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

    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 July-August or continue to King Of The South 2019 for November-December

KING OF THE SOUTH 2019 SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER




2019 SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER



9/1/2019 Netanyahu repeats pledge to annex Israeli settlements in occupied West Bank by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony opening the school year in the Jewish
settlement of Elkana in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to annex all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, he said on Sunday, reiterating an election promise made five months ago but again giving no timeframe.
    Settlements are one of the most heated issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    Palestinians have voiced fears Netanyahu could defy international consensus and move ahead with annexation with possible backing from U.S. President Donald Trump, a close ally.
    “With God’s help we will extend Jewish sovereignty to all the settlements as part of the (biblical) land of Israel, as part of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said in Sunday’s speech in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, where he attended a ceremony opening the school year.
    He did not say when he planned to make such a move.
    Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Netanyahu’s announcement was a “continuation of attempts to create an unacceptable fait accompli that will not lead to any peace, security or stability.”
    Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, made a similar pledge days before an Israeli general election in April.    After the vote, he failed to form a governing parliamentary majority and the country will hold a new election on Sept. 17.
    His reaffirmation of the annexation promise came amid a campaign push to draw supporters of far-right factions to Likud in the coming election, in which votes are cast for a party’s list of parliamentary candidates.
    In power for the past decade, but with corruption charges looming, Netanyahu has cautioned that Likud needs to emerge with a decisive lead in the ballot or Israel’s president might choose another candidate to form a governing coalition after the race.
    Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in three criminal investigations against him.    Likud is running neck-and-neck in opinion polls with the centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz.
GOLAN ANNEXATION
    With publication of a U.S. peace plan still pending, Trump has already recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, land captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Palestinians seek to make the West Bank part of a future state that would include the Gaza Strip and have East Jerusalem as its capital.    Israel seized those areas in 1967 and moved troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.
    “This is our land,” Netanyahu said in his speech in Elkana.    “We will build another Elkana and another Elkana and another Elkana.    We will not uproot anyone here.”
    More than 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, according to Israeli figures, among a Palestinian population put at about 2.9 million by the Palestinian Statistics Bureau.
    A further 212,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem, according to the United Nations.
    The Palestinians and many countries consider settlements to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions that bar settling on land captured in war.    Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by David Goodman and Dale Hudson)

9/1/2019 New Saudi anti-corruption chief to target public servants
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on
the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan June 29, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – The new head of Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption commission said he plans to go after graft by ordinary government employees, following a high-profile campaign two years ago that netted princes, ministers and top businessmen.
    Members of the kingdom’s economic and political elite were detained for months at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel in a crackdown in 2017 that unsettled some foreign investors Riyadh needs to diversify its economy.    Critics said it amounted to a power play and shakedown of the crown prince’s political rivals.
    Mazen al-Khamous told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV after his appointment on Friday that he had been directed to focus on ending bureaucratic corruption in the world’s top oil exporter and follow up with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a monthly basis.
    “After the country largely rid itself of the big heads of corruption, I convey a stern warning from the crown prince, who instructed me that the coming period will be to eradicate corruption among mid- and low-level public servants,” he said.
    Saudi Arabia’s royal court said in January it was winding down a 15-month anti-corruption campaign after summoning nearly 400 people and recovering more than $106 billion through settlements with dozens of them.
    That initial sweep netted cousins of the crown prince, such as billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and National Guard minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, as well as ousted economy minister Adel Fakieh, former royal court chief Khalid al-Tuwaijri, and top businessmen Waleed al-Ibrahim, Saleh Kamel and Bakr bin Laden.
    Prince Mohammed has defended the anti-corruption campaign, calling it “shock therapy,” as he tries to overhaul the Arab world’s largest economy and transform Saudi society.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin)

9/1/2019 Saudi-led coalition says it bombed Houthi arms site in Yemen, group says prison hit
Red Crescent medics stand at the site of Saudi-led air strikes on a Houthi detention
centre in Dhamar, Yemen September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed al-Ansi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A Saudi-led military coalition said on Sunday it had launched air strikes on Houthi military targets in southwest Yemen that Houthi-run media said had hit a prison, killing dozens of people.
    The Sunni Muslim coalition, which has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement for more than four years in Yemen, said in a statement carried on Saudi state television that it destroyed a site storing drones and missiles in Dhamar.
    Residents told Reuters there had been six air strikes and that a complex in the city being used as a detention center had been hit.
    The Houthi health ministry spokesman, in comments carried on the group’s Al Masirah TV, said 60 bodies had been pulled from rubble at the prison and that the number could rise. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the number of casualties.
    “The explosions were strong and shook the city,” one resident said.    “Afterwards ambulance sirens could be heard until dawn.”
    The Western-backed alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognized government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
    The movement, which holds most major population centers in the Arabian peninsula nation, has stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months.    The Saudi-led alliance has responded with strikes on Houthi targets.
    The coalition, which has come under criticism by international rights groups for air strikes that have killed civilians, said it had taken measures to protect civilians in Dhamar and the assault complied with international law.
    Al Masirah quoted the head of the Houthis’ national committee for prisoner affairs, Abdul Qader al-Mortada, as saying the detention center in Dhamar housed 170 prisoners.
    The United Nations is trying to ease tension in Yemen to prepare for political negotiations to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the long-impoverished country to the brink of famine.
    The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis, who deny being puppets of Tehran, say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Dale Hudson)

9/1/2019 Netanyahu: Israel ready for any scenario after Hezbollah clash by Ari Rabinovitch and Ellen Francis
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives to review an honor guard with his Ethiopian
counterpart Abiy Ahmed during their meeting in Jerusalem September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel was prepared for any scenario after a cross-border clash with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, but neither side seemed eager for another conflict.
    Israel’s military said anti-tank missiles from Lebanon targeted an army base and vehicles.    It responded with fire into southern Lebanon, after a week of growing tension raised fears of a new war with long-time enemy Hezbollah.
    The Iran-backed Hezbollah movement said its fighters destroyed an Israeli military vehicle, killing and wounding those inside. Israel said there were no casualties.
    Netanyahu, whose re-election campaign ahead of a poll less than three weeks away could have been complicated by war in the north, signaled business as usual after the hostilities erupted along the frontier with Lebanon.
    The Israeli leader kept to his regular schedule, commenting on the security situation, in Hebrew only, at the start of a meeting with Honduras’ visiting president, and did not take questions from reporters.
    “We were attacked by a few anti-tank missiles.    We responded with 100 shells, aerial fire and various measures.    We are in consultations about what’s to come,” Netanyahu said.
    “I have given instructions to be prepared for any scenario, and we will decide on what’s next depending on how things develop,” he said, almost dismissively, in a departure from his usually much tougher language toward Israel’s enemies.
    “I can make an important announcement – we have no casualties, no wounded, not even a scratch.”
    The U.N. peacekeeping force on the frontier said calm had returned to the region at night.    The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) also said it had urged both sides to “exercise utmost restraint to prevent any further escalation.”
    The two sides fought a month-long war in 2006 after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
    Israel has been on alert for a confrontation with Hezbollah for the past week after two drones crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs, with one of them exploding.    Security officials in the region have described the target as linked to precision-guided missile projects.
    Any new war between Israel and Hezbollah would raise the risk of a wider conflict in the Middle East, where Iran has defied U.S. attempts to force it to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal it reached with world powers.
    At the same time, Israel is alarmed by Tehran’s growing influence in the region through militia allies such as Hezbollah in countries such as Syria.
    In Iraq, powerful Iranian-backed militias have blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots on Israel and the United States.
    Hezbollah said the operation on Sunday was carried out by a unit named after two of its fighters who were killed by an Israeli air strike inside Syria last week.
    An Iranian security official was cited as saying the Hezbollah attack on Sunday was “a reciprocal measure.”
    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday night that field commanders were ready to respond to last week’s drone attack, which he blamed on Israel.    But like Netanyahu, Nasrallah has not indicated Hezbollah was seeking full-scale war.
    Amid the threats, Israel had moved extra forces into the border region, which was largely quiet since the 2006 war.
    Without claiming responsibility for the Beirut drone attack, the Israeli military has 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 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.
    Nasrallah says Hezbollah has enough of the missiles, dismissing claims that it has factories to produce the weapons.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter)

9/1/2019 Israel, Hezbollah exchange fire along Lebanon border
Israelis sit and watch smoke on the Lebanese side of the Israel-Lebanon border,
as seen from its Israeli side September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Rami Shlush
    JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Israel’s military said on Sunday anti-tank missiles from Lebanon targeted an army base and vehicles and that it responded with fire into southern Lebanon.
    Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said its fighters destroyed an Israeli military vehicle, killing or wounding those inside.    There was no immediate word from the Israeli military on any casualties.
    Israel has been on alert for a possible confrontation with Hezbollah for the past week after drones attacked what security officials in the region described as a target in a Beirut suburb linked to precision-guided missile projects.
    Hezbollah’s leader said late on Saturday its field commanders were ready to respond to the drone attack, which he blamed on Israel.
    Amid the Hezbollah threats, Israel had moved reinforcements into the border area, which had been largely quiet since both long-time enemies fought a month-long war in 2006.
    In a statement, the Israeli military said several anti-tank missiles were fired from Lebanon on Sunday and “a number of hits were confirmed.”
    Following the missile attacks, Israelis living near the frontier were instructed by authorities to stay indoors.    Reuters television showed smoke rising along the frontier, and explosions could be heard.
    Earlier on Sunday, Lebanese military said an Israeli drone had dropped incendiary material and sparked a fire in a pine forest by the border.
    The fires near the border in Lebanon “originate with operations by our forces in the area,” the Israeli military said in a statement, without elaborating.
    Without claiming responsibility for the drone attack last week, 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.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Ellen Francis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Potter)

9/1/2019 Israeli drone dropped incendiary substance in border forest: Lebanon army
FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand next to shells and a mobile artillery unit near the Israeli side of the border
with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Lebanese military said an Israeli drone, which violated Lebanon’s airspace, dropped incendiary material and sparked a fire in a pine forest by the border on Sunday.
    The fires near the border in Lebanon “originate with operations by our forces in the area,” the Israeli military said in a statement without elaborating.
    The Lebanese army statement said it was following up with U.N. peacekeepers but gave no further details.
    Residents and security sources at the border in south Lebanon say Israel has in recent days fired flare bombs into the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms along the border.
    Lebanese state news agency NNA said Israeli forces fired flare bombs there on Saturday – a tactic sometimes used to burn away brush to prevent an ambush.
    Israel’s military said on Saturday it had ordered extra forces to deploy near the border, amid rising tensions with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
    The leader of Iran-backed Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said his field commanders were prepared to retaliate to a drone attack in Beirut’s suburbs a week ago, which he has blamed on Israel.    The two old enemies last fought a deadly month-long war with each other in July 2006.
    Lebanese soldiers, who do not have air defense systems, opened fire at Israeli drones in southern Lebanon earlier this week.
    Israeli aircraft regularly enter Lebanese airspace, but it is rare for Lebanon’s army to target them.    Beirut has sent several complaints to the United Nations before about Israeli drones and jets breaching its airspace.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

9/2/2019 Lebanon-Israel border quiet after Hezbollah clash
A UN peacekeeper (UNIFIL) patrols the border with Israel, in the village of Khiam, Lebanon September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    MAROUN AL-RAS, Lebanon (Reuters) – The Lebanon-Israel border area was quiet on Monday, after Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the Israeli army exchanged cross-border fire on Sunday.
    Israel’s military said anti-tank missiles from Lebanon targeted an army base and vehicles.    It responded with fire into southern Lebanon, after a week of growing tension raised fears of a new war with long-time enemy Hezbollah.
    Hezbollah said its fighters destroyed an Israeli military vehicle, killing and wounding those inside.    Israel said there were no casualties.
    Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid, but neither side seems eager for another conflict now.
    Reuters witnesses on the Lebanese side of the border said all was quiet on Monday morning.    The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the U.N. peacekeeping force on the frontier, was seen patrolling the border.
    The Israeli shelling into Lebanon stopped at 6pm local time on Sunday, Lebanese state media said.
    The U.N. peacekeeping force on the frontier said calm had returned to the region at night.    The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said it had urged both sides to “exercise utmost restraint to prevent any further escalation.”
(Reporting by Issam Abdullah and Reuters pictures,; Writing by Lisa Barrington, editing by Ed Osmond)

9/2/2019 Nasrallah: flare-up with Israel launched ‘new phase’, no red lines
FILE PHOTO: 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) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader said on Monday that while a flare-up with Israel at the border had ended, the episode had launched a “new phase” in which the Iran-backed movement no longer has red lines.
    In a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the new focus, now in the hands of fighters in the field, would be on targeting Israeli drones entering Lebanon’s skies.
    He said Hezbollah’s Sunday attack had sent Israel a message that “if you attack, then all your border, your forces and your settlements” will be at risk.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Editing by William Maclean)

9/2/2019 Hezbollah: flare-up with Israel over but a ‘new phase’ has started by Dan Williams and Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters via
a screen during last day of Ashura, in Beirut, Lebanon September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader said on Monday that while a flare-up with Israel at the border was over, the episode had launched a “new phase” in which the Iran-backed group no longer has red lines.
    In a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the new focus would be on targeting Israeli drones that enter Lebanon’s airspace, and this would be handled by fighters in the field.
    Hezbollah and the Israeli army exchanged cross-border fire on Sunday after a drone attack last week in a Hezbollah-controlled Beirut suburb. Hezbollah blamed that incident on Israel, raising fears of a wider regional conflict.
    In his speech, Nasrallah said Sunday’s missiles sent Israel “a clear message that if you attack, then all your border, your forces and your settlements at the border and (deep inside)” will be at risk.
    His comments struck a defiant tone, although perceptions in the region are that the longtime enemies privately want to avoid all-out war at a time of soaring regional tensions.
    During Sunday’s flare-up, Israel faked soldier injuries to dampen any inclination of Hezbollah to escalate hostilities.
    Israeli media photographed an army helicopter performing what appeared to be the evacuation of two wounded soldiers to hospital after Hezbollah launched anti-tank missiles at an army base and vehicles. Israel said there were no casualties.
    But a person briefed on the evacuation, and who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the soldiers were in fact unharmed and bandaged with fake blood in what he called “a psy-ops stunt.”
    Hezbollah said it had destroyed an Israeli armored vehicle, killing and wounding those inside, and it broadcast what it said was footage of two missiles hitting a moving vehicle.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
    Nasrallah said Sunday had marked the first such Hezbollah operation in a long time targeting Israel in positions across the border, not in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms.
    “This is no longer a red line,” the Hezbollah chief said.    “I tell the Israelis, we no longer have red lines because you changed the rules of engagement.”
    Hezbollah, whose forces have fought in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s war, also said two of its men were killed in an Israeli strike in Syria last week.    Israel said its attack thwarted an Iranian-led drone strike against it.
    But after the Hezbollah missile volley on Sunday, scores were apparently settled and the two sides, who fought a deadly month-long war in 2006, returned to business as usual on Monday, with the border reverting to calm.
    Israel had raised the stakes last week by accusing Iran of stepping up efforts to provide Hezbollah with precision-guided missile production facilities.    Hezbollah denied this.
    And Israel has increasingly put the blame on Lebanon as a whole for letting Hezbollah, which is part of Lebanon’s coalition government, grow in military and political power.
    In a video statement in Twitter on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held out the prospect of future military action to prevent Hezbollah getting missiles that could be fired with increased accuracy at targets in Israel.
    “We will continue to do whatever is necessary to defend Israel at sea, on land and in the air.    We will continue to act against the threat of the precision-guided rockets,” he said.
    Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he had asked Germany to tell Lebanon that if it does not stem Hezbollah’s activity against Israel, “Lebanon in its entirely will be struck and badly damaged.”
WARINESS OF NEW WAR
    But neither side can afford a return to 2006 when the war was triggered after a Hezbollah cross-border raid.    Nearly 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed in July 2006 and 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
    “What is constraining them is that neither side wants a war.    Each wants to use it as part of their own internal propaganda machine, but neither side genuinely wants a war,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut.
    Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, has been projecting strength during a re-election campaign ahead of a vote less than three weeks away, but a border war could complicate his efforts.
    Sources allied to Hezbollah had made it clear any response to the Israeli drones would be “calculated.”
    A new eruption in Lebanon could strain an already struggling economy, as authorities seek to implement long-overdue economic reforms to ward off a crisis.    Fitch downgraded Lebanon’s credit rating to CCC last month on debt-servicing concerns.
    A senior Israeli security source said that shortly after the Hezbollah attack and Israel’s military response on Sunday, messages from Nasrallah and Hariri were conveyed to Israel by three countries, which the source did not name, that “as far as Hezbollah is concerned, the incident is over.”
    Iran’s rhetoric was also unusually low-key in response to the border fighting, saying only that Hezbollah’s policy is aimed at safeguarding the interests of Lebanon.
    “A full-scale war is the last thing this region needs,” said a senior Iranian official.
(Reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Ellen Francis, Lisa Barrington and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Beirut,; Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

9/2/2019 Yemeni workers search for bodies at prison hit by Arab coalition by Abdulrahman Al-Ansi
Red Crescent medics look on as an excavator is used to dig through rubble to search for bodies at the site of Saudi-led
air strikes on a Houthi detention centre in Dhamar, Yemen, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
    DHAMAR, Yemen (Reuters) – Yemeni rescue workers searched for bodies amid concrete debris and twisted steel wreckage on Monday, two days after air strikes by a Saudi-led military coalition hit a prison complex killing more than 100 people.
    Yemeni Red Crescent workers placed corpses in white bags while bulldozers and other heavy equipment moved through the rubble to try to retrieve bodies before decay set in at the site in Dhamar in southwest Yemen.
    “I was next to the window when I heard the warplanes and then the bombing.    I passed out and when I woke, the window and the wall were above my back,” said Assem Mohammed Ismail, one of the survivors treated in a hospital ward in Dhamar.
    “When the rescuers came, I screamed from under the mountain.”
    The final death toll is still unknown, but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen said on Sunday after visiting the complex and hospitals that over 100 had been killed.    On Monday, an ICRC spokeswoman said rescuers will need days to know how many were killed.
    The Sunni Muslim coalition, which has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthis for over four years in Yemen, said it destroyed a site storing drones and missiles in Dhamar.
    The military alliance said it had taken measures to protect civilians in the strike, and the assault complied with international law.
    Over the last four years, the Saudi-led coalition has come under heavy criticism from international rights groups following air strikes that have killed scores of civilians in residential areas, and at markets, funerals and weddings.
WE COMPLETELY PANICKED
    The Yemen Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said 52 detainees were among the dead, adding at least 68 detainees were still missing.    The Houthi-controlled health ministry said 60 bodies were pulled from the rubble at the detention center, which officials said housed 170 prisoners.
    In Dhamar’s main hospital, empty and bloodstained white bags lay on the floor after workers stacked bodies in the morgue’s fridges.
    Portraits of Houthi leaders and “martyrs” hung on the hospital walls and over the beds where wounded prisoners were treated.
    “They started arriving after 1 a.m. and we completely panicked; Ambulances kept bringing in scores of wounded people,” said Majed al-Fadli, an aid worker at Dhamar’s hospital.
    “Every 10 minutes there was an ambulance.”
    The Western-backed alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognized government in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
    The movement, which controls most major Yemeni population centers, has stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months.    The Saudi-led alliance has responded with strikes on Houthi areas.
(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by William Maclean)

9/2/2019 Benghazi port bustling again despite Libya’s divisions by Ayman al-Warfalli
A ship transports empty containers at the seaport of Benghazi, Libya August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – The commercial port in Libya’s second city Benghazi is working round the clock three years after reopening, attempting to raise revenues for its restoration and expansion.
    The port was caught in the crossfire as rival factions battled for control of Benghazi from 2014 in a conflict that left parts of the eastern Libyan city in ruins.    It suspended operations as the main gate and some buildings were destroyed and the roads strewn with shells.
    Forces led by Khalifa Haftar eventually declared victory in Benghazi in 2017.    Repairs and reconstruction have been limited — two out of three damaged tug boats are still out of service.
    But the port is now doing brisk business and trucks loaded with cars and containers carrying foodstuffs, motor oils and other goods can be seen streaming out of the main gate near the city center.
    Port manager Yzaid Bozraida said monthly revenues stood at more than seven million Libyan dinars ($4.9 million) before the war, though the income had not been used to develop the port.
    “We have not got back up to that previous rate yet,” Bozraida said.    “But every month is better than the previous one, we are seeking to get to more than 7.8 million dinars (monthly).    We have extended working times to 24 hours.”
    “All shipping lines have returned.    The most recent one began with just seven containers and its last shipment was already about 400 containers,” he added.
    Before the war, revenues were deposited with Libya’s General Administration of Ports in the western city of Misrata, but the management of Benghazi port is now separate, he said, a situation that reflects the divisions in the country.
    Misrata, a coastal city in western Libya with a major port of its own, is a hub of opposition to Haftar’s LNA, which since April has been waging a military campaign to try to take control of the capital Tripoli.
HOPE
    Since reopening, Benghazi’s port has been receiving more than 400,000 tonnes of grains at 18 docks, twice what the port was receiving before 2014.
    It pays salaries of 2.25 million Libyan dinars to 1,400 employees.    It does not export oil, but imports gas and some petroleum products as well as general cargo.
    Living standards have declined drastically during the conflict, and conditions remain tough across Libya.    Governments have done little to alleviate economic suffering.
    But Benghazi’s port is well placed to supply the city and hinterland, and its revival has given staff there hope.
    “Work has returned to this vital facility which will revive the city’s economy,” said port employee Naser Bozaid.    “It is a source of livelihood for us.”
    Customs broker Sabri Imraj said the port was loading more containers than it had before 2011.    “We’ve now got to uploading 1,500 containers weekly,” Imraj said.    “Before 2011 it was 400.”
(This story corrects number of containers in paragraph 7 to seven, not eight)
(Writing by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Gareth Jones)

9/3/2019 Saudi-led coalition denies airstrikes targeted a Yemeni prison by OAN Newsroom
    The Saudi-led coalition has denied intentionally targeting a Yemeni prison in an airstrike.    Instead, they claimed they were aiming for a weapons storage area.
FILE – In this Aug. 1, 2019, file photo, Houthi rebel fighters ride on trucks mounted with weapons, during a gathering aimed at mobilizing
more fighters for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen. Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s rebels Houthi
hit a detention center in southwestern province of Dhamar, officials and the rebels’ health ministry said Sunday. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
Before launching the airstrikes, the coalition had already conducted all the necessary reconnaissances.    The bombs they used were also special ones just like what I have showed to you.    The coalition took a lot of preventive measures to effectively prevent impacts of airstrikes on roads in the vicinity.” — Turki al-Maliki, spokesperson – Saudi-led coalition
    The United Nations condemned the attacks Monday, calling the incident a tragedy and calling on coalition officials to launch and inquiry into the strike.

9/3/2019 Turkish President Erdogan says Syria’s Idlib slowly disappearing
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during the new judicial year's opening ceremony
in Ankara, Turkey, September 2, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that a so-called de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib region is slowly disappearing because of military attacks by government forces.
    Erdogan also said he would make all necessary contacts with parties in the region to find a solution to the Idlib situation, adding that a Syria safe zone which he has proposed to host Syrians fleeing the war is now nothing more than a name.
    “Idlib is slowly disappearing.    Idlib is in a situation that it started to disappear and become torn down in a way Aleppo is.    It is not possible to stay silent against this,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara.
    Idlib, in Syria’s northwest corner, is the only big chunk of the country still in rebel hands after over eight years of war.    A truce in early August collapsed three days in, after which the Russian-backed Syrian army pressed an offensive and gained ground against rebel forces, some of whom are backed by Turkey.
    Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed in 2017 to the Idlib zone to reduce fighting, although the terms were never made public and the deal did not include jihadist groups.
    On Saturday, the U.S. Central Command, part of the Department of Defense, said U.S. forces struck an al-Qaeda facility in Idlib in an attack aimed at the organization’s leadership.
    Erdogan said that Idlib would be the most important issue during his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump as part of the United Nations General Assembly later in September.
    A proposed safe area in northern Syria to host Syrians fleeing the war and also refugees living in Turkey is nothing more than a name right now, Erdogan said.    The idea was not supported by some allies, he said.
    “Safe zone is nothing more than a name right now.    Some assaults, threats are made in the southern part but we are taking all the necessary steps,” Erdogan said.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by William Maclean and Grant McCool)

9/3/2019 Saudi Arabia boosts troop levels in south Yemen as tensions rise
FILE PHOTO: Southern separatist fighters patrol a road during clashes with government
forces in Aden, Yemen August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has deployed more troops in southern Yemen to try to contain clashes between nominal allies in the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthis that risk further fragmenting the country.
    The fight for the south https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-explainer/saudi-arabia-struggles-to-hold-yemen-coalition-together-as-allies-face-off-idUSKCN1VN0Y9 of the country has opened a new conflict, focused around the port of Aden, in a multifaceted war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the long-impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation to the brink of famine.
    Saudi soldiers and armed vehicles arrived over the weekend in the capital of the oil-producing Shabwa province where the United Arab Emirates-backed separatists have been battling forces of Yemen’s Saudi-backed government for control, two local officials said.
    The two sides are part of the Sunni Muslim coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthi group which ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in 2014.
    But the separatists, who seek to restore the former South Yemen republic, turned on the government in early August and seized control of Aden, interim seat of Hadi’s government.
    They have since been trying to extend their reach to nearby Abyan and Shabwa, clashing repeatedly with government forces.
    Saudi Arabia has reinforced its positions in Shabwa and Aden as Riyadh called for talks to resolve the crisis and refocus the Western-backed coalition on battling the Houthis, who have stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities.
    “Saudi forces arrived in Shabwa and started working with the local government for a de-escalation and a ceasefire.    All parties responded positively to the coalition’s calls,” coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said on Monday.
    The kingdom has also called for a summit in Jeddah to defuse the standoff.    The leader of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), Aidarous al-Zubaidi, arrived in the Saudi Red Sea city on Tuesday to meet Yemeni and Saudi officials, a spokesman of the movement said.
TRENCHES AND TUNNELS
    Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner, Gulf ally the UAE, openly intervened on behalf of the STC last week by bombing government forces trying to regain control of Aden, forcing them to retreat.     STC forces also brought reinforcements into Aden, witnesses said on Tuesday, calling back fighters who had been deployed on the outskirts of the main port of Hodeidah, held by the Houthis, in the west.     The fighters dug tunnels and built trenches at the edges of Aden and blocked main roads leading out of the city to prevent government forces from recapturing it, they said.     The STC, which accuses Hadi’s government of mismanagement, made its move on Aden after the UAE scaled down its military presence in Yemen in June under increased Western pressure to the end the war.
    Escalating violence across Yemen and the evident rift between Saudi Arabia and the UAE could complicate U.N. efforts to restart peace talks to end the conflict, which is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Earlier this week, coalition warplanes bombed a prison complex in southwest Yemen, killing more than 100 people.    The United Nations called for an investigation but the coalition insisted it had struck a Houthi arms storage site.
    A member of a U.N. panel of independent human rights experts on Yemen expressed concern on Tuesday about the fighting in the south.
    “This again causes us concern in that the parties to the conflict themselves seem incapable of even agreeing amongst themselves as to the way forward,” Charles Garraway said.
    The panel also said the United States, Britain and France may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen by arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to the Saudi-led coalition that it said starved civilians as a tactic of war.
    Its report accused the anti-Houthi coalition of killing civilians in air strikes and deliberately denying them food in a country facing famine.    It said the Houthis, for their part, had shelled cities, deployed child soldiers and used “siege-like warfare
    Neither the Saudi government communications office nor UAE officials responded immediately to Reuters requests for comment.
(The story was refiled to remove an extraneous word in paragraph 9)
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen; Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva ; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Alison Williams)

9/4/2019 Erdogan says it’s unacceptable that Turkey can’t have nuclear weapons
FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed states to forbid Ankara from obtaining its own nuclear weapons, but did not say whether Turkey had plans to obtain them.
    “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two.    But (they tell us) we can’t have them.    This, I cannot accept,” he told his ruling AK Party members in the eastern city of Sivas.
    “There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them,” Erdogan said.    In fact, many developed countries do not have nuclear weapons.
    Turkey signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1980, and has also signed the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear detonations for any purpose.
    Erdogan hinted that he wanted the same protection for Turkey as Israel.
    “We have Israel nearby, as almost neighbors.    They scare (other nations) by possessing these.    No one can touch them.”
    Foreign analysts say Israel possesses a sizable nuclear arsenal.    Israel maintains a policy of ambiguity around the nuclear issue, refusing to confirm or deny its capabilities.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Frances Kerry)
[We do not need any more nut cases to have nuclear weapons, especially the Muslim/Islamic nations.].

9/4/2019 Yemen’s government starts indirect talks with southern separatists in Saudi Arabia: officials
FILE PHOTO: Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi attends an Arab summit
in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemeni government officials have begun indirect talks with United Arab Emirates-backed southern separatists in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah to end fighting in Aden and other southern provinces, a Yemeni official said on Wednesday.
    The fight for Yemen’s south has opened a new front in a multi-faceted war and threatens to further fragment Yemen, complicating efforts to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the nation to the brink of famine.
    Yemeni government and separatist forces are both part of a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthi group after it ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in 2014.
    But the separatists, who seek to restore the former South Yemen republic, have seized control of the southern port of Aden and declared Sanaa government authorities unwanted in the south.
    “Indirect talks have started between the government and the STC via the Saudi side; the situation is very difficult and complicated but we hope to achieve some progress,” a senior Yemeni official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
    Last week, Saudi Arabia’s main coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, carried out air strikes on government forces to support separatists of the Southern Transitional Council as STC forces recaptured control of Aden, forcing a government retreat.
    A senior Emirati official said earlier that the Gulf state was confident that the Jeddah meeting would succeed.
    “We are looking with confidence and optimism at the success of the Jeddah meeting between Yemen’s government and the STC, and unity against the Houthi coup,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post.
CALL FOR SUMMIT
    Saudi Arabia has called for a summit meeting in Jeddah to defuse the stand-off.    Aidarous al-Zubaidi, leader of the STC, and Yemeni government officials arrived there earlier this week.
    But Hadi’s government on Wednesday again criticized the UAE for backing the separatists, and stressed it was not in direct talks with STC.    The UAE in June withdrew some of its own forces and hardware from the region but maintains influence via tens of thousands of southern fighters it has armed and trained.
    “There are no (direct) talks of any kind to this point between the government and the STC,” state news agency SABA quoted government spokesman Rajeh Badi as saying.
    Yemen’s foreign ministry said in a Twitter post that a “serious and transparent stand must be taken against the UAE’s deviation from the coalition” for any dialogue to be successful.
    Saudi Arabia has been struggling to preserve the coalition since Hadi’s government and the STC turned on each other, straining Riyadh’s alliance with the UAE.
    The internal rift risks further fracturing the Saudi-UAE alliance and scrambling United Nations diplomatic efforts to bring an end to a war largely seen as a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance.
    Yemen’s south is the only territory seized by the coalition in the war, an area where the Saudis hold less sway, while the Houthis hold most urban centers including Sanaa and the main Red Sea port of Hodeidah in the west.
(Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen with additional reporting by Alaa Swilam in Cairo; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/4/2019 Netanyahu pays homage in Hebron, in nod to rightist voters by Dedi Hayoun
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks up while his wife Sara touches the outside wall
of the Cave of the Patriarchs, a shrine holy to Jews and Muslims during a state memorial ceremony,
in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 4, 2019. Emil Salman/Pool via REUTERS
    HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare visit to a core ultra-nationalist Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, pledging a permanent Israeli presence there as he tries to rally right-wing votes for an election two weeks away.
    With polls showing Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party neck-and-neck with centrist rivals, he has been playing up his hard tack against territorial concessions to the Palestinians pushed by international peacemaking efforts in recent decades.
    Such diplomacy in the past saw Israel making way for limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.    That included the biblical city of Hebron, parts of which Netanyahu, during his first term in the late 1990s, handed over to the Palestinians while Israel retained control over a hardline settler enclave.
    In what the settlers said was his first visit to Hebron since, Netanyahu spoke at a government-sponsored event in front of the Cave of the Patriarchs – a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims, where an armed settler killed 29 Palestinians in 1994.
    The Israeli leader’s speech marked a different massacre – of 67 Hebron Jews by Arabs in 1929, under then British rule – an incident he described as having shaped his hawkish policymaking.
    “We are not coming to dispossess anyone, but nor will anyone dispossess us,” he said, referring to Israel’s settlement of the West Bank since capturing it in a 1967 war, and the Palestinian goal of statehood there as well as in East Jerusalem and Gaza.
    “Hebron will not be cleansed of Jews … We are not strangers in Hebron.    We will remain in it forever.”
PALESTINIAN ANGER
    In other public statements, Netanyahu has pledged to extend Israeli jurisdiction to the settlements, a potential precursor to annexation.     Most world powers deem the settlements illegal.
    The Palestinians, whose peace talks with Israel broke down in 2014 and who have spurned U.S. President Donald Trump’s bids to renew them, saw a provocation in Netanyahu’s Hebron visit.
    “We warn against the grave consequences of this raid by Netanyahu, who is trying to win the votes of the Israeli extreme-right,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.
    “This grave escalation … aims to drag the region into a religious war.”
    Around 1,000 heavily guarded settlers live among 200,000 Palestinians in Hebron. In Israel’s last election, in April, just 7.5 percent of Hebron settlers voted Likud, with most backing more rightist parties, census data show.    Despite Likud’s overall gains, Netanyahu failed to form his fifth coalition government, triggering a repeat election set for Sept. 17.
    The Trump administration plans to unveil a new peace plan after the election. U.S. officials have said they expect compromises from both sides.    The Palestinians, however, are shunning Washington, accusing it of bias over a number of pro-Israel initiatives and settlement visits by U.S. envoys.
    In a sign of his diplomatic reach, Netanyahu plans to visit Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin next week, an Israeli official said.
    Netanyahu’s office also said he would fly to London on Thursday for talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

9/4/2019 Palestinian women demand legal protection after suspected ‘honor killing’ by Ali Sawafta
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest demanding legal protection for women, in Ramallah
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the West Bank on Wednesday to demand legal protection for women after a 21-year-old woman died last month in what rights groups say was a so-called honor killing.
    A Palestinian Authority investigation is underway into the death of Isra’a Ghrayeb, a make-up artist who activists say was beaten by male relatives after a video posted on Instagram allegedly showed a meeting between her and a man who had proposed to her.
    According to Palestinian media reports, Ghrayeb sustained serious spinal injuries after falling from a balcony in her home in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, while trying to escape an assault by her brothers.    She died on Aug. 22.
    At least 18 Palestinian women have been killed this year by family members angered at perceived damage to their honor, which may involve fraternizing with men or any infringement of conservative values regarding women, according to the General Union of Palestinian Women and Feminist Institutions.
    Ghrayeb’s family has denied the accusations.    They said in a statement that Ghrayeb had a “mental condition” and died “after she had a heart attack, following an accidental fall into the (family’s) courtyard.”
    The circumstances surrounding Ghrayeb’s death have stirred outrage within the Palestinian territories and on social media, with rights activists demanding action against the alleged perpetrators and legal protection for women under the hashtag #JustceforIsraa.
    In the West Bank city of Ramallah, female demonstrators held signs reading: “We are all Isra’a” and “My body is my property.    I don’t need your supervision, your care, your honor.”
    “I’m here to say enough is enough.    We’ve lost enough women.    Enough victims have died, have been killed, have been tortured, raped, harassed, and still there’s no justice,” said Amal Khayat, 30, an activist from Jerusalem.
    Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said this week that several people had been detained for questioning over Ghrayeb’s death as part of the inquiry by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the Israel-occupied West Bank.
    The Palestinian penal code dates to the 1960s and has been criticized for inadequate protection for women and lenient penalties for men who kill them in honor crimes.
    “The case of Isra’a Ghrayeb shocked our conscience just like those before her. These are women and girls who dream to live in safety in a society free from violence and injustice,” the General Union of Palestinian Women and Feminist Institutions said in a statement.
    The group called on the Palestinian government to “develop targeted programs that teach the principle of gender equality” and to reform laws to ensure accountability for perpetrators.
    Protesters voiced optimism that Wednesday’s rally and others earlier this week would push the PA to make reforms.    “The victims are a part of us, they’re a part of our history,” Khayat said.    “We will continue (to protest) until we get justice.”
(Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/5/2019 Netanyahu opposes Iran talks after Trump moots meeting Rouhani
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a state memorial ceremony at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine holy
to Jews and Muslims, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    LOD, Israel (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world powers on Thursday not to open a dialogue with Iran, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he may meet his Iranian counterpart to resolve a crisis over Tehran’s nuclear program and sanctions against it.
    “This is not the time to hold talks with Iran.    This is the time to increase the pressure on Iran,” Netanyahu told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport before boarding a flight to London.
    Netanyahu’s comments marked rare public discord between the right-wing Israeli leader and Trump on the Iranian nuclear issue. Netanyahu had previously counseled France against its own outreach to Iran.
    On Wednesday, Trump left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York, saying: “Anything’s possible.    They would like to be able to solve their problem.”
    Tehran has rejected any negotiations with Washington unless Trump drops sanctions he imposed after withdrawing from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, an agreement Netanyahu also opposed.
    Iran has said that, starting on Friday, it would begin developing centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium, which can produce fuel for power plants or for atomic bombs.    The Iranians deny seeking the latter.
    The centrifuge move would be Iran’s latest reduction of its commitments to restrict nuclear projects under the 2015 deal.
    Netanyahu called this “another violation, another provocation by Iran, this time in the realm of its quest for nuclear weaponry.”
    In London, Netanyahu is due to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Toby Chopra)

9/5/2019 Turkey plans to return one million Syrians, warns of new migrant wave in Europe
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin
(not in picture) in Moscow, Russia, August 27, 2019. Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to resettle 1 million refugees in northern Syria and may reopen the route for migrants into Europe if it does not receive adequate international support for the plan, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
    Ankara, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, controls parts of north Syria where it says 350,000 Syrians have already returned.    It is setting up a “safe zone” with the United States in the northeast where Erdogan said many more could be moved.
    “We are saying we should form such a safe zone that we, as Turkey, can build towns here in lieu of the tent cities here.    Let’s carry them to the safe zones there,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.
    “Give us logistical support and we can go build housing at 30 km (20 miles) depth in northern Syria.    This way, we can provide them with humanitarian living conditions.”
    “This either happens or otherwise we will have to open the gates,” Erdogan said.    “Either you will provide support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone.    We have not been able to get help from the international community, namely the European Union.”
    Under a deal agreed between the EU and Turkey in March 2016, Ankara agreed to stem the flow of migrants into Europe in return for billions of euros in aid.
    However, the number of migrant arrivals in neighboring Greece spiked last month.    A week ago more than a dozen migrant boats carrying 600 people arrived, the first simultaneous arrival of its kind in three years.
    “Our goal is for at least one million of our Syrian brothers to return to the safe zone we will form along our 450km border,” Erdogan said.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

9/5/2019 Thousands of Yemenis rally in Aden in support of the UAE by Mohammed Mukhashaf
Supporters of Yemen's southern separatists stand on a billboard during a rally to show support to the United Arab Emirates
amid a standoff with the Saudi-backed government, in the port city of Aden Yemen September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    ADEN (Reuters) – Thousands of Yemenis marched in Aden on Thursday in support of the United Arab Emirates, which assists separatists who seized the southern city from the Saudi-backed government in a power struggle that has opened a new front in Yemen’s war.
    The rally took place as Saudi Arabia, leader of an Arab coalition battling Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis, hosts indirect talks between the two sides to end a standoff that has strained Riyadh’s alliance with its main regional partner the UAE.
    UAE-backed separatist fighters are part of the coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi which was ousted from power by the Houthis in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
    But the separatists seek self-rule in the south and turned on the government in early August and captured Aden, its interim base.    Southern fighters have clashed with government forces elsewhere in the south as they tried to extend their reach.
    March organizers said they wanted to show loyalty to the UAE, the second power in the coalition, which openly intervened to support the separatists by launching air strikes on government forces last week when they tried to recapture Aden, forcing them to withdraw.
    Men, women and children gathered in Aden’s main al-Maalla street, waved Emirati flags and colors of the former South Yemen republic, which the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) aspires to revive.
    “This is the least we can do for the UAE which has given everything to the people of South Yemen,” said Hashem al-Morshidi, one of the demonstrators.
    Others carried banners expressing loyalty to the UAE or portraits of Abu Dhabi’s leaders as large speakers blared Emirati music.
Hadi’s government has publicly asked the UAE to stop supporting separatist forces.    Abu Dhabi has responded by criticizing his government as weak and ineffective.
INDIRECT TALKS
    The fight for Yemen’s south threatens to further fragment the Arabian Peninsula nation and hamper United Nations efforts to end the conflict that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions towards famine.
    Saudi Arabia has called for a summit to resolve the crisis to refocus the coalition on battling the Houthis, who hold Sanaa and most major urban centers.    It has held indirect talks between STC leaders and Yemeni government officials for that purpose in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah this week.
    “I encourage the government and the STC to seize this opportunity and settle their differences through peaceful means,” U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths tweeted on Thursday.
    Hadi’s government has said it would not participate in a summit unless the STC hands back Aden.
    “We will not sit with the so-called STC at the table,” Interior Minister Ahmed al-Mayssari said in an audio recording shared by government officials on Wednesday.
    “If there must be dialogue it should be with the UAE … it is the main party behind this conflict between us and the STC is only a political tool in their hands.”
    The UAE in June scaled down its military presence in Yemen but maintains influence via tens of thousands of southern separatist fighters it has armed and trained.
    Abu Dhabi, which has called for a political solution to the standoff, said on Wednesday it was confident the Jeddah meeting would succeed.    Yemeni sources have said that a summit could reshuffle Hadi’s government to include the STC.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashef in Aden; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Ghaida Ghantous, William Maclean)

9/5/2019 Netanyahu expects tough stance from Trump in any meeting with Rouhani
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a state memorial ceremony at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine
holy to Jews and Muslims, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    LONDON (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared resigned on Thursday to a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, after voicing opposition to world powers opening a dialogue with Iran.
    The Israeli leader, who earlier in the day asserted that this was not the time to hold talks with Iran, said he recognized the possibility of a Trump-Rouhani meeting, and that it was not up to him to tell Trump with whom he could meet.
    “I’m sure Trump will take a much tougher position,” Netanyahu told reporters traveling with him to London, an official in the prime minister’s office later said.
    This was more restrained than a statement he made earlier in the day when he was on route to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson:
    “This is not the time to hold talks with Iran.    This is the time to increase the pressure on Iran.”
    That comment had marked rare public discord between the right-wing Israeli leader and Trump on the Iranian nuclear issue.    Netanyahu had previously counseled France against its own outreach to Iran.
    On Wednesday, Trump left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York, saying: “Anything’s possible.    They would like to be able to solve their problem.”
    The Israeli leader, who is fighting for his political life in an election on Sept. 17, regularly touts his influence with Western leaders, especially fellow rightwingers such as Trump and Johnson, as vital for Israeli security.    His opponents say his closeness to rightwing figures abroad hurts Israel by making support for it a partisan issue in friendly countries.
    Netanyahu later met U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
    Tehran has rejected any negotiations with Washington unless Trump drops sanctions he imposed after quitting the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, an agreement Netanyahu had savaged as inadequate.
    Iran has said that, starting on Friday, it would begin developing centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium, which can produce fuel for power plants or for atomic bombs.    The Iranians deny seeking nuclear weapons.
    The centrifuge move would be Iran’s latest reduction of its commitments to restrict nuclear projects under the 2015 deal.
.     Netanyahu called this “another violation, another provocation by Iran, this time in the realm of its quest for nuclear weaponry.”
    Meeting Johnson at 10 Downing Street, Netanyahu praised the politically embattled British leader for his “staunch stance against anti-Semitism and … support for Israel’s security.”
    A Downing Street spokesperson later said the two leaders “agreed on the need to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon and stop wider destabilizing Iranian behavior,” while Johnson “stressed the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution.”
    Like other European partners to the Iran nuclear deal, Britain was worried by the U.S. withdrawal.    Johnson, while openly sympathetic to Israel, wants to preserve a vision of Palestinian statehood that has eroded under Netanyahu’s tenure.
    Netanyahu – who has doubled as defense minister for the past 10 months, a period of stepped-up Israeli operations against Iranian targets in the region – brought his air force chief and top military mission planner for the London meeting with Esper.
    Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Ynet TV that Netanyahu and Esper would discuss “everything that happens in the space between Syria, Lebanon, Iraq,” an allusion to the often clandestine Israeli military campaign.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Toby Chopra, Peter Graff, William Maclean)

9/6/2019 U.S. & Jordan, dozens more complete multinational military exercise by OAN Newsroom
    More than two dozen countries have wrapped up a multi-national military exercise in Jordan.    Dubbed “Eager Lion 2019,” Jordan hosted almost 30 countries in a series of military drills, which kicked-off on August 25th.
    A spokesman for the exercises said the partnership between the nations will help in future fights against terrorism and extremism.    This marked the ninth year for the exercises, which focused on addressing regional threats.
Special operations forces from Iraq, Jordan and the U.S. conduct an exercise as part of Eager Lion multinational military
maneuvers at the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo)
    “The report I received from our personnel that are participating is that it’s been a great exercise,” stated Maj. Gen. Bradley Swanson, director of training and exercises for U.S. Central Command.    “A lot of good training, good quality training, and also it was important for us to train side by side with our partners, the Jordanian air forces.”
    More than 8,000 troops participated in the exercise.    Jordanian officials say the drills also send the message its military is strong and has the ability to protect its territory as well as its citizens from harm.

9/6/2019 Exclusive: Libyan state oil firm cuts back fuel supplies to east amid battle over capital by Ulf Laessing
FILE PHOTO: The building housing Libya's oil state energy firm, the National Oil Corporation (NOC),
is seen in Tripoli, Libya February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Libya’s state oil firm has restricted kerosene supplies to areas controlled by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar in what diplomats and oil officials said was an attempt to prevent his troops using them in their five-month-old battle to take the capital.
    The company said it took no side in the conflict and there was more than enough fuel in the east for civilian purposes.
    The reduction in volumes sent east in August was a reversal by state oil firm NOC, which works with internationally-backed authorities based in the capital Tripoli and also has to cooperate with Haftar’s forces as they control major oilfields.
    The NOC views itself as outside the almost decade-long struggle for control of the country and NOC data for the previous three months showed it had sharply increased supplies of kerosene to the east in response to demand.
NOC has stopped all additional fuel supplies until such time that assurances can be met that fuel is only being used for domestic and civilian aviation purposes, and reflects real consumption,” the NOC said in a statement alongside the data, which it sent to Reuters in response to a request.
    “Jet fuel stocks in the east are more than adequate to cover demand for civilian flights.    NOC takes no side nor part in the conflict in Libya and it rejects any attempt to portray it as doing so,” it said in a later statement.
    The NOC data showed that kerosene supplies to airport warehouses in central and eastern areas which an NOC official said were controlled by the LNA fell to around 5.25 million litres in August.
    The monthly figure had risen to between 7.3 million litres and 8.8 million litres in the previous three months, more than double the amounts recorded for January and February.
    Two oil officials said on condition of anonymity that the NOC was concerned shipments were being used by the LNA in the Tripoli war.    Two diplomats also said that was the reason for the reduction.
    The figures do not distinguish between kerosene used for domestic heating and industrial purposes and that used for jet fuel but the statement said demand for the latter had gone up.
    “Jet fuel demand has increased in the eastern part of the country despite the number of civilian flights remaining unchanged,” the NOC statement said.
    Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) force has been unable to breach Tripoli’s southern defenses since it began its campaign in April, but the conflict has killed more than 100 civilians, displaced more than 120,000, and shows no signs of ending.
    The August kerosene figure was still well above than the roughly 3.5 million litres the NOC sent to the east in January and February, showing the sensitivity of the issue for the civilian population and the limits of the Tripoli government’s power.
    Despite United Nations backing for the authorities in the capital, they have not been able to extend their reach across Libya, where a patchwork of rival armed groups filled the power vacuum left by the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    The eastern-based LNA has support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and some Western powers such as France see Haftar as a “counter-terrorism” force since he routed Islamists in the east.
    In April U.S. President Donald Trump called him and “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” the White House said.
    It would be unrealistic for the NOC leadership to side with U.N.-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and cut off the LNA completely, said Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague.
    “The international environment overall is less supportive of (NOC chairman Mustafa) Sanallah now than a year ago,” he said.
BYPASSING TRIPOLI?
    Several Libyan oil officials and Western diplomats said there were indications the east was trying to set up a new firm to import fuel, which would violate Libyan law, to supply troops camped near Tripoli, some 1,000 km from their Benghazi base.
    The United Nations has in recent months stopped several attempts by the east to export oil via small firms based mainly in Dubai, which would have violated U.N. sanctions, they said.
    “The creation of any new entity to export and import crude oil and petroleum products would violate Libyan and international law, under which NOC has the sole legal right to do so,” the NOC spokesman said.
    Abdel-Salam al-Badri, a deputy prime minister in the eastern government, denied attempts to export or import fuel.    The head of a parallel NOC already set up by eastern leaders, Mabrouk Sultan, did not respond to repeated messages and calls.
    Haftar has received military aid from Egypt and the UAE, according to U.N. reports, but has been struggling to fund his parallel administration.    Tripoli’s central bank only pays some of his public servants.
    The LNA mainly uses drones but also planes from Gaddafi’s army, and flies anything from ammunition to food and soldiers to air bases in Jufrah in central Libya and Brak in the south from where they continue their trip by road, diplomats say.    A base in Zintan in western Libya is controlled by pro-LNA forces.
    Commercial flights operate out of the east as well, but diverting jet fuel from them would be politically difficult because they are vital for medical care and business.
    Forces allied to Serraj also get fuel from NOC.    The NOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it had restricted those supplies.
    Serraj’s allies are less fuel dependent than the LNA due to shorter supply lines, and they scaled back their air strikes after the LNA hit western airports.
(editing by Philippa Fletcher)

9/6/2019 Lebanon’s Aoun warns Israel would bear results of any attack
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese President Michel Aoun arrives at Vnukovo International Airport
in Moscow, Russia March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun warned on Friday that Israel would bear the consequences of any attack, days after a flare-up at the border between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah.
    The frontier between the two countries has remained calm since Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah traded fire on Sunday.
    Israel’s military said it had responded with fire into south Lebanon after anti-tank missiles targeted an army base and vehicles.    Hezbollah said its fighters destroyed an Israeli armored vehicle, killing and wounding those inside, though Israel said there were no casualties.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said this week that the episode had ended but had launched a “new phase” in which his Shi’ite Muslim movement would target Israeli drones that breach Lebanon’s airspace.
    The long-time enemies, who last fought a month-long war in 2006, had been on alert after two drones crashed in a Beirut suburb that Hezbollah largely dominates.    Nasrallah deemed the Aug. 25 incident an Israeli attack.
    Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, has likened the crash of the drones, including one that exploded, to a “declaration of war.”
    “Any attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty … will be met with legitimate self-defense which Israel will bear all the consequences of,” Aoun’s office cited him as saying on Friday in a meeting with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)

9/7/2019 Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1 photographed off Syrian port Tartus: U.S. satellite firm
FILE PHOTO: A crew member takes pictures with a mobile phone on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 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
    (Reuters) – The Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1 at the center of a dispute between Tehran and Western powers, which went dark off Syria earlier in the week, has been photographed by satellite off the Syrian port of Tartus, Maxar Technologies Inc., a U.S. space technology company said on Saturday.
    Maxar’s supplied image shows the tanker Adrian Darya 1 very close to Tartus on Sept. 6.
    The ship appeared to have turned off its transponder in the Mediterranean west of Syria, Refinitiv ship-tracking data showed on Tuesday.
    The tanker, which is loaded with Iranian crude oil, sent its last signal giving its position between Cyprus and Syria sailing north at 15:53 GMT on Monday, the data showed.
    The vessel, formerly named Grace 1, was detained by British Royal Marine commandos off Gibraltar on July 4 as it was suspected to be en route to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
    Two weeks later, Iran in retaliation seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz leading into the Gulf.
    Gibraltar released the Iranian vessel on Aug. 15 after receiving formal written assurances from Tehran that the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria.
    However, shipping sources say the tanker is likely to try to conduct a ship-to-ship transfer with another vessel for part of its cargo after Iran said a sale had been concluded.
    Washington has warned any state against assisting the ship, saying it would consider that support for a terrorist organization, namely, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
    The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the tanker on Friday.
(Reporting by Michael Perry; editing by Darren Schuettler)

9/7/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says will discuss Syria with Trump at U.N.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands during a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President
Tayyip Erdogan during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he expects to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at the United Nations later this month to discuss military operations in northeast Syria, where Turkey plans to resettle one million Syrian refugees.
    Turkey and the United States are due to start joint military patrols in the area on Sunday, as part of an agreement for what Turkey says will become a “safe zone” along the border inside Syria.
    Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million refugees from the Syrian conflict and already holds territory in northwest Syria, wants to extend its military presence into the northeast to push back Syrian Kurdish militia fighters from the border and establish conditions for the return of a large number of Syrians.
    Describing his plan to meet Trump at the U.N. General Assembly, Erdogan said they would discuss “what kind of steps we will take” along the Syrian border east of the Euphrates river.
    “There are differences between what is said and what has been done,” he said in a speech in the Turkish city of Eskisehir.    “We must resolve this.”
    He said Turkey could not accept military training by U.S. forces of Kurdish Syrian YPG fighters, who have been Washington’s main ally on the ground against Islamic State in Syria but are designated a terrorist organization by Turkey.
    Erdogan also reiterated a plan he first spelt out on Thursday to move a million refugees to northern Syria, a project he said would require international support to build new homes.
    “We can undertake the construction.    You give us financial support,” he said.    “They say good.    Then come on, show your support.    But nothing.”
    Turkey has frequently complained about what it says is a lack of international support to help it host the refugees, some of whom have been in Turkey since the start of Syria’s conflict eight years ago.
    Erdogan says Turkey has spent $40 billion supporting the refugees.    The European Union, which signed an accord with Turkey three years ago offering aid in return for Turkish steps to stem the flow of migrants to Europe, says it has disbursed more than 5 billion euros of support.
    Turkey’s Chief of General Staff General Yasar Guler told his U.S. counterpart General Joseph Dunford that the two countries should waste no time setting up the “safe zone,” Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
(Reporting by Irem Koca; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Helen Popper)

9/7/2019 Sudan’s Bashir kept key to room with millions of euros, court hears by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir smiles as he is seen inside a cage at the courthouse where
he is facing corruption charges, in Khartoum, Sudan August 31, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s toppled former leader Omar al-Bashir was the only person with a key to a room at the presidential palace holding millions of euros, his last office manager testified on Saturday.
    Speaking at Bashir’s trial on charges of possessing illicit foreign currency and corruption, Yasser Basheer said the former president gave him more than 10 million euros’ ($11 million) cash in his final months of rule for delivery to different parties.
    Sudan’s military ousted Bashir in April after months of protests.    His prosecution is a test of how far power-sharing military and civilian authorities will tackle the legacy of his 30-year authoritarian rule.
    The former manager, who worked for Bashir from September 2018 and was speaking as a defense witness, said the president once gave him 5 million euros for Abdelrahim Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
    The money, Basheer said, was delivered in the presence of Abdelrahim’s brother Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the RSF and deputy head of the Transitional Military Council that ruled after Bashir’s ouster.    He is now a member of the Sovereign Council formed in a military-civilian power-sharing deal.
    Other recipients of cash included the Defense Ministry, plus military personnel and civilians for medical treatment, Basheer said, adding that he did not know the source of the cash and was only following orders.
    Abdelmoneim Mohamed, an accountant at the International University of Africa, a private institution with links to Islamists, also testified in Bashir’s defense.    He said the university’s director and deputy director received 4 million euros in cash from Bashir.
    Bashir sat in a metal cage in the courtroom wearing traditional white robes and turban.
    Though he did not speak at Saturday’s hearing, he denied the charges when formally indicted a week ago.
    Speaking publicly for the first time since his ouster, Bashir said last week he had received $25 million from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as from other sources, but had not received or used money for his own benefit.
    “I used the money for private donations to various parties,” including medical services, a university, an Islamic media channel, and urgent fuel provision, he said.
    Millions of euros and Sudanese pounds were found at Bashir’s residence in April, a judicial source said.
    The charges carry maximum prison sentences of around 10 years.    The next hearing is set for Sept. 14.
    The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants against him in 2009 and 2010 on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

9/7/2019 Israeli troops kill Gaza teens during border protests: medics
Relatives of Palestinian teenager Ali Al-Ashqar, 17, mourn during his funeral in the
northern Gaza Strip September 7, 2019. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
    GAZA CITY (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian teenagers including a 14-year-old during protests along the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, Palestinian health officials said.
    They named the dead as Khaled Al-Rabai, 14, and Ali Al-Ashqar, 17.    Seventy protesters were wounded, 38 of them by live fire, medical officials said.
    A few hours later five projectiles were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, the Israeli military confirmed after rocket warning sirens sounded in the Israeli border town of Sderot and two nearby villages shortly before midnight.
    One rocket fell in an open field but there were no injuries, Israeli media reports said.
    Israel responded with tank and air strikes on a number of Hamas military targets in the northern Gaza Strip, an Israeli military spokesman said.    Palestinian officials said no one was injured.
    Protesters have staged 18 months of weekly demonstrations dubbed the “Great March of Return,” calling for an end to a security blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948.
    Israel rejects any such return, saying that would eliminate its Jewish majority.
    An Israeli military spokesman said troops guarding the border on Friday were faced with more than 6,000 demonstrators at several points along the fence, some hurling explosive devices and firebombs.
    He said that some briefly managed to cross the fence before returning to Gaza, and that Israeli forces responded with riot dispersal measures.    The spokesman did not comment on the deaths.
    Egypt, Qatar and United Nations officials have been working to keep the border calm in recent months.
    Around 210 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began in March 2018, Gaza medical officials say.
    In that period, an Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier, and another was killed during an Israeli undercover raid into Gaza.
    Israel seized Gaza in a 1967 war and pulled out its settlers and troops in 2005.    It says the security blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, the Islamist group that has fought three wars with Israel and fired thousands of rockets at it in the past decade.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Editing by Frances Kerry and Tom Brown)

9/7/2019 Turkey calls on U.S. to lift barriers to boost trade
FILE PHOTO: A Turkish flag is pictured on a boat in Istanbul, Turkey, June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey asked the United States to lift trade barriers between the two countries during talks on Saturday aimed at sharply increasing bilateral commerce, Turkey’s trade minister said.
    Washington and Ankara have set an ambitious goal of quadrupling their trade to $100 billion a year, despite the prospect of U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s recent purchase of Russian missile defense systems.
    Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said she expressed Turkey’s “clear expectation” to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross over the removal of “certain barriers and policies as implemented by the U.S. administration that constitute (an) obstacle to enhancing our bilateral trade.”
    The White House said in May it was ending a preferential trade agreement with Turkey, saying Turkey’s level of economic development meant it was no longer eligible for the support.
    Turkey could also face sanctions from its NATO ally over the delivery in July of Russian S-400 missile defense equipment.
    Pekcan said she discussed increasing Turkish exports in the civil aviation, automotive, jewelry, furniture, textiles and clothing sectors.
    The U.S. embassy said Ross and Pekcan had agreed that raising trade to $100 billion would require hard work on both sides.    The United States says trade with Turkey totaled $24 billion in 2017, with the U.S. surplus standing at $1.5 billion.
    The two ministers are due to hold further talks in Ankara next week.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Helen Popper)

9/8/2019 Televised debates a new step in Tunisia’s young democracy by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall
FILE PHOTO: A man looks election posters of presidential candidates in Tunis, Tunisia September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Eight presidential candidates stood behind their podiums aiming to impress Tunisian voters on Saturday evening in the young democracy’s first ever televised election debate.
    Although Tunisia has held elections twice since throwing off autocratic rule in the 2011 revolution which triggered the “Arab Spring” uprisings, democracy is still taking root and such direct questioning of all the candidates is a novelty.
    Only a few patrons of the Essafsaf Cafe in Tunis were watching the large screen in the corner, however, hoping to whittle down their voting preferences ahead of the Sept. 15 election.
    “I have a list of favorites and I have a few who are not favorites.    I hope to learn how they react to questions, how they face questions they do not know in advance,” said Mohamed Mazhoud, 31, a software developer.
    He had come to the cafe with his brother Ali, 25, and three friends, planning to listen to each of the candidates scheduled for the first night of debate, with most of the other 18 appearing on Sunday or Monday.
    Saturday’s batch included Abdelfattah Mourou, who is the first presidential candidate put forward by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, former prime minister Mehdi Jomaa and former president Moncef Marzouki.
    Mourou was placed next to Abir Moussi, one of two women in the race and a supporter of the ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, whose government banned Ennahda and jailed many of its members.
    Another very prominent candidate, media magnate Nabil Karoui, is in detention on suspicion of tax fraud and money laundering, charges he denies and attributes to political chicanery.    Debate organizers have said they will keep an empty podium place on the night he was scheduled to appear.
    The furor surrounding his detention is not the only challenge facing Tunisian democracy during this election – years of economic troubles have also undermined trust in politics and turnout for municipal voting last year barely reached 30%.
    The government has spent the past three years trying to push through tough spending cuts to curb the large level of public debt and to bolster security after Islamist militant attacks in 2015 that devastated the crucial tourism sector.
    Unemployment, at 12% before the revolution, now stands at 15% nationally and more than 30% in some cities.
DEMOCRACY IS FOR THE RICH
    Around Tunis on Saturday evening, most cafe televisions seemed set to a football match between France and Albania, though politically engaged people may have chosen to watch at home where they could better hear the candidates.
    Outside the Cafe Les Palmiers, groups of men sat playing cards or smoking.    At one table of four, Rida Ben Salem, 53, said he had lost any belief that the elections would change his difficult lot in life.
    “I don’t care about the debate and I don’t want to watch it,” he said.    He makes 400 Tunisian dinars ($140) a month selling prickly cactus fruit from a wooden barrow he pushes round the streets by hand.
    “I don’t need this democracy.    Democracy is for the rich, not for the poor like us,” he added.
    Still, he said that with elections coming the police would lay off street vendors like him, only cracking down on them again after the polls.
    It was the self-immolation of a street vendor whose barrow was confiscated by police that sparked the revolution.
    In a downtown cafe where dozens of people were watching the debate on a large screen on the pavement, engineer Saidan Abdelsettar said he was definitely planning to vote, but had not yet chosen a candidate.
    “Until now I can’t say one candidate stands out.    But the debates help because it gives me an idea of how they present themselves,” he said.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/8/2019 Istanbul, Ankara mayors not at risk of being replaced, interior minister says
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference for foreign media
correspondents in Istanbul, Turkey, August 21, 2019. Ahmet Bolat/Pool via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s government has no plan to replace the opposition mayors of Istanbul and Ankara with state-appointed trustees, as was done to three Kurdish mayors in the country’s east last month, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Sunday.
    Soylu had threatened last week “to devastate” Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), over his support for the ousted mayors of the cities of Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin.
    But in a CNN Turk interview on Sunday, Soylu said: “For Istanbul and Ankara, for such thing to be in question (appointment of a trustee) is not possible.”
    The three mayors were removed over alleged terror links less than five months after they were elected, sparking sharp criticism from the opposition including Ankara’s CHP mayor Mansur Yavas.
    Imamoglu – whose election in June dealt President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) a shock defeat – has labelled the move illegal and undemocratic and called for it to be reversed.    He visited two of the ousted mayors in Diyarbakir last month.
    Imamoglu on Sunday dismissed Soylu’s threat as “upsetting” politics.
    “It shouldn’t become a tradition in this country to blame someone without any judgment.    It is against jurisdiction and law,” Imamoglu said at a news conference to discuss what he called wasted public funds under previous AKP administrations.
    “All of the 82 million people in Turkey are my citizens… What I did was in line with the law and for propagating the national sentiment to all around the country,” he said of his visit to Diyarbakir.
    His municipality has parked in an Istanbul lot hundreds of cars it says were rented by previous administrations and that represent wasted public funds.    He said the cars would be returned and the money spent on public parks.
(Reporting by Irem Koca and Huseyin Aldemir; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; editing by John Stonestreet)

9/8/2019 Turkish military enters Syria to begin joint U.S. ‘safe zone’ patrol by Murad Sezer and Rodi Said
Turkish and U.S. soldiers are pictured during a joint U.S.-Turkey patrol in a Syrian border village
near Tel Abyad, Syria, September 8, 2019.Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    AKCAKALE, Turkey/TAL ABYAD, Syria (Reuters) – Armed Turkish military vehicles crossed into war-stricken Syria on Sunday to begin joint patrols with U.S. counterparts to establish a high-stakes “safe zone” along a border region controlled by Kurdish forces.
    Vehicles with Turkish flags joined those in Syria with U.S. flags some 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of the Turkish border town of Akcakale, near Syria’s Tel Abyad. With two military helicopters briefly overhead, they headed south for several hours before returning to Turkey.
    The land patrol, which Damascus condemned, marks the latest sign of cooperation between the NATO allies east of the Euphrates even while thorny questions remain over the size and oversight of the safe zone.
    Underscoring frayed trust between the NATO allies after sometimes conflicting roles in Syria’s eight-year war, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey does not share many of Washington’s aims and rejects its protection of “terrorist” organizations in the zone.
    Erdogan is anxious to push back from Turkey’s borders the Kurdish YPG forces which, with U.S. backing over the last four years, have taken control of much of northeastern Syria from Islamic State militants.
    Ankara has labeled the YPG terrorists and says they have links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.    Turkey also aims to send 1 million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts to a broader safe zone in northern Syria.
    “We are negotiating with the U.S. for the safe zone, but we see at every step that what we want and what they have in mind is not the same thing,” Erdogan told supporters in Malatya just hours after the first patrol ended.
    “It seems that our ally is looking for a safe zone for the terrorist organization, not for us.    We reject such understanding,” he said, adding Turkey must secure “the entire region” to resettle refugees.
    On the patrol, Turkish officers accompanied by U.S. troops documented some of the YPG fortifications that had been demolished as part of an agreement that Ankara and Washington hashed out in recent months, a Reuters witness said.
    Arab tribes mainly inhabit the proposed safe zone region controlled by the YPG forces.    On Sunday, witnesses said residents in some of the villages emerged to greet and wave at Turkish troops on the joint patrol.
    After intensive negotiations, Turkey and the United States have also set up a joint operation center and conducted joint helicopter patrols.    But they have so far disagreed over how deep the zone would extend into Syria and over the command structure of the forces to operate there.
DAMASCUS ANGRY
    The U.S. Combined Joint Task Force said the joint patrol “demonstrates our continued commitment to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, while also allowing the coalition and our SDF partners to remain focused on achieving the enduring defeat of (Islamic State).”
    Turkey is also involved in Syria’s northwest Idlib region – the last large swathe still controlled by rebels – where its troops and observation posts have come under pressure as Russian-backed Syrian government forces have pushed north in recent months.
    An escalation of conflict in recent weeks has strained Ankara’s ties with Moscow, which is allied with Damascus.
    The Syrian government said on Sunday the joint U.S.-Turkish patrols were a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty and “territorial integrity.”    Damascus has accused the YPG of working toward separatism, a charge the YPG denies.
    The SDF, of which the YPG is a part, said the joint patrols are “part of a road map to attain stability in a way that contributes to its efforts to pursue (Islamic State) and uproot them.”
    Many of the inhabitants of the predominately Arab area that is expected to comprise the safe zone – including Tel Abyad, Ras al Ain and several Arab villages – had fled to Turkey fearing reprisals by the YPG on charges they had links to Islamic State.
    Tribal leaders and rights groups accuse the ruling Kurdish militia of preventing many Arabs from returning to their former homes which they say in some cases have been confiscated and demolished, a charge the Kurdish YPG vehemently denies.
    Kurdish leaders say they have long been victims of Arab discrimination.
    Sheikh Mudar al Assad, a tribal figure from the region who lives in exile in Turkey, said he expected tens of thousands of displaced Arabs to return back to their homes once the safe zone was established.
    “The mere presence of Turkish troops in this area has raised hopes of the return of many who have been exiled,” al Assad said.
    Erdogan’s ruling party suffered some stunning local election losses this year in part due to impatience among Turks over the Syrian refugees.    On Sunday, Erdogan repeated that Turkey would act alone in the northeast if by the end of September a “de facto” safe zone with Turkish soldiers is not established.
(Additional reporting by Irem Koca in Istanbul and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Beirut; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Cawthorne)

9/8/2019 Israeli government approves voting cameras, critics cry foul by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting
in Jerusalem September 8, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved draft legislation on Sunday to have cameras monitor polling stations in Israel’s election next week, a move opponents said was effectively meant to intimidate Arab voters.
    Fighting for political survival after an inconclusive ballot in April, the right-wing Netanyahu has made voter fraud a key issue in his campaign for a fifth term, cautioning that victory could be stolen from him in what polls show to be a close race.
    In the previous election, Netanyahu’s Likud party sent monitors equipped with body cameras to a several polling stations with Arab constituents in what Arab politicians described as voter intimidation.
    On election days in Israel, representatives of most parties sit at venues to check the pre-vote identification process. Voters are then handed an envelope and go behind a screen to cast their ballot in private.
    Addressing his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said that under the legislation, which will go to parliament for approval before the Sept. 17 election, monitors will be able to use their cellular telephone cameras to record outside of the actual voting booth.
    “Everyone films,” Netanyahu said in public remarks at the meeting.    “Any shop is filmed by cameras, so the polling stations are the only places where you can’t film?
    In his comments to the cabinet, which government officials said approved the legislation unanimously, Netanyahu pledged: “The secrecy of the vote will be strictly preserved.”
    Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List party, said on Twitter that Netanyahu’s focus on the issue of voter fraud was aimed at “triggering a panic vote” by his supporters on the right and “suppressing the Arab vote.”
    “(Netanyahu) is preparing the ground for the day he declares, ‘Arabs have stolen the elections’, and contests the results if he loses,” Odeh said.
    Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, which is running neck-and-neck with Likud in polls, alluded to the impact the deployment of cameras might have on Arab voter turnout, describing the bill as “racist” in comments on Twitter.
    Arabs make up 21 percent of Israel’s population and generally vote not for Likud but for their own Arab parties or centrist or left-wing Jewish parties.
    The proposed bill was opposed by the head of the Central Election Commission that oversees the vote, who said the last-minute introduction of cameras might “lead to chaos.”
    Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who advises the cabinet on legal issues, also came out against the legislation, saying it could violate laws ensuring voters’ privacy.
    For that reason, most Western democracies have restrictions on the use of cameras at ballot stations.
    Two weeks after the election, Mandelblit will hold a pre-trial hearing in which Netanyahu can argue against his announced intent to indict him in three corruption cases.    Netanyahu, in office for the past 10 years, has denied any wrongdoing.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/8/2019 Saudi Arabia, UAE urge Yemen government and separatists to halt fighting
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Yemen's southern separatists stand on a billboard during a rally to show support to the United Arab Emirates
amid a standoff with the Saudi-backed government, in the port city of Aden, Yemen September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates called on Yemen’s separatists and the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to halt all military actions in south Yemen.
    A joint statement by the two Gulf states, leaders of an Arab coalition that is battling Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis, called on the UAE-backed separatists and the Saudi-backed government to prepare for “constructive dialogue” to end the crisis between the two nominal allies.
    Talks to end the power struggle, in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, reached a dead-end and both sides were gathering troops to prepare for further battle, officials said on Friday, an indication that a rift between Saudi Arabia and ally UAE had deepened.
    The war for the south has opened a new battlefront that risks further fragmenting Yemen and threatens to complicate U.N. efforts to end the multi-tiered war, which contains conflicts within conflicts.
    “They (the two countries) also called for an immediate end to all military operations as well as violations against any public and private property,” the joint statement carried by state news agencies SPA and WAM, said.
    “They have been preparing for a constructive dialogue to end the dispute and address its effects,” it added.
    The breakaway movement is part of the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore Hadi’s government which was ousted from power by the Houthis in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
    But they have clashed often with the government and seized Aden, its interim base, last month.
    The UAE, which has been hostile to Hadi’s government because it includes Islamists, intervened last week to support the separatists by launching air strikes on government forces as they tried to recapture Aden, forcing them to withdraw.
    Saudi Arabia called on the separatists, who seek to revive the former South Yemen republic, to cede control of Aden and voiced its support for President Hadi on Thursday, threatening “to react decisively.”
    However, Sunday’s statement said the two Gulf states reiterated their support of Yemen’s “legitimate government.”
(Reporting by Tuqa Khalid; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by David Evans and Ros Russell)

9/8/2019 Saudi Arabia launches military industrial licensing program
FILE PHOTO: Members of Saudi security forces take part in a military parade in preparation for the
annual Haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it had begun accepting license applications for firms in the military industrial sector, a major target under plans to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil exports.
    The General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) will license companies to manufacture firearms, ammunition, military explosives, military equipment, individual military equipment, and military electronics, state news agency SPA reported.
    GAMI Governor Ahmed al-Ohali said the move would open the door for foreign and local investment in the sector.
    Investment is needed to meet reforms announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who wants Riyadh to produce or assemble half its defense equipment locally in order to create 40,000 jobs for Saudis by 2030.
    Saudi Arabia is among the top five defense spenders in the world.
(Reporting by Tuqa Khalid; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

9/9/2019 Wider Image: Israel’s settlers and the Palestinians they live among
Houses are seen in the landscape in this general view picture of the Israeli settlement
of Havat Gilad in the occupied West Bank, June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    OFRA, West Bank (Reuters) – His people’s link to the land goes back to biblical times, says the comics illustrator.    His neighbor, a farmer, says the land belonged to his ancestors and has been stolen.    One is an Israeli settler, the other a Palestinian living across the road.
    Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are one of the most heated issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    The Palestinians want the area, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, for a future state.
    Israel has built more than 120 settlements there, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the run-up to a Sept. 17 election, has renewed his pledge to annex them, alarming the Palestinians.
    Most of the international community sees the settlements as illegal and major obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace, a view Israel disputes.
    Michael Netzer moved to Ofra in 1985, about a decade after the settlement was established, one of Israel’s first in the West Bank.
    “It’s ridiculous to say that Jews can’t live here,” said the 63-year-old comics artist.    “The Bible is a part of it. I would ask anybody: Is it so easy to lose your connection to your ancestors and your land?    Of course it isn’t.    For the Jewish people, that history is what made us what we are.”
    The red roofs of Ofra’s homes are easily seen from Ein Yabrud, the Palestinian village across the road.
    Azmi Musleh, 53, a local farmer, said Ofra sits on land his family used to cultivate.
    “That land is my heart and soul.    It is my family’s heart and soul.    We used to grow sesame, figs, olives, back to the time of my father, his father, and his father before him,” Musleh said.
MAALE ADUMIM/AL-EIZARIYA
    Israel’s settler communities are hardly homogeneous.    Some settlers are driven by burning ideology. Others are just looking for a cheap apartment.    Some of the settlements adjacent to Israel are seen by many Israelis as just regular towns, unlike the more isolated enclaves deep inside the West Bank.
    “I don’t feel like a settler,” said Michele Coven-Wolgel, a 60-year-old lawyer from Maale Adumim, a large settlement about 15 minutes’ drive from Jerusalem.    “Should we be annexed?    Yes, we’re a city of 41,000 people, we’re a city, we have a mall.”
    Against the backdrop of desert hills, the villas of Maale Adumim provide their inhabitants with a comfortable life. Education is good and transport to the city is easy.
    Ali Farun, 74, from the Palestinian town of al-Eizariya, about 1.5 km (one mile) from Maale Adumim has little hope of the territory ever coming under Palestinian control.
    “It doesn’t matter if they annex it to Jerusalem or if it remains West Bank – they control it, one way or another,” said Farun.
HAVAT GILAD/SARRA
    Havat Gilad, a cluster of prefab huts sprinkled across a hilltop deep in the West Bank, is home to about 45 families.
    Its residents say their presence in the West Bank fulfils God’s biblical promise to the Jewish people and secures Israel’s safety.
    “This belongs to the people of Israel, there’s no question about it,” said Itai Zar, 43, who founded Havat Gilad in 2002 after his brother was shot dead by Palestinian militants nearby.
    “Eighteen years ago we came here, one family, and today we have a flourishing community.”
    Bothena Turabe, saw the settlement’s growth from her Palestinian village Sarra, across the way.
    “In the night you look at them and you think there is nothing, and the next morning you look and you see there are more caravans,” said Turabe, 47, a member of the village council.    “This land is not yours to take – you’re stealing it.”
BEITAR ILLIT/WADI FUKIN
    Beitar Illit is a settlement built for Israel’s fast-growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
    According to Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlements watchdog, Beitar Illit saw the most construction of all Israel’s West Bank settlements in 2018.
    Its densely built apartment blocs and Dollar stores seem a world apart from Havat Gilad’s huts and dirt roads.    And unlike in Zar, residents cite financial concerns for moving here.
    “We’re not here for ideological reasons,” said David Hamburger, 36, a Beitar Illit shop owner.    “There’s no way for us to buy houses anywhere else besides settlements.”
    With large families, seven children on average, high unemployment and poverty, the ultra-Orthodox Jews seek cheap housing that will allow their close-knit community to live together.
    For Mohammad Awad, a 64-year-old farmer from Wadi Fukin, a Palestinian village next to Beitar Illit, it makes no difference why people come to live in the settlement.
    “It’s impossible to have peace between us because the main conflict between us is on a piece of land which they took by force, so how can I let a person steal my land, live in it and enjoy it, and live with him in peace?” he said.
    For the photo essay, click https://reut.rs/2m2Iekv
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Lianne Back, Rinat Harash, Mohammed Abu Ganeyeh, Ashraf Shawish, Dedi Hayoun and Dan Williams; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)

