashes in Yemen’s Aden: statement
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at the Security Council stakeout at the
United Nations headquarters in New York, U.S., August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday expressed concern over the violent clashes in Yemen’s Aden and urged the parties to cease hostilities.
    In a statement, Guterres called on the parties in the conflict “to engage in an inclusive dialogue to resolve their differences and address the legitimate concerns of all Yemenis.”
    Medical sources said on Friday that at least eight civilians were killed in Aden, the temporary seat of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government, amid renewed fighting between southern separatists and government forces.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

8/10/2019 Yemen’s pro-government coalition fractures as separatists grab control in Aden by Mohammed Mukhashef
Members of UAE-backed southern Yemeni separatist forces shout slogans as they patrol a road during
clashes with government forces in Aden, Yemen August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s southern separatists have taken effective control of Aden, seat of the internationally recognized government, fracturing the Saudi-led coalition which is trying to break the grip of the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on the country.
    The coalition late on Saturday threatened military action to halt the fighting and ordered the separatists to withdraw from government military camps they seized in the southern port city. Riyadh called for an emergency summit to restore order.
    The Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi earlier called the move by the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is backed by coalition member the United Arab Emirates, a coup.
    Although the separatists have a rival agenda to Hadi’s government, they have been part of the Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
    “We call on all components and military formations of the Transitional (STC) … to immediately return to their positions and withdraw from the positions that have been seized,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki said in a statement.
    The STC agreed to the ceasefire.    “The spokesman of the Southern Transitional Council confirmed its adherence to the ceasefire called for by the leadership of the Saudi-led coalition,” the council said in a statement.
    The coalition ordered an immediate ceasefire as of 1:00 a.m. local time on Sunday, he said, and would use military force against those who violate it.
    The violence complicates the United Nations’ efforts to end a four-year war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation to the brink of famine.
    Four days of clashes between the separatists and government forces have killed at least nine civilians and more than 20 combatants, medical sources said.    The fighting trapped civilians in their homes with dwindling water supplies.
    An STC official told Reuters the separatists were in talks to peacefully take over the all-but-empty presidential palace in the predominantly residential Crater district, after a military official earlier said it had been seized.
    The separatists have moved into the interior minister’s house after he was evacuated by coalition forces, officials said. President Hadi is based in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
    Saudi Arabia’s Vice Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman called on parties in Aden to let prudence and dialogue prevail and unify ranks against the Houthis.
    “We reject any use of arms in Aden and disturbing the security and stability, and we call for restraint.. Therefore, the Kingdom called for a political dialogue with the legitimate Yemeni government in Jeddah,” he said in a tweet.
    The UAE, which has armed and trained thousands of southern separatist fighters, earlier called for calm and unity.    Its foreign minister urged U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths, who is trying to de-escalate tensions across Yemen, to help as well.
COALITION’S HAND WEAKENED
    The clashes began on Wednesday after the separatists accused an Islamist party allied to Hadi of complicity in a missile attack on a southern forces military parade in Aden, which was claimed by the Houthis.
    Analysts say the Houthis may have used the attack to test dynamics on the ground after the UAE in June scaled down its presence under pressure from Western allies to end the war and concerns about rising tensions with Iran in the Gulf.
    The separatists’ move against Hadi could weaken the coalition’s hand in any negotiations with the Houthis.
    “It’s good news for the Houthis and really bad news for the Saudis. … It ends the exclusivity of the Houthis being the coup against Hadi,” Farea al-Muslimi, associate fellow at Chatham House, told Reuters.
    The Houthi said the Aden events proved Hadi’s government, which holds Aden and a string of western coastal towns, was unfit to rule.
    “It is time for the main powers on the ground to hold serious and constructive talks to take Yemen towards a federation that appeases all sides under a united national framework,” the group’s deputy foreign minister Hussein al-Azzi tweeted.
    The United Nations is trying to implement a stalled peace deal in the main port city of Hodeidah, further to the north, to pave the way for wider political negotiations to end the war.
    The Houthis, who control Sanaa, Hodeidah and other urban centers, have stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, escalating tensions.
    The Yemen conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis say their revolution is against corruption.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen; Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Nayera Abdallah and Samar Hassan in Cairo and Maher Chmaytelli and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by John Stonestreet, Kirsten Donovan and Richard Chang)

8/10/2019 Car bomb explodes in Libya’s Benghazi, killing three U.N. staff by Ayman al-Warfalli
A security official inspects the site where a car bomb exploded in Benghazi, Libya August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – A car bomb explosion in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi killed three U.N. staff members and two other mission members on Saturday, the United Nations said.    The attack came as the United Nations was brokering a truce in the capital Tripoli, where the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) force launched a surprise attack in April, part of the chaos in Libya since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday condemned the attack, a spokesman said in a statement.
    “The U.N. does not intend to evacuate from Libya,” the assistant secretary-general for peace operations, Bintou Keita, later told the Security Council, which also condemned the attack.
    The United Nations gave no more details, saying only some of its casualties had been members working in Benghazi, where its Libya mission had been boosting its presence recently.
    LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari told reporters two of those killed were guards with the U.N. Libya mission (UNSMIL).    He added that 10 people had been wounded, including children.
    The explosion happened in front of a shopping mall and bank. At least one burned-out U.N. car could be seen at the scene.
    The LNA has yet to advance beyond the southern suburbs of Tripoli, which is home to the internationally recognized government.
    Around the time of the blast, LNA commander Khalifa Haftar announced a halt to military operations for 48 hours during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which started on Saturday, according to a statement from his forces in Benghazi.
    On Friday, the government in Tripoli said it had already accepted a U.N. proposal for a ceasefire during the holiday.
    However, it was not clear whether fighting in the capital would actually cease. More than 105,000 people have been displaced during the clashes, according to the United Nations.
    UNSMIL will be responsible for monitoring any violations, the Tripoli government said.    Analysts say it is unclear whether UNSMIL has the capacity to monitor a truce as it has moved out most of its staff for security reasons.
    Benghazi and the east is controlled by Haftar’s LNA allied to a parallel government in the east challenging the Tripoli administration.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing by Ulf Laessing; editing by Kirsten Donovan and Jonathan Oatis)

8/11/2019 Palestinians and Israeli police clash at Jerusalem holy site
The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as Israeli police clash with Palestinian worshippers on the compound known to Muslims
as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount as Muslims mark Eid al-Adha, in Jerusalem's Old City August 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – ,b>Israeli police fired sound grenades to disperse Palestinians during confrontations on Sunday outside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque where tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered for the Eid al-Adha holiday, witnesses said.
    A Palestinian ambulance service said that at least 14 Palestinians were taken to hospitals for treatment.    Israel’s Kan public radio said four police officers were injured.
    Facing off with police in the packed compound outside Islam’s third-holiest site, Palestinians chanted “With our soul and blood we will redeem you, Aqsa.”
    Scuffles ensued and the crowd fled as the sound grenades exploded and smoke wafted through the compound, witnesses said.
    In a statement, police said they had deployed forces at the site in anticipation of disturbances and “dispersed rioters.”
    Revered by Jews as Temple Mount, the site of two biblical Jewish temples, and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the area is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Tensions had mounted at the start of Eid al-Adha as the holiday overlapped this year with Tisha B’Av, a Jewish fast day marking the destruction of the two temples.
    In a bid to avoid friction at the site, police barred the entry of non-Muslim visitors, including Jews who intended to make a Tisha B’Av pilgrimage, before the clashes erupted.
    The compound is situated in a part of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that has not won international recognition.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Susan Fenton)

8/11/2019 Saudi-led coalition moves against separatists who seized Aden in blow to alliance by Mohammed Mukhashef
FILE PHOTO: Cars drive on a road linking two neighborhoods of Aden, Yemen August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Aden on Sunday in support of the Yemeni government after southern separatists effectively took over the port city, fracturing the alliance that had been focused on battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
    The Sunni Muslim coalition said it attacked an area that posed a “direct threat” to the Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is temporarily based in Aden.
    It did not specify the site, but a local official told Reuters it had targeted separatist forces surrounding the nearly empty presidential palace in the Crater district.    Hadi is based in Riyadh.
    “This is only the first operation and will be followed by others … the Southern Transitional Council (STC) still has a chance to withdraw,” Saudi state TV quoted it as saying.
    The alliance had threatened military action if the separatists did not quit government military camps they seized in the city on Saturday, after four days of clashes that killed at least nine civilians, and halt fighting.
    STC Vice-President Hani Ali Brik, writing in a Twitter post marking a Muslim holiday that began on Sunday, said that while the Council remained committed to the coalition it would “not negotiate under duress.”    It had earlier agreed to a truce.
    The United Arab Emirates-backed separatists have a rival agenda to Hadi’s government over the future of Yemen, but they have been a key part of the coalition that intervened in the Arabian Peninsula nation in 2015 against the Houthis after the group ousted Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
    The violence complicates United Nations’ efforts to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the long-impoverished country to the brink of famine.
    The fighting trapped civilians in their homes with limited water supplies in Aden, the port of which handles some commercial and aid imports.    Residents said clashes had ceased on Saturday night.
    Coalition member the UAE, which has armed and trained thousands of southern separatists, urged calm.    Riyadh said it would host an emergency meeting aimed at restoring order.    Hadi’s government has asked Abu Dhabi to stop backing southern forces.
SETBACK FOR COALITION
    The infighting is a serious setback for the coalition in its more than four-year campaign to break the grip of the Houthis, who control Sanaa and most urban centers.
    The Aden clashes began on Wednesday after the separatists accused an Islamist party allied to Hadi of complicity in a missile attack on a southern forces military parade in Aden.
    Analysts said that Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, Sunni Muslim allies united against Shi’ite foe Iran, would work together to contain the crisis even though the UAE in June scaled down its military presence in Yemen as Western pressure mounted to end the war.
    “The UAE and Saudi Arabia have allied with distinct Yemeni partners … Yet to this point in the conflict, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have worked to maintain a relative detente between competing interests in the south,” Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst at International Crisis Group, told Reuters.
    “That is the approach again today,” she said, but added that there was real concern that the situation could deteriorate into “a civil war within a civil war
    The war has revived old strains between north and south Yemen, formerly separate countries that united into a single state in 1990 under slain former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
    The Houthis’ deputy foreign minister on Saturday said that the Aden events proved Hadi’s government was unfit to rule and called for a dialogue with other main powers in Yemen to establish a federation under a “unified national framework.”
    The U.N. is trying to salvage a stalled peace deal in the main port city of Hodeidah, north of Aden, to pave the way for peace talks at a time of heightened tensions after the Houthis stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities.
    The Yemen 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.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo and Reuter’s team in Aden; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Darren Schuettler and David Goodman)

8/11/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan calls Saudi king on Muslim holiday: SPA
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Saudi King Salman shake hands during
a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi King Salman received a phone call on Sunday from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the occasion of the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha, state news agency SPA said.
    Relations between Riyadh and Ankara had deteriorated after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last year by Saudi agents.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Keith Weir)

8/11/2019 Muslim pilgrims converge on Jamarat for ritual stoning of the devil by Ahmad Elhamy
Muslim pilgrims cast their stones at a pillar symbolising the stoning of Satan during the
annual haj pilgrimage in Mina, Saudi Arabia August 11, 2019. REUTERSUmit Bektas
    JAMARAT, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Muslims from around the world hurled pebbles at a giant wall in a symbolic stoning of the devil on Sunday, the start of the riskiest part of the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, where hundreds died in a crush four years ago.
    The kingdom stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and organizing the world’s largest annual Muslim gathering which retraces the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago.
    Tens of thousands of security forces and medics are deployed alongside modern technology including surveillance drones to maintain order.
    Nearly 2-1/2 million pilgrims, mostly from abroad, have arrived for the five-day ritual, a religious duty once in a lifetime for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.    They are asked to follow carefully orchestrated schedules for each stage of haj, but with so many people, panic is a constant danger.
    Under close supervision and clad in white robes signifying a state of purity, the faithful converged on Jamarat to perform the stoning ritual from a three-storey bridge erected to ease congestion after stampedes in previous years.
    They will return to the bridge over the next two days for more stoning before returning to Mecca to pray at the Grand Mosque at the end of haj.
    Saudi authorities have urged pilgrims to set aside politics during the rituals, but violence in the Middle East, including wars in Yemen, Syria, and Libya – and other global hotspots – remain on the minds of many.
    Confectioner Alaa Watad from Syria’s Idlib province, the last major rebel enclave in the country’s civil war, said his hometown was “drenched in blood.”
    “We pray to God from the bottom of our hearts to bring relief to us and to Syria,” said Muhammad al-Jarak, another pilgrim from Idlib.
    Pakistani pilgrims, meanwhile, expressed concern about Kashmir after Indian authorities last week revoked the special status of the border region which has long been a flashpoint for regional tensions.
    “I prayed (in Mecca) for a very strong Pakistani government and nation and for the whole of the Muslim ummah (community) to be united and strong financially, morally and mentally,” said Syed Sajjad Ali Bukhari, a pensioner living in Canada.
AVOIDING A CRUSHM
    King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received well-wishers on Sunday afternoon at a palace gathering attended by royals, clerics, military leaders, ministers and distinguished guests to mark the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice.
    Saudi Arabia has “fulfilled its duty for the sake of Allah and welcomed the guests of Allah without exception and provided them with all the services needed to perform their haj ritual with ease, comfort, security and tranquillity,” the 83-year-old monarch said in a televised speech.
The authorities redesigned the Jamarat area after stampedes in 2004 and 2006 killed hundreds of pilgrims.    The frequency of such disasters has been greatly reduced after the government spent billions of dollars upgrading and expanding haj infrastructure and crowd control technology.
    The 2015 crush killed nearly 800 people, according to Riyadh, when two large groups of pilgrims met at crossroads on the way to the stoning site.
    Counts of repatriated bodies, however, showed more than 2,000 people may have died, with more than 400 of them from Iran.    It was the worst disaster at haj in at least a quarter of a century.
    Saudi authorities said at the time that the crush may have been caused by pilgrims failing to follow crowd control rules. King Salman ordered an investigation but the results were never announced.
    Iran boycotted the haj the following year, partly in response to the crush and following a diplomatic rift between the two countries.    Iranians are attending this year as Riyadh and Tehran continue to struggle for regional supremacy.
    Tensions are particularly high following the seizure of commercial vessels and attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
    The narrow waterway separating the two countries has become the focus of a standoff between Tehran and Washington, which has beefed up its military presence in the Gulf since May.
    Pilgrimage is also the backbone of a Saudi plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the economy away from oil. The haj and year-round umrah generate billions of dollars in revenue from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and gifts.
    The authorities aim to increase the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.
(Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

8/12/2019 Saudi rallies around exiled Yemen leader after UAE-backed separatists seize Aden by Mohammed Mukhashef and Fawaz Salman
FILE PHOTO: Members of UAE-backed southern Yemeni separatist forces shout slogans as they patrol a road during
clashes with government forces in Aden, Yemen August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind Yemen’s exiled president, as UAE-backed southern separatists who took over the port of Aden held strong against Riyadh’s calls to vacate government sites.
    An alliance of Sunni Arab states led by Riyadh has fractured after more than four years fighting on behalf of an ousted Yemeni government against the Iran-aligned, Shi’ite-led Houthi movement that controls the capital and most populous areas.
    In recent days, the southern separatists, who have been armed and trained by the UAE, have cast off an alliance with the Saudi-backed government and seized control of much of the southern port of Aden, the government’s main base.
    The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main military ally in the conflict on the ground for most of the war, has drawn down its forces in the coalition since June.
    The separatist leader, Southern Transitional Council President Aidaroos al-Zubaidi, said his group still supports the coalition against the Houthis and would attend a proposed emergency summit in Saudi Arabia.
    But he did not commit to withdrawing his forces from government buildings they seized on Saturday after clashes that killed 40 people including civilians.
    Riyadh made clear it still backs the government, led by exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has mainly lived in Saudi Arabia since fleeing Yemen’s capital in 2014.
    King Salman and his son, the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prime Mohammed bin Salman, both met Hadi on Sunday.
    The coalition, still led by Saudi Arabia and still formally including the UAE, said it hit a separatist area on Sunday and vowed to carry out more attacks if the southerners did not withdraw.
    Residents said fighting has ended since the separatists seized government military bases and surrounded the nearly empty presidential palace in Aden on Saturday.
    “It is quiet now but people are still worried. We don’t know where matters are heading,” Aden resident Adel Mohammed told Reuters on Monday.    He said power and water supplies had been restored, but could be disrupted again if the crisis continues.
Local media quoted an official at Aden’s airport as saying flights had resumed on Sunday.
    Zubaidi said the separatists, who want an independent south Yemen, had no choice but to seize Aden following a deadly Houthi missile strike on southern forces earlier this month.    The separatists accuse a party allied to Hadi of being complicit in the Houthi missile strike, which it denies.
    “We were left with two options: defend ourselves or surrender to the eradication of our just cause and souls,” Zubaidi said in a statement from Aden late on Sunday.
    The rift in the coalition complicates U.N. efforts to implement a stalled peace deal in the main port city of Hodeidah to pave the way for broader political talks to end the war.    The southern separatists and UAE forces played a major role on the ground in a coalition attempt to seize Hodeidah and cut off supply lines to Houthi-held areas.
    The four-and-a-half-year-old war has killed tens of thousands people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
    The UAE has armed and trained thousands of southern fighters who answer to Zubaidi, a militia leader who emerged from relative obscurity in late 2015 after helping purge the Houthis from Aden.
    Violence has escalated in other parts of Yemen after the Houthis stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities.
    The coalition said it attacked Houthi targets in the northern Hajjah province on Sunday that the movement’s al-Masirah TV said killed 11 civilians.    The alliance said it was investigating civilian deaths in the air strikes.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Aden, Alaa Swilam and Samar Hassan in Cairo and Sylvia Westall in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Peter Graff)

8/13/2019 Blasts from Iraqi militia weapons depot kill one, injure 29
A man inspects the damage at a mosque near a weapons depot of an Iraqi militia group, after a
fire broke out in the depot, in Baghdad, Iraq August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A large fire broke out on Monday at a weapons depot run by an Iraqi militia group, causing explosions heard across Baghdad, killing one person and injuring 29 others, authorities said.
    The depot, run by a militia group under the umbrella of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, was located inside a federal police base in the southern suburbs of Baghdad.
    The facility stored short-range and Katyusha missiles, a security source told Reuters.
    The fire set off some of the rockets which struck neighborhoods several kilometers (miles) away and injuring mainly children, said Qasim al-Attabi, a spokesman for the district’s health directorate.
    Health Ministry spokesman Saif Badr said most of the wounded were discharged from area hospitals with light wounds.
    A police source said the fire was probably caused by negligence leading to poor storage conditions and high temperatures.    The Interior Ministry ordered an investigation.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alison Williams)

8/13/2019 Muslim pilgrims pray in Mecca as haj winds down without incident by Ahmad Elhamy
Muslim pilgrims walk to cast their stones at a pillar symbolising the stoning of Satan during
the annual haj pilgrimage in Mina, Saudi Arabia August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    MINA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Millions of haj pilgrims began heading back to Mecca for final prayers on Tuesday as the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims wound down without incident despite the logistical challenges and escalating regional tensions.
    Senior officials said there had been no major incidents and the logistical, security and health plans had been successful, even with some heavy rainfall.
    Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and its organization of the pilgrimage. It hopes to continue expanding attendance to help to build its tourism industry.
    Pilgrims participated in a symbolic stoning of the devil, part of the haj rituals, in Jamarat before returning to Mecca, where the Grand Mosque filled with worshippers preparing to depart.
    Saudi pilgrim Jasem Ali Haqawi said he was grateful to the authorities for a well-run week of rituals.
    “Nobody comes to the haj without things inside him that he wants to ask from God,” he said while preparing to conduct final prayers in Mecca.    “The sick, the indebted … such things only God can grant and so you ask God for whatever you want.”
    Nearly 2.5 million pilgrims, most of them from abroad, came for the five-day ritual this year.    Attendance is a religious duty, once in a lifetime, for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.
    More than 120,000 members of the security forces and more than 30,000 health workers were on hand this week to maintain safety and provide first aid.
    A crush in 2015 killed nearly 800 pilgrims, according to Riyadh, when two large groups of pilgrims arrived at a crossroads east of Mecca.    Counts by countries of repatriated bodies showed that 2,000-plus people may have died, including more than 400 Iranians.
    Saudi authorities said at the time that the crush may have been caused by pilgrims failing to follow crowd control rules.    King Salman ordered an investigation but the results were never announced.
    Iran boycotted the haj the following year, partly in response to the crush and a diplomatic rift between the two countries.
    Iranians attended this year as Riyadh and Tehran continue to struggle for regional supremacy.    Tensions are particularly high after the seizure of commercial vessels and attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
    The narrow waterway separating the two countries has become the focus of a stand-off between Tehran and Washington, which has beefed up its military presence in the Gulf since May.
(Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by David Goodman)

8/13/2019 Iran’s Khamenei backs Yemen’s Houthi movement, calls for dialogue
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during ceremony attended by
Iranian clerics in Tehran, Iran, July 16, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged on Tuesday Tehran’s continued support for Yemen’s Houthi movement and called for dialogue among Yemenis to safeguard the war-shattered nation’s territorial integrity.
    A Saudi-led coalition has been battling to restore Yemen’s ousted government in a devastating four-year war with the Iranian-aligned Houthis that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.
    The Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and most of Yemen’s other populous areas, have stepped up attacks in recent months against targets in Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch regional foe.    In response, a Saudi-led coalition has targeted military sites belonging to the Houthis, especially around Sanaa.
    “I declare my support for the resistance of Yemen’s believing men and women … Yemen’s people… will establish a strong government,” state TV quoted Khamenei as saying in a meeting with the visiting chief negotiator of the Houthi movement Mohammed Abdul-Salam.
    Khamenei, who held talks for the first time in Tehran with a senior Houthi representative, also called for “strong resistance against the Saudi-led plots to divide Yemen,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
    “A unified and coherent Yemen with sovereign integrity should be endorsed.    Given Yemen’s religious and ethnic diversity, protecting Yemen’s integrity requires domestic dialogue,” he said, TV reported.
    Iran’s clerical rulers reject accusations from the United States and its Gulf Arab allies that Tehran is providing military and financial support to the Houthis and blames Riyadh for the deepening crisis there.
    The violence in Yemen is widely seen as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran.
    The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main military ally on the ground for most of the war, has drawn down its forces in Yemen since June.
    Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said the Houthi delegation, which arrived in Tehran a few days ago, had handed a letter to Khamenei from the movement’s leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, but gave no details.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/14/2019 Syrian government closes in on town that was bombed with sarin
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows Khan Sheikhoun in the southern countryside of Idlib March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian government forces on Wednesday closed in on a rebel-held town in Idlib that was bombed with sarin in 2017, sources on both sides said, building on their Russian-backed gains since the collapse of a ceasefire this month.
    The advance toward Khan Sheikhoun threatens to encircle the last remaining pocket of rebel-held territory in neighboring Hama province, including the towns of Morek, Kafr Zeita and Latamneh.
    Russian-backed Syrian government forces seized new positions from rebels to the west of the town of Khan Sheihkoun, rebel sources and state media said.    A rebel commander said the town, in opposition hands since 2014, was in “great danger.”
    Government forces were now 4 km (2.5 miles) from Khan Sheikhoun, Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.
    The sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 killed dozens of people and prompted President Donald Trump to order a missile strike against the Syrian air base from where the United States said the attack had been launched.
    An investigation conducted by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the Syrian government was responsible for releasing sarin on the town on April 4, 2017. Damascus denies using such weapons.
    The northwestern Idlib region is part of the last major stronghold of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.    The rebels that control it include the powerful jihadist group Tahrir al-Sham and Turkey-backed factions.
    Assad’s side had struggled to make any gains in the area in an offensive that got under way in late April.    But since the collapse of a brief ceasefire this month, it has managed to take several significant positions, including the town of al-Habeet on Saturday.
    The humanitarian adviser to the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria said the new surge in violence in the northwest threatened the lives of millions after more than 500 civilians were killed since late April.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/14/2019 Southern Yemeni separatists tell Saudi Arabia: evict Islah or lose the war by Guy Faulconbridge
FILE PHOTO: People check cars that were burned during clashes in Aden, Yemen, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Yemen’s southern separatists vowed on Wednesday to keep control over Aden, warning the only way out of the impasse that has fractured a Saudi-led military alliance was for Islamists and northerners to be removed from positions of power in the south.
    The separatists, supported by coalition member the United Arab Emirates, effectively took over Aden, the temporary seat of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, over the weekend by seizing government military bases.
    “Giving up control of Aden is not on the table at the moment,” Saleh Alnoud, British-based spokesman for the Southern Transitional Council (STC), told Reuters in an interview.
    “We are there to remain – but to remain for a positive reason: to maintain stability,” Alnoud said.
    The Western-backed, Sunni Muslim alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014. His government relocated to Aden.
    Southern fighters are a major component in the coalition.    But the war has revived old strains between north and south Yemen – formerly separate countries that united into a single state in 1990 under then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
    The crisis has exposed a rift between Saudi Arabia and the UAE as Abu Dhabi places national interests over their strategic alliance, distancing itself from Yemen and leaving Riyadh to deal with a messy war in the fractious Arabian Peninsula nation.
    UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted on Wednesday that Abu Dhabi was committed to its allies and “our shared goals of peace & stability in the region.”
    Abu Dhabi has echoed Riyadh’s call for dialogue among Aden’s warring parties but stopped short of asking the southern forces that it funds and arms to cede control.
    In the interview, Alnoud said that to end the stand-off, the Islamist Islah party – a backbone of Hadi’s government that the UAE sees as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood – should be ousted from posts of influence along with any northern politicians.
    The STC accuses Islah of being complicit in a Houthi missile strike on southern forces earlier this month, a charge the party rejects.    The coalition has promised military action against the separatists if they do not vacate government sites.
    “Islah has been at the heart of this,” Alnoud said.
    “That would be a very good start if Islah was removed from the whole of the south and allow southerners to govern themselves,” he said.    “We consider the government was infiltrated or controlled by the Islah.”
    One possible way out, Alnoud said, would be to hand over responsibility for security of barracks to the STC’s Security Belt or Aden Police.
    The Yemen war has been in military stalemate for years.    Saudi Arabia and the UAE have come under pressure from Western allies, including those that supply them with arms, to end a conflict that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
    The UAE in June scaled down its presence in Yemen, leaving behind thousands of southern forces it has built and trained.
    A Yemeni official told Reuters the separatist takeover was approved by the UAE and aimed at removing Islah forces, which Saudi Arabia tolerates despite UAE concerns because the party props up Hadi’s government.
    “Abu Dhabi now seems to be reconsidering the wisdom of Saudi foreign policy under MBS (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman), which has produced few tangible victories of note,” the New York-based Soufan Center said in a briefing on Wednesday.
A MESSAGE FOR MBS?
    While the UAE can exit Yemen while maintaining influence through southern forces, Saudi Arabia cannot walk away without neutralizing the armed Houthi movement on its borders.
    “Now that the Saudis are left alone…I don’t think they know how to get out,” said a Gulf source familiar with Yemen policy.    “The Saudis must accept that five years of Hadi government is a failure.”
    Alnoud said southerners would no longer accept being sidelined.    “The Saudis need to make a decision: do they want to win the war against the Houthis?    If they do, then they need to recognize us – STC – to govern and manage the south even in the transition period,” he said.
    Riyadh called for a summit over Aden without setting a date. Hadi’s vice foreign minister, Mohammed al-Hadhrami, told Reuters on Wednesday they would not attend unless the UAE stops backing separatist fighters following the “coup.”
    “We cannot go and meet…if (the separatists) stay in control of Aden and don’t withdraw from positions,” he said.
    Alnoud had a message for Saudi Prince Mohammed.
    “I would say to MBS: if you really want to win the war, the southerners have been credible partners, have shown they can engage constructively… but in return they need to keep the south clean from these corrupt Islah-affiliated officials.”
    Alnoud said U.N. peace efforts needed to catch up with events.    The United Nations is struggling to implement a stalled peace deal in the main port city of Hodeidah and ease tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis to enable political talks on a transitional governing body to end the war.
    “Southerners need to be given the power to govern themselves and southerners need to be engaged as an equal partner in the peace process,” Alnoud said.    “We can still be part of Yemen, Hadi can still be president but the south is to be ruled and governed by southerners.”
    So will the south break away?
    “I am not trying to avoid saying we will break away because that is a real possibility now,” Alnoud said, adding one option was for two governments: one in the north and one in the south.
(Reporting and writing by Guy Faulconbridge with additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous, Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)