9/9/2019 New Saudi energy minister: a royal with decades of experience in OPEC cuts by Rania El Gamal and Dmitry Zhdannikov
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Deputy Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud speaks during
a news conference in Riyadh February 21, 2011. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – When former Saudi oil minister Ali al Naimi crushed oil prices in 2014 by adding to global oversupply, one man in the kingdom stood firmly against this strategy.
    Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, King Salman’s son and a veteran oil official, who on Sunday was named as new Saudi energy minister, is known in the industry for decades of work helping to foster OPEC production cuts.
    As he takes the reins at the world’s largest oil exporter from Khaled al-Falih, Prince Abdulaziz faces intensifying demands from Saudi royals to prop up oil prices to help ease budget constraints and push through plans to get maximum value from a partial privatization of state oil giant Aramco.
    Known in the industry as a good negotiator, Prince Abdulaziz has long experience in cutting deals within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and respect among fellow OPEC members can help him implement that drive.
    In 2016, when OPEC agreed to cut oil output, Prince Abdulaziz worked behind the scenes to bring fellow OPEC ministers into an agreement, OPEC sources said.
    OPEC and non-OPEC producers later inked their first deal since 2001 to curtail oil output jointly and ease a global glut after more than two years of low prices that overstretched many state budgets.
    And when sanctions-hit Iran resisted a push by Saudi Arabia and Russia to increase oil output two years later to meet calls from U.S. President Donald Trump to cool prices, it was Prince Abdulaziz, then minister of state for energy affairs, who helped convince Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh to agree to the deal, OPEC sources said.
    The prince’s appointment caps 10 days of a series of swift changes that stripped Falih of his sprawling authority.
    Falih was once seen in the industry and by foreign diplomats as the third most powerful man in Saudi Arabia after the king and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, overseeing more than half the Saudi economy through a super energy and industry ministry.
    His loss of power was swift. On Aug. 30, he was stripped of the industry portfolio, removed as chairman of Aramco on Sept. 2 before being replaced as energy minister on Sept. 8.
    But Prince Abdulaziz, an older half brother of the Crown Prince, is not expected to change the kingdom’s oil and OPEC policies, Saudi officials and analysts say.
    “He will focus on enhancing the relationship within OPEC and with non-OPEC producers to strengthen the stability of the international oil market,” a Saudi official told Reuters.
    Bassam Fattouh, head of Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and a regular attendee of OPEC meetings, said he believed that the prince’s appointment represents “a continuation of existing policy.”
    “The Prince has been a key shaper of Saudi oil and OPEC policy for many years,” said Fattouh, adding that he has also been a key player in domestic oil policy such as the kingdom’s energy pricing reforms, renewables and energy efficiency.
    Gary Ross, a veteran OPEC watcher and founder of Black Gold Investors, said he first met Prince Abdulaziz in early 1980s.
    “There is no one in the kingdom who knows more about oil than Prince Abdulaziz,” said Ross who said he believed the new minister will stick to production cuts to maximize revenues for Saudi Arabia.
    “I expect no policy change – the objective is to deliver higher prices and the IPO for Aramco,” said Amrita Sen, co-founder of Energy Aspects think tank, which closely follows OPEC policies.
FIRST ROYAL
    The prince’s appointment broke with long-held tradition that saw oil technocrats and non-royals overseeing the energy portfolio in the world’s top oil exporter.
    Saudi Arabia has had five oil ministers since 1960, and none of them has been a royal.
    Conventional thinking has been that the ruling Al Saud family has viewed the oil portfolio as so important that giving it to a prince might upset the dynasty’s delicate balance of power and risk making oil policy hostage to princely politicking, Saudi sources and diplomats say.
    Some industry insiders say the prince’s lengthy experience has overcome what has always been seen as the impossibility of appointing a royal to the post.
    Former U.S. ambassador Chas Freeman said the prince represents a new phenomenon he called “a royal technocrat.”
    “Bright, cosmopolitan, expert on the work of the ministry in which he made his career,” said Freeman.    “Abdulaziz bin Salman can finally attain the position for which he has been preparing himself for so long.”
    Prince Abdulaziz, 59, joined the oil ministry in 1987 and worked closely with previous oil ministers Hisham Nazer and later with Naimi as his deputy for years.
    Besides delivering extra budget revenue via higher oil prices, the new minister will also have to foster relations with non-OPEC member Russia, which was instrumental in shaping a deal with non-OPEC producers.
    Ties between OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and Russia have developed since 2016 after the producer group and a number of non-member countries formed the so-called OPEC+ alliance.
    Two Russian energy sources said they didn’t expect cooperation to change because both sides are benefiting.
    Prince Abdulaziz was also instrumental in formalizing a long-term charter of cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC exporters which was signed by the countries in June, OPEC sources said. He has also been directly involved in talks with the United States to bring nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
. (Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Olesya Astakhova in Moscow; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

9/9/2019 Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power to focus more on renewable energy projects: CEO by Stanley Carvalho
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Acwa Power-generating windmills are pictured in Jbel Sendouq, on the
outskirts of Tangier, Morocco, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/File Photo
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – ACWA Power plans to focus more on renewable energy projects, lifting their share of its portfolio to 70% over the next decade, its chief executive and president said on Monday.
    The current value of the Saudi Arabian utility developer’s portfolio is more than $42 billion, with renewables accounting for 23%.
    “By 2030, we expect to see 70% of renewables in our portfolio in terms of capital employed,” Paddy Padmanthan told Reuters in an interview at the World Energy Congress.
    “We expect to see, in any given year, 60% of new investments in renewables.”
    Acwa Power, which develops power and desalinated water plants, plans to expand into new markets, but will maintain its portfolio balance of 50% in Saudi Arabia and 50% overseas.
    The company has assets in 12 countries and has bid for renewable energy projects in five new countries – Ethiopia, Tunisia, Cambodia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
    “We are responding to demand, seeking growth and seeking a balance,” Padmanthan said.
    Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which already holds a 25% stake in Acwa, plans to increase its stake to 40%, Acwa’s managing director, Yasir al-Rumayyan, said in February.
    Padmanthan said plans for an initial public offering (IPO) remained, with banks still working with Acwa.
First, the PIF stake increase has to be done, we are working on broadening the shareholder base in readiness to go to the public,” he said, declining to give a timeline.
(Editing by Mark Potter)

9/9/2019 Netanyahu: Iran had secret nuclear weapons development site in Abadeh
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Iran had been developing nuclear weapons at a secret site near the city of Abadeh, but that Tehran destroyed the facility after learning it had been exposed.
    It was the first time Netanyahu had identified the site, which, he said, was discovered in a trove of Iranian documents Israel previously obtained and disclosed last year.
    “In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks, showing an aerial picture of several small buildings, including their coordinates, that he said were taken at the Abadeh facility late in June 2019.
    “When Iran realized that we uncovered the site, here’s what they did,” he said, showing a picture from a month later in which the buildings no longer appeared.    “They destroyed the site.    They just wiped it out.”
    Netanyahu’s comments followed a Reuters report revealing that the International Atomic Energy Agency found traces of uranium at a different site in Iran that the Israeli leader had first pointed to during a speech last year at the United Nations.
    Iran had yet to explain the traces of uranium at that site, though it denies ever having sought a nuclear weapon.
    Netanyahu, who strongly opposed a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, made the remarks in a televised speech about a week before a general election in Israel in which he is in a tight race to win another term.
    “I call on the international community to wake up, to realize that Iran is systematically lying,” Netanyahu said.
    “The only way to stop Iran’s march to the bomb, and its aggression in the region, is pressure, pressure and more pressure.”
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch,; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Jonathan Oatis)

9/9/2019 U.S. eyeing sanctions over Turkey’s S-400 buy: Mnuchin
FILE PHOTO - A part of a Russian S-400 defense system is seen after unloaded from a Russian plane at Murted Airport
near Ankara, Turkey, August 27, 2019. Turkish Military/Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday that the Trump administration was considering imposing sanctions on related to Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system, but no decisions have been made.
    “We’re looking at that, I’m not going to make any comments on any specific decisions, but we are looking at it,” Mnuchin told reporters outside the White House when asked if the Treasury was considering such sanctions.    He did not specify any potential targets.
    Turkey’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds,, fell after Mnuchin’s comments.
    Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system, which the United States says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 ‘stealth’ fighter jet.
    Russia delivered a second battery of S-400s last month, according to Interfax news agency, which cited Russian Vladimir Putin.    Ankara had received its first shipment in July.
    Washington has previously warned Turkey that it will face sanctions over the purchase and removed the country from its f-35 program, but Ankara has so far dismissed the warnings.
    The dispute over the air defense missile system is one of several issues straining ties between the United States and Turkey that include the ongoing conflict in Syria, among others.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Nick Zieminski)

9/9/2019 New Saudi energy minister says OPEC+ alliance staying for long term by Dahlia Nehme, Maha El Dahan and Stanley Carvalho
Saudi Arabia's new Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaks during a panel discussion at the
24th World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister said on Monday the world’s top oil exporter would keep working with other producers to achieve market balance and that an OPEC-led supply-curbing deal would survive “with the will of everybody.”
    Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who took over as energy minister from Khalid al-Falih on Sunday, told reporters there would be “no radical” change in the oil policy of Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, which he said was based on strategic considerations such as reserves and energy consumption.
    The prince had helped negotiate the deal between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, to cut global crude supply in order to support prices and balance the market.
    He told reporters on the sidelines of an energy conference in Abu Dhabi that the OPEC+ alliance was “staying for the long term” and called on OPEC members to comply with output targets.
    “We have always worked in a cohesive, coherent way within OPEC to make sure that producers work and prosper together,” the prince said.
    “It would be wrong from my end to pre-empt the rest of the OPEC members,” he said when asked whether there was a need for further oil production cuts to support the market.
    Oil prices rose on Monday on his remarks.    Global benchmark Brent crude futures were up 46 cents at $62.00 a barrel by 1011 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate was up 48 cents at $57.00.[O/R]
COMPLIANCE
    Prince Abdulaziz said oil markets were being driven by “negative sentiments” but he did not believe there was an impact on oil demand growth.    He said the global economic outlook was expected to improve once a trade dispute between the United States and China was resolved.
    “People are speculating about a global recession but there is no recession today,” he said.
    The oil ministers of Oman and Iraq earlier told reporters in Abu Dhabi that it was too early to assess whether deeper cuts were required to support oil markets at a time of global recession concerns due to the U.S.-China row.
    The energy minister of non-OPEC Oman, Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy, said Muscat would like to see oil at $70 a barrel.    He said overall compliance with the supply-curbing deal was good, but there were concerns that compliance was not fully shared.
    The oil minister of Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, said Baghdad was committed to complying with the deal and that his country’s production stood at 4.6 million barrels per day.
    “We are definitely committed to respect (the curbs) … our exports have decreased by at least 150,000 bpd from the south,” Thamer Ghadhban said.
    OPEC oil output rose in August for the first month this year as higher supply from Iraq and Nigeria outweighed restraint by Saudi Arabia and losses caused by U.S. sanctions on Iran, a Reuters survey found.
    OPEC, Russia and other non-members agreed in December to reduce supply by 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1 this year.
OPEC’s share of the cut, which now runs to March 2020, is 800,000 bpd, delivered by 11 members and exempting Iran, Libya and Venezuela.
    On Sunday the United Arab Emirates’ energy minister, Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazrouei, said OPEC and non-OPEC producers were committed to achieving oil market balance and that Abu Dhabi would support any consensus decision on further production cuts.
    The OPEC+ joint ministerial monitoring committee, known as JMMC, will meet on Thursday in Abu Dhabi on the sidelines of the energy conference.
(Reporting by Dahlia Nehme, Maha El Dahan, Stanley Carvalho, Rania El Gamal, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Alexander Cornwell in Abu Dhabi; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Dale Hudson and David Evans)

9/10/2019 Hezbollah: Shooting down of Israel drone strengthens deterrent
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gestures as he addresses his supporters via a screen during the
religious procession to mark the Shi'ite Ashura ceremony, in Beirut, Lebanon September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah’s leader said on Tuesday his Iran-backed movement had shot down an Israeli drone inside Lebanon for the first time to strengthen a deterrent against attack by arch-foe Israel.
    Hezbollah said it downed and took possession of an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon on Monday after a flare-up at the border that raised tensions between the group and Israel.
    The incident happened a week after Hezbollah and Israel exchanged cross-border fire marking their fiercest shelling exchange between the long-time enemies since a 2006 war.
    “Despite all the threats and intimidation, today we are affirming the balance of power and reinforcing the deterrent force that protects our country,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
    Nasrallah also said there were no red lines left in defending Lebanon from Israeli aggression.
    “In order to defend Lebanon, its sovereignty, its security and its dignity there are absolutely no red lines any more,” he said.
    He said this does not mean that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the month-long 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, would not be respected, but that Lebanon and its people had the right to defend itself.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Laila Bassam; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)

9/10/2019 Former Erdogan ally to form rival party before year-end: paper
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan speaks during a news conference during the G20 finance ministers
and central bank governors meeting in Istanbul February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Former Turkish deputy prime minister Ali Babacan will form a new political party by the end of the year to challenge President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, announcing his intentions in an interview published Tuesday after months of speculation.
    Babacan resigned from the AK Party (AKP) in July, citing “deep differences.”    He was a founding member of the AKP, serving as economy and foreign minister during its first years in power before becoming deputy prime minister, a role he held from 2009 to 2015.
    Babacan, along with former AKP president Abdullah Gul, has long been rumored to be planning a rival party.    But a stinging defeat for the party in June Istanbul mayoral elections accelerated the efforts.
    In his first comments since resigning from the AKP, Babacan told the Karar newspaper that the ruling party had strayed from its founding principles and that he was still working to find like-minded individuals to forge a team to lead the new party. He added that Gul is supportive but not formally included.
    “This will take some time,” he told the newspaper.    “We want the party to be formed before 2020. The quality is very important here.”
    Growing worries over judicial impartiality, a recession that sent unemployment and inflation soaring, and impatience among Turks over hosting 3.6 Syrian refugees has trimmed Erdogan’s voter base.
    Any further erosion could deeply hurt the AKP, which relies on an alliance with a nationalist party to hang on to its parliamentary majority.
    Babacan said Turkey’s economy needed to emerge from a spiral and, given the plentiful liquidity in world markets, to “urgently” lower its risk premium.    The erosion of the judiciary and some foreign policies are in part to blame for the economic problems, he said.
    “Values like human rights, freedoms, populist democracy and the rule of law are ones that we always defend and believe in.    These principles are not a periodic political preference for us,” he said, adding that the AKP was committed to these in the past.
    “After all these achievements, the condition in which Turkey is currently in truly saddens us.    When we look at why it is in this condition, the main reason is that it has strayed from the practice of these values and principles.”
    Reuters reported in June that Babacan, along with Gul, would launch his political party this year.    That was on the heels of the AKP’s Istanbul loss, which marked the worst defeat in Erdogan’s political career.
    While Erdogan has so far dismissed reports of the new party, warning members of his AKP that those who “get off this train will not be allowed back on,” criticism toward the AKP and its policies have gained momentum since the mayoral election.
    Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who fell out with Erdogan in 2016, slammed the party’s economic management and Erdogan’s rhetoric after the election.    The AKP last week started the process of removing Davutoglu from the party.
    Turkey’s next elections are scheduled for 2023.
    “The government needs to be at the same distance to every citizen.    The government needs to provide justice and equal opportunity. Justice is the reason why governments exist,” Babacan told the newspaper.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/10/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu announces post-election plan to annex West Bank’s Jordan Valley by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention on Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swathe of the occupied West Bank, if he wins next week’s election in a closely contested race.
    Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat called the planned move a war crime under international law governing occupied territory.    Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and Palestinians seek to make the area part of a future state.
    Israeli political commentators saw Netanyahu’s declaration, in a speech broadcast live on Israel’s main TV channels, as a bid to siphon support away from far-right rivals who have long advocated annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
    “Today, I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on Israeli TV channels, calling the area “Israel’s eastern border.”
    That step, he said, could be taken “immediately after the election if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel.”
    Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.    The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
    Fighting for his political life after an inconclusive election in April, Netanyahu also reaffirmed a pledge to annex all of the settlements Israel has established in the territory.    But he said that broader step could take longer and required “maximum coordination” with Washington.
    “Out of respect for President Trump and great faith in our friendship, I will await applying sovereignty until release of the president’s political plan,” he said, referring to a long-awaited blueprint from Washington for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    The U.S. plan, Netanyahu reiterated, would likely be presented very soon after Israel goes to the polls on Sept. 17. Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party and in office for the past decade, failed to form a governing coalition following a national ballot in April.
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in early May that he hoped Israel would take a hard look at President Donald Trump’s upcoming Middle East peace proposal before “proceeding with any plan” to annex West Bank settlements.
    In an interview with the New York Times in June, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that “under certain circumstances” Israel has the “right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
PERPETUAL CONFLICT
    Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization said on Twitter after Netanyahu’s announcement that the Israeli leader was out to impose a “greater Israel on all of historical Palestine and (carry) out an ethnic cleansing agenda.”    All bets are off.    Dangerous aggression. Perpetual conflict,” she wrote.
    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014 and Palestinians have called Trump’s proposal dead in the water, even before its publication, citing what they see as his pro-Israel policies.
    Last March, just before Israel’s previous election, Trump – in a move widely seen as an attempt to bolster Netanyahu – recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 conflict.
    “It’s an election stunt and not a very impressive one because it’s so transparent,” Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, said in a statement about Netanyahu’s plan.
    Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, and Likud are running neck and neck in opinion polls.
    The Jordan Valley, which Palestinians seek for the eastern perimeter of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, stretches from the Dead Sea in the south to the Israeli city of Beit Shean in the north.    Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.
    The 2,400 square kilometer (926.65 square mile) valley accounts for nearly 30 percent of the territory in the West Bank.    Israel has long said it intends to maintain military control there under any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, editing by Ed Osmond)

9/10/2019 At least 31 die during stampede at Ashura rituals in Iraq’s Kerbala
Iraqi Shi'ite Muslims burn a tent as they re-enact a scene from the 7th century battle of Kerbala during a
ceremony marking Ashura in the holy city of Kerbala, Iraq, September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least 31 people died and another 102 were wounded on Tuesday during the Shi’ite Muslim religious rituals of Ashura in Iraq’s southern holy city of Kerbala, in what officials at its Imam Hussein shrine described as a stampede.
    The death toll released by the Iraqi Health Ministry was expected to rise, with at least nine people still in critical condition. Thirty people died on site and one more died in hospital, the Health Ministry spokesman said.
    The ministry did not disclose how they had been killed but shrine officials told Reuters the stampede took place towards the end of the procession, when thousands of pilgrims rushed towards the shrine during what is known as the Tuwairij run.
    “The pilgrims fell one on top of the other and we were unable to pull them out,” pilgrim Abdel Mahdi told Reuters.
    Photographs circulated on social media showed dozens of people bloodied and lying across a walkway, while other pilgrims attempted to help.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi expressed his condolences to those killed in the stampede, while the Health Minister visited the wounded in hospital.
    The annual pilgrimage marking the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein in battle in 680 draws hundreds of thousands of Shi’ite Muslims to Kerbala from around the world.
    Hussein’s death in a battle at Kerbala over the leadership of the Islamic community is one of the defining events in the schism between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.
    The rituals commemorating the death of Hussein involve self-flagellation, with crowds of mourners striking themselves and some lacerating their heads with blades. Stampedes have occurred in the past.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; writing by Raya Jalabi,; Editing by Peter Graff and Ed Osmond)

9/10/2019 Explainer: Israel’s election – will Netanyahu survive? by Maayan Lubell
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis vote next week for the second time in less than six months in a election that could see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a record fifth term – or end his decade-long dominance of Israeli politics.
    He faces new and formidable challengers to his reign and, after the vote, possible criminal charges in three corruption cases.    Recent polls have shown Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party tied with the centrist Blue and White. They also show that neither party will secure an outright majority.
    Here are a number of possible scenarios for how the Sept. 17 election could play out:
1. NETANYAHU WINS CONTROL OF MAJORITY OF KNESSET SEATS
    Likud, together with the three right-wing and religious parties that have already declared their support for him, win a majority.    With at least 61 lawmakers, Netanyahu would have relatively little trouble assembling a coalition similar to his outgoing cabinet, which supported his hawkish position on Iran and its 2015 nuclear deal, and took a tough stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    In the run-up to the election Netanyahu has vowed to annex the settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank – land the Palestinians want for a state. Such a move would delight Netanyahu’s far-right allies.
2. NO CLEAR WINNER AND NETANYAHU UNITY GOVERNMENT
    After election day, Israel’s president consults with party leaders, asking them who they would support for prime minister.    President Reuven Rivlin then asks the candidate he believes has the best chance to try and form a government.    Netanyahu had his opportunity after the previous election in April, but failed within the allocated 42 days.    Rather than risk Rivlin appointing someone else to try, Netanyahu opted for a second election.
    If he is again chosen, and again faces a stalemate, Netanyahu could go outside his bloc of right-wing and Jewish religious parties to form a so-called “national unity” government with those who are not his natural allies.
    That would likely mean his strongest rival, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White.    But Gantz has said he would not join a Netanyahu-led government, citing looming possible corruption indictments against Netanyahu.    But Israeli politics are famously fluid, with ever-shifting fealties.
3. NO CLEAR WINNER, CENTER-RIGHT GOVERNMENT FORMED WITHOUT NETANYAHU
    If Netanyahu again fails again to form a government, his own party could oust him to pave the way for a governing coalition between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, leaving Netanyahu in the political wilderness.
    So far, no one in Likud has publicly broached such an idea.    But that could change if Netanyahu again comes up short in coalition talks.
4. NETANYAHU CLEARLY DEFEATED, CENTER-LEFT GOVERNMENT
    If the center and left-wing parties garner a majority in parliament, Gantz would head a government that could include his own party as well as the Labour Party and the newly-formed, environmentalist and secularist Democratic Camp, without needing an alliance with the right.    It would be the first time since the 1990s that the left controlled parliament although, with an electorate shifting steadily toward the right, polls are not showing much likelihood of such a scenario.    However if a left-leaning coalition were ultimately formed, it would likely pursue peace talks with the Palestinians and be more open to concessions toward them as part of a lasting peace accord. It could also be more accepting of the nuclear deal struck between would powers and Iran.
5. NO CLEAR WINNER, NEW ELECTIONS
    If no candidate can form a government, Israel would head to another snap election.    But lawmakers are likely to do all they can to avoid a third this year.
HOW DOES THE ISRAELI ELECTION WORK?
    The 120 Knesset seats are allocated by proportional representation to party lists.    In order to win seats, a party must get at least 3.25 percent of the national vote, equivalent to 4 seats.    In the election in April, Likud and Blue and White came out on top, tied at 35 seats each.    No one party has ever won an outright majority of the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) in 71 years of nationhood.    This makes post-election coalitions the key to victory, and negotiations can stretch on for weeks.
WHO’S THE KINGMAKER?
    According to the polls, it’s Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish ex-defence minister.    Polls suggest the ultra-nationalist settler will double his seats from five to around 10. Lieberman, head of the Israel Beitenu party, has said he would only join a unity government comprised of Likud and Blue and White.
    However, Lieberman is something of a wild card and has made unpredictable moves in the past.
WHAT ABOUT NETANYAHU’S LEGAL WOES?
    Israel’s attorney-general, who has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu in three corruption investigations, is expected to decide whether to formally charge him by the end of 2019 after a pre-trial hearing in October, during which Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, can argue against indictment.
    A majority in the Knesset could grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution until the end of his term.    Some of his prospective allies signaled they would support such a move, but it would probably draw a public outcry and legal challenges at the Supreme Court.    Yet even if indicted, Netanyahu would not be under strict legal obligation to step down.    His right-wing and religious allies are not expected to pressure him to resign, even if he is charged.
WHAT ABOUT TRUMP’S “DEAL OF THE CENTURY”?
    Netanyahu has said he expects U.S. President Donald Trump to release his long-delayed plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace soon after the election.    If Netanyahu wins and forms a right-wing cabinet, he would have a hard time getting his far-right allies to sign on to any peace plan involving concessions to the Palestinians.    This could either destabilize the government or bury the Trump plan.    A cabinet with Gantz in it would likely be more open to give-and-take negotiations with the Palestinians.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

9/10/2019 Lebanon hopes U.S. will resume mediation in border disputes with Israel
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese President Michel Aoun, gestures upon his arrival at Tunis-Carthage International Airport
to attend the Arab Summit, in Tunis, Tunisia March 30, 2019. Hussein Malla/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s president said he hopes the United States will resume mediation efforts to resolve a land and sea border dispute with Israel, after the man who had been leading them changed jobs.
    President Michel Aoun made the comments, reported in state news agency NNA, after meeting the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, David Schenker.
    Schenker’s predecessor, David Satterfield, had been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel to get the two countries to discuss their disputed maritime border.    They have remained formally in a state of war since Israel was founded in 1948.
    “Several points had already been agreed on [as Satterfield departed] and there remain only a few sticking points in the terms of negotiations,” Aoun said.    Satterfield last month became the U.S. ambassador to Turkey.
    Schenker said the United States was ready to renew efforts toward the demarcation of land and sea borders in south Lebanon.
    Beirut has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel over a sea area of about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.
    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.
    There is also disagreement between the two countries over a border wall that Israel is building.    The Israeli army has previously said the construction work is being done on sovereign Israeli territory.
    The Lebanese government says the wall passes through territory that belongs to Lebanon but which is located on the Israeli side of the U.N.-designated Blue Line, which demarcated Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Frances Kerry)

9/11/2019 Israel PM promises W. Bank takeovers by Josef Federman, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday to annex the heart of the West Bank if he wins reelection next week, a move that could inflame the Middle East and extinguish any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a separate state.devastating” to the prospects for a two-state solution.
    Netanyahu said he would extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley – an area seen as the breadbasket of any Palestinian state – shortly after forming a new government and would move later to annex other Jewish settlements.
    Such action would swallow up most of the West Bank territory sought by the Palestinians, leaving them with little more than isolated enclaves.
    Netanyahu said it was important to act as President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his Mideast peace plan after the Sept. 17 election.
    “This is a historic opportunity, a one-time opportunity, to extend Israeli sovereignty on our settlements in Judea and Samaria, and also on other important regions for our security, for our heritage, and for our future,” Netanyahu said, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.

9/11/2019 U.N. investigators link U.S., Syrian and Russian forces to war crimes by Stephanie Nebehay
Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria attends a news conference during the
Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces in Syria have killed or wounded many civilians, indicating that required precautions were ignored and war crimes may have been committed, United Nations investigators said on Wednesday.
    Syrian government and allied Russian warplanes are also conducting a deadly campaign that appears to target medical facilities, schools, markets and farmland and which may also amount to war crimes, the report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.
    The investigators also accused Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance formerly known as Nusra Front that is the dominant armed group in Idlib, of firing rockets indiscriminately and killing civilians.
    The eight-year-old war has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and forced 13 million people from their homes, half of whom have left their shattered homeland.
    Backed by U.S.-led coalition air power in a fight to oust Islamic State, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include Kurdish fighters, retook the group’s last major stronghold of Hajin in eastern Syria in late December.
    The coalition’s Al-Jazeera Storm operation resulted in a high number of civilian casualties, including in a series of strikes on Jan 3 in Sha’fah, south of Hajin, that killed 16 civilians including 12 children, the U.N. report said.
    “The Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that international coalition forces may not have directed their attacks at a specific military objective, or failed to do so with the necessary precaution,” it said.
    “Launching indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amounts to a war crime in cases in which such attacks are conducted recklessly,” it added.
    Coalition officials could not be reached immediately for comment on the report.
    Night raids by SDF forces backed by coalition helicopter gunships killed and wounded civilians in Shahil and other parts of Deir al-Zor province, in further apparent violations of international law, the investigators said.
    Syrian government forces carried out repeated air strikes in Saraqib, in northwest Idlib province on March 9, damaging Al-Hayat women’s and children’s hospital, despite pro-government forces being aware of its coordinates, the report said.
    In Idlib on May 14, “pro-government forces airdropped between two and four missiles on a fish market and primary school for girls in Jisr al-Shughur,” killing at least 8 civilians, it said.
    “Such attacks may amount to the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel,” it said.
    The Syrian army denies its strikes target civilians and says its forces only bomb militants associated with hardline Sunni fundamentalist groups linked to al Qaeda.
    The report covers the year to July and is based on nearly 300 interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, photographs and videos.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

9/11/2019 ‘You will never break our will’: Palestinians to Netanyahu after Jordan Valley annexation pledge by Adel Abu Nimeh
A Palestinian boy plays near his family tent as the Jewish settlement of Maskyot is seen in the background, in the Bedouin
village of Al-Maleh in Jordan valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    JIFTLIK, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians tilling the fertile Jordan Valley said on Wednesday they have been rooted for generations to the West Bank land that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to annex, and they vowed never to give it up.
    “We tell Netanyahu, and whoever follows him, you will not break the Palestinians’ will, you will never break our will, never, never,” said Hassan Al-Abedi, a 55-year-old farmer who lives in the village of Jiftlik.
    “It’s our parents’ and grandparents’ land.    We will hold onto it no matter what it costs.”
    Drawing condemnation from Palestinian and other Arab leaders, the right-wing Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he plans to “apply Israeli sovereignty” to the Jordan Valley and adjacent northern Dead Sea if he prevails in what is shaping up as a tough battle for re-election on Sept. 17.
    Palestinians seek to establish a state in all of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and their leaders said Israeli annexation would violate international law and effectively nullify interim peace deals from the 1990s that included security cooperation.
    Against the backdrop of Jordan’s desert mountain range to the east, Palestinian farmers tended their crops and worried about their future in an area where the town of Jericho and the River Jordan are reminders of a biblical past.
    “This is not Netanyahu’s land to give,” said Ismael Hassan, a 75-year-old Palestinian from Zbeidat village.    “Whether or not Netanyahu succeeds (in the election) we won’t accept it.    This land is for Palestine, for the Palestinians.”
    In Israel, which captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, Netanyahu’s declaration was widely seen as a bid to sap support from far-right election rivals who advocate annexation of Jewish settlements, and from a center-left that for decades has argued that the Jordan Valley should be kept on security grounds.
    Retaining the Jordan Valley would effectively leave Israel encircling any Palestinian political entity that emerges.
CRAFTING OPINION
    Following up on his speech with remarks on Facebook on Wednesday, Netanyahu took credit for having persuaded U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over another strategic slice of occupied territory – the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967 – and to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
    The White House was informed in advance of Tuesday’s annexation announcement, Netanyahu said, adding that he was “crafting opinion in favor of recognition of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley.”
    A U.S. official confirmed Washington had been pre-notified but said the announcement was not coordinated between the sides.
    “He (Netanyahu) is a politician making a political statement,” another U.S. official said.
    Netanyahu’s decision to issue the promise showed, however, that he had little reason to fear any pushback from the Trump administration, which has hewed to a heavily pro-Israel policy and backed him at almost every turn since taking Trump took office in 2017.
BREADBASKET, BORDER
    Some 53,000 Palestinians and around 12,800 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley, according to monitor Peace Now.    The main Palestinian city in the region is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
    Palestinians often refer to the Jordan Valley as their “breadbasket.”    In his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu described it as Israel’s eastern border with Jordan.
    “Even Netanyahu’s main rivals believe that any Palestinian entity that is established in the West Bank should be completely encircled by Israel, having no border with Jordan,” said Nathan Thrall, an International Crisis Group analyst.
    “The annexation plan shouldn’t be dismissed as election bluster.    If reelected, Netanyahu will be under tremendous pressure to implement it.”
    The valley, which at 2,400 square kilometers (926 square miles) accounts for nearly 30% of the West Bank, has dozens of Palestinian farms as well as open areas that the Palestinian Authority has sought to develop for solar energy projects and industrial zones.
    There are some 30 mainly agricultural settlements in the area, along with 18 smaller Israeli outposts, Peace Now says.
    “It’s impossible to have a Palestinian state without the Jordan Valley,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters in an interview from his office in Jericho.
    “My prosperity can come (only) if I can control my natural resources, my shores on the Dead Sea, my shores on the Mediterranean, my water, my land.”
    Erekat said the Palestinians would welcome “a third party presence” such as NATO or the European Union but said: “A Israeli military or civilian presence in the state of Palestine is not okay.    Because this will not make peace.”
    Israeli leaders have ruled out such a foreign peacekeeper force, citing the failure of a similar proposal for Gaza after Israel quit that territory in 2005.
    “We did not get an era of peace. We got three wars. We’re not going to allow that to happen to our east,” said Dore Gold, a Netanyahu confidant who runs the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think-tank.
POLITICAL GAMBIT
    The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in 2014.
    The Trump administration is expected to release its long-delayed peace plan after Israel’s election, and it is still unclear the proposal will adhere to previous U.S. support for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
    That rollout is unlikely to be affected even if Netanyahu goes ahead with the Jordan Valley annexation plan after the election, a U.S. official said.
    Palestinians have boycotted the Trump administration, accusing it of pro-Israel bias.
    A far-right coalition partner of Netanyahu hinted at doubt about the premier’s sincerity, saying there had been no movement on the Jordan Valley question during his decade in power.    “How come this matter (annexation) is coming up now, a week before the election?” Bezalel Smotrich told Israel’s Army Radio.
    Netanyahu also reaffirmed a pledge to annex all of the settlements Israel has established in the West Bank.    But he said that broader step could take longer and required “maximum coordination” with Washington.
    Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after an inconclusive election in April.    His right-wing Likud party is running neck and neck in opinion polls with former armed forces chief Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.
(Reporting by Adel Abu Nimeh in Jiftlik, Rami Ayyub, Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Stephen Farrell in Jericho and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry)

9/11/2019 Defying Trump, U.S. senators renew pressure on Saudis with focus on Yemen: letter by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: Cars drive on a road linking two neighborhoods of Aden, Yemen August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic U.S. senators revived an effort to pressure Saudi Arabia over human rights, by pushing the country to fulfill its commitment to provide $750 million this year to help the people of Yemen, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
    The letter sent on Tuesday to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman acknowledged past Saudi contributions for aid in Yemen, but said the Saudis have provided just a small share of a current $750 million commitment.
    The letter added that the United Nations was counting on that funding for programs to provide vaccinations, food, fuel and medicine.
    “If funding is not received by the end of October, 5 million people – in a country facing the largest cholera outbreak in modern history – will lose access to clean water,” the letter said.
    The war in Yemen, where the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates lead an air campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, is considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
    U.N. officials have called out several countries for failing to meet aid commitments.    On Aug. 21, the world body warned that 22 “life-saving” aid programs in Yemen would be forced to close if countries’ funds were not provided.
    The letter was led by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Todd Young, who are among the most vocal U.S. lawmakers pressing for a strong U.S. response to Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, including its role in the war in Yemen.
    Many members of Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, have criticized the president’s close ties to Riyadh for months and backed several efforts – which have failed so far – to stop him from selling arms to the kingdom without congressional approval or providing support to the Saudi-UAE air campaign.
    Murphy and Young plan to force another Senate vote on U.S. security assistance to Saudi Arabia, using a provision of U.S. rights law that allows Congress to request a vote on any country’s human rights practices.
    A Senate aide noted that concern about Saudi Arabia is fueled partly by the upcoming anniversary of the October 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist, at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
    The letter was also signed by Republicans Rand Paul, Jerry Moran and Susan Collins, as well as Democrats Benjamin Cardin, Christopher Coons and Cory Booker.
    The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrea Ricci)

9/11/2019 Netanyahu sees U.S. staying ‘very, very tough’ on Iran despite Bolton ouster
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played down the impact of hawkish John Bolton’s exit from the post of U.S. national security adviser, predicting on Wednesday that Washington would hold to a tough line on Iran.
    U.S. President Donald Trump fired Bolton on Tuesday, citing policy disagreements.    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said immediately after that Trump might meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. general assembly this month.
    Netanyahu was among the most vocal champions of Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers and has voiced misgivings about Western engagement with Tehran unless this leads to sweeping restrictions on sensitive nuclear projects.
    But Netanyahu, in an Israeli television interview, sounded unfazed by Bolton’s departure and possible Trump-Rouhani talks.
    “Look, the one who formally crafted the American policy was Pompeo … and President Trump of course.    But I’m not getting into the personality changes in this administration,” he told Channel 20.
    Netanyahu, waving off commentators who deemed Bolton’s departure a blow to him and to Israel, cited new U.S. sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps that were announced shortly after Trump tweeted about Bolton’s departure.
    “So I am convinced, I have no doubts at all, that in any situation – with talks, without talks – President Trump and his administration will be very, very tough with Iran.”
    Iran greeted Bolton’s ouster by counseling the United States to shun “warmongers.”    But it has also been cold to recent Trump administration overtures, saying it will not enter talks while under U.S. sanctions.
    Netanyahu, a four-term conservative, is neck-and-neck with centrist rivals in opinion polls ahead of an Israeli election next week.
    He told Channel 20 that the U.S. position on Iran was “to not a small degree a result of things that I discussed with them, and I am also happy that I persuaded them.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Chris Reese and Frances Kerry)

9/11/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu announces post-election plan to annex West Bank’s Jordan Valley by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention on Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swathe of the occupied West Bank, if he wins a closely contested election just a week away.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that “all signed agreements with Israel and the obligations resulting from them would end” if Netanyahu went through with the move.
    Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and Palestinians, who signed interim peace deals with Israel in the 1990s that include security cooperation, seek to make the area part of a future state.
    Israeli political commentators saw Netanyahu’s declaration, in a speech broadcast live on Israel’s main TV channels, as a bid to siphon support away from far-right rivals who have long advocated annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
    “Today, I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on Israeli TV channels, calling the area “Israel’s eastern border.”
    That step, he said, could be taken “immediately after the election if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel.”
    Arab League foreign ministers condemned Netanyahu’s plan, saying it would undermine any chance of progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.    The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
    Fighting for his political life after an inconclusive election in April, Netanyahu also reaffirmed a pledge to annex all of the settlements Israel has established in the West Bank.    But he said that broader step could take longer and required “maximum coordination” with Washington, Israel’s close ally.
    “Out of respect for President Trump and great faith in our friendship, I will await applying sovereignty until release of the president’s political plan,” he said, referring to a long-awaited blueprint from Washington for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    The U.S. plan, Netanyahu reiterated, would likely be presented very soon after Israel goes to the polls on Sept. 17. Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party and in office for the past decade, failed to form a governing coalition following a national ballot in April.
    “There is no change in United States policy at this time,” a Trump administration official said when asked whether the White House supported Netanyahu’s move.
    “We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long sought security, opportunity and stability to the region.”
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in early May that he hoped Israel would take a hard look at President Donald Trump’s upcoming Middle East peace proposal before “proceeding with any plan” to annex West Bank settlements.
    In an interview with the New York Times in June, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that “under certain circumstances” Israel has the “right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank”
‘PERPETUAL CONFLICT’
    Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said on Twitter after Netanyahu’s announcement that the Israeli leader was out to impose a “greater Israel on all of historical Palestine and (carry) out an ethnic cleansing agenda.”    All bets are off.    Dangerous aggression.    Perpetual conflict
,” she wrote.
    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014 and Palestinians have called Trump’s proposal dead in the water, even before its publication, citing what they see as his pro-Israel policies.
    Last March, just before Israel’s previous election, Trump – in a move widely seen as an attempt to bolster Netanyahu – recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 conflict.
    “It’s an election stunt and not a very impressive one because it’s so transparent,” Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, said in a statement about Netanyahu’s plan.
    Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, and Likud are running neck and neck in opinion polls.
    The Jordan Valley, which Palestinians seek for the eastern perimeter of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, stretches from the Dead Sea in the south to the Israeli city of Beit Shean in the north.
    The 2,400 square km (926.65 square mile) valley accounts for nearly 30 percent of the territory in the West Bank.    Israel has long said it intends to maintain military control there under any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Ed Osmond, Howard Goller and Sonya Hepinstall)

9/11/2019 Israel strikes Gaza after rocket sirens force Netanyahu off stage
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli aircraft struck in Gaza on Wednesday hours after rockets from the Palestinian enclave triggered sirens that forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu off the stage at an election rally in Israel.
    The Israeli military said 15 targets were hit, including a weapons manufacturing facility, a naval compound used by militants and tunnels belonging to Hamas, the dominant armed force in Gaza.
    There were no immediate reports of casualties.
    Hours earlier, bodyguards rushed Netanyahu to shelter in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod when the sirens sounded during a Tuesday evening rally, a week ahead of a general election.
    Netanyahu was unhurt and several minutes later he continued his speech, which was broadcast live on social media by his right-wing Likud party.
    However, the spectacle of the prime minister being forced off the podium added fuel to accusations by political opponents that he has not done enough to halt the frequent cross-border rocket strikes against southern Israel.
    The Israeli military said two rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip towards Ashdod and another port city, Ashkelon, just to the south, and were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
    It said Wednesday’s strikes in Gaza came in response to the rocket launchings.
    There was no immediately claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s rocket attack, which happened shortly after Netanyahu announced a plan to annex part of the occupied West Bank if re-elected in the national ballot on Sept. 17.
    Israel seized Gaza in a 1967 war and pulled out its settlers and troops in 2005.    It maintains a naval blockade of the enclave and along with Egypt imposes tight restrictions at land borders, citing security concerns.
    Hamas and Israel have fought three wars in the past decade.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

9/12/2019 With Gaza war talk, Russia visit, Netanyahu fights on in election race by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in
Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday threatened war in Gaza and then flew to Russia to discuss Israeli freedom of action in Syria with President Vladimir Putin as a frenetic election race neared its end.
    Before Netanyahu embarked on a visit to the Black Sea resort Sochi to see Putin, Russia condemned Netanyahu’s announced plan to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, after next Tuesday’s election in Israel.
    In an interview with Israel’s Kan public radio, Netanyahu was questioned about persistent rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza.    His opponents in what opinion polls show to be a close race have accused him of failing to do enough to end the strikes on southern Israel.
    “We will probably be forced – there’ll be no choice – to enter into a campaign, a war, in Gaza,” Netanyahu said.
    He said, however, that he does not risk soldiers’ and civilians’ lives “just to get applause,” and he was vague about when any such offensive war might start.
    Netanyahu made the remarks two days after sirens warning of rocket fire from Hamas Islamist-run Gaza forced him off the stage at a campaign rally in southern Israel.
    Israel has responded to such attacks by launching air strikes against facilities belonging to Hamas, the dominant armed group that controls the Gaza Strip.
    With opinion surveys showing his right-wing Likud neck and neck with the centrist Blue and White party, Netanyahu’s Russia visit could help him burnish a statesman’s image that he has promoted throughout the campaign.
    Netanyahu’s election posters have featured him shaking hands with Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, a close ally.
    “I think Israeli citizens know that if it weren’t for my connections, and meetings every three months (with Putin), we would have clashed a lot,” Netanyahu, referring to the Russian military in Syria and Israeli forces that have been attacking Iranian-linked targets there.
    “The Russian army and the Israeli military and our air force are within touching distance…the big issue is how to succeed in maintaining our freedom of action in such a crowded area,” he said on the radio.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

9/12/2019 Netanyahu says Israel won’t tolerate Iran’s ‘aggression’ from Syria: Interfax
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the
Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Israel will not put up with threats from Iran, which, in his words, was using Syrian territory for aggression, Interfax news agency reported.
    Both are holding a meeting at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
    Putin praised military and security cooperation between Russia and Israel during the meeting, according to RIA news agency.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Chris Reese)

9/12/2019 Saudi Prince Abdulaziz: oil hawk with soft diplomacy touch by Rania El Gamal and Dmitry Zhdannikov
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's new Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaks during a panel discussion at the
24th World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – OPEC is notorious for arguing over production policies – but Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has effectively managed to deliver his first output cut just four days after becoming the new Saudi energy minister.
    With an impending listing of state oil giant Saudi Aramco and rising Saudi budget needs, the issue of higher oil prices is looming large for Prince Abdulaziz.
    But when he first met fellow Gulf oil ministers and OPEC officials this week, his first message wasn’t about oil prices.
    Prince Abdulaziz said first and foremost he was keen to rebuild trust with oil neighbors Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and other OPEC members, sources familiar with the meetings in Abu Dhabi said.
    The prince, a veteran oil official and senior member of the Al Saud ruling family, is expected to deal with OPEC matters differently from his predecessor Khalid al-Falih, according to three sources, who were briefed on the discussions.
    Falih has repeatedly upset other OPEC producers by forging deals with non-OPEC Russia first without discussing them with the kingdom’s Gulf OPEC allies, who traditionally cut or raised output together with Riyadh.
    “The new minister likes decisions to be unanimous instead of being presented as just Saudi-Russian agreements,” one source told Reuters.    He wants us to be a united front.”
    Within hours the strategy had paid out.
    Iraq and Nigeria, two of OPEC’s members which were over-producing well above their OPEC targets, joined Prince Abdulaziz at the same news conference table after a joint committee meeting, known as the JMMC, to pledge swift production cuts.
    As a result of their actions, OPEC’s output may drop further by around 400,000 bpd, or 0.4 percent of global supply, to help support oil prices at a time of rising fears of global economic recession and soaring U.S. production, two sources said.
    “Acting in unity sends strong messages to the market and gives it greater confidence,” the prince said as he invited the Iraqi and Nigerian ministers to explain their next moves.
    “My honorable colleague Minister Novak has wakened up to a new reality which is that we are not being too inclusive and we should have been,” said the Saudi minister, who was seated next to his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak.
CARDS CLOSE TO HIS CHEST
    OPEC and its allies led by Russia, a group known as OPEC+, met on Thursday in Abu Dhabi to discuss the market outlook ahead of a full OPEC+ ministerial meeting in Vienna in December.
    On Wednesday, Prince Abdulaziz met with Gulf oil ministers and senior OPEC officials where he delivered his message.
    “He also stressed the importance of compliance by all countries – whether big or small,” the first source said.
    Prince Abdulaziz, a son of the king and half-brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was named energy minister on Sunday.    Known in the industry as a diplomatic negotiator, he has long experience of cutting OPEC deals.
    But he also keeps his cards close to his chest.
    In his first interactions with the media this week, he joked about being too direct, with an “excessively spontaneous” sense of humor and as a “kitchen and basement” man.
    But he avoided predicting future OPEC policy and U.S. President Donald Trump moves against Iran, Riyadh’s arch rival.
    “What we hear now is something, and what can happen is something else,” the prince said.
    “I don’t want to go into details from the political aspect, I am as chair of the JMMC should take a neutral position that represents everyone.”
(Editing by David Evans)

9/12/2019 Christian evangelicals harvest land in settlements Israel hopes to annex by Maayan Lubell and Elana Ringler
FILE PHOTO: Tommy Waller, founder of U.S.-based Christian group HaYovel, walks inside his family's lodgings at the outskirts of
Har Bracha settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 11, 2019. Picture taken on June 11, 2019. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
    SHILO, West Bank (Reuters) – It’s harvest time in vineyards atop the hills of Shilo settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But it’s not Jewish settlers picking the grapes, it’s evangelical Christians.
    They are volunteers for the devout U.S. evangelical group HaYovel which brings Christians to help Jewish farmers in settlements that Israel has built on land that Palestinians seek for a state.
    Evangelicals have been a core support base for U.S. President Donald Trump since the 2016 election.    Many are also staunch supporters of Israel, feeling a religious connection with the Jewish people and the Holy Land.
    The West Bank holds special importance to evangelicals who see a divine hand in the modern-day return of Jews to a Biblical homeland – and who call the territory by its Hebrew Old Testament name, Judea and Samaria.
    The founder of HaYovel, Tommy Waller, is fond of quoting a passage from the book of Jeremiah, which reads: “Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel…Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria.”
    But that land is also at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    It is the heartland of what the Palestinians see as a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    For the Tennessee-born Waller, helping the Jewish settlers cultivate the land means taking part in the fulfillment of a prophecy. “As a Christian, as a person who believes in the Bible, it was an amazing thing to get to a place where my faith was touchable,” Waller said.
    “We share a commonality between Christianity and Judaism and that’s our Bible, our scripture,” said Waller at a vineyard on the outskirts of Har Bracha, another settlement whose farmers his volunteers assist.
ANNEXATION
    Most of the international community regards the Israeli settlements as illegal, a view that Israel disputes.
Israeli hawks, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claim the West Bank is vital to Israel’s security.    Relinquishing it to the     Palestinians could put large swaths of Israel under threat of militant attacks, they say.    Palestinians say there can be no viable Palestinian state without it.
    In the run-up to Israel’s election next Tuesday, Netanyahu has renewed his pledge to annex parts of the West Bank if he wins.
    It’s a position that the politically powerful U.S. evangelicals have embraced.
    “Evangelicals believe Judea and Samaria is Bible land, because it is,” said Mike Evans, the Texas-based founder of ‘Friends of Zion Museum’ which sits in Jerusalem.    “Do we think giving up Judea and Samaria is going to bring peace? No way,” said Evans, who is a member of Trump’s Faith Initiative.
    The prospect of annexation has alarmed the Palestinians, who fear that Netanyahu is likely to have Trump’s backing.
    “We are worried about losing our lands,” said Izzat Qadous, a retired school teacher from the Palestinian village Irak Burin, across the way from Har Bracha.
    “The same way they have annexed Jerusalem, they want to annex the West Bank and soon we will hear of Trump acknowledging the annexation of the West Bank.”
    About 2.9 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, according to official Palestinian figures and more than 400,000 Israeli settlers live there, according to the Israeli statistics bureau.
    Evangelical leaders lobbied Trump earlier in his presidency for his 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the holy city in 2018.
    “He (Trump) is rewarding moral clarity and I believe the Jewish people should be rewarded for moral clarity with recognizing more of their land,” said Evans, referring to the West Bank.
ROCK STAR
    Trump’s administration includes evangelicals at some top positions – his vice president Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in an interview to the Christian Broadcast Network in March said that “the Lord was at work here” in respect to Trump’s Israel policies.
    Evangelical support for Israel goes back decades, with political lobbying, fundraising and organized tours to the Holy Land. But some see the ties growing far stronger under both Trump and Netanyahu.
    Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the evangelical base “has been wielding unprecedented and enormous influence within the United States for the sake of the 'fulfillment of the prophecy,' thereby giving Israel a free hand to carry out its most hardline and destructive policies against the Palestinian people.”
    Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said Netanyahu began cultivating ties with evangelicals during his first stint as prime minister in the 1990s.
    “The Prime Minister has a keen sense of trendlines in the U.S.,” said Gold.
    That effort may have paid off.    “Benjamin Netanyahu among the evangelicals of the world is a rock star,” Evans said.
    Critics, however, say Netanyahu has alienated many liberal American Jews by embracing Christian conservatives.    Even in Israel’s settlements, the evangelicals are sometimes greeted with suspicion.
    Some Israelis there fear that the Christians may have a missionary agenda – seeking to convert them. Evans said his mission in life is to defend the Jewish people.
    Others are nervous about some evangelical readings of the scriptures in which the Jews’ return to the Biblical land is instrumental in bringing about the end of the world, at which point those who do not accept Jesus Christ will not be saved.
    “These people are pursuing God like we’re pursuing God,” said Waller.    “Obviously we have our own messianic belief, but those are future things, in the kingdom to come.”
    On the other hand, some settlers see the evangelicals as helping them out in fulfilling their own vision.
    Nir Lavi, the owner of Har Bracha winery, says Hayovel’s contribution to his business has been more than financial.
    “We are grateful,” said Lavi.    “It’s a totally different phase of our own journey – the Jewish people’s redemption in their land.”
(This story was refiled to fix B in ‘Biblical’ in paragraph 4)
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Angus MacSwan)

9/12/2019 OPEC members Iraq, Nigeria agree to cut oil output by Rania El Gamal, Dahlia Nehme and Maha El Dahan
Saudi Arabia's new Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaks at the joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee
in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Job NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – OPEC agreed on Thursday to trim oil output by asking over-producing members Iraq and Nigeria to bring production in line with their targets as the group strives to prevent a glut amid soaring U.S. production and a slowing global economy.
    Oil prices have dropped below $60 per barrel in recent weeks from their 2019 peaks of $75 as fears of a global recession outweigh concerns about falling supply from sanctions-hit Iran and Venezuela.
    A market-monitoring committee formed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a grouping known as OPEC+, met on Thursday in Abu Dhabi ahead of their policy discussions in Vienna in December.
    OPEC+ has overcomplied on average with its agreed cut of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) as Iranian and Venezuelan exports collapsed due to sanctions.    But some members, such as Iraq and Nigeria, have been producing above their quota.
    Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, pledged on Thursday to reduce output by 175,000 bpd by October, while Nigeria is to reduce supply by 57,000 bpd.
    Better compliance will deliver an output cut of more than 400,000 bpd, two OPEC+ sources said.
    OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, will continue pumping less than its target, said Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who took over as energy minister from Khalid al-Falih on Sunday.
    The kingdom will voluntarily overdeliver on its targets and pump just below 10 million bpd, Prince Abdulaziz said.
    He said the meeting on Thursday also discussed rising U.S. shale output and exports, a global economic slowdown and a possible softening of U.S. sanctions on OPEC member Iran.
    Any formal decision on deeper oil cuts could be taken only at the next OPEC+ meeting in December, the prince said.
    “I can tell you quite frankly that in all deliberations we have discussed all the potential uncertainties as any responsible organization and we are mindful of them,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
    “There is clear readiness to continue to be responsible and responsive.”
    He added that the ministerial committee would gather again before the full OPEC meeting in December.
    OPEC, Russia and other non-members agreed in December to reduce production by 1.2 million bpd – or 1.2% of global supply – from Jan. 1 this year.
    OPEC’s share of the cut, which now runs to March 2020, is 800,000 bpd, delivered by 11 members and exempting Iran, Libya and Venezuela.
    Oil prices tumbled more than 2% on Wednesday after a report that U.S. President Donald Trump was considering easing sanctions on Iran, which could boost global crude supply at a time of lingering worries about energy demand.
    Iraq has been raising its production and exports steeply in recent years, while Iran’s exports have collapsed over the past year because of U.S. sanctions.
    Iraq has been pumping 4.8 million bpd in recent months instead of its target of 4.512 million.    Nigeria produced 1.84 million bpd in August versus its target of 1.685 million.
(Additional reporting Alex Lawler, Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Nafisa Eltahir and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Dale Hudson and Mark Potter)

9/13/2019 Former Turkish PM breaks ties with Erdogan, ruling AK Party
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a news conference at
his ruling AK Party headquarters in Ankara, Turkey May 5, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, once President Tayyip Erdogan’s closest ally, said on Friday he resigned from the ruling AK Party and again criticized its ability to govern, though he did not immediately launch a new party as expected.The AK Party, which has fallen under the control of a small team, no longer has the ability to be a solution to our country’s problems,” Davutoglu told a press conference in Ankara.
    “It is evident that there is no internal evaluation, that the channels for…negotiations are closed, and that there is no possibility of an internal change,” he added.
    Five other lawmakers resigned from the AK Party (AKP) alongside Davutoglu, 60.    The party had earlier taken disciplinary action against him over his criticism of its policies, and was expected to soon dismiss him.
    “In order to prevent the AK Party’s loyal base from living through the sadness of seeing their own chairman dismissed, we are resigning from our party, for which we gave years of brow sweat and guidance,” added Davutoglu, a professor.
    The AKP, which has governed Turkey since 2002, did not immediately respond publicly to the resignation.
    Davutoglu served as prime minister between 2014 and 2016 before falling out with Erdogan.    He later slammed Erdogan and the AKP’s economic management, and its curbing of basic liberties and free speech.
    Last year, after winning sweeping powers under a new executive presidential system that Davutoglu called “distorted,” Erdogan named his son-in-law Berat Albayrak finance minister.    Davutoglu had harshly criticized the move, saying the country did not belong to a person or a family.
    Former economy tsar Ali Babacan and former president Abdullah Gul, both founding AKP members, plan to launch a new rival party this year.
    At the press conference, Davutoglu did not hint that he would be joining them, but instead reiterated their view that the country needed a new political direction.
    “It has become a historic responsibility for us to build a new political movement,” Davutoglu said.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

9/13/2019 ‘King Bibi’ fights for his political life in Israeli election by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Labourers work on hanging up a Likud election campaign banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu with his party candidates, in Jerusalem March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Twenty years after Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as Israel’s prime minister ended, the man hailed by supporters as “King Bibi” is again fighting for his political survival in a rerun election.
    Opinion polls predict a close race when Israel goes to the polls on Tuesday, five months after an inconclusive election in which Netanyahu declared himself the winner but failed to put together a coalition government.
    “A Likud victory is possible but it’s hanging by a thread,” said Abraham Diskin, political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, referring to Netanyahu’s right-wing party.
    An end to the Netanyahu era after his 10 successive years in power would be unlikely to lead to a dramatic change in Israel’s policy on hotly disputed issues in a peace process with the Palestinians that collapsed five years ago.
    Relations with the United States would be likely to remain on track, despite Netanyahu’s close relationship with President Donald Trump.
    Likud is running neck-and-neck with the centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, who has focused heavily on looming corruption charges Netanyahu faces.
    But Netanyahu’s political fate could ultimately end up in the hands of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu headed by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a potential kingmaker in the coalition-building certain to follow the vote.
    After the election in April, Lieberman blocked Netanyahu’s attempts to form a coalition, citing differences with the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox allies.    Opinion polls indicate Yisrael Beitenu will emerge stronger in the new ballot.
ANNEXATION
    Netanyahu has campaigned hard to avoid losing power, as he did in 1999 against then-Labour party leader Ehud Barak, appearing in hours of live video question-and-answer sessions on Facebook in recent weeks and dominating the news in Israel.
    In a step this week that alarmed Palestinian and other Arab leaders but delighted his core right-wing constituency, Netanyahu announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank.
    It was, Israeli political commentators said, a clear attempt to draw votes away from far-right parties.
    Netanyahu hammered home a get-out-the-vote message: Applying Israeli sovereignty to the valley, which Palestinians want as part of a future state, will happen only if Likud emerges from the election as the biggest party in the Knesset (parliament).
    In Israel, votes are cast for a party’s list of Knesset candidates.    Since no party has ever won a majority of seats on its own, Israel has always been ruled by coalitions, making post-election political bargaining key to determining the ultimate winner. [L5N25W3VZ]
    Netanyahu has burnished a statesman’s image during the campaign, visiting Britain last week for talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and meeting President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Thursday.
    Netanyahu has also showcased his relationship with Trump, featuring posters in which both are shaking hands.    But there has been no sign from Trump of a “grand gesture” that could bolster Netanyahu as a candidate.
    Shortly before the last election, with the prime minister at his side, Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.    Israel captured the strategic area in a 1967 war and annexed it in 1981, moves not accepted by most world powers, who deem it to be occupied Syrian territory.
NATIONAL UNITY
    The line-up of challengers this time is similar to the one Netanyahu faced in the previous election, with Blue and White his biggest threat.
    Blue and White has said it would “strengthen the settlement blocs” in the West Bank, with the Jordan Valley as Israel’s “eastern security border.”    But that falls short of an outright commitment to annex the valley, and a party spokesman said a Blue and White-led government would “maintain an open channel” for a peace deal with the Palestinians.
    Most of the international community regards the Israeli settlements as illegal, a view that Israel disputes.
    The spokesman said the party would seek “the return of bipartisanship to Israel-U.S. relations,” a reference to Netanyahu’s close ties with Trump and his Republican party and sharp differences with the Democrats over issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and Middle East peacemaking.
    After an election in Israel, its president gauges, following consultations with all political parties that won parliamentary seats, which legislator stands the best chance of forming a government.
    Both Netanyahu and Gantz hope to be tapped, but a photo finish would complicate the picture.
    A “national unity” government could avoid or resolve a stalemate if a Likud-led right-wing coalition or a Blue and White-led center-left alliance prove impossible.
    Gantz has said his party would not join a government with Netanyahu in it, citing the prime minister’s legal troubles.
    If a partnership with Gantz is the only way to stay out of the back benches, prominent Likud members could try to topple Netanyahu as party leader, some political analysts have said.
    Blue and White tied with Likud on 35 seats in the April election, and Gantz is seen by some voters as “Mr Clean.”
    “His low-key style and relative ineloquence are for many a modest man’s refreshing antithesis to Bibi’s perceived bluster and soloism.    Gantz is seen as balanced, cautious and pragmatic,” said Amotz Asa-El, a research fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute.
    Two weeks after the election, Israel’s attorney-general will hold a pre-trial hearing in which Netanyahu can argue against his announced intention to file fraud and bribery charges against him in the corruption investigations.
    Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has said he will not quit as prime minister if indicted, and there is no legal obligation to do so.    Allies have said they will press parliament to grant Netanyahu, as a member of the body, immunity from prosecution.
    After election night, it could all come down to Yisrael Beitenu’s Lieberman, at odds with Netanyahu’s traditional ultra-Orthodox partners over military conscription exemptions for Jewish seminary students.
    Lieberman, whose party is projected to double its April Knesset seat tally to 10, has said Yisrael Beitenu will not join up with a Netanyahu administration after Tuesday’s vote if it includes the religious factions.
Netanyahu’s annexation plans: https://graphics.reuters.com/ISRAEL-ELECTION/0100B2981B3/ISRAEL-ELECTION.jpg
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

9/14/2019 Exclusive: Turkey’s Erdogan says to discuss with Trump buying U.S. Patriot missiles by Samia Nakhoul, Orhan Coskun and Dominic Evans
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Istanbul, Turkey, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he will discuss buying U.S. Patriot missiles with President Donald Trump this month, saying his personal bond with the U.S. leader could overcome a crisis caused by Ankara buying Russian air defense systems.
    Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system in July raised the prospect of U.S. sanctions, and the State Department has said an offer to sell Raytheon Co’s Patriot missile defense system to Ankara has expired.
    However Erdogan told Reuters he had discussed buying Patriots in a phone call with Trump two weeks ago and would follow up when they meet at the U.N. General Assembly, which opens next week.
    “I said no matter what package of … S-400s we get, we can buy from you a certain amount of Patriots,” Erdogan told Reuters on Friday.
    “But I said we have to see conditions that at least match up to the S-400s,” Erdogan said, adding that he was referring to the possibility of joint production and favorable lending terms.
    “He (Trump) said: ‘Are you serious?’    I said: ‘Yes’,” Erdogan said, adding that he told Trump they would discuss it in greater detail when they meet.
    Asked whether he would also ask Trump to prevent the U.S. Treasury imposing a heavy fine on Turkey’s mainly state-owned Halkbank for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, Erdogan said he was confident they could avoid such a “mistake,” citing what he said was “a different kind of trust” between the two men.
    “In my opinion a country like the USA will not want to hurt its ally Turkey any more.    This is not a rational behavior,” he said in an interview at the Ottoman Dolmabahce palace complex on the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
‘SAFE ZONE’
    Erdogan and Trump will also discuss plans to establish what Turkey describes as a safe zone along 450 km (280 miles) of Syrian border stretching from the Euphrates river to the Iraq border, a region controlled mainly by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters.
    On Sunday the two countries launched joint military patrols in the area, but Erdogan says that Washington has dragged its feet in an operation Turkey sees as crucial to driving the YPG, which it designates a terrorist group, away from its border.
    Turkey has warned it will act alone if the safe zone is not established this month, raising the prospect of a third Turkish military incursion into northern Syria in three years.
    “The peace corridor is the essential thing.    We will not allow a terror corridor on our borders and we will take whatever steps are necessary on this subject,” he said.
    The U.S. alliance with the YPG in Syria has angered NATO member Turkey, which has faced a decades-long insurgency in its mainly Kurdish southeast and fears growing Kurdish military power on its southern border.
    “It is Turkey which is fighting with these terror groups… We are your partner in NATO.    You give them the weapons for free that you will not sell for money to your NATO ally,” he said, referring to U.S. arms supplies to the YPG.
    “We are fed up with explaining this… I think Trump must understand us,” Erdogan said.
    Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels who sought his overthrow.    The United States, European and Arab allies as well as Turkey have supported different rebel factions.
    Assad has regained control of most territory lost in the early stages of the eight-year conflict and has vowed to retake every inch of     Syria including the northwestern province of Idlib, where Syrian and foreign radical fighters hold sway alongside other more moderate factions.
    Erdogan reiterated a warning that Turkey would be forced to let Syrian refugees on its soil leave for Europe if Western nations did not provide greater support to Turkey and support its plans for a safe zone where Syrians could be settled.
    “If you can’t accept this business, we will open the gates.    Let them go from there wherever they want,” he said.
    Establishing the zone 20 miles (32 km) inside northeast Syria would allow refugees in Turkey “to return to their lands, and allow for all their needs – from education, health, shelter – to be met.    It will allow them to live on their own lands and break away from the tent life and container cities,” he said.
    Erdogan said the financial aid Turkey was receiving from the European Union was not sufficient to ease the burden of 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey since the civil war erupted in 2011.
    Turkey says it has spent $40 billion hosting the Syrians, and a deal with the EU to give 6 billion euros to support those efforts was not enough and too slow, a message he would repeat to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the United Nations.
    Erdogan will host the presidents of Russia and Iran on Monday for talks that would focus on securing a lasting truce in Idlib, preventing a fresh refugee wave into Turkey, and asserting control over jihadist fighters there, he said.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Can Sezer, Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

9/14/2019 Turkey orders arrest of 223 military personnel over suspected Gulen links: state media
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an interview with Reuters
in Istanbul, Turkey, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has ordered the arrest of 223 serving military personnel across the country and in the breakaway state of Northern Cyprus over suspected links to a network Ankara accuses of organizing an attempted coup in 2016, state media said on Saturday.
    Authorities are seeking the suspects across 49 provinces in Turkey and in Northern Cyprus, state broadcaster TRT Haber said.    It said 100 of those facing arrest were from the army, while 41 from the air force and 32 from the navy.
    Ankara blames U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, of masterminding the failed putsch on July 15, 2016.    He has denied any involvement.
    In the three-year purge since the coup attempt, more than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial and about 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs.
    Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups have criticized the scale of the crackdown, saying President Tayyip Erdogan has used the abortive coup as a pretext to quash dissent.
    Ankara has defended the measures as a necessary response to the scale of the security threat which Turkey faces, vowing to eradicate Gulen’s network.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Potter)

9/14/2019 Houthi drones hit two Aramco plants, Saudis say fires contained by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal
Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group on Saturday attacked two Saudi Aramco plants, including the world’s biggest oil processing facility, sparking fires in the latest flare up of violence in the Gulf.
    Saudi Arabia said it had brought the blazes under control, without specifying whether oil production or exports were affected. State television said exports were continuing.
    The drone strikes on the world’s biggest oil exporter come as state oil giant Saudi Aramco has accelerated plans for an initial public offering to as early as this year, and follow earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Gulf waters.
    Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition of Sunni Muslim countries that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, has blamed regional rival Shi’ite Iran for previous attacks, which Tehran denies.    Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran.
    The extent of damage from the drone strikes in Abqaiq and Khurais provinces remains unclear.    Nine hours after the pre-dawn attacks, Aramco has issued no statement and the authorities have not reported on casualties.
    Abqaiq is located 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters.    It contains the world’s largest oil processing plant, handling crude from the giant Ghawar field and for export to terminals Ras Tanura – the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility – and Juaymah.    It also pumps westwards across the kingdom to Red Sea export terminals.
    Khurais, 190 km further southwest, contains the country’s second largest oilfield.
    Many Western employees of Aramco live in Abqaiq.    The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said it was unaware of any injuries to Americans from the attacks.
FIRE AND SMOKE
    Hours after the strike in Abqaiq, a Reuters witness nearby said fire and smoke were still visible.    Earlier video footage verified by Reuters showed bright flames and thick plumes of smoke rising toward the dark pre-dawn sky.    An emergency vehicle is seen rushing toward the site.
    The Saudi interior ministry spokesman said Aramco industrial security teams fighting the fires since 0400 (0100 GMT) had managed to control them and stop their spread.    He did not identify the source of the drones but said an investigation was underway.
    The Houthis’ military spokesman, without providing evidence, said the attacks had achieved direct hits on refineries at both sites, which are over 1,000 km from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and pledged a widening of attacks on Saudi Arabia.
    The Saudi-led coalition launched two air strikes on Yemen’s northern Saada province, a Houthi stronghold, on Saturday, a Reuters witness said.    The Houthi-run al Masirah TV said the warplanes targeted a military camp north of Saada city.
    Tensions in the region have escalated in recent months after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of an international nuclear deal and extended economic sanctions on Iran.
.     The Houthis hit Shaybah oilfield last month and two oil pumping stations in May.    Both attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production.
    The coalition has responded with air strikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa and other areas held by the group, which controls most large urban centers in Yemen.
    The violence is complicating U.N.-led peace efforts to ease tensions between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to pave the way for political talks to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
    The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen to try to restore the internationally recognized government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.
    The Yemen conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis deny being puppets of Tehran and say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal; Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Tuqa Khalid in Dubai and Reuters team in Yemen; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Mark Potter)

9/14/2019 Houthi drones attack Saudi oil heartland, sources say crude flows hit by Stephen Kalin, Rania El Gamal and Dmitry Zhdannikov
Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    RIYADH/DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group on Saturday attacked two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, including the world’s biggest petroleum processing facility, in a strike that three sources said had disrupted output and exports.
    Two sources close to the matter said 5 million barrels per day of crude production were impacted — close to half of the kingdom’s output or 5% of global oil supply.    Another source said some production was shut down as a precaution and that most of the lost output capacity would resume within days.
    The pre-dawn drone attack on the Saudi Aramco facilities set off several fires, although the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter, later said these were brought under control.
    State television said exports were continuing but Aramco has yet to comment since the assault, which the Houthis said was carried out by 10 drones.
    “For now, markets are well supplied with ample commercial stocks,” the International Energy Agency tweeted, saying it was in contact with Saudi authorities as well as major producer and consumer nations.
    The attacks occurred as Aramco accelerates plans for an initial public offering of the state oil giant to as early as this year, and follow earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Gulf waters.
    Saturday’s attacks appeared to be the most brazen yet.
    President Trump told Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by telephone that the United States was ready to work with the kingdom to guarantee its security, saying attacks on Saudi oil facilities had a negative impact on the American and global economies, state news agency SPA said.
    Prince Mohammed said Riyadh had the will and capability to confront this “terrorist attack,” it said.
    Saudi Arabia, leading a Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, has blamed regional rival Shi’ite Iran for previous attacks, which Tehran denies.    Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran.
    Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said an investigation had been launched into who planned and executed the strikes.    He said the Western-backed alliance would counter threats to global energy security and economic stability.
    State television, citing its correspondent, said there were no casualties, but there was no official statement.    A Reuters witness nearby said at least 15 ambulances were seen in the area and there was a heavy security presence around Abqaiq.
HEART OF OIL MARKET
    “A successful attack on Abqaiq would be akin to a massive heart attack for the oil market and global economy,” said Bob McNally, who runs Rapidan Energy Group and served in the U.S. National Security Council during the second Gulf War in 2003.
    Abqaiq is 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters.    The oil processing plant handles crude from the world’s largest conventional oilfield, the supergiant Ghawar, and for export to terminals Ras Tanura – the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility – and Juaymah.    It also pumps westwards across the kingdom to Red Sea export terminals.
    Two of the sources said Ghawar was flaring gas after the strikes disrupted gas processing facilities. Khurais, 190 km (118 miles) further southwest, contains the country’s second largest oilfield.
    Many Western employees of Aramco live in Abqaiq.    The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said it was unaware of any injuries to Americans from the attacks.
    “These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost,” the embassy quoted Ambassador John Abizaid as saying in a Twitter post.
    Andrew Murrison, a British foreign affairs minister, called on the Houthis to stop threatening civilian areas and Saudi commercial infrastructure.
    It was the latest in a series of Houthi missile and drone strikes on Saudi cities that had largely been intercepted, but have recently hit targets, including Shaybah oilfield last month and oil pumping stations in May.    Both those attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production.
    “This is a relatively new situation for the Saudis. For the longest time they have never had any real fears that their oil facilities would be struck from the air,” Kamran Bokhari, founding director of the Washington-based Center for Global Policy, told Reuters.
    He said Riyadh had in the past largely protected oil assets against vehicle-borne explosive attacks by militant groups.
FLAMES, PLUMES OF SMOKE     The Reuters witness said the fire in Abqaiq appeared to have been extinguished by early evening.    Earlier video footage verified by Reuters showed bright flames and thick plumes of smoke. An emergency vehicle is seen rushing toward the site.
    The coalition launched air strikes on Yemen’s northern Saada province, a Houthi stronghold, on Saturday, a Reuters witness said. Houthi-run al Masirah TV said a military camp was struck.
    The Houthis’ military spokesman, without providing evidence, said drones hit refineries at both Saudi sites, which are over 1,000 km (621 miles) from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and pledged a widening of assaults on Saudi Arabia.
    Regional tensions have escalated after Washington quit an international nuclear deal and extended sanctions on Iran.
    United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths said the Houthi escalation was worrying and urged restraint by all parties.
    The violence is complicating U.N.-led peace efforts to end the Yemen war which has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.    The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran
    The coalition intervened in Yemen after the internationally recognised government was ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal; Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov in London, Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Tuqa Khalid and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, David Milliken in London and Reuters team in Yemen; Editing by Richard Borsuk, Mark Potter and William Maclean)

9/14/2019 Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza killed in U.S. raid, Trump says by Christopher Bing and Mark Hosenball
A photograph circulated by the U.S. State Department’s Twitter account to announce a $1 million USD reward for al Qaeda key
leader Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, is seen March 1, 2019. State Department/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Hamza bin Laden, a son of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and himself a notable figure in the militant group, was killed in a U.S. counterterrorism operation, President Donald Trump said on Saturday.
    In a statement issued by the White House, Trump said the operation took place in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but he offered no further details.
    “The loss of Hamza bin Ladin not only deprives al-Qa’ida of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group,” Trump said, using an alternative spelling for the group that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
    A U.S. official told Reuters Hamza had been killed months ago near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.    Trump was briefed at the time on the operation.
    The U.S. government believes Hamza, who is thought to have been about 30 years old, had succeeded his father as the head of what remains of al Qaeda, the official said.    Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in 2011.
    Hamza was at his father’s side in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.    He also spent time with his father in Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan pushed much of al Qaeda’s senior leadership there, according to the Brookings Institution.
    The U.S. State Department designated Hamza a global terrorist in 2017 after he called for acts of terrorism in Western capitals and threatened to take revenge against the United States for killing his father.
    Reuters reported on July 31 that U.S. officials believed Hamza had been killed.    But Trump’s statement represented the first time the U.S. government had confirmed the operation.
    It was unclear why the White House decided to publicize information about Hamza’s death months after he was killed.
    The State Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Christopher Bing and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

9/14/2019 Egypt’s Sisi rebuffs videos alleging corruption
FILE PHOTO - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the
sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan June 29, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday allegations of corruption within the army and government were “lies and slander,” in his first public response to graft accusations that have gone viral online.
    “I swear to God, these are lies and slander,” Sisi told a youth conference in Cairo, referring to the accusations made by Mohamed Ali, a businessman and actor turned political activist who accuses Sisi and some army generals of squandering billions of Egyptian pounds.
    Sisi, a former army chief who took power after the overthrow of the former Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, strongly defended the army and said he tolerated no corruption.
    “The army is a …very sensitive institution toward any inadequate behavior, especially if it was attributed to its leaders,” he said.
    Ali, whose contracting company used to carry out civilian projects for the Egyptian army, has posted a series of videos from exile in Spain.    In them he accuses Sisi of wasting money on presidential palaces and the army on spending billions of Egyptian pounds on projects like a luxury hotel in a Cairo suburb.
    At a time when many Egyptians are struggling with austerity measures as part of reforms agreed with the International Monetary Funds, Ali’s videos have drawn a huge online following. His first video on Sept. 2 garnered 1.7 million views on his Facebook page alone.
    The popularity of Ali’s videos have turned him into a public figure.    In Egypt dozens of cartoons have been made pitting him against Sisi, as well as images depicting Ali in the likeness of another Mohamed Ali, an Ottoman-era commander who ruled Egypt in the 19th century.
    The military’s economic might has expanded since Sisi became president, and companies owned by the military have flourished, causing concern amongst local businessmen and foreign investors.
    Sisi, however, defended the building of presidential palaces.
    “Are they for me?    I am building a new state.    Do you think when you speak falsehood I will be frightened?    No, I will keep building and building, but not for myself,” he said.
(Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Mahmoud Mourad, Additional reporting by Nadine Awadallh, Editing by Ulf Laessing and Christina Fincher)

9/14/2019 Turkey says OIC to convene after Netanyahu annexation plans
Palestinian students make their way to school in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will hold an extraordinary meeting on Sunday to discuss Israel’s announcement of its intention to annex areas of the West Bank, the Turkish foreign ministry said on Saturday.
    Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he would annex the Jordan Valley, a large swathe of the occupied West Bank that Israel captured in 1967 and which Palestinians want as part of a future state.
    Middle Eastern nations and European powers have expressed alarm at the plan, which Netanyahu said he would implement if he wins a closely contested election next week.
    Arab foreign ministers also condemned the plan on Tuesday as “aggression” undermining any chances of a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
    In a statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said the OIC would meet in Jeddah to discuss “Netanyahu’s statements on the intention to annex Jordan Valley and the illegal settlements in West Bank by Israel.”
    Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.    The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Stephen Powell)

9/15/2019 Saudi oil sites ablaze after drone attack by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and another major oil field Saturday, sparking huge fires at a vulnerable chokepoint for global energy supplies.
    It remained unclear hours later whether anyone was injured at the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field or what effect the assault would have on oil production.
    The attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis in the war against a Saudi-led coalition comes after weeks of similar drone assaults on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure, but none of the earlier strikes appeared to have caused the same amount of damage.    The attack likely will heighten tensions further across the Persian Gulf amid an escalating crisis between the U.S.and Iran as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers unravels.
    The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said it was unaware of any injuries to Americans.    Saudi Aramco employs a number of U.S. citizens, some of whom live in guarded compounds in the kingdom near the site.