8/15/2019 Israel weighs barring visit by U.S. lawmakers Tlaib, Omar: Israeli official by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) questions Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan
as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on "Trump Administration's Child Separation Policy"
on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel is considering barring a visit by two of its sharpest critics in the U.S. Congress, Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who plan to tour the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, an Israeli official said on Thursday.
    No date has been formally announced for the trip, but sources familiar with the planned visit said it could begin at the weekend.
    Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and a flank of the Democratic party’s progressive wing, have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
    Under Israeli law, backers of the movement can be denied entry to Israel.    But Israel’s ambassador in the United States, Ron Dermer, said last month they would be let in, out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
    An Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior members of his cabinet held consultations on Wednesday on a “final decision” about the visit.
    Denying entry to elected U.S. officials could further strain relations between Netanyahu, who has highlighted his close ties with U.S. President Donald Trump in his current re-election campaign, and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
    “The possibility exists that Israel will not allow the visit in its current form. Professional and legal teams in the government ministries are continuing to examine the material,” the official said.
    Approval of the trip is still pending in the House of Representatives Ethics Committee, which would examine its itinerary, according to sources involved in planning the visit.
    A planned tour by the two lawmakers of the holy compound in Jerusalem that houses al-Aqsa mosque, and which is revered by Jews as the site of two biblical Jewish temples, has turned into an issue of contention.
    The flashpoint site is in an area of Jerusalem that Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.
    “To make sure there’s apparent Israeli sovereignty over the site, they’ll demand Israeli police go in with them, and not just the Waqf officials,” said one of the sources with knowledge of the planned visit, referring to Muslim religious authorities.
    An official in Israel’s internal security ministry said any visit by Tlaib and Omar to the complex, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, would require Israeli security protection.
    Violence erupted there on Sunday between Israeli police and Palestinians amid tensions over visits by Jewish pilgrims on a day when the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av overlapped.
    Tlaib, 43, who was born in the United States, draws her roots to the Palestinian village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the West Bank.    Her grandmother and extended family live in the village.
    Ilhan Omar, who immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a child, represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.
    In February, Omar, 37, apologized after Democratic leaders condemned remarks she made about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States as using anti-Semitic stereotypes.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
[Israel would also bar Hilter if he was still alive, so you can see very clearly they rank you to his level.].

8/15/2019 U.S. has applied to seize Grace 1 tanker, Gibraltar says
FILE PHOTO: A small boat sails past Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 as it sits anchored after it was seized
in July by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory on suspicion of violating
sanctions against Syria, in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Iranian tanker Grace 1, which is being held in Gibraltar on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions, the British overseas territory said on Thursday.
    “The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered,” the Gibraltar government said in a statement.    “The matter will return to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT) today.”
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton)

8/15/2019 Palestinian youths stab Israeli policeman, one youth shot dead
Israeli security personnel walk near the scene where Palestinians were shot by Israeli police after carrying out what
Israeli police spokesman said was a stabbing attack in Jerusalem's old city August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Two Palestinian youths stabbed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday and were shot by officers, killing one of them, police said.
    Video footage aired on Israeli television and circulating on social media showed two young men approaching a police officer at one of the walled Old City’s gates, drawing knifes and stabbing him before his colleagues shoot them multiple times.
    The Palestinian health ministry confirmed one of the two Palestinians had been killed.    Police said they were both minors but did not give their exact age.    The second assailant was taken to hospital, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. The officer was moderately wounded, he said.
    On Sunday, Palestinians and Israeli police clashed at a Jerusalem holy site nearby, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and the Jews Temple Mount.
    The area is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    Peace talks broke down in 2014.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/15/2019 Syrian rebels counter-attack after government advances
People walk near rubble of damaged buildings in the city of Idlib, Syria May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A rebel group backed by Turkey will send reinforcements to the front lines of the last major rebel enclave in northern Syria to oppose a government offensive, it said on Thursday.
    Over the past week, the Syrian army has advanced towards the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib in a pincer movement that could encircle the southern part of the rebel enclave.
    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday that the rebels had launched a counter-attack on the eastern pincer at the village of Sukeik, and that dozens had been killed in the fighting.
    The National Army and National Liberation Front, rebel groups that are both supported by Turkey, have joined forces to oppose the offensive.    The National Army will send more of its fighters to the front lines to oppose the government units, its spokesman said on Thursday.
.     “It was decided to start sending troops from the National Army starting tomorrow,” spokesman Major Youssef Hamoud said.
    While the National Liberation Front normally operates in Idlib, the National Army’s strongholds are located close to the Turkish frontier in an area north of Aleppo.    The most powerful group in Idlib is widely seen to be Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist faction.
    Colonel Mustafa Bakour, a commander in the Jaish al-Izza rebel faction, which is also active in the conflict area, told Reuters that rebel forces had advanced against government forces in the east of the province.
    On Wednesday, rebel fighters shot down a Syrian military Sukhoi 22 jet near Khan Sheikhoun, a town that was hit by a sarin poison gas attack in 2017.
    Eight years of war in Syria have killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven half the pre-war population of 22 million from their homes, including more than 6 million as refugees to neighbouring countries.
    Since Russia joined the war on his side in 2015, President Bashar al-Assad has managed to retake most of the country, crushing rebel enclaves in all the major cities and driving them from the south.
    The United Nations and aid agencies have warned of a new humanitarian catastrophe in northwest Syria, as hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes since the government’s offensive began in late April.
    On Wednesday a U.S. agency which supports health facilities in opposition-held areas of Syria said government airstrikes had targeted an ambulance centre, killing a paramedic, an ambulance driver and a rescue worker who was trying to free them from the rubble.
    Mark Cutts, a U.N. official working on Syria, condemned the strike in a statement, saying it “highlights again the horror of what’s going on in Idlib and northern Hama.”
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Turkey and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by James Drummond)

8/15/2019 Thousands cheer separatists in Yemen’s Aden, UAE says it is in step with Riyadh by Fawaz Salman
Supporters of Yemen's UAE-backed southern separatists march during a rally in
southern port city in Aden, Yemen August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Yemenis rallied in Aden on Thursday in support of separatist forces who took over the southern port, the temporary seat of Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, in a move that exposed rifts in a Sunni Muslim military coalition.
    The United Arab Emirates-backed southern separatists seized control of government military bases last weekend, fracturing the Saudi-led alliance battling the Iran-aligned Houthi group and complicating U.N. peace efforts to end the war.
    “There is no daylight between the UAE and Saudi Arabia when it comes to Yemen. We are completely aligned,” a UAE official said in a statement.
    “We remain deeply concerned over the situation in Aden, and the coalition’s engagement on-the-ground is evolving with the aim of establishing conditions for stability, security and peace,” the official added.
    Demonstrators demanded recognition of southerners’ right to self-rule in Aden, where the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is based after being ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.
    Many traveled into Aden from other southern provinces on Wednesday, sleeping overnight in the central parade square. One man held up a battered old identity document from former South Yemen and many waved the South Yemen flag.
    “We call on the international community and the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to respect the southern people as a key partner in stemming the Persian tide in the region and fighting terrorism to achieve…regional and global stability,” said a statement to mark the rally.
    The separatists are a major component of the Western-backed alliance that intervened in Yemen against the Houthis in March 2015, but have a rival agenda to Hadi’s government.    The war has revived old strains between north and south Yemen, formerly separate countries that united into a single state in 1990.
    The rally statement, issued by civil society groups and unions, accused Hadi’s government of mismanagement, saying it had become “a guillotine at Yemenis’ necks.”
    The Southern Transitional Council (STC) took over Aden after accusing the Islah party allied to Hadi of being complicit in a Houthi missile attack on southern forces earlier this month, a charge the party denies.
POLITICAL SETTLEMENT
    A local official told Reuters that separatist forces had moved away from the nearly empty presidential palace and central bank.    There was no sign yet they had quit the military camps.
    Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV said a Saudi-UAE team arrived in Aden on Thursday.
An STC spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday they would keep control unless the Islamist Islah, seen by the UAE as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and northerners were removed from positions of power in the south.
    Hadi’s government has called the move a “coup.”    The UAE has echoed a Saudi call for dialogue to exit the crisis but did not call on southern forces it funds and arms to cede control.
    The UAE official said Abu Dhabi and Riyadh continue to call on all parties to meet to discuss a political settlement.
    Riyadh wants to host a summit to resolve matters.    Hadi’s government said it would not participate until STC forces withdraw and asked Abu Dhabi to stop backing them.
    The UAE, Saudi Arabia’s main military ally on the ground for most of the war, has scaled back its presence in Yemen since June amid Western pressure to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
    It said it will continue to back some 90,000 Yemeni forces made up of southern separatists and coastal plain fighters.
    The war is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Tehran.    The Houthis say their revolution is against a corrupt system.
    The UAE pull-back and the Aden crisis come as the United Nations tries to reduce tensions throughout the country to pave the way for peace talks.    The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most big urban centers, point to Aden as proof that Hadi is unfit to rule and cannot be a serious partner in any negotiations.
    “We respect the masses gathered in our beloved south today. Anyone who does not respect the multitudes in the north and south who reject Hadi and his followers must be sick and deranged,” Houthi deputy foreign minister Hussein al-Azzi tweeted.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukashef and Reuters team in Yemen and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/15/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri hopes for decision in September on sea border talks
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) shakes hands with Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri after
their meeting at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Thursday after talks in Washington that he hoped for a final decision, possibly in September, on a proposal for resolving a maritime border dispute with Israel on a gas pipeline.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Lebanon’s commitment to the talks and reiterated Washington’s willingness to facilitate discussions.
    “We consider the process to be viable and will continue to support constitutional next steps leading up to a final decision in the coming months, hopefully September,” Hariri said in a statement to the press after meetings with Pompeo.
    Beirut has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel – which it regards as an enemy country – over a sea area of about 860 square km (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.
    Senior U.S. official David Satterfield has been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel trying to launch the talks between the countries, which have remained formally in a state of war since Israel was founded in 1948.
    In his statement, Pompeo said a resolution to the dispute would “be greatly beneficial” to Lebanon and the region.
    “We are prepared to participate as a mediator and a facilitator in the maritime discussions, and we do hope that we will soon see substantive discussions on these important issues,” he said.    “The right solution…will be greatly beneficial to Lebanon and the greater region.”
    Lebanon last year licensed a consortium of Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and Russia’s Novatek to carry out the country’s first offshore energy exploration in two blocks.    One of the blocks, Block 9, contains waters disputed with Israel.
    Lebanese leaders have repeatedly warned Israel not to encroach on its offshore oil and gas reserves.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

8/16/2019 Israel bars visit by two outspoken freshmen - US Reps. Tlaib, Omar critical of nation’s policy by Ilan Ben Zion, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Israel said Thursday that it will bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country ahead of a planned visit over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement, a decision announced after President Donald Trump tweeted allowing the visit would show “great weakness.”
    The move to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting appeared to be unprecedented.    It marked a deep foray by Israel into America’s bitterly polarized politics and a sharp escalation of Israel’s campaign against the international boycott movement.
    The two newly elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and have repeatedly sparred with Trump over a range of issues.    Tlaib’s family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close relatives.
    They had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian organization that favors the Palestinians.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is “open to critics and criticism,” except for those who advocate boycotts against it.
    “Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress,”     Netanyahu charged.    He said the itinerary “revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”
    Omar called the decision “an affront” and “an insult to democratic values.”
    “This is not a surprise given the public positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump,” Omar said in a statement.
    Shortly before the decision was announced, Trump had tweeted that “it would show great weakness” if     Israel allowed them to visit.    “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”    He went on to call the two congresswomen “a disgrace.”
    The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said Israel “has every right to protect its borders” against promoters of boycotts “in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons.”
    But several Democratic lawmakers assailed Israel’s action.    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the snub “beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.”    Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland urged Israel to reconsider the “outrageous” decision.
    Top-ranking Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said it was a sign of weakness instead of strength and “will only hurt the U.S.Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America.”
Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib, left, and Ilhan Omar have been banned from Israel for
their support of an anti-Israel boycott movement. JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE
[It looks like Israel checked your legitimacy as ambassador of the United States opinion and will decide your destiny since you cannot just go where ever you think you can and make threats against a country.    Neither of you are the U.S. President, and shame on you Chuck Shumer for your opinion, and Pelosi is a non helper.].

8/16/2019 Israel to allow U.S. Rep Tlaib to visit family in West Bank by Rami Ayyub
U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib listens to a comment from a constituent during a Town Hall
style meeting in Inkster, Michigan, U.S. August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will allow U.S. lawmaker Rashida Tlaib to visit her family in the occupied West Bank on humanitarian grounds, the interior ministry said on Friday, after barring an official visit under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would not allow Tlaib and congresswoman Ilhan Omar, both Democrats, to make a planned trip to Israel.
    Tlaib and Omar have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement over Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.    Under Israeli law, BDS backers can be denied entry to Israel.
    However, Netanyahu said that if Tlaib submitted a request to visit family on humanitarian grounds, Israel would consider it as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel.
    Tlaib sent a letter to Israel’s Ministry of Interior on Thursday requesting permission “to visit relatives, and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s,” adding that it “could be my last opportunity to see her.”
    “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit,” Tlaib wrote in the request, which was circulated by the Ynet website Ynet and other Israeli media.
    Israel’s interior ministry said in a statement it “decided on Friday to approve the entry of U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for a humanitarian visit to her 90-year-old grandmother.”
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
[These two are trying to get points for their own benefit, but in truth they are just helping Trump to be able to campaign to his base and the rest of what these two women are, and Israel has put them in their place.].

8/16/2019 .Zimbabwe police beat protesters as opposition denounces ‘fascist’ government by MacDonald Dzirutwe
A man flees from teargas during clashes after police banned planned protests over austerity and rising living costs called
by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
    HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe police fired tear gas and beat scores of opposition supporters gathered in central Harare on Friday, as authorities moved to enforce a ban on an anti-government protest that the country’s high court had upheld.
    More than a hundred Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters defied the ban, witnesses said.    They clashed with police who fired tear gas and water cannon, chasing them from one of the city’s main squares with batons and drafting in reinforcements to prevent the group from re-assembling.
    Friday’s street demonstration was to have been the first in a nationwide series of protests organized by the MDC, which accuses Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government of state-sponsored violence, corruption and economic mismanagement.
    But with armed police having barred access to the party’s Harare offices and its court appeal against the ban having failed, it called the protest off, denouncing what it labeled the actions of a fascist government.
    The ban – announced late on Thursday by police who said any demonstrators would be committing a crime – had exposed the government’s true colors, party Vice President Tendai Biti told reporters outside the court.
    “The constitution guarantees the right to demonstration … yet this fascist regime has denied and proscribed this right to the people of Zimbabwe,” he said on Friday.
    “…We have jumped from the frying pan into the fire after the coup of November 2017… We don’t accept the conduct of this regime, the conduct of Mr Mnangagwa.”
    In Geneva, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights commissioner urged the government to engage with citizens on legitimate economic grievances and “stop cracking down on peaceful protesters.”
    The series of demonstrations has been widely viewed as a test of how Mnangagwa, who has so far this year failed to make good on promises of political and economic reform, responds to dissent in a country tainted by a long history of repression.
    Elected after the armed forces intervened to oust Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa has said he aims to break with the long legacy of repression that characterized much of his predecessor’s 37 years in power.
    But the economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade, and Mnangagwa is struggling to convince the growing ranks of poor citizens that his government’s austerity measures and reforms can trigger a recovery.
    Zimbabweans had also expected last year’s vote to usher in a new dawn of expanded political rights and an end to the country’s international pariah status, but instead, the elections left the country more polarized.
APPARATUS OF THE STATE
    In January, a violent security crackdown in Harare against fuel demonstrations left more than a dozen people dead.
    Days ahead of the planned Harare demonstration, six political activists were abducted from their homes at night and beaten by armed men, a coalition of rights groups said.
    On Friday, the apparatus of state was out in force again and the city’s streets were unusually quiet.
    Reuters witnesses saw police and armed soldiers searching buses, taxis and private vehicles at checkpoints and randomly asking for identity documents.
    One woman was taken to hospital by ambulance after sustaining a deep gush on her head when baton-wielding police charged at MDC supporters.
    “We want change because we are tired of promises. We are tired, enough is enough,” MDC member Patience Gurure told Reuters moments before police dispersed the group.
    By 12 noon (1000 GMT), businesses, including banks and shops, had closed.    The few employees who had come to work were told to go home.
    Anger is mounting as Zimbabweans grapple with soaring inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, fuel and bread.
    In a letter to church leaders published on Friday in the state-owned Herald newspaper, Mnangagwa said the economic hardship had its roots in sanctions imposed by the West more than a decade ago as well as a severe drought this year.
    He also said MDC leader Nelson Chamisa had rejected his invitation to dialogue meant to resolve Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems.    Chamisa has said he will only sit down with Mnangagwa if there is a neutral arbiter.
    “The doors of national dialogue are still open to all political leaders including to the leader of the MDC,” Mnangagwa said.
    While political leaders argue, wages and pensions continue to be eroded by triple-digit inflation, bringing back bad memories of the hyperinflation of a decade ago, which forced the country to ditch its currency.
(Additional reporting by Tonderai Gonorenda and Philemon Bulawayo and by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva ; Writing and editing by John Stonestreet)

8/16/2019 Driver shot dead after ramming car into Israeli civilians in West Bank
A car is seen at the scene of what Israeli military said is a car-ramming attack near the
settlement of Elazar in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian driver they said had carried out a car-ramming attack on Friday that injured two Israeli civilians in the occupied West Bank, one of them critically.
    Reuters journalists at the scene saw police rolling the body of the driver into a plastic sheet. Palestinian health authorities identified him as a Palestinian national.
    An Israeli police spokesman said an officer who had been near the scene opened fire after the attacker rammed his car into people by the roadside near the Israeli settlement of Elazar, close to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
    Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said one of the Israelis, 17, was unresponsive and “in severe condition with multisystem trauma” and that the other, 19, had sustained moderate injuries.
    Dozens of Israeli troops and medics were at the scene. The alleged attacker’s vehicle, which bore Israeli license plates which allow greater freedom of movement in both Israel and the West Bank, was overturned by the roadside.    Police said the attacker had been driving along a road which weaves past Palestinian towns and Israeli settlements.
    Palestinians carried out a wave of car-rammings in the West Bank in late 2015 and 2016, but the frequency of such incidents has since ebbed.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
    Two Palestinian youths stabbed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday and were shot by officers, killing one of them. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in 2014.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Peter Graff)

8/16/2019 PM Hariri: Saudi, UAE want to invest in Lebanon
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is seen during the meeting to discuss a draft policy statement
at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are looking to invest in infrastructure projects in Lebanon after ties have recovered, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said in comments from his office on Friday.
    Hariri, on a visit to Washington, also said there were negotiations “over financial and economic aid” with the United States, the Lebanese military’s biggest foreign backer. He did not elaborate.
    After years of backsliding, heavily indebted Lebanon faces financial crisis without reforms to put public spending on a sustainable footing.
    Launching long-stalled reforms would help Lebanon unlock more than $11 billion pledged at the “Cedre” donor conference in Paris last year – the centerpiece of the Hariri government’s plans to revive the sluggish economy.
    “We will present to (Saudi and the UAE) the projects we have in Cedre because they want to contribute and invest.        The relationship between us has returned to what it was before and may be better,” Hariri told reporters during a visit in Washington, his office said in a statement on Friday.
    He added that talks were under way with Riyadh on some 23 economic deals, it said.
    Saudi Arabia’s historically close ties to Lebanon, including the Hariri family, deteriorated in recent years as the influence of the heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah, which is backed by Riyadh’s enemy Tehran, grew.
    Relations hit a low in November 2017, when it is widely acknowledged that Hariri was held during a trip to Riyadh and abruptly declared his resignation in a televised address.
    Though Riyadh has always denied detaining Hariri, French President Emmanuel Macron – who helped mediate a resolution of the crisis – last year confirmed the Lebanese PM had been held in the kingdom.
    After a thaw in ties, Riyadh lifted a travel warning this year and three ex-premiers who met Saudi King Salman last month said the kingdom was ready to support Lebanon.
    Hariri’s government, which has one of the world’s highest levels of public debt worth around 150% of GDP, is seeking to bring down its fiscal deficit.    Parliament passed the 2019 state budget in July.
    After years of low economic growth, Lebanon wants the funds promised by foreign donors in Paris for a capital investment program to overhaul its infrastructure, with projects tackling transport, water and power sectors.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry; Editing by Stephen Powell)

8/18/2019 U.S. and UK presence in Gulf brings insecurity: Iran Revolutionary Guards navy chief
FILE PHOTO: A gunner fires a Mark 38 25 mm machine gun system during a live-fire exercise aboard
the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) in the Gulf, in this undated handout picture released by
U.S. Navy on August 1, 2019. Zachary Pearson/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The presence of America and Britain in the Gulf region brings insecurity, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards navy, Alireza Tangsiri, was reported as saying by the ILNA news agency.
    Tensions have spiked between Iran and the U.S. and Britain in the Gulf after the Islamic Republic shot down an American drone in June and seized a British tanker last month for violating maritime regulations.
    Iran seized the tanker two weeks after British Royal Marines detained an Iranian tanker on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran.
    “The presence of America and England in this region means insecurity,” he said.
    Iran can provide security in the Gulf by forming a coalition with other countries in the region, Tangsiri said.
    Tangsiri said that Iran wants peace and stability in the Gulf but appeared to issue a veiled threat by saying that if a ship that uses nuclear fuel were to be targeted in the Gulf, the countries in the south of the region will not have drinking water because of contamination, Mehr news agency reported.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by David Goodman)