9/15/2019 Attacks on Saudi oil facilities knock out half the kingdom’s supply by Stephen Kalin, Rania El Gamal and Dmitry Zhdannikov
Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    RIYADH/DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it attacked two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Saturday, knocking out more than half the Kingdom’s output, in a move expected to send oil prices soaring and increase tensions in the Middle East.
    The attacks will cut the kingdom’s output by 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd), according to a statement from state-run oil company Saudi Aramco, or more than 5% of global oil supply.
    The pre-dawn strikes follow earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Gulf waters, but these were the most brazen yet, temporarily crippling much of the nation’s production capacity.    Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest exporter, shipping more than 7 million barrels of oil to global destinations every day, and for years has served as the supplier of last resort to markets.
    While the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put the blame squarely on Iran, writing on Twitter that there was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
    “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo said.
    Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone that Riyadh had the will and capability “to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression,” according to Saudi state news agency SPA.
    The United States condemned the attacks and Trump told the crown prince that Washington was ready to work with the kingdom to guarantee its security, according to the White House.    The U.S. Department of Energy also said it was ready to release oil from its strategic petroleum reserve if necessary.    Energy Secretary Rick Perry also said his department would work with the International Energy Agency, which coordinates energy policies of industrialized nations, if global action is needed.
    Saudi Arabia, leading a Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, has blamed regional rival Shi’ite Iran for previous attacks, which Tehran denies.    Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran.
    Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said an investigation had been launched into who planned and executed the strikes.    He said the Western-backed alliance would counter threats to global energy security and economic stability.
    Aramco Chief Executive Amin Nasser said there were no casualties from the attacks.
    Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Aramco would have more information within 48 hours, and it will draw down oil in storage to compensate for the loss.    Aramco is in the process of planning what is expected to be the world’s largest initial public offering.
HEART OF OIL MARKET
    “Abqaiq is perhaps the most critical facility in the world for oil supply,” said Jason Bordoff, who runs the Center On Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and served on the U.S. National Security Council during Barack Obama’s presidency.    “The risk of tit-for-tat regional escalation that pushes oil prices even higher has just gone up significantly.”
    Abqaiq is 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters.    The oil processing plant handles crude from the world’s largest conventional oilfield, the supergiant Ghawar, and for export to terminals Ras Tanura – the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility – and Juaymah. It also pumps westwards across the kingdom to Red Sea export terminals.
    Two of the sources said Ghawar was flaring gas after the strikes disrupted gas processing facilities.    Khurais, 190 km (118 miles) further southwest, contains the country’s second largest oilfield.
    “These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost,” the embassy quoted Ambassador John Abizaid as saying in a Twitter post.
    Andrew Murrison, a British foreign affairs minister, called on the Houthis to stop threatening civilian areas and Saudi commercial infrastructure.
    It was the latest in a series of Houthi missile and drone strikes on Saudi cities that had largely been intercepted, but have recently hit targets, including Shaybah oilfield last month and oil pumping stations in May.    Both those attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production.
    “This is a relatively new situation for the Saudis. For the longest time they have never had any real fears that their oil facilities would be struck from the air,” Kamran Bokhari, founding director of the Washington-based Center for Global Policy, told Reuters.
    Aramco’s CEO said in a statement that the situation had been brought under control.    A Reuters witness said the fire in Abqaiq appeared to have been extinguished by early evening.
ESCALATING TENSIONS
    Regional tensions have escalated after Washington quit an international nuclear deal and extended sanctions on Iran.
    The violence is complicating U.N.-led peace efforts to end the Yemen war which has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.    The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    The coalition intervened in Yemen after the internationally recognized government was ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system.
    The coalition launched air strikes on Yemen’s northern Saada province, a Houthi stronghold, on Saturday, a Reuters witness said. Houthi-run al Masirah TV said a military camp was struck.
    The Houthis’ military spokesman, without providing evidence, said drones hit refineries at both Saudi sites, which are more than 1,000 km (621 miles) from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and pledged a widening of assaults against Saudi Arabia.
GRAPHIC – OPEC oil production: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/OPEC-OIL/0H001PBVF68E/index.html
GRAPHIC – OPEC spare capacity (EIA): https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/OIL-OPEC/0H001PBVG68H/index.html
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal; Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov in London, Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Tuqa Khalid and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, David Gaffen in New York, Tim Gardner in Washington, David Milliken in London and Reuters team in Yemen; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Marguerita Choy)

9/15/2019 Turkey says delivery of second S-400 battery complete
A Russian serviceman walks past 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 defence ministry said on Sunday that the delivery of a second battery of Russian S-400 missile defence systems has been completed as of Sunday, and added that the systems would become active in April 2020.
    Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 systems, which the United States says are not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 ‘stealth’ fighter jets.
    The initial parts of the system were delivered to Ankara in July despite warnings about possible U.S. sanctions over the purchase.    The United States has also expelled Turkey from the F-35 programme, but Ankara has so far dismissed the warnings.
    In a statement, the defence ministry said the delivery of the second S-400 battery to Ankara was completed.    Efforts to mount the systems and train personnel who will use them were continuing, it said, adding that it planned to activate the S-400s in April 2020.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusglu told an interview with CNN Turk on Saturday that the S-400s would be activated despite repeated U.S. warnings.
    “They (U.S. officials) told us ‘don’t activate them and we can sort this out’, but we told them that we didn’t buy these systems as a prop,” Cavusoglu said, adding that Turkey would be open to buying U.S. Raytheon Co Patriot systems as well.
    In an interview on Friday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters he will discuss buying U.S. Patriot missiles with U.S. President Donald Trump this month, saying his personal bond with the U.S. leader could overcome the crisis caused by the S-400s.
    Though Washington has not yet announced whether it will impose sanction on Ankara, U.S. President Donald Trump has shown sympathy towards Turkey.    He has not fully ruled out sanctions.
    On Monday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was considering imposing sanctions related to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 systems, but no decisions have been made.
    The dispute over the S-400 systems is one of several issues straining ties between the United States and Turkey that include the ongoing conflict in Syria, among others.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Toby Chopra)

9/15/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu sharpens focus on settlements, two days before ballot by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a weekly cabinet meeting in the
Jordan Valley, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 15, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up a bid for far-right votes two days before a closely-contested election, convening his cabinet in the occupied West Bank and having it approve legal status for an unauthorized outpost.
    Netanyahu’s caretaker government met on Sunday in the Jordan Valley, a largely agricultural area which he announced on Tuesday that he intends to annex if he wins a fifth term.    Israeli cabinets have rarely held sessions in the West Bank.
    At the meeting, the government announced it had approved Netanyahu’s proposal to turn the outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho into a formal settlement – 20 years after it was established as a farming community in the Jordan Valley without state sanction.
    In public remarks at the session, Netanyahu said it would be up to the government formed after Tuesday’s election to grant final approval.
    The timing of the cabinet’s move was widely seen in Israel as another bid by Netanyahu to swing support from small ultranationalist parties to his right-wing Likud in an election that follows an inconclusive poll in April.
    Just days after voicing anger over Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley annexation plan, Palestinians said no Israeli government decision could give legitimacy to settlements in occupied territory.
    “The Palestinian people are the only decision-makers on their land,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
SIMILAR AGENDA
    Appealing to far-right voters and Likud’s own supporters to turn out in large numbers, Netanyahu has been portraying himself as being in lockstep with ultranationalists over retaining West Bank land through annexation.
    Ballots cast for far-right parties, rather than for Likud, he has said, could deny it victory in a close race. In Israel, voters choose a party’s list of parliamentary candidates, rather than individuals.
    Opinion polls show Likud and its main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, running neck and neck, meaning coalition-building is key to determining an ultimate winner.
    Scores of outposts, unauthorized by Israeli governments, dot the West Bank, in addition to some 120 settlements that have been built in the area since its capture in the 1967 Middle East war.
    The Palestinians and many countries consider all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions relating to occupied territory.    Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
    Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

9/15/2019 Leaders of Turkey, Russia, Iran set to tackle Syria turmoil
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
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran meet on Monday to try to secure a lasting truce in northwest Syria following attacks by the government that risk deepening regional turmoil and pushing a new wave of migrants toward Turkey.
    The summit in Ankara, bringing together countries whose Syrian allies are combatants in a ruinous eight-year-old war, will focus on the Idlib region, the last remaining territory held by rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani have backed Assad against the rebels.    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, along with the United States, European and Arab allies, has supported different rebel factions in the conflict.
    Assad’s forces, aided by Russian air power, have regained control of most lands lost in the war.    In recent months, Assad’s forces have attacked Idlib, where Syrian and foreign radical fighters hold sway alongside other more moderate factions.
    Under a deal with Moscow and Tehran two years ago, Turkey set up 12 military observation posts in northwest Syria aimed at reducing fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels.    The Turkish military posts have recently been caught in the crossfire due to the Syrian offensive in the region.
    In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Erdogan warned that any Syrian government attack on the posts would draw retaliation from Turkish forces, possibly risking a direct confrontation between Ankara and Damascus.
    “The moment that the regime messes with our observation posts, if there is any attack, then things will take a very different direction,” Erdogan told Reuters.    “We will not hold back like we are now.    We will take any necessary steps.”
    Erdogan and Putin agreed at talks in Moscow in August to “normalize” the situation in the region, after Syrian troops encircled rebels and a Turkish post in a move Ankara said threatened its national security.
    While Putin and Erdogan have forged close ties over a range of issues like energy and defense cooperation, recent attacks by Syrian troops have also strained ties between Ankara and Moscow.
POSSIBLE MIGRANT WAVE
    The fighting in northwestern Syria has also raised the risk of a new migrant wave towards Turkey, which currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
    The United Nations has said that more than 500,000 people have been uprooted since late April, most of them escaping deeper into the rebel bastion and towards the border.
    While Erdogan has said that Turkey could not handle such an influx of refugees, he has also previously threatened to “open the gates” for migrants to Europe unless Ankara receives more international support.
    On Friday, Erdogan reiterated his warning and said Monday’s summit would aim to stop the migration from Idlib and establish a ceasefire to prevent any further civilian casualties.
    “The expectation here is not a momentary ceasefire.    First, it is to put a stop to the migration here,” he told Reuters.    “Second, to ensure a ceasefire here.    Third, to seriously get terrorist organizations under control,” he added.
    “Turkey, which is hosting 3.6 million refugees in its home at the moment, cannot take the millions of people that will arrive from there,” Erdogan said.    “We cannot carry that weight.”
    Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) suffered some stunning local election losses this year in part due to impatience among Turks over the Syrian refugees.    Erdogan has said one million refugees could return to a “safe zone” in northeast Syria, which Turkey is trying to establish with the United States.
    Syrian troops shelled the south of Idlib on Sunday, according to rescuers and residents in the rebel stronghold where a ceasefire had halted a fierce army offensive two weeks ago.
    The summit also comes after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group launched drone attacks on two of Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil installations on Saturday.    Washington later blamed Iran for the attacks, which Tehran dismissed as “pointless” on Sunday.
    On Monday, Erdogan, Putin and Rouhani are expected to hold bilateral talks with each other before holding trilateral talks on the developments in Idlib.    The three leaders will then hold a joint news conference.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by William Maclean)

9/15/2019 Egypt resumes Nile dam talks with Ethiopia, Sudan
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addresses journalists during a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart
Nikos Dendias (not pictured) following a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Athens, Greece July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s foreign minister said Cairo had resumed talks with Sudan and Ethiopia over a $4 billion dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile which had been suspended for over a year.
    The three countries’ irrigation ministers met in Cairo on Sunday to resume negotiations over filling and operating the dam, which Egypt sees as a threat to its water supplies.
    Egypt fears the dam will restrict Nile River flows, the economic lifeblood of all three countries, from Ethiopia’s highlands, through the deserts of Sudan, to Egyptian fields and reservoirs.
    Sunday’s meeting came “after a halt of about a year and three months, a period exceeding what was planned,” state news agency MENA cited Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry as saying.
    Ethiopia disputes the mega dam will harm Egypt, and in November, MENA quoted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as saying he wanted to preserve Egypt’s Nile River rights.
    Shoukry said he hoped the negotiations, due to continue on Monday, would lead to agreement on a firm timeline for talks that will eventually lead to a binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation.
(Reporting by Omar Fahmy, Writing by Yousef Saba; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

9/15/2019 Syria’s Assad issues amnesty reducing punishment for crimes
FILE PHOTO: A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen on the main road to the
airport in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued an amnesty on Sunday that reduces sentences for crime and pardons draft dodgers if they report for duty within three to six months.
    The decree applies to crimes committed before Sept. 14, the presidency said.    It reduces the death penalty to a life sentence of hard labor, and life sentences to 20 years, among other punishments.
    Fugitives must turn themselves in within three months to benefit from the amnesty.
    The amnesty does not cover Syrians who took up arms to fight the state, colluded with foreign nations against Syria, or joined insurgents, whom Damascus regards as terrorists.
    Other exceptions include drug crimes and arms smuggling.
    Draft dodgers inside Syria will have three months to take advantage of the amnesty while those abroad will have six months.
    During Syria’s war, the government has issued similar amnesties before to pardon those evading mandatory military service, who can face years in prison.
    With Russian and Iranian help, Assad has reclaimed control of most of the country from an array of rebel factions, some that were backed by foreign governments, and jihadist militants.
    Syria’s war, which spiraled out of an uprising in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people, uprooted half the pre-war population, and created one of the world’s worst refugee crises.
    Aid agencies often cite the fear of conscription, and punishment for ducking it, as one of the main reasons refugees give for not wanting to return home.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Editing by Dale Hudson)

9/15/2019 Turkey says Israel becoming ‘racist, apartheid regime’ with annexation plan
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in Riga, Latvia May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of his intention to annex areas of the West Bank following next week’s elections shows Israel is becoming a “racist, apartheid regime,” Turkey’s foreign minister was quoted as saying on Sunday.
    Netanyahu said on Tuesday he would annex the Jordan Valley, a swathe of the occupied West Bank that Israel captured in 1967 and which Palestinians want as part of a future state.    The move alarmed Middle Eastern nations, European powers and Arab foreign ministers.
    On Saturday, Turkey’s foreign ministry said the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) would convene in Jeddah on Sunday to discuss Netanyahu’s statement.
    Speaking in Jeddah, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Netanyahu’s “embarrassing” plan was a “despicable” attempt to earn votes ahead of Tuesday’s election, and criticized what he called a lack of reaction from other Muslim countries.
“Israel, encouraged by the support of certain countries, is continuing its aggressive policies that are turning it into a racist, apartheid regime,” Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.
    “If the whole Muslim community had reacted together, the reckless plans, policies and behavior of the United States and Israel would never have reached this point,” Cavusoglu said.
    Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says.    The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with some 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
    Turkey and Israel, former allies, have long been at odds over Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians and Jerusalem’s status.    Turkish     President Tayyip Erdogan called for a summit of the OIC twice last year after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
    Turkey and Israel also expelled each other’s top diplomats last year during a dispute over clashes when dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces on the Gaza border.    The two sides continue to trade with one another.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dale Hudson)

9/15/2019 Evidence from Saudi oil attack points to Iran, not Yemen: U.S. official by Roberta Rampton and Rania El Gamal
A satellite image shows an apparent drone strike on an Aramco oil facility in
Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia September 14, 2019. Planet Labs Inc/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – The attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities on Saturday that has threatened global oil supplies came from a direction indicating that Iran was behind it, and cruise missiles may have been the weapon of choice, according to a senior U.S. official.
    The comments added heft to Washington’s accusation that Iran launched the attacks that knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply, instead of the Yemeni Houthi group that claimed it.    Tehran rejected the accusation, but said it was ready for war.
    The strike on the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, which included damage to the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility, was expected to send oil prices up $5 to $10 per barrel on Monday and inflame tensions across the Middle East.     The U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said on Sunday there were 19 points of impact in the attack on Saudi facilities and that evidence showed the launch area was west-northwest of the targets – the direction of Iraq and Iran – not south from Yemen.
    The official added that Saudi officials indicated they had seen signs that cruise missiles were used in the attack, which is inconsistent with the Iran-aligned Houthi group’s claim that it conducted the attack with 10 drones.
    “There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this.    No matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it.    There’s no other candidate,” the official told reporters.
    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed the U.S. allegation it was responsible as “pointless.”    A senior Revolutionary Guards commander warned that the Islamic Republic was ready for “full-fledged” war.
    “All American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kilometers around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Commander Amirali Hajizadeh as saying.
    Riyadh has accused Iran of being behind previous attacks on oil-pumping stations and the Shaybah oilfield, charges that Tehran denies.    Saudi Arabia has not yet blamed any party for Saturday’s strike.    Riyadh also says Tehran arms the Houthis, a charge both deny.
    State oil giant Saudi Aramco said the attack cut output by 5.7 million barrels per day, at a time when Aramco is trying to ready itself for what is expected to be the world’s largest share sale.
    Aramco gave no timeline for output resumption.    A source close to the matter told Reuters the return to full oil capacity could take “weeks, not days.”
    Traders and analysts said crude may spike to as high as $100 a barrel if Riyadh fails to quickly bring back supply.
    Another source briefed on the developments said Saudi oil exports would continue to run as normal this week thanks to large storage in the kingdom, the world’s top oil exporter.    It ships more than 7 million barrels daily to global destinations.
    Riyadh said it would compensate for the damage at its facilities by drawing on its stocks, which stood at 188 million barrels in June, according to official data.    The United States said it was also ready to tap emergency oil reserves if needed.
    The Saudi bourse closed down 1.1% on Sunday, with banking and petrochemical shares taking the biggest hit.    Saudi petrochemical firms announced a significant reduction in feedstock supplies.
    “Abqaiq is the nerve center of the Saudi energy system. Even if exports resume in the next 24 to 48 hours, the image of invulnerability has been altered,” Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told Reuters.
‘UNPRECEDENTED ATTACK’
    According to the U.S. official, 17 structures at Abqaiq suffered damage on their west-northwest facing sides, along with two points of impact at Saudi’s Khurais facility.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier that there was no evidence the attack came from Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis for over four years in a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim rival Iran.
    “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” he said.
    Some Iraqi media outlets said the attack came from there.    Baghdad denied that on Sunday and vowed to punish anyone using Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups wield increasing power, as a launchpad for attacks.
    Kuwait, which borders Iraq, said it was investigating the sighting of a drone over its territory and coordinating with Saudi Arabia and other countries.    The Cabinet said the prime minister ordered tighter security at vital installations.
    Regional tensions have escalated since Washington quit an international nuclear deal and extended sanctions on Iran.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Saturday’s attacks and called on all parties to exercise restraint and prevent any escalation.
    The European Union warned that the strikes posed a real threat to regional security, Britain called them a “reckless attempt” to disrupt global oil supplies and France said such actions could only worsen the “risk of conflict.”    Iran’s ally Turkey called for the avoidance of “provocative steps.”
U.S.-IRAN TALKS
    The attack came after U.S. President Donald Trump said a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was possible at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this month. Tehran ruled out talks until sanctions are lifted.
    White House adviser Kellyanne Conway did not rule out a possible meeting between the two, but told “Fox News Sunda” that the strikes “did not help” that prospect.
    Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Trump that Riyadh was ready to deal with “terrorist aggression.”    A Saudi-led coalition has responded to past Houthi attacks with air strikes on the group’s military sites in Yemen.
    The conflict has been in military stalemate for years.    The Saudi alliance has air supremacy but has come under scrutiny over civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis that has left millions facing starvation.    The Houthis, more adept at guerrilla warfare, have increased attacks on Saudi cities, thwarting peace efforts.
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal and Parisa Hafezi; Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar and Hadeel Al Sayegh in Dubai, Timothy Gardner in Washington, William James in London, John Irish in Paris, Alex Lawler, Julia Payne and Ron Bousso in London, Robin Emmott in Brussels, and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Cooney)

9/16/2019 Explainer: Israel’s election – will Netanyahu survive? by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a weekly cabinet meeting in the
Jordan Valley, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 15, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis vote on Tuesday for the second time in less than six months in an election that could see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win a record fifth term – or end his decade-long dominance of Israeli politics.
    He faces formidable challengers to his reign and, after the vote, possible criminal charges in three corruption cases.
    The last polls taken before election day show a race that is too close to call.    They predict Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party tied with the centrist Blue and White, with neither securing an outright majority.
    However, about 10 parties are likely to win parliament seats.    The polls also show increasing support for a right-wing, pro-Netanyahu bloc of factions that could hand him a victory.
    Here are a number of possible scenarios for how the election could play out:
1. NETANYAHU WINS CONTROL OF MAJORITY OF KNESSET SEATS
    Likud, together with the three right-wing and religious parties that have already declared their support for him, win a majority.    With at least 61 lawmakers, Netanyahu would have little trouble assembling a coalition similar to his outgoing cabinet, which supported his hawkish position on Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal, and took a tough stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    In the run-up to the election Netanyahu said he would annex the Jordan Valley and all the settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank – land the Palestinians seek for a state.    Such a move would delight Netanyahu’s far-right allies.
2. NO CLEAR WINNER AND NETANYAHU UNITY GOVERNMENT
    After election day, Israel’s president consults with party leaders, asking them who they would support for prime minister.    President Reuven Rivlin then asks the candidate he believes has the best chance to try to form a government. Netanyahu had his opportunity after the previous election in April, but failed within the allocated 42 days.    Rather than risk Rivlin appointing someone else to try, Netanyahu opted for a second election.
    If he is again chosen, and again faces a stalemate, Netanyahu could go outside his bloc of right-wing and Jewish religious parties to form a so-called “national unity” government with those who are not his natural allies.
    That would likely mean his strongest rival, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White.    But Gantz has said he would not join a Netanyahu-led government, citing possible corruption indictments against Netanyahu.    But Israeli politics are famously fluid, with ever-shifting fealties.
3. NO CLEAR WINNER, CENTER-RIGHT GOVERNMENT FORMED WITHOUT NETANYAHU
    If Netanyahu again fails to form a government, his own party could oust him to pave the way for a governing coalition between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, leaving Netanyahu in the political wilderness.
    So far, no one in Likud has publicly broached such an idea.    That could change if Netanyahu comes up short in coalition talks.
4. NETANYAHU CLEARLY DEFEATED, CENTER-LEFT GOVERNMENT
    If the center and left-wing parties garner a majority in parliament, Gantz would head a government that could include his own party as well as the Labor Party and the newly-formed, environmentalist and secularist Democratic Camp, without needing an alliance with the right. It would be the first time since the 1990s that the left controlled parliament.    But with an electorate shifting steadily toward the right, polls are not showing much likelihood of such a scenario.
    However, if a left-leaning coalition were ultimately formed, it would be likely to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians and be more open to concessions as part of a lasting peace accord.    It could also be more accepting of the nuclear deal struck between world powers and Iran.
5. NO CLEAR WINNER, NEW ELECTIONS
    If no candidate can form a government, Israel would head to another snap election.    But lawmakers are likely to do all they can to avoid a third this year.
HOW DOES THE ISRAELI ELECTION WORK?
    The 120 Knesset (parliament) seats are allocated by proportional representation to party lists.    In order to win seats, a party must get at least 3.25 percent of the national vote, equivalent to 4 seats.    In the election in April, Likud and Blue and White came out on top, tied at 35 seats each.    No one party has ever won an outright majority of the 120-seat Knesset in 71 years of nationhood.    This makes post-election coalitions the key to victory, and negotiations can stretch on for weeks.
WHO’S THE KINGMAKER?
    According to the polls, it is Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish ex-defense minister.    Polls suggest the ultra-nationalist settler will double his seats from five to about 10.    Lieberman, head of the Israel Beitenu party, has said he would only join a unity government comprised of Likud and Blue and White.
    However, Lieberman is something of a wild card and has made unpredictable moves in the past.
WHAT ABOUT NETANYAHU’S LEGAL WOES?
    Israel’s attorney-general, who has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu in three corruption investigations, is expected to decide whether to formally charge him by the end of 2019 after a pre-trial hearing in October, during which Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, can argue against indictment.
    A majority in the Knesset could grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution until the end of his term.    Some of his prospective allies signaled they would support such a move, but it would probably draw a public outcry and legal challenges at the Supreme Court.    Even if indicted, Netanyahu would not be under strict legal obligation to step down. His right-wing and religious allies are not expected to pressure him to resign, even if he is charged.
WHAT ABOUT TRUMP’S PEACE PLAN
    Netanyahu has said he expects U.S. President Donald Trump to release his long-delayed plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace soon after the election.    If Netanyahu wins and forms a right-wing cabinet, he would have a hard time getting his far-right allies to sign on to any peace plan involving concessions to the Palestinians. This could either destabilize the government or bury the Trump plan.    A cabinet with Gantz in it would likely be more open to negotiations with the Palestinians.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)

9/16/2019 Islamic State fills the void in Nigeria as soldiers retreat to ‘super camps’ by Paul Carsten
FILE PHOTO: Nigerian military prepare to cordon the area where a man was killed by suspected militants during
an attack around Polo area of Maiduguri, Nigeria February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo
    ABUJA/MAIDUGURI, Reuters (Reuters) – When Islamic State gunmen stormed the northeast Nigerian town of Magumeri on the night of August 21, they had free rein.
    Nigerian soldiers had left the town earlier that month under a new strategy of withdrawing to “super camps” that can be more easily defended against insurgents the army has been struggling to contain for a decade.
    Unchallenged, the Islamist militants torched a clinic in Magumeri, ransacked government buildings and looted shops before returning to another town they had raided that night called Gubio, residents said.
    The new military strategy announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in July to concentrate soldiers in big bases is designed to give troops a secure platform from which they can respond quickly to threats in the region and raid militant camps.
    People familiar with the military’s thinking and security officials, however, say the new tactic for fighting Islamic State’s West Africa branch and Boko Haram is mainly an attempt to stem casualties.
    The military did not respond to requests for more details about its strategy or the impact it will have on the region.
    “We strongly believe the days of BH (Boko Haram) moving freely and passing in between static defensive locations are over,” Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, who commands the anti-insurgency operation, told reporters last month.
    Boko Haram launched an insurgency in 2009 to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic caliphate.    The group, whose unofficial name means “Western education is forbidden,” held territory the size of Belgium in 2014 but a multinational offensive recaptured much of it the following year.
    The group split in 2016 and the faction that has been the greater threat ever since won the recognition of Islamic State.
    The decade of war has killed more than 30,000 civilians and spawned what the United Nations calls one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, which foreign nations are trying to contain with billions of dollars of aid.
    But the crisis shows no sign of abating.
‘IT’S A MESS’
    The army’s withdrawal into large bases has coincided with a string of insurgent raids on newly unprotected towns and has left the militants free to set up checkpoints on roads as they roam more freely across the countryside, according to three briefing notes from an international aid and development organization, two security officials and residents.
    That has left thousands of civilians without access to aid, according to the briefing notes seen by Reuters.
    Soldiers are no longer protecting some key roads, cutting off access for humanitarians workers as more of the region falls under the sway of the insurgents, aid and security sources said.
    “It’s a mess, militarily, and a disaster for humanitarian actors,” one foreign security official said.
    The population of towns being abandoned by the military is a combined 223,000 people, according to one of the aid agency briefing notes.
    The military departures so far have cut off more than 100,000 people from aid and if more soldiers go, as many as 121,000 other civilians could flee their towns, one aid agency briefing note said.
    “The impact will be one of continued skirmishes – soldiers under constant strain to deal with the insurgency where Islamic State and Boko Haram dictate the momentum,” said Jasmine Opperman, a terrorism expert based in South Africa.
    It’s not yet clear how many “super camps” the army plans to set up, where they will be nor how many soldiers each will hold.
‘HERE TO PROTECT YOU’
    The new strategy follows a series of setbacks for the army which has failed to keep a tight grip on territory it has clawed back since 2015.    Last year, insurgents repeatedly overran smaller bases and sent soldiers and tens of thousands of people fleeing from larger towns.
    Security experts put the military death toll since June 2018 at anywhere from hundreds of soldiers to in excess of 1,000.
    The military has not released casualty figures but denies that many soldiers have been killed.
    One security adviser at an international aid organization said a major goal of the new large bases was damage control, rather than going on the offensive.
    “It is to consolidate all of the strength in one place to prevent them being overrun every week,” the adviser said.
    He said the areas vacated were being filled by insurgents and that would make it harder for the military to re-enter, leaving civilians vulnerable.
    Those concerns were echoed by the governor of Borno – the birthplace of Boko Haram and the state worst hit by the insurgency.    Governor Babagana Umara Zulum told reporters last month that recent attacks were the result of a “serious vacuum” following the withdrawal of soldiers.
    Islamic State is also using its newfound freedom to woo locals. Drained by the decade-long conflict, some are open to moving into areas controlled by the insurgents where life can be more stable, residents said.
    Before hitting Magumeri last month, the militants had passed through the town of Gubio, some 40 km (25 miles) to the north.
    There, an Islamic State fighter led evening prayers followed by a sermon, according to six residents.
    “We are here to protect you, not to harm any one of you,” the IS fighter told residents.    “Those with uniforms are your enemies, and we are here to deal with them and their supporters.    You should feel free.”
    Rather than flee to a government-controlled city such as Borno state’s capital Maiduguri, many Gubio residents stayed.
(Reporting by Reuters correspondents in Abuja and Maiduguri; additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and David Clarke)

9/16/2019 Turkey, Russia, Iran must take more responsibility for Syria peace: Erdogan
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan pose for a picture before
their talks in Ankara, Turkey September 16, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey, Russia and Iran need to take more responsibility to establish peace in Syria, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, ahead of three-way talks with his Russian and Iranian counterparts at a summit in Ankara.
    Erdogan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani are meeting in Ankara on Monday to try to secure a lasting truce in northwest Syria, following attacks by Syrian government forces that risk deepening regional turmoil and pushing a new wave of migrants towards Turkey.
    Speaking before the trio were to meet, Erdogan said the three leaders would discuss the latest developments in northwest Syria’s Idlib region, as well as east of the Euphrates river in the country’s northeast, and the issue of migration.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

9/16/2019 Exclusive: Egypt and Ethiopia at odds as talks over Blue Nile dam resume by Aidan Lewis
A boat transports people along the river Nile in Cairo, Egypt July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt says Ethiopia has “summarily rejected” its plan for key aspects of operating a giant dam the East African nation is building on the Nile, while dismissing Ethiopia’s own proposal as “unfair and inequitable.”
    The comments in a note circulated to diplomats last week show the gap between the two countries on a project seen as an existential threat by Egypt, which gets around 90% of its fresh water from the Nile.
    The note distributed by the Egyptian foreign ministry, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, points to key differences over the annual flow of water that should be guaranteed to Egypt and how to manage flows during droughts.
    It comes as Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met on Sunday and Monday for their first talks over the hydroelectric dam in more than a year.    A spokesperson at Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, Nebiat Getachew, said on Monday the meeting had so far produced no agreements or disagreements, and gave no immediate response to the Egyptian claims.
    Egyptian officials were not immediately available for comment, but Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has expressed unease in recent days over delays in negotiations.
    The $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was announced in 2011 and is designed to be the centerpiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter, generating more than 6,000 megawatts.
    In January, Ethiopia’s water and energy minister said that following construction delays, the dam would start production by the end of 2020 and be fully operational by 2022.
    The dam promises economic benefits for Ethiopia and Sudan, but Egypt fears it will restrict already stretched supplies from the Nile, which it uses for drinking water, agriculture and industry.
DEADLOCK
    Though nationalist, sometimes belligerent rhetoric between Egypt and Ethiopia has cooled in recent years, the sides have remained deadlocked.
    A report from International Crisis Group earlier this year warned that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan could “blunder into a crisis if they do not strike a bargain before the GERD begins operation.”
    Egypt says it shared its proposal for filling and operating the dam with Ethiopia and Sudan on July 31 and Aug. 1, inviting both countries for a meeting of foreign and water ministers.
    “Unfortunately, in a letter dated August 12, 2019, Ethiopia summarily rejected Egypt’s proposal and declined to attend the six-party meeting,” the Egyptian government’s note said.
    Ethiopia had instead proposed a meeting of water ministers to discuss a document that included an Ethiopian proposal from 2018, it said.
    Both proposals agree that the first of five phases for filling the dam should take two years, at the end of which the GERD’s reservoir in Ethiopia would be filled to 595 meters and all the dam’s hydropower turbines would become operational.
    But the Egyptian proposal says that if this first phase coincides with an extreme drought on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, similar to that experienced in 1979-1980, then the two-year period should be extended to keep the water level at Egypt’s High Aswan Dam from dropping below 165 meters.
    Without such a concession, Egypt says it would risk losing more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion in economic output annually, as well as electricity valued at $300 million.
    After the first stage of filling, Egypt’s proposal requires a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the GERD, while Ethiopia suggests 35 bcm, according to the Egyptian document.
    The note cites Ethiopia as saying last month that Egypt’s proposal “put(s) the dam filling in an impossible condition,” a charge Egypt dismisses.
    “The Ethiopian proposal … overwhelmingly favours Ethiopia and is extremely prejudicial to the interests of downstream states,” it says.
(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Giles Elgood)

9/16/2019 Russia’s Putin hopes talks with Turkey, Iran to create grounds for final Syria crisis resolution
Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia walk
before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Pool
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani he hoped that their three-way talks on Monday would help to bring ‘final’ settlement in the Syrian crisis.
    “I would like to express a confidence that our talks will be productive and the agreements reached will form a ground for final resolution of the crisis in Syria, restore peace and security in this country, strengthen its sovereignty,” Putin said.
    In remarks ahead of the talks, Putin also said that situation in Syria’s Idlib region remained a great concern and that the three nations have to make additional steps to root out ‘terrorist threat’ there.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Katya Golubkova, Editing by Franklin Paul)

9/16/2019 U.N. Yemen envoy says ‘not entirely clear’ who is behind Saudi oil attack by Michelle Nichols
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths attends a meeting with Russia's
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that it was “not entirely clear” who was behind Saturday’s attack on Saudi oil facilities but he said it had increased the chances of a regional conflict.
    “It’s not entirely clear who was behind the attack, but the fact that Ansar Allah has claimed responsibility is bad enough,” Griffiths told the council, using the official name of Yemen’s Houthi group.    “This extremely serious incident makes the chances of a regional conflict that much higher.”
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft told the Security Council that emerging information on attacks on Saudi oil facilities “indicates that responsibility lies with Iran” and that there is no evidence the attack came from Yemen.
    The Saudi-led military coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi movement said that the attack on Saudi Arabian oil plants was carried out with Iranian weapons and was not launched from Yemen according to preliminary findings.
    The Western-backed, Sunni Muslim alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014 by the Houthis.
    The Houthis stepped up drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities this year.    The conflict is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce told the Security Council: “We’re still assessing what happened and who’s responsible for the attacks.    Once this has been established, we will discuss with our partners how to proceed in a responsible manner.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Marguerita Choy)

9/16/2019 Christian evangelicals harvest land in settlements Israel hopes to annex by Maayan Lubell and Elana Ringler
FILE PHOTO: Tommy Waller, founder of U.S.-based Christian group HaYovel, walks inside his familyÕs lodgings at the outskirts
of Har Bracha settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 11, 2019. Picture taken on June 11, 2019. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
    SHILO, West Bank (Reuters) – It’s harvest time in vineyards atop the hills of Shilo settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.    But it’s not Jewish settlers picking the grapes, it’s evangelical Christians.
    They are volunteers for the devout U.S. evangelical group HaYovel which brings Christians to help Jewish farmers in settlements that Israel has built on land that Palestinians seek for a state.
    Evangelicals have been a core support base for U.S. President Donald Trump since the 2016 election.    Many are also staunch supporters of Israel, feeling a religious connection with the Jewish people and the Holy Land.
    The West Bank holds special importance to evangelicals who see a divine hand in the modern-day return of Jews to a Biblical homeland – and who call the territory by its Hebrew Old Testament name, Judea and Samaria.
    The founder of HaYovel, Tommy Waller, is fond of quoting a passage from the book of Jeremiah, which reads: “Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel…Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria.”
    But that land is also at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    It is the heartland of what the Palestinians see as a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    For the Tennessee-born Waller, helping the Jewish settlers cultivate the land means taking part in the fulfillment of a prophecy.    “As a Christian, as a person who believes in the Bible, it was an amazing thing to get to a place where my faith was touchable,” Waller said.
    “We share a commonality between Christianity and Judaism and that’s our Bible, our scripture,” said Waller at a vineyard on the outskirts of Har Bracha, another settlement whose farmers his volunteers assist.
ANNEXATION
    Most of the international community regards the Israeli settlements as illegal, a view that Israel disputes.
    Israeli hawks, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claim the West Bank is vital to Israel’s security.
Relinquishing it to the Palestinians could put large swaths of Israel under threat of militant attacks, they say.    Palestinians say there can be no viable Palestinian state without it.
    In the run-up to Israel’s election next Tuesday, Netanyahu has renewed his pledge to annex parts of the West Bank if he wins.
    It’s a position that the politically powerful U.S. evangelicals have embraced.
    “Evangelicals believe Judea and Samaria is Bible land, because it is,” said Mike Evans, the Texas-based founder of ‘Friends of Zion Museum’ which sits in Jerusalem.    “Do we think giving up Judea and Samaria is going to bring peace?    No way,” said Evans, who is a member of Trump’s Faith Initiative.
    The prospect of annexation has alarmed the Palestinians, who fear that Netanyahu is likely to have Trump’s backing.
    “We are worried about losing our lands,” said Izzat Qadous, a retired school teacher from the Palestinian village Irak Burin, across the way from Har Bracha.
    “The same way they have annexed Jerusalem, they want to annex the West Bank and soon we will hear of Trump acknowledging the annexation of the West Bank.”
    About 2.9 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, according to official Palestinian figures and more than 400,000 Israeli settlers live there, according to the Israeli statistics bureau.
    Evangelical leaders lobbied Trump earlier in his presidency for his 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the holy city in 2018.
    “He (Trump) is rewarding moral clarity and I believe the Jewish people should be rewarded for moral clarity with recognizing more of their land,” said Evans, referring to the West Bank.
ROCK STAR
    Trump’s administration includes evangelicals at some top positions – his vice president Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in an interview to the Christian Broadcast Network in March said that “the Lord was at work here” in respect to Trump’s Israel policies.
    Evangelical support for Israel goes back decades, with political lobbying, fundraising and organized tours to the Holy Land.    But some see the ties growing far stronger under both Trump and Netanyahu.
    Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the evangelical base “has been wielding unprecedented and enormous influence within the United States for the sake of the “fulfillment of the prophecy,” thereby giving Israel a free hand to carry out its most hardline and destructive policies against the Palestinian people.”
    Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said Netanyahu began cultivating ties with evangelicals during his first stint as prime minister in the 1990s.
    “The Prime Minister has a keen sense of trendlines in the U.S.,” said Gold.
    That effort may have paid off.    “Benjamin Netanyahu among the evangelicals of the world is a rock star,” Evans said.
    Critics, however, say Netanyahu has alienated many liberal American Jews by embracing Christian conservatives.    Even in Israel’s settlements, the evangelicals are sometimes greeted with suspicion.
    Some Israelis there fear that the Christians may have a missionary agenda – seeking to convert them. Evans said his mission in life is to defend the Jewish people.
    Others are nervous about some evangelical readings of the scriptures in which the Jews’ return to the Biblical land is instrumental in bringing about the end of the world, at which point those who do not accept Jesus Christ will not be saved.
    “These people are pursuing God like we’re pursuing God,” said Waller.    “Obviously we have our own messianic belief, but those are future things, in the kingdom to come.”
    On the other hand, some settlers see the evangelicals as helping them out in fulfilling their own vision.
    Nir Lavi, the owner of Har Bracha winery, says Hayovel’s contribution to his business has been more than financial.
    “We are grateful,” said Lavi.    “It’s a totally different phase of our own journey – the Jewish people’s redemption in their land.”
(This story was refiled to fix B in ‘Biblical’ in paragraph 4)
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Angus MacSwan)

9/16/2019 Bahrain’s Crown Prince says signs deal to buy Patriot missiles
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa during a meeting
in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Al Drago
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa said on Monday that Bahrain has signed an agreement to purchase its first U.S. Patriot missile battery.
    The crown prince made the announcement to reporters during a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Eric Beech)

9/16/2019 Erdogan says up to 3 million Syrian refugees can return to ‘safe zone’ if it extended
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with his counterparts Hassan Rouhani
of Iran and Vladimir Putin of Russia in Ankara, Turkey, September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that up to three million Syrian refugees can return to a planned “safe zone” in northern Syria if it is extended from Turkey’s border to Deir al Zor and Raqqa, after talks with his Russian and Iranian counterparts.
    Speaking at a news conference in Ankara after talks for a lasting truce in Syria with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, Erdogan said the summit had eliminated obstacles to the formation of a constitutional committee, adding that the committee would begin working soon.
    Erdogan also said that support for militant groups “under the pretense of battling” Islamic State was unacceptable, and added that the real threat in Syria was the Kurdish YPG militia.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by Franklin Paul)

9/17/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu fights for record fifth term by Dan Williams
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin and his wife Sara casts their votes during Israel's parliamentary election
at a polling station in Jerusalem September 17, 2019. Heidi Levine/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a battle for political survival in a closely fought election on Tuesday that could end his 10-year domination of national politics.
    Opinion polls put former armed forces chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck-and-neck with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, and suggest the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party could emerge as kingmaker in coalition talks.
    “(The election) is very close.    I call on all citizens of Israel to come vote,” Netanyahu said, his voice hoarse after weeks of campaigning, as he cast his vote in Jerusalem.
    Gantz voted shortly afterwards in Rosh Haayin, near Tel Aviv, and wished everyone luck.
    Prohibited by law from campaigning on mainstream media, both men took to social networks.    Netanyahu live-streamed a Q&A session on Twitter, pleading for his base to mobilize. Gantz posted a video of himself leaning out a car window in traffic during a random encounter with a supportive commuter.
    The two main parties’ campaigns in Israel’s second parliamentary election in five months pointed to only narrow differences on many important issues: the regional struggle against Iran, ties with the Palestinians and the United States, and the economy.
    An end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to lead to a big change in policy on hotly disputed issues in the peace process with the Palestinians that collapsed five years ago.
    Netanyahu has announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinians seek statehood.    But Blue and White has also said it would strengthen Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, with the Jordan Valley as Israel’s “eastern security border.”    The Palestinians and many countries consider the settlements to be illegal.
    The election was called after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following an April election in which Likud and Blue and White were tied, each taking 35 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament.    It is the first time Israel has had two general elections in a single year.
    Netanyahu, 69, has cast himself as indispensable and blighted by voter complacency over his tenure – the longest of any Israeli prime minister.    Prime minister from June 1996 until July 1999, he has held the post since March 2009 and is seeking a record fifth term.
SEEKING “EVERY EXTRA VOTE
    Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and will close at 10 p.m. when Israeli media will publish exit polls giving a first indication of the outcome.
    “It’s going to be close.    It’s going to be a close election,” U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Monday in the Oval Office.
    Both Netanyahu and Gantz, 60, have tried to energize their bases, and poach votes from smaller parties.
    Netanyahu portrays Gantz as inexperienced and incapable of commanding respect from world leaders such as Trump.    Gantz accuses Netanyahu of trying to deflect attention from his possible indictment on corruption charges that the prime minister has dismissed as baseless.
    Hagit Cohen, a 43-year-old social worker, said she would back Blue and White rather than her former favorite, the now fringe Labour party: “I don’t want my vote to be wasted. Gantz may not be perfect, but enough is enough with Bibi (Netanyahu).”
    “There is a definite sense of fatigue. Many Israelis are fed up with the politicians, or expect more of the same,” said Amotz Asa-El, research fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute.
    Netanyahu “knows that he needs every extra vote,” he said.
    In April, there was controversy when election monitors from Netanyahu’s Likud party turned up with cameras in Arab areas. Locals accused them of voter intimidation with Likud saying they were trying to prevent election fraud.     Except for a few isolated events where police removed individuals from polling stations, the day progressed without incident.
RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON
    Before the last election, Trump gave Netanyahu a boost with U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.    This time, the White House seems more preoccupied with Iran.
    The Trump administration plans soon to release an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that may prove a dead letter: The Palestinians have rejected it in advance as biased.
    In Gaza, Palestinians awaited the results of the vote.
    “This election affects many things in our life,” said Mohamad Abdul Hay Hasaneen, a janitor in the city of Khan Younis.    “There might be limited escalations after the election, but I don’t think this would result in a full war.”
    The telegenic Netanyahu’s open door in Washington and other world capitals, at a combustible time on Israel’s borders with Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon, remains a big draw domestically.
    “There’s no one else running who is worthy of being prime minister,” said Alon Gal, a 53-year-old hi-tech manager.    “With him, at least I know who I am dealing with.”
    Weeks of wrangling over who should be tasked with forming the next government could follow the election.    Opinion polls indicate Yisrael Beiteinu could hold the key to the next coalition because it is forecast to double its representation in the Knesset, from five seats to 10.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

9/18/2019 Saudi Arabia promises concrete proof Iran behind oil attack by Stephen Kalin and Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of
Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo/File Photo
    JEDDAH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said it would produce evidence on Wednesday linking regional rival Tehran to an unprecedented attack on its oil industry that Washington believes originated from Iran in a dangerous escalation of Middle East frictions.
    But Tehran again denied involvement in the Sept. 14 attacks on oil plants, including the world’s biggest crude processing facility, that initially knocked out half of Saudi production.
    “They want to impose maximum … pressure on Iran through slander,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said according to state media.    “We don’t want conflict in the region … Who started the conflict?” he said, blaming Washington and its Gulf allies for war in Yemen.
    Yemen’s Houthi movement, an ally of Iran battling a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, has claimed responsibility and said it used drones to assault state oil company Aramco’s sites.
    However, the Saudi Defense Ministry said it will hold a news conference on Wednesday at 1430 GMT to present “material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement in the terrorist attack.”
    Concrete evidence showing Iranian responsibility, if made public, could pressure Riyadh and Washington into a response, though both nations have stressed the need for caution.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has said he does not want war, there is “no rush” to retaliate, and coordination is taking place with Gulf and European states.
    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Wednesday, in a call with South Korea’s leader, that the attack was a “real test of the global will” to confront subversion of international stability, state media reported.
    His envoy to London, Prince Khalid bin Bander, told the BBC the attack was “almost certainly” Iranian-backed but: “We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”
COMPELLING EVIDENCE
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and United Nations officials monitoring sanctions on Iran and Yemen were heading to Saudi Arabia for talks and investigations.
    A U.S. official told Reuters the strikes originated in southwestern Iran.    Three officials said they involved cruise missiles and drones, indicating a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.
    The officials did not provide evidence or explain what U.S. intelligence they were using for evaluating the attack that cut 5% of global production.    Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, said on Tuesday the 5.7 million barrels per day of output lost would be fully restored by the end of the month.
    Oil prices fell after the Saudi reassurances, having surged more than 20% at one point on Monday – the biggest intra-day jump since the 1990-91 Gulf War. [O/R]
    A senior U.S. official called for a U.N. Security Council response to the attacks, although success is unlikely because diplomats say Russia and China – who have veto powers – are likely to shield Iran.
    One of the three U.S. officials voiced confidence the Saudi probe would yield “compelling forensic evidence” determining the origins of the attack that has exposed serious gaps in Saudi air defenses despite billions of dollars spent on Western military hardware.
    “The attack is like Sept. 11th for Saudi Arabia, it is a game changer,” said one Saudi security analyst.
IRAN-U.S. CONFLICT
    Already frayed U.S.-Iran ties deteriorated further when Trump quit a nuclear pact between Tehran and the West last year and reimposed sanctions, severely hurting the Iranian economy.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out talks with Washington unless it returns to the pact.
    Trump said he is not looking to meet Rouhani during a U.N. event in New York this month.    Rouhani and his foreign minister may not attend the General Assembly at all if U.S. visas are not issued in coming hours, state media reported Wednesday.
    Washington and its Gulf allies want Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
    Despite years of air strikes against them, the Houthi movement boasts drones and missiles able to reach deep into Saudi Arabia, the result of an arms race since the Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
    Iran’s clerical rulers support the Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s internationally recognized government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.    But Tehran denies it actively supports them with military and financial support.
    Illustrating global caution over such an inflammatory issue, Japan’s new defense chief said Tokyo has not seen any intelligence that shows Iran was involved in the attack.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Stephen Kalin in Jeddah; Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Michelle Nichols in New York, Rania El Gamal in Riyadh, Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington, Alaa Swilam and Hisham El Saba in Cairo, Tim Kelly in Tokyo, John Irish in Paris, Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

9/18/2019 Erdogan says 2-3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Europe can be resettled in ‘safe zone’
A Syrian refugee man walks between tents in Nizip refugee camp, near the Turkish-Syrian
border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that a planned “safe zone” in northern Syria could host 2-3 million Syrian refugees that have settled in Turkey and Europe after eight years of war at home.
    Addressing academics in Ankara, Erdogan also repeated that Ankara would act on its own if the zone, planned jointly with the United States in Syria’s northeast, bears no results.
    “Through making east of Euphrates a safe place, and depending on the depth of this safe zone, we can resettle 2-3 million displaced Syrians currently living in our country and Europe,” he said.
    “We want to see strong support from European countries, both on the issues of Idlib and the region east of Euphrates.    We are full for words, and we expect action,” Erdogan added.
    Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.    Its troops are also stationed in Syria’s northwest Idlib region, where a Russian-backed government offensive has pushed north in recent months, raising the prospect of a new wave of refugees.
    “If we cannot establish peace in Idlib swiftly, we will be unable to shoulder the burden of 4 million Syrians living in that region,” Erdogan added.
    Next week, Erdogan and Trump will discuss plans to establish what Turkey describes as a safe zone along 450 km (280 miles) of Syrian border stretching east from the Euphrates river to the Iraq border, a region controlled mainly by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters.
    The YPG has been a main U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. U.S. support for the fighters has infuriated Turkey and strained ties with Washington.
    “We will initiate our own plans in 2 weeks if no results come from the work with United States on the formation of a safe zone,” Erdogan said.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

9/18/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu left teetering after close election by Jeffrey Heller
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beitenu party looks at his watch as he speaks following
the announcement of exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election at his party headquarters in
Jerusalem September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Oren Ben Hakoon ISRAEL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN ISRAEL
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s election was too close to call on Wednesday, with a partial vote tally showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tied with his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz.
    An official result was still hours, perhaps days off.    But with more than 63 percent of votes counted, the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc was, as expected, more or less even with Gantz’s center-left.
    With no single-party majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament, there will likely be weeks of coalition talks before a new government is formed.
    The ballot’s wildcard, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, emerged as a likely kingmaker as head of the secular-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.
    Lieberman has been pushing for a unity government comprised of the biggest parties.    He declined to back Netanyahu’s bid to form a narrow right-wing and religious coalition after an April election, bringing about Tuesday’s unprecedented repeat vote.
    Addressing Likud party faithful, Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, sipped water frequently and spoke hoarsely.    He made no claim of victory or concession of defeat, saying he would await final results.
    His dead-of-night appearance was a far cry from his triumphant – and in the end premature – declaration five months ago that he had won a close election.
    Gantz was more upbeat, telling a rally of his Blue and White party that it appeared “we fulfilled our mission,” and he pledged to work toward forming of a unity government.
    “Now it’s time for the real race,” he later told reporters.
CALL FOR A UNITY GOVERNMENT
    Campaigns run by Likud and Blue and White pointed to only narrow differences on many important issues: the regional struggle against Iran, the Palestinian conflict, relations with the United States and the economy.
    An end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring about a significant change in policy on hotly disputed issues in the peace process with the Palestinians that collapsed five years ago.
    Based on the partial vote count, Israel’s main TV stations, Channel 12 and 13, projected Likud and Blue and White would each have 32 seats. With support from smaller, like-minded parties, each was projected to command a bloc of about 55 or 56, short of a majority.
    That left Lieberman, whose party was forecast to win 9 seats.    On Wednesday, he reiterated his call for a unity government but said he had not yet spoken to Gantz or Netanyahu.
    “There is only one option – a national unity government, a broad, liberal government, and we will not join any other,” Lieberman told reporters.
    Netanyahu, who highlighted his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump during the campaign, said in his 3 a.m. speech at Likud election headquarters in Tel Aviv that he intended to establish a “strong Zionist government” that would reflect the views of “many of the nation’s people.”
    Gantz has ruled out joining an administration with Netanyahu if the Israeli leader is indicted on looming corruption charges.
    The Joint Arab List made a strong showing in Tuesday’s election and was projected to capture 12 seats in parliament, compared with 10 won by various Arab factions in April’s election.
    Three corruption investigations and the Israeli attorney general’s announced intention to charge him with fraud and bribery have also chipped away at Netanyahu’s seeming invincibility, 10 years into consecutive terms as prime minister marked by a sharp focus on security that resonated with voters.
    Netanyahu, 69, who can argue at a pre-trial hearing in October against indictment, has denied any wrongdoing.
    An election loss could leave him more at risk of prosecution in the graft cases, without the shield of parliamentary immunity that his current political allies had promised to seek for him.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams, Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem and Akram El-Satarri in Gaza; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Timothy Heritage; ((jeffrey.heller@thomsonreuters.com; +97226322202)

9/18/2019 Next Israeli leader certain to face growing budget problems by Steven Scheer and Ari Rabinovitch
FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows leader of Blue and White party, Benny Gantz in Rosh Ha'ayin, Israel September 17, 2019, Avigdor
Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu party in Tel Aviv, Israel September 5, 2019 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the
Jordan Valley, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun, Nir Elias, Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Whoever emerges as Israel’s prime minister after Tuesday’s election will need to rein in a growing budget deficit quickly before it hits economic growth.
    The deficit has swelled over the past year under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who cut taxes while spending heavily on cost-of-living subsidies and pay rises.
    Israel’s economy has been in a holding pattern since an inconclusive election in April.    Limited in power, the caretaker government was unable to rein in a gaping budget hole that grew to nearly 4% of gross domestic product in the last 12 months, versus an initial target of 2.9%.
    A national unity government could emerge following Tuesday’s election, in which no single party won a majority.    Such a government could be in a position to reduce pressure on state expenses, economic analysts said.
    “A broad government where no small party has the power to extract what they want for special interest groups makes it easier to make policy for the entire society,” said Karnit Flug, who was Israel’s central bank governor until late last year.
    The budget would be the first challenge, she told Reuters.
    Other tricky economic questions will remain, whether Netanyahu continues his record-breaking tenure as prime minister, or is replaced by his rival Benny Gantz, a former military chief.
    No Israeli party has ever won an election outright, so the final outcome will depend on coalition negotiations, a lengthy and expensive process.
    Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has emerged as potential kingmaker and favors a unity government with Gantz’s and Netanyahu’s parties.
    Previously, Netanyahu relied on smaller religious parties which gave their support to him in return state handouts, such as costly stipends for seminary students. Those religious parties strengthened their position in Tuesday’s vote, but could be left out of a unity government.
    Israel’s economy is forecast to grow 3.1% in 2019 and as much as 3.5% in 2020.    An unchecked deficit would weigh on Israel’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which it lowered to 61% in 2018 from 74.6% in 2009.
ACTION NEEDED NOW
    Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron warned this month that the deficit was too high to allow further growth and that cost cuts and tax increases were needed.
    “Our economy is still in a good position to make changes in order to reduce the deficit, and we need to make them now,” Finance Ministry chief economist Shira Greenberg said last week.
    She advised the government not to be too aggressive in closing the gap because the Bank of Israel, whose benchmark interest rate stands at 0.25%, has less maneuverability to help stave off a potential slowdown.
    Flug, who is now vice president at the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank, said the economy was projected to keep growing near its potential and that the deficit should be “no more than 2.5% of GDP for 2020,” reflecting adjustments of at least 20 billion shekels ($5.7 billion).
    That might be too optimistic for the Finance Ministry, where officials estimate a deficit target of around 2.9% next year, including more modest fiscal moves.
    “At the end of the day, coalition partners will have to look at the current situation and understand … 2020 and 2021 are not years we will have extra (funds) to give out,” said Shai Babad, the ministry’s director general.
    Babad expects the next government to vote on the new budget for 2020 and 2021 in January, with final parliamentary approval in March.
    Whoever is tasked with forming a government will have up to 42 days to entice partners.    Generous offers during negotiations can end up being followed by a broad cut across all sectors, economists said.
    “Usually that’s how they deal with it.    You get, and then suddenly everyone is cut 2%,” said Amir Kahanovich, chief economist for the Excellence Investment House.    “It’s the easy option.”
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

9/18/2019 Trump orders more Iran sanctions as Saudi displays attack evidence by Stephen Kalin and Parisa Hafezi
Remains of the missiles which were used to attack an Aramco oil facility, are displayed during
a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    JEDDAH/DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a major increase in sanctions on Iran on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia displayed remnants of drones and missiles it said were used in a crippling attack on its oil sites “unquestionably sponsored” by Tehran.
    Trump gave no explanation in a Twitter post announcing the order, but it followed repeated U.S. assertions that the Islamic Republic was behind Saturday’s attack and came hours after Saudi Arabia said the strike was a “test of global will.”
    “I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran!” he wrote.
    Iran again denied involvement in the Sept. 14 raids, which hit the world’s biggest crude oil processing facility and initially knocked out half of Saudi output. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading oil exporter.
    Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, which on Wednesday gave more details of the raid, saying it was launched from three sites in Yemen.
    In a remark that may further strain an already tense political atmosphere in the Gulf, the Houthis also said they had dozens of sites in the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh’s top Arab ally, listed as possible targets for attacks.
    In an attempt to bolster its assertion that Iran was responsible, Saudi Arabia showed drone and missile debris it said amounted to undeniable evidence of Iranian aggression.
    "A total of 25 drones and missiles were used in the attacks launched from Iran, not Yemen, Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki told a news conference.”    The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” he said, adding Iranian Delta Wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were used in addition to cruise missiles.
    An investigation into the origin of the attacks was still under way and the result will be announced at a later date, he said.
    The attack exposed gaps in Saudi air defense despite billions spent on Western military hardware.
    Proof of Iranian responsibility, and in particular firm evidence that the attack was launched from Iranian territory, could pressure Riyadh and Washington into a response. Both nations, however, were stressing the need for caution.
    Trump has said he does not want war and is coordinating with Gulf and European states.
    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, said the strike was a “real test of the global will” to confront subversion of the international order.
    His envoy to London, Prince Khalid bin Bander, told the BBC the attack was “almost certainly” Iranian-backed: “We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”
    The Islamic Republic dismissed the allegations.
    “They want to impose maximum … pressure on Iran through slander,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.
    “We don’t want conflict in the region … Who started the conflict?” he added, blaming Washington and its Gulf allies for the war in Yemen.
    An adviser to Rouhani, Hesameddin Ashena, said on Twitter the Saudi press conference indicated that Riyadh knows nothing about where the attack came from.
    Yemen’s Houthi movement, an ally of Iran battling a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, said it used drones to assault state oil company Aramco’s sites.
    The raid exposed the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and threw down a gauntlet to the United States, which wants to curb Iranian influence in the region.    “The attack is like Sept. 11th for Saudi Arabia, it is a game changer,” said one Saudi security analyst.
COMPELLING EVIDENCE
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Jeddah on Wednesday and was due to meet Prince Mohammed to discuss the crisis, before heading to the UAE.
    U.N. officials monitoring sanctions on Iran and Yemen were also heading to Saudi Arabia to investigate.
    France, which is trying to salvage an international nuclear deal with Iran that Washington quit last year, said it wanted to establish the facts before reacting.
    A U.S. official told Reuters the strikes originated in southwestern Iran.    Three officials said they involved cruise missiles and drones, indicating a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.
    The officials did not provide evidence or explain what U.S. intelligence they were using for evaluating the attack.
    Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday the 5.7 million barrels per day of output lost would be fully restored by the end of the month.
    Oil prices fell after the Saudi reassurances, having made the biggest intra-day jump since the 1990-91 Gulf crisis. [O/R]
    Saudi Arabia’s finance minister told Reuters the attack had no impact on revenues and Aramco was continuing to supply markets without interruption.
    U.S. efforts to bring about a U.N. Security Council response looked unlikely to succeed as Russia and China have veto powers and were expected to shield Iran.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has offered to sell defense systems to Riyadh, called for a “thorough and impartial” probe during a phone call with Prince Mohammed.
IRAN-U.S. CONFLICT
    The 2015 nuclear deal ushered in a brief detente in long hostile relations between Iran and the United States.    But antagonism returned when Trump pulled out of the deal, reached before he took office, and reimposed sanctions, severely damaging the Iranian economy.    Iran has ruled out talks with Washington unless it returns to the pact.
    Trump said he is not looking to meet Rouhani during a U.N. event in New York this month. Rouhani and his foreign minister may not attend the General Assembly at all unless U.S. visas are issued in the coming hours, state media reported on Wednesday.     Washington and its Gulf allies want Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
    Despite years of air strikes against them, the Houthi movement boasts drones and missiles able to reach deep into Saudi Arabia, the result of an arms race since the Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
    Iran’s clerical rulers support the Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s internationally recognized government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.    But Tehran denies that it actively arms and finances the Houthi movement.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Stephen Kalin in Jeddah; Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Michelle Nichols in New York, Rania El Gamal, Davide Barbuscia and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, Asma Alsharif and Sylvia Westall in Dubai, Alaa Swilam and Hisham El Saba in Cairo, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Tim Kelly in Tokyo, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by William Maclean and Howard Goller)

9/18/2019 Israeli voters deliver deadlock, Netanyahu’s tenure in doubt by Jeffrey Heller
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beitenu party looks at his watch as he speaks following the announcement
of exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election at his party headquarters in Jerusalem September 17, 2019.
REUTERS/Oren Ben Hakoon ISRAEL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN ISRAEL
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to win a ruling majority in an election that produced a virtual tie between his right-wing bloc and a center-left grouping that would be led by former military chief Benny Gantz.
    The outcome, according to almost complete results published on Wednesday, dealt a new blow to Israel’s longest-serving leader, who was already weakened by the inability to put together an administration after an inconclusive election in April.
    But with coalition-building again key to forming a government, it could be days or even weeks before it becomes clear whether the wily politician hailed by supporters as “King Bibi” has been dethroned after a decade in power.
    The campaigns run by Netanyahu and Gantz pointed to only narrow differences on many important issues, and an end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring about significant changes in policy on relations with the United States, the regional struggle against Iran or the Palestinian conflict.
    With Israeli media reporting more than 90 percent of votes counted in Tuesday’s election, the bloc led by Netanyahu’s Likud party was more or less even with a likely grouping headed by Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.
    A Likud-led bloc looked poised to control 55 of parliament’s 120 seats, with 56 going to a center-left alliance – in both cases falling short of a majority government of 61 lawmakers.
    The ballot’s wildcard, former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, emerged as a likely kingmaker as head of the secular-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, projected to capture nine seats.
    Lieberman has been pushing for a unity government comprised of the biggest parties.    He declined to back Netanyahu’s bid to form a narrow right-wing and religious coalition after the April election, bringing about Tuesday’s unprecedented repeat vote.
NO SPEECH AT UNITED NATIONS
    With Israeli politics in flux, Netanyahu canceled his annual speech at the U.N. General Assembly next week, a spokesman said, a visit that might have provided an opportunity for a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Netanyahu highlighted his close ties with Trump in his election campaign.
    Trump told reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday that he had not yet spoken with Netanyahu about the election, adding “we’ll see what happens.”    The Trump administration plans soon to release an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that may prove a dead letter: The Palestinians have rejected it in advance as biased.
    Once the last votes are tallied, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will consult with leaders of parties that won parliamentary representation about whom to tap to try to form a government.    The nominee would then have up to 42 days to do so.
    Addressing Likud legislators on Wednesday, Netanyahu, 69, said he had met the leaders of right-wing factions, his traditional allies, and they had pledged to work in unison with him to form the next government under his stewardship.
    A Likud spokesman said the right-wing bloc would approach “all Zionist parties” in the next few days to try to negotiate an alliance, and that Netanyahu did not want another election.
    Gantz, a political newcomer, has not ruled out a unity administration with Likud.    But he has said Blue and White would not join such a government if it included Netanyahu, citing looming corruption charges against the prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.
    In a further complication, Lieberman has rejected any alliance that includes ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties – members of Netanyahu’s current caretaker government.    Lieberman has sought to limit religious influence on everyday life in Israel.
    Speaking after meeting his allies, Netanyahu again took aim at what he has termed “anti-Zionist” Arab parties, saying his right-wing grouping would make “every effort” to prevent the formation of a “” dependent on Arab support.
    He was referring to a possible Gantz-led coalition reliant on the tacit backing of Arab members of parliament, who have accused Netanyahu of racism towards their community, which comprises around 20 percent of Israel’s population.
    A joint list of Arab parties put on a strong showing in Tuesday’s election, winning 13 seats. But no Arab party has ever formally joined a coalition government in Israel.
    Three corruption investigations and the Israeli attorney general’s announced intention to charge Netanyahu with fraud and bribery have also chipped away at his seeming invincibility.
    Netanyahu can argue at a pre-trial hearing in October against indictment. But an election loss could leave him more at risk of prosecution in the graft cases, without the shield of parliamentary immunity that his current political allies had promised to seek for him.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams, Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem, Akram El-Satarri in Gaza and Jeff Mason in Los Angeles; Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mark Heinrich; ((jeffrey.heller@thomsonreuters.com; +97226322202)

9/18/2019 From “King Bibi” to kingmaker Lieberman? by Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) converses with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman during a
Likud-Yisrael Beitenu campaign rally in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Half a year ago one man stood alone and unchallenged on the summit of Israeli politics – the veteran right-wing populist Benjamin Netanyahu, known as “King Bibi” to his loyal followers.
    But on Tuesday Netanyahu failed, for the second time since April, to secure a clear victory in parliamentary elections.    And now all eyes are turning to a former Netanyahu aide who stood up to his former boss five months ago, and may now decide whether the Netanyahu era continues, or comes to an end.
    The potential new kingmaker is Avigdor Lieberman, a far-right immigrant from Moldova who lives in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank and who served as an aide to Netanyahu during the 1990s.
    Lieberman, 61, has none of Netanyahu’s polish and international prestige, but took a huge gamble by refusing to join a Netanyahu coalition government on a point of principle in an election last April.
    If exit polls and early vote tallies prove correct, he reaped the reward by boosting his party’s seat numbers in the Sept. 17 rerun.
    “Lieberman will again tip the balance,” the liberal Haaretz daily said in a banner headline after Tuesday’s vote.
    A partial tally showed the conservative Netanyahu tied with his centrist rival Benny Gantz.    Neither has enough support from like-minded parties to create a coalition with a clear parliamentary majority.    That has left both relying on Lieberman.
    “The conclusion is clear – all that we have said during the election campaign is coming true,” he told reporters on Wednesday.    “There is only one option – a national unity government, a liberal, broad government, and we will indeed say again, we will not join any other option.”
SECULAR VS. RELIGIOUS
    Lieberman, a former defense minister under Netanyahu, made his stand on the long-standing divide within Israel between its secular and ultra-religious communities.
    He refused to serve alongside ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties who have long been allies in Netanyahu-led ruling coalitions, and who wield influence over everyday life in Israel, including the administration of marriage and divorce.
    Lieberman’s determined secular stance played well with other secular Israelis, including his fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom are not deemed Jewish according to strict ritual law.
    Lieberman originally belonged to Netanyahu’s Likud Party but quit it to form the far-right Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is our Home) in 1999, appealing to fellow Russian-speakers with his secularist agenda and tough talk against Palestinians.
    Lieberman is now pushing for a “national unity” government that would include his own party, which is predicted to take 9 of the parliament’s 120 seats, alongside Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White party, forecast to have around 32 seats each. The final tally may not be known for days.
    Where Netanyahu fits into the new picture is anyone’s guess.    Gantz, a centrist former army general, has said he is open to teaming up with Likud, but not if it is led by Netanyahu.
    During months of campaigning Gantz excoriated Netanyahu over long-standing corruption allegations.
    Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, is set for a pre-trial hearing next month.    He is expected to argue that the charges should be dismissed in the national interest, and his critics believe that is a key motive for him seeking so strenuously to continue his premiership into a record fifth term.
TIMELINE TO SHOWDOWN
    Lieberman served in several Israeli cabinets, most recently as Netanyahu’s defense minister.    But he resigned from that post last year, protesting at what he saw as government weakness in the face of rocket attacks by Palestinian Islamists in Gaza.
    That walkout destabilised Netanyahu’s coalition, and ultimately led to the April election, in which Lieberman won five parliament seats.
    Netanyahu, a master coalition-builder, was widely expected to repeat his past successes in putting together a government.    But he was blindsided when Lieberman refused to lend his support, citing his dissatisfaction that many ultra-Orthodox are granted exemptions from service in the Israeli military.
    That gambit improved Lieberman’s standing – raising his profile, potentially doubling his seats and, early indications suggest, extending his popularity beyond his original base of ex-Soviet immigrants.
    With campaign billboards reading “Make Israel Normal Again,” Lieberman’s secular-nationalist platform included support for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.    Most world powers deem the settlements as illegal, a view disputed by Israel.
    Lieberman, who as a younger man worked as an airport baggage handler and bar bouncer, seemed at ease while electioneering.    Netanyahu, ubiquitous on the airwaves and social media, emerged from the campaign hoarse and subdued, giving a downbeat post-election address that neither claimed victory nor conceded defeat.
    Lieberman said he did not rule out Netanyahu as a political ally or underestimate a leader whose supporters still regard him as a “magician.”
    “(But) I will not go to a Halacha government,” he said, in a reference to Jewish ritual law and ultra-Orthodox party participation in a coalition.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/18/2019 Turkish court rules to keep U.S. consulate worker in jail: lawyer
U.S. Consulate is pictured in Istanbul, Turkey, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court ruled on Wednesday to keep a U.S. consulate employee in jail as his trial on espionage charges continues, a lawyer said, meaning he will remain in detention until the next hearing in December.
    Metin Topuz, a Turkish translator and fixer for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, has been in custody for 23 months.    The next hearing in the case was set for Dec. 11, said his lawyer, Halit Akalp.
    Topuz is charged with espionage and links to the network of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is based in the United States and blamed by Turkey for plotting the failed 2016 coup.    Washington says Topuz is innocent.
    The court has repeatedly said it wants to hear another witness in the case file.    But lawyers on Wednesday told the court that the address on record for that witness did not exist.
    In his final defense ahead of the ruling, Topuz said he did not accept the accusations and demanded his acquittal.
    Lawyers for Topuz applied in January to the European Court of Human Rights and the court accepted the application, a person close to the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
    The trial of Topuz has been one of various sources of strain in already fragile ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler and Jonathan Spicer)

9/18/2019 Yemen’s Houthis threaten to attack United Arab Emirates targets
A satellite image shows the Aramco site in Saudi Arabia, on a screen during a televised speech by Yahya Saria, the Houthi military
spokesperson, in this still image taken from video on September 18, 2019. Houthi Military Media Center/ReutersTV via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthi group said on Wednesday it had identified dozens of sites in the United Arab Emirates as possible targets, in an attempt to underscore its military clout following a weekend attack it claims to have carried out on Saudi oil facilities.
    “To the Emirati regime we say only one operation (of ours) would cost you dearly,” Yahya Saria, the military spokesman for the Iran-aligned movement, said in a televised speech.
    “Today and for the first time we announce that we have dozens of targets within our range in the UAE, some are in Abu Dhabi and can be attacked at any time.”
    He said the Houthis have new drones, powered by “normal and jet engines” that can reach targets deep in Saudi Arabia.
    In Riyadh, Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the attack could not have come from Yemen, adding the Houthi movement was “covering up” for Iran.
    The UAE is a leading partner in a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore Hadi’s government after it was toppled by the Houthis in late 2014.
    Saria said the attacks were launched from three locations.
    Qassef 3 drones were launched from one site, Samad 3 drones from a second and new jet powered drones from a third, he said.    He said this jet-powered type will be reveled soon.
    “These drones … carried four precise bombs per strike,” Saria said.
    Other drones were also “used to confuse the enemy so the main planes could reach their targets,” he said.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Maher Chmaytelli and Tuqa Khalid; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, William Maclean)

9/18/2019 U.N. Security Council to vote on rival calls for truce in Syria’s Idlib by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A Syrian army soldier smokes cigarette as he sits on a military vehicle in
Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council is due to vote on Thursday on rival draft resolutions that call for a truce in northwest Syria after Russia and China put forward their own text in response to a proposal by Kuwait, Germany and Belgium.
    Syria’s northwest corner, including the Idlib region, is the last major chunk of territory still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war.    In that time Russia has vetoed a dozen draft Security Council resolutions to protect its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    Experts from the council’s 15 members have met three times to negotiate on the latest text drafted by Kuwait, Germany and Belgium last month. A resolution needs nine votes and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass.
    Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia wanted language to be included in the resolution that would exempt from the truce military offensives against armed groups blacklisted by the Security Council.
    But the United States and others refused, diplomats said. The draft instead demands “member states ensure that all measures taken to counter terrorism, including in Idlib Governorate, comply with their obligations under international law.”
    Western states have accused Russian and Syrian forces of targeting civilians, a charge they deny.    They say they are targeting militants including the Nusra Front, a jihadist group known today as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which was linked to al Qaeda and controls much of northwest Syria.
    Russia and China put forward their own U.N. text on Wednesday that “reaffirms that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council.”    The text was seen by Reuters.
    China and Russia asked for their text to also be voted on by the council on Thursday, diplomats said.
    Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power, have been waging a five-month-long offensive in the Idlib region.
    Shortly after the draft U.N. resolution was proposed by Kuwait, Germany and Belgium, Damascus declared a truce on Aug. 31 that brought a lull in air strikes.    However, Syrian troops on Sunday shelled south of Idlib, according to rescuers and residents.
    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.
    The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran meeting in Ankara on Monday agreed to try to ease tensions in the Idlib region, but disagreements between the countries appeared to linger, especially over the threat from Islamic State.
    U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced last 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.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler)

9/19/2019 Iran warns against war as U.S. and Saudi weigh response to oil attack by Tuqa Khalid and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo steps off his plane upon arrival at King Abdulaziz
International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS
    DUBAI/JEDDAH (Reuters) – Iran warned U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday against being dragged into all-out war in the Middle East following an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the weekend strike that initially halved Saudi oil output as an act of war and has been discussing possible retaliation with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.
    Trump on Wednesday struck a cautious note, saying there were many options short of war with Iran, which denies involvement in the Sept. 14 strikes.    He ordered more sanctions on Tehran.
    Iran’s foreign minister told CNN the Islamic Republic “won’t blink” if it has to defend itself against any U.S. or Saudi military strike, which he said would lead to “all-out war.”
    Mohammed Javad Zarif earlier accused Pompeo of being part of a so-called “B-team,” which Tehran says includes Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and is trying to dupe Trump into opting for war.
    Pompeo said on Wednesday that the attack was “of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”
    “The Saudis were the nation that were attacked.    It was on their soil.    It was an act of war against them directly,” he told reporters before meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
    Riyadh, which described the assault as a “test of global will,” on Wednesday displayed the remnants of 25 Iranian drones and missiles it said were used in the strike as undeniable evidence of Iranian aggression.
    The Saudi ambassador to Berlin said “everything is on the table,” telling Deutschlandfunk radio that options need to be discussed carefully.
    The United Arab Emirates on Thursday followed its main Arab ally Saudi Arabia in announcing it was joining a global maritime security coalition that Washington has been trying to build since a series of explosions on oil tankers in Gulf waters in recent months that were also blamed on Tehran.
    Pompeo, who arrived in the UAE from Saudi Arabia on Thursday for talks with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, welcomed the move on Twitter: “Recent events underscore the importance of protecting global commerce and freedom of navigation.”
    Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which is battling a Saudi-led military coalition, claimed responsibility for the assault on two Saudi oil plants, including the world’s largest processing facility. U.S. and Saudi officials rejected the claim, saying the attack had not come from the south.
    Fellow Gulf OPEC producer Kuwait, which said earlier this week it was investigating the detection of a drone over its territory, has put its oil sector on high alert and raised security to the highest level as a precautionary measure.
    Oil prices, which soared following the attack, steadied after Saudi Arabia pledged to restore full production by the end of the month. [O/R]
U.N. MEETING IN FOCUS
    Proof of Iranian responsibility, and evidence that the attack was launched from Iranian territory, could pressure Riyadh and Washington, which want to curb Iranian influence in the region, into a response.    Trump has previously said he does not want war and is coordinating with Gulf and European states.
    Pompeo said the attacks would be a major focus of next week’s annual U.N. General Assembly meeting and suggested Riyadh could make its case there.
    Iran’s Zarif accused Pompeo of trying to “dodge a U.S. obligation” to issue visas for Iran’s U.N. delegates.
    Tehran has said the U.S. accusations were part of Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy on the Islamic Republic to force Iran to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which Trump exited last year, reimposing sanctions.
    France, which is trying to salvage the deal, said the New York gathering presented a chance to de-escalate tensions.
    “When missiles hit another country it is an act of war, but we have to go back to the principle of de-escalation,” French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.    “There is an international investigation, let’s wait for its results.”
    The French army sent seven experts to Saudi Arabia to join the investigation. U.N. officials monitoring sanctions on Iran and Yemen are also helping probe the attack, which exposed gaps in Saudi air defenses despite billions spent on Western military hardware.
    U.S. efforts to bring about a U.N. Security Council response looked unlikely to succeed as Russia and China have veto powers and were expected to shield Iran.
    Washington and its Gulf allies want Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as to put more limitations on its nuclear and missile programs.
(Reporting by Tuqa Khalid and Stephen Kalin; Additional reporting by Mahal El Dahan, Nafisa Eltahir, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Dubai newsroom, Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Michelle Martin in Berlin, Ahmed Tolba and Samar Hassan in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Giles Elgood)

9/19/2019 Weakened Netanyahu seeks Israeli unity government with rival Gantz by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Likud party headquarters following the announcement
of exit polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited his main rival, Benny Gantz, on Thursday to join him in a broad coalition government — an abrupt change of strategy after failing to win a ruling majority in election.
    Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White Party, planned to make a statement at 2 p.m. (1100 GMT), a spokesman said.
    Making the surprise offer, Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party and Israel’s longest-serving leader, said in a video clip that in the run-up to Tuesday’s election, he had pledged to form a right-wing government.
    “But to my regret, the election results show that this is impossible,” Netanyahu said.    “Benny, we must set up a broad unity government, as soon as today.    The nation expects us, both of us, to demonstrate responsibility and that we pursue cooperation.”
    In subsequent comments, at a ceremony – which Gantz also attended – marking the third anniversary of the death of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, Netanyahu said his offer came with no preconditions. A smiling Netanyahu and Gantz warmly shook hands at the event.
    Netanyahu hinted at a possible rotating premiership deal with Gantz, noting that Peres, a left-wing leader, had forged a coalition with conservative Yitzhak Shamir in which they rotated top office between 1984 and 1988.
    Netanyahu’s comments reflected his heightened political vulnerability after again failing to security a parliamentary majority, following an inconclusive election in April.
    President Reuven Rivlin, who commands wide respect in Israel in his largely ceremonial position, said he welcomed Netanyahu’s unity call.    Under Israeli law, Rivlin taps a party leader to try to form a government after the final vote tally is in.
    The campaigns run by Netanyahu, 69, and Gantz, 60, pointed to only narrow differences on many important issues, and an end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring about significant changes in policy on relations with the United States, the regional struggle against Iran or the Palestinian conflict.
    With Israeli media reporting more than 95 percent of votes counted in Tuesday’s election, a Likud-led right-wing, religious bloc looked poised to control 55 of parliament’s 120 seats, with 56 going to a center-left alliance.
    On Wednesday, Gantz said he hoped for a “good, desirable unity government.”    But he has also ruled out forming one with a Netanyahu-led Likud, citing looming corruption charges against the prime minister.    Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
MR CLEAN
    Gantz is a newcomer to politics.    Many voters saw him as a “Mr Clean,” an alternative to Netanyahu and the cloud of alleged criminal misdeeds hanging over him.
    Netanyahu’s call for a broad government preceded a scheduled visit later on Thursday by Jason Greenblatt, an architect of U.S. President Donald Trump’s as-yet unveiled plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior Likud member, said he believed Greenblatt was coming to discuss the peace blueprint.
    Palestinians, who seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, have rejected the Trump plan out of hand, accusing the president of pro-Israeli bias.
    “As to whether he (Greenblatt) will be presenting the plan, I have no idea,” Hanegbi said on Army Radio.
    With Israeli politics in flux, Netanyahu canceled his annual speech at the U.N. General Assembly next week, a spokesman said on Wednesday about a visit that might have provided an opportunity to meet with Trump.
    Netanyahu highlighted his close ties with Trump in his election campaign. But in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Trump appeared to distance himself from Netanyahu, amid political stalemate in Israel.
    He told reporters he had not spoken to Netanyahu since Tuesday’s ballot and said: “Our relationship is with Israel.”
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

9/19/2019 Benny Gantz declares victory in Israel election by OAN Newsroom
    Center-left candidate Benny Gantz declares victory over Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israeli elections, and is rejecting the prime minister’s call for negotiations over leading the government.
    Gantz issued a statement Thursday saying, “I am interested in and intend to form a broad and liberal unity government under my leadership.”    He also said, “the process of building a government has begun, and we will not be dictated to.”
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Benny Gantz’s Blue and White has pledged not to sit in the same government as Netanyahu, as the long-serving
Israeli leader is expected to face indictment in a slew of corruption scandals. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
    This comes after Netanyahu offered to build a broad coalition government with Gantz amid a tight election.    Netanyahu proposed a rotating premiership among the two leaders.
    “The people chose unity, the people want for Israel to be before everything,” stated the prime minister.    “And therefore, Blue and White under my leadership won the elections — Blue and White is the biggest party.”
    The two must sides must now come together to form a coalition government or else face an unprecedented third election.
[The future of Israel is in a new world of uncertainty but I know that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is in charge and will take Israel where it will be for his purpose in the end times that are in our time frame now.].

9/19/2019 Saudi Arabia wins membership in the IAEA board of governors -state news agency
FILE PHOTO: The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters in front
of its headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has won a membership in the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday, according to the state news agency.
    The board is responsible for making most of the policy of the IAEA.    The board makes recommendations to the general conference on IAEA activities and budget.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam; Editing by Chris Reese)

9/19/2019 Russia casts 13th veto of U.N. Security Council action during Syrian war by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Vassily Nebenzia, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the U.N. Security Council briefing on implementation of the
resolution that endorsed the Iran nuclear deal at the United Nations headquarters in New York, U.S., June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia cast its 13th veto on Thursday of U.N. Security Council action on the Syrian conflict, blocking a demand for a truce in northwest Syria because it does not include an exemption for military offensives against U.N. blacklisted militant groups.
    China backed Russia by also blocking the text, drafted by Kuwait, Belgium and Germany.    It was Beijing’s seventh veto on the Syrian conflict.    Equatorial Guinea abstained and the remaining 12 members of the council voted in favor.
    Russia and China then put forward their own draft resolution demanding a truce in northwest Syria – with an exemption – but it failed to get enough votes.    Only Russia and China voted in favor of their own text. Nine members voted against and South Africa, Indonesia, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea abstained.
    A resolution needs nine votes and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass.
    Western states have accused Russian and Syrian forces of targeting civilians in northwest Syria, a charge they deny.    They say they are targeting militants.
    Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council before the votes that he believed the “real objective” of the draft resolution by Germany, Kuwait and Belgium was “to save the international terrorists who are entrenched in Idlib from their final defeat.”
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power, have been waging a five-month-long offensive in the Idlib region, the last major chunk of territory still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war.
    “What we are witnessing is not counterterrorism, but an excuse to continue a violent military campaign against those who refuse to accept the Assad regime’s authority,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft told the council.
    A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war and Islamic State militants then used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.
    “Those … who object to humanitarian access to Syria, those who are currently carpet-bombing Idlib, will be held accountable.    And those who are doing so will have to pay for the reconstruction.    We act on the principle you broke it, you own it,” French U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière told reporters.
    Shortly after the first draft U.N. resolution was proposed by Kuwait, Germany and Belgium, Damascus declared a truce on Aug. 31 that brought a lull in air strikes.    However, Syrian troops on Sunday shelled south of Idlib, according to rescuers and residents.
    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.
    The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran meeting in Ankara on Monday agreed to try to ease tensions in the Idlib region, but disagreements between the countries appeared to linger, especially over the threat from Islamic State.
    U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced last 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.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

9/19/2019 Newsmaker: The anti-Netanyahu? Ex-general Gantz poised for top office by Rami Ayyub
Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz attends a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel July 28, 2014. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Benny Gantz has little of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s worldly polish or flair as a showy ideologue – and that may be exactly why so many weary Israelis want the ex-general in top office.
    A towering and laid-back former military chief, Gantz appears to have edged out the conservative Netanyahu in a Tuesday election, but not enough to win a governing center-left majority in parliament led by his Blue and White party.
    A weakened Netanyahu, whose right-wing Likud party also fell short of victory, called on Gantz, 60, on Thursday to join him a broad, unity government.    Gantz insists he will not enter an alliance with Netanyahu.
    Earlier, Netanyahu was wont to point out that Gantz is a political greenhorn whose foreign policy pedigree is a stint as defense attache at the Israeli embassy in Washington – a resume unlikely to impress world leaders like President Donald Trump.
    Gantz casts himself as more diplomatically accommodating than Netanyahu, urging redoubled efforts to restart peace talks with the Palestinians but stopping short of any commitment to the statehood they seek.
    Where Netanyahu envisages annexing the Jordan Valley, part of occupied West Bank land, Gantz has spoken less concretely of Israel maintaining security control of the strategic corridor.
    To his critics, that kind of haziness shows indecisiveness and lack of principle.    Gantz, who was raised on a collective farm and spent some of his school years in a religious Jewish seminary, describes himself as having more grit than varnish.
    “You know I’m not strong with words,” he told a Jerusalem conference earlier this month.    “I say honestly – I’m not a politician.    A leader?    I hope that (I am that), yes.”
ROLE MODEL
    Gantz, who is married with four children, has acknowledged his easy-going appeal, telling reporters on Wednesday that he aspired to enter a “good, desirable unity government, so the country can relax a little.”
    But he has also shown steel.    He launched his political career earlier this year with a bombastic ad campaign that claimed credit for hundreds of “terrorist” kills in Gaza – a reference to wars he oversaw against Hamas Islamists, and whose civilian Palestinian toll drew international condemnation.
    Indeed, as Israelis voted on Tuesday, a Dutch Palestinian who lost six relatives to Israeli forces in Gaza in 2014 sought war crimes damages against Gantz at The Hague.    Gantz fired back defiantly that Israel has “the most moral army in the world.”
    But in making Blue and White Israel’s largest party in parliament – just edging past Likud, according to near-complete results – many Israelis evidently felt overtaxed by more than a decade of Netanyahu rule.
    Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, faces possible indictment in three corruption cases in which he denies any wrongdoing.    During his decade in power, internal divisions and diplomatic stalemate with the Palestinians have deepened.
    “When I look at Gantz, I see someone I can trust, who is honest and sincere.    He is a role model,” Tami Golan, a 46-year-old Tel Aviv property manager, told Reuters.
    “He gives me hope we can be united as a country,” the mother of two said.
    Netanyahu has accused Gantz of being gunshy when it came to a potential military confrontation with arch-foe Iran.    Gantz says that he prepared a plan for attacking Iranian nuclear sites but that it was Netanyahu who failed to green-light it.
    As top general, Gantz says, he was guided by his late mother, a Holocaust survivor.    While she supported Israel’s fight against Hamas, he recounted in later media interviews, she exhorted him to “keep the food coming in” to impoverished Gaza.
    Among factors that could decide if Gantz forms the next government, assuming a partnership with Netanyahu does not materialize, is whether he gets a nod from a party list that represents Israel’s Arab minority.
    While some Arab politicians have voiced misgivings about Gantz’s record in uniform, others have hinted they may grudgingly back him as an antidote to Netanyahu.
    The Palestinians have not ruled Gantz out as peace partner.
    “We do respect (the) democratic outcome of elections in Israel.    Whoever will form the government – we are ready to sit with him or her to restart the negotiations,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said at a news conference in Oslo on Wednesday.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo, Editing by William Maclean)

9/20/2019 Israel split after latest close vote by Josef Federman, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival, Benny Gantz, on Thursday each called for the formation of a unity government following Israel’s inconclusive national election.    But with both men demanding to be prime minister, there were no signs they could break the deadlock.
    The rival proposals indicated Israel could be headed for a long and contentious period of uncertainty, and politicians on both sides of the aisle warned of being forced into an unprecedented third election in less than a year.
    “There is no choice but to form a broad unity government,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.    “We cannot and there is no reason to go to third elections.”
    After failing to form a coalition following April’s election, Netanyahu called Tuesday’s vote, only to see a new political stalemate develop.
    With nearly all votes counted Thursday, Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party stood at 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament.    Netanyahu’s conservative Likud stood at 31 seats.
    But neither party can muster a majority coalition of 61 seats with its smaller allies.    The difference appears to be Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu party captured eight seats.    Lieberman has refused to commit to either side and is instead demanding a broad unity government with the two major parties.
    Netanyahu’s proposal is a nonstarter for Gantz.    His Blue and White party has said it will only sit with Likud if Netanyahu steps aside to deal with his legal woes.

9/20/2019 Saudi Arabia shows attack site damage as Iran pledges tough defense by Stephen Kalin and Rania El Gamal
Workers are seen at the damaged site of Saudi Aramco oil facility in Khurais, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed
    KHURAIS, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia on Friday took media to inspect oil facilities hit by attacks that Washington and Riyadh blame on Iran, showing melted pipes and burnt equipment, as Tehran vowed wide retaliation if heightened tensions boil over into hostilities.
    The kingdom sees the Sept. 14 strikes on its Khurais and Abqaiq facilities — the worst attack on Gulf oil infrastructure since Iraq’s Saddam Hussein torched Kuwaiti oilfields in 1991 — as a test of global will to preserve international order.
    Iran denies involvement in the attack, which initially halved oil output from Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest petroleum exporter.    Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group fighting a Saudi-led alliance in Yemen’s four-year-old conflict.
    At Khurais, which the Saudi defense ministry says was hit by four missiles, Reuters reporters were shown repair work under way, with cranes erected around two burnt-out stabilization columns, which form part of oil-gas separation units, and melted pipes.
    “We are confident we are going back to the full production we were at before the attack (on Khurais) by the end of September,” Fahad Abdulkarim, Aramco’s general manager for the southern area oil operation, told reporters.
    “We are working 24/7…This is a beehive.”
    Workmen wearing red high visibility jackets and white helmets moved through the site, a large compound the size of several football stadiums containing interconnected structures of piping and towers.
    A mound of blackened debris lay on the ground.    An executive said the scorched mess once covered much of the ground but now only a small mound is left.
    Some workers sprayed what appeared to be water on the ground.    Mobile cranes and water trucks stood near the crumpled, mangled remains of a fire-damaged stabilization tower.
    The attacks intensified a years-long struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are locked in a sometimes violent contest for influence in several flashpoints around the Middle East.
    Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday the attacks were an “extension of the Iranian regime’s hostile and outlawed behavior.”
    Iran has warned U.S. President Donald Trump against being dragged into a war in the Middle East and said it would meet any offensive action with a crushing response.
    Tehran amplified that message on Friday when a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said Iran would respond from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean against any U.S. plots.
COALITION
    “If the Americans think of any plots, the Iranian nation will respond from the Mediterranean, to the Red Sea and to the Indian Ocean,” said General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, state news agency IRNA reported.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had called the attacks an “act of war” but on Thursday he said Trump, who has ordered more sanctions on Iran, wants a peaceful solution to the crisis.
    Iran’s foreign minister on Friday questioned Pompeo’s remarks and listed repeated Iranian diplomatic initiatives.
    “Coalition for Peaceful Resolution?” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter, and listed eight diplomatic initiatives by Iran since 1985, including a peace plan for Yemen in 2015.
    He later said Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates seemed to wish to “fight Iran to the last American.”
    Oil prices, which soared after the attack, steadied after Riyadh vowed to regain full oil output by the end of September.
    Kuwait said it had raised the security alert level at all of its ports, including the oil terminals, state-run media said, citing a decision by the trade and industry minister.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged all countries in the Gulf to sit down for talks to defuse tensions and said groundless accusations against Iran over the attacks were inflaming tensions, Interfax news agency reported.
    The Yemeni Houthi movement on Friday accused the Saudi-led coalition of a dangerous escalation of the situation around Hodeidah, after coalition forces attacked targets north of the port city.
    The actions threatened a U.N.-brokered ceasefire accord in the Red Sea port, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said.
(Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Maher Chmaytelli and by Jon Boyle)

9/20/2019 Inside Saudi Arabia’s response to a raid on the heart of the oil kingdom by Rania El Gamal, Stephen Kalin and Marwa Rashad
FILE PHOTO: Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    KHURAIS, Saudi Arabia(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s newly appointed energy minister was in London when he learned in the middle of the night of the largest-ever attack on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure.
    Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, a veteran oil official and senior member of the Al Saud ruling family, hurried back to the kingdom, flying by private jet to Aramco’s headquarters in Dhahran to assess the damage and manage the fallout from the attack on the world’s largest oil exporter, three sources close to the matter said.    Officials at state-run oil company Saudi Aramco, meanwhile, gathered in what was referred to internally as the “emergency management room” at the company’s headquarters.
    Interviews with at least a dozen Gulf and Western officials provide the most detailed account to date of the response by Saudi officials and state oil company Aramco to the most destructive strike on Saudi Arabia since it opened an offensive in Yemen more than four years ago.    The attack knocked out more than half the kingdom’s oil production, or almost 6 percent of global oil output.
    Saudi Arabia has said Iran was responsible, an assessment that U.S. officials share.
    Iranian officials were unavailable to comment but Iran has denied involvement.
    Yemen’s Houthi movement, an ally of Iran battling a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition has claimed responsibility.    But Gulf diplomats and regional officials say they are skeptical of the claim given the sophistication of the attacks.
    The Saudi energy ministry declined to comment on its response to the attacks.    The government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The attacks place pressure on both U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who have worked closely together to contain Iran’s growing regional influence.    Both nations have stressed the need for caution.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the attacks as “an act of war” against Saudi Arabia, though Trump says there are options short of war.    Iran has warned that any U.S. or Saudi military strike against the country would bring “all-out war.”
(Graphics on ‘Strikes on Saudi oil disrupt global supply’ – https://tmsnrt.rs/302z0Hm)
MISSILES AND DRONES
    Shortly after 3:30 a.m. local time on Saturday, 25 drones and low-flying missiles struck two of Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities located in the east of the kingdom, according to Saudi officials.
    Amin Nasser, the chief executive of state-run Saudi Aramco, which owns the two plants, rushed to Aramco’s emergency-response room at the company’s headquarters in the oil-producing Eastern Province, where he was joined by other senior managers, according to several people briefed on the matter.    There was a sense of shock at the scale of the damage, some of the people said.
    By the time Aramco’s team was dealing with the fires at the first site in Khurais, where more than 200 people were at the time, strikes were still hitting the facility, according to the company.    More than a hundred contractors were immediately evacuated.
    A Saudi Aramco spokesman declined to comment on questions from Reuters about the company and the CEO’s response to the attacks.
    Saudi officials believed Iran was responsible because the intensity of the attack was beyond the capability of the Houthi, but they wanted to gather evidence before going public with the claims, according to Gulf diplomats and regional officials.
    Saudi officials also spoke to their allies, in some instances requesting assistance with experts to help with the investigation and help in strengthening air defenses. On Saturday, Prince Mohammed provided Trump an update by phone, according to a U.S. official.    Trump offered “his support for Saudi Arabia’s self-defense,” according to the White House readout of the call.
    U.S. officials also quickly came to believe that the attack did not come from Yemen and that Iran was responsible, according to U.S. officials who briefed reporters.    The Houthi had not struck that distance before or in such a “precise and coordinated fashion,” said a senior administration official.
(Graphics on ‘Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in a battle for regional supremacy, fighting proxy wars’ – https://tmsnrt.rs/31rShzd)
PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES
    By midday Saturday in Saudi Arabia, Nasser and other senior company Aramco executives were headed to the damaged plants, first to Khurais and then to Abqaiq, one of the sources briefed on the matter said.
    That night, Nasser was joined at Abqaiq, the world’s biggest oil processing facility, by Prince Abdulaziz and Aramco’s new chairman Yassir al-Rumayyan, according to sources and pictures released by the state news agency.
    Aramco, which runs a variety of large projects in the kingdom, deployed more than 5,000 contractors and pulled employees from other projects to work around the clock to bring production back, according to Nasser’s public comments and one of the sources briefed on the matter.
    Initial assessments were that the damage was significant and that bringing full production back online could take weeks or even months, said Saudi officials and industry sources who visited the sites or were briefed on the attacks.
    Saudi oil officials were scrambling to produce a report on the extent damage for the kingdom’s top leadership, including King Salman, the energy minister’s father, according two of the sources briefed on the matter.    But engineers needed 48 more hours for a final assessment, the people said.
    Crude markets would begin trading again in two days and Saudi Arabia was under pressure to reassure buyers that oil supplies will not be disrupted.
    “Imagine if this (production) didn’t come back on time the whole global security of supply is going to be impacted,” Nasser told reporters earlier this week.    “We have a lot of projects in the kingdom… so we have all of the workforce that’s needed to rebuild, reconstruct and put it back,” he said.
    By Tuesday, the kingdom had managed to restore full supplies to customers by drawing oil from their massive oil inventories.    The company also announced production would return sooner than expected – by the end of the month.    Aramco had emerged “like a phoenix from the ashes,” said Prince Abdulaziz in remarks to news media that night in Red Sea city of Jeddah.
    The news restored some confidence, prompting a fall in oil prices that had jumped on Monday.
ATTACK EVIDENCE
    The Saudis continued to analyze the attack debris.    That included aerial weaponry that missed their targets and was recovered just to the north, according to U.S. officials.
    The United States dispatched to Saudi Arabia forensic specialists to assist in the effort; France said it was also sending investigative experts.
    On Wednesday, Saudi Arabian officials publicly accused Iran of involvement.    At a news conference, a defense ministry official displayed drone and missile debris it said was undeniable evidence of Iranian aggression and identified the drones as Iranian Delta Wing unmanned aerial vehicles.
    “The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” said the official, Colonel Turki al-Malki.
    U.S. officials fingered southwest Iran as the staging ground, an assessment based at least in part on still-classified imagery showing Iran appearing to prepare an aerial strike, according to two U.S. officials.
    On Thursday, the United States was considering sending anti-missile batteries, drones and more fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said.
    “Frankly there’s just not enough defense capability in the country, if you could be hit from multiple directions,” one U.S. official told Reuters.
    It is possible the attacks were launched from more than one location, a Western security source said.    “The exact launch location is important as it determines the response and there does have to be a response,” the person said.
    On Friday, repair work to the oil plants was ongoing. At the Khurais facility, parts of the facility were visibly burnt and pipes melted.     During a tour of the site organized by the company, Fahad Abdulkarim, general manager for Aramco’s southern area oil operations, told reporters that the company is shipping equipment from the United States and Europe to help repair the damage.
(Marwa Washad reporting from Jeddah. Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Guy Faulconbridge in London, and Roberta Rampton, Steve Holland and Phil Smith in Washington.; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low and Jason Szep)

9/20/2019 Record 12.4 million people reached with food aid in Yemen: U.N.
Workers carry aid provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) for distribution in Sanaa, Yemen August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A record 12.4 million people in Yemen received food aid in August, the first time the targeted population was reached fully, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
    At the same time, WFP said it still needed $600 million from donors to provide uninterrupted food deliveries for the next six months in the war-torn country.    Rations could be cut from October if funds are not forthcoming, it added.
    Both Houthi forces and the Saudi-led coalition they are fighting have used access to aid and food as a political tool, exacerbating what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with high rates of severe child malnutrition.
    "Numbers from the August distribution cycle indicate that the UN World Food Programme has reached a record 12.4 million food-insecure people with food assistance in August.    This is the highest number ever reached,” WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in a statement.
    WFP previously reached about 11 million Yemenis per month with rations.
    The agency halted most aid in Sanaa on June 20 out of concern that food was being diverted, through a local partner, away from vulnerable people.    However it maintained nutrition programs only for malnourished children, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers.
    WFP resumed distributions to 850,000 people two months later in the Yemeni capital after reaching an agreement with the Iran-aligned Houthi authorities who control the city.    WFP said at the time a biometric registration process would be introduced for 9 million people living in areas under Houthi control.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

9/20/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu clings to power as coalition talks loom by Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he sits next to Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, during
a memorial ceremony for late Israeli President Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced Israeli media headlines on Friday suggesting power is slipping from his grasp after an election in which he trails his main rival with nearly all votes counted.
    The right-wing leader failed on Tuesday, for the second time in five months, to secure a clear election victory and the centrist Blue and White party led by ex-armed forces chief Benny Gantz rebuffed his calls to join a unity government on Thursday.
    Near-final results released on Friday by the Knesset’s election committee showed Blue and White will be the largest single party in the new parliament with 33 of the 120 seats, with Netanyahu’s Likud winning 31 seats, three less than it had before.
GRAPHIC: Seat projections in Israel’s election – https://graphics.reuters.com/ISRAEL-ELECTION/0100B2B21D9/ISRAEL-ELECTIONS.jpg
    Israeli newspapers and commentators depicted the 69-year-old leader as in a weakened position, with headlines such as: “Himself Alone” and “Political Death Spasms.”
    President Reuven Rivlin will on Sunday start consultations with the parties about choosing a leader to put together a coalition.
    There were only narrow differences in the two main parties’ campaigns on many important issues, and an end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring significant changes in policy on relations with the United States, the regional struggle against Iran or the Palestinian conflict.
PALESTINIAN ELECTIONS?
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to see Israel’s coalition drama as an opportunity for his government in the occupied West Bank to announce election plans.
    Abbas told reporters outside Norway’s parliament that he would issue a decree for elections across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem when he returns to the Palestinian Territories following the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
    Despite a long rift with Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, Abbas said his Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, would be ready to accept a Hamas victory “because Hamas is a part of our people, we cannot exclude Hamas.    They have a right to vote and to nominate themselves.”
    Some political analysts said Abbas was unlikely to follow through on his election pledge, pointing to difficulties holding a national vote across Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, each of which has a different ruling entity.
    There have not been any national Palestinian elections for 13 years.    Abbas was elected president in 2005 and Hamas won a 2006 parliamentary election, plunging Palestinian politics into a bitter power struggle from which it has not emerged.
PEACE PLAN
    One uncertainty is the timing of U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-delayed Middle East peace plan, which was expected soon after Israel’s election, but could unsettle a weakened Netanyahu if released during complex coalition negotiations.
    On Friday, Netanyahu met Trump’s outgoing Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, a chief architect of the plan.
    Many political analysts are waiting to see how Netanyahu tries to prolong his political survival, not least to claim a public mandate in the face of possible corruption charges that prosecutors may bring within months.    He denies wrongdoing, accusing his critics of mounting a witch-hunt.
    In his election campaign, Netanyahu pledged to annex large swaths of the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war where Palestinians seek a state along with Gaza and East Jerusalem. The move drew condemnation from world leaders as detrimental to achieving a lasting peace accord.
    Gantz has urged redoubled efforts to restart peace talks with the Palestinians but stopped short of any commitment to the statehood they seek.    He has spoken less concretely of Israel maintaining security control of the Jordan Valley.
    Netanyahu and Gantz will now seek potential coalition allies, prominent among whom is the far-right former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman.    He secured eight seats for his Yisrael Beitenu party, making him a potential kingmaker.
    Increased turnout by Israel’s 21-percent Arab minority saw the Arab-dominated Joint List coalition grouping win 13 seats, making it the third largest grouping.
    The religious parties representing Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox communities, known as Haredim, remain a significant force, with Shas winning nine seats and United Torah Judaism eight seats.
    The right-wing Yamina won seven seats, the leftist Labor-Gesher six, and the Democratic Union five.    The full official results will be published next Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo, Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

9/20/2019 Small but rare protest in Cairo after online call for dissent
People gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Small groups of protesters gathered in central Cairo late on Friday shouting anti-government slogans, responding to an online call for a demonstration against government corruption, Reuters witnesses and residents said.
    Protests have become very rare in Egypt following a broad crackdown on dissent under President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who took power after the overthrow of the former Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
    Security forces moved to disperse the crowds but youth kept protesting in side streets, several witnesses told Reuters.    There was a heavy security presence in downtown Cairo and on Tahrir Square where mass protest started in 2011 which toppled Hosni Mubarak.
    Authorities could not be immediately reached for comment.    A pro-government TV anchor said only a small group of protesters gathered to take videos and selfies before leaving the scene.
    Mohamed Ali, a building contractor and actor turned political activist who lives in Spain, called in a series of videos for the protest after accusing Sisi and the military of corruption.
    On Saturday, Sisi dismissed the claims as “lies and slander.”
    Sisi won two elections with 97% of the vote in 2014 and 2018, but his popularity has been dented by economic austerity measures.
    Sisi’s supporters say dissent must be quashed to stabilize Egypt, after a 2011 uprising and the unrest that followed, including an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police, soldiers and civilians.
    They also credit him with economic reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund.
(Reporting by Cairo newsroom; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

9/21/2019 Saudi Arabia threatens action against those responsible for attack on facility by OAN Newsroom
    Saudi officials threaten to take appropriate action against the culprit of last week’s attack on an oil facility.
    Saudi authorities said Saturday they are still investigating the September 14th attack, to find out who is responsible.
ADDS QUTOE – Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, leaves a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.     “The more engagement you have with Iran the more Iran believes its aggressive behavior
is acceptable in the world and that is not acceptable so those issues need to be considered,” Adel al-Jubeir said. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
    Yemen’s Houthi rebels initially claimed they conducted the assault, but Riyadh is blaming Iranian officials.
    In the wake of last week’s attack, President Trump has deployed troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
    “We are in consultations with our allies and friends with regards to the next steps that we need to take,” said Adel Al-Jubeir, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia “We are awaiting the final results of the investigation with regards to the attack and in particular where it originated from, so that we can build a response on that.”
    Meanwhile, Tehran has denied any involvement in the attack, adding it was conducted by Houthi’s angry over Saudi attacks in Yemen.

9/21/2019 Turkey is prepared for possible Syria border operation, Erdogan says
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses visitors at Teknofest technology and aerospace fair in
Istanbul, Turkey, September 21, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is ready to act on its southern border with Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said, after warning that it could take unilateral steps if the U.S. does not establish a “safe zone” in northeast Syria this month.
    “Our preparations along our borders are complete,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul on Saturday before departing to attend a U.N. General Assembly meeting.
    NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. have started joint land and air patrols along part of the border strip, but Ankara says Washington is moving too slowly to establish a sufficiently large safe zone to push Syrian Kurdish forces from the border.
    Turkey has been angered by U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces which fought Islamic State in Syria.    It considers the Kurdish YPG fighters a terrorist organization and wants them removed from more than 400 km (250 miles) of border.
    The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces has said they will pull back up to 14 km in some areas.    Turkey says the U.S. had agreed that the “safe zone” should extend 32 km into Syria.
    Erdogan reiterated complaints over U.S. support for the Kurdish fighters, saying Washington was providing them with arms.
    “We have no wish to come face to face with the U.S.” he said.    “However, we cannot afford to overlook the support that the U.S. is giving to a terrorist organization.”
    His comments about border preparations came a day after two security sources said doctors have been stationed in southern Turkish provinces to prepare for a possible incursion into Syria.
    One source said doctors’ leave had been suspended.    “We have been preparing for a long time,” the source said.    “The operation can be conducted whenever deemed necessary.”
    Turkey has already launched two military incursions into northern Syria since 2016, targeting Islamic State and YPG forces west of the Euphrates.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Irem Koca; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editor Mike Harrison)

9/21/2019 Lebanese PM talks to Saudi minister about support for economy
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) – Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri spoke to the Saudi finance minister on Saturday about support for the Lebanese economy and preparations for the first meeting of a bilateral council, his media office said.
    Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said on Wednesday that Riyadh was in discussions with the Lebanese government about providing financial support, lifting Lebanon’s dollar-denominated government bonds.
    Lebanon, one of the world’s most heavily indebted states, faces financial strains linked to a slowdown in capital inflows needed to meet the financing needs of the government and the import-dependent economy.    Years of low growth have also weighed.
    Central bank foreign assets have been in decline.    These, excluding gold, fell around 15% from an all-time high in May last year to $38.7 billion in mid-September.
    In a phone call, Hariri and Jadaan discussed “preparations to hold the first meeting of the Lebanese-Saudi joint committee and … the agenda that includes agreements and memorandums of understanding that are intended to be signed.”
    They also discussed “ways leading to the support of the Lebanese economy and the participation of the Saudi private sector in projects included in the Cedre conference,” a reference to a major infrastructure investment program.
    Lebanon won pledges of some $11 billion in financing for the investment program at the “Cedre” conference in Paris last year.    But foreign governments including France first want to see Beirut follow through on long-delayed reforms aimed at putting the public finances on a sustainable path.
    A Lebanese official source told Reuters on Wednesday that work was underway to convene the bilateral council in October.
    Riyadh was once a major supporter of both the Lebanese state and political allies including the Sunni Hariri family.    But it was seen to step back from Lebanon and tensions grew as the role of Iran’s Lebanese Shi’ite ally, Hezbollah, expanded.
    However ties have appeared to thaw this year.    Saudi Arabia lifted a warning against its citizens traveling to Lebanon earlier this year.
    The statement from Hariri’s office gave no details of what kind of financial support Saudi Arabia might provide.
    Krisjanis Krustins, director at Fitch Ratings, noted that one step taken by Saudi Arabia and others to help Lebanon in the past was to deposit funds at the central bank.
    “Buying bonds is another option and another thing that could be done is support for purchase of petroleum products.    Investments are another option but (it’s) not clear what assets they would buy other than bonds,” Krustins said.
    Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Wednesday Lebanon would “very soon” start measures to issue foreign currency bonds of about $2 billion.
(Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Tom Arnold in London; editing by Giles Elgood and Ros Russell)

9/22/2019 Israel’s president floats unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz
FILE PHOTO - Israeli President Reuven Rivlin talks during a press conference at the
Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president on Sunday began consulting with party leaders to discuss who should lead the country after no clear victor emerged from last week’s election, suggesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud join forces with its main rival.
    Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud failed, for the second time in five months, to secure a clear election victory.    The centrist Blue and White party led by ex-armed forces chief Benny Gantz has a slight lead with nearly all votes counted.
    Gantz has so far rebuffed Netanyahu’s calls to join a unity government.
    Near-final results show Blue and White will be the largest single party in the new parliament with 33 of the 120 seats, while Likud has won 31 seats, three less than it had before.
    President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday began consultations with the parties about choosing a leader to put together a coalition.
    In a meeting with Likud party leaders, Rivlin said it was up to the “two biggest parties, the first and second that are almost equal in size, to join forces … so that you together manage and establish a system that brings a stable government.”
    “This is what the people want.    None of us can ignore that,” he said.
    There were only narrow differences in the two main parties’ campaigns on many important issues, and an end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring significant changes in policy on relations with the United States, the regional struggle against Iran, or the Palestinian conflict.
    Netanyahu and Gantz will now seek potential coalition allies, prominent among whom is the far-right former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman.    He secured eight seats for his Yisrael Beitenu party, making him a potential kingmaker.
    Lieberman on Sunday reiterated his call for a unity government and said he would not recommend either candidate in his meeting with Rivlin.
    Gantz, however, got a boost from the Arab-dominated Joint List, which said it was ending it usual policy of not supporting any of the main candidates after elections.
    “We want to bring an end to the era of Netanyahu, so we recommend that Benny Gantz be the one to form the next government,” party head Ayman Odeh told Rivlin.
    An increased turnout by Israel’s 21-percent Arab minority saw the Joint List win 13 seats, making it the third largest grouping.
    Its support does not mean it will sit in the governing coalition, but its backing gives Gantz’s center-left bloc 57 seats, compared to Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc of 55.
    Religious parties representing Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox communities, known as Haredim, remain a significant force, with Shas winning nine seats and United Torah Judaism eight seats.
    The right-wing Yamina won seven seats, the leftist Labor-Gesher six, and the Democratic Union five.    Full official results are due to be published on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by James Drummond and David Evans)

9/22/2019 Saudi Arabia seeks action against Iran after oil attack, allies wary by Sylvia Westall, Ghaida Ghantous and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: Workers are seen at the damaged site of Saudi Aramco oil facility in
Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed/File Photo
    DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will seek to make a case at a global gathering in New York this week for concerted action to punish and deter arch-foe Iran after strikes on Saudi oil plants rattled global markets and exposed the kingdom’s vulnerability to attack.
    However, even Riyadh’s main allies the United States and the United Arab Emirates have little appetite for a conventional military confrontation which may spark a war in the Gulf and drag in other oil producers, diplomats say.
    As it tries to build a coalition, Riyadh is preparing to provide evidence to the U.N. General Assembly which it says will prove Iran was behind the Sept. 14 drone and missile assault which initially drastically affected its oil output, a view shared by Washington.    Riyadh says Iranian weapons were launched from the north and that it is working to pinpoint the exact location.
    Iran has denied any involvement and vowed to retaliate against even a limited military response.    It has criticized the accusations as part of a campaign of “maximum pressure” launched by President Donald Trump on Tehran after he quit a 2015 nuclear pact last year and widened sanctions to choke off Iran’s oil exports.    Riyadh wants to see more punitive action by the international community.
    “This attack is a tipping point.    Saudi Arabia will make the case this was a devastating blow and continued threat to the global economy,” a Gulf Arab source told Reuters on Sunday.
    “If Saudi Arabia can prove without reasonable doubt that Iran was behind it, then world powers could exercise their clout — their pressure, their trade tools, pulling Iran back from its brinkmanship policy,” the source said.
    Ahead of the U.N. General Assembly, Riyadh says it wants a peaceful resolution, but if the probe proved the strike came from Iran then “this would be considered an act of war
IRANIAN SECURITY PROPOSAL
    In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that he will present at the General Assembly a plan for “creating security” in the Gulf in cooperation with other regional nations, without providing further details.
    Concrete evidence over responsibility for the latest drone attack is likely to be crucial to overcome reservations by European and other powers, who were largely reluctant to join a U.S.-led maritime security coalition after tanker attacks in May and June in Gulf waters were also blamed on Iran.    Tehran has also denied involvement in those strikes.
    The Sept. 14 attack “was a big escalation, there is a clear problem.    But it is a real dilemma of how to react without escalating further,” said a Western diplomat.    “It is not clear yet what the U.S. wants to do.”
    France, which is trying to salvage the nuclear deal as Iran scales back its commitments, has urged de-escalation.    China and Russia, which hold vetoes in the U.N. Security Council, have warned against attributing blame without providing proof.
    There are divisions among Gulf Arab states. Riyadh and its allies are locked in a dispute with Qatar that has shattered a Gulf military, political and economic alliance.
    Differences have also emerged between allies Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s main partner in the military coalition fighting in Yemen, after the UAE reduced its involvement in the war in June and moderated its tone toward Iran.
    Senior Emirati foreign ministry official Anwar Gargash said the UAE will in New York “emphasize the primacy of diplomacy.”
    The United States has also sent mixed signals.
    Trump, who ordered more sanctions and approved sending American troops to bolster Saudi defenses, initially declared Washington was “locked and loaded” to respond, then said there were options short of war. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the U.S. was looking to build a coalition to achieve a peaceful resolution.
    The Pentagon said on Friday it will send more troops to Saudi Arabia and speed up delivery of military equipment to Saudi and the UAE after the strike exposed serious gaps in Saudi air defenses.    Rouhani said the presence of foreign forces in the region would create insecurity for oil and shipping.
    “I doubt anyone has the appetite for a direct clash between the U.S. and Iran,” said Barbara A. Leaf, who was U.S. ambassador to the UAE from 2014-2018 and is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
    “It really requires re-establishing deterrence.    Clearly there is none now,” she told Reuters.    “It really depends on the administration … being clear of purpose and intent.”
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall, Ghaida Ghantous and Stephen Kalin; Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by James Drummond)

9/22/2019 Five Western countries, Turkey and UAE back Libyan state oil firm
FILE PHOTO: The building housing Libya's oil state energy firm, the National Oil Corporation (NOC),
is seen in Tripoli, Libya February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Five Western countries including the United States, as well as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, support Libyan state oil firm NOC as the sole legitimate authority for the country’s energy sector, a joint statement said on Sunday.
    The move came after the eastern Libyan parallel government allied to Khalifa Haftar appointed a parallel board last week for a local unit of NOC, a move seen by diplomats as attempt to break away from the Tripoli headquarters.
    “For the sake of Libya’s political and economic stability, and the well-being of all its citizens we exclusively support the NOC,” the statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy for Libya said.
    It was signed by the United States, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, the UAE and Turkey, it said.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) force has been trying to take Tripoli, home to the internationally recognized government, in an almost six-month military campaign.
    Last week, NOC strongly condemned the appointment of a parallel board for an eastern unit of Brega Petroleum Marketing Co (BPMC) as an attempt to divide the country and set up an illegitimate entity to export oil.
    NOC handles oil and gas exports for the whole country, although the LNA has tried before to take control of oil ports under its control.
    Haftar’s forces have been backed by the UAE and Egypt, while the Tripoli forces are supported by Turkey, diplomats say.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Peter Cooney)

9/22/2019 Israel’s Arab party support pushes Gantz ahead of Netanyahu
FILE PHOTO - Israeli President Reuven Rivlin talks during a press conference at the
Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Arab-dominated Joint List party moved on Sunday to back the center-left bloc of Benny Gantz, who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance, to form a new government.
    With final results all but in, neither Gantz nor Netanyahu command a majority in parliament, so the Arab List’s decision to end its usual policy of withholding support for any candidate in the wake of elections could nudge President Reuven Rivlin to ask Gantz to form a government.
    Rivlin, who began consulting with party leaders on Sunday to discuss who should lead the country after no clear victor emerged from Tuesday’s election, suggested Gantz and Netanyahu join forces, though it is uncertain who would be the senior partner.
    Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud failed, for the second time in five months, to secure a clear election victory.    The centrist Blue and White party led by ex-armed forces chief Gantz has a slight lead with nearly all votes counted.
    No party drawn from the 21% Arab minority has ever been part of an Israeli government.    But an increased turnout saw the Joint List win 13 seats, making it the third largest grouping.
    This would provide an outlet to voice Arab complaints of discrimination in Israeli society and give a bigger platform to Arab parties which differ markedly with those drawn from the country’s Jewish majority on many political issues.
    “We want to bring an end to the era of Netanyahu, so we recommend that Benny Gantz be the one to form the next government,” party head Ayman Odeh told Rivlin on Sunday as part of consultations to form a new government coalition.
    Joint List’s support does not mean it will sit in the governing coalition, but its backing gives Gantz’s center-left bloc 57 seats, compared to Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc of 55.
    Netanyahu denounced the Arab party support of Gantz.    He said it meant only two choices — “a minority government that leans on those that reject Israel as a Jewish, democratic state,” or a “broad national government.”
    Gantz has so far rebuffed Netanyahu’s calls to join a unity government.
    Near-final results show Blue and White will be the largest single party in the new parliament with 33 of the 120 seats, while Likud has won 31 seats, three less than it had before.
    In a meeting with Likud party leaders on Sunday, Rivlin said it was up to the “two biggest parties, the first and second that are almost equal in size, to join forces … so that you together manage and establish a system that brings a stable government.”
    “This is what the people want.    None of us can ignore that,” he said.
    The president’s role is largely ceremonial, but it includes consulting with factions and choosing which party leader has the best chance at forming a coalition.
    There were only narrow differences in the two main parties’ campaigns on many important issues during the campaign.    An end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring significant changes in policy on relations with the United States, the regional struggle against Iran, or the Palestinian conflict.
    Netanyahu and Gantz are now seeking other potential coalition allies, prominent among whom is the far-right former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman.    He secured eight seats for his Yisrael Beitenu party, making him a potential kingmaker.
    Lieberman on Sunday reiterated his call for a unity government and said he would not recommend either candidate in his meeting with Rivlin.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by James Drummond and David Evans)

9/23/2019 Explainer: “Only Bibi” no more – Israel’s Netanyahu seeks power-sharing deal by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the start of his Likud party
faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – After failing to secure a clear election victory twice in six months, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister now seems to be calculating that he can stay in power only by sharing it.
    Following a deadlocked parliamentary election last week, a weakened Netanyahu reissued an offer on Monday to his centrist rival Benny Gantz for a unity government, saying that neither had enough support from respective allies for a majority of 61 seats in the 120-member parliament.
    There was no sign Gantz, head of the Blue and White Party, would agree to a coalition with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud. Gantz cited looming corruption charges against Netanyahu in saying no last week.
    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who will pick a candidate to try to build a coalition, has called for a unity government – but does not have the legal power to compel Gantz or Netanyahu to form one together.
    Wrapping up two days of consultations with leaders of all parties that won parliamentary seats in the Sept 17 ballot, Rivlin summoned Netanyahu and Gantz to a closed-door meeting later on Monday, apparently to urge them to join forces.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
    On paper, Netanyahu now has a slim lead over Gantz in building a parliamentary bloc, with pledges of support from 55 members of a right-wing grouping to 54 for Gantz from left-wing and Arab parties.    But it also means that neither has secured a governing majority of at least 61 legislators.
    Netanyahu’s slight edge might move Rivlin to ask him to try to build a narrow coalition if a unity government proves impossible.    A nominee gets 28 days to do so, with a possible 14-day extension, before Rivlin can turn to someone else.
    Gantz had appeared to have 57 backers but three of the Arab Joint List’s 13 members on Monday withdrew support they had pledged to him a day earlier.
    Likud won 31 seats to Blue and White’s 33, near-complete results show.
    Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right Yisrael Beitenu party won eight seats, would remain the kingmaker if unity efforts fail.    In his meeting with Rivlin, he refused to commit to either Netanyahu or Gantz, citing his own policy differences with Likud’s Jewish ultra-Orthodox allies and Blue and White’s Arab backers.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES FOR A UNITY GOVERNMENT?
    It’s complicated, even though there are only narrow policy differences between Netanyahu and Gantz on many important issues, such as relations with the United States, the regional struggle against Iran and the Palestinian conflict.
    Both men appear to be more deeply divided on the composition of a unity government.
    Gantz has called for a “liberal” administration, political shorthand for one that does not include Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners.    After the election, Netanyahu swiftly signed a new alliance with them.
    And then there’s the question of who would get the top job: Netanyahu, Gantz, or both men – in rotation?
    Left-winger Shimon Peres and right-winger Yitzhak Shamir set a historic example when they took turns as prime minister in a unity government from 1984 to 1988.
    This time around, if a “rotating” power-sharing agreement is reached, it could be imperative for Netanyahu to serve as prime minister first.
    Next month, Israel’s attorney-general will hold a pre-trial hearing at which Netanyahu can argue against his announced intention to indict the Israeli leader on fraud and bribery charges in three corruption cases.
    As prime minister, Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing in the long-running investigations, would be under no legal obligation to resign if formal charges are filed.    But any other cabinet post he might hold would not offer him that protection.
    Netanyahu’s supporters in the legislature have also pledged to seek parliamentary immunity for him against prosecution.    Any unity deal with Gantz would likely have to address that issue.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

9/23/2019 Syria cautions against ‘foreign intervention’ in constitution body
UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen meets with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in
Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on September 23, 2019. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria said on Monday the work of any new constitutional committee should be free of foreign intervention, suggesting Damascus remains insistent that a long-awaited step in a stalled peace process should respect its sovereignty.
    Syria underscored its long-held position as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced in New York that agreement had been reached on the committee’s composition.    Guterres added that the body would be convened in coming weeks.
    U.N. officials say formation of a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end a war which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of the pre-war 22 million population.
    A congress convened by Russia, a leading ally of President Bashar al-Assad, last year tasked the U.N. envoy for Syria with forming a committee to draft a new constitution, after many rounds of talks to end the war had failed.
    Syrian Foreign Minster Walid al-Moualem said after meeting Pedersen in Damascus on Monday that they had discussed the need to work on a clear mechanism for the operation and role of the constitutional committee away from “any foreign intervention,” Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
    It was not immediately clear from the SANA report whether or not Moualem was reacting to the announcement by Guterres.
    Pedersen in recent months has stepped up efforts to put the final touches to the committee’s formation.
    He has held talks in Moscow and Western capitals, consulted Iranian and Turkish officials, and met Syrian opposition chief negotiator Nasr Hariri earlier this month. He said would head to New York to brief the Security Council about his efforts.
    “Today I have concluded another round of very successful discussions … we addressed all outstanding issues related to the constitutional committee,” Pedersen told reporters after meeting Moualem.
    Disagreements have focused on the names to be included in the committee and on the scope of the work: Damascus has sought to amend the current constitution, while the opposition has demanded the drafting of a new one from scratch.
    Diplomats say unless Moscow steps in forcefully, the pressure on Assad to agree to a political process that would include the Western-backed opposition will diminish.
    Assad has scored extensive military gains with the help of Russia and Iran that have allowed him to recover most of the country from rebels and Islamic State militants.
(Reporting by Kinda Makieh and Feras Maqdisi in Damascus and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean)

9/23/2019 Trump backs Egypt’s Sisi in face of some protests back home
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the sidelines of the annual
United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday gave strong backing to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as Sisi grapples with protests at home, saying the United States and Egypt have a great long-term relationship.
    “Everybody has demonstrations,” Trump said with Sisi as they met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.    “No, I’m not concerned with it.    Egypt has a great leader.”
    Sisi was first elected in 2014 with 97% of the vote, and re-elected four years later with the same percentage, in a vote in which the only other candidate was an ardent Sisi supporter.    His popularity has been dented by economic austerity measures.
    Sisi, asked about the demonstrations, blamed it on “political Islam.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

9/24/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says nuclear power should either be free for all or banned
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives to speak during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said nuclear power should either be free for all states or banned completely, and warned that the “inequality” between states who have nuclear power and who do not undermines global balances.
    Turkey signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1980, and has also signed the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear detonations for any purpose.
    Erdogan has hinted in the past that he wanted he same protection for Turkey as Israel, which foreign analysts say possesses a sizable nuclear arsenal.
    Israel maintains a policy of ambiguity around the nuclear issue, refusing to confirm or deny its capabilities.
    “The position of nuclear power should either be forbidden for all or permissible for everyone,” Erdogan told the United Nations General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders.
    In his speech, Erdogan also called on the international community to help securing peace and safety in the Syrian city of Idlib, adding that establishing a “safe zone” in northern Syria will save millions of lives.
    Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, controls parts of northern Syria where it says 350,000 Syrians have already returned.
    Turkey plans to resettle 1 million refugees in northern Syria and has warned that it may reopen the route for migrants into Europe if it does not receive adequate international support for the plan.
    Turkey has been angered by U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces, which fought Islamic State in Syria.    It considers the Kurdish YPG fighters a terrorist organization and wants them removed from more than 400 km (250 miles) of border.
    NATO allies Turkey and the United States have started joint land and air patrols along part of the border strip, but Ankara says Washington is moving too slowly to establish a sufficiently large safe zone to push Syrian Kurdish forces from the border.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Grant McCool)
[We definitely do not need anymore crazed Muslims with nuclear weapons as things can change quickly in their politics.].

9/25/2019 Air strikes maim, scar Yemen’s children
Ismail Abdullah (R), 12, who lost his leg in an air strike two years ago, helps his brother build a hut at a camp for internally displaced
people in Khamis of Hodeidah province, Yemen August 31, 2019. Picture taken August 31, 2019. REUTERS/Eissa Alragehi NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    AL-KHAMIS, Yemen (Reuters) – Ismail Abdullah kicks a makeshift football, wrapped in pink plastic, with his right foot. A slight limp visible, he holds back as his cousins run forward in the sand.
    Twelve-year-old Abdullah lost his left leg in an air strike three years ago.    Yemen’s four and a half-year war means medical care is hard to find and he waited two years for a prosthetic.
    In 2016 Abdullah, his parents and his eight siblings left their home in Harad, a town near the Saudi border in northwest Yemen, because of shelling.    They moved in with his uncle nearby but on a September night, just before the Eid al-Adha religious holiday, an air strike hit.
    “The strike was very sudden and felt like someone pulled my leg, but then I realized it was blown off,” Abdullah said. Two of his cousins were killed in the same strike.
    The United Nations says tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen’s civil war, which pits the Iran-aligned Houthi movement against a Saudi-led coalition backed by the West.    Thousands have lost limbs and have no access to prosthetics.
    Abdullah was rushed to Abs, in the province of Hajjah, where he was treated in hospital.    Two years after he lost his leg, the Abs Development Organisation for Women and Children – a humanitarian operation – opened and arranged for him to travel to the capital Sanaa to be fitted with a prosthetic.
    “I had to stay in bed for two years, but when the Abs Organisation finally opened, they installed a prosthetic leg for me and thank God now I can walk wherever I want,” Abdullah said, sitting down with his prosthetic removed revealing the stump below his left knee.
    The prosthetic is a basic plastic calf and foot pulled over his knee with what looks like nylon tights.
    Wearing his green flip-flops, Abdullah is now able to collect water from the tank and dig holes for tent stakes in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp where the family now lives, near the town of Khamis. He hopes to be reunited with his father, who recently left to look for work, and also to resume his studies.
    “Before my leg was blown off, I had finished grades one and two. But since then there wasn’t a school close by and even right now, I don’t go to school.”
    Eighty percent of people in Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, need humanitarian assistance and millions are on the brink of starvation.
    Of some seven million school-age children, two million are out of school completely, the United Nations says.    Non-payment of teachers’ salaries has also impacted the availability and quality of education for Yemen’s children.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters in Yemen, Writing by Gayle Issa, Editing by Gareth Jones)

9/25/2019 Bomb blast hits police bus in southern Turkey, five wounded: governor
A bus carrying police is seen after hit by a bomb attack in Adana, Turkey, September 25, 2019. Gokhan Keskinci/Demiroren News Agency (DHA) via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A bomb explosion ripped into a bus carrying Turkish police in the southern city of Adana on Wednesday morning and five people were slightly wounded including one police officer, the local governor’s office said.
    CNN Turk broadcast video of a badly damaged bus surrounded by debris and other damaged vehicles under a pedestrian overpass in the Yuregir district of Adana, near Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
    The wounded were in good condition and an investigation has been launched into the blast, the Adana Governor’s office said in a statement on its website.
    Security sources said ambulances took the wounded to hospitals in the area.    Armed police sealed off the area and were examining the scene.    It was not clear who might be behind the attack.
    Kurdish, Islamist and leftist militants have all carried out bomb attacks in Turkey in the past.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Kim Coghill and Jonathan Spicer)

9/25/2019 Netanyahu tapped by Israel’s president to assemble new government
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin waves to supporters at the Likud party headquarters following the announcement of
exit polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president tasked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday with assembling a new government after power-sharing talks with his strongest rival, Benny Gantz, failed following an inconclusive election.
    Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party, and Israel’s longest-serving leader, still has no clear path to a fifth term after emerging from the Sept. 17 ballot, the second this year, short of a parliamentary majority.
    “I have decided to give you, sir, the opportunity to assemble a government,” President Reuven Rivlin said to Netanyahu at a nomination ceremony.
    He will have 28 days to form a coalition and can ask Rivlin for a two-week extension if necessary.    Netanyahu’s failure to clinch victory in a ballot in April led to last week’s election and left him politically weakened.
    In the new countdown, Likud has the pledged support of 55 legislators in the 120-member parliament, against 54 for Gantz’s centrist Blue and White Party.    The two parties failed to reach a coalition deal in talks launched on Tuesday.
    Former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a possible kingmaker, has been keeping his far-right Yisrael Beitenu party on the fence since the Sept. 17 ballot, citing differences with both Likud’s and Blue and White’s political allies.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Alex Richardson)

9/25/2019 Egypt on edge after first anti-Sisi protest for years
FILE PHOTO: Small groups of protesters gather in central Cairo shouting anti-government
slogans in Cairo, Egypt September 21, 2019.REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Scattered protests in Egypt in the past few days highlight the risk that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi could face broader dissent, driven by grievances over economic austerity and allegations of official corruption.
    Just a few hundred took to the streets in Cairo and other cities last Friday, shouting “Leave, Sisi,” after a series of videos by an activist accusing the government of corruption gained traction online.
    The rare outburst of anger was enough to damage Egypt’s image of stability under Sisi, who took power after removing President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass demonstrations against the Islamist leader.
    Investors have been unnerved by a call for further protests on Friday, with Egypt’s dollar bonds falling and the main stock index wiping out its 2019 gains in just three days.
    Authorities have meanwhile rounded up hundreds of suspects.    Security forces have stepped up their presence in major cities and have been conducting spot checks of mobile phones for political content.
    Sisi, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, indirectly accused the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood of stirring up the protests, saying “political Islam” was to blame.
    Analysts say it won’t be easy to curb dissent without addressing its economic and political causes. Many Egyptians distrust government promises after three years of austerity agreed with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a $12 billion loan.
    Since then, Egypt has introduced valued-added tax, devalued the currency and raised the prices of electricity and fuel.
TURMOIL
    Sisi remains popular among many ordinary people for stabilizing Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 led to turmoil that scared away tourists and foreign investors, and brought the public finances close to collapse.
    But the austerity measures, which were accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, heaped pressure on many.    The number of Egyptians living below the poverty line rose to 32.5% in the 2017/18 financial year from 27.8% two years earlier.
    “What happened is a very serious warning, the situation is not totally under control,” said Mohamed Zaree of the non-governmental Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
    He said most people who took to the streets were not members of organized political parties “which shows that there is public anger.”
    The protesters lack leaders, political affiliations and coordination, analysts said.    The crowds were spontaneous, making the protests difficult to control.
    “It’s not clear whether protests will escalate or fizzle right now,” said Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.    “But if not this week, protests are likely to return in the coming weeks and months.”
    Several Cairo residents said hardship was driving the protests, and they might join in if they could be sure of safety in numbers.
    “It depends on the size of the protest.    If many people join, I might too,” said a driver who gave his name only as Abdallah.
    “If numbers are too small it is too unsafe,” he said before adding: “People are fed up.”
    A 40-year-old engineer who used to support Sisi until austerity started to bite said: “I will take part in Friday’s protests.    I’m unhappy with where the country is going.”
VIDEOS
    The protests came after videos posted from Spain by Mohamed Ali, a hitherto little-known actor and building contractor, were widely shared online.    He accused Sisi and parts of the military of corruption and squandering funds on projects such as new presidential palaces.
    Sisi denied the claims. State media have tried to discredit Ali’s motives, and have broadcast pro-Sisi songs and reports on his achievements, while also warning against destabilisation.
    This has not stopped other dissidents uploading videos discussing the security crackdown, corruption and poverty.
    Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist, said Ali’s videos had struck a chord because he casts himself as a self-made man with a modest background.
    “He is what the millions of young Egyptian men with brains and ambition and a sense that the dice are loaded against them would wish to be,” she said.    “The system has no idea how to deal with him.”
    The fact that protesters managed to gather at all has prompted some to suggest that officials were unsure on how to respond.
    “This is a much more serious issue for President Sisi than foreign investors because the protests suggest there’s a division behind the scenes in the Egyptian deep state as much as unrest in the society,” said Hasnain Malik, managing director, frontier markets equity strategy at investment firm Tellimer in Dubai.
    To address grievances, authorities could increase cash handouts, pensions and insurance for the poor and create low-income housing, with which the IMF would agree, said Allen Sandeep, head of research at Egypt’s Naeem Brokerage, adding that he does not expect protests to escalate.
    While the reforms and the 2016 devaluation have stabilized the currency, Egypt has not been able to create jobs by boosting non-oil foreign direct investment, which fell in the first three months of 2019 to its lowest for at least five years.
    Egypt’s Capital Economics said authorities should improve the business environment, make the labor market more flexible and make more land available, but questioned whether this would happen.
(Reporting by Amina Ismail, Mahmoud Mourad, Aidan Lewis, Lena Masri, Ulf Laessing, Yousef Saba, Tom Arnold; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Giles Elgood)

9/25/2019 U.S. launches strike in southern Libya as U.N. warns of escalation by Aidan Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Men walk in front of Rixos hotel damaged by a rocket in Tripoli, Libya May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. forces said on Wednesday they killed 11 suspected militants in their second air strike in a week near the southern Libyan town of Murzuq, as the U.N. envoy warned of a growing risk of armed escalation and rights abuses in the country.
    The strike comes as rival factions have been locked in a battle around the capital Tripoli, about 500 miles (800km) to the north, which forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to capture since April.
    The U.S. attack, carried out on Tuesday deep in Libya’s southern desert, followed a Sept. 19 strike that the U.S. said had killed eight suspected militants.
    “This air strike was conducted to eliminate ISIS (Islamic State) terrorists and deny them the ability to conduct attacks on the Libyan people,” Major General William Gayler, director of operations for U.S. Africa Command, said in a statement.
    Some Islamic State militants retreated south into Libya’s desert as the group lost its stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte at the end of 2016.
    The U.S., which has carried out occasional strikes in desert areas, has said it will not allow militants to use the fighting around Tripoli for cover.
    The offensive on Tripoli by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) upended U.N.-led plans to broker a political settlement in Libya and soon stalled in the capital’s outskirts.
    The conflict has spread outside Tripoli, with air and drone strikes against the port city of Misrata, Sirte, and Jufra in central Libya, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday.
    It had also triggered a “micro-conflict” in Murzuq, where more than 100 civilians are reported to have been killed over the past two months, he said.
    “The conflict risks escalating to full-blown civil war,” Salame said by video link.    “It is fanned by widespread violations of the U.N. arms embargo by all parties and external actors.”
    “Serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law have been committed with total impunity, including increased summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment as well as conflict-related sexual violence.”
    Libya has been divided between rival factions based in Tripoli and the east since 2014, three years after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule.
    Haftar’s LNA is battling forces aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA), which was set up in 2016 following a U.N.-brokered deal.
    Haftar’s foreign backers include the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who diplomats and analysts say are vying for influence in the oil-rich nation with regional rivals Turkey and Qatar.
    At least 128,000 people have been displaced by the fighting since April, according to U.N. estimates.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

9/26/2019 Khashoggi murder ‘happened under my watch,’ Saudi crown prince tells PBS
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince said he bears responsibility for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year by Saudi operatives “because it happened under my watch,” according to a PBS documentary to be broadcast next week.
    Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has not spoken publicly about the killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The CIA and some Western governments have said he ordered it, but Saudi officials say he had no role.
    The death sparked a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince’s image and imperiling ambitious plans to diversify the economy of the world’s top oil exporter and open up cloistered Saudi society.    He has not since visited the United States or Europe.
    “It happened under my watch. I get all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch,” he told PBS’ Martin Smith, according to a preview of a documentary, “The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” set to air on Oct. 1, ahead of the one-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s death.
    After initial denials, the official Saudi narrative blamed the murder on rogue operatives.    The public prosecutor said the then-deputy intelligence chief ordered the repatriation of Khashoggi, a royal insider who became an outspoken critic, but the lead negotiator ordered him killed after discussions for his return failed.
    Saud al-Qahtani, a former top royal adviser whom Reuters reported gave orders over Skype to the killers, briefed the hit team on Khashoggi’s activities before the operation, the prosecutor said.
    Asked how the killing could happen without him knowing about it, Smith quotes Prince Mohammed as saying: “We have 20 million people. We have 3 million government employees.”
    Smith asked whether the killers could have taken private government jets, to which the crown prince responded: “I have officials, ministers to follow things, and they’re responsible.    They have the authority to do that.”    Smith describes the December exchange, which apparently took place off camera, in the preview of the documentary.
    A senior U.S. administration official told Reuters in June the Trump administration was pressing Riyadh for “tangible progress” toward holding to account those behind the killing ahead.
    Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings but only a few hearings have been held. A U.N. report has called for Prince Mohammed and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.
    Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.    His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/26/2019 Explainer: Israel’s Netanyahu clutches political lifeline by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive at a nomination ceremony at the
President's residency in Jerusalem September 25, 2019. Picture taken September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president has thrown Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a political lifeline, asking him to try to form a government after he failed to secure a clear election victory twice in six months.
    The inconclusive ballot on Sept. 17 left had Netanyahu weakened and his right-wing Likud party in second place, with 32 seats versus 33 for former armed forces chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party in the 120-member parliament.
    But neither leader was able on his own to put together a coalition with a ruling majority, or reach a power-sharing deal for a unity government between their two parties.
    Facing stalemate, President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu on Wednesday with what could be an impossible mission, leaving Gantz waiting on the sidelines to see whether he will get a chance should Israel’s longest-serving leader not succeed.
    As things stand now, Netanyahu still has no clear path to a fifth term after a decade in power – and there’s also no obvious road to victory for political newcomer Gantz.
WHY DID RIVLIN CHOOSE NETANYAHU?
    Under Israeli law and after consultations with leaders of parties that won parliamentary representation, the president picks a legislator the head of state deems has the best chance to put together a government.
    In tapping Netanyahu, Rivlin noted that 55 lawmakers in a right-wing and religious bloc had pledged support for the Likud chief versus 54 for Gantz in a grouping that includes 10 Arab members of parliament who said they would not serve in any government.
    Talks launched on Tuesday between Netanyahu and Gantz on forming a unity administration, possibly with a rotating premiership, went nowhere.
WHAT’S NEXT?
    Netanyahu now has 28 days to announce whether he has assembled a governing coalition.    He can ask Rivlin for a 14-day extension, if necessary.
    The canny politician, dubbed “the magician” and “King Bibi” by his supporters, may not even wait that long.
    Looking at a static political lineup and with no obvious way out of the deadlock, Netanyahu has already played down his chances of coalition-building, touching off speculation that he will “return” his presidential mandate soon.
    That could set up a scenario – one that some political pundits say Netanyahu could actually be counting on – where Rivlin turns to Gantz who, lacking the numbers in parliament, fails as well.
    “My inability to form a government is slightly less than that of Gantz,” Netanyahu said, accepting the task, and repeating a call for a unity government with Blue and White.
WHAT IF BOTH MEN FAIL TO FORM A GOVERNMENT?
    With little appetite among Israeli voters for a third trip to the polls in less than a year if no government emerges, public pressure could grow for Netanyahu and Gantz to compromise and join forces.
    Asserting they are giving the people what they want, they could feel free to walk back promises they made to their respective allies – pledges that served as obstacles to a unity administration, some political pundits said.
    Under that game plan, Gantz would be able to abandon his vow not to sit in a government with a prime minister facing possible charges in three corruption cases.
    Netanyahu, who denies the bribery and fraud allegations, could break up his current alliance with ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.    Gantz opposes that partnership, saying he seeks a liberal, or secular, government.
WHAT IF “UNITY” PROVES IMPOSSIBLE?
    Wildcard Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right Yisrael Beitenu party won eight seats in parliament, could always come off the fence.    But citing policy differences with Likud’s ultra-Orthodox backers and Blue and White’s left-wing allies, he has shown no sign of budging.     So, it’ll likely be election time – again.     That could leave Netanyahu in an even weaker political position, a two-time failure in doing what used to come easy to him – building a coalition.     But it would also leave him in his current role of caretaker prime minister, with any new vote months away.     Netanyahu would retain a commanding position while continuing to meet world leaders and hammer home a campaign message highlighting close ties with Israel’s main U.S. ally and dangers posed by arch-foe Iran.     As prime minister, he would also be under no legal obligation to resign if formal charges are filed in the corruption cases.
    At pre-trial hearings next Wednesday and Thursday, Netanyahu’s lawyers will try to persuade Israel’s attorney not to press on with his stated intention to indict him.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

9/26/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan urges caution over blaming Iran for Saudi attack: Fox News
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged caution over blaming Iran for a Sept. 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, adding that it would not be right to place the entire burden on the Islamic Republic.
    The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attack on Iran, instead of the Yemeni Iran-aligned Houthi group that claimed responsibility. Iran distanced itself from the attacks, but said it was ready for “full-fledged” war.
    “I don’t think it would be the right thing to blame Iran,” Erdogan said in an interview with Fox News broadcast on Wednesday, adding that the attacks came from several parts of Yemen.
    “If we just place the entire burden on Iran, it won’t be the right way to go.    Because the evidence available does not necessarily point to that fact,” Erdogan said, according to a translation of his comments broadcast by Fox.
    Saudi Arabia is in consultation “with friends and allies about the next steps to take,” its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told reporters on Wednesday.
    The attack on the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry damaged the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility and knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

9/26/2019 Erdogan says efforts for Syria ‘safe zone’ with U.S. continue, preparations complete: NTV
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Scheduled efforts by Turkey and the United States to establish a planned “safe zone” in northeastern Syria continue, but Ankara has completed its preparations along its borders, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Friday.
    The two NATO allies started joint land and air patrols along part of the border strip, but Ankara says Washington is stalling the process aimed at pushing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the border, warning of unilateral action if the plans fail.
    Erdogan, who spoke to reporters on his return flight from the U.N. General Assembly, also said he had proposed buying U.S. Patriot defense systems to President Donald Trump if the U.S. offer could match a deal for Russian S-400 systems that Ankara received in July, according to broadcaster NTV.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

9/26/2019 U.S. accuses Syrian government of chemical weapon attack in May in Idlib
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the United Against Nuclear Iran Summit on the sidelines
of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, U.S. September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the United States had concluded the government of President Bashir al-Assad in Syria had used chlorine as a chemical weapon in an attack in May during a battle with insurgents in Idlib.
    “The Assad regime is responsible for innumerable atrocities some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Pompeo told a news conference in New York, where he has been attending the United Nations General Assembly.
    “Today I am announcing that the United States has concluded that the Assad regime used chlorine as a chemical weapon on May 19,” Pompeo said.
    The United States said in May it had received numerous reports that appeared consistent with chemical exposure after an attack by Syrian government forces in northwest Syria, but it had made no definitive conclusion as to whether they used chemical weapons.
    The Trump administration has twice bombed Syria over Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.
    The United States, Britain and France launched air strikes in April 2018 against what they described as three Syrian chemical weapons targets in retaliation for a suspected gas attack that killed scores of people in a Damascus suburb earlier that month.
    Assad launched an offensive at the end of April this year on Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces, saying insurgents had broken a truce.
    “This is different in some sense because it was chlorine… but know that President Trump has been pretty vigorous in protecting the world from the use of chemical weapons,” Pompeo said, said declining to say what the U.S. response could be.
    Pompeo said Washington had also added sanctions on two Russian entities for providing fuel to the Syrian government.    Russia supports Assad in the more than eight-year-long Syrian war.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by John Irish; editing by Grant McCool)

9/26/2019 Crackdown widens after call for new protests in Egypt
FILE PHOTO: Small groups of protesters gather in central Cairo shouting anti-government slogans
in Cairo, Egypt September 21, 2019.REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – At least 1,900 people have been detained since protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi began in Cairo and other Egyptian cities last Friday, the head of a rights monitoring group said on Thursday.
    The public prosecutor’s office said in a statement issued late on Thursday that prosecutors “questioned a number that doesn’t exceed one thousand suspects who participated in the demonstrations.”
    Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said the arrests had been made between Friday and Wednesday and described them as part of the “most violent campaign in Egypt’s (modern) history.”
    An interior ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Protesters chanting “Leave, Sisi” gathered in Cairo and other cities last Friday following online calls for demonstrations against alleged government corruption.    The protests continued in the Red Sea city of Suez on Saturday.
    The demonstrations took place in five governorates, the public prosecutor’s office said.    Some of the detainees confessed to belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the office said in the first detailed official account of the protests.
    Some foreigners were also detained, including a Palestinian who “confessed to belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement” and a Dutch man who was caught with a drone equipped with a high-definition camera, the statement said.
    There have been calls for new protests this Friday, though government supporters are also planning mass rallies to show their support for Sisi.
    Security forces have stepped up their presence in main squares in major cities and have been checking mobile phones for political content.
    The protests have unnerved investors and led to a pro-Sisi campaign in Egypt’s strictly controlled media.
    On Thursday the front page of private pro-government newspaper Al Dostour carried pictures of 33 opposition figures, activists, journalists and writers under the headline: “Beware of them.”
    Among them was Mohamed Ali, a former contractor and actor who posted a series of videos ahead of the protests from his home in Spain, accusing Sisi and the military of corruption.    Sisi has dismissed the allegations as “lies and slander.”
    Sisi, who came to power after leading the overthrow of Islamist former President Mohamed Mursi, has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent that has extended to liberal as well as Islamist groups, and which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.
    Sisi’s backers say the crackdown was needed to stabilize Egypt after the turmoil that followed the country’s 2011 uprising.
    Authorities frequently link security threats to the Brotherhood, most of whose leadership has been jailed or fled abroad.
(Reporting by Amina Ismail and Haitham Ahmed, Writing by Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Dan Grebler)

9/26/2019 Netanyahu wants pre-trial hearing aired live so public can hear “my side
Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, delivers a statement at the start of his
party faction meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Corinna Kern
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Thursday for his pre-trial hearing next week on corruption allegations to be broadcast live, saying that “the time has come for the public to hear everything, including my side.”
    Following a deadlocked Sept. 17 election, Netanyahu is fighting for a fifth term in office that might confer legal immunity in three long-running cases that he has cast as a baseless and politically motivated witch-hunt.
    Israel’s attorney-general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said he intends to file fraud and breach of trust charges against Netanyahu pending a hearing – an opportunity for a VIP suspect to argue that a trial is not in the national interest.
    “After a three-year flood of tendentious, partial media leaks, the time has come for the public to hear everything, including my side,” Netanyahu said in a social media video.
    “I am therefore asking the attorney-general to open up the hearing for live broadcast … You know that transparency delivers the truth.”
    Mandelblit’s office later turned the request down, saying it had no legal basis and was disrespectful of the legal process.
    A hearing is a chance for a suspect to persuade legal authorities not to file charges, it is not meant to persuade the public, an attorney-general letter to Netanyahu’s lawyers said.
    “The decision of whether to file an indictment is a professional decision divorced from any public sentiment political pressure or “background noise,” the letter said.
    On Wednesday, the conservative Netanyahu was tapped to try to form the next coalition government after garnering marginally more support from lawmakers than his centrist election rival, Benny Gantz.    Neither commands a clear parliamentary majority.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean, Kirsten Donovan)

9/26/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will continue oil, natural gas trade with Iran: NTV
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it was impossible for Turkey to stop buying oil and natural gas from Iran, despite the threat of U.S. sanctions, and added that trade between the two countries would continue, according to broadcaster NTV.
    Speaking to reporters on his return flight from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Erdogan said Turkey was not afraid of possible U.S. sanctions over its trade with Iran, adding that Ankara did not want to sever its cooperation with Tehran.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

9/27/2019 Egypt’s Sisi plays down repeat protest call as security tightened by Aidan Lewis and Omar Fahmy
FILE PHOTO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s president told supporters not to worry about calls for further protests against his rule on Friday, as security forces tightened controls in the center of the capital and closed off entrances to Tahrir Square.
    Protests broke out on Sept. 20 in Cairo and other cities following online calls for demonstrations against alleged corruption by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military.
    Sisi, who has been in New York for the past week attending the United Nations General Assembly, returned to Cairo on Friday morning, where he was greeted by religious dignitaries and a crowd of supporters.
    Asking them why they were up so early on a Friday, the first day of Egypt’s weekend, he said: “The situation isn’t worth it.    You need to know that the Egyptian people are very aware… Don’t worry about anything.”
    Sisi also appeared to repeat his earlier rejection of allegations of corruption posted online by Mohamed Ali, a former contractor and actor, in the run-up to the protests.    Ali’s videos have attracted a wide following.
    “This is an image being painted as was done before, comprised of lies and defamation and some media working to present an image that isn’t true.    We’re really strong, the country is really strong with (because of) you,” he said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.
    Since last weekend’s protests, authorities have carried out a campaign of mass arrests which rights monitors say has seen at least 1,900 people detained.    Egypt’s public prosecutor said on Thursday that “not more than 1,000” had been questioned after participating in protests.
    Ali has called for new protests this Friday, though government supporters are also planning rallies to show their backing for Sisi.
HEAVY POLICE PRESENCE
    The protests have unnerved investors and led to a pro-Sisi campaign in Egypt’s strictly controlled media.
    Security forces have stepped up their presence in main squares in major cities and have been checking mobile phones for political content.
    On Friday morning, roads leading to Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the epicenter of protests that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, were closed to traffic, There was a heavy police presence around the square and at some junctions in the city center.
    Sisi came to power after leading the overthrow of Islamist former President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against Mursi’s rule.
    Sisi said on Friday that at some point he would request a show of mass support in which Egyptians would “go out in their millions.”
    Sisi has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent that has extended to liberal as well as Islamist groups, and which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.
    Sisi’s backers say the crackdown was needed to stabilize Egypt after the turmoil that followed the country’s 2011 uprising.
    Several hundred of those detained in the past week have been placed under investigation for charges including using social media to spread false news, undermining national security, joining a banned terrorist group, and protesting without a permit, defense lawyers say.
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Abdellah; Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by William Maclean)

9/27/2019 Haiti protests escalate as streets barricaded, police cars set on fire by Andre Paultre
Protesters walk away after looting a police station during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Haitian
President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haitians erected street barricades and set police cars ablaze on Friday as protests intensified in the impoverished Caribbean nation, after four people were killed in clashes in recent days.
    Some protesters around the capital of Port-au-Prince wielded weapons while a special unit of the Haitian National Police was looted and patrol cars set on fire, witnesses reported.
    Residents have been incensed for months at widespread fuel and food shortages, a weakening currency, double-digit inflation and graft accusations lodged against public officials, and many are calling for President Jovenel Moise to stand down.
    Moise canceled his speech at the United Nations General Assembly this week and made a rare address to the nation.
    He suggested a unity government in the hope of calming tempers after a ruling-party senator fired a pistol to disperse a crowd, injuring a photo-journalist.
    In an another apparent attempt to lessen tensions, the government replaced several security officials on Thursday.
    Police spokesman Gary Desrosiers said four people were shot to death in demonstrations between Sept. 16 and Sept. 25.
(Reporting by Andre Paultre; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

9/27/2019 Turkey not satisfied with talks with U.S. on Syria ‘safe zone’ by Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is not satisfied with talks with the United States on establishing a “safe zone” in northern Syria and will act alone if there is no progress, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday.
    Ankara has repeatedly threatened to act against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it deems a terrorist group, unless its NATO ally removes the fighters from a 480-km (300-mile) long area on the Syrian side of its border.br>     “We are not pleased with the current state of efforts and we have conveyed this to the Americans very clearly,” Cavusoglu told reporters after the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
    “If we cannot find a way with the United States, we will clear out the terrorist organization,” he told the briefing, broadcast live on Turkish television.
    The two countries have started joint land and air patrols along part of Syria’s border with Turkey, but Ankara remains angry with Washington’s support for the YPG, which has been a key ally in its fight against Islamic State in Syria.
    Earlier on Friday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was reported as saying that Turkey’s work on the safe zone was on schedule and its military preparations along the border were complete.
    “Turkey is not a country that can be stalled,” broadcaster NTV cited him telling reporters as he returned from New York.
    On the sidelines of the General Assembly, U.S. Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey told reporters that Washington was moving as fast as possible, but added:
    “We’ve made it clear to Turkey at every level that any unilateral operation is not going to lead to an improvement in anyone’s security … The Turks have an option, of course, to act militarily.”
PLAN TO RESETTLE REFUGEES
    The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces alliance has said it will pull back up to 14 km (8.7 miles) in some areas, but Turkey says the United States agreed that the safe zone should extend 30 km (18.6 miles) into Syria.
    Turkey plans to build homes to settle 1 million Syrian refugees in the “safe zone.”    The state broadcaster TRT Haber said on Friday it would cost 151 billion lira ($27 billion).
    Erdogan had said that, while at the United Nations, he would discuss the safe zone and the possibility of buying U.S. Patriot defense systems with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    But the leaders instead held a telephone call last week and met at a reception in New York on Wednesday, Erdogan said on Friday without elaborating, according to NTV.
    Bilateral ties have been strained over a host of issues, including Syria and the threat of U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
    Washington has suspended Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program over the deal and has not ruled out sanctions.
    However, Cavusoglu told reporters on Friday that Washington was considering restoring Turkey to the F-35 program.
    On Tuesday, CNN Turk reported that the U.S. ambassador to Ankara had given a presentation at the presidential palace about a possible free-trade accord that would include participation in the F-35 program as well as the Patriot purchase.
    However, Erdogan said on Friday that the countries had not discussed the details of such an agreement.
(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in New York; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