8/18/2019 Israeli military fires on militants at Gaza border, Palestinians say three killed
Relatives of Palestinian gunmen who were killed by Israeli forces as they tried to cross the Gaza border,
react at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    JERUSALEM/GAZA – Israeli forces opened fire at a group of Palestinian gunmen as they tried to cross the Gaza border, the military said on Sunday and Palestinian health officials said three of the men were killed.
    “A short while ago, IDF (Israel Defence Forces) troops spotted a number of armed suspects adjacent to the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip.    An IDF attack helicopter and a tank fired toward them,” the military said in a statement.
    medics said they retrieved three bodies from the site and Gaza hospital officials said a fourth man was injured.
    The incident happened overnight between Saturday and Sunday, shortly after three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, one of them landing in a town near the border, according to the Israeli military and police.
    There was no immediate comment from any of the major armed groups in Gaza.    No Israelis were hurt.
    Gaza is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel over the past decade.    Israel pulled its troops and settlers from the territory in 2005 but keeps the enclave under a blockade, citing security concerns.    Tensions along the border are high with frequent fatalities.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/18/2019 ‘May God ruin Trump’, Tlaib’s grandmother says by Ali Sawafta
Muftia, the grandmother of U.S. congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, is seen with her granddaughter outside her house in the village of
Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 16, 2019. Picture taken August 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    BEIT UR AL-FAUQA, West Bank (Reuters) – Sitting under an olive tree in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Muftia Tlaib scoffs at the attention she has recently received from the president of the United States.
    “May God ruin him,” she says.
    Tlaib is the grandmother of U.S. congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, at the center of an affair that has drawn Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu together against U.S. Democrats.
    On Thursday, bowing to pressure from Trump, Israel barred a visit by Rashida Tlaib and fellow Democrat Ilhan Omar that it had initially said it would allow.
    The next day, Israel said it would let Tlaib visit her family in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds – but Tlaib rejected the offer, saying that Israel had imposed restrictions meant to humiliate her.
    On Friday night, Trump tweeted:
    “Rep. Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli officials desperately wanting to visit her grandmother.    Permission was quickly granted, whereupon Tlaib obnoxiously turned the approval down, a complete setup.    The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother.    She doesn’t have to see her now!
    Ninety-year-old Muftia Tlaib, sitting in her garden in the village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, was not impressed.    “Trump tells me I should be happy Rashida is not coming,” she said. “May God ruin him.”
    Her son, Rashida’s uncle Bassam Tlaib, said the women had not seen each other since 2006:
    “She was going to slaughter a sheep when Rashida arrived and prepare her favorite food, stuffed vine leaves."
SECOND MOTHER
    “Rashida sees her granny as a second mother, she has always supported her.    Rashida says she owes her success to her grandmother.”
    Tlaib did not outline what the conditions imposed on her visit were.    Israeli media reported that she had agreed not to promote boycotts against Israel as part of her request to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
    Tlaib, like Omar, has voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which opposes the occupation and Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. BDS backers can be denied entry to Israel by law.
    The pair are the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, and Detroit-born Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American congresswoman.    Both are members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing and sharp critics of Trump and Israel.
    The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Israel has annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally; maintains a blockade of Gaza, run by the Islamist Hamas movement; and controls most of the West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule.
    The prospects of resolving the conflict under the “two-state solution” that had guided peacemaking efforts for years have dimmed significantly since Trump took office, while Israeli settlements on land Palestinians seek for a state have expanded.
    The Trump administration, which is particularly close to the Netanyahu government, has touted its own peace plan but details remain vague. It fueled Palestinian anger by recognizing disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.Squad” – accusing them of hostility to Israel in a barrage condemned by critics as racist.
    “Trump has told Rashida and Ilhan to go back to their home countries.    What a contradiction, yesterday he asked them to leave and today he asks that they aren’t let in,” said Bassam Tlaib.
Still, the grandmother is hopeful: “My heart tells me that she will come.” (The story is refiled to fix typo in paragraph nine.)
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

8/19/2019 Iran tanker heads to Greece after release, Iran warns U.S against seizure attempt
FILE PHOTO - Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, sails after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian tanker sailed through the Mediterranean toward Greece on Monday after it was released from detention off Gibraltar, and Tehran said that any at U.S. move to seize the vessel again would have “heavy consequences.”
    The Grace 1, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar about 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sunday.    Refinitiv ship tracking data showed on Monday that the vessel was heading to Kalamata in Greece and was scheduled to arrive next Sunday at 0000 GMT.
    The seizure of the tanker by British Royal Marines near Gibraltar in July 4 on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions led to a weeks-long stand-off between Tehran and the West.    It also heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the Gulf.
    Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, lifted the detention order on Thursday but the next day a federal court in Washington issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million.
    Gibraltar said on Sunday it could not comply with that request because it was bound by EU law.    Washington wanted to detain the tanker on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it has designated a terrorist organization.
    Greek authorities had no immediate comment on the situation.
    Iran said on Monday any U.S. attempt to seize the tanker would have “heavy consequences.”
    Asked whether the United States could renew its seizure request after the tanker sailed from Gibraltar, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such an action, and even the talk of it…would endanger shipping safety in open seas.”
    “Iran has issued the necessary warnings through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy, to American officials not to commit such an error because it would have heavy consequences,” Mousavi said in remarks broadcast on state television.
    Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.
    The Adrian Darya, which was re-flagged to Iran after being de-listed by Panama on May 29, was fully laden and carrying about 2 million barrels of oil, Refinitiv data showed. The cargo was valued at tens of millions of dollars.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May last year, while the European Union is still part of the accord, which allows Tehran to sell its oil.
    Washington wants to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero and re-imposed U.S. sanctions which place heavy penalties on any breaches even for non-U.S. citizens and companies, including asset freezes and being cut off from the U.S. financial system.
    While EU regulations still allow for companies and citizens in the bloc to engage in trade with Iran, falling foul of U.S. sanctions has meant most banks are unwilling to process even authorized transactions such as for food and medicine, finance sources say.
    This is likely to be the first major foreign policy challenge for Greece’s new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis since he took office in July if the vessel enters Greek territorial waters.
TANKER HELD BY IRAN
    Separately, a senior Iranian lawmaker said a crisis in Iran’s ties with Britain, which included Tehran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker last month, would not be over until the tanker reached its destination.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on July 19 seized the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after the Grace 1 was commandeered.
    “Until the Iranian oil tanker arrives at its destination the British must help end the crisis,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
    “This means that the crisis with Britain is not over.    Britain has the primary responsibility for ending the oil tanker crisis,” Falahatpisheh said.
    Mousavi said that Tehran was waiting for a court decision on alleged maritime violations by the Stena Impero and he hoped the procedures would be completed as soon as possible.
    The head of Iran’s judiciary Ebrahim Raisi also said “Iran should claim damages…to teach a lesson to those who acted against international laws and regulations by seizing the tanker.”
    Iran has denied its tanker was ever headed to Syria, a close ally of Tehran
    The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Jonathan Saul in London and Harshith Aranya in Bengaluru; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/19/2019 Turkey replaces three pro-Kurdish party mayors for suspected militant links by Umit Ozdal
Turkish police walk in front of the Metropolitan Municipality headquarters in Diyarbakir, Turkey, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey on Monday replaced mayors from a pro-Kurdish party with state officials in three cities and detained more than 400 people for suspected militant links, the Interior Ministry said, a move likely to fuel tensions in the mainly Kurdish southeast.
    President Tayyip Erdogan had warned ahead of nationwide local elections in March of such a move against elected officials if they were found to have had connections to the outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
    The mayors in Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, major cities in the mainly Kurdish southeast, were accused of various crimes including membership of a terrorist organization and spreading terrorist group propaganda, the ministry statement said.
    “For the health of the investigations, they have been temporarily removed from their posts as a precaution,” it said, referring to Diyarbakir Mayor Selcuk Mizrakli, Mardin Mayor Ahmet Turk and Van Mayor Bedia Ozgokce Ertan.
    CNN Turk showed police sealing off the municipality headquarters in Diyarbakir with metal barriers, as riot police deployed outside along with water cannon vehicles.
    The Interior Ministry said the PKK had been seeking to exploit the March elections to boost its support and had exerted efforts to nominate candidates who would be easily led once elected.
    Police detained 418 people in 29 provinces in a related investigation targeting suspects with links to the outlawed PKK group, the ministry added.
    The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), to which the three mayors belong, said they had been dismissed “on an order based on lies and illegal justifications.”
    “This is a new and clear political coup.    It is a clear and hostile stance against the political will of the Kurdish people,” the HDP executive board said in a written statement.
    It said the three mayors had been elected with between 53% to 63% of the vote in their cities in March and called for support from other political parties.
    “This is not just the problem of the HDP and the Kurdish people.    It is the shared problem of all Turkey’s peoples and all democratic forces,” it added.
MAIN OPPOSITION SLAMS DISMISSALS
    Veli Agbaba, deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), wrote on Twitter that the dismissals were tantamount to fascism and a blow against democracy, while Istanbul’s CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu also slammed the move.
    “Negating the will of the people is unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter.    Imamoglu himself was removed from office over irregularities shortly after coming to power in the March election, but won a re-run election in June
.
    The removal of the mayors echoed the dismissal of dozens of mayors in 2016 over similar accusations, part of a purge that began after a failed coup.    Nearly 100 mayors and thousands of party members were jailed in a crackdown that drew expressions of concern from the United States and European Union.
    Ahead of the March election Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said 178 candidates were being investigated over alleged PKK links.
    Erdogan at the time warned that HDP mayors could again be dismissed if they, like their predecessors, were deemed to have ties to militants.
    Erdogan frequently accuses the HDP of links to the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the United States.     The HDP denies such links.
    The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984.    More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
    The Interior Ministry said recent operations had led to PKK militant numbers falling to their lowest level in 30 years, with the number of fighters in Turkey falling to some 600 from around 1,800-2,000 in the past.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

8/19/2019 Sudan’s ex-president Bashir arrives at corruption trial
FILE PHOTO - Sudan's ex-president Omar al-Bashir leaves the office of the anti-corruption
prosecutor in Khartoum, Sudan, June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ousted president Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Monday arrived amid heavy security at the courthouse in the capital Khartoum where he is facing corruption charges, a Reuters witness said.
    Bashir is charged with illicit possession of foreign currency and accepting gifts in an unofficial manner, prosecutor Alaa al-Din Abdallah said in June.
    His trial will be a test of how serious authorities are 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 also charged in May with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters, and prosecutors also want him questioned over suspected money laundering and terrorism financing.
    On Saturday, Sudan’s ruling military council, which took over after Bashir was ousted in April, signed a power-sharing agreement with the main opposition coalition, paving the way for a transitional government and eventual elections.    It sets up a sovereign council as the highest authority in the country, but largely delegates executive powers to the cabinet of ministers.
TRANSITIONAL RULE DELAYED
    The sovereign council was due to be sworn in on Monday. But the spokesman for the Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi, said the formation of the new ruling body would be delayed by 48 hours on the request of the opposition coalition.
    That coalition – the Forces of Freedom and Change – had chosen Aisha Mousa, Siddig Tower, Mohamed Elfaki Suleiman, Hassan Sheikh Idris and Taha Othman Ishaq as its representatives on the council, a coalition source said on Sunday.
    But the Sudanese Professionals Association, the main protest organizer and one of the most prominent coalition members, said on Monday that Ishaq had declined to take up his post.
    According to the power-sharing deal, the opposition coalition is allowed to choose five members and the military another five, with the two sides jointly choosing a civilian as an eleventh member.
    On Saturday Kabbashi told Sky News Arabia that military council head Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, his deputy General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta will serve as three of the five military members.
    The military council has yet to announce the other two members, but Kabbashi said on Monday that the eleventh member had been agreed by both sides.
    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.
(Reporting by Eltayeb Siddig and Khalid Abdelaziz; Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Jon Boyle and Andrew Heavens)

8/19/2019 Aden standoff delays Saudi summit intended to forge new Yemen government: sources
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Yemen's UAE-backed southern separatists march during a rally in
southern port city in Aden, Yemen August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The refusal of Yemeni southern separatists to hand back control of Aden port has delayed a summit in Saudi Arabia that is due to discuss reshuffling Yemen’s ousted government to include the separatists and end the stand-off, three Yemeni sources said.
    Saudi Arabia called for the meeting after the separatist forces on Aug. 10 seized military camps and other state institutions in the southern port city, the temporary seat of the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
    The Aden crisis has fractured the Sunni Muslim military coalition led by Riyadh that is battling the Iran-aligned Houthi group, which controls the Yemeni capital Sanaa.    Meanwhile the Houthis have escalated cross-border attacks targeting Saudi energy infrastructure.
    “Forming a new government has been proposed and the alliance supports it, but inclusion of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) is linked to them fully withdrawing first,” said a Yemeni official, who declined to be named.
    The official said Hadi, who has no personal power base and has long been out of favor with the United Arab Emirates, a coalition member, may be sidelined if a new deputy is named.
    The coalition declined to comment on non-military matters.    There was no response from the Saudi or UAE foreign ministries or government media offices.
    So far, the UAE-backed southern forces have refused to quit military camps, while vacating other state institutions, as they believe it would weaken their hand, the sources said.    Hadi’s government said it would not attend talks until the “coup” ends.
    While separatists have a rival agenda to Hadi’s government — demanding self-rule in the south — they are part of the Western-backed coalition that intervened in March 2015 against the Houthi movement that ousted Hadi from power in late 2014.
    The Aden takeover exposed differences between allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which supports thousands of southern fighters.    Abu Dhabi, which says the alliance remains strong, has urged dialogue but has not asked separatists to cede control.
    The UAE in June scaled down its presence in Yemen under Western pressure to end the war and as rising tensions with Iran threatened security closer to home.    Abu Dhabi has said the focus should shift from military tactics to a political solution.
    “Uniting ranks and improving the (Yemen) government’s performance is crucial in the next phase,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted on Saturday.
    Saudi Arabia wants to prevent rival Shi’ite Iran from building influence near its border by neutralizing the Houthis.
HADI VULNERABLE
    The conflict, which has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, has been in military stalemate for years with the Houthis holding Sanaa and most big urban centers.
    It has rekindled old strains between north and south Yemen — separate countries until 1990.    The Aden tensions further complicated United Nations efforts to pave the way for political talks on a transitional governing body to end the war.
    The STC has said its forces will hold Aden until the Islamist Islah party, a key component of Hadi’s government, and northerners are removed from power positions in the south.
    “Hadi is incapable of running Yemen due to his age and health. He trusts no one, and this makes things difficult at a critical time,” said the Yemeni official.
    The official and another Yemeni source said one option being discussed was transferring presidential powers to a new vice president, leaving Hadi, who is 73 and resides in Riyadh, as a figurehead.
    “It would be good to have a responsible, consensus VP,” said a senior official in the Gulf, while adding that Hadi had to remain to preserve the internationally recognized government.
    STC accuses Hadi’s government of mismanagement, and Islah of being complicit in a Houthi missile attack on southern forces, which prompted the Aden takeover. Islah denies the charge.
    The UAE regards Islah as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Abu Dhabi has banned.    Riyadh tolerates Islah because it has helped to prop up Hadi.
    The Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system, point to Aden as proof that Hadi is unfit to rule.
    “Southern forces are close enough to the sites they vacated to retake them at any moment.    They outnumber and out-arm other forces in Aden,” another Yemeni official said.
(Reporting by Reuters team; Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth JOnes)

8/19/2019 Pompeo, in call with Egypt’s Shoukry, urges political solution in Libya
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks to the media after his meeting with Lebanon's Prime Minister
Saad al-Hariri at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday expressed American concerns over the prolonged conflict in Libya in a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart, and they agreed on the need for a political solution, the State Department said.
    Pompeo also discussed with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry cooperation to tackle the Islamic State and al-Qaeda militant groups, the department said in a statement.
    “The Secretary and the Foreign Minister shared concern over prolonged violence and instability in Libya, and agreed on the need to achieve a political solution to the conflict,” it said.
    Egypt’s foreign ministry said the two also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as crises in Syria and Yemen.    On the Palestinian crisis, Shoukry “stressed the need to reach a comprehensive solution.”
    Egypt, along with the United Arab Emirates, is a supporter of Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, whose Libya National Army (LNA) has been trying to take Tripoli from forces allied with the internationally recognized government.
    Turkey recently shipped arms to Tripoli to stop Haftar’s assault, according to diplomats.
    The United Nations envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, last month called for a truce in the North African country and warned that an influx of weapons from foreign supporters, in violation of an arms embargo, was fueling the conflict.
    The country has been riven by violence since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

8/20/2019 Emotions stir in Jerusalem as HBO’s ‘Our Boys’ hits local airwaves by Rami Ayyub
Hussein and Suha Abu Khdeir, whose son's murder is the subject of the HBO series "Our Boys," watch the
show's first two episodes in their East Jerusalem home August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A new HBO series on the killing of a Palestinian youth after three Israeli teens were murdered in a deadly summer five years ago is stirring up painful memories for bereaved families on both sides of the conflict.
    “Our Boys,” which premiered in Israel and the United States last week, centers on Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian who was abducted near his East Jerusalem home and burned to death by three Israelis, two of them also teenagers, in July 2014.
    “I wish I could reach into the screen and grab hold of my son,” Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha, told Reuters, her voice breaking, soon after watching the first two episodes of the series, a co-production of HBO and Israel’s Keshet International and produced by Movie Plus.
    “The show brought me right back to the pain, to the day he was kidnapped,” she said.
    Prosecutors said Abu Khdeir’s convicted killers were avenging the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens – Naftali Frankel, Gilad Sha’er and Eyal Yifrach – in the occupied West Bank two weeks earlier by members of the Islamist group Hamas.
    The deaths of the four youths spiraled into a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
    HBO’s 10-episode dramatization dissects Israel’s internal investigation into the three ultra-Orthodox Jews eventually convicted of Abu Khdeir’s murder and the frantic initial days after his parents learned of his disappearance and death.
    The Hebrew- and Arabic-language series was written, directed and produced by two Jewish Israelis and an Arab Israeli, who mix documentary footage with live production to delve into the micro details they say drive the conflict.
    “We live in an extremely nuanced world where wars erupt because of tiny things,” co-director Joseph Cedar, 50, said in an interview alongside collaborators Hagai Levi and Tawfik Abu Wael.
    “We tried to peel back the layers of this hate crime,” he said.
    But some bereaved Israeli families have said the show largely glosses over the murder of the three Israeli teens, who are referenced throughout the series but not included as characters.
    Two Hamas suspects in the murders were killed in a 2014 shootout and in 2015 an Israeli court sentenced a third Hamas member to three life terms for the teens’ abduction and murder.
    “The balance is not clear to someone viewing the show, who thinks ‘we murder them, they murder us’,” said Merav Hajaj, whose daughter, an army officer, was killed along with three other cadets in a Palestinian truck ramming attack in Jerusalem in 2017.
    Hajaj, 49, wrote a letter signed by some 120 bereaved Israeli families criticizing HBO and requesting the program list the number of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks through the years.
    Levi said the creators felt they had portrayed the context of Abu Khdeir’s killing.
    “But the crime is the story,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Dedi Hayoun in Ma’ale Adumim; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alexandra Hudson)

8/20/2019 Clashes hit Yemen’s south, Saudi-led forces strike capital
FILE PHOTO: Members of UAE-backed southern Yemeni separatist forces stand by a military vehicle during
clashes with government forces in Aden, Yemen August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Southern separatists seized two Yemeni government military bases near the southern port of Aden early on Tuesday, triggering fresh clashes between nominal allies that have complicated U.N. peace efforts, residents and officials said.
    The separatists and the government are both part of a Saudi-led military coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which took over the capital Sanaa and most major cities in 2014.
    But the separatists broke with the government this month, seizing its temporary base of Aden on Aug. 10.    On Tuesday, they took two government military bases in Zinjibar, around 60 km (40 miles) east of Aden in Abyan province, residents said.
    On another front in the north, the Saudi-led coalition said it launched air strikes overnight on Houthi military targets in Sanaa.    The assault appeared to be a response to Houthi attacks on energy assets in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
    The violence and cracks in the coalition could hamper United Nations efforts to push forward peace agreements and talks to end a war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country to the brink of famine.
    Divisions have spread with the overall war – which is widely seen as a proxy conflict between Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite power Iran – largely stuck in stalemate.
DIVISIONS
    “What is happening in Abyan is an unjustified escalation by the Southern Transitional Council (STC – the separatists),” the Yemeni government foreign ministry said.
    Saudi Arabia, which wants the coalition to focus on combating the Houthi movement along its border, has called for a summit to resolve the Aden standoff, but the refusal of southern forces to hand back full control of Aden has delayed it.
    The separatists’ seizure of two more government bases in Abyan province, the birthplace of Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, suggested they were not planning to back down.
    STC fighters turned against the government and seized Aden after accusing a party allied to Hadi of being complicit in a Houthi missile attack on southern forces.
    The split has exposed has differences between Saudi Arabia and its major coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, which funds and arms thousands of southern separatist forces.
    The Houthis have stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months.        The coalition said on Tuesday that its air strikes on Sanaa struck caves storing missiles, drones and weapons.    Houthi-run al-Masirah TV said around 15 air strikes hit in and around Sanaa overnight.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo and Reuters team in Aden.; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Matthew Lewis and Andrew Heavens)

8/20/2019 Monitor says Syrian rebels withdraw from town, jihadists say still fighting
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows Khan Sheikhoun in the southern countryside of Idlib March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A Syrian war monitor said rebels had withdrawn from a town in southern Idlib province and from their last territory in neighboring Hama province after government advances, though an insurgent group denied this and said they were still fighting.
    The recovery of these areas would mark an important gain for President Bashar al-Assad into the northwestern region which is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local activists said insurgents had withdrawn from the town, Khan Sheikhoun, after fierce bombardment.
    The most powerful insurgent group in the area, the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, however said rebels still held part of Khan Sheikhoun and areas in northern Hama despite what it described as a redeployment in the town after fierce enemy bombardment.     There was no immediate comment from Syrian state media.
    Syrian government forces stepped up military operations against the northwestern region in late April, an offensive that has killed hundreds of people and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee towards the Turkish border.
    Assad has defeated his rebel opponents across much of the country with help from Russian and Iran-backed forces.
    Khan Sheikhoun has been in rebel hands since 2014.    The opposition’s territorial foothold in neighboring Hama province dates back to the earliest days of the eight-year-long conflict.
    Russian-backed Syrian government advances around Khan Sheikhoun had threatened to encircle rebel fighters in their last remaining territory in northern Hama, including the towns of Latamneh and Kafr Zeita.
    Local activists and the Observatory said the rebels had quit those towns.
TURKISH POSITIONS
    The Observatory said Syrian rebels who had stayed behind in that area had gathered at a Turkish military position in the town of Morek, in the territory abandoned by the rebels.
    Turkey, which backs some of the rebel groups in the northwest, has established a dozen military positions in the area under agreements with Russia.    One of its main concerns is to prevent a further influx of Syrian refugees fleeing government control, 3.6 million of whom already live in Turkey.
    A Turkish military convoy was targeted in an air strike in the northwest on Monday after it entered the territory. Rebel sources said the Syrian government had targeted it.
    Syrian state media said the despatch of the convoy into Syria was an act of aggression and it had entered to help insurgents fighting an army advance in Khan Sheikhoun.
    Khan Sheikhoun was targeted in a sarin gas attack in 2017 that prompted U.S. missile strikes against Syria.
    An investigation conducted by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the Syrian government was responsible for releasing sarin on the town on April 4, 2017.    Damascus denies using such weapons.
    The latest Syrian government offensive in the northwest has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee towards the Turkish border.
    The U.S.-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports medical facilities in the northwest, says more than 730 civilians had been killed by government or Russian forces since late April.
    The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said more than 500 civilians have died in hostilities.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

8/20/2019 US scraps West Bank conference over Palestinian protests
    RAMALLAH, West Bank – The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday was forced to postpone a conference it organized in the West Bank city of Ramallah after Palestinian officials and factions called for a boycott and threatened to organize protests.    The Palestinians have cut all ties with the U.S., which recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017.    They view the Trump administration as unfairly biased following a series of actions seen as hostile to their aspirations for an independent state.