9/27/2019 Turkey plans $27 billion housing project in northeast Syria: broadcaster TRT
FILE PHOTO: People ride on trucks with their belongings in north-east Afrin, Syria March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s draft plan for a construction project to settle 1 million Syrian refugees in a “safe zone” in northeast Syria would cost around 151 billion lira ($27 billion), state broadcaster TRT Haber said on Friday.
    President Tayyip Erdogan set out plans for the project in a speech at the United States General Assembly this week, holding up a map to show the zone which Turkey wants to set up with the United States, and where it says the refugees would be housed.
    Turkey has pushed for the 20-mile (32 km) deep “safe zone” to be established along more than 400 km of its border with northeast Syria.
    It initially said the aim of the zone was to drive back Syrian Kurdish YPG forces – which Ankara views as a security threat – from the border.    It now says the region will also be used to settle 1 million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey.
    The two NATO allies have started joint land and air patrols in part of the border region, but Turkey says the United States is moving too slowly and has warned it could act unilaterally. President Tayyip Erdogan, returning from the United Nations this week, said he would evaluate what steps to take.
    TRT Haber said foreign funds would be established to build a total of 200,000 homes.    It was not immediately clear whether international funding would be made available for the project.
    The European Union has promised 6 billion euros, most of which it says it has already disbursed, to support Turkey hosting refugees on its territory.    Erdogan has said the EU aid has been slow and has called on France and Germany to provide additional financial aid for the project.
    “I call on all countries to support our efforts regarding Syria,” Erdogan said in his speech at the General Assembly.
    TRT Haber said on its website that the building project in the planned “safe zone” would involve construction of 140 villages with populations of 5,000 and 10 towns with 30,000 inhabitants.    It published mock-up photos of housing projects set against the backdrop of a Syrian countryside.
    Each town would also have hospitals, football pitches, alongside 6,000 homes, 11 mosques, nine schools, and other facilities, it said.
($1 = 5.6665 liras)
(Reporting by Daren Butler, editing by Louise Heavens)

9/27/2019 Erdogan’s AK Party membership seen sliding further as dissent grows by Orhan Coskun and Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters during
a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party faces more defections after losing 840,000 members in the last year, former loyalists say, compounding its difficulties after two founding members broke ranks aiming to set up rival parties.
    Erdogan, modern Turkey’s longest serving leader, has already faced a series of setbacks this year including an economic recession which has eroded AK Party support and defeat for his candidates in mayoral elections in Ankara and Istanbul.
    The June loss in Istanbul prompted ex-economy minister Ali Babacan to resign and call for a “new vision” for Turkey. Ex-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, once Erdogan’s closest ally, also resigned from the party two weeks ago, saying it had lost the ability to solve the country’s problems.
    The defections pose a serious challenge to Erdogan’s 16-year rule in Turkey, a NATO member bridging Europe and the Middle East which wields regional power despite the downturn that hit its $722 billion economy.
    The AK Party already relies on an alliance with nationalists for its parliamentary majority, leaving it vulnerable if it loses even a small proportion of votes to new parties set up by either Babacan or Davutoglu.
    Three former party stalwarts who spoke to Reuters said the AKP would continue to lose members because it had lost touch with its base and its founding principles.
    “Virtually every day colleagues who have taken roles in the party since the first day are choosing a new path,” said a former senior official who resigned from the party.    He declined to be identified.
    “We used to be a party where there was considerable consultation but there is not a trace of that left,” he said.
    “Many friends want to make a new start in Babacan’s or Davutoglu’s party.”
    A senior official at AK Party headquarters, who asked not to be identified, played down the defections, saying figures like Babacan and Davutoglu did not enjoy the popular support which Erdogan still attracts.
    “The AK Party is a powerful party and will overcome this period,” he said.    “I do not expect large-scale, mass resignations.”
FALLING MEMBERSHIP
    When the AKP was launched in 2001, it blended an Islamist-rooted outlook with a pro-Western, democratic and liberal market approach which enjoyed broad popular backing.    Since then Erdogan has won sweeping powers under a new executive presidency, approved in a fiercely contested and polarizing referendum.
    While a series of former lawmakers have joined Davutoglu in resigning, the AK Party’s representation in parliament has remained steady with 291 MPs in the 600-seat assembly.
    However, official data shows the huge membership of the party as a whole slid to 9.87 million by early September, from 10.72 million in August last year.
    In a speech to party officials earlier this month, Erdogan played down the decline, saying that 95% of the fall was due to deaths of existing members and that membership was still more than 10 million.
    But some commentators say the sliding membership reflects an underlying decline in support.
    “Erdogan’s popularity over the last seven years…is generally on a declining trend, artificially boosted by one-off events, to the point where it looks irreversible,” said Gareth Jenkins, of the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.
    Among former lawmakers who have resigned and declared support for Davutoglu is Cuma Icten, who entered politics in the 1990s with the Islamist Welfare Party from which Erdogan himself emerged.
    In a statement on his Facebook account last week, he said those leaving in the AK Party were now being labeled as traitors just as those forming it in 2001 were accused of betraying the Islamist movement.
    “The government has declared everyone who is not a member of its own party as a traitor and has marginalized everyone who does not think like it,” Icten said in his statement.
    Another former party member said he and other colleagues had resigned after feeling excluded.
    “New resignations are coming constantly,” he said.    “We believe that we will express ourselves better in new parties… There are many colleagues who want to follow us.”
    Jenkins said a party formed by Babacan would draw support away at a critical time, with Erdogan making policy “mistakes and miscalculations” in the absence of good advice.
    “He has become more disconnected from the expertise and competence within the AK Party, increasingly surrounded by ‘yes’ men,” Jenkins added.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)

9/28/2019 Syria demands withdrawal of U.S., Turkish forces, warns of countermeasures by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO - Turkish and U.S. military vehicles are seen during a joint U.S.-Turkey patrol in a Syrian border
village near Tel Abyad, Syria, September 8, 2019.Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Saturday demanded an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. and Turkish troops from his country and warned that Syrian government forces had the right to take countermeasures if they refused.
    The United States has around 1,000 troops in Syria tackling Islamic State militants.    Turkey has also launched military incursions into northern Syria, targeting Islamic State and Kurdish YPG fighters.
    “Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and must withdraw immediately,” al-Moualem said during an address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York.
    “If they refuse, we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law,” he said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump last year ordered the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria – only to later be convinced to leave some forces behind to ensure that Islamic State militants cannot stage a comeback.
    The U.S. intervention in Syria began with air strikes in September 2014 under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
    While Syria did not approve a U.S. presence there, the Obama administration justified the military action under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which covers the individual or collective right of states to self-defense against armed attack.
    “The United States and Turkey maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria,” al-Moualem said, describing U.S. and Turkish efforts to create a “safe zone” inside Syria as a violation of the U.N. Charter.
    Turkey plans to build homes to settle 1 million Syrian refugees in the zone.
    The United States and Turkey have started joint land and air patrols along part of Syria’s border with Turkey, but Ankara remains angry with Washington’s support for the YPG, which has been a key U.S. ally in fighting Islamic State in Syria.
    A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, and Islamic State militants used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.
    Assad’s forces have been backed by Russian air power and have been waging an offensive in the Idlib region in the country’s northwest, the last major chunk of territory still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war.
    Western states have accused Russian and Syrian forces of targeting civilians in northwest Syria, a charge they deny.    They say they are targeting militants.
    “We are determined to continue our war against terrorism in all its forms until rooting out the last remaining terrorist,” al-Moualem said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

9/28/2019 Yemen’s Houthis say attacked Saudi border frontline, no immediate Saudi confirmation by Maher Chmaytelli
FILE PHOTO: Houthi followers attend a gathering to receive food supplies from tribesmen
in Sanaa, Yemen September 21, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthi movement said on Saturday it had carried out a major attack near the border with the southern Saudi region of Najran and captured many troops and vehicles, but there was no immediate confirmation from Saudi Arabian authorities.
    The Houthis’ military spokesman said in a statement that three “enemy military brigades had fallen” in the attack, which he said was launched 72 hours ago and supported by the group’s drone, missile and air defense units.
    Houthi-run Al Masirah TV quoted the spokesman as saying the Iran-aligned movement had captured “thousands” of enemy troops, including many officers and soldiers of the Saudi army, as well as hundreds of armored vehicles.
    The spokesman for a Saudi-led military coalition that has been battling the Houthi group for over four years in Yemen did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    Reuters could not independently verify the claim.
    Yemeni government troops, supported by coalition air strikes, have in recent months been fighting Houthi forces in the Kataf region of the northern Saada province near the Saudi border.    Local sources have said the Houthis had captured scores of Yemeni forces in the battles.
    The violence could hamper United Nations’ efforts to ease tensions and pave the way for talks to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine in the long-impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation.
    The Sunni Muslim coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western countries, intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognized government from power in the capital Sanaa in 2014.
    A U.N.-brokered prisoner swap deal agreed between the Houthis and Yemen’s Saudi-backed government last December involving some 7,000 detainees on each side has yet to happen.
    “Operation ‘Victory from God’ is the largest military one since the brutal aggression began.    The enemy suffered heavy losses … and wide swathes of territory were liberated in only a few days,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam tweeted.
    The Houthis, who had recently stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, have claimed responsibility for the largest-ever attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14.
    Riyadh dismissed the claim, saying the assault did not come from Yemen and instead blamed its regional foe Shi’ite Muslim Iran.    Tehran denies the charge.
    The Houthis said on Sept. 20 they would halt missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia if the alliance stopped its operations.    The coalition has yet to respond to the proposal.
    The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most big urban centers, deny being puppets of Tehran and say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Potter and Clelia Oziel)

9/28/2019 Israeli troops kill man in Gaza protests: Palestinian health ministry
Palestinian relatives of Saher Othman, 20, mourn during his funeral in Rafah
in the southern Gaza Strip September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian during protests along the fortified Gaza-Israel border on Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
    They named the dead as Saher Othman, 20, and said 52 others were wounded during the often violent demonstrations, 27 of them by live fire.
    A spokeswoman for the Israeli military told Reuters troops stationed along the border did not use live fire.    It said some 7,000     Palestinians took part in the demonstrations, who it said threw firebombs and explosive devices towards troops.
    “IDF (Israel Defence Forces) troops responded with riot dispersal means,” the spokeswoman said.
    Protesters have staged 18 months of weekly demonstrations dubbed the “Great March of Return,” calling for an end to a security blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, and for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s 1948 founding.
    Israel rejects any such return, saying that would eliminate its Jewish majority.
    Egypt, Qatar and United Nations officials have been working to keep the border calm in recent months.
    Around 210 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began in March 2018, Gaza medical officials say.
    In that period, an Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier, and another was killed during an Israeli undercover raid into Gaza.
    Israel seized Gaza in a 1967 war and pulled out its settlers and troops in 2005.    It says the security blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, the Islamist group that has fought three wars with Israel and fired thousands of rockets at it in the past decade.
(The story corrects number of demonstrators to 7,000 from 700 in third paragraph.)
(Reporting by Akram El-Satarri in Gaza and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem, Editing by Alistair Bell)

9/29/2019 Netanyahu to meet centrist rival in last-ditch bid to form unity government by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the start of his Likud party
faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a final effort this week to salvage a deal from talks to form a unity government with his centrist election rival, he said on Sunday.
    An inconclusive ballot on Sept. 17, the second this year, has created a political deadlock and left Israel’s longest-serving prime minister weakened.
    Netanyahu, facing a looming indictment on corruption allegations he denies, has failed to secure a clear election victory twice in six months.    His right-wing Likud party came second with 32 seats in the 120-member parliament, against 33 for former military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.
    With neither party leader appearing able on his own to put together a coalition with a ruling majority, Israel’s president on Wednesday tasked Netanyahu with forming the next government in the hope of securing a power-sharing deal between the Blue and White party and Likud.
    If Netanyahu fails to clinch a deal, President Reuven Rivlin is then likely to ask Gantz to try to form a government, though he, like Netanyahu, also has no clear path to power.
    The parties’ negotiators met on Friday without success, with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.    Likud said Netanyahu then telephoned Gantz and the two men would probably meet on Wednesday after another round of talks.
    “Prime Minister Netanyahu is making a last effort to bring about a breakthrough in the talks for a unity government,” Likud’s spokesman said.
    The Blue and White party said it would spare no effort to form “a broad, liberal, unity government.”
    In a video posted on Twitter, Netanyahu said there was no other solution than for him to serve first as prime minister and Gantz to serve second within a unity government.
    Gantz, however, has pledged not to serve in a government under a premier facing criminal charges.    His party has accused Likud of stalling in the talks in the hope of triggering yet another election.
    Netanyahu, for his part, has said that the Blue and Whites were trying to instigate a coup within Likud that would see the party join a unity government with the Blue and White party after casting aside its veteran leader.
    Israel’s attorney-general is due to hold a pre-trial hearing this week on his announced intention to indict Netanyahu on fraud and bribery charges in three corruption cases.
    Netanyahu, who says he is a victim of a political witchhunt, can argue at the session against prosecution.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by David Goodman)

9/29/2019 Lines as far as the eye can see: new fuel shortage hits Yemen
FILE PHOTO: Cars queue at a petrol station during a fuel crisis in Sanaa, Yemen September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    SANAA (Reuters) – A fuel shortage is deepening Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, forcing drivers to wait for days in lines that stretch back from some petrol stations as far as the eye can see.
    The new shortage is just one of many problems causing suffering in the civil war being fought by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and a Saudi-led coalition backed by the West.
    But its consequences are far-reaching. Fuel is needed not just for cars but also for water pumps, hospital generators and to transport goods around a country where millions are on the brink of famine.
    “It’s affecting us and all the Yemeni people,” said Nashwan Khaled, who had already been waiting for two days in a queue for petrol in Sanaa, the Houthi-controlled capital where many petrol stations have been forced to close.
    “I put my job and my life on hold,” he said.
    Petrol on the black market is selling for almost three times the official price.    Drivers can queue for two or three days.
    “Fuel shortages in Yemen exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in the country and lead to unacceptable levels of suffering,” said Sultana Begum, a representative of the Norwegian Refugee Council humanitarian organization.
CONTROLS AND BUREAUCRACY
    Imports into areas controlled by Houthis have to go through stringent controls imposed by the Saudi-led military coalition which intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
    Supplies can be held at ports and frontline borders for months because of bureaucracy on both sides, aid agencies say.
    “Today we are in a very bad situation, there’s a fuel crisis and they are stopping fuel ships from entering Yemen with the excuse of security,” said Ahmed Nasser, standing at a petrol station.    “We suffer shortages of fuel, goods, all commodities.”
    A Djibouti-based U.N. inspection mechanism was set up in 2015 after the coalition accused the Houthis of smuggling Iranian weapons through Yemeni ports under their control, a charge both the group and Tehran deny.
    Ships also need permission from the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Western-backed, Sunni Muslim coalition to enter ports.
    Last week, United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock said he was concerned that imports were being further complicated by new Yemeni government regulations on commercial fuel.
    He said earlier this month that the coalition and government were preventing 10 vessels carrying 163,000 metric tonnes of commercial fuel imports – more than an average month’s imports – from entering the port of Hodeidah. Two of the ships have since been allowed to dock, port sources told Reuters.
    The coalition’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment.    A government committee accused the Houthis of “fabricating” the fuel crisis in response to the regulations, Saudi state media said.
(Reporting by Adel Khedr in Sanaa, Writing by Lisa Barrington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

9/29/2019 Yemen’s Houthis say footage shows attack on Saudi border frontline
A member of Houthi forces fires on alleged Saudi positions during an attack near the border with Saudi Arabia's southern region of Najran
in Yemen, in this still image taken from video on September 29, 2019. Al Masirah/Houthi Military Media Center/Reuters TV via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group broadcast footage on Sunday that it said showed a major attack near the border with Saudi Arabia’s southern region of Najran, adding that its forces had captured troops and vehicles.
    Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition that has been battling the Houthis, has not responded to Saturday’s Houthi announcement that they had carried out the attack.
    Reuters could not independently verify either claim.
    Houthi-run al-Masirah TV broadcast images of armored vehicles hit by blasts and what the Houthis said were dozens of surrendering fighters.    Two of those men, speaking to the camera, said they were from Saudi Arabia.
    The Houthi military spokesman said the offensive 72 hours earlier had defeated three “enemy military brigades,” leading to the capture of “thousands” of enemy troops, including Saudi army officers and soldiers, and hundreds of armored vehicles.
    The spokesman, Yahya Saria, did not give a day for when the footage was filmed.
    Yemeni government troops, supported by air strikes of the Saudi-led coalition, have in recent months fought Houthi forces in the Kataf region of Yemen’s northern Saada province near the Saudi border.    Local sources have said the Houthis have captured scores of Yemeni troops in the battles.
    The Sunni Muslim coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western countries, intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognized government from power in the capital Sanaa in 2014.
    A U.N.-brokered prisoner swap deal agreed between the Houthis and Yemen’s Saudi-backed government last December involving some 7,000 detainees on each side has yet to happen.
    The Houthis, who had recently stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities, have claimed responsibility for the largest-ever attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14.
    Riyadh dismissed the claim, saying the assault did not come from Yemen and have Shi’ite Muslim Iran.    Tehran denies this.
    The Houthis said on Sept. 20 they would halt missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia if the alliance stopped its operations.    The coalition has not responded to the proposal.
(Reporting by Tuqa Khalid, Lisa Barrington, and Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Edmund Blair)

9/30/2019 .Saudi crown prince warns of escalation with Iran, prefers political solution by Matt Spetalnick and Timothy Gardner
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in an interview broadcast on Sunday that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world doesn’t come together to deter Iran, but said he preferred a political solution to a military one.
    Speaking to the CBS program “60 Minutes,” Mohammed bin Salman also denied ordering the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives last year, but said he ultimately bears “full responsibility” as the kingdom’s de facto leader.
    While Khashoggi’s death sparked a global uproar and tarnished the crown prince’s reputation, the Trump administration’s tense standoff with Saudi arch-foe Iran has more recently dominated U.S. policy toward Riyadh, especially after Sept. 14 attacks on the heart of the Saudi oil industry.
    “If the world does not take a strong and firm action to deter Iran, we will see further escalations that will threaten world interests,”     Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, said through a translator.    “Oil supplies will be disrupted and oil prices will jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.”
    In an interview conducted on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia, he said he agreed with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the attacks, which knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply, were an act of war by Iran.
    But he said he preferred a peaceful resolution because regional war would collapse the global economy. The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attacks on Iran, which denies involvement.    Instead, Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility.
    MbS also said President Donald Trump should meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to craft a new deal on Tehran’s nuclear program and regional activities.
    Efforts to bring the two together last week at the United Nations failed.    Tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated after the U.S. withdrew last year from a 2015 nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions against Tehran.
‘ABSOLUTELY NOT’
    Days before the anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, MbS said: “Absolutely not,” when asked if he had ordered it.    But he said he took full responsibility “since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”
    “This was a mistake.    And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.”
    The CIA and some Western governments believe MbS ordered the killing, but Saudi officials have repeatedly said he had no role.    Asked about the CIA assessment, MbS asked for “such information” to be revealed.
    After initial denials, the official Saudi narrative blamed the murder on rogue operatives.    The public prosecutor said then-deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri ordered the repatriation of Khashoggi, a royal insider who became an outspoken critic, but the lead negotiator ordered him killed after discussions for his return failed.
    Asked how the killing could have happened without him knowing about it, MbS said: “Some think that I should know what 3 million people working for the Saudi government do daily?    It’s impossible that the 3 million would send their daily reports to the leader or the second highest person in the Saudi government.”
    Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings. A U.N. report called for MbS and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.    Asiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser, were fired over involvement in the operation.    Asiri is standing trial, but Qahtani is not.
    Asked how those two members of his inner circle could have been involved without him knowing, MbS said: “Today the investigations are being carried out.    And once charges are proven against someone, regardless of their rank, it will be taken to court, no exception made.”
    Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.    His body was dismembered and removed from the building. His remains have not been found.
    Asked about prominent women activists who have been detained on charges related to human rights work and tarred by local media as traitors, including Loujain al-Hathloul, MbS said: laws “must be respected, until they are reformed.”
    He said it was up to the public prosecutor to release Hathloul but that he would personally follow up on accusations she had been tortured in prison.
    Asked about criticism of Riyadh in the U.S. Congress over the Khashoggi killing, the activists’ arrests and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has taken a huge civilian toll, MbS said: “The (U.S.-Saudi) relationship is much larger than that.”
    Trump has resisted congressional efforts to block U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
    MbS also repeated a Saudi call for Iran to halt its support for Houthi forces in Yemen and said he was open to “all initiatives for a political solution” to end the war there.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Editing by Peter Cooney, Editing by William Maclean)

9/30/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says some of Khashoggi’s killers enjoy ‘impunity’
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan insisted on Monday that Turkey will keep pushing for the truth behind the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year, saying some of his killers appeared to be evading justice.
    A year after Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents sent from Riyadh, Erdogan said Turkey still wanted to know where his body was and who had authorized the operation – suggesting it was carried by agents of a “shadow state” in Saudi Arabia.
    Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview with U.S. broadcaster CBS he had “absolutely not” ordered Khashoggi’s killing, although he bore responsibility as leader of his country.
    Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings but only a few hearings have been held.    A U.N. report has called for Prince Mohammed and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.
    The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe the prince ordered the operation, an assertion Saudi officials have repeatedly denied.
    Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, had become a prominent critic of the crown prince’s policies.
    He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.    His body was dismembered and removed from the building, according to Turkish officials, and his remains have not been found.
    In an article for the Post, Erdogan said the fact that the killers traveled on diplomatic passports and “turned a diplomatic building into a crime scene” set a dangerous precedent.
    “Perhaps more dangerous is the impunity that some of the killers seem to enjoy back in the kingdom,” he wrote, adding that there was a near-complete lack of transparency on the court proceedings.
    Erdogan said Turkey continued to see Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally, but that did not mean Ankara would remain silent.
    “The 15-member assassination squad that murdered Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul and chopped his body into pieces served the interests of a shadow state within the kingdom’s government,” Erdogan said, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans, Editing by William Maclean)

9/30/2019 Yemen’s Houthis unilaterally release hundreds of detainees
Detainees hug relatives after their release by the Houthis outside the central prison
of Sanaa, Yemen September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    SANAA (Reuters) – The Houthi group in control of Yemen’s capital released hundreds of prisoners on Monday in a unilateral move, which the United Nations hoped would help revive a stalled peace process after months of failed efforts to push through a prisoner swap.
    Dozens of men in clean, new, white clothing walked out of the central prison in the capital Sanaa and lined up outside, supervised by men in military uniforms.
    “Our initiative proves our credibility in implementing the Sweden agreement and we call on the other party to take a comparable step,” the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader al-Murtada, told reporters assembled for the release.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which facilitated the release, said 290 Yemeni nationals were transferred from the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa to their homes.
    The Iran-aligned Houthis agreed in Sweden in December with Yemen’s Saudi-backed government to swap prisoners as a confidence-building step.    But the arrangement has been stalled as the sides struggled to agree on implementation.    Each side was meant to release around 7,000 prisoners.
    The Houthis said on Monday they were releasing “350 prisoners and detainees” drawn from the list prepared for the deal, including three Saudis.
    The U.N. Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, called on all parties to meet soon to discuss prisoner exchanges.
    “I hope this step will lead to further initiatives that will facilitate the exchange of all the conflict-related detainees as per the Stockholm Agreement,” he said.
    The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.    The United Nations calls it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
    Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC Director for Near and Middle East, said in a statement: “The humanitarian situation in Yemen is catastrophic and any momentum towards easing the hardship is a positive development.”
    A Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition which receives arms and intelligence from Western countries intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Yemeni government from Sanaa.
    Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki, asked at a news conference on Monday about the prisoner release, said he did not have information on it.
ATTACK CLAIMS
    Ongoing violence across Yemen and growing regional tensions have complicated U.N.-led peace efforts.
    The anti-Houthi coalition itself has come under strain, with southern separatists backed by Saudi Arabia’s ally the United Arab Emirates turning against the Saudi-backed government.
    The Houthis, who control most major urban areas in Yemen, have carried out ground attacks against coalition forces and launched missiles and drones into Saudi Arabia.    The coalition carries out air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.
    The Houthis claimed responsibility for a Sept. 14 attack on a major Saudi crude oil processing plant that cut off around 5% of global oil supplies.    Saudi Arabia says Iran, not the Houthis, was to blame.
    The Houthis said on Sept. 20 they would halt missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia if the alliance stopped its operations.    The coalition has not yet responded.
    On Saturday the Houthis said they had carried out a major attack, in which thousands of troops and many vehicles were captured, near the border with Saudi Arabia’s southern region of Najran.
    Yemen’s interior minister denied that the incident had taken place and said video released by the Houthis was old footage.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Reuters team in Yemen,; Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Peter Graff, Andrew Heavens, Timothy Heritage and Alex Richardson)

9/30/2019 Iraq reopens Syria crossing in win for mutual ally Iran
Security forces are seen at the Iraqi-Syrian border, after it has been reopened for trade and travel, in Al Qaim, Iraq
September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Iraq September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    QAIM, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq reopened its Qaim border-crossing with Syria on Monday after eight years of closure amid regional turmoil, in the latest sign of normalization between Baghdad and Damascus and a win for their mutual ally Iran.
    The crossing, which Iraqi officials declared open for travelers and trade, is crucial for Iran’s bid to cement its growing sway over a corridor of territory from Tehran to Beirut.
    The opening of the crossing signified “the victory of the Iraqi and Syrian people over all terrorist groups, especially Daesh,” said Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad Khaled al-Rahmoun, using a term for Islamic State.
    It would revitalize Syrian-Iraqi economic cooperation, said Iraqi border authority chief Khadhim al-Ikabi, who like Rahmoun was attending a ceremony with local governors of provinces on both sides of the border, a Reuters journalist said.
    The western Anbar province town of Qaim, 300 km (185 miles) west of Baghdad, was recaptured from Islamic State in November 2017 and was the group’s last bastion in Iraq to fall.
    It borders the Syrian town of Albukamal, which was also an Islamic State stronghold.    The towns lie on a strategic supply route and the crossing between them had only been open for government or military traffic since 2011.
    The Syrian government, with strong backing from Iran-backed militias, captured Albukamal on the Euphrates River from Islamic State towards the end of 2017.
    The Iraqi side of the border had seen the deployment in large numbers of Iran-allied Iraqi Shi’ite militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) who now de facto control large stretches of the frontier, with posts not far from military bases housing U.S. troops.
    The PMF will take part in securing the crossing, a security source in Qaim told Reuters.
    Syrian territory across from Albukamal on the eastern side of the river is held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia.
STANDOFF
    The positioning of Iran’s allies on both sides of the border and within close proximity to U.S. and allied forces further raises tensions between Washington and Tehran who have been locked in a tense standoff over the latter’s nuclear program and regional activities.
    Tensions escalated after the U.S. withdrew last year from a 2015 nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions against Tehran.
    On the Syrian side, the border crossing was decorated with Syrian flags and portraits of President Bashar al-Assad, footage broadcast by state TV station al-Ikhbariya showed.
    The opening of the crossing was a “historic day” for Iraq and Syria, Ali Faris, a local politician, told the station, adding that there would be “great economic and social” consequences.
    Al-Ikharbiya’s correspondent said the crossing was an “important economic artery.”
    Islamic State in 2014 seized vast swathes of land in both Iraq and Syria, declaring a caliphate across both countries. Iraq declared victory over the group in 2017 and it lost its last territory in Syria earlier this year.
    Iraq recently called for the reinstatement of Syria’s membership of the Arab League, which was suspended in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.
(Reporting by Reuters Video News; additional reporting by Kamal Ayash in Falluja and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein, Editing by William Maclean)

9/30/2019 Iraqi PM says Israel is responsible for attacks on Iraqi militias: Al Jazeera
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi delivers a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron
(not seen) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has accused Israel of being behind attacks on Iranian-backed militia positions in Iraq, the first time Baghdad has directly blamed Israel, Al Jazeera television reported on Monday.
    “Investigations into the targeting of some Popular Mobilisation Forces positions indicate that Israel carried it out,” Al Jazeera quoted Abdul Mahdi as telling it.
    The Shi’ite militias, known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, have repeatedly blamed Israel for raids by unmanned aircraft on their bases and weapon depots, including at least two incidents where fighters were killed.    The United States has provided air support, they say.
    A spokeswoman for the Israeli military declined to comment on the Iraqi premier’s remarks, saying “these are reports from foreign media and we do not comment on them.”
    However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted last month of possible Israeli involvement.    Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in neighboring Syria, some of them against Iranian targets, to prevent Tehran from establishing a permanent military presence there.
    The Pentagon denied that U.S. forces were involved in the attacks against the Shi’ite militias in Iraq.
    Abdul Mahdi, who visited Saudi Arabia last week, also told Al Jazeera he believed the kingdom was looking for peace, in reference to heightened friction between Riyadh and Tehran following an attack on Saudi oil facilities for which Saudi Arabia and the United States blamed Iran.
    The resolution of the Yemen crisis may be the key to solving problems in the Gulf, Abdul Mahdi said. Saudi Arabia, which backs the internationally recognized Yemeni government, is locked in a war against the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in the country.    Iran and Saudi Arabia are ready to negotiate, Abdul Mahdi said.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Hadeel Al Sayegh, Lisa Barington in Dubai and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

9/30/2019 Saudi Arabia has sent messages to Iran’s president: Iran government
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures at the conclusion of his address to the 69th United Nations
General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has sent messages to Iran’s president through the leaders of other countries, an Iranian government spokesman said on Monday, at a time of heightened tensions between the regional rivals.
    “Messages from the Saudis were presented to (Iran’s President) Hassan Rouhani from the leaders of some countries,” spokesman Ali Rabiei said, according to the semi-official ILNA news agency.    “If Saudi Arabia is really pursuing a change of behavior, Iran welcomes that,” he added.
    Rabiei did not give any information on what the messages contained.
    Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in an interview broadcast on Sunday that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world doesn’t come together to deter Iran, but said he preferred a political solution to a military one.
    Saudi Arabia blames Iran for an attack on two Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14, a charge Tehran denies.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Andrew Hevens, Editing by William Maclean)

10/1/2019 Explainer: A look at the legal trouble facing Israel’s Netanyahu by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Likud party headquarters following the announcement
of exit polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attempt to head off a corruption indictment at a series of pre-trial hearings that begin on Wednesday, in which he will try to persuade Israel’s attorney-general not to press charges.
    The political survival of Israel’s longest-serving leader, who denies any criminal wrongdoing, is also clouded by his failure to win a clear victory in two parliamentary elections this year, in April and last month.
    Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, heads a caretaker government following the inconclusive Sept. 17 election. He was tapped last week to form a government and has been trying build a national unity coalition with his main rival Benny Gantz, but Gantz says he will not serve in a cabinet led by a prime minister who faces indictment.
    Here is a guide to the criminal cases surrounding Netanyahu.
WHAT ARE THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST NETANYAHU?
    Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February that he intends to file criminal charges against Netanyahu in investigations listed as cases 4000, 1000 and 2000, pending the outcome of the hearings.    Netanyahu could face fraud and breach of trust charges in all three cases, and bribery charges in case 4000.
    Netanyahu says he is the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch-hunt” by the media and the left to oust him from office.
    CASE 4000 alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors to Israel’s leading telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel , in return for positive coverage of him and his wife Sara on a news website controlled by the company’s former chairman.
    CASE 1000 alleges that Netanyahu and his wife wrongfully received gifts from Arnon Milchan, a prominent Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer, including champagne and cigars.
    In CASE 2000, Netanyahu is suspected of negotiating a deal with the owner of Israel’s best-selling daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage in return for legislation that would slow the growth of a rival daily newspaper.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE PRE-TRIAL HEARING?
    It grants the prime minister’s legal team a chance to argue against the prospective charges and to convince the attorney-general to either scrap them or to reduce them.    It is unclear whether Netanyahu will attend the hearings, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday and the following Sunday and Monday.    After hearing the arguments, the attorney-general is expected to decide by the end of December whether to indict Netanyahu.
WHAT HAPPENS IF NETANYAHU IS CHARGED?
    If Netanyahu is indicted it could take many months before his trial begins.    Netanyahu could also seek a plea deal rather than stand trial.
    If he is still in office as prime minister, Netanyahu would be under no strict legal obligation to quit.    According to Israeli law, a prime minister must step down if ultimately convicted, but can stay in office throughout legal proceedings including appeals.
    Netanyahu’s supporters in the legislature have said they would support granting him parliamentary immunity from prosecution, but it is unclear whether there are enough lawmakers who would back such a move.
IF CONVICTED IN A TRIAL, WHAT DOES NETANYAHU FACE?
    Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine. Fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff)

9/30/2019 Saudi crown prince warns of escalation with Iran by Matt Spetalnick and Timothy Gardner
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in an interview broadcast on Sunday that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world doesn’t come together to deter Iran, but said he preferred a political solution to a military one.
    Mohammed bin Salman, speaking to the CBS program “60 Minutes”, also denied ordering the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives last year, but said he ultimately bears “full responsibility” as the kingdom’s de facto leader.
    While Khashoggi’s death sparked a global uproar and tarnished the prince’s reputation, the Trump administration’s tense standoff with Saudi Arabia’s enemy Iran has more recently dominated U.S. policy toward Riyadh, especially after Sept. 14 attacks on the heart of the Saudi oil industry.
    “If the world does not take a strong and firm action to deter Iran, we will see further escalations that will threaten world interests,” Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, said through a translator.    “Oil supplies will be disrupted and oil prices will jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.”
    In an interview conducted on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia – his first since the attacks which knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply – he agreed with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they were an act of war by Iran.
    But he said he preferred a peaceful resolution because regional war would collapse the global economy.    The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attacks on Iran, which denies involvement. Instead, Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility.
    The prince also said President Donald Trump should meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to craft a new deal on Tehran’s nuclear program and regional activities.
    Efforts to bring the two together last week at the United Nations failed.    Tensions between     Washington and Tehran escalated after the U.S. withdrew last year from a 2015 nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions against Tehran.
‘ABSOLUTELY NOT’
    Days before the anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, the prince said: “Absolutely not,” when asked if he had ordered it.    But he said he took full responsibility “since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”
    “This was a mistake.    And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.”
    The CIA and some Western governments believe MbS ordered the killing, but Saudi officials have repeatedly said he had no role.    Asked about the CIA assessment, MbS asked for “such information” to be revealed.
    After initial denials, the official Saudi narrative blamed the murder on rogue operatives.    The public prosecutor said then-deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri ordered the repatriation of Khashoggi, a royal insider who became an outspoken critic, but the lead negotiator ordered him killed after discussions for his return failed.
    Asked how the killing could have happened without his knowing about it, MbS said: “Some think that I should know what 3 million people working for the Saudi government do daily?    It’s impossible that the 3 million would send their daily reports to the leader or the second highest person in the Saudi government.”
    The crown prince made similar remarks off-camera in a PBS documentary released last week, publicly indicating for the first time personal responsibility for Khashoggi’s death, which sparked Saudi Arabia’s worst political crisis in a generation.
    James Dorsey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute, said the comments were “symbolically of value” and might help counter reputational damage including in business circles.
    “However it makes no contribution to transparency and getting to the bottom of who did what to whom, why and on whose orders,” he said.
    Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings. A U.N. report called for MbS and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.    Asiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser, were fired over involvement in the operation. Asiri is standing trial, but Qahtani is not.
    Asked how those two members of his inner circle could have been involved without his knowing, MbS said: “Today the investigations are being carried out.    And once charges are proven against someone, regardless of their rank, it will be taken to court, no exception made.”
    Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.    His body was dismembered and removed from the building.    His remains have not been found.
    Asked about prominent women activists who have been detained on charges related to human rights work and tarred by local media as traitors, including Loujain al-Hathloul, MbS said: laws “must be respected, until they are reformed.”
(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Editing by Peter Cooney, William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

10/1/2019 One killed, 200 wounded in Iraqi protests after police open fire by Thaier Al-Sudani and Haider Kadhim
A demonstrator shows the victory signs during a protest against government corruption amid dissatisfaction
at lack of jobs and services in Baghdad, Iraq October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least one person was killed and 200 wounded in clashes in Iraq on Tuesday as security forces used tear gas, water cannon and live fire to disperse demonstrations over unemployment, corruption and poor public services.
    The main protest took place in Baghdad, with some demonstrations in other areas of the country.
    A government statement and a health ministry spokesman said 40 members of the security forces were among those injured.    They did not say where the death took place.
    The government statement blamed “groups of riot inciters” for the violence and said the security forces were working to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters.     Reuters reporters saw several people with blood covering their faces.    Ambulances rushed in to transport the wounded.
    Security forces, who had blocked roads, used stun grenades and water cannons to push back crowds.    Protesters refused to leave and so security forces opened fire.
    Since similar but more deadly protests took place last year, public anger has simmered over a chronic shortage of job opportunities, electricity and clean water.
    Iraqis blame politicians and officials for endemic corruption that is preventing the country from recovering after years of sectarian conflict and a devastating war to defeat Islamic State.
    “This is not a government, it is a bunch of parties and militias who destroyed Iraq,” said one protestor who declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal.
    Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilisation Forces play a large role in Iraqi politics and have representation in parliament and government.    They have been accused of controlling parts of Iraq’s economic – a charge they deny.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who chaired the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, issued a statement promising jobs for graduates.    He instructed the oil ministry and other government bodies to start including a 50% quota for local workers in subsequent contracts with foreign companies.
    Iraq saw massive protests last year which first erupted in the south, heartland of the Shi’ite majority.    Clashes took place between security forces and protesters incensed by collapsing infrastructure, frequent power cuts, and widespread corruption.
    Oil-rich Iraq has suffered for decades under the rule of Saddam Hussein and U.N. sanctions, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and civil war it unleashed, and the battle against Islamic State, which was declared won in 2017.    Graft is widespread and basic services like power and water are lacking.
(Reporting by Thaier al-Sudani and Haider Kadhim; Additional reporting by Khaled Abdul Qader, John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Aboulenein, John Davison; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

10/1/2019 Israeli unity government talks falter after Netanyahu rival rejects meeting
FILE PHOTO: Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at the party's headquarters after the announcement of exit
polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Talks to form a national unity government in Israel hit a further snag on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s centrist election rival called off a meeting with the embattled leader.
    Netanyahu said on Sunday he would make a final effort this week to reach an agreement and would likely meet with his challenger Benny Gantz on Wednesday after further negotiations between their parties.
    On Sunday, Blue and White said it would “hold any meeting and spare no effort” to form a broad unity government.    But on Tuesday the party said conditions were not ripe yet to hold effective negotiations between the parties and their leaders.
    An inconclusive ballot on Sept. 17, the second this year, has created a political deadlock and left Israel’s longest-serving prime minister weakened.
    Netanyahu, facing a looming indictment on corruption allegations he denies, has failed to secure a clear election victory twice in six months.    His right-wing Likud party came second with 32 seats in the 120-member parliament, against 33 for former military chief Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.
    The parties’ negotiators had met on Sunday without success, with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.
    With neither party leader appearing able to put together a coalition with a ruling majority on his own, Israel’s president last week tasked Netanyahu with forming the next government in the hope of securing a power-sharing deal between the Blue and White party and Likud.
    If Netanyahu fails to clinch a deal, President Reuven Rivlin is then likely to ask Gantz to try to form a government, though he, like Netanyahu, also has no clear path to power.
    Gantz has pledged not to serve in a government under a premier facing criminal charges.    His party has accused Likud of stalling in the talks in the hope of triggering yet another election.
    Israel’s attorney-general is due to hold a pre-trial hearing this week on his announced intention to indict Netanyahu on fraud and bribery charges in three corruption cases.
    Netanyahu, who says he is a victim of a political witchhunt, can argue at the session against prosecution.    A final decision by the attorney-general on an indictment is expected by the end of 2019.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

10/1/2019 Saudi prince seeks to dodge blame for Khashoggi killing: U.N. expert by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions who issued report
on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, takes part in a side event called "Silencing Dissident" during
the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is trying to repair damage to his image done by Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by insisting “layers and layers” of hierarchy separated him from the Saudi agents who killed the journalist, the U.N. investigator told Reuters.
    Mohammad bin Salman told CBS program “60 Minutes” that as de facto Saudi leader he ultimately bore “full responsibility” for the killing a year ago, but he denied ordering it.    He made similar remarks to U.S. broadcaster PBS.
    Asked how he did not know about the killing by Saudi officials, he told CBS it was impossible for him to know “what three million people working for the Saudi government do daily.”
    In an interview with Reuters, Agnes Callamard, U.N. expert on summary executions, attributed his remarks to a “strategy of rehabilitation in the face of public outrage around the world.”
    “He is creating a distance between himself, he is exonerating himself from direct criminal responsibility in the killing.    He is creating layers, and layers and layers of actors and institutions which are protecting him from his direct accountability for the killing.”
    She spoke before joining Khashoggi’s family and friends in Istanbul on Wednesday to mark the murder’s first anniversary.
    Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the crown prince, was murdered on Oct 2 at its consulate in Istanbul.    His dismembered body has never been found.    A global outcry ensued and led to U.S. Treasury sanctions on 17 Saudi individuals and a Senate resolution blaming Prince Mohammed.
    Saudi officials have denied suspicions in the CIA that the crown prince, known as MbS, ordered the killing.    Eleven people are on trial in Saudi Arabia, although Callmard has voiced concerns over a potential miscarriage of justice.
IMPUNITY
    A report by Callamard in June found credible evidence warranting further investigation that the crown prince and other senior officials including key adviser Saud al-Qahtani are liable for the murder.
    Callamard told Reuters the only way she could interpret his admission of state responsibility — as opposed to personal responsibility — was as “recognizing implicitly at least that the killing was a state killing.”
    “To the extent the killing occurred under his watch, he represents the state, he is indeed quasi head of state,” she said.
    Turning to the international implications, Callamard said that if countries around the world did not respond properly to Khashoggi’s killing, “it will open the gate to a sense of impunity for the killing of independent critical voices.”
    Callamard has called for states to widen sanctions to include the crown prince and his assets abroad unless he can prove he is not responsible.
    Critics of the kingdom say his latest public comments appear part of a public relations campaign ahead of Riyadh’s hosting of the G20 next year, its IPO of state oil giant Saudi Aramco and a foreign investment push to diversify the economy away from oil.
    Reacting to Prince Mohammed’s description of the killing as a “mistake,” Callamard countered that a killing that implicated “a consulate, requires preparation and planning and ultimately premeditation for 24 hours, is not a mistake.”
    She called for “a transparent investigation into the chain of command” around the killing and demanded the prince apologize to Khashoggi’s family and fiancee.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean)

10/1/2019 Syria ‘safe zone’ deadline expires with Turkish threat looming by Dominic Evans
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s deadline to jointly establish a “safe zone” with the United States in northern Syria by the end of September has passed, leaving the threat of unilateral military intervention by Ankara hanging over the region.
    President Tayyip Erdogan told the United Nations last week he wanted to set up the zone along 480 km (300 miles) of border and reaching 30 km inside Syria. Under the Turkish plan, up to 2 million Syrian refugees would be settled in the safe zone, with international support.
    If implemented, the project could halve the number of Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey from Syria’s eight-year conflict, and drive the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia – which Ankara says is a terrorist group threatening its security – from the border.
    Expanding Turkey’s military presence in Syria would also boost its weight among powers such as the United States, Russia and Iran which all seek to shape Syria’s political future, reflecting a mantra of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that Ankara should be “strong both at the table and in the field.”
    But Turkey’s new emphasis on the refugee transfer, which would move large numbers of Sunni Arab Syrians into a traditionally Kurdish heartland, could face resistance from allies opposed to changing the region’s demographic balance.
    The United States agreed to the safe zone as a way to protect its Kurdish allies in Syria and address Turkish concerns about the border, after President Donald Trump announced plans last year to abruptly withdraw 2,000 U.S. special forces troops that helped Kurdish fighters battle Islamic State.
    But the U.S. troops have yet to leave and Washington and Ankara have so far failed to agree on details.    Turkey has accused the United States of dragging its feet and warned that it would take matters into its own hands.
    Diplomats, analysts and Turkey’s main opposition CHP party say Erdogan would be unwilling to anger the United States with a full-scale military incursion when Ankara’s relations with Washington are already under strain.     However Turkey has already launched two military incursions into northern Syria in the last three years and has stationed troops into the rebel-held Idlib region.    It says preparations for another operation are complete.
    The National Security Council, which includes Turkey’s political and military leadership, said late on Monday that Turkey would strengthen efforts to set up the zone so that Syrian refugees could return as soon as possible.
    Erdogan has also warned the European Union that Turkey, which has received billions of euros in return for choking off the flow of Syrian migrants into Europe in 2016, could “open the gates” once again if it does not get more funding.
    Ahead of his trip to the U.N. General Assembly, Erdogan said he would discuss his plans with Trump and EU leaders, but he returned last week apparently empty-handed.
    “Turkey is not a country that can be stalled,” he said on the plane home.    Cavusoglu echoed his message: “If we cannot find a way with the United States, we will clear out the terrorist organization (ourselves),” he said, referring to the YPG.
U.S. WARNING
    U.S. and Turkish troops have so far carried out half a dozen joint air missions over northeast Syria and two land patrols.
    The NATO allies disagree over the depth of the zone and who should control it, while the United States avoids even referring to a “safe zone,” talking instead of a “security mechanism.”
    The United States has warned Turkey that unilateral action would not serve any country’s security.
    “The last thing Turkey would like is an unintended clash with the U.S. troops on the ground,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara.
    Instead, he said Turkey could adopt a “graduated strategy” and continue negotiating with Washington while making incursions in areas where there are no U.S. troops and few YPG forces.
    Even so, Ankara would be wary of the political consequences in Washington, where Trump’s public support for Erdogan is set against demands in Congress for sanctions on Ankara over its purchase in July of Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
    Cavusoglu said Ankara would move in stages – from joint patrols to “going inside and clearing out the terrorists,” then establishing facilities for its forces inside Syria followed by “the humanitarian aspect and return of refugees.”
    Turkey’s allies have yet to set out their response, but are unlikely to offer financial support for any operation which settles people hundreds of kilometers from their homes and alters the demographics of northeast Syria.
    Erdogan, who has supported rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, will also face opposition from Assad’s most powerful backers Russia and Iran. Russia has pointed to a 1998 security agreement between Turkey and Syria, suggesting Erdogan should accept the Damascus government’s authority in the area.
    At home, where the 3.6 million Syrian refugees have become a heated political issue as Turkey’s economy struggles to emerge from recession, the main opposition Republican People’s Party also says Damascus must be involved.
    “First of all, any kind of zone which is going to be created within Syrian territory should be controlled by Syrian authorities,” CHP vice president and former Turkish diplomat Unal Cevikoz told Reuters.    “We have insistently called on the government that we should get into dialogue with Damascus.”
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Peter Graff)

10/2/2019 Eight injured in second day of Baghdad protests
Mourners carry the coffin of a protester, who was killed in Tuesday's demonstrations in
Baghdad, during a funeral in Najaf, Iraq, October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Security forces used live fire and tear gas to disperse demonstrators in renewed protests in Baghdad on Wednesday, a day after at least two Iraqis were killed and 200 wounded in clashes over unemployment, corruption and poor public services.
    At least eight protesters were wounded in the Zafaraniya district of southeast Baghdad when police and the army opened fire and launched tear gas canisters to disperse dozens of protesters, police sources said.
    In northern Baghdad, about 200 protesters took to the streets of the Shaab district and blocked a key highway linking the capital to the northern cities.    Soldiers went into the area to disperse them, police and eyewitnesses said.
    The main protest on Tuesday erupted in Baghdad, where one protester was killed, with some demonstrations taking place in other areas, including in the southern city of Nassiriya where a protester was also shot dead, according to police.
    A government statement on Tuesday said 40 members of the security forces were among those injured and blamed “groups of inciting riots” for the violence.
    The United Nations on Wednesday expressed concern over the violence and urged calm, with the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert reaffirming in a statement the right to protest.
    “Hennis-Plasschaert urges the authorities to exercise restraint in their handling of the protests to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters while upholding law and order and protecting the people, public and private property,” it said.
    On Wednesday, security forces blocked several roads in Baghdad, including a bridge that leads to the fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies, as part of tightened security measures, a security source said.
    “Orders from our commanders are clear and definitive; no protesters are to approach the Green Zone,” said one security official.
    In a bid to temper angry protests, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Tuesday issued a statement promising jobs for graduates. He instructed the oil ministry and other government bodies to start including a 50% quota for local workers in subsequent contracts with foreign companies.
    Oil-rich Iraq has suffered for decades, from rule by Saddam Hussein including years subject to U.N. sanctions, to the 2003 U.S. invasion and civil war it unleashed, and then the battle against Islamic State, which was declared won in 2017.    Graft is widespread and basic services like power and water are lacking.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Ahmed Aboulenein, William Maclean)

10/2/2019 Netanyahu tries to avert indictment as he fights for political life by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in
Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his final attempt to fend off a corruption indictment on Wednesday when his lawyers argued against looming charges that have combined with election stalemate to threaten his long hold on power.
    The pre-trial hearings, scheduled to be held over four days, will allow him to make his case against indictment to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit in three graft investigations.
    A final decision by the attorney-general on whether to file charges is expected by the end of 2019.
    Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, faces no legal requirement to leave government if indicted, as long as he remains prime minister.
    But his aura of political invincibility has been clouded by his failure to win a clear victory in parliamentary elections in April and last month, after a decade in office as head of the right-wing Likud party.
    “Today, we will present all the evidence that everyone knows and some new evidence,” Amit Hadad, one of Netanyahu’s attorneys, told reporters outside Mandelblit’s office.    “i>We believe that all three cases will be dropped after the hearings.”
    Mandelblit announced in February that he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach and trust.    Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a political witch-hunt spearheaded by left-wing opponents and journalists.
    The investigations, dubbed Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, have revolved around gifts of champagne and cigars that Netanyahu has acknowledged receiving from millionaire friends, purported attempts to influence media coverage and the alleged dispensing of regulatory favors.
    Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a political witch-hunt spearheaded by left-wing opponents and journalists.
    He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go through a pre-indictment hearing process.
    Ehud Olmert, facing corruption allegations, quit as Israel’s leader in 2008 before such sessions could be held or any indictment filed.    He was eventually charged and convicted of accepting bribes, and served 16 months in jail before his release in 2017.
    On Tuesday, talks to form a national unity government hit a further snag after Netanyahu’s centrist election rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, called off a meeting with him scheduled for Wednesday.
    With neither leader appearing able to put together a coalition with a ruling majority on his own, Israel’s president last week gave Netanyahu 28 days to try to form the next government in the hope of securing a power-sharing deal.
    Gantz, however, has pledged not to serve in a government under a premier facing criminal charges.
(Editing by William Maclean)

10/2/2019 Saudi says Iran’s remark on messages to its president ‘not accurate’
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir speaks at a briefing
with reporters in London, Britain June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Iran’s statement that Saudi Arabia sent messages to its president through other countries was “not accurate”, Adel al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s minister of state for foreign affairs, has said.
    Saudi Arabia blames Iran for an attack on two Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14, a charge Tehran denies.    On Monday, an Iranian government spokesman said Saudi Arabia had sent messages to Iran’s president through the leaders of other countries, but did not specify their content.
    “What the Iranian speaker said about the kingdom sending messages to the Iranian regime is not accurate,” Jubeir said on Twitter late on Tuesday.
    “What happened was that sister countries sought to calm the situation, and we told them that the position of the kingdom was to always seek security and stability in the region.”
    In an interview broadcast on Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world did not come together to deter Iran, but said he preferred a political solution to a military one.
    “We also told them that de-escalation should come from the party that is escalating and spreading chaos through hostile acts in the region,” Jubeir added.
    “…We conveyed to them our position towards the Iranian regime that we always announce clearly in all venues, most recently at the United Nations General Assembly,” he said.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/2/2019 Exclusive: In Saudi Arabia, criticism of Crown Prince grows after attack by Reuters staff reporters
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and business elite have expressed frustration with the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the largest-ever attack on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure last month.
    It has sparked concern among several prominent branches of the ruling Al Saud family, which numbers around 10,000 members, about the crown prince’s ability to defend and lead the world’s largest oil exporter, according to a senior foreign diplomat and five sources with ties to the royals and business elite.    All spoke on condition of anonymity.
    The attack has also fanned discontent among some in elite circles who believe the crown prince, known in the West by the initials MbS, has sought too tight a grip on power, the sources said.    Some of these people said the event has also fueled criticism among those who believe he has pursued an overly aggressive stance towards Iran.
    “There is a lot of resentment” about the crown prince’s leadership, said one of the sources, a member of the Saudi elite with royal connections.    “How were they not able to detect the attack?
    This person added that some people in elite circles are saying they have “no confidence” in the crown prince, an assertion echoed by the four other sources and the senior diplomat.
    The crown prince nonetheless has staunch supporters. A Saudi source within circles loyal to the crown prince said: “The latest events won’t affect him personally as a potential ruler because he is trying to stop the Iranian expansion in the region.     This is a patriotic issue, and so he won’t be in danger, at least as long as the father lives.”
    A second senior foreign diplomat said ordinary Saudis still want to unite behind MbS as a strong, decisive, dynamic leader.
    The Saudi government media office did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters for this article.
    The crown prince, during a television interview aired Sunday by U.S. broadcaster CBS, said that defending Saudi Arabia was difficult because of the kingdom’s large size and the scale of threats it faces.    “It’s challenging to cover all of this fully,” he said.    He also called for “strong and firm” global action to deter Iran but said he preferred a “peaceful solution” to a military one.
FUELING RESENTMENT
    At stake is political stability in the world’s largest oil exporter, a key ally of the United States in the Middle East.    The crown prince is officially next in line to the throne to his 83-year-old father, King Salman, and is de facto ruler of the country. He has vowed to transform the kingdom into a modern state.
    The 34-year-old crown prince, who is popular among young Saudis, has received praise at home for easing social restrictions in the conservative Muslim kingdom, granting women more rights and pledging to diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy.    But state control of the media and a crackdown on dissent in the kingdom make it difficult to gauge levels of genuine enthusiasm domestically.
    The September 14 attack set ablaze two of state oil giant Saudi Aramco’s plants, initially knocking out half of the kingdom’s oil production — 5% of global oil output.    Saudi Arabia has said Iran was responsible, an assessment that U.S. officials share.    Iranian officials have denied involvement.
    “The magnitude of these attacks is not lost on the population, nor is the fact that he (the crown prince) is the minister of defense and his brother is deputy defense minister, and yet arguably the country has suffered its largest attack ever and on the crown jewels,” said Neil Quilliam, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think tank.
    “There’s a diminishing confidence in his ability to secure the country – and that’s a consequence of his policies,” said Quilliam, a specialist on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.    MbS oversees foreign, security and defense policy.
    The attack has fueled resentment that has simmered since the crown prince came to power two years ago, sweeping aside rivals to the throne and arresting hundreds of the kingdom’s most prominent figures on corruption allegations.
    MbS has seen his reputation overseas suffer from a costly war in Yemen against the Iran-aligned Houthi group that has killed tens of thousands of people and triggered a humanitarian crisis.    He also came under international criticism over the murder a year ago of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, which the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has said the crown prince ordered.
    The crown prince, during the CBS interview, denied ordering the killing of Khashoggi but said he ultimately bears “full responsibility” as the kingdom’s de facto leader.
    Khashoggi was murdered by agents of the Saudi government without authorization or permission, said Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, during a moderated discussion hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York on September 24.
CONSOLIDATE CONTROL
    Some Saudi critics say MbS’s aggressive foreign policy towards Iran and involvement in the war in Yemen exposed the kingdom to attack, according to four of the sources with ties to the royals and business elite.    They also express frustration that the crown prince was unable to prevent the attacks despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on defense, according to the five sources and one of the senior diplomats.
    Jubeir, the Saudi minister, in his recent remarks in New York, said the kingdom’s air defenses have stopped hundreds of ballistic missiles and dozens of drones coming into Saudi Arabia. He added that the failure to detect the September 14 attack was “being looked at,” but that “it’s very difficult to detect small objects that fly at three hundred feet of altitude.”
    Some Saudi elite say the crown prince’s efforts to consolidate control have hurt the kingdom.    One source close to government circles said MbS has installed officials who were generally less experienced than previously.
    MbS ousted Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince and interior minister two years ago.    The former crown prince had nearly two decades of experience in senior roles in the ministry, which was responsible for domestic policing and intelligence.    MbS named a 33-year-old cousin as a replacement, after placing key areas of intelligence and counter-terrorism under the royal court’s purview.
    The crown prince also removed Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who had overseen or effectively commanded the kingdom’s elite internal security force, the Saudi Arabian National Guard, since 1996.    The prince was ultimately replaced at the end of last year by then-32-year-old Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, who had been deputy governor of Mecca for less than two years and before that in private business.
    The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment addressed to Prince Abdullah.
FAVORITE SON
    Saudi insiders and Western diplomats say the family is unlikely to oppose MbS while the king remains alive, recognizing that the king is unlikely to turn against his favorite son.    The monarch has delegated most responsibilities of rule to his son but still presides over weekly cabinet meetings and receives foreign dignitaries.
    Regardless of the king’s future, the insiders and diplomats say, a challenge to MbS’s authority could be difficult given his hold on the internal security structure.
    Some royals view 77-year-old Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as a possible alternative who would have support of family members, the security apparatus and some Western powers, said two of the five sources with ties to Saudi elite.
    “They are all looking at Ahmed to see what he does.    The family continues to think he is the only one who can save them,” said one prominent businessman.
    There is no evidence Prince Ahmed is willing to play that role, according to Saudi watchers.    Prince Ahmed has largely kept a low profile since returning to Riyadh in October 2018 after 2-1/2 months abroad.    During the trip, he appeared to criticize the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty.
    Prince Ahmed was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family’s senior members, who opposed MbS becoming crown prince in 2017, two Saudi sources said at the time.
    Prince Ahmed couldn’t be reached for comment.    One of the five sources with ties to Saudi elite said that Prince Ahmed’s position on whether he will challenge MbS is that he “will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
(Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)

10/2/2019 U.N. investigator says Saudi royal adviser should be tried for Khashoggi killing by Dominic Evans
A special forces police officer secures the scene during a ceremony marking the first anniversary of
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing in Istanbul, Turkey, October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Supporters of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi called for justice a year after his death and a U.N. investigator said Saud al-Qahtani, a key adviser to the kingdom’s crown prince, should be put in the dock.
    Eleven Saudi officials are on trial in Riyadh for the killing of Khashoggi, a former royal insider turned critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which took place inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 2018.
    The trial is being held behind closed doors but six sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters more than one of the defendants had mentioned Qahtani’s name.
    Asked to comment, U.N. rapporteur for extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard said she could not confirm their accounts but that if people were prepared to name him in court, she welcomed it.
    “If he appears to become or to be a person of interest as per the proceeding of the trial, then of course the next logical step must be to bring him in the trial,” she said, noting that his name had already been mentioned by the Saudi prosecutor.
    “While I will welcome calling him as a key witness, I think that is still very far from where he should be, which is behind the dock as one of the accused,” Callamard told Reuters ahead of a ceremony just yards from the consulate door which Khashoggi entered shortly after 1 pm on Oct. 2 last year.
    He was dead within minutes, Turkish officials say.
    The Saudi public prosecutor said last November that Qahtani had discussed Khashoggi’s activities before he entered the Saudi consulate with the team which went on to kill him.
    The prosecutor said Qahtani acted in coordination with deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri, who he said had ordered Khashoggi’s repatriation from Turkey and that the lead negotiator on the ground then decided to kill him.
    Both men have been dismissed but while Asiri is on trial, Qahtani is not.
    The government communications office did not respond to a request for comment.    Reuters has been unable to reach the public prosecutor or Qahtani.
    “He was mentioned by the Saudi prosecutor, who however did not indict him, did not charge him, even though by his own words the prosecutor acknowledged that Saud al-Qahtani had called on the team to bring back Mr Khashoggi because he was a national security threat,” Callamard said.
    “So just for that reason alone he should have been charged.”
CONFESSIONS
    Two of the sources said that for Qahtani’s name to be mentioned in court would likely have to have been approved by senior authorities in the kingdom.
    Diplomatic sources have said that Western allies want Riyadh to give up Qahtani in order to satisfy demands for accountability.    It was unclear whether the defendants’ statements about him went further than what has already been officially announced.
    One of the six sources with knowledge of the court proceedings who spoke recently to Reuters said several defendants had confessed to their role and offered “gruesome details.”
    “They told the court they met with Qahtani the night before going to Istanbul,” said the source, who like the others requested anonymity to discuss the case.
    In January, six sources with links to the royal court told Reuters Qahtani continued to wield influence in the crown prince’s inner circle while keeping a low profile.
    The murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, sparked Saudi Arabia’s worst political crisis in a generation and threatened ties with close allies.
    Saudi media said the court has convened eight sessions since the trial began in January, during which the defendants confessed and the prosecutor requested the death penalty for five of them.
    There is no indication that Qahtani has appeared.
DUTY-BOUND
    On Wednesday, Callamard joined Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, as well as friends and supporters of Khashoggi and rights activists, who pledged to keep fighting for justice.
    “We will never give up on this,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s representative in Turkey, who condemned what he called “the sham trial.”
    He called for a U.N.-led investigation with the power to interview all suspects “whatever their level in government or position in power.”
    In the Riyadh trial, the suspects’ lawyers have said they were duty-bound as state employees to follow orders, according to a June report by Callamard.
    Two regional intelligence sources told Reuters previously that Qahtani oversaw Khashoggi’s killing by giving orders via Skype to a team of security and intelligence operatives.
    The CIA and some Western governments suspect Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, ordered the murder.    In an interview with CBS program “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday, he denied that and called the killing a mistake, but said he ultimately bears responsibility as de facto leader.
    Asked specifically about Qahtani and Asiri, he said: “…once charges are proven against someone, regardless of their rank, it will be taken to court, no exception made.”
    Qahtani’s current location and activities are unknown.
    Callamard has called for senior officials including MbS and Qahtani to be investigated, and said an international criminal probe should replace the Saudi trial, which Riyadh rejects.    She said the crown prince’s recent remarks are aimed at rehabilitating his image.
    The Trump administration has pressed Riyadh to show “tangible progress” toward holding to account those behind the killing before the one-year mark, a senior administration official has said.
(Reporting by Gulf newsroom; additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

10/2/2019 Netanyahu tries to avert indictment as he fights for political life by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in
Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his final attempt to fend off a corruption indictment on Wednesday when his lawyers argued against looming charges that have combined with election stalemate to threaten his long hold on power.
    The pre-trial hearings, scheduled to be held over four days, will allow him to make his case against indictment to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit in three graft investigations.
    A final decision by the attorney-general on whether to file charges is expected by the end of 2019.
    Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, faces no legal requirement to leave government if indicted, as long as he remains prime minister.
    But his aura of political invincibility has been clouded by his failure to win a clear victory in parliamentary elections in April and last month, after a decade in office as head of the right-wing Likud party.
    “Today, we will present all the evidence that everyone knows and some new evidence,” Amit Hadad, one of Netanyahu’s attorneys, told reporters outside Mandelblit’s office.    “We believe that all three cases will be dropped after the hearings.”
    Mandelblit announced in February that he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach and trust. Netanyahu has said he is the victim of a political witch-hunt spearheaded by left-wing opponents and journalists.
    The investigations, dubbed Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, have revolved around gifts of champagne and cigars that Netanyahu has acknowledged receiving from millionaire friends, purported attempts to influence media coverage and the alleged dispensing of regulatory favors.
    He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go through a pre-indictment hearing process.
    Ehud Olmert, facing corruption allegations, quit as Israel’s leader in 2008 before such sessions could be held or any indictment filed.    He was eventually charged and convicted of accepting bribes, and served 16 months in jail before his release in 2017.
    On Tuesday, talks to form a national unity government hit a further snag after Netanyahu’s centrist election rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, called off a meeting with him scheduled for Wednesday.
    With neither leader appearing able to put together a coalition with a ruling majority on his own, Israel’s president last week gave Netanyahu 28 days to try to form the next government in the hope of securing a power-sharing deal.
    Gantz, however, has pledged not to serve in a government under a premier facing criminal charges.
(This story was corrected to remove extraneous paragraph about Netanyahu seeing witch-hunt.)
(Editing by William Maclean)

10/2/2019 As Lebanon reforms go slowly, protests suggest widening anger by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam
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) – In a country fractured along sectarian lines, the unusually wide geographic reach of protests over Lebanon’s dire economy on Sunday suggests deepening anger with an entire class of politicians who have jointly led it into crisis.
    While the protests were not big – Lebanon’s divisions make large demonstrations rare – they erupted from Beirut to the Bekaa Valley and from Sidon in the south to Tripoli in the north.
    In Tripoli, protesters took aim at prime ministers past and present, all Sunni Muslims under Lebanon’s ruling conventions.    In remote Brital, a flag of the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah was torn down.    In Beirut, they chanted against all leaders, including the Shi’ite parliament speaker, Christian head of state and Sunni premier.
    Lebanese leaders have said little about Sunday’s protests.    For the coalition government led by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the focus remains reviving the economy through long-delayed reforms, such as fixing the power sector that bleeds public funds while failing to meet Lebanon’s power needs.
    In the process, Lebanon hopes for an international seal of approval that will unlock billions in finance for investment.
    But Jalal Salma, who protested in Tripoli on Sunday, has more immediate worries.    “There is real hunger and we can’t see a solution on the horizon.    On the contrary, we see a dark future ahead,” he said.
    Lebanon’s economic problems have been building for years.
    Shattered by war between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon has one of the world’s highest debt burdens as a share of its economy.    Economic growth has been hit by regional conflict and instability.    Unemployment for the under 35s runs at 37%.
    The balance of payments has been negative for years, meaning more money leaves the country than enters it.    This financial crunch has added to the impetus for reform.
    Foreign allies are not yet fully convinced by the pace of change.    Some $11 billion pledged 18 months ago in France, conditional on reform, has yet to flow into the economy.
    “We stressed the importance of delivering on reforms rather than announcing reforms, and of delivering the 2020 budget on time,” Philippe Lazzarini, a top U.N. official in Lebanon, said on Tuesday after meeting Hariri.
CARVING UP THE CAKE
    The kind of steps needed to fix the national finances have long proven elusive.    Sectarian politicians, many of them civil war veterans, have long used state resources for their own political benefit and are reluctant to cede prerogatives.
    Many of them are millionaires.    Some are billionaires.
    Lebanon ranked 138 of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption perceptions index.
    “The politicians have always been in conflict on how to carve up the cake.    This obstructs any reforms and reveals them as a bunch of liars to international opinion,” said Mahmoud Faqih, a veteran campaigner who protested in Beirut.
    “The wide scope of these protests is evidence of the buildup of the crisis and that it is rubbing salt in the citizens’ wounds,” said Faqih, 35, a journalist.
    Public concerns have been intensified by the emergence of a black market where dollars cost more than the pegged exchange rate.    The central bank introduced new steps on Tuesday to organize the provision of dollars for key imports.
    The government has vowed to maintain the peg.
    Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, said concern over the currency had “become a daily topic of conversation” and Sunday’s protests reflected that.
    “What is very frustrating for many is that there doesn’t seem to be a horizon.    It’s not like we have a plan – that we can grit our teeth and bear it for the next six months – and everything will be okay,” she said.
MORE URGENCY SEEN
    The government has won some praise for efforts to reduce this year’s deficit and its plan to fix the power sector – moves the IMF called “very welcome first steps on a long road.”
    The 2019 budget included politically difficult moves, notably a three-year state hiring freeze.    But proposals for a temporary public sector pay cut were torpedoed.
    Knowing more must be done, politicians aim to further cut the deficit in the 2020 budget but without raising new taxes.
    “Obviously the speed at which decisions are being made is not very promising, and the government and the political parties have to move much faster,” Nadim Munla, Hariri’s senior adviser, told Reuters.    But “we have noticed that in the last few weeks that there is convergence on the urgency to move forward.”
    In an interview on Monday, he also expressed hope that upcoming trips by Hariri to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia would yield “something concrete” after “encouraging signs” of a Gulf Arab readiness to deposit funds in Lebanon.
    A recent trip by Hariri to France had also been a success, he said, citing agreement on a donor state follow-up mechanism for Lebanon, the scheduling of a high-level meeting next month, and French investment interest.
    MP Alain Aoun of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement said the budget was a new test “for the government and parliament to prove they have the ability” to take Lebanon out of the crisis.
    “People have the right to protest and no one should blame them for that. Rather than looking for excuses, the political class has to take the necessary courageous measures and reforms to restore confidence that it lost in the public opinion and in the international community,” he told Reuters.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Ellen Francis and Peter Graff)

10/3/2019 Eleven people killed in southern Iraq protests overnight
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator throws a tear gas canister used by Iraqi security forces as others disperse during a protest
over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, in Baghdad, Iraq October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) – Eleven people were killed during protests overnight in two southern Iraqi cities, including a policeman, police and medical sources said on Thursday, raising the death toll to 18 since anti-government protests turned violent two days ago.
    Seven protesters and a policeman died in Nassiriya during clashes between demonstrators and security forces.    Four more people were killed in the city of Amara, the sources said.
    Troops patrolled central areas of Baghdad early on Thursday to enforce a curfew ordered by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, but sporadic demonstrations continued in some parts of the Iraqi capital, Reuters witnesses said.
    The unrest spread quickly from small-scale protests in Baghdad on Tuesday over jobs, services and government corruption.    At least two people were killed that day as security forces opened live fire and shot water cannon and tear gas.    Five more were killed on Wednesday, including a child. Hundreds have been wounded including demonstrators and police.
    Abdul Mahdi ordered a curfew in Baghdad from 5:00 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Thursday until further notice.
    The protests are the biggest against Abdul Mahdi’s government which took office nearly a year ago, and the biggest in the country since September 2018.
    Travelers to and from Baghdad airport, ambulances, government employees in hospitals, electricity, and water departments, and religious pilgrims are exempt from the curfew, the statement said.    It was up to provincial governors to decide whether to declare curfews elsewhere.
(Reporting by Ali Hafthi, Ahmed Rasheed and Thaier al-Sudani in Baghdad; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

10/3/2019 Turkey says work on Syria ‘safe zone’ not yielding results
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in
Riga, Latvia May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey does not think its efforts with the United States to form a “safe zone” in northeast Syria will yield the results it wants and is ready to take action itself, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying on Thursday.
    Ankara and Washington have agreed to establish a zone on the Syrian border that Turkey says should stretch 30 km (19 miles) into Syria and be cleared of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it considers a terrorist organization.
    Turkey has accused the United States, which supports the YPG-led force that defeated Islamic State fighters in Syria, of moving too slowly to set up the zone.    The two countries are also at odds over how far it should extend into Syria and who should control it.
    Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar later told U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a phone call that Ankara would end its work with the United States on establishing a “safe zone” if Washington stalled on the issue, Akar’s ministry said.
    “Continuing to hold talks, wanting to solve the issue peacefully … should not be viewed as weakness, and saying our plans are ready if necessary should not be seen as a threat,” the ministry statement reported Akar as saying in the call.
    “If there is stalling or delaying, we are fully determined to end this work,” he was also quoted as saying.
    Turkey says it wants to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the zone, and has repeatedly warned of unilateral military action if it is not satisfied with progress.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey had no choice but to act alone given the lack of progress made with the United States, in his most direct indication yet of a military incursion.
    Speaking to broadcaster A Haber on Thursday, Cavusoglu said Turkey had not seen sincerity from the United States.
    “We think this ongoing process with the United States will not take us to the point we desire.    The information coming from the field proves this,” he was quoted as saying by A Haber.
    “We must take steps to clear the terrorist organizations from our vicinity and return refugees there,” he said.
    Ties between the NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues, including Syria policy and the looming threat of U.S. sanctions over Ankara’s decision to buy Russian defense systems.
    While diplomats, analysts and Turkey’s main opposition say Ankara would be unwilling to anger Washington with a full-scale military incursion as the allies try to repair strained ties, Turkey has been pressing for efforts to be stepped up.
    U.S. and Turkish troops have so far carried out half a dozen joint air missions over the zone in northeast Syria and two land patrols, but Washington has warned Turkey that unilateral action would not serve any country’s security or benefit.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Daren Butler; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool)

10/3/2019 Netanyahu weighing Likud leadership election: party spokesman by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement during
a news conference in Jerusalem September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering a snap leadership vote in his Likud party, a spokesman said on Thursday, adding a new twist to Israeli politics after two deadlocked general elections this year.
    A leadership vote would give Netanyahu an opportunity to win a new mandate from his party after his failure to secure a parliamentary majority in national elections in April and last month left him politically weakened.
    In a statement, the party spokesman said Netanyahu was weighing the idea “to shatter the illusion of a Likud rebellion” against him and persuade any political rivals who might be anticipating one that they should join a unity government with him now.
    Political commentators said victory in a Likud leadership election could also pre-empt a scenario in which Israel’s president, who tasked Netanyahu last week with forming a government, might choose another member of the party to do so if the prime minister does not succeed.
    Israel’s Maariv Online news website said Likud’s Central Committee would convene next Thursday to set a date for a party election.
    “A snap primary … will unite (the party) around my leadership,” the website quoted Netanyahu as saying at a meeting of Likud legislators.
    One potential Netanyahu challenger in Likud, former cabinet minister Gideon Saar, tweeted “I am ready,” after the party vote was mooted.    But other prominent Likud members swiftly voiced their loyalty to Israel’s longest-serving leader.
    Netanyahu has called for a power-sharing deal with his strongest political rival, centrist Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. A former general and a newcomer to politics, Gantz also emerged from the Sept. 17 election with no clear path to a governing majority in parliament.
    Gantz has said his party would not forge an alliance with Likud with Netanyahu at its helm, citing looming corruption indictments against the prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.
    At a swearing-in ceremony in parliament on Thursday for legislators elected last month, Netanyahu said Israel’s security challenges made a national unity government imperative and a new general election would be damaging to the country.
    “Let’s form a government quickly that will act for the good of all Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said in the speech, making no mention of a Likud ballot.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)

10/4/2019 Death toll surges to 46 as Iraq unrest accelerates; cleric blames politicians by Ahmed Rasheed and John Davison
A firefighter is seen at the headquarters of the Islamic Dawa Party which was burnt by the demonstrators during a protest over unemployment,
corruption and poor public services, in Najaf, Iraq October 3, 2019. Picture taken October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deen
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The death toll from days of violent demonstrations across Iraq surged to 46 on Friday, most of them killed in the last 24 hours as unrest rapidly accelerated and the country’s most powerful cleric placed the blame squarely on politicians.
    In a rare intervention, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose word is law for most of Iraq’s majority Shi’ites, called on protesters and the security forces to avoid violence.    But he also ordered political factions to respond to protest demands.
    “It is sorrowful that there have been so many deaths, casualties and destruction,” Sistani said in a letter read out by his representative during a sermon.
    “The government and political sides have not answered the demands of the people to fight corruption or achieved anything on the ground,” he said.    “Parliament holds the biggest responsibility for what is happening.”
    In an overnight TV address, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he understood the frustration of the public but there was no “magic solution” to Iraq’s problems.    He pledged reforms, though these drew scorn from demonstrators.
    “The promises by Adel Abdul Mahdi are to fool the people, and today they are firing live gunshots at us,” said a young man among a small group that fled as shots rang out at a major central Baghdad square early on Thursday.    “Today this was a peaceful protest.    They set up these barricades, and the sniper is sitting right there since last night.”
    The violent demonstrations have escalated by the day since they first erupted on Tuesday, sweeping across the country spontaneously, without public backing from any organized political group and taking the authorities by surprise.
    Security forces have fired live ammunition at crowds of mainly young men, and gunmen have fired back.    Hundreds of people have been wounded, including members of the security forces as well as demonstrators.
    Police and medical sources told Reuters the death toll included 18 people killed in the southern city of Nassiriya, 16 in the capital Baghdad, four in the southern city of Amara and four in Baquba as unrest spread to the capital’s north.    Other deaths were reported in the southern cities of Hilla and Najaf.
    Curfews were imposed in a number of cities. Authorities shut roads into the capital from the north and northeast and were sending reinforcements to Baghdad’s densely-populated east.    Military convoys were being sent to Nassiriya, the city worst hit by the violence.
    Protesters in Baghdad gathered in darkness overnight by a bonfire set among the flaming wreckage of an armored vehicle, across the Tigris River from the government compound.
    “They are shooting live fire at the Iraqi people and the revolutionaries.    We can cross the bridge and take them out of the Green Zone!” a man shouted to Reuters TV.
    “Abdul Mahdi, they will cross the bridge. You better resign.    Resign.    The people demand the fall of the regime!” he shouted as the crowd behind him took up a chant that swept the Middle East during popular uprisings across the region in 2011: “The people demand the fall of the regime!
RAGE
    The unrest, fueled by popular rage over poor living standards and corruption, is Iraq’s biggest security challenge since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.    It is also the first test for Abdul Mahdi, installed last year by Shi’ite parties that have dominated Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.
    It also comes on the eve of the Arbaeen Shi’ite pilgrimage, which in recent years has drawn 20 million worshippers, trekking for days on foot across southern Iraq in the world’s biggest annual gathering, ten times the size of the Mecca Hajj.
    Pilgrims were already taking to the roads on Friday, although in smaller numbers than in recent years.    Iran has closed one of the border crossings used by millions of pilgrims.    Qatar has told its citizens to stay away.
    A senior Iranian cleric blamed the unrest on the United States and Israel, saying they aimed to thwart the pilgrimage.
    The Iraqi capital was quieter early on Friday ahead of Muslim prayers, although police fired live ammunition again in the morning to disperse small crowds.    An ongoing curfew, defied by thousands of demonstrators on Thursday, saw army and special forces deploy around central squares and streets.
    Abdul Mahdi acknowledged the public discontent in his overnight television message, insisting politicians were aware of the suffering of the masses: “We do not live in ivory towers – we walk among you in the streets of Baghdad,” he said.
    He called for calm and for support from lawmakers to reshuffle cabinet posts away from the influence of big parties and groups.    He said a basic wage for poor families would be discussed by the government.
    The protests could grow if they receive formal backing from the opposition political bloc of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has long denounced corruption and the political elite.
REVOLUTION OF HUNGER
    “We Sadrists support the protests by all means, but we would wait for orders from our leader Sayyed Moqtada before we would take to the streets,” a senior Sadrist politician, Awad Awadi, told Reuters.    He called the protests “a revolution of hunger.”
    Ahmed al-Kinani, a lawmaker from a party linked to a powerful Iran-backed militia, said most of the protesters were simply demanding their rights, but a minority were using the demonstrations to target the security forces.    His party was willing to do what it takes to calm the situation, including accepting a reshuffling of cabinet ministries.
    Two years after the defeat of the Islamic State Sunni militant movement, Iraq has finally been at peace and free to trade for the first extended period since the 1970s, with oil exports at record levels.    But Iraqis say they have seen few benefits, with infrastructure still in ruins and jobs scarce.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed, Reuters Television staff in Baghdad, Aref Mohammed in Basra and Ali Hafthi in Hilla; Writing by Peter Graff)

10/4/2019 Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr calls for government resignation, snap election with international monitors: statement
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who's bloc came first, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi,
who's political bloc came third in a May parliamentary election, in Najaf, Iraq June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD – (Reuters) – Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr calls on Friday for the government to resign and a snap election to be held monitored by international experts, a statement from his office said.
    Sadr has a large popular following.
(Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed)

10/4/2019 Algeria protesters demand army quit politics after cleric urges election
FILE PHOTO: Algerian upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah is pictured after being appointed as interim president by Algeria's
parliament, following the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Algerian protesters chanted slogans on Friday demanding the army quit politics, a purge of the ruling elite, an end to corruption, and the freeing of opposition leaders.
    The demonstrations in the capital Algiers and several other cities follow a ruling by a prominent independent cleric this week urging people to vote in a December election backed by the army but opposed by the protest movement.
    The fatwa, or Islamic legal ruling, and another two weeks ago, represent the first significant comment on the months-long political crisis by major independent clerics, and may influence conservative Algerians.
    The army, which has emerged as the most powerful player in Algerian politics, sees December’s presidential election as the only way to quell the protests and end the constitutional limbo that has prevailed since president Abdelaziz Bouteflika stood down in April.
    Demonstrators have rejected the election, however, saying it could not be free or fair while Bouteflika’s allies and military leaders maintain senior positions in the government.
    Sheikh Lakhdar Zaoui, a well-known conservative cleric, published a fatwa, or Islamic legal ruling, on Wednesday, saying a Muslim country could not be leaderless.
    “When Prophet Mohammed died, he was not buried until a successor was designated by his companions,” he said.
    Another cleric, Sheikh Chemseddine Bouroubi, who has a daily television show “Please Advise Me” that answers people’s questions about religion, said last month it was forbidden for Algeria to have no president.
    Algeria plunged into crisis in February when massive protests erupted to stop the old, sick Bouteflika running for a fifth term in an election that was scheduled for July.
    He resigned on April 2, and the election was postponed.    The authorities have meanwhile tried a carrot-and-stick approach to end the demonstrations, arresting Bouteflika allies on corruption charges but also increasing policing at protests.
    The leaderless protesters have said the arrests so far are not enough, demanding that the rest of the ruling elite be removed including interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui.
(Reporting By Lamine Chikhi, editing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

10/4/2019 Syrian rebels vow to back any Turkish operation into northeast
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson//File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey-backed Syrian rebels pledged on Friday to back a potential cross-border offensive that Ankara has threatened to mount against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
    Ankara and Washington have agreed to set up a zone in northeast Syria along the border with Turkey, which wants to expel the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the frontier.
    Turkey has accused the United States, which helped the YPG defeat Islamic State militants, of moving too slowly to establish the zone.    The two countries are also at odds over how far it should extend into Syria and who should control it.
    Turkey wants the zone to go 30 km (19 miles) inside Syria and has repeatedly warned it could launch its own operation.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that given the lack of progress Turkey had no choice but to act alone — his most direct indication yet of a military incursion.
    U.S. support for YPG fighters has infuriated Ankara, which sees them as linked to the Kurdish PKK movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.
    “When it comes to the east of the Euphrates (river) … it is our duty to fight,” Salim Idris, an official of the Turkey-backed Syrian opposition, told a news conference in southeast Turkey.
    “We stand in full force in support of our Turkish brothers in fighting all forms of terrorism represented by the PKK gangs.”
    With ties between the NATO allies already under strain, diplomats and analysts say Erdogan would be unwilling to anger Washington with a full-scale incursion into northeast Syria, where U.S. forces are stationed alongside the YPG.
    But Turkey, which has twice launched military offensives with its insurgent allies in northern Syria in recent years, has been pressing for more efforts to set up the border zone.
    U.S. and Turkish troops have so far carried out half a dozen joint air missions over northeast Syria and three land patrols, including one on Friday, in what Washington describes as “concrete steps” to address Ankara’s concerns.
    Turkey, which backs insurgents holding tracts of territory in northwest Syria near its border, also has about a dozen military posts in the nearby Idlib region.
    The Turkey-backed Syrian opposition also announced on Friday that a number of Idlib rebel factions were merging with the National Army, the main rebel grouping that Turkey supports in the northwest.    The move may help widen Ankara’s influence in Idlib province, where militants formerly linked to al-Qaeda are the dominant force.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut, Khalil Ashawi and Daren Butler in Istanbul and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Catherine Evans)

10/5/2019 Iraqi authorities lift Baghdad curfew; death toll rises to 72 in days of unrest
A demonstrator holds the Iraqi flag near burning objects at a protest during a curfew, three days after the
nationwide anti-government protests turned violent, in Baghdad, Iraq October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi authorities lifted a days-long curfew in Baghdad on Saturday that anti-government protesters had defied, as the toll from four days of violent unrest rose to 72 killed and hundreds injured.
    Traffic ran as normal through the Iraqi capital and streets and main squares were otherwise quiet.    Concrete barriers blocked off areas where protesters in their thousands clashed with police during the week.
    Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights said security forces had detained hundreds of people for demonstrating but then let most of them go.
    Police snipers shot at protesters on Friday, Reuters reporters said, escalating violent tactics used by the security forces that have included live fire, tear gas and water cannons.
    The security forces have accused gunmen of hiding among demonstrators to shoot at police.    Several policeman have died.
    The protests over unfair distribution of jobs, lack of services and government corruption erupted on Tuesday in Baghdad and quickly spread to other Iraqi cities, mainly in the south.
    It is the deadliest unrest Iraq has seen since the declared defeat of Islamic State in 2017 and has shaken the year-old government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
    The government has responded with vague reform promises that are unlikely to placate Iraqis.
    Powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has a mass popular following and controls a large chunk of parliament, demanded on Friday that the government resign and snap elections be held.    At least one other major parliamentary grouping allied itself with Sadr against the government.
    Parliament was set to meet on Saturday to discuss protesters’ demands.    Sadr’s bloc has said it will boycott the session.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed, Aref Mohammed, Maher Nazih; Editing by Frances Kerry)

10/5/2019 Erdogan says Turkey plans military operation east of Euphrates in Syria
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey will carry out an air and ground military operation east of the Euphrates River in Syria, his most direct indication of an incursion since Ankara and Washington decided to establish a “safe zone.”
    The operation could start as soon as Saturday or Sunday, he said.
    The NATO allies have agreed to establish a zone on the Syrian border that Turkey says should stretch 30 km (19 miles) into Syria and be cleared of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it considers a terrorist organization.
    Turkey has accused the United States, which supports the YPG-led force that defeated Islamic State fighters in Syria, of moving too slowly to set up the zone. The two countries are also at odds over how far it should extend into Syria and who should control it.
    Speaking at the opening of his AK Party’s annual camp, Erdogan said Turkey aimed to “water the east of Euphrates with fountains of peace” and settle refugees there.
    “We gave all warnings to our interlocutors regarding the east of Euphrates and we have acted with sufficient patience,” Erdogan said.
    “We’ve made our preparations, we’ve completed our operation plans, given the necessary instructions,” he said, adding that Turkey would carry out air and ground actions and these could start “as soon as today or tomorrow.”
    Turkey says it wants to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the zone, and has repeatedly warned of unilateral military action if it is not satisfied with progress.
    Turkey-backed Syrian rebels pledged on Friday to back a potential cross-border offensive that Ankara has threatened to mount against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alexander Smith and Frances Kerry)

10/5/2019 Saudi Arabia allows foreign men and women to share hotel rooms by Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: A Saudi man walks past renovated buildings at the historic city of Diriyah, a UNESCO
World Heritage Site, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is allowing foreign men and women to rent hotel rooms together without proving they are related, after the conservative Muslim kingdom launched a new tourist visa regime to attract holidaymakers.
    Women, including Saudis, are also permitted to rent hotel rooms by themselves, in a break with previous regulations.
    The moves appear to pave the way for unaccompanied women to travel more easily and for unmarried foreign visitors to stay together in the Gulf state, where sex outside of marriage is banned.
    The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage confirmed a report on Friday by Arabic-language newspaper Okaz, adding: “All Saudi nationals are asked to show family ID or proof of relationship on checking into hotels.    This is not required of foreign tourists. All women, including Saudis, can book and stay in hotels alone, providing ID on check-in.”
    Saudi Arabia threw open its doors last week to foreign tourists from 49 countries as it tries to grow that sector and diversify its economy away from oil exports.    As part of the move, it decreed that visitors need not wear all-covering black robes but should dress modestly.    Alcohol remains banned.
    Saudi Arabia has been relatively closed off for decades and until recently unrelated men and women, including foreigners, could be severely punished for mixing in public.    Strict social codes have been relaxed in recent years and previously banned entertainment has flourished.
    But an influx of tourists — the authorities are aiming for 100 million annual visits by 2030 — could push boundaries further and risks conservative backlash.
    The kingdom ended a heavily criticized ban on women driving last year and in August granted women new rights to travel abroad, chipping away at a guardianship system that assigns each woman a male relative to approve important decisions throughout their lives.
    The changes are part of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic and social reform agenda.    His plans have received international praise, but his image has been tarnished by the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a crackdown on dissent, and a devastating war in Yemen.
    Until now, foreigners traveling to Saudi Arabia have been largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travelers, and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

10/5/2019 Egypt says talks over Ethiopia’s Nile dam deadlocked, calls for mediation by Khalid Abdelaziz and Mahmoud Mourad
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda,
Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. Picture taken September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    KHARTOUM/CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt said on Saturday that talks with Sudan and Ethiopia over the operation of a $4 billion hydropower dam that Ethiopia is constructing on the Nile have reached a deadlock, and it called for international mediation.
    The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), announced in 2011, is designed to be the centerpiece of the Horn of Africa country’s bid to become the continent’s biggest power exporter, generating more than 6,000 megawatts.
    But Egypt fears the dam will restrict the flow of the Nile, the economic lifeblood of all three countries, from Ethiopia’s highlands through the deserts of Sudan and on to Egypt’s fields and reservoirs.
    Egypt relies on the Nile for 90% of its fresh water, and it wants the GERD’s reservoir to release a higher volume of water than Ethiopia is willing to guarantee, among other disagreements.
    “Talks have reached a deadlock as a result of the Ethiopian side’s inflexibility,” the Egyptian ministry of water resources and irrigation said in a statement.
    “Egypt has called for involving an international party in the Renaissance Dam negotiations to mediate between the three countries and help…reaching a fair and balanced agreement,” it said after talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum between the three countries’ water resources ministers.
    Egypt did not say who should mediate, but the presidency called on the United States to play “an active role in this regard.”
    On Friday, the White House said in a statement that the United States “supports… ongoing negotiations to reach a cooperative, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on filling and operating” the dam.
    Ethiopia’s minister at the talks, Seleshi Bekele, rejected the Egyptian request for a mediator.
    “Why do we need new partners?    Do you want to extend (the negotiations) for an indefinite time?,” he told reporters.
    Ethiopia last month rejected a proposal by Egypt to operate the dam.    Addis Ababa did not say how much water it wants to release, but Egypt wants the dam to release a minimum of 40 billion cubic meters of water annually.
    Yasser Abbas, the Sudanese water resources minister, said Ethiopia had proposed at the talks filling the dam’s reservoir within four to seven years.
    “Agreement has been reached on many points but there are some disagreements which the research committee will work on,” he said, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz, Ahmed Tolba, Momen Saeed Atallah and Alaa Swilam; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Hugh Lawson)

10/5/2019 Deadly clashes flare again in Iraq, five killed in capital by John Davison and Aref Mohammed
Iraqi men mourn over the coffin of a demonstrator who was killed at anti-government protests,
during a funeral in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Clashes between police and protesters killed five people in Baghdad on Saturday in a resumption of anti-government unrest, as security forces deployed in their hundreds to keep demonstrations away from central squares in the Iraqi capital.
    Police and medical sources reported the casualties after days of violence around anti-government protests that killed at least 81 people in Baghdad and other cities earlier this week.
    Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights put the toll at 94 dead. Reuters could not verify its figures.
    The new clashes shattered a day of relative calm after authorities lifted a curfew and traffic moved normally in the center of the city.    One square where protesters had gathered in their hundreds in previous was packed with hundreds of policemen and other security personnel.
    The unrest is the deadliest Iraq has seen since the declared defeat of Islamic State in 2017 and has shaken Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s year-old government.    The government has responded with vague reform promises that are unlikely to placate Iraqis.
    In eastern Baghdad, police snipers shot at demonstrators and several people were wounded, Reuters reporters said.
    In the southern city of Nassiriya, where at least 18 people were killed during the week, police fired live rounds at demonstrators, and protesters torched the headquarters of several political parties in the city, police said.    These included the headquarters of the powerful Dawa party that dominated Iraq’s government from 2003 until 2018 elections.
    Violence also broke out again in Diwaniya, another city south of Baghdad, police said.
    Iraqi state television meanwhile broadcast live footage of a meeting between the parliament speaker and what it said were protest leaders.    The speaker on Friday proposed improving public housing for the poor and job opportunities for young people, as well as holding those who had killed protesters to account.
ANGER AT GRAFT, LACK OF SERVICES
    Officials from Abdul Mahdi’s office met protest leaders from Baghdad and other provinces to discuss their demands, state television reported.    Abdul Mahdi and President Barham Salih said they would seek to meet the demands, state television also reported, but gave no details how exactly they would respond.
    Authorities did not say why the curfew was lifted.
    The High Commission for Human Rights said security forces had detained hundreds of people for demonstrating but then let most of them go.    It said more than 3,000 people had been wounded in days of violence.
    Police snipers shot at protesters on Friday, Reuters reporters said, escalating violent tactics used by the security forces that have included live fire, tear gas and water cannons.
    The security forces have accused gunmen of hiding among demonstrators to shoot at police.    Several policeman have died.
    The protests over unfair distribution of jobs, lack of services and government corruption erupted on Tuesday in Baghdad and quickly spread to other Iraqi cities, mainly in the south.
    A curfew in Dhi Qar province, where protesters were also killed this week, was ordered by local authorities starting from 1 p.m.
    Powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has a mass popular following and controls a large chunk of parliament, demanded on Friday that the government resign and snap elections be held.    At least one other major parliamentary grouping allied itself with Sadr against the government.
    Parliament was set to meet on Saturday to discuss protesters’ demands.    Sadr’s bloc has said it will boycott the session.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed, Aref Mohammed, Maher Nazih; Editing by Frances Kerry)

10/5/2019 Erdogan says Turkey to launch military operation in northeast Syria
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting in
Ankara, Turkey, October 5, 2019. Murat Kula/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey will mount a military operation in northeast Syria, it said on Saturday, after accusing Washington of not doing enough to expel Syrian Kurdish fighters from its border.
    The air and ground operation east of the Euphrates river in Syria could start at any time, President Tayyip Erdogan said.
    The U.S.-backed force which controls the region, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the Kurdish YPG militia, said it wanted stability but vowed to respond to any attack.
    “We will not hesitate to turn any unprovoked attack by Turkey into an all-out war on the entire border to defend ourselves and our people,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said.
    NATO allies Ankara and Washington agreed in August to set up a zone in northeast Syria along the border with Turkey, which considers the YPG a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish insurgents at home.
    Turkey has accused the United States, which helped the YPG defeat Islamic State militants in Syria, of moving too slowly to create the zone.    They are at odds over how far it should extend into Syria and who should control it.
    Ankara wants the zone to stretch 30 km (19 miles) inside Syria and to be cleared of YPG fighters.    It has repeatedly warned of launching an offensive on its own into northeast Syria, where U.S. forces are stationed alongside the SDF.
    Erdogan said Turkey aimed to “water the east of Euphrates with fountains of peace” and settle refugees there.
    “We gave all warnings to our interlocutors regarding the east of Euphrates and we have acted with sufficient patience,” he said at the opening of his AK Party’s annual camp.
    “We’ve made our preparations, we’ve completed our operation plans, given the necessary instructions.”    He added that air and ground actions could start “as soon as today or tomorrow.”
    Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency said late on Saturday that nine trucks loaded with armored vehicles and one bus carrying military personnel had been sent to the border district of Akcakale, located in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa.
    The convoy was sent to reinforce military units based on the Syrian border, Anadolu said. It was not immediately clear whether the shipment was in preparation for an incursion.
REFUGEES
    Ankara says it wants to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the zone, nearly halving the number sheltering in Turkey from Syria’s more than eight-year conflict.
    However, the refugee transfer could face resistance from allies opposed to changing the demographic balance of the area. Kurdish leaders have previously accused Turkey of seeking to resettle mainly Arab Syrians from other parts of the country in their region – which Ankara denies.
    U.S. and Turkish troops have so far carried out half a dozen joint air missions over northeast Syria and three land patrols, including one on Friday.    Washington deems these “concrete steps” to address Ankara’s concerns.    Turkey says it is not enough.
    “Land patrols, air patrols – we are seeing all of these are fiction,” Erdogan said on Saturday.
    The SDF, which has said it will pull back up to 14 km (8.7 miles) on some parts of the border, is committed to the agreements under U.S.-Turkish talks and will remain so if “dangerous threats” stop, its spokesman Bali said.
    Kurdish commanders have warned that a Turkish border attack would lead to a resurgence of Islamic State militants, from which the SDF seized vast territory in north and east Syria.
    “Simply, there will be a big gap in the towns that our forces will withdraw from to go to defend the border, and this will give Daesh the opportunity to return,” Bali said.
    In recent years, the Turkish military has launched two offensives with its Syrian insurgent allies in the northwest of the country and has forces stationed there.
    Turkey’s rebel allies pledged on Friday to back an offensive by Ankara east of the Euphrates, blaming the YPG for displacing Arabs from the region.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul and Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Alexander Smith, Frances Kerry, Kirsten Donovan and Daniel Wallis)

10/6/2019 Turkey protests after U.S. Embassy likes tweet about ill nationalist party leader
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a banner for the upcoming local elections in Ankara, Turkey,
March 27, 2019. Banner with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Devlet Bahceli, leader of
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), reads: "People's Alliance: The unity of common sense." REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey protested on Sunday after the U.S. Embassy’s Twitter account liked a tweet saying that Turkey should be ready for a political realm without Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the nationalist party who has recently fallen in ill.
    The dispute comes at a time when relations between the NATO allies are strained due to Turkey’s threatened incursion into northeastern Syria, after Ankara accused Washington of stalling efforts to establish a ‘safe zone’ there together.
    Bahceli is the leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is an ally of President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.    The two parties entered the parliamentary and presidential elections in an alliance last year, which allowed them to attain a majority in parliament together.
    On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy liked a tweet that said Turkey should be ready for politics without Bahceli, who has had health issues in recent weeks.
    The AK Party said on Twitter that the user who had posted the message was wanted for links to the network of Fethullah Gulen, which Ankara says orchestrated the abortive coup in July 2016.
    Omer Celik, spokesman for the AK Party, said the U.S. State Department and Embassy needed to investigate the issue and an apology would not suffice.
    “It shows that some people employed in the Embassy are making a special effort to damage the relations between the two countries,” Celik said on Twitter.
    "United States Embassy needs to try to understand Turkey not through people linked with terrorist organizations but through people who can conduct proper analysis,” he said.
    The Embassy posted an apology on Twitter late on Saturday.
    “Earlier today our Embassy Twitter account 'liked' an unrelated post in error.    We regret the mistake and apologize for any confusion,” it said.    The like was also removed from the Embassy’s page.
    Semih Yalcin, deputy head of the MHP, said on Twitter late on Saturday that Bahceli has recovered from his illness and would return to work in the coming week.
    The relations between the NATO allies have been under pressure in recent years over a range of issues, including Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, differences in policy in Syria and the detention of local U.S. consulate employees and citizens in Turkey.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Toby Chopra)

10/6/2019 Iraqi police fire on protesters in new unrest, death toll passes 100 by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators gather during an anti-government protest, in Baghdad, Iraq
October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least eight people were killed in new clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters on Sunday, the sixth day of unrest in which the death toll has now passed 100 and more than 6,000 have been wounded.
    The eight were killed in eastern Baghdad, police sources said, after police backed by the armed forces used live rounds.    The demonstrators had taken to the streets hours after the government announced reforms to try to ease anger over corruption and unemployment.
    The unrest is the biggest security and political challenge for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government since it took power a year ago.    The clashes have revived fears of a new spiral of violence that could suck in influential militia groups and be exploited by Islamic State.
    Before the latest clashes in the Sadr City residential district of the capital, an Interior Ministry spokesman said 104 people had been killed, including eight members of the security forces, in the unrest since Tuesday.
    He said 6,107 had been wounded, including more than 1,000 police and security forces, and dozens of buildings had been set ablaze, he added.    But he denied the security forces had fired directly at the protesters.
    Two years after oil-producing Iraq declared the defeat of Islamic State, security has improved but corruption is rampant, wrecked infrastructure has not been rebuilt and jobs are scarce.
    The protests, which have hit many parts of the country, do not appear to be organized by a single political group and seemed to catch the government by surprise.
    At an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday night, the government agreed a 17-point plan to increase subsidized housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed and training programs and small loans initiatives for unemployed youth.
    The families of those killed during demonstrations this week will also receive handouts and care usually granted to members of the security forces killed during war, it said.
    “Amid all of this, I swear to God that my only concern is for the casualties,” Abdul Mahdi was quoted by state television as saying during the cabinet meeting.
    Details of the plan were disseminated on social media, but there was a continued internet outage across most of the country.
CLASHES OVERNIGHT
    Twenty-six people were killed in clashes on Saturday and Sunday in Baghdad, the police and medical sources said.
    Police also fired live rounds during clashes in the southern city of Nasiriya on Saturday, wounding 24 people including seven police, according to security, hospital and morgue sources.    One person was killed on Saturday during demonstrations in the southern city of Diwaniya.
    Protesters also torched the headquarters of several political parties in Nasiriya, police said.    These included the headquarters of the powerful Dawa party that dominated Iraq’s government from 2003 until 2018 elections.
    Calm returned for hours on Sunday to heavily guarded Baghdad and southern provinces where there have been heavy clashes in the past few days.    But violence broke out again in eastern Baghdad after nightfall.
    There were small protests that dispersed without violent outbreaks in Diwaniya and in the holy city of Najaf.
    “Security forces did all they could to preserve the safety of the protesters and security personnel,” Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Saad Maan said.    “We express our deep regret over the bloodshed.”
    Maan dismissed talk of clashes between security forces and demonstrators, saying there were “malicious forces” who targeted both groups.    But Iraq’s semi-official High Commission for Human Rights heavily criticized the police response.
    “There is no justification for the use of live bullets against peaceful demonstrators,” Aqeel al-Musawi, the commission’s head, said in a statement.    “The government has a duty to protect the demonstrators and enable them to express their legitimate demands smoothly.”
FEARS OF ESCALATION
    Anger among the protesters runs deep, and the government faces opposition among parliamentary blocs that have begun boycotting legislative meetings.     Influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has a mass popular following and controls a large chunk of parliament, has demanded the government resign and snap elections be held. At least one other major parliamentary grouping allied itself with Sadr against the government.     The governor of Baghdad province, whose position is not very influential, resigned on Sunday after accusations by protesters that he failed to improve conditions in the city.     But powerful political parties that have dominated Iraqi politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein have not indicated they are willing to relinquish the institutions they control.
    The violence continued as people began journeying across southern Iraq for the Shi’ite pilgrimage of Arbaeen, which is expected to attract 20 million worshippers.
(Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Raya Jalabi in Erbil; additional reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra and Reuters Pictures and Reuters TV; Writing by Raya Jalabi, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Timothy Heritage)

10/6/2019 Erdogan, Trump discuss Syria ‘safe zone’ in phone call; to meet next month: Ankara
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at
NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed the planned “safe zone” east of the Euphrates River in Syria in a phone call on Sunday, the Turkish presidency said, adding the two men agreed to meet in Washington next month.
    The call came a day after Erdogan said a military incursion into northeastern Syria was imminent, after Ankara accused Washington of stalling efforts to establish a “safe zone” there together.
    During the phone call, Erdogan expressed his frustration with the failure of U.S. military and security officials to implement the agreement between the two countries, the presidency said.
    Erdogan also reiterated the necessity of the safe zone to eliminate the threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization, and to create the conditions necessary for the return of Syrian refugees, it said.
    The agreement to meet in Washington next month was taken on Trump’s invitation, the presidency said.
    The White House declined comment.
    The NATO allies agreed in August to establish a zone in northeast Syria along the border with Turkey.    Ankara says the zone should be cleared of the YPG.
    Turkey says it wants to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the zone.    It currently hosts 3.6 million Syrians sheltering from Syria’s more than eight-year conflict.
    Turkey says the United States, which supports the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a YPG-led force that defeated Islamic State fighters in Syria, is moving too slowly to set up the zone.    It has repeatedly warned of launching an offensive on its own into northeast Syria, where U.S. forces are stationed alongside the SDF.
    The two countries are also at odds over how far the zone should extend into Syria and who should control it.    Turkey says it should be 30 km (19 miles) deep.
    The ties between the allies have also been pressured over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense missiles and the trial of local U.S. consulate employees in Turkey.
(Reporting by Can Sezer; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Cooney)

10/6/2019 Abu Dhabi crown prince, top Saudi defense official discuss military, defense matters
FILE PHOTO: Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan attends a news conference with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates held talks with Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister in Abu Dhabi on Sunday on military and defense matters and regional security at a time of heightened tensions with common foe Iran.
    Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Saudi Vice Minister of Defence Prince Khalid bin Salman discussed “challenges facing the Gulf Arab region and repercussions on the stability and security of its countries … and efforts to confront them,” state news agency WAM reported.
    Tensions with Iran have risen after attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 that Washington and Riyadh blamed on Tehran, raising fears that a direct confrontation could lead to a new war in the Middle East.
    Iran has denied any involvement in the assault that was claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
    Saudi Arabia and the UAE, partners in a Sunni Muslim coalition battling the Houthis, have supported the United States’ “maximum pressure” campaign against Shi’ite Muslim Iran since Washington last year quit a 2015 nuclear pact and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
    The UAE recently softened its rhetoric, urging de-escalation after attacks on tankers in Gulf waters in May and June that Washington also blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran rejects.
    Differences between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi also emerged over the ruinous war in Yemen after the UAE reduced its presence in June under pressure from Western allies to end the conflict that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.
    The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
    Saudi Arabia is trying to prevent a new front in the multi-faceted war after southern Yemeni separatists armed and trained by the UAE took over the interim seat of Hadi’s government in the southern port of Aden in August in a power struggle.
    The kingdom has been hosting indirect talks between the separatists and Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, both part of the coalition, to end the standoff that risks further fragmenting Yemen and complicating United Nations peace efforts.
    The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis, who deny being puppets of Iran, last month offered to stop launching missiles and drones at Saudi cities if the coalition did the same.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

10/7/2019 U.S. withdraws troops from northeast Syria ahead of Turkish offensive by Daren Butler and Dominic Evans
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at NATO headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States said it was pulling troops from northeast Syria, in a major policy shift which opens the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish-led forces and hands Turkey responsibility for thousands of Islamic State captives.
    The move angered the Kurdish-led forces who have been Washington’s most capable partner in fighting Islamic State in Syria.    The forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Washington of reneging on an ally, warning it would have a “great negative” impact on the war against the jihadists.
    Reflecting concern about potential harm to civilians, a U.N. official said civilians must be spared in any Turkish military operation in northeast Syria, adding the United Nations hoped that displacement and atrocities can be prevented.
    “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told reporters in Geneva.
    A U.S. official said American troops had withdrawn from two observation posts on the border, at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, and had told the commander of the SDF that the United States would not defend the SDF from an imminent Turkish offensive.
    “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the White House said after President Donald     Trump spoke to Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday.
    “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area,” it added in a statement.
    Turkey has long argued for the establishment of a 20-mile (32 km) “safe zone” along the border, under Turkish control, driving back the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia – which is the dominant force in the SDF alliance and which Ankara considers a terrorist organization and a threat to its national security.
    The United States helped the YPG defeat Islamic State militants in Syria, and had been seeking a joint ‘security mechanism’ with Turkey along the border to meet Turkey’s security needs without threatening the SDF.
    The SDF accused Washington of turning its back on an ally.
    “The American forces did not fulfill their commitments and withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey, and Turkey is now preparing for an invasion operation of northern and eastern Syria,” it said in a statement.
    SDF official Mustafa Bali said U.S. forces were “leaving the areas to turn into a war zone.”
ISLAMIC STATE CAPTIVES
    The White House statement appeared to hand over to Turkey responsibility for captured Islamic State jihadists who are currently held in SDF facilities to the south of Turkey’s initially proposed safe zone.
    “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years,” it said.
    The statement also made pointed reference to Washington’s European allies, saying many of the captured IS fighters came from those countries, which had resisted U.S. calls to take them back.
    “The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” the White House said.
    In the first Turkish comment following the statement, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey’s “safe zone” plan was within the framework of Syria’s territorial integrity.
    “The safe zone has two aims: to secure our borders by clearing away terrorist elements and to achieve the return of refugees in a safe way,” Kalin wrote on Twitter.
    “Turkey is powerful and determined,” he added.
    Turkey says it wants to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the zone.    It currently hosts 3.6 million Syrians sheltering from the more than eight-year-old conflict in their homeland.
    After the statements, Turkey’s lira was trading weaker at 5.7150 against the U.S. dollar, compared with a close of 5.70 on Friday.    After the Erdogan-Trump phone call, the Turkish presidency said the two leaders had agreed to meet in Washington next month.    It said that during the call Erdogan had expressed his frustration with the failure of U.S. military and security officials to implement the agreement between the two countries.
    The NATO allies agreed in August to establish a zone in northeast Syria along the Turkish border.    Turkey says the United States moved too slowly to set up the zone.    It has repeatedly warned of launching an offensive on its own on northeast Syria.
    Ties between the allies have also been pressured over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense missiles and the trial of local U.S. consulate employees in Turkey.
(Graphic: Where Kurds live, https://graphics.reuters.com/SYRIA-SECURITY-KURDS/010091Q42N3/KURDS.jpg)
(Reporting by Can Sezer; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alison Williams, Peter Cooney, Simon Cameron-Moore, William Maclean)

10/7/2019 Fifteen people killed in Baghdad clashes between security forces and protesters
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators gather at a protest after the lifting of the curfew, following four days of nationwide
anti-government protests that turned violent, in Baghdad, Iraq October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters killed at least 15 people in an eastern Baghdad neighborhood overnight, police and medics said on Monday, raising the toll from nearly a week of violence to at least 110 people.
    The military said early on Monday it was withdrawing from Sadr city, a sprawling residential district, and handing over to police in an apparent effort to de-escalate tension.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in a phone call that he trusted the Iraqi forces and supported the Iraqi government in restoring security, without elaborating, a statement from the premier’s office said.
    Abdul Mahdi said life had returned to normal, according to the statement.
    Protests broke out in Baghdad on Tuesday as public anger swelled over jobs, services and endemic corruption among Iraq’s leaders and politicians.    The unrest spread to several mostly Shi’ite Muslim southern cities.
    Police used live ammunition from the first day and clashes have now killed at least 110 people, according to a Reuters toll based on reports from police and medics.    The interior ministry gave a casualty toll of 104 killed and more than 6,000 wounded. It said eight of the dead were security forces.
    It is the bloodiest unrest and biggest challenge to Iraq’s security since the declared defeat of Islamic State in 2017 and has shaken Abdul Mahdi’s year-old government.
    The government has agreed to increase subsidized housing for the poor, stipends for the unemployed and training programs and loan initiatives for youth.
    Iraqi authorities also said they would hold to account members of the security forces who “acted wrongly” in a harsh crackdown on dissent, state TV reported on Monday.    The interior ministry denies government forces have shot directly at protesters.
    The protesters demand the overhaul of what they say is an entire corrupt system and political class that has held the country back, despite unprecedented levels of security since the end of the war against IS.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Editing by Alex Richardson)

10/7/2019 Iraqi PM Abdul Mahdi discusses recent protests in phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi delivers a joint statement with French President Emmanuel Macron
(not seen) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi discussed the protests that have gripped his country this past week in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his office said in a statement on Monday.
    “The Prime Minister reviewed developments in the security situation and the return to normal life after the curfew was lifted, and confirmed that security forces had resumed control and stability had been restored,” the statement said.
    The statement said the government has put forward a package of reforms and will continue to provide more to meet the demands of the protesters.
    At least eight people were killed in new clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters on Sunday night in Baghdad, lifting the death toll to more than 100.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Tom Hogue)

10/7/2019 Lebanon PM seeks UAE investments; mood said to be ‘positive’
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
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Lebanon is seeking investments from the United Arab Emirates to help support its ailing economy, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Monday during a visit to Abu Dhabi, while one of his advisors told Reuters the mood was “positive.”
    Hariri’s government has vowed to implement long-delayed reforms to ward off an economic crisis as Lebanon struggles with one of the world’s highest debt burdens, low growth and crumbling infrastructure.
    Addressing an investment conference in the Emirati capital, Hariri said he sought investments in food, infrastructure, oil and gas, and renewable energy.
    “We are here to enhance public-private partnerships between Lebanon and the UAE,” Hariri told the conference, where he was leading a delegation to help strengthen economic and trade cooperation.
    Asked if the UAE would be providing financial support, Ghattas Khoury, an advisor to Hariri, told Reuters the mood was “positive” and there would be a meeting between the Lebanese premier and UAE authorities later on Monday.
    Lebanon is preparing to sell a Eurobond of around $2 billion this month, with cash raised earmarked for refinancing maturing debts and shoring up shaky public finances.
    The country’s traditionally high reserves of foreign currency have been in decline because capital inflows into its banking system from Lebanese abroad have been slowing.
    Beirut has said it hopes Gulf allies or regional sovereign wealth funds will offer support but no public pledges have so far been made.    On Oct. 1, Moody’s put Lebanon’s Caa1 credit rating under review for downgrade, saying anticipated external financial assistance had not yet been forthcoming.
    UAE Economy Minister Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori told the conference the UAE was ready to be economic partners with Lebanon.
    Hariri said Lebanon will have to undertake economic reforms and wants to work closely with the UAE to reach the stage of development seen in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
    Ratings agency Fitch downgraded Lebanon to CCC in August, citing debt servicing concerns.    At the same time, S&P Global affirmed Lebanon at B-/B with a negative outlook, saying it considered foreign exchange reserves sufficient to service government debt in the “near term.”
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Stanley Carvalho; Editing by Catherine Evans)

10/7/2019 Portals to history and conflict: the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City
People are seen near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jews, Muslims and Christians pass daily through the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City, on their way to and from prayers or simply to go about their everyday business in one of the most politically sensitive spots on earth.
    There are eight gates – seven are open and one is sealed – along the Old City walls that were built in the 16th century by Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
    It’s always busy at Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim quarter, and at Jaffa Gate, facing west toward the Mediterranean, where local residents and tourists mix in markets lining stone alleyways.
    Lion’s Gate – two pairs of heraldic lions are carved on the archway – is also known as St. Stephen’s Gate.    It faces east, toward ancient Jericho.    It is often crowded with Muslim worshippers after prayers at al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.
    Many Jewish worshippers take another route to Judaism’s nearby Western Wall.    They pass through the Dung Gate, the closest entrance to the holy place, and Jewish families on their way to celebrate a 13-year-old son’s Bar Mitzvah can be spotted making their way to the wall.
    Security is always tight in a volatile area at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    Israeli police patrol and closed circuit TV cameras monitor the passageways of the Old City.
    Israel views all of Jerusalem, including the walled Old City that it captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as its “eternal and indivisible” capital.
    Palestinians want East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located, as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

10/7/2019 Residents scramble to uproot from ancient Turkish town before dam waters rise by Ali Kucukgocmen
General view of Hasankeyf, which will be significantly submerged by the Ilisu Dam, with the new Hasankeyf in the background,
in the southeastern town of Hasankeyf, Turkey, October 3, 2019. Picture taken October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar
    HASANKEYF, Turkey (Reuters) – In the ancient Turkish town of Hasankeyf, the Ozturk family are selling all the livestock that was their livelihood as they prepare to uproot to government-built housing across the Tigris River before the waters rise.
    They are among around 3,000 residents of the town who are being forced to leave by an Oct. 8 deadline to make way for the Ilisu Dam, a project two decades in the making that will generate electricity for southeast Turkey.
    Standing in the entrance of her house, where the family’s belongings have been piled up for the move, Sabahat Ozturk, 39, said their new apartment is not ready but they will try to move out as soon as possible.
    Like many others in Hasankeyf, which dates back 12,000 years, the Ozturks have been dependent on livestock farming and worry about how they will make a living in their new home.
    “They took our place from us, and are forcing us to sell our herd (of sheep),” Sabahat’s father-in-law, 85-year-old Kerem Ozturk, said of the central government.    “We could take care of our animals here, we were able to make ends meet.    Now we have to sell them.”
    Not all of Hasankeyf’s residents will have moved out by Tuesday’s deadline and authorities will need to extend it, residents and activists say, further delaying the project that has faced numerous setbacks since it was launched more than 20 years ago.
    In July, Turkey finally started to fill the dam further downstream on the Tigris where villages have already been vacated and are now partially submerged.    Water is expected to start rising in Hasankeyf, located in the southeastern province of Batman, in the next few months.
    The Ilisu Dam, expected to be operational for 50 years, will generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity, making it Turkey’s fourth-largest dam in terms of energy production.    But it has been criticized by activists who say the dam, once completely filled, will have displaced 78,000 people from 199 surrounding villages and risks creating water shortages downstream in Iraq.
    Hasankeyf was used by the Romans as a fortress town to ward off Persians.    The town was later destroyed by Mongols and rebuilt in the 11th century by Seljuk Turks.
    The Ozturks’ home is perched on a ledge on a cliffside.    It has a clear view of works to construct a wall below the ancient Hasankeyf fortress, which dates back to the 4th century BC.
    Below their home, archaeologists are working on a digging site, while above the wall, lie caves where people used to live.
NEW TOWN
    The Ozturk family have been allocated an apartment in Yeni Hasankeyf – or New Hasankeyf – across the river from the old town where a hospital, an elementary school and government buildings are already up and running.    Parks and playgrounds for children have also been built and trees planted.
    In a bid to attract tourists to the area, eight historic structures, including a massive tomb, an ancient Turkish bath, a historic mosque and its minaret, have been moved from the old town to Yeni Hasankeyf.
    The head of the Hasankeyf Cultural Foundation, Ahmet Akdeniz – or Ahmet the Shepherd as he is known to locals – has moved into a house in Yeni Hasankeyf but remembers living in the caves as a child, sitting by a fireplace to eat and warm up, before people started moving to homes in the old town in the 1970s.
    Akdeniz, 52, supports the Yeni Hasankeyf project and believes it will increase tourism in the area.
    But while the houses look pristine from the outside, they were made with low-quality building materials and residents have issues with the water supply, he said.
    “Water is leaking everywhere except from the tap!” he says.
LONE RESIDENT
    Some people who have already moved to Yeni Hasankeyf have built coops outside their apartment buildings for their chickens, although the town is mostly empty and still under construction.
    “What are we going to do without a job?” says Cemil Yavanas, 57, as he carries disassembled wardrobes out of his house in Hasankeyf old town.    He makes a living selling vegetables but will have no land once he moves to the new town.
    Further down the Tigris River the village of Celikkoy, located 15 km (9.3 miles) north of the dam in the southeastern province of Mardin, is almost fully submerged by the rising waters.
    The government started filling the dam in July without notifying anyone in advance, said Mehmet Selim Acar, 65, who has remained in Celikkoy, moving into a dilapidated former gendarmerie command post without electricity on a hill above the village.
    The other residents have all left, but Acar, who also has an apartment in Batman, wanted to stay because his ancestors lived in the village.    Since he retired from his job at a government office, he has made a living from agriculture.
    “I had one ton of pomegranates, pears, 5-6 tonnes of grapes.    I had to leave them,” he said, recalling when his old home was flooded.    “There was nowhere I could go to to file a complaint.”
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler and Susan Fenton)

10/7/2019 Yemeni government, separatists close to deal on ending Aden stand-off: sources
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Yemen's southern separatists rally to show support to the United Arab Emirates amid a standoff with
the Saudi-backed government, in the port city of Aden, Yemen September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and southern separatists are close to a deal that would end a power struggle in the southern port of Aden and see Saudi forces take temporary control of the city, four sources familiar with the negotiations said.
    Saudi Arabia, leader of an Arab coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi movement, has been hosting indirect talks for a month between the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to end the stand-off that had opened a new front in the multi-faceted war.
    STC is part of the Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore Hadi’s government after it was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis.    But the separatists, who seek self-rule in the south, turned on the government in August and seized its interim seat of Aden.
    STC forces, which are armed and trained by Riyadh’s main coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, tried to extend their reach in the south, clashing with government forces in violence that risked further fragmenting Yemen and complicating United Nations peace efforts.
    Two Yemeni government officials told Reuters that Riyadh had submitted a proposal to include the STC in Hadi’s government, while Saudi troops would deploy in Aden to oversee formation of a neutral security force in the city.
    “There is progress in the Jeddah talks.    The conversation is still ongoing and it is about bringing STC into the government, de-escalating tensions and redeployment of forces,” a third source familiar with the talks said on Monday.
    The STC’s Security Belt forces tweeted on Monday that an agreement could be signed in the next few days.
    The third source said resolving the Aden stand-off, which fractured the Western-backed coalition, was needed before the coalition officially responded to a Houthi offer to halt missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities if the alliance halted strikes on Yemen.
    The Hadi government’s ambassador in France, Reyad Yassin Abdullah, a former foreign minister, said an accord with the STC was imminent:     “We are close to a deal,” he told Reuters in Paris.
    He added that coalition forces would be deployed and that the aim was to have an agreement in the next few weeks.
TRUCE OFFER
    The Iran-aligned Houthi group, which controls Sanaa and most big urban centres, extended the truce offer last month after claiming responsibility for strikes on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 that Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
    Riyadh has said it views the truce offer “positively.”
    Easing Saudi-Houthi tensions and resolving the Aden crisis would bolster U.N. efforts to pave the way for political talks to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
    The British envoy to Yemen, Michael Aron, told Aden TV he was optimistic progress could be made on those two fronts and in implementing trust-building deals agreed between Hadi’s government and the Houthis at U.N.-led talks last December.
    “These three issues together can be a basis for a new peace process which could be successful in coming months, before the end of the year,” Aron said in the Arabic-language interview posted on the British mission’s Twitter account on Monday.
    The UAE in June reduced its military involvement in Yemen as Western criticism of the war mounted and as heightened tensions with Iran raised security concerns closer to home, saddling Riyadh with the conflict that is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Abu Dhabi retains influence via Yemeni forces of tens of thousands it helped build to fight the Houthis and Islamist militant groups in Yemen.
    Hadi’s government asked Abu Dhabi to stop supporting the STC. The UAE, which distrusts an Islamist party allied to Hadi, criticised his government as “ineffective.”
    The Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system, point to Aden as proof that Hadi is unfit to rule.
(Reporting by Reuters Yemen team, Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean, Peter Graff)

10/8/2019 Turkey says Syria attack plans complete, Trump delivers threat by Daren Butler
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about Turkey and Syria during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan
Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said on Tuesday it had completed preparations for a military operation in northeast Syria after the United States began pulling back troops, opening the way for a Turkish attack on Kurdish-led forces long allied to Washington.
    But U.S. President Donald Trump warned he would “obliterate” the NATO ally’s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered “off limits” following his decision on Sunday to pull 50 American special forces troops from the border region.
    The U.S. move will leave its Kurdish-led partner forces in Syria vulnerable to an incursion by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), which brands them terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants who have waged a long insurgency in Turkey.
    “The TSK will never tolerate the establishment of a terror corridor on our borders.    All preparations for the operation have been completed,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Twitter early on Tuesday.
    “It is essential to establish a safe zone/peace corridor to contribute to our region’s peace and stability, and for Syrians to achieve a safe life,” it said.
    A Reuters witness said there was no sign of military activity on Tuesday near the Turkish border town of Akcakale, across from Syria’s Tel Abyad.    Howitzers were positioned behind earth embankments on the Turkish side of the border, pointed towards Syria.
    U.S. forces evacuated two observation posts at Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain on Monday, a U.S. official said.
    Trump’s warning on Turkey’s economy appeared aimed at placating critics who accused him of abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces.    The decision drew criticism from Democrats and a rebuke from some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
    “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” Trump tweeted.
RED FLAG
    His remarks met an angry response in Turkey, including from opposition party politicians such as Iyi Party leader Meral Aksener who said it was a day to put aside domestic politics.
    “Threatening Turkey’s economy is a diplomatic catastrophe,” she told her party’s lawmakers in a speech in parliament.    “Today there is only one party and that is our red (Turkish) flag.”
    “The best response to this insolence is to go into the east of the Euphrates and break the terror corridor,” she added.
    The Kurdish-led forces, who have been Washington’s most capable partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria, have denounced the major shift in U.S. policy as “stab in the back.”
    Mustafa Bali, an official with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the continued Turkish military buildup on the border, together with information about further mobilization of Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, indicated that “an attack is imminent and we expect it soon.”
    “Naturally our preparations are along the length of the border with Turkey and our forces are in a state of readiness,” Bali told Reuters.
    The United States expects Turkey to take responsibility for captive Islamic State fighters in northeastern Syria if Ankara’s planned incursion seizes areas where the detained militants are held, a senior State Department official said.
    The captives are held in SDF facilities south of a safe zone initially proposed by Turkey.
    Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said overnight it was Turkey’s fundamental right to take necessary measures for its national security against terrorism threats from Syria.
    “Turkey is determined to clear terrorists from the east of the Euphrates and protect its own security and survival while implementing a secure zone in order to achieve peace and stability,” Aksoy said in a written statement.     Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest foreign ally, said it was not told in advance by the United States or Turkey about any agreements they had about plans to pull U.S. troops from the northeast, adding it was watching the situation very closely.
    Iran, another Assad ally, voiced opposition to any Turkish military operation in Syria.    “Such an action will not only not end Turkey’s security concerns but will lead to widespread material and human damage,” Iran’s foreign ministry said.
    President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey plans to resettle two million refugees in northern Syria and Turkish media has said the draft resettlement plan involves a 151 billion lira ($26 billion) construction project.    Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
    The Trump administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, said 50 U.S. troops in the region that     Turkey has targeted would be redeployed elsewhere in Syria “where they aren’t in the crossfire.”    The United States has about 1,000 troops in Syria.
    Turkey’s lira lost 2% of its value against the dollar to hit its weakest level since early September but edged off its lows to 5.8195 on Tuesday.    Turkey’s sovereign dollar bonds also came under fresh pressure.
    Ties between Ankara and Washington have long been tense over a range of issues including Syria policy and Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Rodi Said in Qamishli, Syria, Mert Ozkan in Akcakale, Turkey and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean)

10/8/2019 Protests resume in Iraq’s Sadr City as uprising enters second week
Men ride motorbikes past a member of Iraqi federal police in a street in Baghdad, Iraq October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Protests resumed overnight in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, with at least one member of the security forces killed, although much of the country appeared quieter than it has been for a week as politicians sought a way to end a nationwide uprising.
    Iraq’s military said on Tuesday one member of an Interior Ministry force was killed and four wounded when they came under fire from unknown assailants in Sadr City, where 15 people died the previous night in riots.
    More than 110 Iraqis have died and 6,000 have been wounded in the past week as protesters calling for the removal of the government and an end to corruption have clashed with the security forces, mainly in Baghdad and the south.
    The violence has been the worst to hit Iraq since it put down an insurgency by the Sunni Muslim Islamic State group nearly two years ago, and the biggest test for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in office for a year.
    The spread of the violence to Sadr City this week could escalate the security challenge posed by the protests.    Unrest has historically been hard to put down in the district, where around a third of Baghdad’s 8 million people live with little electricity or water and few jobs.
    Protesters gathered there after nightfall, including the families of slain protesters, local police sources told Reuters.
    They set fire to tires outside the municipal council building and courthouse in Mudhaffar Square, police said.    Police said the gunfire that targeted the security forces was fired from a crowd of protesters.
    Protesters say they have come under attack by members of the security forces using live ammunition throughout the week.    Reuters journalists have witnessed protesters being killed and wounded by snipers firing from rooftops into crowds.
(Reporting by Reuters Baghdad bureau; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Peter Graff)

10/8/2019 Ethiopia says Egypt trying to maintain “colonial era” grip over Nile by Aidan Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in
Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Ethiopia has accused Egypt of trying to maintain its grip over the waters of the Nile with a proposal it says would imperil a giant hydropower dam under construction on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, in a growing diplomatic spat.
    The comments highlight the difficulties finding a compromise between the two countries over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).    Two rounds of talks over the past month in Egypt and Sudan failed to produce progress.
    Egypt relies on the Nile for up to 90% of its fresh water, and fears the dam, which is being built in Ethiopia close to the border with Sudan, will restrict already scarce supplies.
    After talks had stalled, Egypt had submitted a proposal on Aug. 1, including conditions over filling the reservoir, that Ethiopia rejected.
    In an explanation for its decision, Ethiopia said the Egyptian plan was “one-sided,” flawed, and would ultimately hamper its economic development.
    “Egypt’s proposal is an effort to maintain a self-claimed colonial era-based water allocation and veto power on any project in the Nile system,” the Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 1 note circulated to embassies, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
    The Egyptian Foreign Ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
    The $4 billion dam is designed to be the centerpiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter, generating more than 6,000 megawatts, and is seen by Addis Ababa as a step toward redressing a historic imbalance in the exploitation of the Nile’s waters.
    Ethiopia said at the start of the year that the dam should be fully operational by 2022.
FILLING PROCESS
    Both sides agreed on a five stage process for filling the reservoir behind the dam.    Ethiopia says that while it could fill the reservoir in 2-3 years, it made a concession by proposing a 4-7 year process.
    Egypt did not mention a timeframe for filling the dam’s reservoir in a diplomatic note last month that acknowledged Ethiopia’s rejection, but said it was requesting that the initial, two-year stage could be extended in conditions of “severe drought.”
    “Meeting this demand is tantamount for Ethiopia to agreeing to make the filling of the GERD subject to Egypt’s approval at any stage,” the Ethiopian note said.
    “Ethiopia, therefore, finds this ‘proposal’ a non-starter on technical, economic, and national sovereignty grounds.”
    After the first stage of filling, Egypt’s proposal requires a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the GERD.
    Ethiopia said such an amount was unrealistic in years of drought, and that in 1984 the flow had reduced to less than 30 BCM, and that Egypt wanted to “protect itself by putting the burden of coping with extreme drought years entirely on Ethiopia.”
    Egypt’s proposal to link water levels in the GERD dam to those at its own High Aswan Dam (HAD), “puts the GERD hostage to the HAD,” the note added.
    Ethiopia denied Cairo’s assertion that it had held up talks, pointing instead to what it called Egypt’s “unfortunate smearing effort.”
    “Despite the negative diplomatic and media campaign that is coming out of Cairo, Ethiopia was forthcoming to the resumption of tripartite talks,” the note said.
(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Alison Williams)

10/9/2019 Turkish military, Syrian rebels to enter Syria ‘shortly’: Erdogan aide by Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Turkish army howitzers are positioned on the Turkish-Syrian border, near the southeastern
town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish forces and Syrian rebel allies will push into Syria “shortly,” a Turkish official said on Wednesday, in an operation world powers fear could open a new chapter in Syria’s ruinous eight-year-old war.
    Turkey has been poised to advance into northeast Syria since the U.S. troops began vacating the area in an abrupt policy shift by U.S. President Donald Trump widely criticised in Washington as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish militia allies.
    On Tuesday, Turkish officials told Reuters that the military had struck the Syrian-Iraqi border to prevent Kurdish forces using the route to reinforce the region, though details of the strikes were hazy.
    “Our work concerning the operation is continuing, the deployments, preparations are continuing,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told broadcaster NTV.
    Ankara has said it intends to create a “safe zone” in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil, but the scheme has alarmed some Western allies as much as the risks posed by the military operation itself.
    For Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG fighters in northeast Syria as terrorists because of their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, an influx of non-Kurdish Syrians would help it secure a buffer against its main security threat.
    The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria declared a state of “general mobilization” across north and east Syria in light of the looming attack.
    “We call on all our institutions, and our people in all their components, to head towards the border region with Turkey to fulfil their moral duty and show resistance in these sensitive, historic moments,” it said in a statement.
    President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said YPG fighters could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting” what he described as Turkey’s struggle against Islamic State militants.
ARMED THUGS
    “The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly,” Altun wrote in a tweet and in a column published in the Washington Post.    “Turkey has no ambition in northeastern Syria except to neutralize a long-standing threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local population from the yoke of armed thugs,” he said.
    Turkey’s Demiroren news agency said Syrian rebels travelled from northwest Syria to Turkey in preparation for the incursion.
    They will be based in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, it said, across the border from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, with 14,000 of them gradually joining the offensive.
    The Hamza Brigade rebels from the National Army, the main rebel grouping that Turkey supports in northwest Syria, moved in a bus convoy along with trucks carrying ammunition, DHA said.
    “The National Army forces are still preparing for the start of operations east of the Euphrates (river) and they have started moving to the frontlines,” National Army spokesman Youssef Hammoud said, adding he could not say if the battle would start within hours or days.
    Previous Turkish operations backed by the rebels in Syria started with air operations, followed by artillery and then ground forces, Hammoud said.
    A large convoy of buses carrying Syrian rebel fighters and trucks loaded with equipment arrived at the Turkish border town of Akcakale early on Wednesday, a Reuters witness said.
    At Akcakale, across from Syria’s Tel Abyad, howitzers were deployed behind earth embankments and pointed towards Syria, a Reuters witness said on Tuesday.    Multiple launch rocket systems were stationed at Suruc, some 60 km (40 miles) to the west, opposite the Syrian border town of Kobani, he said.
RUSSIA CALLS FOR DIALOGUE
    Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest foreign ally, urged dialogue between Damascus and Syria’s Kurds on solving issues in northeast Syria including border security.     “We heard statements yesterday both from Damascus officials and the Kurdish representatives that they are ready for such dialogue,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to Kazakhstan.
    “We will do our best to support the start of such substantive talks and hope it will be supported by all the key foreign players,” said Lavrov, adding he spoke on Tuesday to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who said the Turkish side respected Syria’s territorial integrity.
    Kurdish-led forces said on Tuesday they might start talks with the Syrian government and Russia to fill a security vacuum in the event of a full U.S. troop withdrawal.
    The prospect of a military offensive has unsettled Turkish financial markets, with the lira this week hitting its weakest level since late August.    The currency firmed slightly to 5.8220 against the dollar on Wednesday morning.
    Erdogan will visit the United States on Nov. 13 at Trump’s invitation, a White House spokesman said.    On Monday, Erdogan said U.S. troops had started to withdraw after a phone call he had with Trump, adding that talks between Turkish and U.S. officials on the matter would continue.
    “Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result we have moved the U.S. forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety,” U.S. Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.
    Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria has rattled allies, including France, one of Washington’s main partners in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.
    Amid deepening humanitarian concerns, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties in northeast Syria to exercise maximum restraint and protect civilians.
    Kurdish-led forces have denounced the U.S. policy shift as a “stab in the back.”    But Trump denied he had abandoned the Kurdish forces, the most effective U.S. partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Istanbul, Tom Perry in Beirut, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Mert Ozkan in Akcakale, Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, William Maclean)

10/9/2019 Saudi Aramco chief: attacks may continue without international response
FILE PHOTO: Amin H. Nasser, president and CEO of Saudi Arabian Oil Company, Saudi Aramco, speaks during
a news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Attacks such as the one on Saudi oil facilities which last month sent oil prices up by as much 20% may continue if there is no concerted international response, Saudi Aramco’s Chief Executive Amin Nasser said on Wednesday.
    “An absence of international resolve to take concrete action may embolden the attackers and indeed put the world’s energy security at greater risk,” he told the Oil & Money conference in London in rare political comments.
    He added Aramco was on track to regain its maximum oil production capacity of 12 million barrels per day by the end of November.
(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Ron Bousso; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

10/9/2019 Factbox: The Kurdish struggle for rights and land
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) wave party flags during
a peace day rally in Diyarbakir, Turkey, September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Turkish forces are poised to advance into northeast Syria after U.S. troops began vacating the area, in an abrupt policy shift by President Donald Trump widely criticized in Washington as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish militia allies.
    Ankara says it plans to create a “safe zone” to resettle millions of refugees currently living on Turkish soil.    This would then serve as a buffer against what Turkey sees as its main security threat in Syria – Kurdish YPG fighters who Ankara says are linked to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey.
    Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran all have large Kurdish minorities seeking varying degrees of autonomy from central governments after decades of repression.
    This is an overview of their status.
HISTORY
    The Kurdish ethnic minority, mainly Sunni Muslims, speaks a language related to Farsi and lives mostly in a mountainous region straddling the borders of Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
    Kurdish nationalism stirred in the 1890s when the Ottoman Empire was on its last legs.    The 1920 Treaty of Sevres, which imposed a settlement and colonial carve-up of Turkey after World War One, promised them independence.
    Three years later, Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk tore up that accord.    The Treaty of Lausanne, ratified in 1924, divided the Kurds among the new nations of the Middle East.
SYRIA
    Before Syria’s popular uprising erupted in 2011, Kurds formed 8-10 percent of the population.
    The Baathist state, championing Arab nationalism, had deprived thousands of Kurds of citizenship rights, banned their language and clamped down on Kurdish political activity.
    During the war, President Bashar al-Assad focused on crushing mainly Sunni Arab rebels with the help of Russia and Iran, turning a blind eye as Kurdish fighters carved out self-rule across the north and east.
    Kurdish forces have emerged among the biggest winners, controlling about a quarter of the country — territory rich in oil, water and farmland.    It is the biggest chunk of Syria not in state hands, now with its own forces and bureaucracy.
    Assad has said he will recover the northeast, but the two sides have kept some channels open.
    The Kurdish YPG militia’s power grew after joining forces with U.S. troops to seize territory from Islamic State.
    While the U.S. deployment has provided a security umbrella that helped Kurdish influence expand, Washington opposes the autonomy plans.
    Syrian Kurdish leaders say they do not seek partition but rather regional autonomy as part of Syria.    Faced with the threat of a Turkish attack, the Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria has declared a state of “general mobilization” across north and east Syria.
TURKEY
    Kurds form about 20 percent of the population.
    The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against the state in 1984, waging an insurgency for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.    Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
    PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999, tried and sentenced to death.    That was later reduced to life in prison after Turkey abolished the death penalty.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has removed restrictions on using the Kurdish language.    The government held talks with Ocalan, who is in jail on an island near Istanbul, in 2012, but they broke down and the conflict has revived.
    The United States, the European Union and Turkey classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.
    Turkey’s military has often struck targets in Iraq’s Kurdish region near the PKK’s stronghold in the Qandil mountains.
    Erdogan has said he will crush Syria’s YPG, which Ankara sees as a branch of the PKK, and has sent troops into northern Syria to mount offensives rolling back the Kurdish fighters.
IRAQ
    Kurds form 15-20 percent of the population, mainly inhabiting the three northern provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan.
    Late President Saddam Hussein’s rule targeted Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s when chemical gas was used, villages were razed and thousands of Kurds were forced into camps.
    Their region has been semi-autonomous since 1991, has its own regional government and armed forces, but still relies on the Baghdad central government for its budget.
    When Islamic State militants swept through much of northern Iraq in 2014, Kurdish fighters exploited the collapse of central authority to take control of Kirkuk, the oil city they regard as their ancient regional capital, as well as other territory disputed by Baghdad and the Kurdish north.
    Iraqi government forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, with U.S. backing, defeated Islamic State which had captured swathes of northern Iraq.
    Iraq’s Kurds held a referendum on independence in September 2017, which backfired and triggered a regional crisis in the face of opposition from Baghdad and regional powers.
    The vote prompted military and economic retaliation from Baghdad, which retook the territory seized by Kurdish forces since 2014.    Ties have since improved, but tensions remain over oil exports and revenue-sharing.
IRAN
    Kurds form about 10 percent of the population.
    In 2011, Iran pledged to step up military action against the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, a PKK offshoot that has sought greater autonomy for Kurds in Iran.
    Rights groups say Kurds, along with other religious and ethnic minorities, face discrimination under the ruling clerical establishment.
    The elite Revolutionary Guards have put down unrest in the Kurdish community for decades, and the country’s judiciary has sentenced many activists to long jail terms or death.    Iran’s military has demanded Iraqi authorities hand over separatist Kurdish dissidents stationed there and close their bases.
(Compiled by reporters in Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran and Istanbul; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/9/2019 Turkey launches operation into northeast Syria: Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey,
October 7, 2019. Mustafa Kamaci/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies have launched their military operation into northeastern Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that the offensive aimed to eliminate a “terror corridor” along the southern Turkish border.
    Erdogan said the offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” would aim to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a “safe zone” in the area.
    “Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdogan said on Twitter.    “We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

10/10/2019 Turkish forces seize targets in northeast Syria offensive: ministry by Daren Butler
Smoke rises from Tel Arkam village in Ras al Ain countryside, Syria October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said its forces seized designated targets on the second day of an offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria, after a withdrawal by U.S. forces opened up a dangerous new phase in the region’s eight-year-old conflict.
    Senior members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s own Republican Party condemned him for making way for the incursion and abandoning Syrian Kurds, who have been loyal allies of Washington in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.
    NATO-ally Turkey has said it intends to create a “safe zone” for the return of millions of refugees to Syria.    But world powers fear Turkey’s action could deepen the conflict, and runs the risk of Islamic State prisoners escaping from camps amid the chaos.
    The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria said a prison struck by Turkish shelling holds “the most dangerous criminals from more than 60 nationalities” and Turkey’s attacks on its prisons risked “a catastrophe.”
    The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) holds thousands of Islamic State fighters and tens of thousands of their relatives in detention.
    Turkey said its offensive was making gains.
    “Our heroic commandos taking part in Operation Peace Spring are continuing to advance east of the Euphrates (river),” the Defence Ministry wrote on Twitter.    “The designated targets were seized,” it said in a later statement.
    CNN Turk broadcast video showing a crane overnight removing a concrete block from the border wall and commandos moving in single-file alongside the barrier.
    In the Turkish border town of Akcakale, around 30 vehicles carrying Syrian rebels, many pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft machines drove along the main along the Turkish side of the border from Syria’s Tel Abyad, a Reuters journalist said.
VOLLEYS OF ROCKETS
    They were accompanied by some 10 Turkish military armored vehicles.    It was not clear where they were heading. Earlier, a witness in Akcakale said volleys of rockets were fired from there across the border.
    Turkish forces shelled targets near Ral al Ain on Thursday morning, and SDF fighters responded, a witness said.
    The Turkish military has hit 181 targets of the Kurdish militia with its air force and artillery since the start of operation into northeast Syria, the ministry said.
    One of the prisons where Islamic State detainees are held was hit by a Turkish air strike, the SDF said on Twitter.
    The U.S. military has taken custody of two high-profile IS militants previously held in Syria by the SDF and moved them out of the country to a secure location, a U.S. official said.
    A second U.S. official said they belonged to a group of British fighters nicknamed “The Beatles,” who have been tied to the murder of Western hostages.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, in an article published hours before the offensive started, said Trump had agreed to transfer leadership of the international campaign against Islamic State to Turkey.
    Fahrettin Altun said Turkey had helped Syrian rebels holding IS captives earlier in Syria’s war, adding it was in Turkey’s interest “to preserve what the United States has accomplished.”
    Akcakale was quiet for much of the morning after sporadic gunfire and the sound of tank movement were heard in the early hours, Reuters journalists said.    Explosions had rocked Tel Abyad earlier in the night, they said.
    Turkey regards the Kurdish militia as a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish PKK militants waging a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
    Troops entered Syria at four points, two of them close to Tel Abyad and two close to Ras al Ain further east, according to Turkish media reports.    Air strikes killed at least five civilians and three SDF fighters, while dozens of civilians were wounded, the SDF said.    Thousands of people fled Ras al Ain towards Hasaka province, held by the SDF.
    SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the group’s fighters had repelled a ground attack by Turkish troops in Tel Abyad.
SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING
    President Trump called the Turkish assault a “bad idea” and said he did not endorse it.    He said he expected Turkey to protect civilians and religious minorities and prevent a humanitarian crisis – as Turkey has said it would.
    The United Nations Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss Syria at the request of the five European members, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland.
    In a letter to the 15-member Council seen by Reuters, Turkey said that its military operation would be “proportionate, measured and responsible.”
    The 22-member Arab League said it will hold an emergency meeting on Saturday.
    On Wednesday Trump defended U.S. policy towards Kurds, saying it had sent them “tremendous amounts” in arms and funds.
    “The Kurds are fighting for their land…As somebody wrote in a very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example… But they were there to help us with their land, and that’s a different thing,” Trump said.
    “With all of that being said we like the Kurds.”
    But one of Trump’s closest fellow Republican allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, said failing to support the Kurds would be “the biggest mistake of his presidency.”
    The Syrian Kurdish group was for years one of Washington’s main allies in Syria and the incursion was potentially one of the biggest shifts in years in the Syrian war that has drawn in global and regional powers.
    The Kurds played a leading role in taking territory from IS, and now hold the largest swathe of Syria outside of the hands of President Bashar al-Assad.
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, William Maclean)

10/10/2019 Top Saudi official holds talks with U.S. state, defense secretaries
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman gestures during a meeting
at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., August 29, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister said on Thursday he discussed regional security and military cooperation with senior U.S. government officials at a time of heightened tension with Iran following last month’s attacks on Saudi oil facilities.
    Saudi Arabia and the United States blamed common foe Tehran for the Sept. 14 assault on oil plants that initially halved the output of the world’s top exporter, a charge Iran denies.
    The kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month said Riyadh prefers a political solution to a military one, but warned that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world does not deter Iran.
    Vice Minister of Defence Prince Khalid bin Salman, a brother of Prince Mohammed, said in Twitter posts that he met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
    Saudi Arabia and the United States “stand side by side in bolstering regional and international security and stability,” Prince Khalid said of his talks with Pompeo.
    He and Esper discussed mutual security challenges and reaffirmed “strong military cooperation in countering terrorism and preserving peace and stability,” the prince said.
    Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Shi’ite Muslim Iran are locked in several proxy wars in the Middle East including in Yemen and Syria.
    The Twitter posts made no mention of them discussing Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies launching attacks on Kurdish militia in northeast Syria on Wednesday.
    Tensions in the Gulf region have risen since attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz in May and June and more limited strikes on Saudi energy assets in recent months that Riyadh has also blamed on Iran.    Tehran denies any involvement.
    Saudi Arabia has supported Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran after President Donald Trump last year quit an international nuclear pact and re-imposed sanctions, saying the deal was flawed as it does not curb Iran’s ballistic missile program or its support for regional proxies.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/10/2019 Syrian Kurds outgunned but vow to inflict toll on Turkish army by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry
Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain as it is pictured from the Turkish town
of Ceylanpinar in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Kurdish fighters who defeated Islamic State across much of Syria with U.S. help will struggle to fend off the Turkish army and its Syrian rebel allies who thrust across the border on Wednesday in a long-threatened offensive.
    Under Turkish attack after their U.S. allies withdrew from part of the border, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which the Kurdish YPG militia spearheads – is heavily outgunned by NATO’s second-largest military.
    While the United States has armed and trained the SDF through years of fighting IS, Washington held back from supplying its Kurdish allies with a more sophisticated arsenal, reflecting the needs of the battle but also Turkish concerns.
    “The YPG don’t have heavy weapons (from the U.S.) that would be useful against Turkish aircraft or tanks,” a YPG source told Reuters.
    “The heaviest weapons we got from the U.S. are some mortar shells, nothing heavier. No missiles, no anti-aircraft weapons, no anti-tank,” added the source, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military affairs.
    Washington’s policy toward the YPG has underscored the broader complexities of its role in the Syrian conflict that developed from protests against President Bashar al-Assad into a multi-sided war and sucked in Russia, Turkey and Iran.
    Though the SDF proved an effective ally against IS, U.S. support for it infuriated Turkey.    Ankara views the YPG as terrorists because of links to the Kurdish PKK movement which has waged a long insurgency inside Turkey.
    Syrian opposition sources said some of the Turkey-backed Syrians now facing the SDF benefited from U.S. military support in an earlier phase of the war, when the Central Intelligence Agency oversaw a program to arm and train anti-Assad rebels.
    U.S. President Donald Trump shut down that program in 2017, part of an effort at the time to improve U.S. relations with Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally.    The program was criticised because some of the rebels switched to jihadist groups.
‘ROJAVA’ AT RISK
    The SDF currently numbers around 40,000 fighters, a second YPG source said. On top of this, Kurdish authorities had long established other security forces such as the Asayish numbering in the tens of thousands.
    Though the United States did not provide heavy or advanced weapons, Kurdish fighters have sourced anti-tank missiles on their own, the second YPG source said.
    “Our duty is to resist.    This is the Middle East and the black market is in full swing,” the source said.
    A Syrian rebel source familiar with Turkey’s position said Ankara has long been monitoring the weapons delivered to the YPG, a point of friction with Washington.    “They were constantly in discussion with the Americans about the type of weapons being given to the (YPG)/PKK,” the source said.
    The part of the border that U.S. forces vacated this week, a nearly 100-km (62-mile) stretch between the Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, is now under attack.    Turkey began pounding the region with air strikes and artillery on Wednesday.
    The area is mainly flatland, making it a tough battlefield for hardened YPG fighters who have gained years of experience in urban warfare fighting jihadists but are left almost defenseless against Turkish warplanes.
    That border strip, part of which historically had a strong Arab presence, is important to Syrian Kurdish fighters because it links the mainly Kurdish swathes of the Northeast with the Kurdish town of Kobani, where U.S. and allied troops still have a base.
    Depending on how deep Turkey pushes into Syria, the territorial contiguity of the SDF region in northern Syria, known as Rojava in Kurdish, could be endangered.
    The SDF, which controls around a quarter of Syria across the North and East, has said the U.S. move amounted to a “stab in the back.”
    Washington has opposed the emergence of autonomous regions that Kurdish leaders and their allies carved out in Syria, even as it has militarily backed the SDF – which includes Arabs and other ethnicities.
‘BITING LIKE A MOSQUITO’
    To roll back Kurdish gains, Turkey has already staged two major incursions into the North.    The last of these, “Olive Branch,” drove the YPG and many Kurdish civilians from the Afrin region of the Northwest.
    Kurdish fighters have been waging an insurgency in Afrin ever since.
    The first YPG military source said the border strip between the two towns, which is Ankara’s current focus, may ultimately be lost.    But YPG forces were bent on making the battle as difficult and long as possible for Turkey, relying in part on fortifications at the border and fighters ready to die for the Kurdish cause, he said.
    If they face defeat there, “there would be a never-ending insurgency” against Turkish forces there.
    “They will pay for this.    Ultimately we may lose (that) area, which seems like it will be the case, but that doesn’t mean we will just give up and retreat.”
    The former head of U.S. Central Command said the Kurdish fighters would be unable to stop a Turkish invasion.
    “I think Kurds will, first of all, defend themselves to the best that they can.    When it becomes apparent to them that they cannot deal with this very modernized army and the capabilities that Turkey has, then I think they will leave the area,” Joseph Votel, who retired earlier this year, said on Tuesday.
    “Not only will the fighters leave, but I would expect that their citizens would leave as well, with the feeling that they would not be secure remaining in that area,” Votel added.
    Nihat Ali Ozcan, security analyst at TEPAV, a Turkish think-tank, said the SDF would use guerrilla tactics, hit-and-runs, mines, roadside bombs or perhaps anti-tank missiles in its possession.    “They will keep biting, like a mosquito,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Turkey; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

10/10/2019 Thousands flee, dozens killed in Turkish offensive on U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria by Daren Butler and Orhan Coskun
Smoke rises from Tel Arkam village in Ras al Ain countryside, Syria October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey pounded Kurdish militia in northeast Syria for a second day on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee and killing dozens, in a cross-border assault on U.S. allies that has turned the Washington establishment against President Donald Trump.
    The offensive against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by Kurdish YPG militia, which began days after Trump pulled U.S. troops out of the way and following a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, opens one of the biggest new fronts in years in an eight-year-old civil war that has drawn in global powers.
    “We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” Trump said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
    At least 23 fighters with the SDF and six fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group had been killed, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.
    The SDF said Turkish air strikes and shelling had also killed nine civilians.    In an apparent retaliation by Kurdish-led forces, six people including a 9-month-old baby were killed by mortar and rocket fire into Turkish border towns, officials in southeastern Turkey said.
    The International Rescue Committee said 64,000 people in Syria have fled since the campaign began.    The towns of Ras al-Ain and Darbasiya, some 60 km (37 miles) to the east, have become largely deserted.
    The Observatory said Turkish forces had seized two villages near Ras al-Ain and five near the town of Tel Abyad, while a spokesman for Syrian rebel forces said the towns were surrounded after fighters seized the villages around them.
    Turkey’s Defense Ministry said 174 militants had been killed so far. Kurds said they were resisting the assault.
    According to a senior Turkish security official, the armed forces struck weapons and ammunition depots, gun and sniper positions, tunnels and military bases.
    Jets flew operations up to 30 km (18 miles) into Syria – a limit which Turkey’s foreign minister said Turkish forces would not go beyond.    A Reuters journalist saw shells exploding just outside Tel Abyad.
    Ankara brands the YPG militia as terrorists because of their ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in Turkey.    On Thursday, Turkish police began criminal investigations of several Kurdish lawmakers and detained scores of people in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, accusing them of criticising the military’s incursion into Syria, state media reported.
U.S. LAWMAKERS CRITICIZE TRUMP
    Trump has faced rare criticism from senior figures in his own Republican Party who accuse him of deserting loyal U.S. allies.    Trump has called the Turkish assault a “bad idea” and said he did not endorse it.
    After the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the fighting, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Turkey faced unspecified “consequences” if it did not meet its pledge to protect vulnerable populations or contain Islamic State fighters.
    The SDF have been the main allies of U.S. forces on the ground in the battle against Islamic State since 2014.    They have been holding thousands of captured IS fighters and tens of thousands of their relatives in detention.
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for an emergency meeting of the coalition of more than 30 countries created to fight Islamic State.    The coalition “needs to say today what are we going do, how do you, Turkey, want to proceed and how do we ensure the security of places where fighters are held?    Everything needs to be on the table so that we are clear,” Le Drian said on France 2 television.
    NATO member Turkey has said it intends to create a “safe zone” for the return of millions of refugees to Syria.
    But world powers fear the operation could intensify Syria’s conflict and runs the risk of Islamic State prisoners escaping from camps amid the chaos.
    Erdogan sought to assuage those concerns, saying militants from the jihadist group would not be allowed to rebuild a presence in the region.
    He took aim at the European Union and Arab powers Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have voiced opposition to the operation.
    “They are not honest, they just make up words,” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his AK party.    “We, however, take action and that is the difference between us.”
REFUGEES TO EUROPE?
    Erdogan threatened to permit Syrian refugees in Turkey to move to Europe if EU countries described his forces’ move as an occupation.    Turkey hosts around 3.6 million people who have fled the Syrian war.
    The European Union should have a dialogue with Turkey despite Ankara’s offensive against the Kurds, in order to avoid a fresh wave of migrants coming to Europe, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Thursday.
    Russia, the main international backer of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, said it planned to push for dialogue between the Syrian and Turkish governments following the incursion.
    The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria said a prison that holds “the most dangerous criminals from more than 60 nationalities” had been struck by Turkish shelling, and Turkey’s attacks on its prisons risked “a catastrophe.”
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey will be responsible only for Islamic State prisoners within the safe zone it aims to form.    Turkey would ask countries from which the prisoners came to take them back.
    U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who usually backs Trump, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. He unveiled a framework for sanctions on Turkey with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen.
    “If there is any measure taken against us, we will retaliate and respond in kind,” Cavusoglu said, adding that “nothing will come of these sanctions.”
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Orhan Coskun; Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Ellen Francis in Beirut and Reuters correspondents in the region; Writing by William Maclean and Grant McCool; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Daniel Wallis)