8/20/2019 Saudi Arabia implements end to travel restrictions for Saudi women: agency
A Saudi woman walks with her luggage as she arrives at King Fahd International Airport
in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has begun allowing adult women to travel without permission and to exercise more control over family matters, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday, following a flurry of royal decrees approving the changes.
    Riyadh has long faced international criticism over the status of Saudi women.    Rights groups say women are often treated as second-class citizens under rules requiring them to get the consent of a male guardian for important decisions throughout their entire lives, regardless of age.
    The authorities have steadily chipped away at those restrictions in recent years, including ending a ban on women driving cars last year.    A series of royal decrees published earlier this month further eroded that system as the kingdom comes under increased scrutiny over its human rights record.
    The regulatory changes stipulated that a Saudi passport should be issued to any citizen who applies for it and that any person above the age of 21 does not need permission to travel.
    They also granted women for the first time the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.
    “The passports and civil status departments and their branches in all regions of the kingdom have started to implement the amendments stipulated in the royal decree,” the SPA report said, citing an interior ministry source.
    A Saudi newspaper reported that more than 1,000 women in the country’s Eastern Province had left Saudi Arabia on Monday without their guardian’s permission, in what appeared to be an early implementation of the new rules.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/20/2019 Turkish police use water cannon, batons on Kurdish protesters by Umit Ozdal
Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the replacement of Kurdish mayors
with state officials in three cities, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar
    DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) – Riot police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters demonstrating in southeast Turkey on Tuesday against the ousting of three Kurdish mayors five months after they were elected.
    Ankara replaced the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors with state officials on Monday and detained more than 400 people for suspected militant links in a step sharply criticized by opposition parties.     In Diyarbakir, the region’s biggest city, police repeatedly used water cannon on small groups of protesters, who huddled on the streets to protect themselves from the water cannon and made victory signs with their hands.
    Riot police struck protesters with batons as they fled the area.    The protesters gathered near city hall, which was sealed off by metal barriers after a state administrator took office there on Monday in place of the elected mayor.
    “You can see here today a regime of pressure and persecution,” HDP leader Sezai Temelli told reporters in a statement on the street in Diyarbakir as the police acted against the protesters.
    “We will continue to resist wherever we are because resistance is our legitimate right,” he said.
    The Interior Ministry says the ousted HDP mayors of the three major cities – Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van – are accused of various crimes including membership of a terrorist organization and spreading terrorist group propaganda.
    The HDP said the mayors’ removal was a political coup and that it is a hostile stance against the political will of the Kurdish people.
    The ministry also said on Monday it had launched an operation with some 2,300 commandos against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in three southeastern provinces.
    President Tayyip Erdogan had warned before nationwide local elections in March of such a move against elected officials if they were found to have had connections to the PKK.
    Erdogan frequently accuses the HDP of links to the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.    The HDP denies such links.
    The removal of the mayors echoed the dismissal of dozens of mayors in 2016 over similar accusations, part of a purge that began after a failed coup.    Nearly 100 mayors and thousands of party members were jailed then in a crackdown that drew expressions of concern from the United States and European Union.
    The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/20/2019 Syrians facing forced removal from Istanbul given temporary reprieve
FILE PHOTO: A group of Syrian refugees who crossed the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey,
walk towards the city of Didymoteicho, Greece, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has extended to Oct. 30 its deadline for Syrian migrants not registered in Istanbul to leave the city or face forced removal, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Tuesday.
    Istanbul’s governor said last month that Syrians who had registered in other provinces of Turkey must return to those provinces by Aug. 20.    The number of Syrians in Istanbul, a city of some 15 million, has swelled, with over half a million living in Turkey’s largest city.
    In a televised interview with broadcaster Haberturk late on Tuesday, Soylu said the deadline had been extended until Oct. 30 and that those leaving Istanbul would be allowed to relocate and register in any other province, with the exception of the southern province of Antalya, which he said was also not admitting more Syrian migrants.
    Students and their families, as well as those with officially registered jobs in Istanbul, would be exempted from the need to relocate, he said.
    Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million Syrians, the largest population of Syrians displaced by an eight-year civil war.
    Soylu said a total of around 347,000 Syrians had returned to their country so far.    Turkey has determined locations outside its borders to host a possible immigration wave from Syria’s Idlib province, he added.
    A series of truces brokered via Russian-Turkish talks has failed to end fighting in the northwestern Idlib province, where Ankara has a dozen military positions.
    The northwest is the last big stronghold of opposition to President Bashar al Assad, whose military has been waging an offensive in the area since the end of April with Russian help.
    The escalation has killed at least 500 civilians and uprooted hundreds of thousands, many stranded near the Turkish border, according to the United Nations.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

8/20/2019 Sudan forms 11-member sovereign council, headed by military leader
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's Head of Transitional Military Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and
Sudan's opposition alliance coalition's leader Ahmad al-Rabiah, celebrate the signing of the power sharing deal,
that paves the way for a transitional government, and eventual elections, following the overthrow of
long-time leader Omar al-Bashir, in Khartoum, Sudan, August 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Sudan on Tuesday completed the formation of an 11-member sovereign council that will run the country for a three-year transitional period until elections, a spokesman for the ruling military council told a news conference.
    The sovereign council will be led by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is the head of the transitional military council (TMC), which has ruled Sudan since April, when the military deposed veteran leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
    Members of the sovereign council and the prime minister will be sworn in on Wednesday.
    Last week Sudan’s main opposition alliance nominated economist Abdalla Hamdok to serve as prime minister in the country’s transitional government.
    A power-sharing agreement signed on Saturday paves the way for a transitional government and eventual elections.    It provides for a sovereign council as the highest authority in the country but largely delegates executive powers to the cabinet of ministers.
    According to the agreement, the opposition coalition is allowed to choose five members of the council and the military another five, with the two sides jointly choosing a civilian as an eleventh member.
    The agreement also provides for a 300-member legislative assembly to serve during the transitional period and a cabinet of technocrats.
    The main challenge for the new government will be an economic crisis stemming from a shortage of foreign currency, resulting in a cash crunch and long lines for fuel and bread.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah, writing by Amina IsmailEditing by Gareth Jones and Cynthia Osterman)

8/21/2019 U.S. drone shot down over Yemen: officials by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Force officer passes in front of a MQ-9 Reaper drone, one of a squadron that has arrived to step
up the fight against the Taliban, at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. military MQ-9 drone was shot down in Yemen’s Dhamar governate, southeast of the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday, the second such incident in recent months.
    A Houthi military spokesman had earlier said that air defenses had brought down a U.S. drone.
    The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the drone was shot down late on Tuesday.
    This is not the first time a U.S. drone has been shot down in Yemen.    In June, the U.S. military said that Houthi rebels had shot down a U.S. government-operated drone with assistance from Iran.
    U.S. forces have occasionally launched drone and air strikes against Yemen’s al Qaeda branch, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
    The group has taken advantage of a four-year-old war between the Houthi movement and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s Saudi-backed government to try to strengthen its position in the impoverished country.
    One of the officials said that it appeared that the armed military drone, made by California-based General Atomics, had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile operated by the Iran-aligned Houthi group.
    “It appears to have been fired by the Houthis and enabled by Iran,” the official said, without providing details or specific evidence.
    The official said that while losing a drone was expensive, it was not unprecedented and it was unlikely to lead to any major response by the United States.
    The other official cautioned that it was too early to tell who was responsible for the incident.
    In a statement, the U.S. military said it was investigating reports that a drone had been attacked “in authorized airspace over Yemen.”
    “We have been clear that Iran’s provocative actions and support to militants and proxies, like the Iranian-backed Houthis, poses a serious threat to stability in the region and our partners,” the U.S. military’s Central Command said.
    The White House said it was aware of the reports and President Donald Trump had been briefed on the matter.
    “This attack is only possible because of Iran’s lethal aid to the Houthis and serves as yet another example of the regime’s relentless efforts to escalate conflict and threaten regional stability,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said.
    Iran rejects accusations from the United States and its Gulf Arab allies that Tehran is providing military and financial support to the Houthis and blames Riyadh for the deepening crisis there.
    Overnight, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saria said that the drone had been shot down.
    “The rocket which hit it was developed locally and will be revealed soon at a press conference,” Saria said on Twitter.
    “Our skies are no longer open to violations as they once were and the coming days will see great surprises,” he added.
    The drone shoot-down comes as tensions between Iran and the United States have risen since Trump’s administration last year quit an international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and began to ratchet up sanctions.    Iranian officials denounced the new penalties as “economic warfare.”
    In June, Iran shot down a U.S. Global Hawk drone, far larger than the MQ-9 drone, and almost led to retaliatory U.S. strikes.    Trump later said he had called off the strikes because it could have killed 150 people.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali. Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Steve Orlofsky)

8/21/2019 WFP resumes food distribution in Yemen’s Sanaa after deal with Houthis
Workers weigh the aid provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) for distribution in Sanaa, Yemen August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
    SANAA (Reuters) – The World Food Programme (WFP) on Wednesday resumed distributing food to 850,000 people in Yemen’s capital Sanaa after a two-month stoppage, having reached an agreement with the Iran-aligned Houthi authorities who control the city.
    The U.N. agency halted most aid in Sanaa on June 20 out of concern that food was being diverted from vulnerable people, maintaining nutrition programs only for malnourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers.
    Dozens of people gathered at a distribution center in Sanaa to be given flour, vegetable oil, pulses, salt and sugar.
    “We are relieved.    Thank God. All we can do is praise God,” said one recipient, Um Ahmed.
    Both Houthi forces and the Saudi-led coalition they are fighting in Yemen have used access to aid and food as a political tool, exacerbating what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with high rates of severe malnutrition among children.
    More than two thirds of Yemen’s population are food insecure and WFP aid reaches around 11 million people there each month.
    The WFP discovered in December 2018 that donated food in Houthi areas was being systematically diverted through a local partner connected to the group.    The Houthis have said the WFP insisted on controlling recipient data in violation of Yemeni law.
    Food distribution for 850,000 people had resumed after the WFP was allowed to “introduce the key accountability measures,” its spokeswoman Annabel Symington told Reuters.
    When the agreement with Houthi authorities was reached in early August, the WFP said a biometric registration process would be introduced for 9 million people living in areas under Houthi control.
    The system – using iris scanning, fingerprints or facial recognition – is already used in areas controlled by the Saudi-backed government that holds the southern port city of Aden and some western coastal towns.
    The Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, who control most large urban centers.
    “Yemen remains the most concerning food security situation the world.    We have seen some improvement in some hard to reach areas in recent months but we can’t rest now,” Symington said.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen; Writing by Lisa Barrington)

8/21/2019 Tens of thousands flee Russia-led attack on Syrian opposition enclave by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows Khan Sheikhoun in the southern countryside of Idlib March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo - RC12399C7770
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Ten of thousands of people have fled to Syria’s border with Turkey in the last few days as a Syrian army advance pushed further into the opposition’s last major stronghold, residents, rights groups and opposition sources said on Wednesday.
    They left Maarat al-Numan, a city in Idlib province that has been a sanctuary for families fleeing former rebel areas, as a Russian-led push has come close to capturing the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun further south.
    “The flow of cars and vehicles leaving is not stopping,” said Abdullah Younis from the city. Rescuers there said around 60,000 people had fled in the last four days alone.
    On Tuesday, Russian and Syrian jets intensified their bombing of scattered villages and towns around Maarat al-Numan, with the al-Rahma hospital in the area struck, residents said.
    “There were 15 raids on Jarjanaz in less than five minutes,” Abdul Rahman al Halabi told Reuters from the area.
    Rebels concede most of their fighters have fled Khan Sheikhoun but are providing fierce resistance to the Syrian army, which has secured a foothold in the rebel-held town that was bombed with sarin gas in 2017.
    State media on Tuesday said government forces were battling militants but had extended their advance and seized a highway running through the town.
    Taking Khan Sheikhoun would be an important gain for Moscow and its ally into the northwestern region, where Moscow has helped President Bashar al Assad turn the tide in the eight-year-old conflict since stepping up its intervention in 2015.
    Russia has backed the campaign, making thousands of raids on rebel-held northern Hama and southern Idlib in what Western experts say is a “scorched earth strategy
    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged on Tuesday that Russia had military personnel on the ground in Idlib province, the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
MERCENARIES
    Russia has previously downplayed its direct role in the advance, where it used mercenaries as well as directing battles, according to Western intelligence sources.
    The fall of Khan Sheikhoun ends rebel control over northern Hama province, where a rebel group, Jaish al-Izza, had been defending the three major towns of Latamneh, Kfr Zita and Morek.
    The latest advance has been aided by thousands of new reinforcements including Iranian-backed militias.
    A suspected Syrian army strike on Monday hit near a Turkish military convoy heading to an observation post near Khan Sheikhoun.    Damascus denounced what it said was a Turkish attempt to save routed rebels.
    A senior Turkish security official told Reuters talks were going on with Russia over the fate of the convoy, which was en route to an outpost near the frontline.    The convoy had not moved since the strike, but there was no possibility the post “would be abandoned.”
    Rebels said a Turkish patrol on Wednesday moved from one of a dozen military posts established in the area under agreements reached with Russia in what they said was a message by Ankara that it won’t succumb to Syrian government pressure to pull out.
    The Turkish presence in the northwest and extensive covert military aid it has extended to some Ankara-backed rebel factions had complicated the campaign to seize the last rebel bastion, Syrian military experts and rebels say.
    After months of stalemate Russia has increased the intensity of raids in the last 10 days, transforming the situation on the ground. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and at least 400,000 people displaced, medics, NGOs and the United Nations say.
    The Syrian Network for Human Rights said 196 children were among the 843 civilians killed in the Russian and Syrian raids since the campaign began last April.
    Moscow and Damascus, who deny indiscriminate bombing of civilians areas or targeting hospitals, say they are fighting jihadist militants drawn from across the world.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Editing by Jon Boyle/William Maclean)

8/22/2019 Israel eases rules on cyber weapons exports despite criticism by Tova Cohen and Ari Rabinovitch
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Cybergym, a cyber-warfare training facility backed by the Israel Electric
Corporation, is seen at their training center in Hadera, Israel July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel is easing export rules on offensive cyber weapons, despite accusations by human rights and privacy groups that its technologies are used by some governments to spy on political foes and crush dissent.
    A rule change by the defense ministry means companies can now obtain exemptions on marketing license for the sale of some products to specific countries, a source close to the cyber sector told Reuters.
    Israel, like other big defense exporters, closely guards details of its weapons sales and its export rules are not widely known, but the defense ministry confirmed the change had gone into force about a year ago in response to Reuters’ questions.
    Industry specialists say the change makes a speedier approval process possible for the sale of cyber weapons, or spyware, which are used to break into electronic devices and monitor online communications.
    Israel’s defense ministry said the rule change “was made to facilitate effective service to Israeli industries while maintaining and protecting international standards of export control and supervision.”
    It said a marketing-license exemption was granted only under “certain conditions related to the security clearance of the product and assessment of the country toward which the product will be marketed” and that companies were still required to hold an export license.    The Israeli government and the companies declined to comment on which neighboring states are among spyware customers.
    In a sign the government could make more changes, the economy ministry – which is responsible for promoting economic growth and exports – is setting up a division to handle exports of cyber technologies that have offensive and defensive capabilities.
    “This is part of a reform that is essentially allocating more resources to the economy ministry for this important issue,” a ministry spokeswoman said.
GROWING COMMERCIAL MARKET
    Advanced cyber weapons were until recently deployed only by the most technically sophisticated government spy agencies, such as those in the United States, Israel, China and Russia.
    But now a robust commercial market for powerful hacking tools and services has emerged, with former government cyber experts from the United States, Israel and other countries playing a big role in the trade.
    That has brought new scrutiny to how cyber weapons are bought, sold and deployed, and the actions of governments in regulating the trade.    Israeli companies, including NSO Group and Verint, and defense contractor Elbit Systems, are among the world leaders in the growing global market for cyber weapons.    The software tools exploit vulnerabilities in cellphones and other tech products to gain access and covertly monitor users.
    Some privacy and human rights groups say Israel’s controls on the sale of cyber weapons are inadequate.    Earlier this year, Amnesty said the government should take a tougher line against export license that have “resulted in human rights abuses.”
    The Israeli government declined to comment on accusations of rights abuses.
    Rights groups say neighboring states including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among the Israeli firms’ spyware customers.
    Diplomatic considerations can come into play and help speed sales.    Tel Aviv University Professor Isaac Ben Israel, the father of Israel’s cyber sector and chairman of its space agency, said there was nothing wrong with using technology to form a bond with neighbors that have shunned formal ties.
    “This is a legitimate tool in diplomacy,” he said.
    Government officials in Saudi Arabia and the UAE did not respond to requests for comments regarding claims they had purchased spyware from Israeli companies.
    Israeli companies say they comply with government export rules and vet customers to ensure the technology is used for legitimate purposes by foreign governments.
REGULATE LESS, GROW MORE
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cyber conference in June there were demands to regulate the sector more as it grows.    “But I think we have to take the risk, and it’s a considerable risk, of regulating less in order to grow more,” he said.
    Israel’s approval process for exporting cyber weapons is more rigorous than in some other countries such as the United States and Britain, said Daniel Reisner, a partner at law firm Herzog Fox Neeman who represents many Israeli cyber firms.    That put Israel’s industry “at a huge disadvantage,” he said.
    Under the rule change, the approval process can be up to four months quicker and this has been “a huge help”, he added.    Previously, it could take close to a year for a new company to obtain approval, he said.
    Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which focuses on digital espionage and has uncovered alleged spyware abuses in countries including the United Arab Emirates and Mexico, said it was “unfortunate” that Israel was loosening its rules.
    “Our research shows there is a crisis in civil society because of the abuse of commercial spyware,” Deibert told Reuters in an email.
    A United Nations report in June called for a global moratorium on the sale of cyber weapons until human rights-compliant safeguards are in place in Israel and other countries.
    Globally, a 42-nation weapons export agreement known as the Wassenaar Arrangement covers “intrusion software” and internet surveillance systems.    Israel is not a party to the agreement, but says it is compliant.
    David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression, criticized Israel’s controls as “shrouded in secrecy” and called for all cyber weapon sales to be conditioned on a human rights review.    Citizen Lab has linked NSO cellphone hacking software known as Pegasus to spying scandals in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.    NSO says all its sales are approved by Israel’s government.    Reisner, who serves as a member of an ethics committee at NSO, said the company had voluntarily turned down $200 million worth of business between 2016 and 2018.
    Software from Elbit has been linked by Citizen Lab to an espionage campaign targeting Ethiopian dissidents.    Elbit declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Giles Elgood)

8/22/2019 Netanyahu hints at Israeli involvement in Iraq blasts
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet
meeting in Jerusalem July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday of possible Israeli involvement in attacks against Iranian-linked targets in Iraq.
    A series of blasts in the past few weeks have hit weapon depots and bases belonging to paramilitary groups in Iraq, many of them backed by Israel’s regional foe Iran.    The groups blamed the United States and Israel for the blasts on Wednesday.
    In an interview with Russian-language Israeli television Channel 9, broadcast on Thursday, Netanyahu was asked whether Israel would operate against Iranian targets in Iraq if needed, he said:
    “We are operating – not just if needed, we are operating in many areas against a state that wants to annihilate us.    Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and instructed them to do anything necessary to thwart Iran’s plans.”
    Netanyahu did not directly name Iraq as one of those areas.
    Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria, some of them against Iranian targets, to prevent Teheran from establishing a permanent military presence there and to stop advanced weapons reaching its proxies in the area.
    Israeli officials suggested recently they viewed Iraq, whose main ally is Iran, as more of a threat than in recent years, but have not directly commented on the recent blasts at Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) sites in Iraq.
    On Wednesday, the PMF, the umbrella grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups, said the United States had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region accompanying U.S. forces and carry out missions on Iraqi territory.
    The Pentagon denied involvement. The U.S.-led coalition, in Iraq to fight remnants of the Islamic State group, dismissed the statement.
    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.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi last week ordered all ammunition dumps belonging to the armed forces or paramilitary groups to be moved outside of cities.
    He also canceled all special flight permissions for Iraqi and foreign aircraft, meaning that sorties, including by the U.S.-led coalition operating against Islamic State militants, must be cleared in advance by the prime minister.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Sonya Hepinstall)

8/23/2019 One Israeli killed and two injured in bomb attack near settlement: ambulance
Israeli forces gather at the scene of an attack near the Jewish settlement of Dolev
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – One Israeli was killed and two injured in a Palestinian attack near a settlement in the occupied West Bank on Friday, Israeli medical officials said.
    The Israeli military said an Israeli father and his two children came under attack from Palestinians using an improvised explosive device (IED) while visiting a spring near the settlement of Dolev on Friday morning.
    Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service later confirmed that one of the three, a 17-year-old girl, died from her wounds at the scene.
    An MDA spokesman said a 46-year-old man and a 21-year-old man were evacuated by military helicopter to a hospital in Jerusalem after being treated by paramedics.    Their condition was described as “serious.”    The military said it was being treated as a terrorist attack.
    The hilly central region of the West Bank around Dolev is studded with olive groves and orchards and is popular with hikers.
    The area saw clashes last year between Palestinians and Israelis over settlement expansions, as Palestinian villagers complained that settlers were trying to take over land, including water sources.
    On Friday morning the Israeli military quickly cordoned off the area around Ein Bobin spring near the Palestinian village of Deir Ibzi’, while soldiers blocked roads and searched the area.
    The natural water source was named Danny Spring by Israelis after an Israeli student, Danny Gonen, was killed there in 2015. That attack was claimed by a group claiming to be affiliated with the Islamist group Hamas.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell and Ali Sawafta, Editing by William Maclean and Toby Chopra)

8/23/2019 Syrian army captures Hama rebel pocket in northwest: state media by Ellen Francis
A damaged military tank is seen in Idlib countryside, Syria in this handout
released by SANA on August 22, 2019. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian army troops seized a pocket of territory in the northwest where they had encircled rebels and a Turkish military post on Friday, reclaiming towns they lost early in the war.
    Government forces pounded the south of Idlib and nearby Hama with air and ground attacks this week, pressing an offensive that has caused a new exodus.    The United Nations says the escalation since late April has killed hundreds of people.
    The northwest corner is all that remains in the hands of rebel factions who have suffered a string of crushing blows across Syria in the more than eight-year war.
    President Bashar al-Assad has turned to the Idlib region after clawing back control of most of Syria with key help from Russia and Iran.    Still, the prospect of more advances is obstructed not only by Turkey’s interests near its border but also U.S. forces alongside Kurdish fighters in the northeast.
    The latest army gains have put Turkish troops in Idlib in the firing line and threaten Ankara’s hopes of preventing a new wave of refugees on its border.
    The pocket that came under state rule on Friday includes a few towns and their environs which rebels had held since the early years of the conflict.
    Rebel officials did not respond to requests for comment.
    The army imposed “a choking siege” on insurgents in the Hama countryside on Friday morning, state-run Ikhbariya said.
    The capture of six towns and nearby hills expanded state control of a highway running through them, which stretches from the capital Damascus to Aleppo city, it added.
    “The north Hama countryside is now fully safe,” the channel’s correspondent said in a live broadcast from the town of Kfar Zita.    He said soldiers were searching for landmines.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-government force recovered Kafr Zita, which insurgents had controlled since 2012, and some towns nearby.
    The fate of a Turkish military post in one of the towns which was also encircled, Morek, remained unclear, the UK-based war monitor and state TV said.
    Under its deals with Russia, Turkey has forces stationed at a dozen military posts across Idlib.    Ankara backs rebel forces that control swathes of territory further north near its border, and some that have a presence in Idlib.
    Moscow and Damascus say they are responding to militant attacks by the former Nusra Front, a jihadist alliance now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham which is the dominant force in Idlib.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis,; Additional reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Turkey, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/23/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan to visit Russia on Aug. 27: Turkish presidency
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their bilateral meeting
on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will make a one-day official visit to Russia on August 27, the Turkish presidency said on Friday, hours after he held a phone call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to discuss developments in northwestern Syria.
    In the phone call, Erdogan told Putin that an offensive by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Moscow, was causing a humanitarian crisis and posed a threat to Turkey’s national security.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler)

8/23/2019 Israeli teenager killed by bomb near settlement: Israeli officials by Ali Sawafta
Israeli forces gather at the scene of an attack near the Jewish settlement of Dolev
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    DEIR IBZI’, West Bank (Reuters) – An Israeli teenager was killed and her father and brother were injured by a Palestinian bomb near a settlement in the occupied West Bank on Friday, Israeli officials said.
    The family were visiting a spring in a popular hiking area when an improvised explosive device (IED) blew up, the Israeli military and paramedics said.
    The military said it was being treated as a terrorist attack.    It was not immediately clear if the device had been planted in advance or thrown.
    Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service confirmed that 17-year-old Rina Shnerb had died at the scene and said her father and brother – named by Israeli media as Rabbi David Eitan, 46, and 21-year-old Dvir – were in serious condition.
    A large crowd of mourners gathered later on Friday for the teenager’s funeral in her home town of Lod, where her body was covered in a white shroud adorned with the Star of David.
    “This is insane, everything that’s happening here.    I still can’t believe it,” said Shnerb’s sister Tamar.    “Only yesterday you were here, joyful as always, you were happy and made everyone happy, as you always do.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent condolences to the family, and said security forces were pursuing the attackers.
    “The long arm of Israel reaches all those who seek our lives,” Netanyahu said in a statement, adding: “We will continue to strengthen settlement.    We will deepen our roots and strike at our enemies.”
    The hilly central region of the West Bank around the settlement of Dolev lies northwest of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, and is studded with olive groves and orchards.
    The area saw clashes last year between Palestinians and Israelis, as Palestinian villagers complained that settlers were trying to take over land, including water sources.
    On Friday morning, the Israeli military quickly cordoned off the area around the Ein Bobin spring near the Palestinian village of Deir Ibzi’ while soldiers set up checkpoints on roads and searched the area.
    An Israeli student, Danny Gonen, was killed at the same spring in 2015 in an attack claimed by a group that said it was affiliated with the Islamist group Hamas.
    Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh praised the latest attack but did not claim responsibility for it, warning Israel not to “assault our Jerusalem and our sacred sites.”
    In a speech in Gaza he said: “I bless this operation and I greet the hands of those who executed it.    I pray for God to protect those who stood behind it.    Regardless of who they are, they are Palestinians.”
    David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, tweeted that he was “heartbroken and outraged.”    President Donald Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, urged the Palestinian Authority to “unequivocally condemn” the attack.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)

8/24/2019 Turkey says Syria safe zone center with U.S. fully operational: Anadolu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar arrives at NATO headquarters ahead of a
Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium June 26, 2019. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A joint Turkish-U.S. operation center to establish and manage a safe zone in northeast Syria is fully operational, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying on Saturday by the state-owned Anadolu news agency.
    Turkey and the United States agreed to set up the joint operations center for the proposed zone along Syria’s northeastern border but gave few details, such as the size of the zone or the command structure of the forces that would operate there.
    “The joint operation center has started working at full capacity.    The command of center is by one U.S. general and one Turkish general,” Akar was quoted as saying.
    Akar added that the first joint helicopter flight was due to take place on Saturday after Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone area last week.
    Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for northeastern Syria, where the Kurdish YPG militia formed the main part of a U.S.-backed force fighting Islamic State. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Helen Popper)

8/24/2019 UAE minister calls Saudi-UAE coalition a strategic necessity in Yemen
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash is seen during preparatory meeting for the
GCC, Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates’ minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said late on Saturday that “the Saudi-UAE coalition is a strategic necessity in light of the surrounding challenges, and Yemen is a clear example.”
    “As a result of our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, it is the one deciding whether to continue our role in supporting stability in Yemen within the Arab coalition or not,” Gargash said in another tweet.    “Our engagement with Riyadh is ontological and more comprehensive, especially in the surrounding difficult circumstances and in light of our firm conviction of Riyadh’s pivotal and leading role.”
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Writing by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Leslie Adler)

8/24/2019 Sudan’s ex-president Bashir’s corruption trial to seek bail
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 Abdalla
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The lawyer for Sudan’s ex-president Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Saturday that he will request that Bashir be released on bail as his trial on corruption charges continues.
    “We are going to ask today that he be released on bail because this is an ordinary case,” Ahmed Ibrahim told reporters outside the courtroom.
    Bashir is charged with illicit possession of foreign currency and accepting gifts in an unofficial manner.
    During the hearing, the judge asked for the bail request in writing, and said his office was open to receiving it at any time.
    Bashir acknowledged receiving millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, a police detective told the court on Monday.
    Bashir weathered multiple rebellions, economic crises, U.S. sanctions and coup attempts until he was overthrown by the military in April after mass protests against his 30-year rule.
    His trial is seen as a test of how serious authorities are about trying to erase the legacy of his rule.
    Bashir did not speak during Saturday’s hearing.
    A group of about 150 Bashir supporters staged a protest near the courtroom, chanting “We stand united behind our leader” and holding signs saying “The trial of the president is the trial of the nation.”
    Bashir was also charged in May with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters.    He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of masterminding genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.
    On Wednesday, Sudan’s new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, and sovereign council were sworn in, marking the formation of a transitional government that will run the country for three years and three months, according to a power-sharing agreement between the military and the main opposition coalition.
(Reporting by Eltayeb Siddig, Writing by Nafisa Eltahir)

8/24/2019 Missile hits Tripoli airport car park, grounding flights for three hours
Workers remove a damaged civilian vehicle, after a missile hit the terminal's park of
Mitiga airport in Tripoli, Libya August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – A missile hit the car park of Libya’s only functioning airport in Tripoli on Saturday, forcing flights to be grounded for almost three hours before operations resumed, the airport and a witness said.
    The airport said on its website that Mitiga airport “was exposed to a missile, coinciding with the arrival of two flights.”    Nobody was hurt, a witness said.
    “I was inside the terminal booking a flight…then I heard a massive explosion,” the witness told Reuters by phone.
    “There was big chaos and people were trying to escape. ..I saw a number of cars parked in front of terminal damaged.”
    Mitiga airport has been repeatedly hit since eastern forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to take the Libyan capital, now held by the internationally recognized government.
    The attacking forces have been unable to breach Tripoli’s southern defenses.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Ros Russell)

8/24/2019 Lebanese government says committed to reforms after rating downgrade
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil walks to attend the
cabinet meeting in Baabda, Lebanon May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    (Reuters) – The Lebanese government has vowed to make urgent progress on reforms to help overcome a worsening economic crisis that prompted Fitch Ratings to cut the country’s credit rating on Friday.
    Speaking after Fitch downgraded the sovereign to CCC on debt-servicing concerns, President Michel Aoun said the current crisis had been brewing for many years, but that “everyone” was now working to tackle its causes.
    S&P Global, which on Friday affirmed Lebanon’s credit rating at B-/B with a negative outlook, said it considered Lebanon’s foreign exchange reserves sufficient to service government debt in the “near term.”
    However, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said both ratings reports showed the urgency for reform, which the government has long put off.    “There should be no slacking for a single moment,” he told Reuters on Friday.
    “We will deal responsibly with the reports,” Khalil said.    “We are confident we will be able to get out of the crisis.”
    Lebanon is grappling with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP and years of low economic growth.
    Government finances, riddled with corruption and waste, are strained by a bloated public sector, debt-servicing costs and subsidizing the state power producer.
    Lebanese leaders have warned of a financial crisis without changes.    The impetus to enact reforms has grown with the slowdown of deposits into its banking sector, a critical source of finance for the state.
    The government is now trying to put public finances on a more sustainable path with a deficit cut in the 2019 budget and a plan to fix the state-run power sector, which bleeds funds while inflicting daily power cuts on Lebanese.
INTENSIFYING PRESSURE
    Fitch said its downgrade from B- reflected “intensifying pressure on Lebanon’s financing model and increasing risks to the government’s debt servicing capacity.”
    Lebanon requires substantial capital inflows to fund its large twin budget and current account deficits, it added.
    Friday’s report by S&P Global said it expected the country to make progress on reforms to improve investor confidence given the weakness of foreign currency inflows.
    But it warned it could lower the sovereign’s rating in the coming six-12 months if bank deposits and central bank foreign exchange reserves continued to fall.
    “Continued weakness in foreign currency inflows and the use of [the central bank’s foreign exchange] reserves to meet government debt-service could test the country’s ability to maintain the currency peg,” the report said.
    The Lebanese pound is pegged to the dollar.
    Moody’s downgraded Lebanon’s rating to Caa1 in January.
DOMESTIC POLITICS
    The head of parliament’s budget committee, Ibrahim Kanaan, called for the 2019 reforms and the timely adoption of a 2020 budget to be carried out in an atmosphere of “political stability.”
    Years of intermittent government paralysis and political squabbling since the country’s civil war ended in 1990 have hindered infrastructure upgrades and the adoption of many of the reforms needed today.    The country functioned without a government budget between 2005 and 2017.
    Fitch said political instability and ineffective government continue to weigh on investor confidence in the country.
    Markets had been pricing in the risk of a sovereign credit rating downgrade.    Bond prices fell to new lows and five-year credit default swaps (CDS) — the cost of insuring against a Lebanese sovereign default — rose in recent days.
    Friday’s downgrade will have no “material impact” on investor holdings of Lebanon’s bonds as the debt was already rated non-investment grade, said Jan Dehn, head of research at emerging markets investment manager Ashmore Group.
    Economists have questioned whether the government’s efforts will be enough to meet its goals.    The IMF said last month the deficit would likely be well above the government’s target of 7.6% of national output.    In 2018, it was over 11%.
    Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at Byblos Bank, said the situation should be a “wake-up call” for politicians to form a credible plan that would result in an investment grade rating.
    “They have to restructure the public sector; they have to fight tax and customs evasion, not in words but in actions.”
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Laila Bassam and Lisa Barrington in Beirut, Additional reporting by Tom Arnold in London, Editing by Chris Reese and Cynthia Osterman)

8/25/2019 Israel says air strike in Syria sent ‘no immunity’ message to Iran
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news briefing following the talks with
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev, Ukraine August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    JERUSALEM/DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Israel said on Sunday an air strike against an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria that it accused of planning “killer drone attacks” showed Tehran that its forces were vulnerable anywhere.
    A senior Revolutionary Guards commander denied that Iranian targets had been hit late on Saturday and said its military “advisory centers have not been harmed,” the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.
    The Israeli military said its aircraft struck “Iranian Quds Force operatives and Shiite militias which were preparing to advance attack plans targeting sites in Israel from within Syria over the last number of days.”
    The elite Quds Force is the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).    Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters the forces on Thursday had been preparing to launch “killer drones” armed with explosives at northern Israel.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military had thwarted the planned Iranian attack.
    “Iran has no immunity anywhere.    Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression,” he said on Twitter.    “If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first.”
    Syrian state media said Syrian air defenses intercepted “hostile targets” over Damascus, the capital, on Saturday night.    Witnesses in Damascus said they heard and saw explosions in the sky.
    The Syrian army said in a statement that “the majority of the Israeli missiles were destroyed before reaching their targets.”    Conricus, however, said the impact of the Israeli strikes was “significant.”
    A war monitor said on Sunday that two members of Tehran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah and one Iranian were killed in the strikes.
    Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there and against advanced weapon shipments to Hezbollah.
    Iran and Hezbollah are helping President Bashar al-Assad in the eight-year Syria war. Russia, which is also aiding Assad, has largely turned a blind eye to the Israeli air strikes.    Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, the Israeli leader’s office said.
    Israel made no comment on what the Lebanese army and Hezbollah said was the crash of two Israeli drones in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut early on Sunday.    Hezbollah officials said one of the drones was rigged with explosives and caused some damage to the organization’s media center.
    On Thursday, Netanyahu hinted of possible Israeli involvement in a series of blasts in the past few weeks that have hit weapon depots and bases belonging to paramilitary groups in Iraq, many of them backed by Iran.
    On Wednesday, the PMF, the umbrella grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups, said the United States had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region accompanying U.S. forces and carry out missions on Iraqi territory.
    The U.S.-led coalition, in Iraq to fight remnants of the Islamic State group, dismissed the statement and the Pentagon denied it.
    On the popular Israeli YNet news website, military affairs commentator Ron Ben-Yishai described the alleged Iranian killer drone attack plans as revenge by Tehran for the purported Israeli drone strikes in Iraq, noting that the two enemies were using similar weapons.
    Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, and now executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said neither Iran nor Israel were interested in all-out war.
    “We’re not there yet,” he said on Israel Radio.    “But sometimes, someone makes a mistake.”
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem, Lisa Barrington, Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam in Beirut; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/25/2019 Two Israeli drones fall in Beirut suburbs, one explodes: army, Hezbollah by Laila Bassam
Damage and glass from broken windows is seen inside Hezbollah media center after an Israeli drone fell in the Hezbollah-dominated
southern suburbs and a second one exploded near the ground in Dahiyeh suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – An Israeli drone fell in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut and a second one exploded near the ground early on Sunday, the Lebanese army and Hezbollah said, in the first such incident in more than a decade.
    The Israeli military declined to comment.
    The second drone caused some damage when it crashed before dawn close to Hezbollah’s media center in the Dahiyeh suburbs of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, a Hezbollah official told Reuters.
    The incident took place hours after the Israeli military said its aircraft had struck Iranian forces and Shi’ite militias near Syria’s capital Damascus which it said had been planning to launch “killer drones” into Israel.
    Residents in Dahiyeh said they heard the sound of a blast.    A witness said the army closed off the streets where a fire had started.
    A Hezbollah spokesman told Lebanon’s state news agency NNA the second drone was rigged with explosives causing serious damage to the media center.    Hezbollah is now examining the first drone, he said.
    The Lebanese army said that one Israeli drone fell and another exploded at 02:30 am local time (2330 GMT), causing only material damage.
    “The army arrived immediately and cordoned off the area where the two drones fell,” it said.
    Israel deems the heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, backed by Iran, as the biggest threat across its border.    They fought a month-long war in 2006 in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, died in Lebanon and 158 people died in Israel, mostly soldiers.
    Lebanon has complained to the United Nations about Israeli planes regularly violating its airspace in recent years.
    Israel has grown alarmed by the rising influence of its regional foe Iran during the war in neighboring Syria, where Tehran and Hezbollah provide military help to Damascus.
    Israel says its air force has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it calls Iranian targets and arms transfers to Hezbollah.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes in Syria on Saturday thwarted a planned Iranian attack in Israel.
    Syrian state media said air defenses confronted the “aggression” and the army said most of the Israeli missiles were destroyed.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to give a televised speech later on Sunday.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam; additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, writing by Ellen Francis and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Leslie Adler and Angus MacSwan)

8/25/2019 Hariri: Israeli drones in Beirut threaten Lebanon’s sovereignty by Laila Bassam and Lisa Barrington
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri is seen during the meeting to discuss a draft policy statement
at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s prime minister said two Israeli drones which fell in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut amounted to an open attack on the country’s sovereignty and an attempt to foment regional tensions.    In the first such incident in more than a decade, one drone fell and second exploded near the ground and caused some damage when it crashed before dawn close to Hezbollah’s media center in the capital’s Dahiyeh suburbs, a Hezbollah official told Reuters.
    “The new aggression…constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation toward further tension,” Hariri said in a statement from his office.
    The Israeli military declined to comment.
    The incident took place hours after the Israeli military said its aircraft had struck Iranian forces and Shi’ite militias near Syria’s capital Damascus which it said had been planning to launch “killer drones” into Israel.
    War monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and one Iranian were killed in the Israeli strikes around Damascus.
    In Tehran, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander denied on Sunday that Iranian targets had been hit in the Israeli air strikes in Syria, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.
    Israel deems Lebanon’s heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, backed by Iran, as the biggest threat across its border.    They fought a month-long war in 2006 in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, died in Lebanon and 158 people died in Israel, mostly soldiers.
    Lebanon has complained to the United Nations about Israeli planes regularly violating its airspace in recent years.
    Residents in Dahiyeh said they heard the sound of a blast. A witness said the army closed off the streets where a fire had started.    A Hezbollah spokesman told Lebanon’s state news agency NNA the second drone was rigged with explosives causing serious damage to the media center.
    Hezbollah is now examining the first drone, he said.    The Lebanese army said that one Israeli drone fell and another exploded at 02:30 am local time (2330 GMT), causing only material damage.
    “The army arrived immediately and cordoned off the area where the two drones fell,” it said.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to give a televised speech later on Sunday.
    Israel has grown alarmed by the rising influence of its regional foe Iran during the war in neighboring Syria, where Tehran and Hezbollah provide military help to Damascus.
    Israel says its air force has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it calls Iranian targets and arms transfers to Hezbollah.     Syrian state media said air defenses confronted the “aggression” and the army said most of the Israeli missiles were destroyed.
    The United States and Iran are at odds over Tehran’s nuclear program and the Gulf, with both sides trading accusations over threats to the strategic waterway’s security.
    Iran also has wide sway in Iraq.
    Iraq’s paramilitary groups on Wednesday blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel.
    The statement from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups, many of which are backed by Iran, said the United States had allowed four Israeli drones to enter the region accompanying U.S. forces and carry out missions on Iraqi territory.
    Netanyahu hinted on Thursday of possible Israeli involvement in attacks against Iranian-linked targets in Iraq.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/25/2019 Hezbollah leader says Israel should be on high alert after Beirut, Syria attacks
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters via a screen during a rally marking the
anniversary of the defeat of militants near the Lebanese-Syrian border, in al-Ain village, Lebanon August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah vowed to down any Israeli drones in Lebanese airspace and warned Israel’s military to be ready for a response after what he said was an Israeli drone attack in Beirut on Sunday.
    Hassan Nasrallah’s words also followed overnight strikes claimed by Israel that he said killed two members of Hezbollah forces in Syria.
    He said that what he called a suicide attack by a self-destructing drone before dawn on Sunday in Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs was intended for a specific target.
    One drone fell and a second exploded near the ground and caused some damage to Hezbollah’s media center, Hezbollah said.
    Nasrallah said Hezbollah did not down the drones.
    Israel has said nothing about the Beirut drone incident.    It said its strike in Syria on Saturday night had thwarted an Iranian-led drone attack on Israel.
    Nasrallah said the Beirut incident was the first Israeli attack inside Lebanon since a month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.    It marked “the first clear, big, dangerous, breach of the rules of engagement drawn up in 2006” after the end of that conflict, he said.
    “If we keep quiet on this violation, this will lay a dangerous path for Lebanon,” he said, adding that drone attacks could lead to a situation similar to what is happening in Iraq.
    Regional sources say that Israel and Hezbollah have formed an unwritten understanding that while they can exchange fire within Syria, any attacks within Lebanon or Israel are to be avoided lest they escalate to war.
    Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups, many of which are backed by Iran, on Wednesday blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel.
    The Pentagon has denied the PMF accusation, while Israel has hinted at possible involvement in the Iraq blasts.
    “I say to the Israeli army on the border from tonight, stand guard (on high alert). Wait for us one, two, three, four days … what happened last night won’t cut it with us,” Nasrallah said.
    He said the group would do what it takes at any cost to prevent future attacks and down any drones in Lebanese airspace.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Lisa Barrington, Suleiman al-Khalidi and Ellen Francis; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

8/25/2019 Qatari envoy says Israel, Hamas committed to truce despite violence by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi is seen during an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israel and the Islamist group Hamas have no desire to go to war despite an uptick in violence, the Qatari envoy who helped mediate a truce between the sides along the volatile Gaza border, said on Saturday.
    “Both sides are committed (to the truce) and they have no war intentions at all,” Mohammed Al-Emadi told Reuters on a visit to Gaza after a series of border confrontations in which Israel says it has killed at least eight Palestinian militants who tried to infiltrate its territory.
    Hamas has fought three wars with Israel over the past decade and tensions along the Gaza border are high with frequent fatalities.
    Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces a Sept. 17 election, has been accused in recent weeks by his rivals of not doing enough to tackle Hamas.
    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, more than half of them civilians, according to Gaza health authorities.
    A ceasefire mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations ended that round of violence.
    Israel pulled its troops and settlers from the coastal enclave in 2005 but keeps the territory under a naval blockade, citing security concerns.
    Israel and Egypt, which also shares a border with Gaza, both keep tight control of their land crossings with the strip.
    Some two million Palestinians live in Gaza. The Israeli-Egyptian blockade has brought the Gazan economy to the brink of collapse.    Recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, have worsened the situation.
    “Both sides have no war intentions but there is a lack of money and the humanitarian situation is bad,” said Emadi.    “Should people feel financially at ease, the ghost of war will be totally removed,” said Emadi.
    Qatar has in recent years stepped funneled more than one billion dollars into relief projects in Gaza, where poverty and unemployment rates are high.    Emadi said Israel consented to his country’s relief work in Gaza.
    In June, Hamas chief, Ismail Haniyeh said a new hospital, industrial zones and a new power line would be built in Gaza as part of a wide truce agreement with Israel.
    The deal, brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, has not been publicly acknowledged by Israel, which deems Hamas a terrorist organization and shuns direct negotiations.    Emadi said the hospital’s construction could begin soon.
(Editing by Maayan Lubell)

8/26/2019 Another Russian S-400 battery headed to Turkey beginning Tuesday: Anadolu
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
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is to accept delivery of a second battery of Russian S-400 missile defenses beginning on Tuesday, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday according to state-owned Anadolu news agency.
    The initial parts of the system, which Washington says are not compatible with NATO defenses, were delivered to Ankara in July despite warnings about possible U.S. sanctions over the purchase.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

8/26/2019 Congo government announced eight months after Tshisekedi won vote
FILE PHOTO - Felix Tshisekedi holds up the constitution during the inauguration ceremony whereby Tshisekedi
was sworn into office as the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Palais de la Nation
in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Olivia Acland<
    KINSHASA (Reuters) – Congo’s prime minister announced a new government on Monday, eight months after President Felix Tshisekedi won an election, with around two thirds of posts going to allies of former president Joseph Kabila.
    In the long-delayed election last December, Tshisekedi defeated a candidate officially backed by Kabila, whose own term limit was up, though opposition politicians said the result was rigged in a secret deal between Kabila’s and Tshisekedi’s camps.
    They said the deal involved Kabila officially stepping down but maintaining control, a charge they both denied.
    The cabinet list released by Prime Minister Illunga Illunkamba on Monday consisted mostly of people with little or no government experience.    Of the 65 ministers named, 42 were from Kabila’s coalition and 23 were from Tshisekedi’s.
    As well as retaining outsized influence over various security agencies, Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition won about 70 percent of seats in the lower house of parliament and an overwhelming majority of provincial assembly seats in elections also held on Dec. 30.
    Kabila had always been expected to have a big say in the government of Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast, mineral-rich central African country of about 80 million people which he had been in charge of since the death of his father, Laurent, in 2001.
    In May, Tshisekedi named Ilukamba, a close Kabila ally with years of government experience and previously the head of Congo’s national railway company, as prime minister. But negotiations over other government posts had been stalled since.
    The new list has Gilbert Malaba, a member of Tshisekedi’s party, as minister of interior and security, while the defense ministry went to Ngoy Mukena, a close Kabila ally.
    The mining portfolio went to Willy Samsoni, a member of Kabila’s coalition and a former mines minister in the local government of Haut Katanga province, while Congo’s former director general of taxes Sele Yalaghuli, also a Kabila stalwart, was named finance minister.
    Tshisekedi ally Jean-Baudouin Mayo Mambeke took the more junior role of budget minister.
    Since being inaugurated in January, Tshisekedi has signaled a break with his predecessor in some areas.    He pardoned three prominent political prisoners and 700 regular ones in March, a marked shift away from the policies of Kabila, who had scores of his opponents jailed.
(Writing by Tim Cocks,; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Ed Osmond)

8/26/2019 Kuwait’s ruler holds first public meetings after health issues: 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/File Photo
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s 90-year-old emir on Monday held his first public meetings since falling ill last week, sitting down with the crown prince, head of parliament and members of his cabinet, state news agency KUNA reported.
    KUNA published pictures of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah seated next to Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah and separately with various officials.
    The emir’s office said on Aug. 18 that Sheikh Sabah was in “good condition” after the news agency reported that he had suffered a health setback without providing details.
    Sheikh Sabah has ruled the U.S. ally and OPEC oil producer since 2006 and steered its foreign policy for more than 50 years.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy, Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