10/10/2019 Iraq appoints two new ministers after PM promises sweeping reform
FILE PHOTO: Members of Iraqi federal police are seen with military vehicles
in a street in Baghdad, Iraq October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq appointed new education and health ministers on Thursday, a day after Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi promised to reshuffle his government and enact reforms to try to stem unrest.
    Suha Khalil is one of few women to have become a minister in Iraq.    Her appointment was approved by parliament, which also voted for the appointment of the new health minister, Jaafar Allawi, after his predecessor quit before the wave of unrest.
    The changes are unlikely to satisfy Iraqis after more than 110 people were killed in a government crackdown on protests that began last week over jobs, services and corruption.
    The protesters blame a corrupt and divided political class for failing to improve their lives even in peacetime, some two years after Islamic State was declared defeated in Iraq.    The unrest is the biggest security challenge for the country since then.
    Abdul Mahdi on Wednesday declared three days of national mourning, said he had not ordered use of live ammunition and announced measures aimed at placating protesters including a cabinet reshuffle, punishment of corrupt officials, job opportunities for the unemployed and stipends for the poor.
    In a sign that parliament remains divided, dozens of lawmakers boycotted the rest of Thursday’s session after approving the two ministerial appointments.
    “We voted for two ministries that were vacant so they could actually start doing their work, but the prime minister should have also presented changes to ministries riven with corruption,” said lawmaker Husham al-Suhail who walked out of the session, without giving further details.
    Some lawmakers who oppose the power of Iran-backed factions with ties to militia groups that back Abdul Mahdi had suspended their participation in parliament during the unrest.
    Many Iraqis live in poverty, have limited access to clean water, electricity, basic healthcare or decent education as the country tries to recover from years of conflict.
    During unrest that began in Baghdad and spread to southern cities, security forces used live rounds and tear gas against demonstrators, blocked the internet entirely for days and arrested activists and reporters covering protests.
    If reform is not introduced quickly more unrest is likely to break out.    Authorities have still mostly kept the internet shut down 10 days after the violence began, though not serious violence has been reported since Sunday.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Writing by John Davison, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

10/10/2019 Turkey’s incursion in Syria may leave its own economy wounded by Jonathan Spicer and Nevzat Devranoglu
Syrian Kurds protest the Turkish offensive against Syria during a demonstration in front
of the United Nation Headquarter in Erbil, Iraq October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    BEIRUT/ANKARA (Reuters) – One casualty of Turkey’s military incursion into Syria may be its own recovery from recession after U.S. congressional leaders threatened sanctions that could hit the lira and harden Turkish distrust of Western allies.
    Turkey’s currency – which suffered a crisis a year ago due in part to U.S. sanctions and tariffs – hit its weakest level in nearly four months after U.S. troops left northeast Syria and Ankara ordered attacks on Kurdish forces there.
    In recent months the lira had steadied and inflation had fallen, suggesting Turkey’s $766 billion economy, the largest in the Middle East, had left behind its worst slump in nearly two decades.
    The central bank has slashed interest rates since July to kick-start lending.    But by Thursday, market expectations https://tmsnrt.rs/2HFCPtg for further policy easing were reined in as investors worried that fallout from the conflict could delay the recovery.
    The risks include higher deficits and borrowing costs and slowing tourism if Turkey’s military gets bogged down over a long period.
    But the biggest threat – and one that investors say is not priced into Turkish assets – is a new determination among senior U.S. Republicans to punish Turkey for attacking Syrian Kurds, key allies of Washington in the battle against Islamic State.
    Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, usually a strong defender of Donald Trump, on Wednesday joined a Democratic colleague to unveil a framework for sanctions, making good on his criticism of the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops.
    Graham’s proposal would target the assets of Erdogan and other top officials, impose visa restrictions, and sanction anyone who conducted military transactions with Turkey or supported energy production.
    Turkey may face broader sanctions too under the Graham plan over its purchase this year of Russian S-400 missile defenses despite Washignton’s strong objections.
FRAGILE
    “(Broader sanctions) would change the economic picture of Turkey totally and we would have to take into account the possibility of a new recession in a situation where the economy is fragile after the 2018 crisis,” said Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX research at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
    It is unclear whether Congress would back Graham’s sanctions or whether it would have the two-thirds “super majority” needed to overcome any veto by Trump, who has a good working rapport with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and spoke with him before pulling out U.S. troops.
    It is also unclear whether Trump would support sanctions after he said earlier this week that the United States would “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it did anything “off limits” in Syria, without defining what that means.
    “The more political pressure comes, the more Trump might be inclined to state that Turkish action might be off limits,” added Leuchtmann.
    During last year’s spat, Trump imposed limited sanctions and higher tariffs on some Turkish imports to pressure Turkey to release Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was detained there over terrorism charges, and who was later released.
WEAKER LIRA, FEWER RATE CUTS
    The lira, which lost nearly 30% of its value last year, has shed more than 3% so far this week in volatile trade as it approached as much as 5.90 against the dollar.
    Traders said it was unclear how much further it would have fallen had state banks not stepped in to sell dollars and cushion the blow earlier this week.
    In foreign investment-reliant Turkey, the currency largely determines prices, which in turn determines monetary policy. Investors said any lira move beyond 6 could signal expectations that sanctions are likely to bite.
    A senior Turkish banker who requested anonymity said the weakness so far reflects immediate geopolitics surrounding the incursion rather than sanctions, which loom as “the biggest threat.”
    “Relations with the United States are an important concern that we cannot predict yet,” he said, adding concerns would persist at least until Erdogan’s planned talks with Trump in the United States on Nov. 13.
    Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak may attend annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington next week.
    While Albayrak has in recent weeks painted a picture of Turkish economic resilience, this week bonds and stocks have plunged, including a more than 5% drop in Turkey’s main share index.
    Money market traders now predict the central bank will cut rates to 15% by year-end, from 16.5% now, rather than the 13.5% they had predicted at the end of last week. Four traders said a 50- to 75-point cut is expected later this month.
(GRAPHIC: Markets pull back Turkish rate-cut expectaions – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/TURKEY-MARKETS/0H001PBKY5G3/eikon.png)
    In a statement, the Treasury said: “We do not expect a permanent negative impact on the Turkish economy.    The (military) operation… prevents losses that might arise in the future in many different areas.”
    “Turkey gave its economy a stronger structure in the past year for all kinds of scenarios with the measures it implemented,” it added.
NATIONALIST BACKLASH
    Ankara’s incursion into Syria, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, is the latest strain on its relationship with NATO ally Washington, despite what Erdogan has called “a different kind of trust” between him and Trump.
    Imposing more sanctions could trigger a backlash in Turkey.    In a fiery speech on Wednesday, Erdogan whipped up nationalist emotions against European countries that have criticized the incursion.
    “Right now the (Turkish) nationalist zeal has sky-rocketed,” said Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at Oxford University.
    “If approved, U.S. sanctions would only convince people in Ankara that it was the right decision to get closer to Russia (by buying the missile defenses), and that Trump is sympathetic to them even while the rest of the DC establishment is hostile.”
(Additional reporting by Ebru Tuncay and Behiye Selin Taner in Istanbul and Karin Strohecker and Marc Jones in London; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/11/2019 Turkey bombards Syrian Kurdish militia, thousands flee as death toll mounts by Daren Butler
Syrian rebels stand on top of an armoured vehicle driving towards the border to cross into Syria,
in Ceylanpinar, Turkey, October 11, 2019 in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/ReutersTV
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish warplanes and artillery hit Kurdish militia targets in northeast Syria on the third day of an offensive that has killed hundreds of people, forced tens of thousands to flee and turned Washington’s establishment against President Donald
    The incursion, launched after Trump withdrew U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces against Islamic State militants, has opened a new front in the eight-year-old Syrian civil war and drawn fierce international criticism.
    In Washington, Trump suggested that the United States could mediate in the conflict. He also raised the possibility of imposing tough sanctions on Turkey.
    On Friday morning, Turkish warplanes and artillery struck around Syria’s Ras al Ain, one of two border towns that have been the focus of the offensive.
    Gunfire could also be heard inside the town, said a Reuters journalist in Ceylanpinar, on the Turkish side of the border.
    A convoy of 20 armored vehicles carrying Turkish-allied Syrian rebels entered Syria from Ceylanpinar on Friday, he said.    Some made victory signs, shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and waved Syrian rebel flags as they advanced towards Ras al Ain.
    Some 120 km (75 miles) west, Turkish howitzers resumed shelling near the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, a witness said.
    “In these moments, Tel Abyad is seeing the most intense battles in three days,” Marvan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.
    SDF forces had recovered a hamlet early in the morning, he said.
    The International Rescue Committee aid group said 64,000 people in Syria have fled since the campaign began.    Ras al Ain and Darbasiya, some 60 km (37 miles) to the east, were largely deserted.
    Turkey’s Defence Ministry said that in overnight operations the Turkish military and its Syrian rebel allies killed 49 Kurdish militants.    It says it has killed 277 militants in total.
    The ministry said one Turkish soldier was killed in a clash on Thursday during the offensive, which is targeting the SDF, which is led by the Kurdish YPG militia.
    Overnight, clashes erupted at different points along the border from Ain Diwar at the Iraqi frontier to Kobani, more than 400 km to the west.    Turkish and SDF forces exchanged shelling in Qamishli among other places, the SDF’s Qamishlo said.
    “The whole border was on fire,” he said.
At least 29 fighters with the SDF and 17 fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group had been killed, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.
    In Syria’s al Bab, some 150 km west of the offensive, some 500 Syrian rebels were set to head to Turkey to join the operation, CNN Turk reported.    It broadcast video of the rebels performing Muslim prayers in military fatigues, their rifles laid down in front of them, before departing for Turkey.
    The SDF said Turkish air strikes and shelling had killed nine civilians.    In apparent retaliation by Kurdish-led forces, six people including a 9-month-old baby were killed by mortar fire into Turkish towns, Turkish officials said.
    The Observatory said Turkish forces seized two villages near Ras al Ain and five near Tel Abyad.    A Syrian rebel forces spokesman said the towns were surrounded after fighters seized the villages around them.
    NATO member Turkey says the operation is necessary for border security against the YPG militia, which it designates a terrorist group because of ties to militants who have waged a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
    Ankara has also said it intends to create a “safe zone” for the return of millions of refugees to Syria.
ISLAMIC STATE CAPTIVES
    The SDF have been the main allies of U.S. forces on the ground in the battle against Islamic State since 2014.    They have been holding thousands of captured IS fighters in prisons and tens of thousands of their relatives in detention.
    Trump said in a Twitter post on Thursday: “We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”.     “I hope we can mediate,” Trump said when asked about the options by reporters at the White House. Without elaborating, he said the United States was “going to possibly do something very, very tough with respect to sanctions and other financial things” against Turkey.
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called for an emergency meeting of the coalition of more than 30 countries created to fight Islamic State.    1 France’s European affairs minister said next week’s European Union summit will discuss sanctions on Turkey over its action in Syria.
    SDF forces were still in control of all prisons with Islamic State captives, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
    The United States has received a high-level commitment from Turkey on taking responsibility for Islamic State captives but had not yet had detailed discussions, the official said.
    U.S. lawmakers have said Trump gave Erdogan the green light to go into Syria but the official disputed that.    “We gave them a very clear red light, I’ve been involved in those red lights and I know the president did that on Sunday,” the official said.
    Trump has faced rare criticism from senior figures in his Republican Party who accuse him of deserting U.S. allies.
    U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who usually backs Trump, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the U.S. troop withdrawal.    He announced a framework for sanctions on Turkey with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would retaliate against any measure taken against it.
(Graphic: Where Kurds live, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0H001QXBW8SM/KURDS.jpg)
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Tom Perry; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Reuters correspondents in the region; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Angus MacSwan)

10/11/2019 U.N. envoy pushes to stop ‘blatant’ embargo violations in Libya by Aidan Lewis
FILE PHOTO: The U.N. Envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, speaks during a news conference
in Tripoli, Libya April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Hani Amara/File Photo
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – The U.N. envoy for Libya said he hopes an international conference next month will produce a Security Council resolution committing foreign powers to stopping an escalating proxy war and an accelerated mechanism to enforce an arms embargo.
    The conference being organized by Germany is set to be the first major diplomatic push to end fighting that began when eastern-based forces led by Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital Tripoli six months ago.
    It will seek to rally key external players to halt increasingly flagrant violations of a U.N. arms embargo and pressure their allies inside Libya to commit to a ceasefire and a new political process.
    “Expressions of hope and encouragement and verbal support are not what I’m looking for – I’m looking for a clear expression of the will to end the war in Libya,” U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame said in an interview.
    “This needs to be expressed clearly in a U.N. Security Council resolution and in a follow-up mechanism in order to protect the implementation of this resolution.”
    No date has been set for the conference, which aims to bring together the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as well as the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Turkey and Egypt.
    The UAE and Egypt have long backed Haftar, while France and Russia have also lent him support.    Turkey and Italy – the only Western nations to have reopened embassies in Tripoli after previous rounds of fighting – have close ties to the internationally recognized government in the capital.
    Salame said a U.N. panel of experts that monitors the arms embargo was investigating dozens of violations, and that foreign interference that was “even more blatant” than before included possible or potential use of foreign mercenaries and operators of foreign supplied drones.
    The panel of experts is due to publish a report by the end of the year, but its detailed documentation of alleged violations in recent years – including by the UAE and Egypt – has not led to censure.
‘REACTIVE’ SYSTEM
    Salame said the reporting system needed to become quicker and more “reactive”.     “We need them to express themselves immediately after the fact and not wait for an end-of-year report,” he said.
    “We need the sanctions committee to be more active in sanctioning those who violate the arms embargo, and we need the countries where those weapons are produced or brought to commit publicly to stop any transfer or arms to Libya.”
    Libya has been divided into rival, shifting camps based in the east and west since 2014, three years after a NATO-backed uprising overthrew former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
    The offensive against Tripoli, which quickly stalled on the capital’s outskirts, exposed international divisions.
    Haftar launched his campaign on April 4 during a visit to Libya by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, 10 days before a national conference at the center of a peace process planned by Salame was due to take place.
    Since then, the Security Council has failed to agree on any statement or resolution about the campaign.    U.S. President Donald Trump called Haftar early in the campaign to recognize his role in Libya.
    The conflict has left hundreds of civilians killed and injured and more than 120,000 displaced.    On Oct. 6, an air strike blamed on Haftar’s forces hit a riding club close to the U.N. compound in Tripoli, injuring several children.
    Salame said there would be a call for a ceasefire at the conference, which he said he hoped would take place in November.
    He said the risks of further escalation – including the spread of militancy, a revival of migrant flows to Europe, disruption of oil supplies, and regional instability – could help produce a deal among foreign powers.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/11/2019 Iranian oil tanker hit off Saudi coast, may have been missiles: Iranian media reports by Parisa Hafezi and Sylvia Westall
An undated picture shows the Iranian-owned Sabiti oil tanker sailing in Red Sea. National Iranian Oil Tanker Company via
WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian-owned oil tanker was struck, probably by missiles, in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia’s coast on Friday, Iranian media said, an incident that if confirmed will stoke tension in a region rattled by attacks on tankers and oil sites since May.
    The Sabiti was hit in the morning about 60 miles (96 km) from the Saudi port of Jeddah, Iranian media reported.    The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) said the ship was damaged but now heading to the Gulf, denying reports it was set ablaze.
    The incident, which has yet to be independently confirmed, is the latest involving oil tankers in the Red Sea and Gulf area, and is likely to ratchet up tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, long-time regional foes fighting a proxy war in Yemen, which lies at the southern end of the Red Sea.
    The reports offered sometimes diverging accounts.    Iranian state-run television, citing the national oil company, said it was hit by missiles while denying a report they came from Saudi Arabia.
    NITC said in statement on its website that “the blasts were probably caused by missile strikes” and it was investigating the source, adding two tanks were damaged but the crew was safe.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the ship was hit twice, without saying what struck it.    State television broadcast images from the Sabiti’s deck saying they were taken after the attack but showing no visible damage.    The ship’s hull was not in view.
    The Red Sea is a major global shipping route for oil and other trade, linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.    Crude prices jumped briefly on the news and industry sources said it could drive up already high shipping costs.
    There was no claim of responsibility for Friday’s reported incident, which follows attacks on tankers in the Gulf in May and June, as well as strikes on Saudi oil sites in September.
    The United States, embroiled in a dispute with Tehran over its nuclear plans, blamed Iran for the attacks.    Tehran has denied having a role in any of them.
    Saudi Arabia had no immediate comment on Friday’s reports. The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, said it was aware of the reports but had no further information.
    Brian Hook, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, in a briefing said Washington has seen the reports but offered no comment.
HEADING SOUTH
    Refinitiv ship tracking information indicated the Sabiti, a Suezmax class tanker, was in the Red Sea and heading south under its own power, bound for Larak, off Iran’s southern Gulf coast.
    The data put the vessel’s draft, or how deeply it sits in the water, at 53%, indicating it is not fully loaded.
    The ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS), which gives its position, appeared to have been off for two months until transmissions resumed on Oct. 11, shortly after the incident.    Refinitiv data showed the ship was off Iran’s Gulf coast in mid-August after passing through the Suez Canal in late July and early August.
    Tracking service Marine Traffic said on Twitter that, based on its information, including a NASA picture of the area and AIS data, “we do not see any smoke, fire, spills or tugboats.    Instead, we see a tanker cruising home at a healthy speed.”
    Tensions between Iran and the United States have been running high since President Donald Trump withdrew from a deal between world powers and Iran that aimed to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. U.S. sanctions have slashed Iranian oil exports.
    Russia said it was too early to assign blame for the tanker explosion. China, the top buyer of Iranian oil, said it hoped all parties would work to uphold peace and stability in the region.
    Iran’s ISNA news agency had earlier cited a source saying the Iranian tanker was struck in a “terrorist” attack.
PRICE SPIKE
    Oil prices climbed as much as 2% after the reports, with benchmark Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures both rising more than $1 a barrel.    Brent was trading around $60 a barrel on Friday. [O/R]
    Crude prices had eased after spiking above $70 in response to the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi oil sites, which shut down 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) of production, about half of Saudi output and roughly 5% of global supply.    Output has since been restored.
    Saudi Arabian dollar bonds slipped to multi-week lows on Friday, as investors fretted about the risk of further tension in the Gulf.
    Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility for the Saudi attacks in September, but a U.S. official said they originated from southwestern Iran.
    Industry sources said Friday’s incident off the Saudi coast could drive up shipping costs, which have already surged.
    “War risk insurance premiums for the Red Sea will now likely go up significantly, as will likely the freight (rates),” said Ashok Sharma, managing director of shipbroker BRS Baxi in Singapore.
    Tanker rates have soared to multi-year highs in recent weeks after U.S. sanctions on units of Chinese shipping giant COSCO and after the Saudi attacks.
    Disruption to shipping through Red Sea would affect oil passing through the Suez Canal or SUMED crude pipeline, which has capacity for 2.34 million bpd and which runs parallel to the canal.    It is used by tankers that cannot navigate the waterway.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Sylvia Westall; Additional reporting by Catherine Cadell in Beijing, Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow, Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Edmund Blair; Editing by Mike Collett-White, Alex Richardson and Grant McCool)

10/11/2019 Turkey intensifies Syria campaign as Islamic State strikes Kurds by Daren Butler and Ellen Francis
A Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighter holds the Syrian opposition flag in the border town
of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey intensified its air and artillery strikes in northeast Syria on Friday, escalating an offensive against Kurdish militia that has drawn warnings of humanitarian catastrophe and turned some Republican lawmakers against U.S. President Donald Trump.
    The Kurds, who recaptured swathes of northeastern Syria from Islamic State with the backing of the United States, say the Turkish assault could allow the jihadist group to re-emerge.
    In its first big attack since the assault began, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly car bomb in Qamishli, the biggest city in the Kurdish-held area, even as the city came under heavy Turkish shelling.
    Five Islamic State fighters fled a jail there, and foreign women from the group being held in a camp torched tents and attacked guards with sticks and stones, the Kurds said.
    The Turkish incursion was launched after Trump spoke by phone with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and withdrew U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces against Islamic State.    It has opened a new front in the eight-year Syrian civil war and drawn international condemnation.
    Erdogan dismissed the criticism, saying the assault against Turkey’s Kurdish militia foes “will not stop … no matter what anyone says.”
    A war monitor gave a death toll of more than 100 from the first days of the assault.    The United Nations said 100,000 people had fled their homes.
    Fending off accusations he had abandoned the Kurds, who are loyal allies of the United States, Trump suggested Washington could mediate in the conflict.
    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump had authorized the drafting of “very significant” new sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally, adding Washington was not activating the curbs now but would do so if necessary.    Sanctions have been demanded by Republican congressional critics of Trump’s policy.
    “We can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,” Mnuchin said.
    Trump’s defense secretary, Mark Esper, told a briefing that the United States had not abandoned the Kurds.    U.S. officials had urged Turkey to halt the assault, Esper said, warning of “dramatic harm” to bilateral relations.
    On Friday, Turkish warplanes and artillery struck around Syria’s Ras al Ain, one of two border towns that have been the focus of the offensive, now in its third day.
    Reuters reporters heard gunfire there from across the frontier in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.
    Hundreds of kilometers further east along the frontier, a car bomb blew up outside a restaurant in Qamishli as the city came under fierce Turkish shelling. Kurdish authorities said the bomb killed three civilians and wounded nine.    Islamic State claimed responsibility, saying it had targeted Kurdish fighters.
    A convoy of 20 armored vehicles carrying Turkish-allied Syrian rebels entered Syria from Ceylanpinar.    Some made victory signs, shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and waving Syrian rebel flags as they advanced toward Ras al Ain.
    Some 120 km (75 miles) to the west, Turkey resumed shelling near Tel Abyad town, a witness said.    The Kurdish fighters called it the most intense fighting in three days of battles there.
    Overnight, clashes erupted along the entire 400 km stretch of border from Ain Diwar at the Iraqi frontier to Kobane. “The whole border was on fire,” said Marvan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
    Turkish forces have seized nine villages near Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.    It reported at least 54 fighters with the SDF, 42 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 17 civilians had been killed.
    Turkey says two Turkish soldiers have been killed. Turkish authorities said on Friday two people were killed and three wounded by mortar shelling in the border town of Suruc, while eight were killed and 35 wounded in a mortar and rocket attack on Turkey’s border town of Nusaybin.
    A Kurdish official who oversees aid work in northeast Syria, Khaled Ibrahim, said water to Hasaka city and nearby areas was cut by Turkish shelling that damaged a pumping station.    It had provided safe water for at least 400,000 people, UNICEF said.
REFUGEES ‘WEAPONISED’
    Turkey says its aim is to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as an enemy for its links to insurgents in Turkey. It aims to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria, where it can resettle many of the 3.6 million refugees it has been hosting.     Erdogan said the assault would continue “until all the terrorists go further south than the 32 km border (strip) that Mr. Trump mentioned,” he said.
    The Turkish president threatened to send refugees to Europe if the European Union did not back his assault.    That prompted a furious response from the EU.
    “We will never accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us,” European Council President Donald Tusk wrote on Twitter. France said sanctions against Turkey would be discussed at an EU summit next week.
    Responding to the international criticism, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu defended Ankara’s record of intervention in Syria, telling the New York Times in an interview that Turkey had provided schools, hospitals and other services in other areas under its control.
    The Kurdish YPG is the main fighting element of the SDF, which has acted as the principal allies of the United States in a campaign that recaptured territory from Islamic State.
    The SDF now holds most of the territory that once made up Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Syria, and has been keeping thousands of fighters from the jihadist group in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
RARE REPUBLICAN CRITICISM OF TRUMP
    The SDF’s Qamishlo said five Islamic State fighters had escaped from jail in Qamishli after nearby Turkish shelling.
    In the al-Hol camp, home to thousands of women and children who emerged from the last Islamic State strongholds, Qamishlo said an uprising had taken place among foreigners.
    “The Daesh (Islamic State) women rose against the internal security forces at al-Hol, they set ablaze tents and attacked the administrative and security offices there with stones and sticks,” Qamishlo said.
    In the United States, Trump’s decision to withhold protection from the Kurds has been one of the few issues to prompt criticism from his fellow Republicans.
    Trump said on Twitter on Thursday: “We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!
    “I hope we can mediate,” Trump said later.
    Western countries’ rejection of the offensive creates a rift in NATO.    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he expected Turkey to act with restraint.    Cavusoglu said Ankara expected “strong solidarity” from the alliance.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Tom Perry; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Emma Farge in Geneva, Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Reuters correspondents in the region; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by David Clarke and Daniel Wallis)

10/11/2019 U.S. to deploy large number of forces to Saudi Arabia by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States announced on Friday a new, large deployment of forces to Saudi Arabia to help bolster the kingdom’s defenses following the Sept. 14 attack on its oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran.
    The planned deployment, which was first reported by Reuters, will include fighter squadrons, one air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel, the Pentagon said.
    The Pentagon said it was sending two additional Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).
    “Taken together with other deployments, this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorized within the last month,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
    It was unclear whether some of the newly announced troops might replace other American forces expected to depart the region in the coming weeks or months.
    The Pentagon has yet to announce, for example, whether it will replace the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its strike group when it eventually wraps up its deployment to the Middle East.
    The deployment is part of a series of what the United States has described as defensive moves following the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last month, which rattled global energy markets and exposed major gaps in Saudi Arabia’s air defenses.
    Iran has responded to previous U.S. troop deployments this year with apprehension.    It denies responsibility for the attack on Saudi Arabia as well as attacks on oil tankers earlier this year.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown)

10/11/2019 Car bomb hits Syrian Kurdish-held city of Qamishli: SDF official
People gather at the site of a car bomb blast in Qamishli, Syria October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A car bomb went off outside a restaurant in the Syrian Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli on Friday, an official in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.
    The Syrian state broadcaster al-Ikhbariya, quoting its correspondent, said the blast had caused deaths and injuries.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/12/2019 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels seize center of Syrian border town: senior Turkish official by Daren Butler and Tom Perry
An explosion and smoke are seen over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain as seen from the Turkish
border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkish-backed Syrian rebels seized control of the center of the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain town on Saturday, a senior Turkish security official said, as Turkey’s offensive against a Kurdish militia in the region entered its fourth day.
    “The (Syrian rebel) national army took control of the town center this morning.    Inspections are being conducted in residential areas,” the official told Reuters.
    Turkish forces had overnight stepped up their bombardment of Ras al Ain in their incursion, after U.S. troops in the region came under artillery fire from Turkish positions.
    The United States has ramped up its efforts to persuade Ankara to halt the offensive against the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG forces, saying Ankara was causing “great harm” to ties and could face sanctions.
    Turkey launched its incursion after U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Sunday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and withdrew U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces.
    There has been fierce international criticism of the assault and concern about its humanitarian consequences.    The Syrian Kurdish-led administration said nearly 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the offensive.
    Erdogan dismissed the mounting criticism of the operation and said on Friday evening that Turkey “will not stop it, no matter what anyone says.”
    Thick plumes of smoke rose around Ras al Ain, one of two Syrian border towns targeted in the offensive, on Saturday as Turkish artillery pounded the area, said a Reuters reporter across the frontier in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.
    Intense gunfire also resounded from within Ras al Ain while warplanes could be heard flying overhead.
    It was quieter at Tel Abyad, the operation’s other main target some 120 km (75 miles) to the west, with only occasional shelling heard in the area, another Reuters reporter said.
(For a graphic on ‘Turkey hits Kurdish militia targets’, click https://graphics.reuters.com/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0100B2G11PV/index.html)
    The Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said earlier they had cut the road which connects Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad and had captured 18 villages since the operation began.    Officials with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) could not immediately be reached for comment.
    On Friday, the Pentagon said U.S. troops came under artillery fire from Turkish emplacements though none of its soldiers were wounded near the Syrian border town of Kobani, 60 km (37 miles) west of the main area of conflict.
    Turkey’s Defence Ministry said its forces did not open fire at the U.S. base and took all precautions to prevent any harm to it while it was responding to fire from a nearby area by the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group.
(For a graphic on ‘Where Kurds live’, click https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0H001QXBW8SM/KURDS.jpg)
(The story was refiled to remove garble from paragraph 3)
(Reporting by Daren Butler, Tom Perry in Beirut, Omar Fahmy in Cairo and Reuters correspondents in the region; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/12/2019 Turkey intensifies Syria campaign as Islamic State strikes Kurds by Daren Butler and Ellen Francis
Syrian rebels stand on top of an armoured vehicle driving towards the border to cross into Syria,
in Ceylanpinar, Turkey, October 11, 2019 in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/ReutersTV
    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey intensified its air and artillery strikes in northeast Syria on Friday in an offensive against Kurdish militia that has raised the prospect of a humanitarian disaster and questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy in the region.
    The Kurds, who recaptured swathes of northeastern Syria from Islamic State with the backing of the United States, say the Turkish assault could allow the jihadist group to re-emerge as some of its followers were escaping from prisons.
    In its first big attack since the assault began on Tuesday, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly car bomb in Qamishli, the largest city in the Kurdish-held area, even as the city came under heavy Turkish shelling.
    Five Islamic State fighters fled a jail there, and foreign women from the group being held in a camp torched tents and attacked guards with sticks and stones, the Kurds said.
    Turkey opened its offensive after Trump spoke by phone on Sunday with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and withdrew U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces.
    On Friday, U.S. military officials denied accusations by lawmakers and policy analysts that the Trump administration had abandoned U.S. allies to a Turkish military onslaught.    Turkey says its aim is to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as an enemy for its links to insurgents in Turkey.
    “Nobody green-lighted this operation by Turkey, just the opposite. We pushed back very hard at all levels for the Turks not to commence this operation,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told a news briefing, responding to criticism that Trump had given Turkey a tacit “green light” for its attack.
    An explosion occurred near a U.S. military outpost in northern Syria on Friday, but no personnel were reported hurt and the source of the blast near Kobane was unclear, a U.S. official said.
    The Pentagon stressed the need for Turkey to avoid doing anything to endanger U.S. forces inside Syria, who numbered about 1,000 before the incursion.
    “The Turkish military is fully aware – down to explicit grid coordinate detail – of the locations of U.S. forces,” said U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    The Turkish Defense Ministry said it had taken all measures to ensure that no U.S. base was damaged while it responded to harassment fire that originated near a U.S. base in Syria.
    “There was no firing on the U.S. observation post,” it said.    The firing was halted when the U.S. military alerted Turkish forces, the ministry said.
‘WILL NOT STOP’
    Erdogan dismissed criticism of the assault and said it “will not stop … no matter what anyone says.”
    U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Trump had made the right decision to move U.S. soldiers out of harm’s way.
    “Now our mission, the State Department mission, is to do everything we can using economic power, diplomatic power – all the tools available to us – to ensure that Turkey doesn’t do what Erdogan has said that they just may do,” Pompeo said in an interview with WKRN TV in Nashville, Tennessee.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump had authorized the drafting of “very significant” new sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally.    Washington was not activating the curbs now but would do so if necessary, Mnuchin said.
    Sanctions have been demanded by Republican congressional critics of Trump’s policy but it was unclear how effective they might be when Ankara had already committed troops to the incursion.
    “Turkey is fighting with terrorist organizations that create a threat to its national security,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement in response to the sanctions threat.    “No one should doubt that we will retaliate … to any step that will be taken against this.”
    A war monitor gave a death toll of more than 100 from the first days of the assault.    The United Nations said 100,000 people had fled their homes.
    The Turkish defense ministry said late on Friday that 399 YPG militants had been killed since the operation began.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with the Kurdish YPG as its main fighting element, now holds most of the territory that once made up Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Syria, and has been keeping thousands of fighters from the jihadist group in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
‘WHOLE BORDER ON FIRE’
    On Friday, Turkish warplanes and artillery struck around Syria’s Ras al Ain, one of two border towns that have been the focus of the offensive, now in its third day.
    Reuters reporters heard gunfire there from across the frontier in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.
    Hundreds of kilometers further east along the frontier, a car bomb blew up outside a restaurant in Qamishli.    Kurdish authorities said the bomb killed three civilians and wounded nine.    Islamic State claimed responsibility, saying it had targeted Kurdish fighters.
    A convoy of 20 armored vehicles carrying Turkish-allied Syrian rebels entered Syria from Ceylanpinar.    Some made victory signs, shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and waving Syrian rebel flags as they advanced toward Ras al Ain.
    Some 120 km (75 miles) to the west, Turkey resumed shelling near Tel Abyad town, a witness said.    The Kurdish fighters called it the most intense fighting in three days of battles there.
    Overnight, clashes erupted along the entire 400 km stretch of border from Ain Diwar at the Iraqi frontier to Kobane.    “The whole border was on fire,” said SDF spokesman Marvan Qamishlo.
    Turkish forces have seized nine villages near Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.    It reported at least 54 fighters with the SDF, 42 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 17 civilians had been killed.
    Turkey says two Turkish soldiers have been killed.    Turkish authorities said on Friday two people were killed and three wounded by mortar shelling in the border town of Suruc, while eight were killed and 35 wounded in a mortar and rocket attack on Turkey’s border town of Nusaybin.
    A Kurdish official who oversees aid work in northeast Syria, Khaled Ibrahim, said water to Hasaka city and nearby areas was cut by Turkish shelling that damaged a pumping station.    It had provided safe water for at least 400,000 people, UNICEF said.
    Turkey aims to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria, where it can resettle many of the 3.6 million refugees it has been hosting.    Erdogan threatened to send refugees to Europe if the European Union did not back his assault, prompting a furious response from the EU.
    “We will never accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us,” European Council President Donald Tusk wrote on Twitter.    France said sanctions against Turkey would be discussed at an EU summit next week.
    Responding to the international criticism, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu defended Ankara’s record of intervention in Syria, telling the New York Times in an interview that Turkey had provided schools, hospitals and other services in other areas under its control.
(The story has been refiled to remove Erdogan’s full name at second reference, paragraph 14)
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Tom Perry; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; John Irish in Paris, Emma Farge in Geneva, Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Reuters correspondents in the region; Writing by Peter Graff and Grant McCool; Editing by David Clarke and Daniel Wallis)

10/12/2019 Saudi king approves U.S. military deployment: SPA
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states,
in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s king and crown prince have approved the deployment of additional U.S. troops and equipment, after an attack last month on the kingdom’s oil facilities, state news agency SPA reported on Saturday.
    The United States announced a deployment of about 3,000 troops to the Gulf state, including fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel, amid heightened tensions with Saudi’s arch-rival Iran.
    President Donald Trump said the Saudis had agreed to pay for the deployment.    The SPA report said only that it came in the context of     “historic relations and (a) well-established partnership” between the two countries.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan, writing by Stephen Kalin; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/12/2019 Turkish-led forces advance into Syrian border town, fighting rages by Orhan Coskun and Tom Perry
A military vehicle drives past Syrian rebel fighters near Tal Abyad, Syria, October 11, 2019,
in this still image obtained from video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
    ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkish-backed Syrian rebels advanced into the border town of Ras al Ain in northeast Syria on Saturday but it was unclear how far, with Turkey saying it had taken the town center, and Kurdish-led forces denying that and saying they were counter-attacking.
    Turkey pursued its four-day-old, cross-border offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia despite an outcry from the United States and European Union and warnings of possible sanctions unless Ankara called off its attack.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said Turkey’s incursion was causing “great harm” in relations with its NATO ally.    Other NATO allies Germany and France said they were banning weapons exports to Turkey.    The head of the Arab League denounced the operation and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to express his “grave concern” about the offensive.
    Ankara began its onslaught against the YPG militia, which it says is a terrorist group backing Kurdish rebels in Turkey, after Trump withdrew some U.S. troops there to support Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State.
    The assault has raised international alarm over its mass displacement of civilians and the possibility of Islamic State militants escaping from Kurdish prisons leading to a revival of the jihadist group’s insurgency in Syria.
    The Kurdish-led administration in Syria’s northeast said nearly 200,000 people had been uprooted so far by the fighting, while the U.N. World Food Programme said more than 100,000 had left Ras al Ain and the town of Tel Abyad.
    Turkey’s stated objective is to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it has been hosting.    Erdogan has threatened to send them to Europe if the EU does not back his assault.
    Turkish officials posted photos on Saturday showing deserted streets and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels standing on Kurdish militia flags in Ras al Ain.
    “The (Syrian rebel) National Army took control of (Ras al Ain) town center this morning,” a senior Turkish security official said, referring to Ankara-backed rebels.    “Inspections are being conducted in residential areas.    Mine and booby trap searches are being carried out.”
    Marvan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in which the YPG comprises the main fighting element, said they had carried out only a “tactical retreat” in Ras al Ain in response to hours of heavy Turkish bombardment.
    “Now the SDF’s attack has started and there are very fierce clashes,” Qamishlo told Reuters.    “The clashes are continuing in the industrial district,” the part of Ras al Ain closest to the border.
    Speaking as night fell Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said the SDF remained in control inside Ras al Ain.
    The senior Turkish official said “nearly all” YPG forces had fled south from Ras al Ain.    Turkish artillery continued to shell parts of the town, a Reuters reporter said.
    The SDF holds most of the northern Syrian territory that once made up Islamic State’s “caliphate” in the country, and has been keeping thousands of fighters from the jihadist group in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
    The SDF accused Turkey-backed rebel fighters of killing a Kurdish politician in a road ambush on Saturday.    The rebel force denied it, saying it had not advanced that far.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization which reports on the war, said Turkey-backed groups had killed nine civilians on the road, including Hervin Khalaf, co-chair of the secular Future Syria Party.
(Graphic: Where Kurds live – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0H001QXBW8SM/KURDS.jpg)
TURKEY SEEKS ‘SAFE ZONE’
    In the latest international censure of Turkey’s incursion, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit called it an “invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty.”
    Iraq, the current president of the League, said the offensive “will exacerbate humanitarian crises, increase the suffering of the Syrian people and strengthen the ability of terrorists to reorganize their remnants.”
    Turkey dismissed the criticism, saying Syrian Arabs had been the biggest victims of the YPG, which it said had driven hundreds of thousands from their homes in areas it controls.
    The foreign ministry said that by accusing Turkey, rather than a “terrorist organization that threatens the territorial integrity of Syria,” the League was betraying the Arab world.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also dismissed an offer by Trump to mediate between Ankara and Kurdish YPG forces.    “We don’t mediate, negotiate with terrorists,” he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “    The only thing to be done is for these terrorists to lay down arms.”
NO GERMAN OR FRENCH WEAPONS
    Germany and France halted arms exports to Turkey that could be used by Turkish forces in Syria.
    The French foreign and defense ministries said in a joint statement that European Union foreign ministers would coordinate their position on Monday at a meeting in Luxembourg.
    Erdogan has dismissed mounting international condemnation of the operation and said on Friday evening that Turkey “will not stop it, no matter what anyone says
    The Turkish-backed National Army said earlier they had cut a road linking Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, the two main targets of Ankara’s offensive, and had captured 18 villages since the operation began.
    Seventy-four Kurdish-led fighters, 49 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 30 civilians have been killed in the fighting, according to the Observatory.
    In Turkey, 18 civilians have been killed in cross-border bombardment, Turkish media and officials say.    They included eight people in a mortar and rocket attack on the border town of Nusaybin, the local governor’s office said.
    Turkey said 459 YPG militants had been “neutralized” since the operation began, a term that commonly means killed.
(Graphic: Turkey hits Kurdish militia targets – https://tmsnrt.rs/2M5FcGH)
FEARS OF ISLAMIC STATE REVIVAL
    Overnight a car bomb exploded outside a prison in Hasaka in northeast Syria, causing serious damage but no casualties, a statement from security forces in the region said.    It did not say if any Islamic State prisoners there had escaped.
    The SDF’s Qamishlo said the attack was carried out by IS sleeper cells and another senior SDF official said the Turkish assault had given new life to the jihadist group.
    “The Turkish invasion is no longer threatening the revival of Daesh (Islamic State), rather it has revived it and activated its cells in Qamishli and Hasaka and all the other areas,” SDF official Redur Xelil said, noting car bombs in each of the cities in the last day.
    He said the SDF was now fighting on two fronts – continuing to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State while also confronting the Turkish armed forces.
    In its first big attack since the assault began, IS claimed responsibility for a deadly car bomb on Friday in Qamishli, the largest city in the Kurdish-held area.
    Five IS militants fled a jail there, and foreign women from the group being held in a camp torched tents and attacked guards with sticks and stones, the SDF said.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Tom Perry, Daren Butler in Beirut, Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Reuters correspondents in the region; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)

10/12/2019 SDF says Turkey-backed rebels killed Kurdish politician, rebels deny it
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters stand near a truck mounted with a weapon, near the
border town of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces accused Turkey-backed fighters of killing a Kurdish politician in an ambush on a road in northern Syria on Saturday, drawing a denial from a Turkey-backed rebel force which said it had not advanced that far.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization which reports on the war, said Turkey-backed groups had killed a total of nine civilians on the road, including Hervin Khalaf, secretary general of the Future Syria Party.
    Khalaf had been returning from a meeting in Hasaka at the time of the attack in which her driver and an aide were also killed, said Hussein Omar, the Future Syria Party’s coordinator in Europe.    Party officials including Khalaf have had contacts with U.S. officials since it was founded in 2018, he said.
    Asked about the accusation that Turkey-backed groups had killed Khalaf, the spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Army, which groups Syrian rebel factions, said they had not made it as far as the highway known as the M4.
    “I confirm to you that our forces have not reached the M4,” Youssef Hammoud said in a voice message to Reuters, saying that they had instead reached a road closer to the border.
    Asked about the Observatory report that rebels had killed a total of nine civilians on the road, he gave the same answer.
    Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies launched an offensive into SDF-held parts of northeastern Syria on Wednesday.
    The SDF, in a statement, said Khalaf’s killing on the highway between Aleppo and Hasaka showed “the Turkish invasion does not differentiate between a soldier, a civilian or a politician.”    The SDF statement identified her as party co-chair.
    A map sent by an SDF official showed the location of the incident on the M4 highway southeast of Tel Abyad.
    The SDF had earlier reported that a group of “mercenaries of the Turkish army” had killed a number of civilians on the road after infiltrating the area, without identifying them.
    SDF forces had then repelled the attackers and the road was reopened, it said.
    Led by an Arab from Manbij, Khalaf’s party was launched in a ceremony in Raqqa, the city captured by the SDF from Islamic State in 2017.    Omar said it has been involved in the autonomous administration for northern Syria.
    Omar said party officials including Khalaf, a civil engineer, had met U.S. officials on visits to the region.    “The Americans have been in constant contact with this party up until now,” he told Reuters by phone.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

10/13/2019 Turkish-led forces seize parts of Syrian town in offensive by Tom Perry and Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Turkish army vehicles and military personnel are stationed near the
Turkish-Syrian border in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish forces and their Syrian allies seized large parts of the northern Syrian town of Suluk, a war monitor said on Sunday, as they pressed on with their offensive against Kurdish militia for a fifth day in the face of fierce international opposition.
    Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion.    Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey and the Arab League has denounced the operation.
    Ankara launched the cross-border assault against the YPG militia after U.S President Donald Trump withdrew some U.S. troops from the border region.    Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish militants in Turkey.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Turkish forces and Syrian rebels entered Suluk, some 10 km (6 miles) from Turkey’s border.    Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency said the rebels seized complete control of Suluk.
    Suluk is southeast of the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad, one of the two main targets in the incursion, which was shelled by Turkish howitzers on Sunday morning, a witness in the neighboring Turkish town of Akcakale said.
    Gunfire also resounded around the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain, some 120 km (75 miles) to the east of Tel Abyad, while Turkish artillery continued to target the area, a Reuters reporter across the border in Turkey’s Ceylanpinar said.
    Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, known as the National Army, advanced into Ras al Ain on Saturday but by Sunday there were still conflicting reports on who held control.
    The Syrian Observatory monitoring group said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in which the YPG comprises the main fighting element, had recovered “almost full control” of Ras al Ain after a counter attack.
    A spokesman for the National Army denied this, saying its forces were still in the positions they took on Saturday.
130,000 DISPLACED
    Turkey’s incursion has raised international alarm over its mass displacement of civilians and the possibility of Islamic State militants escaping from Kurdish prisons.    The Kurdish-led forces have been key allies for the United States in eliminating the jihadist group from northern Syria.
    More than 130,000 people have been displaced from rural areas around Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain as a result of the fighting, the United Nations said on Sunday.
    In a statement, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said OCHA and other relief agencies estimated up to 400,000 civilians in the Syrian conflict zone may require aid and protection in the coming period.
    In the latest criticism, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed “grave concern” to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, saying the offensive may worsen the humanitarian situation and undermine progress against Islamic State.
    “He urged the President to end the operation and enter into dialogue,” a spokesman for Johnson said after a telephone call between the two leaders on Saturday evening.
    Turkey’s Defence Ministry said on Sunday that 480 YPG militants had been “neutralized” since the operation began, a term that commonly means killed.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization that reports on the war, said 74 Kurdish-led fighters, 49 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 30 civilians have been killed in the fighting.
    In Turkey, 18 civilians have been killed in cross-border bombardment, Turkish media and officials say.
    For a graphic on ‘Where Kurds live’, click https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0H001QXBW8SM/KURDS.jpg
ISLAMIC STATE ESCAPEES
    The SDF holds most of the northern Syrian territory that once made up Islamic State’s “caliphate” in the country.    It has been keeping thousands of fighters from the jihadist group in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
    The Kurdish-led administration for northern and eastern Syria said the offensive was nearing a camp for displaced people holding thousands of members of “Islamic State (IS) families.”
    Around 100 people – women affiliated with IS and their children – have escaped from the camp, the Observatory said.
    The shelling of the camp at Ain Issa, north of Raqqa and about 30 km (20 miles) south of the border represented “support for the revival of the Daesh organization,” the Kurdish-led administration said, referring to IS militants.
    Addressing the U.N. Security Council, the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and other international parties, the Kurdish-led administration urged them “to bear your responsibilities and to intervene quickly to prevent a catastrophe whose effects will not be limited to Syria alone but will knock on all your doors when matters get out of control.”
    Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a car bomb on Friday in Qamishli, the largest city in the Kurdish-held area, where some IS militants fled from a jail.
    On Saturday Trump defended his decision to withdraw troops from the Syrian border region, telling conservative Christian activists that the United States should prioritize protecting its own borders.
    “Let them have their borders, but I don’t think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can’t guard our own borders at home,” Trump said in a speech in Washington.
    Turkey’s stated objective is to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it has been hosting.    Erdogan has threatened to send them to Europe if the EU does not back his assault.
    He has also dismissed the growing condemnation of the operation, saying that Turkey “will not stop it, no matter what anyone says.”
    The SDF accused Turkey-backed rebel fighters of killing a Kurdish politician in a road ambush on Saturday.    The rebel force denied it, saying it had not advanced that far.
    The Syrian Observatory said Turkey-backed groups had killed nine civilians on the road, including Hervin Khalaf, co-chair of the secular Future Syria Party.
    For a graphic on ‘Turkey hits Kurdish militia targets’ click https://graphics.reuters.com/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0100B2G11PV/index.html
(Reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul, Tom Perry in Beirut and Reuters correspondents in the region, Kirsti Knolle in Vienna; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Frances Kerry)

10/13/2019 Putin says Russia has “very friendly” relations with Saudi crown prince
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russia's President Vladimir Putin speak during
a meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday his country has “very friendly personal relations” with Saudi Crown Prince and de-facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, on his first visit to the kingdom in more than a decade.
    Putin also said Russia is studying new investments in Saudi Arabia.    Russian company Sibur Holding was looking at building a petrochemical complex in Saudi Arabia with investment worth more than $1 billion, he told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV in an interview.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Lisa Barrington)

10/13/2019 Russia takes part in talks between Syria and Kurdish-led SDF by Tom Perry and Rodi Said
FILE PHOTO: Members of Syrian National Army, known as Free Syrian Army, wave as they drive to cross into Syria near the
Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    BEIRUT/QAMISHLI, Syria, (Reuters) – The Syrian government and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been holding negotiations with Russian participation, a Syrian Kurdish politician said on Sunday, expressing hope for a deal that would halt a Turkish attack.
    Ahmed Suleiman, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria, said the talks were being held at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Latakia, although a source close to the Syrian government said they were taking place in Damascus.
    Suleiman did not say if he or his party – which is independent from the SDF – had a role in the process.
    The head of the SDF media office, Mustafa Bali, said he had “no comment” when asked about Suleiman’s remarks.    “We have confirmed from the start of the (Turkish) invasion that we will study all options that could spare our people ethnic cleansing,” he said.
    The source close to the Syrian government said meetings between the SDF and Damascus had taken place before and after the latest Turkish offensive.
    Suleiman, who is from the city of Qamishli in a part of Syria held by the SDF, said he hoped for a deal.
    “We are now in Damascus, this is what I can say at present.    We hope an agreement is reached that halts the war and its dangerous and catastrophic consequences on the citizens east of the Euphrates,” he told Reuters via Whatsapp messenger.
    His party, one of Syria’s oldest Kurdish groups, is not involved in the autonomous administration set up by the SDF and other Kurdish groups such as the PYD party in northern Syria.
    Russia is President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally.
    Turkish forces backed by Syrian rebel groups launched an offensive on Wednesday into areas of northern Syria controlled by the SDF.    Ankara says it is targeting Kurdish forces linked to an insurgency on Turkish territory.
    The Turkish attack began after U.S. forces that have backed the SDF withdrew from part of the Syrian-Turkish border.    The SDF, a major ally of the United States against Islamic State, called it a stab in the back.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday the United States was poised to evacuate about 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria after learning that Turkey planned to extend its incursion further south and west than originally planned.
(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Edmund Blair)

10/13/2019 U.S. to pull last troops from north Syria as Turkey presses offensive against Kurds
FILE PHOTO: Turkish army vehicles and military personnel are stationed near the Turkish-Syrian
border in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    WASHINGTON/BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United States is poised to withdraw some 1,000 troops from northern Syria, its defense secretary said on Sunday, after learning that Turkey planned to extend its military incursion against Kurdish militia further south than originally planned.
    Another consideration in the decision, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated, was that Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), were looking to make a deal with Russia to counter the Turkish onslaught.
    A Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters the SDF and Syrian government were in talks at a Russian airbase on how to halt Turkey’s attack, and Syrian state media said Syrian soldiers were being sent north to confront the offensive.
    Outlining Turkey’s goals, President Tayyip Erdogan said the incursion would stretch from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and extend some 30 km (19 miles) into Syrian territory, “in line with the safe zone map which we declared previously.”
    He told a news conference in Istanbul that the border town of Ras al Ain was already under Turkish control.
    Ankara also said Turkish and allied Syrian rebel forces had seized a highway some 30-35 km (18-22 miles) into Syrian territory, which would sever a major artery linking the Kurdish-run regions of war-torn Syria’s north.
    An SDF official said clashes were going on along the road.
    New reports of civilian casualties also surfaced.    A Turkish air strike in Ras al Ain killed 14 people including 10 civilians on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.    The SDF said a “civilian convoy” had been targeted.
    Turkey’s offensive aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main component of the SDF and seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. But the SDF has also been Washington’s key ally in fighting that has dismantled Islamic State’s jihadist “caliphate” in Syria.
    Ankara’s stated aim is to carve out a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it is hosting.    Erdogan has threatened to send them to Europe if the EU does not back his assault.
    But the Turkish offensive has triggered international alarm over its large-scale displacements of civilians and, amidst the upheaval, a heightened risk of Islamic State militants escaping from prisons run by the Kurdish-led authorities.
    Some 785 foreigners affiliated with Islamic State fled a camp where they were being held in northern Syria after shelling by Turkish forces on Sunday, the region’s Kurdish-led administration said.
    Erdogan dismissed the reports and told the state-run Anadolu news agency that accounts of escapes by Islamic State prisoners were “disinformation” aimed at provoking the West.
(Graphic: Where Kurds live – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0H001QXBW8SM/KURDS.jpg)
SANCTIONS THREAT
    Turkey now faces threats of possible sanctions from NATO ally the United States unless it calls off the incursion.     Two other NATO allies, Germany and France, have suspended arms exports to Turkey, and French President Emmanuel Macron was convening an emergency defense cabinet meeting on Sunday to discuss options regarding the offensive.
    A U.S. State Department spokesman said on Sunday that Washington was studying “extremely troubling” reports that a Kurdish politician and captured Kurdish fighters were killed by Turkish proxy forces amid the offensive.
    More than 130,000 people have been displaced from rural areas around Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain as a result of the fighting, the United Nations said on Sunday.
    Sunday’s word of the planned evacuation of U.S. forces came after U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Erdogan a week ago then abruptly shifted policy and withdrew a smaller number of U.S. troops deployed to support Kurdish forces in the campaign against Islamic State.
    “In the last 24 hours, we learned that (the Turks) likely intend to extend their attack further south than originally planned, and to the west,” Esper said in an interview with CBS.    “We also have learned in the last 24 hours that the … SDF are looking to cut a deal, if you will, with the Syrians and the Russians to counter-attack against the Turks in the north.”
    A Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters that SDF and Syrian government officials have been holding negotiations at a Russian airbase in Syria, and expressed hope for a deal that would halt a Turkish attack.
    Syrian state media reported that the Syrian army has begun deploying its troops to northern battlefronts to confront “Turkish aggression” on Syrian territory.
    Esper called the situation “untenable” for U.S. forces, saying he spoke with Trump on Saturday night and that the president directed the U.S. military to “begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.”
    Two U.S. officials told Reuters the bulk of U.S. forces could be pulled out of northern Syria within days.
    In a meeting with conservative Christian activists late on Saturday, Trump – who has come under withering criticism for the move, including from politicians in his own Republican Party who normally support him – defended his decision to withdraw troops from the Syrian border.    He said the United States should prioritize protecting its own frontiers.
    The latest pressure on Trump comes as the White House was already embroiled in an impeachment inquiry led by Democratic opponents in the U.S. House.
TERRITORIAL GAINS
    Erdogan told reporters that Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies had besieged Tel Abyad, a key border town west of Ras al Ain.    They later advanced into the center of Tel Abyad where the situation was calm and they were conducting search operations, a Reuters witness said.
    Erdogan said Turkish-led forces had killed 440 SDF fighters so far and captured 109 square km (42 square miles) of terrain, including 17 villages around Tel Abyad and four villages around Ras Al Ain.
    In Akcakale on the Turkish side of the border, around 100 people waved Turkish flags and sounded car horns as they celebrated reports of Turkish-led forces seizing Tel Abyad, a Reuters news team reported.
    Turkey’s Anadolu news agency said the rebels seized complete control of Suluk, some 10 km (6 miles) from the border.    But an SDF spokesman said its forces repelled the attack and were still in control.
    Suluk is southeast of Tel Abyad, one of the two main targets in the incursion, which was bombarded by Turkish howitzers on Sunday afternoon, a witness in Akcakale said.
    Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, known as the National Army, advanced into Ras al Ain on Saturday but by Sunday there were still conflicting reports as to which side was in control.
    Lebanese broadcaster al-Mayadeen said on Sunday that the Syrian army would deploy within 48 hours to the town of Kobani, which is held by the SDF, and the nearby town of Manbij, which is controlled by SDF-aligned forces.
(Graphic: Turkey hits Kurdish militia targets – https://graphics.reuters.com/SYRIA-SECURITY-TURKEY-USA/0100B2G11PV/index.html)
MILITANT PRISONERS
    The SDF hold large swathes of northern Syria that were once controlled by Islamic State. The SDF has been keeping thousands of IS jihadists in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
    But this weekend, 785 Islamic State-affiliated foreigners escaped the camp at Ain Issa, the region’s Kurdish-led administration said in a statement.
    The Syrian Observatory, citing sources in the camp, said around 100 people had escaped.
    SDF official Marvan Qamishlo told Reuters there were not enough guards for the camp, which is about 30 km (20 miles) south of the Turkish border.
    “The guarding is very weak now,” he said, adding there were just 60-70 security personnel compared with a normal level of no fewer than 700 for the camp of 12,000 people.
    Qamishlo also said there was unrest and escape attempts in prisons across northern Syria.    “They are breaking the doors, screaming and attacking the security forces, especially in the camps,” he added.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Tom Perry in Beirut; Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul; other Reuters correspondents in the region, Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, and Kirsti Knolle in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker)

10/13/2019 Exclusive: U.S. could pull bulk of troops from Syria in matter of days – officials by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: Turkish and U.S. troops meet on the Turkish-Syrian border for a joint U.S.-Turkey patrol in northern Syria,
as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Akcakale, Turkey, September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is considering plans to withdraw the bulk of American troops from northern Syria in the coming days, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Sunday, in what would be a faster-than-expected timeline for the U.S. pullout amid Turkey’s escalating offensive.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced earlier on Sunday that he was acting on orders from President Donald Trump to begin a deliberate withdrawal from northern Syria, where the United States has around 1,000 forces.
    Esper did not elaborate on the timing of the withdrawal, saying only that he wanted it to be done “as safely and quickly as possible.”
    The U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the United States was looking at several options but added it appeared likely the military would pull the majority of its forces in the coming days, instead of weeks.
    A full withdrawal could take two weeks or more, although even that could happen faster than expected, one official said.
    The disclosure of the fast-paced withdrawal caps off a dramatic week of policy upheaval on Syria, which was once the heart of the Islamic State militant group’s so-called caliphate.
    It began last Sunday, when Trump decided during a call with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to remove a small number of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.    The decision was lambasted by Trump’s critics, who say it opened the door for a Turkish offensive three days later against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters.
    The abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Syria – without any negotiated, diplomatic solution there – is widely viewed as a foreign policy defeat for the United States, which failed to halt an offensive by NATO ally, Turkey, against America’s main ally in Syria in war on Islamic State.
    The United States says it will not defend the Syrian Kurdish forces from Turkey and Turkish-backed forces, even though the Kurds fought alongside American forces against Islamic State and are guarding prisons holding tens of thousands of the militants.
    Esper, speaking in a television interview, said he expected the Syrian Kurds would seek to ensure their survival by turning to America’s rivals in Syria’s conflict – Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
KURDS TURN TO RUSSIA, SYRIA
    “There’s every expectation that the … Syrian Kurds would cut a deal with the Syrian and Russian forces,” he said.
    In a possible sign of that, Syrian state media reported that the Syrian army troops have already started deploying to northern Syria battlefronts to “confront a Turkish aggression” on Syrian territory.
    Trump, on Twitter, appeared to defend his hands-off military approach to the Turkish incursion, emphasizing possible sanctions against Ankara.    He noted that Turkey and the Syrian Kurds “have been fighting for many years.”    Ankara considers the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds an extension of terrorists fighting on Turkish soil.
    “Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other,” Trump wrote.    “Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!
    A complete withdrawal from Syria, and total break in ties from the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, would effectively leave the United States without on-the-ground visibility into the Islamic State threat in northern Syria.
    Brett McGurk, who was Trump’s top diplomat in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State until he resigned last year, has lamented the U.S. policy unraveling in Syria, after years of hard won gains against Islamic State.
    “U.S. military forces withdrawing from northeast Syria, what had been the ISIS caliphate.    All without thought, process, or planning,” he wrote on Twitter.
    “There will be serious consequences for our national security well beyond Syria. For now, may our people get out safely.”
    The Turkish assault has raised international alarm over a heightened risk of Islamic State militants escaping from prisons run by the Kurdish-led authorities.
    Women affiliated with IS and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces, the region’s Kurdish-led administration said.
    Beyond threats of U.S. sanctions, Turkey faces broader international backlash over the incursion.    Two other NATO allies, Germany and France, have suspended arms exports to Turkey.    The Arab League has denounced the Turkish offensive as an “invasion of Arab land.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

10/13/2019 Leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia to meet on Nile dam standoff: Sisi
FILE PHOTO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi arrives ahead of the start of the 74th session of the United Nations
General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Sunday he would meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Russia to discuss a dispute over a hydropower dam that the Horn of Africa country is building on the River Nile.
    A long-running diplomatic standoff over building and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has heightened tensions between the two countries.    Egypt worries that the dam will threaten its already scarce water supplies.
    “I agreed with the Ethiopian prime minister to meet in Moscow and to discuss the issue to move forward, and God willing, things will go in a way that helps to solve this issue in one way or another,” Sisi said at a military forum on Sunday.
    He did not say when they would meet, but Russia will host the first Russian-African summit in the Black sea resort of Sochi on Oct. 23 and 24.
    Sisi and Abiy spoke on Friday after the Ethiopian prime minister won the Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea.    Sisi had congratulated Abiy on Facebook.
    “The call included a stress on the importance of overcoming any obstacles in the negotiations of the Renaissance Dam,” said Egyptian presidency spokesman Bassam Rady.
    Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile which joins the White Nile in Khartoum and runs on to Egypt, says the dam will not disrupt the river’s flow and hopes the project will transform it into a power hub for the electricity-hungry region.
    Sudan, which is also involved in the talks, hopes to buy electricity produced by the dam.
    Sisi said his government had a plan, through 2037, worth 900 billion Egyptian pounds ($55 billion) to overcome “water poverty.”    The plan includes building huge sea water desalination plants and sewage triple treatment plants.
    Sisi said Egypt had already spent 200 billion pounds on the plan, and would spend 70-100 billion more next year.
    Many Egyptians on social media criticized Sisi for signing a 2015 “declaration of principles” with Ethiopia and Sudan, which was meant to serve as a basis for negotiations.    Critics say the declaration has strengthened Addis Ababa’s hand in talks, and no breakthrough has been made since it was signed in Khartoum.
    Sisi blamed the 2011 uprising which toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak for weakening Cairo’s position in the dam negotiations.
    “If not for 2011, there would have been a strong and easy agreement on constructing this dam, but when the country exposed its back and … stripped its shoulder naked, anything could be done,” he said at the military forum.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Yousef Saba and Mahmoud Mourad)

10/13/2019 Saudi Arabia says it is not behind Iranian tanker struck in Red Sea
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attends the Arab Foreign Ministers extraordinary
meeting to discuss the Syrian crisis in Cairo, Egypt October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    RIYADH (Reuters) – A Saudi minister said on Sunday that Riyadh was not behind a suspected strike against an Iranian-owned oil tanker in the Red Sea, which Iranian state-run television said was hit on Friday by missiles but denied reports they came from Saudi Arabia.
    “We did not engage in such behavior at all.    This is not how we operate and that’s not how we did (it) in the past,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh.
    “The story is still not complete. So let’s wait and find out what happened before we jump to conclusions.”
(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova, writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

10/13/2019 Kurds strike deal with Russia, Assad to stop Turkey by OAN Newsroom
    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have struck a deal with Russia and the Assad government to protect Kurdish areas from an offensive by the Turkish military.    Assad’s forces are backed by the Russian military and will be deployed along the Syrian-Turkish border to halt the bloodshed.
    The announcement comes amid the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. troops.    The Pentagon is expecting all U.S. troops to be removed within the next few days.
    “I don’t think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can’t guard our own borders at home,” said President Trump.
    Recent reports claimed the president’s decision to withdraw from Syria would hand the war-torn country over to Russia and its allies.    Peacekeeping efforts in Syria have become increasingly costly for all those involved, including the U.S. Moscow is trying to limit its own military involvement by seeking a negotiated solution between Ankara and the Kurds.
    “This Turkish operation could certainly help Ankara and Damascus take part in talks, but Moscow’s capability of doing so is doubtful — considering Assad’s tough stance,” said Russian official Kirill Semenov.    “Amid its advances, Assad is less and less prone to listen to anyone.”
    The Turkish military has only advanced 20 miles into SDF territory thus far, mainly due to ongoing Kurdish resistance. Now that the Russians are coming, the Turkish operation is expected to grind to a halt.    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has voiced opposition to this predictions.
    “Those who threaten us with such subjects like economic sanctions and arms embargoes — those who think they will turn Turkey back from its path are mistaken,” said Erdogan.
    The Kremlin is seeking to restore the rule of Bashar Assad in Syria, due in part to lucrative oil concessions promised by Assad to     Russian oil companies. However, many oil fields in Syria are held by the SDF.    Now that the Kurds are working with Assad, Russia’s own vision of peace in Syria is coming closer to being a reality.
    Some reports say Iran and Turkey may be disgruntled over the warming relationship between Assad and the SDF, which leaves out the Islamic militants backed by Turkey and Iran.
    “No matter what we did, the media will say it’s the wrong decision,” said President Trump.    “If I said we’re going to stay and fight them like you never saw before, they’ll say it’s terrible.”
    Russia and Assad have already begun the deployment of their troops in the SDF held areas.    More troops will be arriving to replace their U.S. counterparts in the coming days.
    Russia and Turkey are advancing dialogue to cease hostilities in Syria.

10/13/2019 Hundreds of ISIS detainees escape amid Turkish incursion into Syria by OAN Newsroom
    Kurdish officials said Sunday that hundreds of captured Islamic State fighters have escaped from detention camps amid the ongoing Turkish offensive.    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said their efforts to contain the Turkish offensive have weakened their ability to guard ISIS prisoner camps.     The escaped ISIS militants may now be plotting to either revive their caliphate or stage terror attacks in Syria and beyond.
    President Trump said European allies and regional powers must step up their efforts to contain the resurgence of ISIS.    This comes after the president recently decided to remove U.S. troops from Syria, claiming that America is done with these “endless wars.”
    The Kurds have said such calls for aid may not be enough.
    “The Turkish invasion does not only threaten the reactivation or revival of Daesh (Islamic State group) but has revived and activated its cells in Qamishli and all other areas,” explained SDF spokesperson Reydour Khalil.    “We are now fighting on two fronts — one against the Turkish invasion and another against Daesh organization.”
    Kurdish officials are calling on the U.S. and its allies to close Syrian airspace to Turkish’ warplanes, which they say will help contain the Turkish ground offensive.

10/14/2019 Syrian troops enter northeastern town after deal with Kurdish forces: state media by Ellen Francis and Tuvan Gumrukcu
An abandoned U.S. observation post is seen from the Turkish border town of Suruc,
in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    BEIRUT/ANKARA (Reuters) – Syria’s troops have entered a northeastern town, Syrian state media said on Monday, after Washington announced it was abruptly pulling out its forces, and its former Kurdish allies reached a deal with Damascus to help resist a Turkish attack.
    The abrupt U.S. withdrawal from the eight-year Syrian war, and the potential return of the Syrian army to the Kurdish-controlled northeast, are major victories for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Russia and Iran.
    The U.S. announced on Sunday it would swiftly withdraw its remaining 1,000 troops from northeast Syria, just four days after Turkey launched its cross-border offensive with a green light from President Donald Trump.
    The Turkish assault has prompted widespread criticism and alarm that it could allow Islamic State fighters in Syria to escape their Kurdish-run prisons and regroup.
    Trump decided a week ago to move U.S. troops out of the way of the Turkish assault, an act denounced as a stab in the back by the Kurds, thousands of whom died fighting against Islamic State in partnership with Washington since 2014.
    The Kurds announced on Sunday they were pursuing a new pact instead with Washington’s foes, Assad and his Russian backers.    Meanwhile, the United States said it was pulling its troops out of Syria altogether.
    Ankara says its operation aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which was the key U.S. partner in dismantling the jihadist “caliphate” set up by Islamic State militants in Syria.
    Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group because of its links to guerrillas waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey.
    Two U.S. officials told Reuters the bulk of the U.S. pullout could be completed within days.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mike Esper indicated on Sunday that one factor behind the pullout was that the SDF aimed to strike a deal with Russia and Syria to counter the Turkish offensive.    Hours later, the Kurdish-led administration said it had made such a deal for the Syrian army to deploy along the Turkish border to repel Ankara’s incursion.
    Syrian state media said on Monday that Syrian troops entered Tel Tamer, a town on the strategically important M4 highway that runs east to west along the border with Turkey.
    A top Syrian Kurdish official said a “preliminary military” deal with Damascus had been reached for government forces to enter border areas from the town of Manbij in the west to Derik, 400 km (250 miles) away in the northeast.
    Badran Jia Kurd said the deal is limited to the army’s deployment along the border and the two sides will discuss political issues later.     The Kurds have set up an autonomous administration in territory they control, while Assad aims to impose the rule of his government across all Syrian territory.
    The army deployment would help the SDF in countering the Turkish offensive and “liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered,” it added, referring to Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.    It would allow the recapture of other Syrian cities captured by the Turkish army such as Afrin.
    While the U.S. withdrawal moves American troops out of the line of fire, the return of Syrian soldiers to the border with Turkey opens up the possibility of a wider conflict should the Syrian army come in direct confrontation with Turkish forces.
SANCTIONS THREAT
    Turkey says it aims to form a “safe zone” in Syria to settle many of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it is hosting.    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the operation would extend from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east, and go some 30 km (20 miles) into Syrian territory, with the town of Ras al Ain now in Turkish control.
    Turkey also said it seized part of a key highway some 30-35 km into northern Syria.    An SDF official said clashes were going on along the road.
    Turkey’s European allies have also criticized the incursion, warning of potential sanctions.    Erdogan says that Turkey will “open the gates” to Europe for Syrian refugees if the European Union does not back the offensive.
    Turkish armed forces continued sporadic cross-border bombardment overnight, residents on the Turkish side said.    A Reuters cameraman in the town of Suruc reported occasional howitzer fire.
    The fighting has sparked Western concerns that the SDF, holding large swathes of northern Syria previously controlled by Islamic State, would be unable to keep thousands of jihadists in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
    The region’s Kurdish-led administration said 785 Islamic State-affiliated foreigners escaped a camp at Ain Issa.    The British-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing sources in the camp, said around 100 people had escaped.
    Erdogan dismissed the reports and told the state-run Anadolu news agency that accounts of escapes by Islamic State prisoners were “disinformation” aimed at provoking the West.
    Trump has placed the onus on the Kurds and Turkey to restrain the Islamic State fighters and blamed European nations for not taking back their own citizens.
    Turkey has said it would take responsibility for Islamic State fighters that fall within the “safe zone” it aims to form, but would not be accountable for those outside it.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Dominic Evans; Editing by Peter Graff)

10/14/2019 Saudi visit showcases Putin’s growing Middle East influence by Stephen Kalin and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a conference of the Israeli foundation
Keren Hayesod in Moscow, Russia, September 17, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Saudi Arabia on Monday for the first time in over a decade, seeking to capitalize on growing influence borne of military advances in Syria, strong ties with regional rivals and cooperation on energy policy.
    Moscow accrued power in the Middle East in 2015 by sending troops to Syria, where it and Iran have been key backers of President Bashar al-Assad amid civil war, while the United States pulled back.
    On the eve of Putin’s trip, U.S. troops were evacuating northern Syria as their erstwhile Kurdish allies struck a deal with Assad’s Russian-backed army aimed at halting a Turkish offensive.
    Russia has also strengthened ties with both Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which are locked in a decades-old contest for influence that veered towards open conflict after a recent spate of attacks on oil assets in the Gulf that Riyadh and Washington blame on Tehran.    Iran denies the charges.
    Tensions with Iran, which is locked in several proxy wars with Saudi Arabia including in Syria, have risen to new highs after Washington last year quit a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran and re-imposed sanctions.
    Putin, accompanied on the trip by his energy minister and head of Russia’s wealth fund, is due to hold talks with King Salman and de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Putin says he has friendly relations.
    The strengthened ties have seen non-OPEC Russia, once regarded as a rival in oil markets, join OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia in forming an alliance known as OPEC+ to support crude prices by restraining output.
    Ahead of the visit, Putin, who offered to provide Russian defense systems to the kingdom after Sept. 14 attacks on its oil facilities, said he could also play a positive role in easing tensions with Tehran as he had good ties with both sides.
    Any progress on long-mulled Saudi plans to purchase the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems would cause disquiet in Washington, which announced over the weekend it was sending around 3,000 troops and additional air defense systems to Saudi Arabia following last month’s attack.
OIL AND INVESTMENTS
    Asked about concerns Riyadh was cozying up to Moscow, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said he saw no contradiction.
    “We don’t believe that having close ties with Russia has any negative impact on our relationship with the United States,” he told reporters on Sunday.    “We believe that we can have strategic and strong ties with the United States while we develop our ties with Russia.”
    Russian and Saudi flags lined the streets of Riyadh ahead of Putin’s one-day visit, which includes a performance by Russia’s Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra.    Putin then travels to the United Arab Emirates.
    In meetings with Saudi leaders, the Russian president will discuss the OPEC+ pact, which has seen production cut by 1.2 million barrels per day since January.
    A forum will convene 300 Saudi and Russian CEOs.    The two sides are expected to sign more than $2 billion of deals, including a joint investment by state oil giant Saudi Aramco and Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund.
    RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev said a number of Russian investors were interested in a planned initial public offering of Aramco, which could sell between 1% and 2% through a local listing as early as November ahead of a potential international offering.
    Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia’s Gazprom is interested in cooperating with Saudi firms on natural gas.
    Moscow, the world’s largest wheat exporter, made some progress in accessing the Saudi and Middle Eastern markets when the kingdom agreed in August to relax specifications for wheat imports, opening the door to Black Sea imports.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

10/14/2019 Russia-backed Syrian army sweeps in after U.S. announces abrupt exit by Ellen Francis, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Phil Stewart
A Syrian army soldier is seen in the town of Tel Tamer in northeast Syria, in this
handout released by SANA on October 14, 2019. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT/ANKARA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia-backed Syrian forces took rapid advantage of an abrupt U.S. retreat from Syria on Monday, deploying deep inside Kurdish-held territory south of the Turkish frontier less than 24 hours after Washington announced a full withdrawal.
    Washington’s Kurdish former allies said they invited in the government troops as an emergency step to help fend off an assault by Turkey, launched last week after President Donald Trump moved his troops aside in what the Kurds call a betrayal.
    After a week of stinging rebukes from fellow Republicans, Trump announced plans to impose sanctions on Turkish officials, reimpose steel tariffs and immediately halt negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal.
    “Turkey’s military offensive is endangering civilians and threatening peace, security and stability in the region,” Trump said in a statement, adding that Turkey’s actions were “setting conditions for possible war crimes.”
    Still, Trump renewed his plans to withdraw almost all remaining U.S. forces, a move that effectively gives Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin free hands to shape the battlefield of the world’s deadliest ongoing war.
    In particular, the Syrian army deployment is a victory for President Bashar al-Assad and his most powerful ally Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
    They will now face Turkish armed forces along a new front line hundreds of miles long.
    Syrian state media reported the army entered Manbij, a town near the Turkish border in northeast Syria that had been controlled by a militia allied to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.    Earlier it pushed into Tel Tamer, a town on the strategically important M4 highway that runs east-west around 30 km (19 miles) south of the frontier with Turkey.
    State television later showed residents welcoming Syrian forces into the town of Ain Issa, which lies on another part of the highway, hundreds of miles away.
    Ain Issa commands the northern approaches to Raqqa, former capital of the Islamic State “caliphate,” which Kurdish fighters recaptured from the militants two years ago in one of the biggest victories of a U.S.-led campaign.
    Much of the M4 skirts the southern fringe of territory where Turkey aims to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria.    Turkey said it had seized part of the highway. An official of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said clashes were ongoing.
U.S. STRATEGY UNRAVELS
    The swift Syrian government deployments underscored how suddenly the strategy the United States had pursued in Syria for the past five years has unraveled.    Washington announced on Sunday it was pulling out its entire force of 1,000 troops which had provided air support, ground assistance and training for Syrian Kurds against Islamic State since 2014.
    Trump said U.S. troops would remain at a small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants” of Islamic State.    But the base would do little to support operations elsewhere in the country.
    Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, better known for his backing of Trump, joined his critics to express concern over the Syria pullout, saying it would “invite the resurgence” of Islamic State.
    “Such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests,” he said in a statement.
    A U.S. official said on Monday a diplomatic team working to help stabilize territory captured from Islamic State had already pulled out. U.S. troops were still on the ground but early phases of their withdrawal had started, the official said.
    Two other U.S. officials have told Reuters the bulk of the U.S. pullout could be completed within days.
    Sunday’s announcement of the U.S. retreat came just a week after Trump gave what the Kurds consider the go-ahead for Turkey to attack by shifting U.S. troops out of the way.
    Thousands of fighters from a Kurdish-led force have died since 2014 battling Islamic State in partnership with the United States, a strategy the Trump administration had continued after inheriting it from his predecessor Barack Obama.
    “After the Americans abandoned the region and gave the green light for the Turkish attack, we were forced to explore another option, which is talks with Damascus and Moscow to find a way out and thwart these Turkish attacks,” senior Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurd said.    Jia Kurd described the new arrangement with Assad’s forces as a “preliminary military agreement,” and said political aspects would be discussed later.
    It remains to be seen how the Kurds will be treated now that they have invited government troops into their region.    Kurdish fighters began carving out autonomous rule in Syria’s northeast early in its eight-year-old war, benefiting from diversions of Assad’s military to fight rebels and militants elsewhere.
    Assad aims to restore his government’s authority across all of the country.
    Another senior Kurdish politician, Aldar Xelil, called the pact with Damascus “an emergency measure.”    “The priority now is protecting the border’s security from the Turkish danger.”
    Trump says he aims to extract the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
    “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte,” Trump wrote on Twitter.    “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!
NEW FRONT LINE
    Ankara says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia which it views as a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey.    A “safe zone” would be set up in Syria to resettle refugees, 3.6 million of whom are in Turkey.
    “We are determined to continue the operation until the end, without paying attention to threats,” Erdogan said in a speech during a visit to Azerbaijan.    “Our battle will continue until ultimate victory is achieved.”
    The Turkish Defense Ministry said 560 militants had been “neutralized” since the operation began.    Earlier, Erdogan said 500 militants had been killed, 26 surrendered and 24 were wounded so far.
    The U.S. exit leaves Turkey and Russia, as well as Iran, Assad’s main Middle East ally, as Syria’s undisputed foreign power brokers.    Ankara and Moscow both predicted they would avoid conflict in Syria, even as the front line between them will now spread across the breadth of the country.
    “There are many rumors at the moment.    However, especially through the embassy and with the positive approach of Russia in Kobani, it appears there won’t be any issues,” Erdogan said when asked about the prospect of confrontation with Russia.
    Kobani, on the Turkish border, is one of the first Kurdish-held cities where reports emerged of possible Syrian government deployment.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the suggestion that Russia could clash with Turkish forces.    “We wouldn’t even like to think of that scenario,” he said.
    The fighting has raised Western concerns that the Kurds would be unable to keep thousands of Islamic State fighters in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
    The region’s Kurdish-led administration said 785 Islamic State-affiliated foreigners escaped a camp at Ain Issa over the weekend.    The British-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing sources in the camp, said the number who escaped was smaller, around 100.
    EU countries have threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey over the assault. But at a meeting on Monday they agreed not to impose an embargo.    Member countries would instead consider their own restrictions on sales of weapons, a measure likely to be brushed off as trivial, as arms account for just 45 million euros out of more than 150 billion euros in Turkey-EU trade.
    Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. Congress have announced plans for legislation to impose sanctions.    Turkey’s trade with the United States is a fraction of its trade with Europe.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Eric Beech, Humeyra Pamuk, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Phil Stewart; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Sonya Hepinstall)