8/26/2019 Saudi-led coalition moves to stabilize south Yemen as allies face off
FILE PHOTO: People walk on a street in Aden, Yemen, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen moved on Monday to work out a ceasefire with its nominal allies in the south of the country who turned on each other in a power struggle, fracturing the military alliance.
    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the main powers in Yemen’s Sunni Muslim coalition, formed a joint committee to oversee a ceasefire between UAE-backed southern separatists and Saudi-backed government forces in the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa, said a joint statement carried on state media.
    “Internal dialogue, and not fighting, is the only way to resolve internal Yemeni differences,” Saudi vice minister of defense, Khalid bin Salman, tweeted on Monday.
    “We are working with the UAE for security and stability in Aden, Shabwa and Abyan and … to unify ranks and voices to combat terrorist threats, whether from the Iran-backed Houthis or from al Qaeda and Daesh (Islamic State),” Khalid, a son of the Saudi king, said.
    Separatists forces early this month took over the southern port of Aden, interim seat of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government, and last week extended their reach to the capital of nearby Abyan. Southern fighters and government forces have also clashed in the oil producing Shabwa province.
    Government forces captured Shabwa’s capital, Ataq, over the weekend after southern forces lost control of the main military compound there.
    On Monday, Hadi’s forces were moving toward Balhaf, site of Yemen’s liquefied natural gas terminal, where southern forces have a major military base, military sources said.    Balhaf is run by France’s Total but it has been in a preservation mode since 2015 when the civil war reached the south of the country.
    Both sides are part of the Saudi-led, Western-backed coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, who ousted Hadi’s government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
SUMMIT IN THE KINGDOM
    The UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks self-rule in the south, seized control of Aden after accusing a party allied to Hadi of being complicit in a Houthi attack on southern forces.
    The standoff has exposed a rift between regional allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which in June scaled down its presence in Yemen under Western pressure to end the devastating war but continues to support thousands of southern separatist forces.
    The violence in the south complicated U.N. efforts to implement peace deals elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula state and pave the way for negotiations to end a war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
    The Saudi-UAE statement urged all parties to cooperate with the joint committee to disengage and redeploy troops and reiterated a Saudi call for a summit in the kingdom to resolve the standoff.
    It also stressed the need to preserve “the interests, security, stability, independence and territorial integrity of the Yemeni people under the leadership of the legitimate president of Yemen.”
    Hadi’s government has said it would not participate until separatists ceded control of sites they had seized.
    The separatist STC has said it would not hand over control of government military camps in Aden and other areas until the Islamist Islah party, a backbone of Hadi’s government, and northerners are removed from positions of power in the south.
    The Houthis, who have recently stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, point to Aden as proof that Hadi, who resides in Riyadh, is unfit to rule. The movement denies being a puppet of Iran and says it is fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam in Cairo and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Writing by Marwa Rashad and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/26/2019 Secretary Pompeo, Israel prime minister talk recent strikes on Iranian proxies in Syria by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed full support for Israel after its recent strikes against Iranian targets in Syria.    In a series of tweets Sunday, the State Department chief said he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the short aftermath of the strikes over the weekend.
    Pompeo said the Jewish state has every right to defend itself from Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the anti-Semitic Quds Force.
    Secretary Pompeo tweet: “Spoke with Israeli PM @Netanyahu today regarding recent Israeli airstrikes in #Syria.    I expressed my support for Israel’s right to defend itself from threats posed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps & to take action to prevent imminent attacks against Israeli assets.”
    Israeli officials said their strikes prevented what appeared to be imminent attacks on the Jewish state and its citizens.
    “We revealed that Iran’s Quds Force dispatched a special unit of Shi’ite militants to Syria in order to kill Israelis on the Golan Heights with explosives drones,” stated Prime Minister Netanyahu.    “I would like to emphasize: this was an initiative of Iran, under the command of Iran, at the behest of Iran.”
    Secretary Pompeo said he and Netanyahu also discussed ongoing deployments of Iranian proxies to Syria and possible Israeli strikes in that country going forward.
United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council
on the Mideast, Tuesday Aug. 20, 2019 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

8/26/2019 Why the CIA doesn’t spy on the UAE by Aram Roston
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed in
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates June 24, 2019. File photo. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates finances the military leader trying to topple a United Nations-recognized government in Libya.    It helps lead a coalition of nations imposing an economic blockade of Qatar, despite U.S. calls to resolve the dispute.    It hired former staffers of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) as elite hackers to spy in a program that included Americans as surveillance targets, a Reuters investigation https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-spying-raven found this year.
    And yet, in a highly unusual practice, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) does not spy on the UAE’s government, three former CIA officials familiar with the matter told Reuters, creating what some critics call a dangerous blind spot in U.S. intelligence.
    The CIA’s posture isn’t new. What’s changed is the nature of the tiny but influential OPEC nation’s intervention across the Middle East and Africa – fighting wars, running covert operations and using its financial clout to reshape regional politics in ways that often run counter to U.S. interests, according to the sources and foreign policy experts.
    The CIA’s failure to adapt to the UAE’s growing military and political ambitions amounts to a “dereliction of duty,” said a fourth former CIA official.
    The U.S. intelligence community doesn’t completely ignore the UAE.    The NSA conducts electronic surveillance – a lower-risk, lower-reward kind of intelligence-gathering – inside the UAE, two sources with knowledge of the agency’s operations told Reuters. And the CIA works with UAE intelligence in a “liaison    ” relationship that involves intelligence-sharing on common enemies, such as Iran or al-Qaeda.
    But the CIA does not gather “human intelligence” – the most valuable and difficult-to-obtain information – from UAE informants on its autocratic government, the three former CIA officials told Reuters.
    The CIA, the NSA and the White House declined to comment on U.S. espionage practices in the UAE.    The UAE’s foreign ministry and its U.S. embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
    The CIA’s hands-off practice – which hasn’t been previously reported in the media – puts the UAE on an extremely short list of other countries where the agency takes a similar approach, former intelligence officials said. They include the four other members of an intelligence coalition called “The Five Eyes”: Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada.
    CIA spies gather human intelligence on almost every other nation where the United States has significant interests, including some key allies, according to four former CIA officials.
    The closest contrast to the UAE may be Saudi Arabia – another influential U.S. ally in the Middle East that produces oil and buys U.S. weapons.    Unlike the UAE, Saudi Arabia is often targeted by the CIA, according to two former CIA officials and a former intelligence officer for a Gulf nation.    Saudi intelligence agents have caught several CIA agents trying to recruit Saudi officials as informants, the sources said.
    The Saudi intelligence agencies do not complain publicly about CIA spying attempts but privately meet with the agency’s station chief in Riyadh to ask that the CIA officers involved be quietly ejected from the country, said the former intelligence official for a Gulf nation.
    Robert Baer, a former CIA agent and author, called the lack of human intelligence on the UAE “a failure” when told about it by Reuters. U.S. policymakers, he said, need the best available information on the internal politics and family feuds of Middle Eastern monarchies.
    “If you pride yourself on being a world service, it’s a failure,” he said.    “The royal families are crucial.”
‘ROGUE STATE’
    A former official in U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said the lack of UAE intelligence is alarming because the desert monarchy now operates as a “rogue state” in strategic nations such as Libya and Qatar and further afield in Africa.
    In Sudan, the UAE spent years and billions of dollars propping up long-serving Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, then abandoned him https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/sudan-bashir-fall and supported the military leaders who overthrew him in April.    The new government’s security forces in June killed dozens of protesters https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sudan-politics-investigation/sudan-says-87-killed-when-troops-broke-up-protest-critics-say-too-low-idUSKCN1UM0BI who were pushing for civilian rule and elections.    The UAE has also built military bases in Eritrea and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland.
    “You turn over any rock in the horn of Africa, and you find the UAE there,” the former Trump administration official said.
    The UAE has asserted itself as a financial and military power in areas “far from its immediate neighborhood,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
    “Whether Somalia, or Eritrea or Djibouti, or Yemen, the UAE is not asking for permission,” she said.
    In Yemen, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have led a coalition of nations fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, but the UAE recently started drawing down troops amid international criticism over air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians and a humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.    The U.S. Congress recently passed resolutions to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but President Trump vetoed the measures.
    The UAE government has spent $46.8 million on U.S. lobbyists since 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
    One of the three former CIA officials with knowledge of the agency’s UAE operations said intelligence on its government is needed for reasons beyond its regional interventions.    The UAE is also forging closer ties with Russia – including a wide-ranging strategic partnership signed last year to cooperate on security, trade and oil markets – and with China, where Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s de facto ruler, last month made a three-day visit for a UAE-China economic forum.
    Some national security experts, however, continue to see enough alignment between U.S. and UAE interests to explain the continued lack of spying.
    “Their enemies are our enemies,” said Norman Roule, a retired CIA official, referring to Iran and al-Qaeda.    “Abu Dhabi’s actions have contributed to the war on terror, particularly against al-Queda in Yemen.”
FEAR OF DEMOCRACY, POLITICAL ISLAM
    The Abu Dhabi crown prince controls the foreign policy of the UAE, a federation of desert emirates, with a small group of advisors.    He installed his U.S-educated brother, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, a mixed-martial arts buff who owns a stable of Arabian race horses, as his National Security Advisor.    His son, Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed, runs the country’s sprawling internal surveillance network.
    The UAE’s rising interventionism dates to 2011.    Mass protests demanding democracy across the region during the so-called Arab Spring sparked rising concern within the UAE palace elite over the preservation of its own power, said Jodi Vittori, a former Air Force Intelligence officer now with the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace.     Like many Gulf royals, UAE leaders viewed the demonstrations as a threat to monarchic rule in the region.    They have since fought the rise of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, the international Islamic party that briefly rose to power in Egypt after the 2011 protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.    The UAE cut off financial support to Egypt when brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi was elected president in 2012, and then resumed sending billions in aid after Egypt’s army ousted Mursi a year later.
    Vittori, of the Carnegie Foundation, acknowledged some continuing shared goals between the U.S. and UAE governments but said those interests are diverging as the UAE’s monarchy focuses on self-preservation.
    “When the goal is regime-survival at all costs,” she said, “it’s not one that’s going to align with the U.S.
(The story was refiled to fix typos in paragraphs 17 and 21)
(Reporting by Aram Roston; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

8/26/2019 Iraqi leaders condemn air raids targeting paramilitary groups
FILE PHOTO: Barham Salih, Iraq's newly elected president, walks with Iraq's new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi
at the parliament headquarters, in Baghdad, Iraq October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Monday condemned air strikes on Sunday that hit bases and weapons depots belonging to Iraqi paramilitary groups, which the factions blamed on Israel.
    The two leaders called the strikes an “attack on Iraqi sovereignty” and called for national unity, according to a statement cited by Iraq’s state news agency.
    The strikes took place near the border with Syria, said a statement on Sunday from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a state umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim factions.
    The PMF said two unmanned aircraft had carried out the attacks, killing one fighter and seriously wounding another.    It accused the United States of providing air support to Israel for the strikes.
    A security source told Reuters there were two air strikes, one of which struck the headquarters of a local paramilitary brigade, while the other struck a convoy of cars leaving the building.
    The attack happened after a series of explosions in recent weeks at weapons depots belonging to PMF groups.
    In a statement on Monday, the Pentagon said its forces did not conduct the attack on the convoy or recent attacks on ammunition storage facilities.    It did not address whether the United States provided air support.
    “We support Iraqi sovereignty and have repeatedly spoken out against any potential actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq,” it said.
    The Pentagon said it was cooperating with an Iraqi investigation of the attacks.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday of possible Israeli involvement in the recent destruction of PMF weapons depots in Iraq.
    “We are operating – not just if needed, we are operating in many areas against a state that wants to annihilate us.    Of course I gave the security forces a free hand and instructed them to do anything necessary to thwart Iran’s plans,” he said.
(Reporting by John Davison and Samar Hassan; Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Deepa Babington and Peter Cooney)

8/26/2019 Israel reduces Gaza fuel supply after rocket attack
A Palestinian man sells falafel as he uses a battery-powered light during power cut
in the northern Gaza Strip August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it was cutting by half the amount of fuel it supplies to Gaza’s only power plant, in response to rocket attacks from the Palestinian territory.
    Three rockets were fired from the Hamas Islamist-run enclave at southern Israel on Sunday and two were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the military said.    There was no claim of responsibility.
    After the attack, Israel launched an air strike against what the military described as a Hamas military compound.    No casualties were reported on either side of the volatile border.
    In a statement, COGAT, a unit in the Defence Ministry that coordinates civilian issues with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, said “cutting the amount of diesel in half will significantly reduce” the plant’s output.
    It said the measure, “following the firing of rockets … and the continued violation of stability and security” will be in effect until further notice.
    Gaza has long suffered from a shortage of electricity and chronic blackouts.    A new power line from Israel has been proposed to alleviate the situation.
    Mohammad Thabet, spokesman for the Gaza power company, described the Israeli decision as collective punishment.
    “We already are in a crisis and now the Israeli decision will make it worse.    It will have a grave impact on the lives of 2 million people and on vital services such as hospitals,” Thabet told Reuters.
    Currently residents get six hours of electricity followed by 12 hours of blackout.    Thabet said the fuel cuts would decrease power time to only four-hour periods.
    In a series of border confrontations in recent weeks, Israel said it killed at least eight Palestinian militants who tried to infiltrate its territory.
    Israeli and Egyptian blockades have brought the Gazan economy to the brink of collapse.    Recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the West Bank, have worsened the situation.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/27/2019 Netanyahu tells Hezbollah’s Nasrallah to ‘calm down’ after drone incident
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news briefing following the talks with
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev, Ukraine August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to “calm down” after he said his movement was preparing a response to the crash of two Israeli drones in a Beirut suburb.
    “I heard what Nasrallah said.    I suggest to Nasrallah to calm down.    He knows well that Israel knows how to defend itself and to pay back its enemies,” Netanyahu said in a speech.
    In a speech on Sunday, Nasrallah, whose Iran-backed movement fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, accused Israel of carrying out a suicide drone attack earlier that day.
    “I say to the Israeli army on the border from tonight, stand guard (on high alert).    Wait for us one, two, three, four days,” Nasrallah said.
    One drone fell and a second exploded near the ground and caused some damage to Hezbollah’s media center in the southern suburbs of the capital which it dominates.    Israel has not claimed responsibility for the incident.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and Alison Williams)

8/27/2019 Ahead of meeting, Turkey expects Russia to help rein in Syrian forces by Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their bilateral
meeting on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan will seek steps from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to safeguard Turkish troops in the face of an offensive by the Syrian army in the country’s northwest when the two leaders meet on Tuesday, a senior Turkish official said.
    Erdogan, who is making a one-day visit to Russia, told Putin last week that attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were causing a humanitarian crisis and threatened Turkey’s national security.
    The official told Reuters that the security of Turkish soldiers in Syria would be one of the key topics at the meeting. The meeting is due to start at 1:30 p.m. (1030 GMT), with a joint statement to be issued at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT).
    “We expect Russia to use its influence over the regime on this matter.    If there is even the smallest attack on Turkish soldiers, we will retaliate against this,” the official said.
    Syrian troops have encircled rebels and a Turkish military post in northwest Syria in an offensive to reclaim territory and towns the government lost early in the war.    Turkey has supported some rebel factions in the northwestern Idlib region, while Russia and Iran back Assad.
    The military observation post near the town of Morek is one of 12 that Ankara established in northwest Syria under a deal with Moscow and Tehran two years ago to reduce fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels.
    “Any step or attack that would violate the agreement should be avoided, but unfortunately we see examples of these in recent times,” the official said.    “We expect Putin to take steps that will alleviate the problem there.”
    Erdogan and Putin hold frequent talks and have forged close ties focused on energy and defense cooperation.    In July, Turkey began taking delivery of Russian S-400 missile defense systems – a move that strained ties with Ankara’s NATO ally the United States.
    Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday that delivery of the second battery of the S-400 system would begin on Tuesday.
    As well as putting Turkish troops in the region in the firing line, the advances of Assad’s forces have threatened Ankara’s hopes of preventing a fresh wave of refugees – including fighters – on its southern border.
    The United Nations says more than 500,000 people have been uprooted since the Syrian army began its offensive in late April, most of them escaping deeper into the rebel bastion and toward the border.    Turkey opened its border at the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and now hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
    “The necessary measures need to be taken to prevent a migrant wave from there to Turkey.    Measures should be taken against any problems that may arise on this issue,” the official also said.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/27/2019 Hezbollah plans ‘calculated’ response to Israel: sources by Laila Bassam and Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news briefing following the talks with Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev, Ukraine August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Hezbollah is preparing a “calculated strike” against its enemy Israel after drones crashed in Beirut but it seeks to avoid a new war, two sources allied to the heavily armed Shi’ite Muslim movement told Reuters on Tuesday.
    A reaction “is being arranged in a way which wouldn’t lead to a war” that Hezbollah does not want, one of the sources said.
    “The direction now is for a calculated strike, but how matters develop, that’s another thing.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier on Tuesday that Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah should “calm down” after Nasrallah said his Iranian-backed movement would respond to the crash of two drones in a Beirut suburb.
    Israel has not claimed responsibility for the drones, including one that had exploded.    But in a speech on Sunday, Nasrallah described it as the first Israeli attack in Lebanon since the two sides fought a month-long war in 2006.
    “I say to the Israeli army on the border from tonight, stand guard.    Wait for us one, two, three, four days,” Nasrallah said.
    One of the drones blew up near the ground, causing some damage to Hezbollah’s media center in the southern suburbs which it dominates.    Israeli officials have declined to comment when asked if Israel was responsible.
    “I heard what Nasrallah said.    I suggest to Nasrallah to calm down.    He knows well that Israel knows how to defend itself and to pay back its enemies,” Netanyahu said in a speech.
    Precise details about where the drones were fired from have yet to emerge.    Hezbollah has said the two drones were rigged with explosives after its experts took apart the first drone.
    Asked if Israel attacked any ground targets in Lebanon in recent days, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israeli Army Radio:
    “We of course did not respond to the accusations leveled at us.    On their face, these things seem weird and intriguing. The media have reported this fact – that these are allegations that have no basis.”
    Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council, which includes the president, prime minister and army commander, convened on Tuesday and said the Lebanese have “the right to defend themselves against any attack.”
    Israel deems Hezbollah the biggest threat across its border.    In their 2006 war, nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, died in Lebanon and 158 people died in Israel, mostly soldiers.
UNWRITTEN UNDERSTANDING ON ATTACKS
    Regional sources say that Israel and Hezbollah have formed an unwritten understanding that while they can exchange fire within Syria, any attacks within Lebanon or Israel are to be avoided lest they escalate to war.
    Israel has grown alarmed by the rising influence of its Shi’ite foe Iran during the war in neighboring Syria, where Tehran and Hezbollah provide military help to Damascus.
    Tehran also has wide sway in Iraq, where a grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite paramilitary groups, many of which are backed by Iran, have blamed recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel.
    Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Monday his country had a right to defend itself, likening Israeli drone strikes to a “declaration of war.”
    Late on Saturday, Israeli air strikes killed two Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
    Israel, which regularly strikes Iranian-linked targets in Syria, said it hit a compound controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds force, accusing it of planning killer drone attacks.
    Netanyahu also issued warnings to Lebanon and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force, which the Israeli leader said aspires to destroy Israel.    “Watch what you say, and moreover be careful about what you do,” Netanyahu said.
    Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that patrols the border with Israel, said the situation in the area remains quiet.
    “UNIFIL continues to work with the parties to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or incidents that may endanger the cessation of hostilities,” Tenenti told Lebanon’s state news agency NNA, referring to a U.N. Security Council resolution that called for an end to the fighting in 2006.
    In public comments during a visit on Sunday to Israel’s north, where he met army commanders, Netanyahu appeared to hold out the prospect of targeting Lebanon directly for attack if Hezbollah struck Israel.
    “Any country that allows its territory to be used for aggression against Israel will face the consequences, and I repeat: the country will face the consequences,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington and Ellen Francis in Beirut, Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Michael Georgy and Ellen Francis; Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and Peter Graff/Mark Heinrich)

8/27/2019 U.N. Palestinian refugee agency seeks donations as funding slips by Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian sits inside a United Nations food distribution center in Al-Shati
refugee camp in Gaza City February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – The head of a U.N. agency supporting Palestinian refugees, which is under an investigation over suspected internal misconduct, said on Tuesday it still needed $150 million in donations to keep it operating until the end of this year.
    Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium had suspended their contributions to the organization while the U.N. inquiry was under way.
    “Our (2019) budget for all UNRWA operations in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon is $1.2 billion.    At this moment we have a remaining shortfall of $150 million,” Krahenbuhl said.
    UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.    Most are descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
    An UNRWA spokeswoman said on Tuesday that Krahenbuhl was notified last March that an investigation was underway by the U.N. Secretariat in New York “based on allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct.”    She did not elaborate.
    At the news conference, Krahenbuhl urged all parties to await official findings, pledging: “We will not only act on them, we will abide by them.”
    Last year the United States, UNRWA’s biggest donor, said it was halting its aid of $360 million per year to what it called an “irredeemably flawed operation.”
    Washington has been critical of the United Nations count of Palestinian refugees, questioning a “right of return” claimed by the Palestinians as part of any eventual peace settlement with Israel.
    In May, U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt told the U.N. Security Council that UNRWA should be effectively dismantled.    UNRWA’s mandate, which has been repeatedly renewed by the U.N. General Assembly, runs until June 30, 2020.
    “The vast majority of countries today are very clear about their support to UNRWA’s mandate and their recognition that Palestinian refugees need to continue to be assisted, respected, and see their rights defended,” said Krahenbuhl.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and John Stonestreet)

8/28/2019 Explosions hit Gaza police checkpoints, three dead: officials by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinian Hamas security forces stand guard at the hospital following an explosion in Gaza City August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Explosions hit two police checkpoints in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing three officers and wounding several other Palestinians, the Hamas-run interior ministry said, declaring a state of emergency after the blasts.
    Such attacks on Hamas, which has the most powerful armed apparatus in the enclave, were rare.
    Interior ministry spokesman, Eyad Al-Bozom, said security forces were making progress in their pursuit of those behind the explosions, but he did not disclose further details.
    “The sinful hands that carried out this crime will not escape punishment,” said Bozom.
    A spokesman for the Israeli military said he knew of no involvement by Israel in the back-to-back incidents in Gaza city at a time of simmering cross-border confrontations with Hamas, the Palestinian enclave’s ruling Islamists.
    The first blast destroyed a motorcycle as it passed a police checkpoint, witnesses said.    Two police officers were killed and a third Palestinian wounded. It was not immediately clear if the riders were among the casualties.
    The second explosion, less than an hour later, killed one officer and wounded several people at a police checkpoint elsewhere in the city, the interior ministry said.    The ministry declared a state of emergency throughout Gaza, putting security forces on alert.
    Hamas, which took over Gaza in a 2007 civil war with the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has at times faced internal opposition from more stringent Islamist militants aligned with al Qaeda or Islamic State.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; writing by Dan Williams; editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

8/28/2019 Hezbollah to hit back at Israel but war unlikely: deputy chief by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem is pictured during an interview with Reuters
at his office in Beirut's suburbs, Lebanon August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah will respond with a “surprise” strike against Israel after drones crashed in Beirut’s suburbs, but a new war remains unlikely, the Iran-backed movement said, amid heightened fears of a full-scale confrontation between the longtime adversaries.
    “I rule out that the atmosphere is one of war, it is one of a response to an attack,” Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said in a TV interview on Tuesday night.    “Everything will be decided at its time.”
    Lebanon’s Hezbollah is planning a “calculated strike” but seeks to avoid a new war with Israel, two sources allied to the Shi’ite Muslim group, which fought a deadly month-long war with Israel in 2006, told Reuters earlier on Tuesday.
    Israel has not claimed responsibility for the two drones that crashed at the weekend in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut, with one them exploding.
    Despite signs that Israel and Hezbollah do not want a new full-scale conflict, tensions over the drones and an air raid in Syria that Israel says thwarted an Iranian attack, have emerged at a sensitive time in the Middle East.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to appear decisive ahead of elections in three weeks.    Iran and the United States are at odds over a 2015 nuclear deal.    Shi’ite militias in Iraq, many of whom are backed by Iran, blame recent blasts at their weapons depots on the United States and Israel.
    In a speech on Sunday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah described the drone crashes as the first Israeli attack in Lebanon since the 2006 war.
    Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Nasrallah should “calm down,” also issuing warnings to Lebanon and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
TWO HEZBOLLAH FIGHTERS KILLED
    “Watch what you say, and moreover be careful about what you do,” Netanyahu said.
    Precise details about where the drones were fired from have yet to emerge.    In response to questions about the origin or target of the drones, Qassem did not give details in the interview with Russia’s RT Arabic channel.
    He added that Hezbollah, which says the drones were rigged with explosives, saw it as an attack that it must respond to, so that Israel does not upset the status quo and set its own terms.
    “We want the strike to be a surprise…and so there is no interest in diving into the details,” he said.    “The coming days will reveal this.”
    In his speeches over the past year, Nasrallah has often said an all-out war with Israel was unlikely.
    The two last fought a war in July 2006, after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.    Nearly 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, died in the July war and 158 people died in Israel, mostly soldiers.
    Regional sources say Israel and Hezbollah have since formed an unwritten understanding that while they can exchange fire within Syria, they must avoid attacks within Lebanon or Israel lest that escalates to war.
    Also at the weekend, Israeli air strikes killed two Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in neighboring Syria, where Hezbollah and Iran provide critical military help to Damascus.
    Israel, which sees the heavily armed Hezbollah as the biggest threat across its border, has also grown alarmed by the rising influence of its foe Iran in Syria.
    Israeli officials say the air force has mounted hundreds of strikes against what it deems Iranian targets and Hezbollah arms transfers inside Syria.
    Iran also has wide sway in Iraq through Shi’ite militia allies and is aligned with the Houthi movement in Yemen, which is at war with a Saudi-led coalition.
    Hezbollah, founded by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in 1982, has fought more recently in regional conflicts including Syria and Iraq as part of a Tehran-backed alliance.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Michael Georgy, Andrew Heavens, William Maclean)

8/28/2019 Lebanon vows response ‘by any means’ if Israel strikes Hezbollah by OAN Newsroom
    Lebanon’s top military officials held an emergency meeting after a warning by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.    During a meeting of the Higher Defense Council in Beirut Tuesday, Lebanese officials said their country has the right to defend itself in case of Israeli strikes.    Officials said they will respond “by any means to any attack” on Lebanon’s territory.
    This comes after Netanyahu said Israel will respond to attacks by the terror group Hezbollah by striking Lebanon as a country.    The Lebanon-based group is reportedly preparing at least two “calculated strikes” on the Jewish state.
Lebanese soldiers with U.N officials patrol in the southern Lebanese village of Aitaroun along
the Israel-Lebanon border, Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. Israeli forces along the border with
Lebanon are on high alert, raising fears of a repeat of the 2006 war. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    “The president insisted on the importance of defending Lebanon’s sovereignty and security because it is the country’s legitimate right,” stated Mahmoud al-Asmar, Secretary General of the Lebanonese council.    “And the Higher Defense Council confirms the right, documented in the United Nations Charter, to prevent another such attack on Lebanon, its people and its land.”
    Israel has recently killed several Hezbollah militants in Syria, and sent reconnaissance drones to Beirut in anticipation of further clashes with the terror group.

8/28/2019 UAE loosens Saudi alliance to push peacemaker image
FILE PHOTO: Pro-government soldiers patrol an area taken by government forces during recent clashes with southern
separatists west of Ataq of the Shabwa province, Yemen August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Owidha/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have looked inseparable on the world stage, working together to project power in the Middle East and beyond, and courting U.S. President Donald Trump to counter common foe Iran.
    From Egypt to Sudan and the Horn of Africa, the two Gulf monarchies have coordinated their use of financial clout and — in Yemen — military force to redraw the region’s political landscape to their advantage.
    But this month, at his Mecca palace, Saudi King Salman took the unusual step of expressing “extreme irritation” with the UAE, his closest Arab partner, according to sources familiar with the matter.
    The comment appears to be evidence of a fissure in the alliance, which is led in practice by the king’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), and the UAE de facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MbZ).
    A loosening of UAE-Saudi ties has implications far beyond bilateral ties.    A rift could undermine Trump’s “maximum pressure” push against Tehran, damage Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and reverberate in other theaters of conflict, so extensive has the two partners’ influence been in a region critical to world oil supplies.
    The immediate source of strain is Yemen’s ruinous war.    Friction had been growing for months over the conflict, which was initially expected to last a few weeks but has dragged on for years and killed tens of thousands with no end in sight.
    A wider cause is the UAE’s apparent decision to pivot towards narrower national interests, casting itself as the more mature partner that can stabilize the region, even if it means cutting losses and moving on without Riyadh.
    The UAE also appears keen to salvage its image in Washington, where the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi deepened worries that the kingdom’s foreign policy was growing impulsive and interventionist.
    “The UAE wants to be seen as the small country that facilitates peace and stability rather than an appendage to a triumphant expansionist Saudi,” said a source familiar with the government’s thinking.
    “It is in a way (putting) their interests first, because they think if you have an expansionist Saudi, it’s going to engulf them,” the source added.
BOTH COUNTRIES “COMPLETELY ALIGNED
    The king’s annoyance was voiced in a conversation on Aug. 11 with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, head of Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, according to two Yemeni sources and one other briefed on the meeting.
    Hadi’s forces in Aden had just been routed by troops supported by the UAE, as nominal allies in the country’s south turned on each other in a power struggle.
    Asked for comment, a Saudi official described that account as false and said: “Saudi Arabia and the UAE remain strategically aligned on the sources of instability in the Middle East and cooperate very closely to counter a wide array of security threats in the region and beyond.    Bilateral relations between the two nations are unshakable.”
    UAE authorities did not respond to questions about the remark.    A UAE official earlier told Reuters both countries were “completely aligned” on Yemen and that with Iran, de-escalation was the only way forward.
    Any divisions may worry the White House, which has invested much of its Middle East policy in the pair.    The Saudi deputy defense minister is meeting the U.S. secretary of state in Washington on Wednesday.
    A U.S. official said talks would focus on Yemen and include a push for Riyadh to mend fences with the UAE.
    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Strains grew acute this summer over Yemen, after months of unease on other issues.    When MbS and MbZ went to war in 2015 against Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels and later imposed a boycott on Qatar, supporters hailed a new era of decisive action in a region more accustomed to time-consuming conciliation.
    The two men also waded into conflicts in Egypt, Sudan and Libya.    They sought to contain Iran and Islamists seen as threatening their dynastic rule following the 2011 Arab Spring.
    But as Riyadh flexed muscles by cutting ties with Canada, briefly detaining Lebanon’s prime minister, and aggravating relations with Jordan and Morocco, the UAE saw its carefully crafted image as a stabilizing force imperiled by association.
UNPOPULAR WAR
    Then, in June, the UAE scaled down its military presence in Yemen, saddling Riyadh with an unpopular war it had launched to neutralize the Houthis and prevent Iran from consolidating influence along the border.
    A senior Emirati official said the move was a natural progression due to a U.N.-sponsored peace deal in the western port of Hodeidah.
    But some diplomats say the UAE accepted there was no military solution, were sensitive to criticism of the humanitarian disaster and coalition air strikes that have killed civilians, and that rising Iran tensions precipitated the decision.
    “It was not perceived in a positive way.    The Saudis felt abandoned,” said a Western diplomat.    Abu Dhabi says the move was coordinated with Riyadh in advance and reflected realities on the ground as the U.N. moved to pave the way for peace talks.
    Another diplomat said the relationship was fracturing: “Their strategic interests are similar but don’t quite match.”
    The UAE also downplayed divisions after separatists it backs seized Aden, interim seat of Hadi’s government, this month, but did not ask them to cede control and criticized Hadi’s government as “weak” and “ineffective.”
**Read a factbox on Yemen’s multi-sided war**
    The Sunni Muslim Arab powers also appear divergent over Shi’ite foe Iran.    They both pushed for a stronger U.S. stand against Tehran’s regional activities and missile capabilities, but the UAE struck a softer tone after tanker explosions in Gulf waters that Washington and Riyadh blamed on Iran.
    Iran denies involvement, but some in the Gulf fear a direct confrontation that could endanger the UAE and its economy.    The UAE, having built its reputation as a business haven, is more vulnerable than Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and sees itself as a regional stabilizer.
HEDGING BETS
    One source said it is hedging its bets as a small power: The UAE’s commercial hub Dubai has strong Iran trade ties.
    “The honeymoon (with Saudi Arabia) is over,” said another source, pointing to Abu Dhabi’s recent overtures to Iran, including maritime security talks revived last month.
    A Gulf source said the alliance was “very much alive and well” in terms of combating regional threats like Iran and Islamists, but acknowledged a rebalancing as situations evolved.
    One of those situations may involve Iran’s role in Yemen: As Washington builds a maritime coalition to secure Gulf waters, Iran could stoke tensions through the Houthis to pressure Saudi Arabia and avoid risking a tanker war like that of the 1980s.
    “Yemen now looks like ground zero for Iranian escalation,” said Matt Reed, vice president of energy consultancy Foreign Reports.    “A tanker war risks becoming an international conflict, but Yemen is different.”
    Riyadh accuses Iran of giving the Houthis missiles and drones to attack Saudi oil assets, a charge Tehran denies.    It also fears spillover effects if Yemen fragments further.
    By contrast, Abu Dhabi’s main concern is protecting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb waterway and keeping Islamists at bay.
    “They are broadly strategically aligned.    There are more similarities than differences, but we will start to see divergences,” said one diplomat.
(Editing by William Maclean)

8/28/2019 U.S. will not release Middle East peace plan before Israeli election by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone-laying ceremony
for Mobileye's center in Jerusalem August 27, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will not release the long-delayed political portion of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan before Israel’s elections, White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said on Wednesday.
    The move, announced in a tweet by Greenblatt, appeared to be aimed at not interfering with September elections in which the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, is at stake.
    “We have decided that we will not be releasing the peace vision (or parts of it) prior to the Israeli election,” Greenblatt said on Twitter.
    Trump on Monday had said the plan might be revealed before the Israeli election.
    The plan is aimed at resolving some of the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but little is known about its contents.
    Trump’s Middle East team, including his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, had wanted to roll out the plan during the summer but Netanyahu’s failure to put together a governing coalition after April elections prompted a delay.
    Netanyahu now faces a fresh vote on Sept. 17 and, if successful, will try again to form a coalition.
    Unveiling a peace plan before Sept. 17 could have complicated a tight race in which Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and its strongest rival – Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz – are running neck and neck in the polls.
    Netanyahu has praised Trump policy moves such as the transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its annexation of the occupied Golan Heights.
    But any perceived concessions towards the Palestinians in the peace plan in the run-up to a ballot only three weeks away could have harmed Netanyahu’s chances of remaining in office.
    Netanyahu has campaigned for votes partly by highlighting his close relationship with Trump, whom he has featured on election billboards.
    The White House in June announced the economic piece of the Trump peace plan and sought support for it at a conference of global finance ministers in Bahrain.
    It proposes a $50 billion investment 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.
    Gulf leaders, however, want to see details of the political plan before signing on to the economic plan.
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Lisa Lambert Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Steve Holland; Editing by Chris Reese and Rosalba O’Brien)

8/29/2019 Baghdad’s crackdown on Iran-allied militias faces resistance by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed
FILE PHOTO - People gather during a protest against an order for the Popular Mobilisation Forces
to leave checkpoints in Mosul, Iraq July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Rashid
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At checkpoints leading into the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the flags of Brigade 30, a paramilitary force, still fly nearly two months after the Baghdad government ordered all militias to leave.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s decree gave Iran-backed paramilitary groups, which have wielded increasing power in Iraq, a month to fully integrate with the armed forces, leave checkpoints and sever ties with political groups.
    Brigade 30’s refusal to abandon its positions on the eastern edge of Mosul — instead it cut off roads and whipped up angry protests — underlines Baghdad’s struggle to assert its authority and raises the risk of further instability in a region marked by U.S.-Iranian rivalry.
    Washington warned this year it would take action against Iran-backed militias if Baghdad failed to control them, and imposed sanctions on groups and their leaders, including Brigade 30’s Commander Waad Qaddo.    It blamed paramilitaries for attacks on bases hosting U.S. forces in May.
    Tension ramped up in the past month when alleged Israeli air strikes hit weapons depots and bases of paramilitary factions in western and central Iraq.    Israel has hinted it was involved but has not explicitly said so.    The Israeli military declined to comment.
    Paramilitaries in turn accuse the United States of helping Israel attack their positions, and have threatened to retaliate.
    The Pentagon denies involvement.    No evidence has been provided for the mutual allegations.
    Rivalry between Iraq’s two biggest allies, Tehran and Washington, has put the region on edge this year.    Oil tankers in the Gulf have been attacked and Israel has bombed Iranian allies in Syria.
    If Iraq cannot rein in its paramilitary groups, which have more than 100,000 members, there could be further violence, Iraqi officials and analysts say.
    In parts of Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, flags of some factions still fly at checkpoints and paramilitaries man roadblocks in neighboring Anbar province.
    The armed groups dominate local security in some towns and cities across the country, especially territory formerly occupied by Islamic State (IS) militants.    Their allies, meanwhile, occupy parliamentary seats, exercising new political strength that has deepened their influence on the government.
    “Abdul Mahdi failed … to make a small group leave its positions near Mosul.    It raises the question, what could he do against more powerful Iran-backed groups?” said Baghdad-based security analyst Jasim al-Bahadli.
    The prime minister’s office did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.    In an interview with local journalists broadcast on Aug. 9, Abdul Mahdi said the integration was complicated and would take more time.
PARAMILITARY POWER
    The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) – Iraq’s umbrella grouping of mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitaries backed by Iran – played a key role defeating IS and formally became part of the armed forces last year, reporting to the prime minister.
    In Baghdad, its influence is growing through new senior military appointments, security sources and analysts say.
    A commander from one PMF group was appointed inspector-general of the defense ministry this month.
    The retirement in May of the military’s Mosul commander – a U.S. ally since the fight against IS – has made it easier to resist government efforts to bring paramilitaries in line, sources with knowledge of the appointments said.
    Abdul Mahdi set a July 31 deadline for PMF factions to integrate with the armed forces, including handing over roadblocks.
    PMF chief Falih al-Fayyadh said last month most factions were already complying.    A PMF spokesman declined to comment for this story.    The U.S. Department of Defence did not respond to a request for comment.
LEVERAGE
    Analysts say Brigade 30, like other groups that took territory in northern Iraq as they fought IS, is reluctant to give up power.
    The faction, controlled by Iraq’s Shi’ite Shabak minority, is one of a number of paramilitary groups in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province believed to control parts of the local economy.    The PMF has denied its members are involved in trade.
    “Brigade 30 have gained quite a bit of leverage in Mosul … they feel like they made some good gains during the fight and are now being told to give up major checkpoints,” said Renad Mansour, a research fellow at Chatham House.
    Commander Waad Qaddo’s office declined to comment.    Washington placed him on a sanctions list in July over alleged human rights abuses and corruption.
    In response to Abdul Mahdi’s decree, Qaddo’s group bulldozed dirt barriers onto a highway leading into Iraq’s second-largest city in early August.    Supporters blocked roads and burned tires as the army stood by.
    Demonstrating the group’s political heft, the PMF’s top leadership negotiated joint checkpoint control between Brigade 30, the army and local officials.
    Supporters said abandoning checkpoints could leave the Shabak open to the same abuse and killings minorities suffered at the hands of the Sunni extremist IS in Sunni Arab majority Mosul.
    “We’ll stay in the area to protect our people,” pro-PMF lawmaker Qusay al-Shabaki said.
    Mosul lawmakers and security sources say the episode showed how easily one faction could oppose the government, even as the PMF says it is obeying the prime minister.
    “Nineveh is under the pressure of the PMF.    It’s the main power in the province now – the army has become a secondary force,” MP Shirwan Dubardani said.
(Additional reporting by Ghazwan Hassan in Tikrit, Kamal Ayash in Falluja, Ali Idrees in Washington and Dan Williams in Jerusalem.; Editing by Carmel Crimmins.)

8/29/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says won’t allow U.S. stalling in Syria deal by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pays his respects at a convoy carrying remains of the Srebrenica
genocide victims, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s deal with the United States to set up a “safe zone” in northeast Syria was a correct step and that Ankara would not let Washington delay the plan, CNN Turk reported on Thursday.
    Ankara revealed last weekend that a joint operations center for the proposed zone along Syria’s northeastern border is now fully operational.
    Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for the region, where the Kurdish YPG militia form the main part of a U.S.-backed force fighting Islamic State.    Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group.
    “The agreement which we have reached with the USA is a correct step towards establishing a safe zone and removing the YPG from the east of the Euphrates (river),” Erdogan told reporters on his way back from meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
    Erdogan said Turkey would not accept delays in the plan, comparing it to an earlier deal with Washington to remove YPG fighters from the northern Syrian city of Manbij, which Ankara accused Washington of delaying.
    “We will never tolerate a delay like we saw in Manbij.    The process must advance rapidly,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by CNN Turk on Thursday.
    The safe zone was proposed last year by U.S. President Donald Trump, who had announced plans to withdraw U.S. special forces from northern Syria but later suspended the plan to ensure Washington’s Kurdish allies would be protected.
    Erdogan said this week Turkish ground troops would enter the planned safe zone “very soon,” having warned previously that Turkey would mount a cross-border offensive on its own to clear the YPG militia from its border if necessary.
    “All the personnel, the armored carriers, all are on the border.    That is, we are in a position to do everything at any moment,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
DEFENSE COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA
    On Tuesday, an official in a YPG-led alliance said that the YPG will pull forces and heavy weapons from a strip along Syria’s border with Turkey under U.S.-Turkish deals.
    The YPG withdrew from the Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain border positions in recent days, proving it is serious about ongoing talks, the Kurdish-led authority in north and east Syria said.
    U.S. support for the YPG has enraged Turkey, which views the militia as a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish insurgents inside the country.
    The two countries have also fallen out over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, prompting Washington to begin removing Turkey from its program for manufacturing F-35 jets, which Turkey also planned to buy.
    Erdogan visited an aviation fair with Putin during his visit to Moscow.    Asked whether Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter jet and Su-35 aircraft could be among alternatives to the F-35s, Erdogan said: “Why not?    We didn’t come here for nothing.”
    The RIA news agency cited a Russian official as saying on Wednesday that the two countries are discussing the possibility of deliveries of the two aircraft to Turkey.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall)

8/29/2019 Yemeni separatists reinforce positions in Aden, fighting against government forces could escalate by Mohammed Mukhashaf
Southern separatist fighters gather during clashes with government forces in Aden, Yemen August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    ADEN (Reuters) – Southern Yemeni separatists brought in reinforcements to bolster their positions in Aden on Thursday, a day after heavy fighting in the southern port city between the separatists and government forces with whom they were previously allied.
    Sporadic clashes broke out across Aden during the day and fighters from both sides patrolled deserted streets, residents said. Shops, restaurants and businesses were closed.
    The internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, based in Aden since it was ousted from the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in 2014, said on Wednesday it had recaptured Aden airport from the separatists and controlled most of the city.    Its foes disputed the claim.
    The outbreak of hostilities between the two sides is the latest twist in a multi-faceted war in Yemen pitting several factions and armies against each other.
    A Western-armed, Sunni Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthis, and the southern separatist allied themselves with it.
    But the United Arab Emirates, the second foreign power in the coalition, has fallen out with Hadi and withdrawn many of its ground forces, prompting the separatists of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) to try to gain control of Aden.
    On Thursday, the STC said some of its troops positioned on the outskirts of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, which is under Houthi control, had returned to Aden to join the battle against Hadi’s forces.
    “To whoever said the Southern Resistance has fled, I say: We are here,” STC vice-president Hani Ben Brik said in a social media message showing him with dozens of his fighters outside Aden’s airport building.
    A Yemeni official said Saudi Arabia and the UAE had made contact with both sides to try to defuse the conflict, but more fighters were seen arriving in Aden and the other southern provinces of Shabwa, Lahej and Abyan.
    “The Coalition remains committed to supporting reforms in the legitimate government, tackling corruption, encouraging inclusiveness toward to all Yemeni factions, in order to ensure representation of all Yemenis in the future of the country,” said Jaber Al Lamki, executive director of media and strategic communications at the National Media Council.
    But Yemen’s foreign minister accused the UAE of carrying out air strikes on government positions in Aden.
    Yemen’s Defence Ministry said in a statement that more than 300 people were killed and wounded by air strikes by UAE war planes on the eastern outskirts.
The aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had taken in 51 casualties during the fighting in Aden on Wednesday, 10 of them already dead when they reached its hospital.
    “It’s total chaos here.    There was fighting in the city all day yesterday. Things appear to have calmed down a bit this morning, but we expect the hostilities to resume at any point,” MSF program manager Caroline Seguin said in a statement.
    Reuters could not independently confirm the air strike or casualty reports and UAE officials did not respond to requests for comment.
U.N. CONCERN
    The U.N. Security Council expressed concern over the escalation in violence and called on all parties to show restraint and to preserve Yemen’s territorial integrity.
    The Security Council also condemned increased Houthi attacks on Saudi civilian infrastructure and called on them to stop immediately.    It expressed concern at the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
    The separatists aim ultimately to restore the South Yemen republic which merged with the north in 1990.    They had clashed occasionally with government forces for several years before major new hostilities erupted this month.
    Saudi Arabia has called for a summit to end the standoff, which has thwarted U.N. efforts to end a war that has driven Yemen to the brink of famine and is widely seen as a proxy struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional dominance.
    But Hadi’s government has said it will not participate until separatists cede control of sites they seized earlier in August.
    His forces retook Zinjibar, capital of neighboring Abyan province, on Monday, after securing most of the oil-producing Shabwa region and its liquefied natural gas terminal in Balhaf.
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Michelle Nichlos at the United Nations, Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/29/2019 U.N. Security Councils mulls calling for Idlib truce, Russia likely to oppose by Michelle Nichols
Residents inspect the rubble of damaged buildings, looking for victims, after a deadly airstrike, said to be in
Maarat al-Numan, Idlib province, Syria August 28, 2019. Syria Civil Defence in the Governorate of Idlib/Handout via REUTERS
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council is considering a draft resolution that would call for a truce in northwestern Syria “to avoid a further deterioration of the already catastrophic humanitarian situation,” though diplomats said on     Thursday that such a move is likely to face opposition from veto-power Russia.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power, have been waging an offensive in the Idlib region, the last remaining rebel-held territory in Syria’s war.    Much of the region is controlled by jihadists linked to the former Nusra Front, which was linked to al Qaeda.
    Kuwait, Germany and Belgium circulated a draft resolution, seen by Reuters, to the 15-member U.N. Security Council late on Wednesday that would express “outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence escalating in and around Idlib.”    It was not immediately clear when they aimed to put it to a vote.
    A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain to pass.
    “Three million people — two-thirds of them women and children — are counting on your support to make this violence stop,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Thursday.
    The United Nations said that since the start of hostilities in northwest Syria in April, more than 550 civilians have been killed and some 400,000 people displaced.    Almost half of the displaced people are living in open-air areas or under trees.
    Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy did not comment directly on the proposed draft resolution, but questioned the timing.
    “As soon as the Syrian forces achieve some kind of advantage on the territory and begin to force terrorists out, our colleagues begin to say that we should stop military activity,” he said.    “There is a need to have an uncompromising fight against terrorists.”
COUNCIL FAILURE
    Senior British diplomat Stephen Hickey, speaking at his last Security Council meeting, said that despite best efforts the council had failed the people of Syria.    He noted Russia’s 12 vetoes of resolutions to shield the Assad government during the more than eight-year-long conflict.
    “We must now come together urgently to stop the violence in Idlib and to protect Syrians from further suffering,” he said.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia and Turkey had agreed on steps to tackle militants in northwestern Syria and “normalize” the situation.    Russian and Turkish forces in northern Syria are allies of opposing sides in the civil war.
    The U.N. draft resolution also demands that all parties, particularly the Syrian government, must comply with international law, “including the respect and protection of civilians and civilian objects, as well the respect and protection of all medical personnel and humanitarian personnel.”
    U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced earlier this month that the world body would investigate attacks on U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites in northwest Syria. Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.     The locations of the U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites like hospitals and health centers had been shared with the warring parties in a bid to protect them.    However, the United Nations has questioned whether it made them a target.
    “The rules are clear,” Lowcock said.    “People’s homes, hospitals, schools, water systems and markets must be protected.    There can be no reason, rationale, excuse or justification for the destruction of civilian areas on the scale seen in Idlib.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

8/29/2019 Israel says Iran boosting bid to set up Hezbollah precision-missile plants in Lebanon by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: A general view picture shows the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on the left-hand-side of the Israel-Lebanon
border, as seen from Kibbutz Misgav Am in northern Israel August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel accused Iran on Thursday of stepping up efforts to provide the Hezbollah militia with precision-guided missile production facilities, a warning to Beirut that Israeli counter-strikes could escalate.
    “Dir balak,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in public remarks directed at Lebanon, using the Arabic for “watch out.”
    Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which last fought a war in 2006, are on high alert after drones were used at the weekend to attack what a security official in the region described as a target linked to precision-guided missile projects.
    Hezbollah has blamed Israel for the rare strike in Beirut, and said it will retaliate.    The heavily armed Shi’ite movement has denied harboring such missile facilities.    Lebanon has accused Israel of seeking pretexts for aggression.
    Without claiming responsibility for the drone attack, the Israeli military published what it said were details about an extensive Iranian-sponsored campaign to provide Hezbollah with the means to produce precision-guided missiles.
    Such missiles – which Hezbollah acknowledges possessing – could potentially pose a counter-balance to Israel’s overwhelming military force in any future war, with the capacity to home in on and knock out core infrastructure sites.
    Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said that in recent months Iran had increased the pace of the project such that it was “faster in terms of buildings, facilities, locations, conversion and manufacturing facilities, and it means more people, operatives involved in doing so.”
    “It is time for them (the Lebanese government) to understand their responsibility and understand the fact that what they are letting Hezbollah and Iran do on Lebanese soil is their responsibility,” Conricus said.
    “They are the ones who are complicit in endangering Lebanon and Lebanese civilians which Hezbollah and Iran are using as human shields.”
    There was no immediate response from Tehran, Israel’s arch-foe, whose nuclear program and regional activities have been a focus of redoubled U.S. pressure under President Donald Trump – with knock-on tensions in the Gulf.
    After Hezbollah said it would respond to the Beirut strike by downing Israeli drones that enter Lebanon’s skies, the Lebanese army on Wednesday shot at drones that it said had crossed the border.    Israel said there was no damage to them.
    In the past Israel has argued that the Lebanese army is too close to Hezbollah to warrant the more than $1.5 billion in U.S. military assistance it has received since the 2006 war.    Washington regards the army as a counter-weight to Hezbollah.
    Conricus said there was no change to Israel’s position on the Lebanese army.    But he appeared to play down the threat.
    “We continue to classify Hezbollah as our main enemy and the Lebanese Armed Forces as a potential enemy,” he said.    “If they fire at Israel, tactically speaking, … then that specific force on the ground will be considered an active enemy, but strategically speaking Hezbollah is the enemy.”
(Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Frances Kerry)