10/14/2019 NATO’s Stoltenberg defends stance on Turkey’s offensive in Syria
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attends a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
    LONDON (Reuters) – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday defended his stance on Turkey’s attack on Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria as he came under pressure from some members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to be tougher with Ankara.
    Splits in the military alliance have emerged after NATO member Turkey began its offensive in Syria last week, with the governments of EU countries that are also NATO members suspending weapon sales to Turkey.
    Appearing in London at a plenary session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a body made up of delegates from the legislatures of member states, Stoltenberg said he had expressed deep concerns to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when he saw him in Istanbul on Friday.
    Stoltenberg said he had told Erdogan and his foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, that Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria risked further destabilizing the region, escalating tensions and causing more human suffering.
    “I expect Turkey to act with restraint and in coordination with other allies so that we can preserve the gains we have made against our common enemy, Daesh (Islamic State),” he said, adding that one imminent concern was that captive fighters from the jihadist group should not be allowed to escape.
    But during a question-and-answer session after his speech, Stoltenberg faced robust remarks from several delegates, particularly those from France and Belgium, both countries where deadly attacks linked to Islamic State have taken place.
    Christian Cambon, a member of the French Senate, said the situation was unacceptable and suggested that Stoltenberg was being too soft on Turkey.
    “We were surprised by the tone of your statement in Istanbul, I have to tell you.    Was that in consultation with our great American ally?” Cambon asked, to applause from some of the other delegates.
    He was referring to President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria, which was the catalyst for the Turkish offensive.    Ankara views the YPG Kurdish militia in northern Syria as terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency being waged inside Turkey.
TURKEY’S ROLE
    U.S. and Kurdish troops previously fought together against the Islamic State, and the Kurds have accused Trump of stabbing them in the back.
    Cambon called on the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s main decision-making body, to convene.    He said it should “speak loudly and clearly in defense of the values of democracy and peace that characterize NATO’s work.”
    In response, Stoltenberg reiterated that he had expressed his deep concerns during his meetings in Istanbul.
    “The only way you can understand what is going on there is also to understand the important role Turkey has played,” said Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister.
    “Turkey is important for NATO.    It has proven important in many ways, not least in the fight against Daesh.    We have used, as NATO allies, the global coalition, all of us have used infrastructure in Turkey, bases in Turkey in our operations to defeat Daesh."
    “And that’s exactly one of the reasons why I’m concerned about what is going on now.    Because we risk undermining the unity we need in the fight against Daesh.”
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Alistair Smout; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/14/2019 Air strike in Libyan capital Tripoli kills three young sisters by Aidan Lewis
A security member inspects the site of an overnight air strike, which hit a residential
district in Tripoli, Libya October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Three children, all sisters, were killed, and their mother and a fourth sister wounded in an air strike that hit a house near a military intelligence camp in Libya’s capital on Monday, a Reuters reporter and health officials said.
    The mother was in critical condition and her daughter had emergency surgery to amputate a leg after the strike in the Al Fornaj neighborhood of southern Tripoli, the Tripoli-based Health Ministry and hospital officials said.
    Libya’s internationally recognized government blamed the strike on forces of Khalifa Haftar, the commander based in the east of the North African country who has been trying to seize Tripoli in the west in a ground and air campaign since April.
    A Reuters reporter saw a heavily damaged two-storey house which witnesses said had been hit around midday.    The family living there were among those displaced from the outskirts of Tripoli since the start of Haftar’s campaign, residents said.
    One neighbor, Walid Khamis, said he had heard a single warplane before the strike.    “It circled, dipped, then launched,” he said.
    A taxi driver whose vehicle was damaged said: “I was sleeping and when I heard the strike I woke up.    They’re our neighbors.    Then we started to take out the children” from the rubble.
    The spokesman for Haftar’s forces, Ahmed Mismari, said on Monday that air strikes including one against a military intelligence camp in Al Fornaj had “caused heavy losses in lives and equipment.”
    About 30 meters from the house was the entrance to a compound which a security official at the site said was a military intelligence camp.    The camp appeared undamaged.
    A Reuters reporter later saw the bodies of the three sisters at a hospital morgue.
    The conflict in and around Tripoli has killed and wounded hundreds of civilians and more than 120,000 have been displaced, but Haftar’s offensive has not breached the city’s southern defenses.
    The U.N. mission to Libya said in a statement that it “condemns in the strongest possible terms the reckless disregard for the lives of innocent people and calls for the immediate cessation of such indiscriminate attacks.”
    It noted that the attack came just over a week after another strike blamed on Haftar’s forces wounded several children at a riding club near the U.N. base in western Tripoli.
    Mismari said on Monday that an ammunition store had been targeted 200 meters from the riding club.
    Haftar’s forces had not targeted “any civilian locations in Tripoli,” he said.    “Any target is decided based on confirmed and triple-checked ground intelligence.”
    Germany unveiled plans last month for a U.N.-backed conference expected in November that will push for a ceasefire and for regional actors to agree to stop arming the warring sides.
    Haftar is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, while Turkey supports the Tripoli government.
    Oil-producing Libya has been in turmoil since the autocratic rule of Muammar Gaddafi was brought to an end by a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis and Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Mark Heinrich)

10/14/2019 Turkey says Kurdish forces emptied Islamic State prison in northeast Syria by Ali Kucukgocmen
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels drive on a street in the Turkish border town of Akcakale
in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters had emptied a jail holding Islamic State prisoners in a part of Syria where Ankara is mounting an offensive, and that the prisoners there had been abducted.
    Turkey launched a cross-border operation against the YPG militia in northeastern Syria last week, after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw forces from two posts in the area in a move that drew strong international criticism.
    The Turkish assault has prompted alarm that it could allow Islamic State (IS) militants to escape Kurdish-run prisons in northern Syria and regroup.    Ankara has dismissed those concerns.
    Turkey’s stated objective is to clear its southern frontier region of the YPG, which it views as a terrorist organization, and form a “safe zone” 30 km (20 miles) into Syrian territory where it wants to settle millions of Syrian refugees.    Ankara also pledged to take responsibility for IS militants within the “safe zone,” but said it would not be accountable for others.
    Speaking to reporters in Ankara on Monday, Akar said the YPG had emptied the only Islamic State prison that Turkish forces had so far reached in the envisaged “safe zone” area, and that the inmates had already been removed.
    “As you know, there is a prison issue on this Daesh (Islamic State) topic.    We are determined to show the utmost effort on these prisons.    However, there was only one prison in our region, a Daesh prison,” Akar said.
    “When we went there, we saw that it had been emptied by the YPG and the Islamic State militants there had been abducted.    We determined this through photographs and film, talked to our counterpart, and will continue to do so,” he added.
    Akar did not say how many prisoners were believed to have been taken from the jail, nor did he elaborate on who had taken the prisoners and where.    There was no immediate YPG comment.
    Trump, providing no evidence, tweeted on Monday that Kurdish forces might be freeing IS prisoners deliberately to lure U.S. troops back into the region.    Escaped fighters could be “easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly,” Trump said.
    Later on Monday, Turkish media broadcast footage of what it said was the prison emptied by the YPG in central Tel Abyad, along the Turkish border.    The footage showed Turkish soldiers roaming through an empty building with jail cells built inside.
    The fighting has raised Western concerns that the Kurds, holding large tracts of northern Syria previously controlled by Islamic State, would be unable to keep thousands of jihadists in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
    The region’s Kurdish-led administration said 785 IS-affiliated foreigners escaped a camp at Ain Issa at the weekend.    The UK-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing sources in the camp, said around 100 people had escaped.
    President Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the reports on Sunday, saying that accounts of escapes by Islamic State prisoners were “disinformation” aimed at provoking the West.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/15/2019 Trump sanctions fail to slow Turkey assault; Syrian troops move on Manbij
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters raise the Syrian opposition flag at the border town
of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    MANBIJ, Syria (Reuters) – Turkey ignored U.S. sanctions and pressed on with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by U.S. forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.
    Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of Manbij, a flashpoint where U.S. troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
    Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.
    Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing Moscow’s Defense Ministry, said later that Syrian forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square kilometers around Manbij.    This included Tabqa military airfield, two hydroelectric power plants and several bridges across the Euphrates river, it said.
    In Manbij, Syrian troops were manning joint checkpoints alongside regional Kurdish militia (YPG), witnesses said.
    A YPG official said Turkish-backed fighters were still 15 km north of the city. Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu agency said six civilians were killed and 13 wounded in three villages near the town of Jarablus in a YPG attack launched from north of Manbij.
TURKISH LIRA SHRUGS OFF SANCTIONS
    A week after reversing U.S. policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.
    But the measures – mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks – were less robust than financial markets had anticipated, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
    The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher U.S. measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
    Bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is relatively small – around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe.    Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to U.S. financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
    In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.
    Following Trump’s announcement, the U.S. Treasury said on Monday it had sanctioned Turkey’s energy, defense and interior ministers, as well as the ministries of energy and defense.
FOES BECOME ALLIES
    Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
    The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
    The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria.    Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
    The U.N. Security Council will likely meet on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Syria, diplomats said, the second such session since Turkey began its offensive.
    Russian-backed Syrian government forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.
    “We are out of Manbij,” said Colonel Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria.
    Trump’s pullout ends joint U.S.-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal meant to persuade Turkey not to invade and attack the p; Kurdish YPG, seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish separatist insurgents in Turkey.
    The YPG is also the main component of the SDF, which had been Washington’s key regional ally fighting Islamic State (IS) militants.
    A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain where an SDF spokesman reported a fierce battle going on.
ACCUSATIONS OF BETRAYAL
    Trump has defended his reversal of U.S. policy as part of a plan to extricate the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
    But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against IS.
    France said on Tuesday it would hold talks soon with Iraqi and Kurdish leaders to weigh how, amidst the upheaval triggered by the Turkish incursion, to secure thousands of foreign and regional IS militants held in Syrian camps and prisons.
    Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia and create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian war refugees now in Turkey could be resettled.
    The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance.    The regional Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
    The U.N. Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.
    Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
    Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it had suspended most medical aid activities in northeast Syria and was evacuating all international staff in the wake of air strikes and violence during Turkey’s incursion.
    Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Ankara was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
    “The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.    “The European Union – and the world – should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
    The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington amount to a victory for Assad and his most powerful ally,     Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.
    Trump’s allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a ceasefire.     NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed that demand.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry in Beirut, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Can Sezer, Behiye Selin Taner and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, John Irish in Paris, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

10/15/2019 Turkish assault in Syria weakens Iraq Kurds, strengthens regional powers by Raya Jalabi and Ali Sultan
Iraqi Kurds protest against the Turkish offensive against Syria during a demonstration outside
the United Nations building in Erbil, Iraq October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – A Turkish border offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces will further weaken Iraq’s divided Kurds next door and embolden regional rivals who have one thing in common – they want no Kurdish state.
    The assault, following an American troop pullback that in effect gave Turkey a U.S. green light, alarmed inhabitants of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. It ended Syrian Kurdish rule of “Rojava” – their name for northeastern Syria – and left Iraqi Kurdistan as the Kurds’ only self-governed land.
    Outraged that their Syrian kin were betrayed by another U.S. policy decision, protesters in Iraqi Kurdish cities burned Turkish flags and authorities promised to help refugees fleeing.
    “The world has failed the Kurds,” said Bayan Ahmed, a 20-year-old student.
    “That’s our story – we’re always betrayed.”
    But a more cautious reaction from Iraqi Kurdish leaders who did not condemn neighboring Turkey by name showed Kurdistan’s economic and political reliance on the same country that is battling their Syrian brethren over the border.
    It also masked the underlying tensions between the two main parties in Iraq’s Kurdistan — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK, a close ally of Iran, and the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which enjoys close relations with Ankara.
    As Turkey advances on Kurdish militants, Syria’s government retakes Kurdish areas and Iran-aligned militias secure regional supply lines, Iraqi Kurdish dependence on regional powers will only grow, according to Kurdish officials and analysts.
    “Kurds are caught between powerful states all working against them, Turkey, Syria, Iran, even Iraq.    The Kurdish government’s worried.    It’s the only one left,” said Shirwan Mirza, a Kurdish lawmaker in the Iraqi parliament.
    “To preserve itself, it might look to closer cooperation with Baghdad – but not as first-class citizens.”
    Iraqi Kurds are still reeling from a failed independence bid in 2017.    They say the attempt was wrecked by U.S. criticism of their referendum on full Kurdish self-rule, a stance they see as a betrayal by Washington.
    The U.S. criticism, plus Turkish and Iranian condemnation, paved the way for Iraqi government forces to retake areas under Kurdish control since Islamic State seized vast parts of Iraq.
    Bilal Wahab, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the two Kurdish experiments in self-government in Syria and Iraq “suffered a nosebleed” in the past two years.
    Wahab questioned whether the setbacks were due to bad timing, lack of political nous, or “a bigger picture where Kurds will always end up with the shorter end of the stick regardless.”
FAILED INDEPENDENCE, DIVISIONS
    Kurds have sought an independent state for almost a century, when the Ottoman Empire crumbled and left Kurdish-populated territory scattered between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
    But moves by regional powers to keep the ethnic group of 30 million in check, combined with internal divisions, have long thwarted efforts towards independence.
    In northern Iraq, the Kurds got their first self-run territory in 1991, after the Gulf War.
    But since then, they have had to balance their ambitions for full independence with the threat of a backlash from their neighbors and the reluctance of Baghdad to redraw borders.
    Syria’s Kurdish experiment is younger.    The war that began in 2011 allowed Kurds in the northeast to rule themselves as President Bashar al-Assad was busy fighting rebels in the west.
    U.S. forces partnered with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia to defeat Islamic State, providing a powerful Western ally Kurds hoped would support shaky de-facto self-administration.
    That ended last week as U.S. troops withdrew and Turkey began its incursion.    Ankara sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of its home-grown PKK militant group.
    Desperate to stave off the offensive, the YPG made a deal with Assad to allow his forces to defend them, giving back territorial control to Damascus for the first time in years.
    Assad’s ally Iran is also set to gain.    Iraqi paramilitary groups backed by Iran on the Iraq-Syria border will likely help Assad secure control, strengthening their own supply lines along a corridor of territory from Tehran to Beirut.
    In this environment the Kurdish regional Government (KRG) is not in a position to rush to the aid of Syrian Kurds, and nor will it want to, for fear of upsetting regional ties with Iran and Turkey, according to Kurdish politicians and analysts.
    In Iraq, this could push Kurdish authorities to work closer with the central government, they say.    The 2017 independence move left the Kurds weaker in their relations with Baghdad.
    Maintaining ties with Turkey will also be crucial.
    “The KDP has become a part of (Turkish President Tayyip) Erdogan’s plan … they have interests in keeping up ties, among them oil and gas contracts,” said Bezdar Babkar of the Kurdish opposition Change Movement.
    The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) relies on Turkish pipelines to export oil.    Links between the ruling KDP and Turkey go beyond the economy, including a shared enemy in the PKK.    Turkey regularly bombs PKK bases in northern Iraqi Kurdistan.
    KRG help to Syrians will therefore be limited to taking in some refugees, which it has started doing.    KDP rival the PUK, which controls areas near the Iran border, has closer ties with the PKK and has issued stronger condemnation of Turkey.
    The two Kurdish parties fought a civil war in the 1990s.    More recently they have taken to sharing power, but competing regional loyalties, rivalry and strains govern the relationship.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ali Sultan in Sulaimaniya; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Samia Nakhoul, William Maclean)

10/15/2019 Power shift: Who gains in the battle for Syria’s northeast? by Dominic Evans, Orhan Coskun and Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters take pictures with mobile phones at the
border town of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria radically realigns the balance of power in the country’s northeast and creates a vacuum which Russia, Turkey and Iran are racing to fill.
    With Turkish forces pressing south from the border, the Kurds have invited troops from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed government in from the south and the west.    Assad’s forces are exploiting the U.S. retreat to seize back resource-rich territory they abandoned years ago.
    The area includes most of the Syrian lands that formed the “caliphate” of the Islamic State group, whose fighters have gone underground but vowed to stage a comeback.
    More than 10,000 Islamic State prisoners, including many hardened foreign jihadis whose Western governments refuse to take them back, are in prisons there, and tens of thousands of their family members are in camps.
.     Here is a summary of what the U.S. withdrawal means for those rushing in and those left behind.
WHAT IS THE AIM OF TURKEY’S OFFENSIVE?
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says he wants to settle up to two million Syrian refugees, many of them of them Sunni Arabs, into the region targeted in the operation, territory which is currently controlled by Kurdish-led forces.
    Turkish troops and Ankara-backed Syrian rebels have focused in the first week of operations on driving Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters from two major border towns, Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain, about 120 km (75 miles) apart.
    Despite a chorus of global criticism, Erdogan has said nothing will stop operations against Kurdish YPG fighters, considered terrorists by Ankara because of their links to guerrillas waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey.
    Erdogan has said Turkey will seize a border strip running hundreds of km (miles) from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and 30-35 km (18 to 22 miles) deep inside Syria.
    A Turkish official told Reuters the operation was proceeding “quite rapidly and successfully.”    The first phase would be complete by Nov. 13, when Erdogan is due to meet Trump during a visit to Washington, he said, without specifying how far Turkey would have gone by then.
WHAT ARE ASSAD’S GOALS?
    The full withdrawal of U.S. forces and deployment of the Syrian army is a major juncture in the Syrian conflict, restoring a foothold for Assad’s government across the biggest swath of the country that had been outside its grasp.
    The area includes oil, farmland, water resources and the hydro-electric dam at Tabqa – vital assets that will better position the government to cope with the impact of Western sanctions.
    Syrian state media have said troops have reached the M4 highway that runs east-west around 30 km (18 miles) south of the frontier with     Turkey, on the edge of Ankara’s planned “safe zone.”    On Tuesday they entered Manbij, in an area that had been patrolled jointly by Turkey and the United States.
    Assad’s army, however, has been weakened by the attrition of prolonged conflict, and now relies heavily on Russia, Iran and Iran’s Shi’ite militia allies including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR KURDISH AUTONOMY?
    Syria’s Kurdish groups exploited the withdrawal of government forces from the northeast at the start of the Syrian conflict to build up the institutions of autonomy and teach Kurdish language in local schools.
    Exposed to Turkish attack by the U.S. withdrawal, they invited the Syrian army back – a decision that highlighted their weakness and signaled an end to many of their dreams.
    They will hope to preserve as much of their autonomy as possible in political talks with the Syrian state – their long declared objective.    But they no longer have a powerful ally to back them.
    Still, Damascus and the SDF share the objective of driving Turkey from northern Syria, or at least halting its advance.
    “Damascus needs the Kurds.    The Kurds and Damascus have two things in common: enmity for Turkey and a desire not to see Sunni rebel militias ruling the northeast of Syria,” said Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
    “But they don’t agree on anything when it comes to ruling northeast Syria.”
WHAT WILL BECOME OF ISLAMIC STATE?
    The Kurdish-led SDF was the main force on the ground in the U.S.-backed offensive that recaptured the Syrian lands of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, including the group’s de facto capital Raqqa.    Before its pullout, Washington had been preparing to train and equip an SDF force to stabilize the area, to prevent a return by the militants, who carried out large massacres of Kurds in towns they had controlled.
    The SDF says the Turkish offensive has helped energize Islamic State sleeper cells, just a year after the “caliphate” was effectively dismantled.    Islamic State has already claimed responsibility for attacks, including a deadly car bomb strike outside a restaurant in the biggest Kurdish city Qamishli just a day after Turkey launched its incursion.
    Since the fighting started last week, the SDF says there has also been unrest in the prisons where they are holding the fighters, and in camps holding their wives and children.
POTENTIAL IRANIAN WIN
    Assad’s ally Iran is also set to gain.    Iraqi paramilitary groups backed by Iran on the Iraq-Syria border will likely help Assad secure control, strengthening their own supply lines along a corridor of territory from Tehran to Beirut.
WHAT DOES RUSSIA WANT?
    Russia’s indispensable role in Syria reflects a larger shift in the Middle East from Damascus to Riyadh, as showcased by President Vladimir Putin’s Gulf tour this week, including his first visit to Saudi Arabia in more than a decade.
    It was Russia’s intervention with air power in 2015 which helped turn the tide of Syria’s civil war in Assad’s favor, and Trump’s decision to pull out of the northeast has cemented Moscow’s central role in shaping the country’s future.
    “There are Turkish-Russian talks … to set the tempo for northern Syria, particularly east of the Euphrates,” said a regional pro-Damascus source.    “They are the ones moving all these plans.”
    The Turkish official said Ankara is “working in very close cooperation with Russia,” and Erdogan pointed on Monday to Russia’s importance when he said that President Vladimir Putin had shown a “positive approach” to the situation.
    The two countries may be able to forge an agreement dividing the northern border into new control zones and prevent their local allies – the Syrian government on the one hand and anti-Assad insurgents on the other – from going to war.
    “I think there will be real friction but I do think the Russians will be able to manage it.    There is a deal to be made,” said Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria and head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Editing by William Maclean)

10/15/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says alternatives to F-35 jets ready, receiving offers
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint press conference with Serbia's President
Aleksandar Vucic after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s alternatives for the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets are ready and “offers are coming in”, President Tayyip Erdogan was cited as saying by broadcaster NTV on Tuesday.
    Ankara and Washington have clashed over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defenses, which the United States says are not compatible with NATO defenses and pose a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth jets.
    Washington removed Turkey from the joint F-35 program after it took delivery of the S-400 systems in July.    Ankara, a buyer and producer of the jets, has said it could look elsewhere.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Sandra Maler)

10/16/2019 Turkish foreign minister, U.S. national security adviser to meet in Ankara on Wednesday: ministry
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference
in Istanbul, Turkey, October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien at 1245 GMT in Ankara on Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign ministry said, as Turkey pressed on with its military operation in northeastern Syria.
    O’Brien will be visiting Ankara as part of a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will hold talks with President Tayyip Erdogan about Turkey’s offensive in northeastern Syria on Thursday.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay)

10/16/2019 Turkey pushes offensive in Syria, despite sanctions and calls to stop
Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters raise the Syrian opposition flag at the border town
of Tel Abyad, Syria, October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    MANBIJ, Syria (Reuters) – Turkey vowed to press ahead with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday despite U.S. sanctions and growing calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that was abandoned by U.S. forces.
    “They say ‘declare a ceasefire’.    We will never declare a ceasefire,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after a visit to Baku.
    “They are pressuring us to stop the operation.    They are announcing sanctions.    Our goal is clear.    We are not worried about any sanctions.”
    Erdogan said an attack from Manbij that killed one Turkish soldier was launched by Syrian government forces.
    Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of Manbij, a flashpoint where U.S. troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
    Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts and from a convoy of military vehicles.
    Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing Moscow’s Defense Ministry, said later that Syrian forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square km (386 miles) around Manbij, including Tabqa military airfield.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of U.S. policy on Syria.
    As well as clearing the way for the Turkish incursion, the U.S. withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
    The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory amount to a victory for Assad and Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.
    The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria.    Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s government, inviting the army into towns across their territory.
    A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain, where an SDF spokesman reported a battle going on.
    U.S. military aircraft carried out a “show of force” around the town of Kobani after Turkish-backed fighters came close to American forces, a U.S. official told Reuters.    The Turkish-backed fighters dispersed after the show of force, the official said.
    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will meet Erdogan on Thursday in Ankara.
    “Vice President Pence will reiterate President Trump’s commitment to maintain punishing economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached,” the White House said in a statement.
    After Trump announced a set of sanctions on Monday to punish Ankara, U.S. prosecutors hit Turkey with charges on the majority state-owned Halkbank [HALKB.IS] for taking part in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.
    A Turkish embassy official in Washington said the indictment did not contribute positively to the current state of U.S.-Turkey ties.     Turkish and American officials had been in talks on the Halkbank case for at least a year.
MORE U.S. SANCTIONS PRESSURE
    A senior Trump administration official said Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a ceasefire and halt its offensive.
    Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a loyal Trump supporter who has nevertheless been highly critical of the president’s troop withdrawal, said he would introduce a bill on Thursday to impose tougher sanctions on Turkey.
    The measures announced on Monday – mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks – were less robust than financial markets had anticipated, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
    The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher U.S. measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
    Bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is relatively small – around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe.     Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to U.S. financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
    In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments.”
    Following Trump’s announcement, the U.S. Treasury said on Monday it had sanctioned Turkey’s energy, defense and interior ministers.
ACCUSATIONS OF BETRAYAL
    Trump has defended his reversal of U.S. policy as part of a plan to extricate the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
    But his critics cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground force in Washington’s battle against Islamic State.
    A senior U.S. defense official said the U.S. military would continue to combat Islamic State militants, who experts say could take advantage of the chaos to stage a resurgence.
    “The intent is to reposition (U.S. forces leaving Syria) and use what assets and personnel we have available to continue the mission,” the official said.
    However, without a partnership on the ground in Syria like the with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, any such U.S. efforts would almost certainly be limited.    The Kurdish YPG militia, the key component of the forces who fought Islamic State, is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish separatist insurgents in Turkey.
    Turkey says it aims to defeat the YPG and create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian war refugees now in Turkey could be resettled.
    The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance.    The regional Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
    The U.N. Security Council will likely meet on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Syria, diplomats said, the second such session since Turkey began its offensive.
    The U.N. Human Rights office said on Tuesday that Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the attack on the internet.
    Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
    Erdogan said Ankara was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
    “The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.    “The European Union – and the world – should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
(Additional reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry in Beirut, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Can Sezer, Behiye Selin Taner and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, John Irish in Paris, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Mark Heinrich, Alistair Bell and Mary Milliken; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Stephen Coates)

10/16/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will never declare ceasefire in northern Syria by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to journalists in Istanbul, Turkey,
October 13, 2019. Murat Kula/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan told U.S. President Donald Trump that Turkey will never declare a ceasefire in northeastern Syria and that it will not negotiate with Kurdish forces it is fighting in its offensive into the region.
    Turkey pressed ahead with its offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria on Tuesday despite U.S. sanctions and calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that was abandoned by U.S. forces.
    The YPG, the key component of the forces who fought Islamic State, is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish separatist insurgents in Turkey.
    On Monday, Trump announced sanctions on Turkey to punish it for the offensive.    On Tuesday, a senior U.S. official said Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a ceasefire and halt its offensive.
    However, speaking to reporters on a flight back from Baku, Erdogan said the offensive would continue until it reaches its aims, and added that he was not worried about sanctions.
    “They say ‘declare a ceasefire’.    We will never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan said.    “They are pressuring us to stop the operation.    They are announcing sanctions.    Our goal is clear.    We are not worried about any sanctions,” he said.
    Erdogan said he told Trump in a phone call earlier this week that he should send a U.S. delegation to Ankara to discuss their demands and try to reach an agreement.    The White House said on Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday.
    Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria after a phone call with Erdogan not only cleared the way for the Turkish incursion, but it also gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
    Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory mark a victory for Assad and Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.
    Asked about the deployment of Syrian forces to the northern town of Manbij, Erdogan, who has backed Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad, said he was not bothered.
    “The regime entering Manbij is not very negative for me.    Why? It’s their lands after all.    But, what is important to me is that the terrorist organization does not remain there,” Erdogan said, referring to the YPG.br>     “I told this to Mr Putin as well.    If you are clearing Manbij of terrorist organizations, then go ahead, you or the regime can provide all the logistics.    But if you are not going to do this, the people there are telling us to save them,” he added.
    Erdogan also said that an attack from Manbij on Tuesday, which killed one Turkish soldier, was launched by the Syrian government, and that Turkey “made the regime pay a heavy price” in retaliation.
    Separately, the Turkish presidency said late on Tuesday that Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that Turkey’s operation would contribute to counter-terrorism efforts, Syria’s territorial integrity, and a political solution process.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)

10/16/2019 As war map shifts once more, fleeing Syrians face tough choices by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: People sit on belongings at a back of a truck as they flee Ras al Ain town, Syria
October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo - RC18938739A0
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Driven from his hometown in northeast Syria as bombs rained down in a Turkish assault, a Kurdish father worried for his toddler son, who was ill, and accused America of betraying the Kurds in the region.
    Agid Meshmesh escaped from the mainly Kurdish border town of Kobani on Monday after he couldn’t get food or diapers for his son, who was battling a severe infection.
    “Life stopped; the doctors all fled,” Meshmesh, 29, told Reuters by phone from the nearby town of Manbij, where he was staying with his wife and son.    “We’re fleeing, but we don’t know where to go.”
    He called the Turkish military move on the region “a catastrophe,” and he criticized Washington for abandoning Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, leaving the region at the mercy of Turkish troops and seeking help from Syria and Russia.
    His hometown, Kobani, was the birthplace of a U.S.-Kurdish military alliance some five years ago, when Washington intervened with air strikes to help Kurdish fighters turn the tide against Islamic State. That made the U.S. pullout even more bitter.
    “The Americans couldn’t do a thing for us,” he said.    “It was an American betrayal of northeast Syria and the Kurdish people…. They left us between the jaws of a pincer.”
    Caught in the crossfire, Meshmesh and his family are waiting, helplessly, to see how the shifting web of rivalries and alliances plays out in the tangled battlefield of northeastern Syria, which the Kurdish YPG militia controls.
    The past week has redrawn the map of Syria yet again after more than eight years of war.    Washington’s move to pull out of the region, opening the way for Ankara’s offensive, left Kurdish forces scrambling for protection.    So the Kurds invited in the Syrian army and its ally Russia.
    Meshmesh said he would rather have Syrian troops take his hometown than see it fall to Turkish forces — which he fears would make him a target for his Kurdish ethnicity. Turkey launched the operation in the region to target the YPG, which it brands a threat to Turkey.
    The ethnically mixed northeast region is home to up to 2 million people, including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and others, many of them uprooted from other parts of Syria.
    The Syrian army’s deployment raises questions about the fate of a region where the YPG and its local allies have carved out self-rule for years.
    Making matters even more fraught, the humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) announced Tuesday that it had suspended most of its activities in the region and evacuated all its international staff.
    Meshmesh said the new reality on the ground could pose a threat for people who had evaded mandatory military service or Kurdish activists who are wanted by the government.
    For him, that paled in comparison to the Turkish incursion.    “It is an existential problem,” he said.
    “I’m proud to be Syrian,” he said.    “I prefer the Syrian government … even if it may weaken the rights and dreams that were built in the past eight years.”
    But with territory shifting hands at lightning speed and a new exodus unfolding, Syrians must weigh up tough choices over where to seek shelter.
    In the city of Raqqa farther south, a young Syrian Arab man hid in his home Tuesday, frantically following the news, worried about the prospect of Syrian government forces coming back.
    “I’m living in a state of terror.    I can’t sleep at night,” said the opposition activist, who is in his 20s and didn’t want to give his name because he is afraid of retribution.    “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
    He has remained in his city since early in the war even as its rulers shifted from rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule to Islamic State militants and then to Kurdish fighters.    But now he fears a return of state rule because of his past work with local outlets and activists opposed to Assad.
    Syrian Kurdish leaders have said the deal with Damascus involves only army troops deploying at the border, and there has been no official comment from the Syrian government.
    But the activist and a second Raqqa resident said they still worried that Kurdish forces would cut a deal with Damascus and hand over Raqqa.
    Some in the city who support Damascus rallied on Monday, calling for a return of its rule and carrying photos of Assad for the first time in years, he said.
    If it comes to it, his siblings, like many others, would have no problem staying in Raqqa, so he would have to find a way out alone, he said.
    He hopes to get smuggled into territory in the north under the control of mainly Sunni Arab Syrian rebels funded and trained by Turkey, a swathe of Syria where Turkish forces are stationed. For now, though, he is waiting to see what happens.
    The activist said he had heard from relatives in the north that some rebels had been looting and acting inappropriately but he would feel safer there than under state rule.
    “Listen, nobody is good — they’re all criminals,” he said.    “But some are easier than others.”
(Editing by Kari Howard)

10/16/2019 Yemeni government, separatists seen inking deal to end Aden standoff
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Yemen's southern separatists stand on a billboard during a rally to show support to the United Arab Emirates
amid a standoff with the Saudi-backed government, in the port city of Aden, Yemen September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and southern separatists are expected to sign a deal to end a power struggle in the southern port of Aden that fractured an Arab coalition battling the Iran-aligned Houthi group, officials said.
    The UAE-backed separatist Southern Transition Council (STC) is nominally allied to the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, but the two sides fell out in August, with the separatists seizing control of Aden.
    Saudi Arabia has hosted indirect talks between them to rebuild the coalition fighting against the Houthi movement that expelled Hadi’s government from the capital Sanaa five years ago.
    Fighting between pro-Hadi forces and the separatists had opened a new front in the multi-faceted war and complicated U.N. peace efforts.
    Riyadh has been trying to refocus the coalition on fighting the Houthis on its border.    The Houthis have repeatedly launched missiles and drone strikes against Saudi cities during the conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Two officials in Hadi’s government told Reuters the pact to end the Aden standoff would be signed in Riyadh on Thursday.    In a statement carried by the state news agency SABA, the government spokesman Rajeh Badi later said no date has been set for signing the agreement.
    Another official in Hadi’s cabinet said talks were still under way and the two sides “may still need a few days” before announcing a deal publicly.
    STC leader Aidarous al-Zubaidi, who has been involved in the month-long talks in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, headed to Riyadh on Wednesday, according to a post on his Twitter account.
    The deal calls for a government reshuffle to include STC, which seeks self-rule in the south, and the restructuring of armed forces under Saudi supervision, sources from both sides have told Reuters.
    Saudi forces took control of Aden after Emirati troops withdrew last week.    The move seemingly paved the way for ending the crisis that had exposed differences between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi over how to proceed in the wider war that has been in military stalemate for years.
    The UAE already scaled down its presence in Yemen in June as Western pressure mounted to end the conflict that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.    But Abu Dhabi retains influence through thousands of Yemeni troops it armed and trained.
    Hadi’s government has asked the UAE to stop supporting STC.    Abu Dhabi criticised Hadi’s government as ineffective and distrusts Islamists with whom he is allied.
    Resolving the power struggle in the south and easing Houthi-Saudi tensions would aid U.N. efforts to restart peace talks to end the war that has killed tens of thousands.
    The Houthis last month offered to stop missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia if the coalition ended air strikes on Yemen. Riyadh has said it views the offer “positively.”
    The group, which controls Sanaa and most big urban centres, extended the offer after claiming responsibility for a Sept. 14 assault on Saudi oil processing facilities.    Riyadh rejected the Houthi claim of responsibility and blames Iran for the attacks, a charge Tehran rejects.
    The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say they are fighting a corrupt system, pointing to the standoff in Aden as proof Hadi is unfit to rule.
(Reporting by Reuters Yemen team; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/16/2019 Turkey rejects talks with Kurds, vows retaliation against U.S. sanctions by OAN Newsroom
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party legislators at the
Parliament, in Ankara, Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
    Turkey is preparing retaliatory sanctions against the U.S. In a statement released Wednesday, the Turkish government’s spokesman rejected President Trump’s calls for a ceasefire in Northern Syria.    He said Turkey does not negotiate with what he called “terror groups.”
    The U.S. recently blacklisted Turkey’s defense sectors and slapped tariffs on Turkish steel in response to its attacks on Kurdish forces in Syria. Ankara is saying it will reciprocate by targeting U.S. business interests in the country.
    “As our foreign minister said, this kind of sanctions will be retaliated in kind,” said Chief Counselor Ibrahim Kalin.    “Our foreign ministry makes preparations on this matter — Turkey will not leave it unreciprocated.”
    President Trump recently called on other nations to step in and help resolve the conflict in Syria, claiming that his administration’s biggest priority was securing the U.S. border.    Turkey has since lashed back, claiming that they “will not accept anybody’s mediation.”
    “We conveyed our position to our American counterparts,” reiterated Kalin.
    Kurdish forces embarked on a counter-offensive on Wednesday. With the help of Russian troops, they were able to take back several villages along the Syrian-Turkish border and damage several Turkish tanks.

10/17/2019 Pence to urge Turkey to halt Syria offensive as threat of further sanctions loom by Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien
in Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019. Cem Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will urge Turkey on Thursday to halt its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, a day after President Donald Trump threatened heavy sanctions over the operation.
    Turkey’s week-long assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 160,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.
    Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish fighters, who were Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9.
    Trump defended his move on Wednesday and called it “strategically brilliant.”
    Following a phone call with Erdogan, who has rejected calls for ceasefire or mediation, Trump dispatched top aides including Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara for emergency talks to try to persuade Turkey to halt the offensive.
    Pence will meet Erdogan around 1130 GMT, while Pompeo and other officials are expected to hold talks with counterparts.    A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, met National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on Wednesday and said he conveyed Turkey’s position.
    On Wednesday, Trump said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a “successful meeting,” but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.    Kalin said that Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate to the U.S. sanctions.
    Trump’s critics say the U.S. sanctions so far, including a hike to steel tariffs, a pause in trade talks, and sanctions on the defense and energy ministries, were too soft.
    On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said they could be broadened, while Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives also indicated a sanctions legislation.
    Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish fighters Ankara views as terrorists.
    Erdogan said Turkey would end its operation when Kurdish forces withdraw from the “safe zone,” adding that “no power” can deter Ankara’s operation until it reaches its goals.
LAND-RUSH
    Trump has defended his move to withdraw troops from Syria as part of a wider effort to bring U.S. soldiers home from “endless wars,” despite being excoriated by members of his own Republican Party.    Trump’s decision to withhold protection from Syrian Kurds upended five years of U.S. policy.
    It has also created a land-rush between Turkey and Russia – now the undisputed foreign powers in the area – to partition the Kurdish areas that were formerly under U.S protection.
    Turkey’s operation has also allowed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to redeploy his forces to an area that had been beyond his control for years in the more than eight-year Syrian war.    It also prompted the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the Kurdish YPG is the main element, to strike a deal with Damascus.
    SDF Commander Mazloum Kobani said on Wednesday Trump did not object to the deal cut between the Kurdish forces and Damascus.
    Turkey views the U.S.-backed YPG as a terrorist organization because of its link to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, and has been infuriated with Washington’s support.
    Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has called the offensive “unacceptable” and said it must be limited in time and scale.    In a rare criticism of Turkish policy on Syria, Moscow said Turkish troops had the right to temporarily go up to a maximum of 10 km into Syria, under a 1998 agreement between Damascus and Ankara.
    A Reuters cameraman along the Turkish border with Syria said clashes continued around the border town of Ras al Ain and that Turkish war planes were heard flying overhead after a lull in fighting overnight.
    Ankara had previously said it has taken control of Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, two key towns along the border.
    Syrian troops, accompanied by Russian forces, have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and a potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.
    Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV reported that Russian-backed Syrian forces had also set up outposts in Raqqa, the one-time capital of Islamic State’s caliphate, which the Kurds captured in 2017 at the peak of their campaign with U.S. support.
    The White House, fighting the domestic political damage and perhaps trying to demonstrate the president’s efforts to stop the offensive, released a Trump letter to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!
    Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk, quoting sources, said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict, saying the letter was “thrown in the trash.”
    Erdogan, who has forged close ties with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin through defense and energy cooperation, as well as joint efforts for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, will travel to Sochi on Oct. 22 for emergency talks on Syria.
(Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)

10/17/2019 Exclusive: Iran-backed militias deployed snipers in Iraq protests – sources
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators gather during a protest after the lifting of the curfew, following four days of nationwide
anti-government protests that turned violent, in Baghdad, Iraq October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Iran-backed militias deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops during Iraq’s deadliest anti-government protests in years, two Iraqi security officials told Reuters.
    The deployment of militia fighters, which has not been previously reported, underscores the chaotic nature of Iraqi politics amid mass protests that led to more than 100 deaths and 6,000 injuries during the week starting Oct. 1.    Such militias have become a fixture here with Iran’s rising influence.    They sometimes operate in conjunction with Iraqi security forces but they retain their own command structures.
    The Iraqi security sources told Reuters that the leaders of Iran-aligned militias decided on their own to help put down the mass protests against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, whose one-year-old administration is backed by powerful Iran-backed armed groups and political factions.
    “We have confirmed evidence that the snipers were elements of militias reporting directly to their commander instead of the chief commander of the armed forces,” said one of the Iraqi security sources.    “They belong to a group that is very close to the Iranians.”
    A second Iraqi security source, who attended daily government security briefings, said militia men clad in black shot protesters on the third day of unrest, when the death toll soared to more than 50 from about half a dozen.    The fighters were directed by Abu Zainab al-Lami, head of security for the Hashid, a grouping of mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitaries backed by Iran, the second source said.    The Hashid leader was tasked with quashing the protests by a group of other senior militia commanders, the source said.    The sources did not say how many snipers were deployed by militia groups.
    A spokesman for the Hashid, Ahmed al-Asadi, denied the groups took part in the crackdown.    “No members were present in the protest areas.    None of the elements of the Hashid took part in confronting protesters,” Asadi said in a statement to Reuters.
    Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan said state security forces did not fire directly at protesters and blamed unnamed “vicious” shooters for the mass deaths and injuries.    The government has opened an investigation to determine who shot the protesters and who ordered it, Maan said in a news conference on Oct. 6.
    The assertion that security forces did not participate in the violence seemed to contradict a statement on Oct. 7 from the Iraqi security forces which said excessive force had been used and promised to hold individuals accountable for violence against civilians.
    An official with the prime minister’s office said in a statement to Reuters Wednesday that it would be “premature to lay the blame on any parties, whether from Hashid or other security forces, before we end the investigation.    Let’s wait and see who gave the order ‘shoot to kill.’
    Mohammed Ridha, the head of parliament’s security and defense committee, said in statement on Thursday that an initial investigation showed there were “deliberate killings of protesters by some elements”, without elaborating.
    Iran’s role in responding to the demonstrations was another reminder of Tehran’s reach in Iraq, where a sizable number of former militia commanders are now members of parliament and support the Iranian agenda.    Stability of the Iraqi government is in the best interests of Iran, which has been steadily amassing influence in Iraq since 2003, when the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Islamic Republic’s arch-enemy Saddam Hussein.    Iran is Iraq’s biggest trading partner.
    Iran’s delegation to the United Nations did not immediately respond Wednesday afternoon to questions from Reuters about its support of militias and their involvement in the violence against protesters. Leaders of militias in Iraq have denied getting training and weapons from Iran.
SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS
    As protests entered their third day, on Oct. 3, snipers appeared on Baghdad rooftops.    A Reuters cameraman who was covering the unrest near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square that afternoon said he saw a sniper, wearing a balaclava and dressed in black as he stood on top of an under-construction building that overlooked the demonstrations.
    Protesters fled as the sniper opened fire.    One protester who was shot in the head was carried away in a large crowd.    Another who was shot in the head appeared to have died and was rushed off in a truck.    When his phone rang, a friend recognized that the man’s brother was calling.
    “Don’t tell him he died,” the friend said.
    The protests started Oct. 1 amid public rage over chronic shortages of jobs, electricity and clean water.    Iraqis blame politicians and officials for systemic corruption that has prevented Iraq from recovering after years of sectarian violence and a devastating war to defeat Islamic State.
    Any vacuum of power could prove challenging for the region, given that Baghdad is an ally of both the United States and Iran, who are locked in their own political standoff.    Thousands of U.S. troops are stationed in the country in positions not far from those of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias.
    The second security source told Reuters that the snipers were using radio communications equipment that was provided by Iran and is difficult to intercept, giving the groups an essentially private network.
    A group of senior commanders from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards traveled to Iraq on the second day of the protests and met with Iraqi intelligence and security officials, according to a diplomat in the region familiar with Iran’s decision-making process.    After the meeting, senior Revolutionary Guard officers with experience in curbing civil unrest continued to advise the Iraqi government, the diplomat said, although no Iranian soldiers were deployed.
    A senior commander of one of the Iran-backed militias – who said his group was not involved in efforts to stop the protests or the resulting violence – said Tehran consulted closely with forces trying to quell the demonstrations.
    “After two days, they jumped in and supplied the government and militias with intelligence,” the militia leader told Reuters.    “Iranian advisors insisted on having a role and warned us that the ongoing protests, if not reversed, will undermine the government of Abdul Mahdi.”
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Brian Thevenot and Toby Chopra)

10/17/2019 Trump envoy Jared Kushner to lead U.S. delegation to Israel
FILE PHOTO: White House senior advisor Jared Kushner is seen during U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to a
section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Otay Mesa, California, U.S. September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner will lead a U.S. delegation to Israel at the end of the month to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz, a senior administration official said on Thursday.
    Kushner has been leading President Donald Trump’s effort to develop a peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians.
    After proposing a $60 billion aid package for the region last summer, he has yet to unveil a proposed political plan that gets at the thorniest issues in the decades-old conflict, with Netanyahu struggling to form a governing coalition.
    The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kushner would travel with his two main deputies, Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook, to meet Netanyahu and Gantz.
    They are not expected to release the political plan but want to get a sense of coalition building and where the effort stands, the official said.
    While in the region Kushner will also attend an economic conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the official said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Tom Brown)

10/18/2019 Protests sweep Lebanon for a second day
Demonstrators sit together during a protest over deteriorating economic situation, in the
city of Jounieh, north of Beirut, Lebanon October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Imad Creidi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Protesters across Lebanon blocked roads with burning tires on Friday and marched in Beirut for a second day in demonstrations targeting the government over an economic crisis.
    In Lebanon’s biggest protest in years, thousands of people gathered outside the government headquarters in central Beirut on Thursday evening, forcing the cabinet to backtrack on plans to raise a new tax on WhatsApp voice calls.    Tear gas was fired as some demonstrators and police clashed in the early hours.
    The unrest led Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to cancel a cabinet meeting due on Friday to discuss the 2020 draft budget.    Lebanese media has said he would instead make a speech on the protests.
    Fires lit in the street in central Beirut were smoldering on Friday morning.    Pavements were scattered with the glass of several smashed shop-fronts and billboards had been torn down.
    Protesters blocked roads in the north, the south and the Bekaa Valley, among other areas on Friday, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.    Schools were closed on the instructions of the government.
    “We are one people united against the state.    We want it to fall,” said a protester in the town of Jeita, some 20 km (12.4 miles) from Beirut.    “Revolution, revolution!” they chanted.
    In Beirut, several hundred people marched near the government’s Serail headquarters chanting “the people want the downfall of the regime.”
    This was the second wave of nationwide protests this month.
    In a country fractured along sectarian lines, the unusually wide geographic reach of these protests has been seen as a sign of deepening anger with politicians who have jointly led Lebanon into crisis.
    The anti-government protests in a country mired in economic crisis entered their second day on Friday.
    The government, which includes nearly all of Lebanon’s main parties, is struggling to implement long-delayed reforms that are seen as more vital than ever to begin resolving the crisis.
    The Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar described it as “a tax intifada,” or uprising, across Lebanon.    Another daily, al-Akhbar, declared it “the WhatsApp revolution” that had shaken Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s unity government.
    Two foreign workers choked to death from a fire that spread to a building near the protests in Beirut, the NNA said.
ELUSIVE REFORMS
    Seeking ways to boost revenues, a government minister on Thursday announced plans to raise a new fee of 20 cents per day for calls via voice over internet protocol (VoIP), used by applications including Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
    But as the protests spread, Telecoms Minister Mohamed Choucair phoned into Lebanese broadcasters on Thursday evening to say the proposed levy had been revoked.
    Shattered by war between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon has one of the world’s highest debt burdens as a share of its economy.    Economic growth has been hit by regional conflict and instability.    Unemployment among those aged under 35 runs at 37%.
    The kind of steps needed to fix the national finances have long proven elusive.    Sectarian politicians, many of them civil war veterans, have long used state resources for their own political benefit and are reluctant to cede prerogatives.
    The crisis has been compounded by a slowdown in capital flows to Lebanon, which has long depended on remittances from its diaspora to meet financing needs, including the state’s deficit.
    The financial crunch has added to the impetus for reform but the government’s steps have yet to convince foreign donors who have offered billions in financial assistance conditional on changes.
    The strains have emerged recently in the real economy where importers have been unable to secure dollars at the pegged exchange rate.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Imad Creidi, Yara Abi Nader, Tom Perry, Suleiman al-Khalidi; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel, Peter Graff, William Maclean)
[Well the sanctions on Iran are preventing them from giving Hezbollah anything so this government is finding itself in dire straight.].

10/18/2019 Turkey agrees with U.S. to pause Syria assault while Kurds withdraw by Humeyra Pamuk, Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien
in Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019. Cem Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey agreed on Thursday to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish forces withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara had sought to capture, in a deal hailed by the Trump administration and cast by Turkey as a complete victory.
    The truce was announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, and was praised by President Donald Trump, who said it would save “millions of lives.”
    But if implemented it would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched its assault on Oct. 9: control of a strip of Syria more than 30 km (20 miles) deep, with the Kurdish militia, once U.S. allies, obliged to pull out.
    It was also unclear if the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would fully comply with the agreement, which would leave Turkish forces in charge of a swathe of territory that the Kurds once held with U.S. military support.
    SDF commander Mazloum Kobani told Ronahi TV the group would accept the ceasefire agreement with Turkey in northern Syria but said it was limited to the border areas running between the towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.
    Republican and Democratic senators accused Trump of having betrayed the Kurdish allies who were vital in fighting Islamic State militants, of brushing aside the humanitarian costs of Turkey’s invasion and of being outwitted by Ankara.
    “The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces,” a joint U.S.-Turkish statement released after the talks said.
    U.S. senators who have criticized the Trump administration for failing to prevent the Turkish assault in the first place said they would press ahead with legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey despite the ceasefire announcement.
    A Turkish official told Reuters that Ankara got “exactly what we wanted” from the talks with the United States.    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described it as a pause, solely to allow the Kurdish fighters to withdraw.
    Kurdish fighters would be forced to give up their heavy weapons and their positions would be destroyed, Cavusoglu said.    He declined to call the agreement a “ceasefire,” saying ceasefires could be agreed only by legitimate sides, and not by a Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group.
    “When the terrorist elements completely leave the safe zone, we can stop the operation,” Cavusoglu said.
    Washington and Ankara will cooperate to handle Islamic State (IS) fighters and their families held in prisons and camps, the joint statement said, addressing concerns that the militant group might reconstitute and again attack Western targets.
UNCERTAINTY ABOUT KURDISH RESPONSE
    Pence said Washington had already been in contact with the Kurdish-led SDF, which had agreed to withdraw and were already pulling out.
    However, the Kurdish position was not clear.    Speaking to Ronahi TV, SDF commander Kobani said the agreement is “just the beginning” and will not achieve Turkey’s goals.
    Aldar Xelil, a leading Syrian Kurdish politician, told Al Arabiya television that the Kurds would abide by the ceasefire but would defend themselves.
    Pence said that once the pause became permanent, Washington would go ahead with its own plans to withdraw its forces from northern Syria, which had partnered with the Kurds to fight against Islamic State.    However, there were no signs that U.S. forces had ceased their withdrawal, a U.S. official said.
    Trump tweeted: “Great news out of Turkey.”
    “Thank you to Erdogan,” Trump said.    “Millions of lives will be saved!
    “Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria,” Pence told a news conference after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara.
    “The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” Pence said.    “All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal.”
    The deal struck with Erdogan also provided for Turkey not to engage in military operations in the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobani, Pence said.    Cavusoglu said Turkey had given no commitments about Kobani.
    U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey said the agreement covered central northeastern Syria and Turkey was in separate talks with the Russians and the Syrians about other parts of the region.
    “We have a very (convoluted) situation with Russian, Syrian Army, Turkish, American, SDF and some Daesh (Islamic State) elements all floating around in a very wild way,” he told pool reporters as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Tel Aviv from Ankara.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
    Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, said the agreement “is far from a victory” and demanded the administration explain what will happen to the Kurds, what will be the future U.S. role in the region and why Turkey “will face no apparent consequences.”
    “What President Trump agreed to today is a capitulation to Turkey at the expense of our Kurdish allies,” Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, said in a statement, saying “the agreement lets Turkey off the hook for slaughtering innocent civilians.”
    The Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters potentially abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.
    The Turkish assault began on Oct. 9 after Trump moved U.S. troops out of the way after an Oct. 6 phone call with Erdogan.    Trump announced sanctions on Turkey on Monday, after the assault began, but critics said these were too little, too late.
    Pence said the sanctions would be lifted once the ceasefire became permanent.
    If successful, the deal could smooth over a major rift between Washington and Turkey, the only Muslim NATO ally.
    But the U.S. withdrawal also leaves U.S. adversaries Russia and Iran in a far stronger position in Syria.    The Kurds responded to the U.S. withdrawal by effectively switching allegiances and inviting Syrian government forces, backed by Moscow and Tehran, into towns and cities in areas they control.
    “The United States essentially agreed to everything Turkey was seeking: a green light to invade, the creation of a huge ‘safe zone’ that Kurdish fighters have to leave, and the end of Kurdish autonomy,” said Phil Gordon, an Obama administration official now at the Council on Foreign Relations.
    “Deeply damaging to U.S. credibility, not just because Trump betrayed the Kurds but because it once again makes Trump look like a paper tiger: after all his big threats to Turkey he gave it everything it wanted for almost nothing in return,” Gordon said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans in Istanbul, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ellen Francis in Beirut; David Brunnstrom, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert, Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mike Collett-White, Alistair Bell, Grant McCool)

10/18/2019 Erdogan denies reports of fighting in northern Syria during ceasefire by OAN Newsroom
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has denied reports coming from northern Syria, about fighting in the region despite the ceasefire agreement.
    Erdogan asked reporters Thursday where they are getting their news from, adding that his defense minister has been clear in saying there are no on-going clashes.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media after Friday prayers, in Istanbul, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.
Turkey’s president says his country “cannot forget” the harshly worded letter from U.S. President
Donald Trump about the Turkish military offensive into Syria. But he says the mutual “love and respect
between the two leaders prevents him from keeping it on Turkey’s agenda. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
    The Turkish president said the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the “safe zone” began after the U.S. brokered pause in their offensive went into effect overnight.
    “I spoke to my Minister of Defense this morning and he stated the withdrawal had started,” said Erdogan.    “And of course one characteristic of our agreement with the US is this: our security forces there now will not withdraw from the area.    Turkey’s soldiers will continue to stay there to see if the Kurdish forces are truly leaving the area or not.”
    Erdogan said Turkey has no intention to stay in Syria once they have pushed back Kurdish forces from the border and re-settled refugees.
    He plans to discuss control of the region next week during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

10/18/2019 Fighting in Syria continues despite U.S. brokered ceasefire agreement by OAN Newsroom
    Clashes between Turkey and Kurdish forces enter their 10th day, despite a ceasefire agreement between the U.S. and Ankara.
    Reports said the fighting continued Friday morning, after the five day agreement went into effect overnight.
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province,
southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from a fire on a target in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by shelling by
Turkish forces, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and State Secretary Mike Pompeo were scheduled to
arrive in Ankara and press Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accept a ceasefire in northeast Syria. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
    According to the deal, Kurdish fighters must withdraw from the Turkish border, and refrain from military action unless it is in self-defense.
    Vice president Mike Pence announced the agreement Thursday, after hours of negotiations with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
    He said the U.S. will continue to engage in the region, “but not militarily.”

10/18/2019 Turkey plans presence across northeast Syria, Erdogan says by Orhan Coskun
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain as seen from the Turkish border town of
Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will set up a dozen observation posts across northeast Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, insisting that a planned “safe zone” will extend much further than U.S. officials said was covered under a fragile ceasefire deal.
    Less than 24 hours after he agreed the five-day truce to allow Kurdish forces time to pull back from Turkey’s crossborder assault, Erdogan underlined Ankara’s continued ambition to establish a presence along 300 miles of territory inside Syria.
    On the border itself shelling could be heard near the Syrian town of Ras al Ain on Friday morning despite Thursday’s deal, and a spokesman for the Kurdish-led forces said Turkey was violating the ceasefire, hitting civilian targets in the town.
    But Reuters journalists at the border said the bombardment subsided around mid-morning and a U.S. official said most of the fighting had stopped, although it would “take time for things to completely quiet down.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he had spoken with Erdogan who told him there had been some “minor” sniper and mortar fire in northeastern Syria despite the truce, but that it had been quickly eliminated.
    “He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work,” Trump said in a post on Twitter.    “Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen.”
    The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs described the situation at “reportedly calm in most areas, with the exception of Ras al-Ain, where shelling and gunfire continued to be reported earlier today,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
    The truce, announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Erdogan, sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia pull out of the Turkish “safe zone.”
    The deal was aimed at easing a crisis that saw Trump order a hasty and unexpected U.S. retreat, which his critics say amounted to abandoning loyal Kurdish allies that fought for years alongside U.S. troops against Islamic State.
    Turkey’s offensive created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, according to Red Cross estimates.    It also prompted a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters held in Kurdish jails.
    Trump has praised Thursday’s deal, saying it would save “millions of lives.”    Turkey cast it as a victory in its campaign to control territory more than 30 km (around 20 miles) deep into Syria and drive out Kurdish fighters from the YPG, the SDF’s main Kurdish component.
    “As of now, the 120-hour period is on.    In this 120-hour period, the terrorist organization, the YPG, will leave the area we identified as a safe zone,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul.    The safe zone would be 32 km deep, and run “440 km from the very west to the east,” he said.
    But the U.S. special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, said the accord covered a smaller area where Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies were fighting, between two border towns of Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, just 120 km away.
    Speaking to journalists later on Friday, Erdogan said Turkey plans to set up 12 observation posts in northeast Syria.    A map of the region showed the planned posts stretching from the Iraq border in the east to the Euphrates river 300 miles to the west.
RUSSIA, IRAN FILL VACUUM
    With the United States pulling its entire 1,000-strong contingent from northern Syria, the extent of Turkey’s ambitions is likely to be determined by Russia and Iran, filling the vacuum created by the U.S. retreat.
    The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Moscow and Tehran, has already taken up positions in territory formerly protected by Washington, invited by the Kurds.
    Jeffrey acknowledged that Turkey was now negotiating with Moscow and Damascus over control of areas that Washington was vacating and were not covered by the U.S.-Turkish truce pact.
    “As you know we have a very convoluted situation now with Russian, Syrian army, Turkish, American, SDF and some Daesh (Islamic State) elements all floating around in a very wild way,” Jeffrey said.
    “Now, the Turks have their own discussions going on with the Russians and the Syrians in other areas of the northeast and in Manbij to the west of the Euphrates.    Whether they incorporate that later into a Turkish-controlled safe zone, it was not discussed in any detail.”
LIFTING SANCTIONS?
    The joint U.S.-Turkish statement released after Thursday’s talks said Washington and Ankara would cooperate on handling Islamic State fighters and family members held in prisons and camps – an important international concern.
    Pence said U.S. sanctions imposed on Tuesday would be lifted once the ceasefire became permanent.
    In Washington, U.S. senators who have criticized the Trump administration for failing to prevent the Turkish assault in the first place said they would press ahead with legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey, a NATO ally.
    The Turkish assault began after Trump moved U.S. troops out of the way following an Oct. 6 phone call with Erdogan.
    Turkey says the “safe zone” would make room to settle up to 2 million Syrian war refugees – roughly half the number it is currently hosting – and would push back the YPG militia, which Ankara deems a terrorist group due to its links to Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Steve Holland and Tim Ahmann in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/18/2019 Lebanon, pushed to the brink, faces reckoning over graft by Jonathan Spicer, Tom Perry and Samia Nakhoul
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is closer to a financial crisis than at any time since at least the war-torn 1980s as allies, investors and this week nationwide protests pile pressure on the government to tackle a corrupt system and enact long-promised reforms.
    Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s government on Thursday hastily reversed a plan, announced hours earlier, to tax WhatsApp voice calls in the face of the biggest public protests in years, with people burning tyres and blocking roads.
    The country – among the world’s most indebted https://tmsnrt.rs/2OUN93n and quickly running out of dollar reserves – urgently needs to convince regional allies and Western donors it is finally serious about tackling entrenched problems such as its unreliable and wasteful electricity sector.
    Without a foreign funding boost, Lebanon risks a currency devaluation or even defaulting on debts within months, according to interviews with nearly 20 government officials, politicians, bankers and investors.
    Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said in a televised speech on Friday that he gave a paper at an economic crisis meeting in September saying Lebanon needed “an electric shock.”
    “I also said that what little remains of the financial balance might not last us longer than the end of the year if we do not adopt the necessary policies,” he said, without describing what he meant by financial balance.
    Beirut has repeatedly vowed to maintain the value of the dollar-pegged Lebanese pound and honour its debts on time.
    But countries that in the past reliably financed bailouts have run out of patience with its mismanagement and graft, and they are using the deepening economic and social crisis to press for change, the sources told Reuters.
    These include Arab Gulf states whose enthusiasm to help Lebanon has been undermined by the growing clout in Beirut of Tehran-backed Hezbollah, and what they see as a need to check Iran’s growing influence across the Middle East.
    Western countries have also provided funds that allowed Lebanon to defy gravity for years.    But for the first time they have said no new money would flow until the government takes clear steps toward reforms it has long only promised.
    Their hope is to see it move towards fixing a system that sectarian politicians have used to deploy state resources to their own advantage through patronage networks instead of building a functional state.
    A crisis could stoke further unrest in a country hosting some 1 million refugees from neighbouring Syria, where a Turkish incursion in the northeast this month has opened a new front in an eight-year war.
    “If the situation remains, and there are no radical reforms, a devaluation of the currency is inevitable,” said Toufic Gaspard, a former adviser to Lebanon’s finance ministry and former economist at its central bank and the International Monetary Fund.
    “Since September a new era has begun,” he added.    “The red flags are large and everywhere, especially with the central bank paying up to 13% to borrow dollars.”
    The first reform on Beirut’s agenda is one of the most intractable: fixing chronic power outages that make private generators a costly necessity, a problem many see as the main symbol of corruption that has left services unreliable and infrastructure crumbling.
    Hariri, in a televised speech to the nation, said he had been struggling to reform the electricity sector ever since taking office.    After “meeting after meeting, committee after committee, proposal after proposal, I got at last to the final step and someone came and said ‘it doesn’t work’,” he said.
    Presenting the difficulties of implementing reform more widely, Hariri said every committee required a minimum of nine ministers to keep everyone happy.
    “A national unity government?    OK, we understand that.    But committees of national unity?    The result is that nothing works.”
    Underscoring the pressure from abroad, Pierre Duquesne, a French ambassador handling so-called CEDRE funding, is traveling to Lebanon next week to press the government on the use of offshore power barges, a banker familiar with the plan said.
    Duquesne wants the barges included in the electricity overhaul plan, the person said, requesting anonymity.
    Duquesne could not immediately be reached for comment.
    The contents of the 2020 budget will be key to helping unlock some $11 billion conditionally pledged by international donors under last year’s CEDRE conference.    But a cabinet meeting on the budget set for Friday was cancelled amid the protests.
‘TAX INTIFADA’
    Hariri’s government, which includes nearly all of Lebanon’s main parties, had proposed a tax of 20 cents per day on calls via voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) used by applications including WhatsApp, Facebook and FaceTime.     In a country fractured along sectarian lines, the protests’ unusually wide geographic reach may be a sign of deepening anger with politicians who have jointly led Lebanon into crisis.
    Fires were smoldering in central Beirut, where streets were scattered with glass of several smashed shop-fronts.    Tear gas was fired on some demonstrators.
    The newspaper an-Nahar described it as “a tax intifada,” or uprising.    Another daily, al-Akhbar, declared it “the WhatsApp revolution.”
    “With this corrupt authority, our kids have no future,” said protestor Fadi Issa, 51.    “We don’t just want a resignation, we want accountability.    They should return all the money they stole.    We want change.”
    As confidence has faded and dollars have grown scarce, new cracks have emerged between Lebanon’s government and its private lenders, according to several of the bankers, investors and officials who spoke to Reuters.
    After years of funding the government with the promise of ever higher rates of return, the banks – sensing the country is approaching collapse – are pressing for it to finally deliver reforms to win over donors.
    Most said Lebanon would likely feel more economic and financial strain in the months ahead but avoid haircuts on deposits or a worst-case sovereign default.
    Yet Beirut’s years of failure to deliver reforms and the new determination among its traditional donors to press for them has left even top officials, bankers and investors divided over whether a devaluation is in store for the Lebanese pound.
    “You need a positive shock.    But unfortunately the government thinks reforms can happen without touching the structure that benefits them,” said Nassib Ghobril, head of economic research and analysis at Byblos Bank.
    Lebanon must promote reforms to increase capital inflows, he said.
    “We can’t keep going to the Emirates and Saudis.    We need to help ourselves in order for others to help us.”
CLOCK TICKING
    This month, Moody’s put Lebanon’s Caa1 credit rating under review for a downgrade and estimated the central bank, which has stepped in to cover government debt payments, had only $6 billion-$10 billion in useable dollars left to maintain stability.     That compares with some $6.5 billion in debt maturing by the end of next year.
    The central bank says its foreign assets stood at $38.1 billion as of Oct. 15.
    An official told Reuters Lebanon has only $10 billion in real reserves.    “It is a very dire situation that has five months to correct itself or there will be a collapse, around February,” he said.
    Hariri’s government may have only a few months to deliver fiscal reforms to convince France, the World Bank and other parties to the CEDRE agreement to unlock $11 billion in conditional funding.
    The head of regional investments for a large U.S. asset manager said Lebanese officials are privately saying a plan that addresses short- and long-term electricity shortages will be announced before year end, after which the government will raise tariffs.
    But critics say no concrete steps have been taken despite energy ministry statements that the plan is on track.
    Hariri left Paris last month with no immediate cash commitment after visiting French President Emmanuel Macron.    Likewise this month he left Abu Dhabi empty-handed after meeting Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
    Lawmakers in Beirut struggled to explain what happened in Abu Dhabi after Hariri claimed the United Arab Emirates had promised investments following “positive” talks.
EYES ON HEZBOLLAH
    Investors, bankers and economists say at least $10 billion is needed to renew confidence among the Lebanese diaspora whom for decades have underpinned the economy by maintaining accounts back home.
    But so far this year, deposits have shrunk by about 0.4%.
    The government has sought a smaller cushion from Sunni Muslim allies to buy some time.    But to secure funding from the UAE or Saudi Arabia, Beirut would likely have to meet conditions meant to weaken Shi’ite Hezbollah’s hand in Lebanon’s government, said several sources.
    Hezbollah, which faces U.S. sanctions, is seen to be gaining more control over state resources by naming the health minister in January after last year’s elections brought more of its allies into the legislature.
    Some say Saudi Arabia, UAE and the United States are motivated to hold out on Beirut as part of their wider policy seeking to weaken Iran and its allies which have been fighting proxy wars with Gulf Arab states on several fronts.
    “Their tolerance of Iran and Hezbollah has lowered significantly.    The ‘Lebanese exception’ is gone,” said Sami Nader, Beirut-based director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.
    “The balance has tilted and we are now at odds with our former friends because Hezbollah now has the upper hand politically.”
    The former regional head at a major Western bank put it bluntly: “People have lost patience with the corruption in which a frozen Parliament with no authority is simply divvying up the pie among politicians.”
    “But at the end of the day the Lebanese political class usually succeeds in convincing allies that they should not let the system collapse and bring civil war again,” he added.
WANING TRUST
    Lebanon, straddling the Middle East’s main sectarian lines, was historically the region’s foreign-exchange hub into which deposits flowed, especially since 1997 when its currency was pegged to the dollar at 1,507.5 pounds.
    But after a reckoning in August and September in which the cost of insuring Lebanon’s sovereign debt surged https://tmsnrt.rs/2MORZfM to a record high, things have changed.
    Depositors, including the diaspora drawn by rates much higher than in Europe or the United States, are pulling funds in the face of Lebanon’s swelling twin deficits, inability to secure foreign funding, and unorthodox central bank efforts to attract dollar inflows.
    Among Lebanon’s 6 million citizens, trust has worn thin.
    Depositors can no longer easily withdraw dollars, and most ATMs no longer provide them, forcing people to turn to so-called parallel FX markets where $1 is worth more than the official peg.
    “I am with the protesters,” said Walid al-Badawi, 43.    “I have three children, I am a taxi driver, I work all day to get food for my kids and I can’t get it.”
Gaspard, the central bank’s former research head, said foreign exchange was easy even through Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.    There was also always a balance of payments surplus – until 2011 when deficits began to grow, reaching $12 billion last year.
LOST RESOLVE AT BANKS
    Three events precipitated the crisis of confidence that for years seemed inevitable: a series of central bank efforts since 2016 to keep growing deposits with rates of more than 11% on large deposits; a public sector pay hike last year that raised the budget deficit to more than 11% of GDP; low oil prices in recent years that have weakened Gulf allies.
    In a report on Thursday the IMF described Lebanon’s position as “very difficult,” adding “substantial new measures” are needed to protect it and reduce large deficits.
    As dollars have dried up, banks have effectively stopped lending and can no longer make basic foreign-exchange transactions for clients, one banker said.
    “The whole role of banks is to pour money into the central bank to finance the government and protect the currency,” he said.    “Nothing is being done on the fiscal deficit because doing something will disrupt the systems of corruption.”
    The resistance from banks has been subtle but telling given their central role in financing the government.
    When Beirut proposed a $660 million reduction in debt service costs in its 2019 budget, banks never signed up to the idea.    They have also been less enthusiastic about subscribing to Eurobonds including a planned $2-billion issuance later this month, officials said.
    Without reform, “banks agree we can no longer support the public sector,” said Byblos Bank’s Ghobril.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer, Tom Perry and Samia Nakhoul; Additional reporting by Yara Abi Nader and Ellen Francis in Beirut and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

10/18/2019 Report: ISIS attacking prisons in Syria to free fellow militants by OAN Newsroom
Iraqi security forces secure the Iraq-Syria border around Rabiaa border crossing, Iraq, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019.
Najah al-Shammari, Iraq’s defense minister said that some members of the Islamic State group were able to flee northern Syria
and cross into Iraq.    The Iraqi official added that some of them are still at large while others were detained. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    ISIS is reportedly ramping up attacks on prisons in Syria to free up other militants and their families. Reports are saying the terror group has taken advantage of the chaos in Northeast Syria as Turkey continues its offensive against Kurdish forces.
    ISIS has reportedly killed several guards from the Syrian Democratic Forces by using bombs or attacking the facilities directly. The exact number escaped prisoners is unknown, but reports suggest it could be in the hundreds.
    This follows the earlier escape of ISIS fighters from detention camps last week.    Kurdish officials said Sunday that hundreds of captured Islamic State fighters escaped amid the ongoing Turkish offensive.    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said their efforts to contain the Turkish offensive have weakened their ability to guard ISIS prisoner camps.    The escaped ISIS militants may now be plotting to either revive their caliphate or stage terror attacks in Syria and beyond.
    The U.S. negotiated a ceasefire in the region on Thursday, which is set to last 120 hours.    During a press conference in Ankara, Vice President Mike Pence said Turkey agreed to halt its military operation in exchange for the disarmament and withdrawal of Kurdish militias from its border.    Pence went on to say that the Kurdish militias have been notified to withdraw 20 miles from the Turkish border.
    The Syrian Democratic Forces said they will enforce the 120 hour truce only in areas of intense fighting and will continue building up defenses elsewhere.

10/18/2019 Fighting in Syria continues despite U.S. brokered ceasefire agreement by OAN Newsroom
    Clashes between Turkey and Kurdish forces have entered their 10th day, despite a ceasefire agreement between the U.S. and Ankara.    Reports said the fighting continued Friday morning, after the five day agreement went into effect overnight.
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria,
in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke billows from a fire on a target in Ras al-Ayn, Syria,
caused by shelling by Turkish forces, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
    President Trump has dismissed concern over reports of fighting on the Syria-Turkey border.    In a series of tweets, the president said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan made him aware of the incidents, but said they were taken care of quickly.
    He went on to say that Erdogan and the Kurds want the ceasefire to work.    They have said it was “too bad” there wasn’t this kind of thinking during prior administrations.
    President Trump spoke about Syrian fighting at the White House on Friday.
    “There was some sniper fire this morning, there was mortar fire…that was eliminated quickly,” he said.    “They’re back to the full pause.”
    According to the ceasefire deal, Kurdish fighters must withdraw from the Turkish border, and refrain from military action unless it is in self-defense.    Vice President Mike Pence announced the agreement Thursday, after hours of negotiations with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.    He said the U.S. will continue to engage in the region, “but not militarily.”

10/19/2019 Calm reigns in northeast Syria as fragile U.S.-Turkey ceasefire holds by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish soldiers stand atop of a tank as army vehicles are moving on a road near the
Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    ANKARA (Reuters) – A fragile ceasefire was holding along Turkey’s border with Syria on Saturday, two days after President Tayyip Erdogan agreed the truce to allow Kurdish forces time to pull back from Ankara’s cross-border assault.
    Erdogan agreed the truce during talks in Ankara on Thursday with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence on stemming a humanitarian crisis, which has put 200,000 civilians to flight in northeast Syria, and easing a security scare over thousands of Islamic State captives guarded by the Kurdish YPG militia targeted in Turkey’s assault.
    Turkey’s defense ministry said on Saturday there had been 14 “provocative attacks” from Syria in the past 36 hours but said it was continuing to coordinate closely with the United States to allow the agreement to be implemented.
    Reuters journalists at the border said bombardment heard near the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain on Friday morning had subsided.    They saw just a few Turkish military vehicles crossing the frontier on Saturday morning.safe zone” Turkey has vowed to create in territory extending more than 30 km (about 20 miles) deep into Syria.
    Ankara regards the YPG, the SDF’s main Kurdish component, a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents operating in southeast Turkey.
    Turkey’s defense ministry said Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had urged his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper in a telephone call late on Friday to ensure that YPG forces withdrew from the zone within the 120-hour period agreed under the truce.
    Erdogan said on Friday the safe zone would run for some 440 km from west to east along the border, though the U.S. special envoy for Syria said the accord covered a smaller area where Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies were fighting.
    Erdogan also said Turkey would set up a dozen observation posts across northeast Syria.
STRATEGICALLY BRILLIANT
    The surprise deal to suspend Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-led forces in Syria hinged on Erdogan’s demand that Washington agree a time limit on any ceasefire, a senior Turkish official told Reuters on Friday.
    The deal was aimed at easing a crisis triggered by President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision earlier this month to withdraw all 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria. That move was widely criticized in Washington and elsewhere as a betrayal of loyal Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside U.S. troops against Islamic State.
    Trump’s move also means the extent of Turkey’s ambitions in the region is likely to be determined by Russia and Iran, filling the vacuum created by the U.S. retreat.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Moscow and Tehran, has already deployed his forces in territory formerly protected by Washington, invited by the Kurds. Erdogan, who has backed rebels fighting to oust Assad, has said Turkey has no problem with Syrian government forces deploying near the border.
    On Saturday, Russia’s foreign ministry said a delegation of Russian officials had met Assad in Damascus on Friday and discussed with him the need to de-escalate the situation in northeast Syria.
    Trump defended his decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria as “strategically brilliant” and said the truce reached with Turkey on Thursday would save millions of lives.    Trump later said he held a phone call with Erdogan, adding that the Turkish leader “very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work.”
    Erdogan will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in Sochi to discuss further steps on the “safe zone.”    The two leaders have forged close ties over defense and energy cooperation, as well as efforts to find a political solution in Syria, but Moscow has said the Turkish offensive was “unacceptable” and should be limited.
    Turkey says the “safe zone” it plans to create will allow up to 2 million Syrian refugees – roughly half the number it is currently hosting – to settle in Syria, as well as push back the YPG militia from its border with Syria.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/19/2019 Lebanon’s Hezbollah says does not want government to resign
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters via a screen during
a rally marking al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day) in Beirut, Lebanon May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that the group was not demanding the government’s resignation amid widespread national protests.
    Nasrallah said in a televised speech that he supported the government, but called for a new agenda and “new spirit,” adding that ongoing protests showed the way forward was not new taxes.
    Any tax imposed on the poor would push him to call supporters to go take to the streets, Nasrallah added.
    Security forces fired tear gas and chased down protesters in Beirut on Friday after tens of thousands of people across Lebanon marched to demand the demise of a political elite they accuse of looting the economy to the point of collapse.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, and Eric Knecht; Editing by Alexander Smith)

10/19/2019 Protests sweep Lebanon as fury at ruling elite grows over economic corruption by Ellen Francis and Alaa Kanaan
Demonstrators sit together during a protest over deteriorating economic situation,
in the city of Jounieh, north of Beirut, Lebanon October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Imad Creidi
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Security forces fired tear gas and chased down protesters in Beirut on Friday after tens of thousands of people across Lebanon marched to demand the demise of a political elite they accuse of looting the economy to the point of collapse.
    Riot police in vehicles and on foot rounded up protesters, according to Reuters witnesses.    They fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, dispersing demonstrators in Beirut’s commercial district.    Dozens of people were wounded and detained.
    Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri blamed his partners in government for obstructing reforms that could ward off economic crisis and gave them a 72-hour deadline to stop blocking him, otherwise hinting he may resign.
    Hariri, addressing protesters, said Lebanon was going through an “unprecedented, difficult time.”
    Lebanon’s biggest protests in a decade recall the 2011 Arab revolts that toppled four presidents.    Lebanese from all sects and walks of life have come out on to the streets, waving banners and chanting slogans urging Hariri’s government to go.
    The rallies follow warnings by economists and investors that Lebanon’s economy and graft