8/29/2019 War and poverty drive Gazans to seek better life in Europe despite dangers by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A Palestinian man, Sameh Sdodi sells corns and hot drinks in a stall on the beach in Gaza City July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Shaban Khalaf’s advice to any other Gazans thinking of heading to Europe in search of a better life, as he did, is blunt: don’t bother – it’s not worth the danger and the expense.
    Khalaf should know. Despairing of ever finding a decent job in Gaza, where the economy is near collapse, the journalism graduate flew to Turkey via Egypt in June 2018 and tried no fewer than 18 times to cross into Europe, mostly by boat.
    “One time a naval boat hit ours, our boat flipped and we almost died,” said Khalaf, 25, adding that each time Turkish or Greek authorities would send them back to Turkey’s shores.
    By February this year he had given up and returned home to Gaza, much poorer for his ordeal after having paid off the people smugglers who had tried in vain to get him to Europe.
    “I don’t advise people to leave unless a job is waiting for them there.    It is better to stay and die with their families in Gaza than to throw themselves into the unknown, or die in the sea,” he said.
    Thousands of other Palestinians have had similar experiences as they try to escape the rampant unemployment, poverty and violence of life in Gaza, a tiny enclave between Israel and Egypt run by the Islamist Hamas group.
    Gazans have endured three war with Israel, 12 years of Israeli-led economic sanctions that hamper the movement of people and goods and a protracted power struggle between Palestinian factions.
    An unknown number of Gazans have died trying to make the perilous crossing to Europe, leaving families back home unsure about their eventual fate.    Some are buried in Turkey or in Greece, or were returned home in coffins.
    Human rights activists in Gaza believe around 30,000 of Gaza’s population of two million have tried to leave the 145 sq. mile (375 sq. km) territory in the past decade, with a surge in numbers after a 50-day war in 2014 between Israel and Hamas.
NO WORK, NO FUTURE
    Israeli air strikes and shelling devastated entire districts of Gaza in that conflict, as Hamas and other militant groups launched rockets at heartland cities in Israel, which along with Egypt maintains a blockade of Gaza, citing security concerns.
    More than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed, according to Gaza health officials, while Israel put the number of its own dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.
    “Israel is the prime source of our misery but (internal Palestinian) division is a main reason too,” Khalaf said, referring to economic sanctions imposed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority to pressure Hamas to share power.
    Hamas seized Gaza during fighting in 2007.
    “Because of the division there is no work for youth.    Most of those who left Gaza were graduates,” Khalaf told Reuters at a language center in Gaza where he is studying Turkish.
    Khalaf said his journey from Gaza cost $3,000, including fees to enter Egypt, a ticket to Turkey and payment to smugglers who tried to take him to Greece while hiding from drones and security patrols.
    Greece is a common first stop for Palestinians and others hoping to apply for asylum in the European Union, but EU countries and Turkey have significantly tightened border controls to deter migrants.
    But many young Palestinians are unlikely to heed Khalaf’s advice to stay put.
    “There is no work, there is no future (here),” said Sameh Sdodi, 27, who had to skip university to sell snacks and hot drinks near the beach.
    Karim Abu Sidu, 17, said he was ready to attempt the journey in search of work even though his 22-year-old brother, Hussam Abu Sidu, died in January when his boat sank off Greece.    His body is buried in Greece.
    “The situation here is very bad,” he said.    “Even if I finished university, it would be in vain.    Those who did are now selling tea, coffee and cigarettes in markets.”
(Editing by Stephen Farrell and Gareth Jones)

8/30/2019 Syria, Russia step up attack on rebel bastion: opposition, residents by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Syria Civil Defence (White Helmets) members search the rubble of a damaged building for victims, after a deadly airstrike, said to
be in Maarat al-Numan, Idlib province, Syria August 28, 2019. Syria Civil Defence in the Governorate of Idlib/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria and its ally Russia have stepped up an offensive against the last big stronghold of Syrian rebels, mounting more air raids and deploying ground reinforcements including Iranian-backed militias, army defectors and residents said on Friday.
    The Russian-led alliance is pushing into densely populated parts of Idlib province where millions of people who fled fighting elsewhere in Syria have taken refuge.
    The northwest offensive has prompted U.N. warnings of a new humanitarian crisis amid the gains by Damascus and its partner Moscow, which has helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide in the eight-year-old conflict since intervening in 2015.
    Moving deeper into territory adjoining the Turkish border, the advance took the town of Tamaneh after earlier capturing Khwain, Zarzoor and Tamanah farms, the defectors and residents said.     They were the first gains since the alliance, battling a coalition of jihadists and mainstream Turkey-backed rebels, seized a main rebel pocket in nearby Hama province last week.
    The offensive has been reinforced by elite army units and Iranian-backed militias, the defectors and residents said.
    “There are daily reinforcements coming from the Iranian militias, elite Republican Guards units and Fourth Armoured Division,” Colonel Mustafa Bakour, a commander in Jaish al Izza rebel group, told Reuters.
    Jets flying at high altitude dropped bombs on the outskirts of Idlib city, the heavily-populated provincial capital.    The aircraft were believed to be Russian, according to activists who track the warplanes’ activities.
AIR STRIKES
    Rebel resistance has been eroded by relentless air strikes against civilian areas since the advance began in late April.    The campaign has destroyed dozens of hospitals, schools and civil defense centers, paralyzing life in rebel-held areas.
    Moscow and Damascus deny they have targeted civilians and say they are responding to militant attacks by the former Nusra Front, a jihadist alliance now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham that is the dominant force in Idlib.
    Opposition sources say hundreds of troops from the country’s elite Republican Guards, which is led by President Bashar al Assad’s brother Maher al-Assad, have been deployed on the frontlines of southern Idlib province.
    The rapid progress of the last few weeks has been attributed to the new lineup of Russian backed-forces, an army defector and two senior opposition sources conceded.
    “The Russians have now moved to depending on the Iranians and elite army formations in this campaign,” Bakour added, saying this was a shift away from reliance on the so-called Tiger forces who previously provided most of the Syrian army’s ground troops.
    Since capturing the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun nearly 10 days ago, Russian and Syrian jets were now escalating strikes on the city of Maraat al-Numan that lies further north.
    At least 12 civilians, including five children, were killed during raids on the now ghost city that has seen most of its over 140,000 inhabitants flee in the last few weeks.
    More than half a million civilians have now been uprooted in the course of the offensive.    The United Nations says hundreds of civilians have been killed in the violence, which has resulted in large scale destruction of civilian areas.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

8/30/2019 Trump will host Kuwait’s ruling emir at White House
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/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will host Kuwait’s ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, at the White House on Sept. 12, a spokeswoman for the president said on Friday.
    The pair is expected to discuss “regional developments, bilateral security cooperation, and counterterrorism issues,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

8/30/2019 Netanyahu tells Macron timing wrong for Iran talks: statement
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone-laying ceremony
for Mobileye's center in Jerusalem August 27, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday to avoid new talks with Israel’s regional arch-foe Iran, his office said, as European leaders pushed to save the 2015 nuclear deal.
    “This is precisely the wrong timing to hold talks with Iran, while it is increasing its aggression in the region,” Netanyahu told Macron in a telephone conversation that was initiated by the French leader, according to the Israeli statement.br>     Macron on Sunday paved the way for a potential breakthrough in the standoff between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear deal after Iran’s foreign minister made a flying visit for talks with host France at the G7 summit.
    On Monday, at the G7 summit, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he would meet Iran’s president under the right circumstances and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran’s economy afloat.
    The nuclear deal has been in jeopardy since the United States withdrew from it last year and re-imposed economic sanctions, seeking to push Tehran into wider security concessions including curbs on its ballistic missile program.
    Netanyahu, who sees Iran as a mortal threat and has long opposed the nuclear deal, has urged that sanctions be re-imposed on Tehran. He has so far been in lockstep with the Trump administration over its Iran policy.
    On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic would not talk to the United States until all sanctions imposed on Tehran are lifted.
    Rouhani said Iran was always ready to hold talks.    “But first the U.S. should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran,” he said.
    EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday that the European Union will work to preserve the nuclear deal and would welcome any moves to add to its conditions.
    Macron’s diplomatic moves came as Israel-Iran tensions flared. Last Saturday, Israel’s military struck in Syria in what it described as the thwarting of an Iranian-led killer-drone attack on Israeli targets.
    On Thursday, Israel accused Iran of stepping up efforts to provide the Lebanese Hezbollah militia with precision-guided missile production facilities.
    “Israel will defend itself against any attacks and prevent enemies that seek its destruction from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told Macron, according to the statement.
    Israel and the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah are on high alert after drones were used on Sunday to attack what a security official in the region described as a target linked to precision-guided missile projects.
    Hezbollah has blamed Israel for the rare strike in Beirut, and said it will retaliate.    The heavily armed group has denied harboring such missile facilities.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Editing by William Maclean)

8/30/2019 Sanctions-hit Lebanese bank denies Hezbollah ties by Lisa Barrington and Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks following a meeting of the UN Security Council
at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s central bank said it would guarantee all “legitimate deposits” in the newly sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank, which on Friday rejected U.S. allegations that it helps to fund Iran-backed Hezbollah.
    Washington hit the bank and its subsidiaries with sanctions on Thursday for allegedly facilitating the financial activities of the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. The U.S. Treasury Department accused the bank of funneling money to the families of suicide bombers.
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is determined to cut off support in Lebanon for heavily armed Hezbollah, which Washington classifies as a terrorist group.
    Lebanon’s central bank Governor Riad Salameh told Reuters on Friday that it would guarantee money put in the bank by depositors not subject to sanctions.
    Jammal Trust, a 50-year-old private commercial bank in Lebanon, said it “unequivocally denies all the allegations” that prompted what it described as “surprising” sanctions.
    The bank’s statement said it has “unwavering commitment to … international regulations on countering money laundering and terrorism financing
    Jammal Trust Bank has 25 branches in Lebanon and representative offices in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Britain, its website says.
    The bank is a relatively small lender.    It had net assets of 1,600 billion Lebanese pounds ($1 billion) at the end of 2017, according to the annual report on the latest year for which data is available.
    Washington has sought to choke off Hezbollah’s funding worldwide, with sanctions among a slew of steps against Tehran since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran.
    Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil joined Salameh in seeking to reassure depositors.
    “I am certain of the banking sector’s ability to absorb the implications … and guarantee the money of depositors,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that the central bank is “doing what is necessary.”
    “We got American assurances that no other banks are on the sanctions list,” Salim Sfeir, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon and chief executive of Bank of Beirut, said in comments published by the Lebanese president’s office on Twitter.
    The Lebanese government has vowed to make urgent progress on reforms to ease economic troubles that prompted ratings agency Fitch to cut the country’s credit rating this month.
    Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP.    The impetus to enact reforms has grown with the slowdown of deposits into its banking sector, a critical source of finance for the state.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by David Goodman, Kirsten Donovan)

8/30/2019 Erdogan says eyeing Russian jets; plans to meet Trump in New York
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin
during a joint news conference following their talks on the sidelines of the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and
Space Salon in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia, August 27, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey will ensure it is able to buy and produce fighter jets and that Russian Su-35s and Su-57s are a possible alternative to U.S. planes.
    He also said that he plans to meet U.S. President Donald Trump next month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in mid-September.
    “If the United States maintains its current stance on the F-35s, we will take care of this,” he told reporters in Ankara.
    “Beyond putting the Su-35 or 57 issue on the table, the issues that we are discussing are what measures we can take for our defense industry or for our defense, and these are surely aspects being discussed as part of our precaution packages,” he said.
(Reporting by Irem Koca and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/31/2019 Yemeni separatists arrest dozens of government loyalists in Aden
FILE PHOTO: A southern separatist fighter mans a checkpoint in Aden, Yemen August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Southern Yemeni separatists said they arrested dozens of government loyalists in Aden on Saturday after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s forces withdrew from the port city following air strikes by the United Arab Emirates.
    The outbreak of hostilities between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the UAE-backed separatists is the latest twist in a multi-faceted war in Yemen pitting several factions and armies against each other.
    The separatists and Hadi’s government are nominal allies in a Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a broader regional conflict.
    On Thursday, UAE warplanes bombed Yemeni government forces in Aden, shifting the balance of power in a month-long battle between the separatists and Hadi for control of the city and southern Yemeni provinces.    Hadi’s forces withdrew from Aden after the air strikes, which killed at least 45 soldiers.
    After the pull-out, forces of the separatist Southern Transitional Council raided homes and businesses, arrested “scores” of pro-government activists, politicians and clerics, accusing them of “terrorism”, STC officials and witnesses said.
    On Saturday, an edgy calm returned to Aden but separatist fighters were patrolling the streets and seen carrying out more arrests across the city, four residents told Reuters.
    Hadi’s government said the arrests were “politically motivated.”    An STC security source denied this, saying dozens of “terrorists and outlaws” had been rounded up.
    Though a key part of the anti-Houthi coalition, the UAE has been hostile to Hadi as his government includes Islamists seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Gulf state has sought to neutralize cross the Middle East and North Africa.
    Abu Dhabi has armed and trained tens of thousands of separatists who seek to restore the South Yemen republic which merged with the north in 1990.
    A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed six separatist fighters on the outskirts of Aden on Friday in an attack claimed by Islamic State militants.
    Saudi Arabia has called for a summit to end the conflict over Aden, which has thwarted U.N. efforts to end a war that has driven Yemen to the brink of famine and is seen as a proxy struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional dominance.
    The Saudi-led, Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis, who ousted Hadi’s government from power in the capital Sanaa in northern Yemen.    The conflict has been largely stalemated on the ground since then.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/31/2019 Sudan’s ex-president Bashir charged with corruption, holding illicit foreign currency 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
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A Sudanese judge formally indicted former president Omar al-Bashir on charges of possessing illicit foreign currency and corruption on Saturday.
    Questioned in court for the first time, Bashir said that he had received $25 million from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as funds from other sources, but that he had not received or used the money for his own benefit.
    A lawyer for Bashir said that his client denied the charges against him and that witnesses for the defense would be presented at the next hearing.
    The judge denied a request for bail and said a decision on the duration of Bashir’s detention would be taken at a hearing on Sept. 7.
    Sudan’s military ousted and arrested Bashir in April after months of protests across the country.    His prosecution is seen as a test of how far military and civilian authorities now sharing power will go to counter the legacy of his 30-year rule.
    Bashir was also charged in May with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters.    He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of masterminding genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.
    A police detective told the court earlier this month that Bashir had acknowledged receiving millions from Saudi Arabia.
(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/31/2019 U.S. says Iranian oil tanker headed toward Syria by Nerijus Adomaitis and Jonathan Spicer
FILE PHOTO: A crew member takes pictures with a mobile phone on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1,
previously named Grace 1, as it sits anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted
its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo
    OSLO/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Friday that an Iranian oil tanker at the center of a confrontation between Washington and Tehran was headed to Lebanon’s waters, but the United States later said the ship was sailing to Syria.
    According to Refinitiv tracking data, the Adrian Darya, formerly called Grace 1, after changing course several times headed on Friday for Turkey’s Iskenderun port, 200 km (124 miles) north of Syria’s Baniyas refinery, the tanker’s suspected original destination.
    When the ship was released off Gibraltar in mid-August after a five-week standoff, Iran assured Britain that the cargo was not headed to Syria.
    The latest twist sets it in the direction of Syria, and raises the possibility that a ship-to-ship transfer of cargo may be attempted once it nears Lebanon’s coast.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet late on Friday: “We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria.”
    Pompeo had earlier said that if the tanker went to Syria, Washington would take every action it could consistent with U.S. sanctions.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier on Friday that despite the tracking data, the tanker was “for sure” not going to Turkish ports but rather toward Lebanese waters.
    Earlier on Friday, the minister told Reuters the ship was headed to Lebanon’s “main” port.    “I didn’t mean that this tanker is going to a Lebanese port, but (rather) according to the information coordinates it is heading to the territorial waters of the country,” he later told reporters at an Oslo forum.
    “It doesn’t mean that it is going to reach a Lebanese port,” he said of the tanker that was carrying 2 million barrels of oil when released at Gibraltar.    “We are monitoring it very closely.”
    In response, Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said in a separate interview: “We have not been informed of the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya heading (here).”
WESTERN THREATS
    The apparent confusion underlines the risk of reprisal that countries face taking in the tanker, which at 1400 GMT was headed east toward the channel separating Turkey and Cyprus after a series of turns in the Mediterranean Sea, according to tracking data.
    The ship had been detained off Gibraltar due to British suspicion that it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
    The United States says the tanker is controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which it considers a terrorist group.
    “What’s important here is that it is carrying oil that enables the terrorism of (President Bashar al-Assad’s) regime,” a State Department spokesperson said.    The Trump administration has conveyed “our strong position via diplomatic channels to all ports in the Mediterranean that should be forewarned about facilitating” the tanker, said the spokesperson, who declined to be named.
    The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday blacklisted the ship and sanctioned its captain.
    Washington last year pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran aimed at blocking its path to a nuclear bomb, and has ramped up sanctions to pressure and isolate Tehran.    Iran denies ever having sought to build or acquire a nuclear weapon.
    Cavusoglu told Reuters that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke about the ship’s coordinates with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.    In a readout of the call, London said the leaders agreed it was vital to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but did not mention the tanker.
OPTIONS AHEAD
    Shipping sources said the tanker would need to conduct a ship-to-ship transfer before being able to enter a port such as Beirut’s, which does not have deep water facilities necessary for fully laden supertankers.
    It could potentially discharge its cargo offshore toward Lebanon’s Tripoli port further north, which is closer to Syria’s coastline between Lebanon and Turkey, they said.    There is a ship-to-ship transfer anchorage outside of Tripoli port limits.
    Beirut and Tripoli ports have both served as transhipment hubs for cargoes bound for Syria in recent years during Syria’s conflict.
    An Iranian government spokesman was quoted on Monday as saying Iran had sold the oil aboard the tanker and that the vessel’s owner, whose identity he did not disclose, would decide its destination.
    After its release at Gibraltar, the ship stated that its destination was the Greek port of Kalamata, then Turkey’s Mersin.    On Thursday, it abruptly changed course, heading first west then south, away from the Turkish coast.
    While west of Cyprus on Friday morning, it did a similar maneuver, doubling back on itself.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Michele Kambas in Athens, Jonathan Saul in London, and Timothy Gardner and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Rosalba O’Brien)

8/31/2019 Hezbollah says commanders ready, Israel orders more forces to border region by Ellen Francis and Ari Rabinovitch
FILE PHOTO: A banner depicting Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and an United Nation's post are seen in Lebanon
from the Israeli side of the border, near Zar'it in northern Israel August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Hezbollah said on Saturday its field commanders were ready to respond to an attack a week ago that the Lebanese group blamed on Israeli drones, after Israel’s military ordered extra forces to deploy near the border.
    Tensions have heightened between the Iran-backed Lebanese movement and its old enemy Israel — who fought a month-long war with each other in 2006 — since two drones crashed in the southern suburbs of Beirut which are dominated by Hezbollah.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech that all options were open to counter Israeli drones violating Lebanon’s sovereignty.
    Drones like the ones used in the Beirut attack last weekend “open the door to assassinations” if left unanswered, he said.    “This matter will not be tolerated … Israel must pay the price.”
    Israel has accused Iran of stepping up efforts to provide Hezbollah with precision-guided missile production facilities, a warning to Beirut that Israeli counter-strikes could escalate.
    Israel’s army said on Saturday that in the past week its “ground forces, air, navy and intelligence forces improved their preparedness for various scenarios in the northern command area.”
    It posted on Twitter footage of tanks and ground forces being deployed.
    Without claiming responsibility for the drone attack, the Israeli military has published what it said were details about the Iranian campaign to boost Hezbollah’s missile capabilities.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
    Precision-guided missiles could pose a counter-balance to Israel’s overwhelming military force in any future war, with the capacity to home in on and knock out core infrastructure sites.
    Nasrallah accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of seeking a pretext to attack and to change the rules of engagement with Hezbollah.
    He denied that Hezbollah had factories to produce the weapons.    “We have as many precision-guided missiles in Lebanon as we need for any confrontation, small or big,” he said.
    A new conflict between the two adversaries would destabilize a Middle East already fraught with tensions between the United States and Iran.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States on Twitter of engaging in “piracy and threats” to stop Tehran selling oil to clients, after Washington blacklisted an Iranian oil tanker it said was headed to Syria.
    Washington has also ratcheted up sanctions against Tehran in a row over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
    Israel is concerned about the growing regional influence of Iran and its militia allies, such as Hezbollah, in countries like Syria and Iraq.
    Shi’ite militias in Iraq, many of whom are backed by Iran, blame recent blasts at their weapons depots on the United States and Israel.
    Politics is also playing a role, as Netanyahu seeks to appear decisive ahead of an election in three weeks.
    Hezbollah, which was founded by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in 1982, fought its last war with Israel in 2006 after it captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
    Nearly 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the conflict
.
    Nasrallah said he wanted “the enemy to remain confused, as it is now.”
    The Hezbollah leader did not spell out the timing of any retaliation, but he said it “is now in the hands of the field commanders who know what they must do … and what the limits are.”
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam in Beirut and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Michael Georgy and Edmund Blair)

8/31/2019 Turkey to launch own Syria plan in weeks unless has ‘safe zone’ control: Erdogan by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with
Russian President Vladimir Putin following their talks on the sidelines of the MAKS-2019 International Aviation
and Space Salon in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia, August 27, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will launch its own operation to establish a “safe zone” in Syria if talks with the United States fail to give Turkish troops control of the area within a few weeks, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday.
    Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for the region in northeastern Syria where the U.S.-backed force led by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia have been fighting Islamic State.
    Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group because it says it has links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.
    Turkey and the United States have set up a joint operation center for the planned zone along the border with Turkey but have disagreed over the size of the zone or the command structure of the forces to operate there.
    “We do not have much time or patience regarding the safe zone which will be established along our entire border east of the Euphrates (river),” Erdogan said in a speech at a graduation ceremony at the National Defense University in Istanbul.
    “If our soldiers do not control the region within a few weeks, we will put our own operation plan into effect,” he said, adding that he wanted Turkish soldiers to start setting up the “safe zone” in two to three weeks.
    He did not say what the operation plan would entail, but he has previously warned that Turkey would mount a cross-border offensive on its own to clear the YPG militia from its border if necessary.
    U.S. President Donald Trump proposed the safe zone last year, having announced plans to withdraw U.S. special forces from northern Syria but he later suspended the plan to ensure Washington’s Kurdish allies would be protected.
    An official in the YPG-led alliance said on Tuesday that the YPG would pull forces and heavy weapons from a strip along Syria’s border with Turkey under U.S.-Turkish deals.
    The YPG withdrew from the Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain border positions in recent days, proving it was serious about ongoing talks, the Kurdish-led authority in north and east Syria said.
    U.S. support for the YPG has enraged Turkey, which views the militia as a terrorist organization closely tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group which has fought a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
    Ankara, the United States and European Union designate the PKK as a terrorist group.
    Ankara and Washington have also fallen out over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, prompting Washington to begin removing Turkey from its program for manufacturing F-35 jets, which Turkey also planned to buy.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Alison Williams and Edmund Blair)

8/31/2019 Saudi Arabia splits industry and mining from energy ministry
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih talks to journalists as he arrives for
an OPEC and NON-OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia created a new ministry for industry and mineral resources, separating it from the kingdom’s colossal energy ministry, and replaced the powerful head of the royal court, in a series of royal orders issued late on Friday.
    Bandar Alkhorayef, an investor and industrialist plucked from the private sector, was named to head the new entity, which will become independent on Jan. 1.    The move appears to diminish the sprawling authority of Khalid al-Falih, who retains control of the energy portfolio and chairmanship of state oil giant Saudi Aramco.
    Falih had overseen more than half the Saudi economy through the super-ministry, which was created in 2016 to help streamline new reforms.    But despite ambitious plans for industry and mining, the sectors have seen relatively little development.     Two sources said Saudi industrialists were unhappy with a lack of results during Falih’s tenure.    The separation followed meetings between those businessmen and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, one source added.
    Industry and mining are critical to the young crown prince’s push to diversify the economy of the world’s top oil exporter away from crude, cut bloated state spending and create millions of jobs for young Saudis.
    Saudi economist Fawaz al-Fawaz said the split was a step in the right direction but still not enough.    “There are scattered efforts in local content and military manufacturing and a constant lack of investment.    We need more thought,” he said on Twitter.
    In a separate royal order, Fahd bin Mohammed al-Essa was appointed head of the royal court, a powerful gatekeeper position in the absolute monarchy.    Essa was formerly the head of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s office at the defence ministry.
    Former information minister Awwad al-Awwad was named new head of the official human rights commission, and Mazen al-Khamous was made chairman of the national anti-corruption commission, according to the orders.
    Riyadh launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign two years ago which netted princes, senior officials and top businessmen. Critics said the campaign amounted to a power play and shakedown of political rivals.
    The kingdom has also come in for international censure over alleged human rights abuses, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the arrests of scores of dissidents including prominent women’s rights activists.
    One change announced on Friday affected one of the most senior women in government.    Deputy labor minister Tamadur al-Ramah was replaced as Riyadh struggles to create jobs for its overwhelmingly young population.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad, Stephen Kalin, Rania El Gamal and Ahmed Tolba; editing by Emelia Sithole and Stephen Powell)


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